An hour passed in an instant, and the soldiers who ran to the foot of the mountain gradually increased. As soon as they reached the ground, most of them didn’t even have time to take off their backpacks and directly laid on the ground to catch their breath and calm their hot and rapid breathing.
They would have a quarter of an hour to rest, take care of their physiological needs, or eat some dry rations to replenish their strength.
Three hundred soldiers made it to the foot of the mountain within the hour. Thirteen of them had reached their physical limits, lying on the ground unable to get up, and could only raise their hands to surrender from further competition.
Kong Ran was still holding on.
He gritted his teeth and sat up from the ground, forcefully eating some dry rations and drinking water, pounding his legs to recover his strength as quickly as possible. He looked around and saw another soldier from the same village, Gu Yue, sitting nearby and resting.
Gu Yue was a somewhat reclusive person, and Kong Ran wasn’t familiar with him. Kong Ran didn’t expect that he would also be here and still persisting. After all, Gu Yue looked much weaker compared to them.
Compared to Kong Ran, who still had some energy left, Gu Yue looked like he was about to collapse, but he stubbornly held on and didn’t give up.
Kong Ran knew why he would persist until now, and the reason would be the same as his own.
The goal for those who had made it this far was no longer the gold but to gain the favor of the governor.
This was a rare opportunity that had been presented to them. How could they be willing to give up?
After a quarter of an hour passed, the remaining soldiers all stood up, shouldered their backpacks, and entered the mountain.
Watching their figures disappearing deep into the forest and mountain paths, Yuan Li briefly explained to the others, “I have taught them in the barracks how to navigate in dense forests, distinguish the directions, and avoid snakes, swamps, and miasma. This test is to see if they have remembered this knowledge. Rest assured, a few days ago, I sent people into the mountain to drive away any threatening wild beasts. They won’t encounter any ferocious beasts like black bears.”
“Not only that, I also sent a hundred soldiers dressed in black to enter the mountains and pose as their enemies. Each black-clad soldier will have a red cloth strip tied to them. If the soldiers want to win, it’s not enough to just come down the mountain, they also have to ambush and take away the red cloth strip from one of the black-clad soldiers before descending the mountain. Only then can they pass this test.”
After they understood his words, Yuan Li continued, “These one hundred black-clad soldiers are equipped with many herbs and whistles. Although they are disguised as enemies, they also have the responsibility to protect. If the soldiers are really in danger, the black-clad soldiers will blow the whistle, and nearby soldiers and medics will come to their rescue.”
Yuan Li had considered every aspect carefully and left no room for oversight. The people around couldn’t help but sigh and once again feel Yuan Li’s care for the soldiers.
He not only allowed them to train but also ensured their safety in every aspect.
In their eyes, such thoughtfulness was truly rare.
The several military commanders present hadn’t considered it as comprehensively as Yuan Li had.
Chu Hechao, who had been absent-minded, looked at the last soldier disappearing into the jungle and suddenly said, “This approach is excellent.”
As soon as he spoke, Yang Zhongfa and the others, who had been somewhat absent-minded, snapped back to reality and praised, “Lord Yuan’s actions are truly unheard of and unseen of. If these soldiers can train according to this method, even if they go to the south in the future, they won’t show any signs of weakness!”
The realization dawned on everyone, and they were astonished, their eyes suddenly shining with joy.
Listening to what Young Master Yuan just said, the soldiers also learned how to deal with swamps and miasma. But swamps and miasma were things that frequently occurred in the south!
Thinking further, Yuan Li also taught these soldiers how to swim…
Yang Zhongfa suddenly remembered the sentence Yuan Li had once said to him. “If it comes to a water battle, Northern soldiers who can’t swim will undoubtedly lose, won’t they?”
In the blink of an eye, a terrifying thought arose in Yang Zhongfa’s mind—could it be that Lord Yuan already had the idea of fighting against the Southern troops?
Or perhaps launching an attack on the South… or the Southern troops launching an attack on them to the North…
Yang Zhongfa shuddered abruptly, and cold sweat instantly broke out on his back.
He looked at Yuan Li, who was still smiling, still talking with others in a friendly and gentle manner, like a gentle breeze.
But in Yang Zhongfa’s eyes, Yuan Li had become mysterious and unfathomable. Just like when the Wuwan people came to visit that day, Yuan Li’s prediction of rain had the same mysterious and unfathomable quality.
Yang Zhongfa silently walked over to Chu Hechao’s side and lowered his voice, “General.”
Chu Hechao: “Hmm?”
“Will we really have a day of water battles?” Yang Zhongfa asked in a hushed voice.
Seeing the complex expression on his face, Chu Hechao understood what he was thinking. His tone didn’t change as he replied, “Scared?”
Yang Zhongfa’s face slightly changed. He shook his head at first, then nodded.
He wasn’t afraid of fighting, but he was afraid that their soldiers wouldn’t adapt to water battles and would end up losing their lives, unable to even retrieve their bodies.
Chu Hechao patted his shoulder. “Start training when we return.”
Yang Zhongfa wiped his face and nodded.
At the same time, the soldiers in the mountain began to search for hidden corners and laid in ambush, waiting for the appearance of the black-clad soldiers.
Kong Ran laid in the grass, his gaze fixed on the mountain path not far away.
He had chosen a place with lush vegetation, which was particularly stuffy. Kong Ran wasn’t lucky and hadn’t seen any black-clad soldiers appear. The thorns on the grass made his whole body itchy, but Kong Ran didn’t dare to move. He firmly remembered the knowledge he had learned—complete concealment during ambush, remaining motionless, and not disturbing the enemy.
After a while, venomous insects crawled over and bit Kong Ran. His breathing became increasingly heavy, and he thought of the final reward, gritting his teeth and persevering.
The venomous insects crawled around, causing Kong Ran’s hands and neck to swell and fester from the bites. The pain seemed to come from all over his body, spreading densely and incessantly. In the quiet jungle, his psychological defenses would collapse and rebuild repeatedly.
Kong Ran even began to doubt if the one hundred black-clad soldiers had already been taken down by someone else. Otherwise, why couldn’t he see a single person after waiting for so long?
Should he give up?
Kong Ran recalled the hardships he had endured to get to this point, and thought of the poverty at home and the humiliation his parents, siblings, and family had suffered. He took a deep breath and continued to persevere.
Time passed, and finally, a black-clad soldier appeared in the mountain path before Kong Ran.
Kong Ran’s eyes lit up, patiently waiting for the black-clad soldier to approach him. When the distance between them was close enough, Kong Ran suddenly pounced.
An hour and a half later, the one hundred soldiers who successfully captured the black-clad soldiers arrived on the other side of the river.
At the foot of the mountain, there was a rapid river, and on the opposite side stood the dignitaries.
As soon as the soldiers arrived, they saw Wang Er and Guan Zhihuai, who usually trained them. Their gazes quickly swept through the crowd, and suddenly, someone exclaimed in excitement, “Governor! The governor is on the other side!”
Hearing these words, the exhausted soldiers couldn’t help but be invigorated. They didn’t dare to linger, quickly walking to the river’s edge, taking off their backpacks, and removing the heavy leather armor from their bodies.
Now, there were only one hundred people left. As long as they were among the first fifty to reach the other side, they would become the governor’s personal guards.
With victory within sight, their exhausted bodies miraculously filled with strength once again. The soldiers took a deep breath, one after another, and jumped into the turbulent river.
Kong Ran’s eyes brightened as soon as he saw the river. He was one of the rare individuals who were proficient in swimming even before joining the army. Without hesitation, he jumped into the river and swam desperately towards the other side.
Although Kong Ran was in great pain from the insect bites, slowing him down compared to the others, his exceptional swimming skills allowed him to surpass the soldiers in front of him. Unconsciously, when he reached the shore and flipped over, he was shocked to find that he was the third person to come up!
The governor was standing beside him, and someone came to help treat Kong Ran’s wounds. The governor asked gently, “What’s your name?”
“Kong… Kong Ran,” Kong Ran stammered.
Yuan Li asked again, “Do you have a surname?”
“Sir, I… I don’t.”
Yuan Li nodded with a smile and had someone assist Kong Ran to the side. He stood by the riverbank, counting the number of people who flipped ashore.
Kong Ran sat on the side, clearly exhausted to the point of losing consciousness earlier, but now he felt extremely excited. He even felt like he could run back to the training ground from the mountain. He stared intently at the riverbank, counting along with the people coming ashore.
When the fiftieth person arrived, he saw a familiar and disheveled face appear on the shore.
It was Gu Yue!
Kong Ran took a deep breath, not expecting Gu Yue to actually succeed. Following that was a sense of joy; it was reassuring to have a fellow villager with him.
He was about to encourage Gu Yue when he realized that Gu Yue had half of his body desperately crawling onto the shore. Just as he was about to secure the last spot as a personal guard, the person behind him had a fierce expression, suddenly reached out and pulled Gu Yue back into the water, replacing him by climbing ashore themselves!
Kong Ran was speechless.
What did this mean?
Even more terrifyingly, Gu Yue made no sound after being pulled down!
Just as Kong Ran thought that Gu Yue had lost hope and was ready to give up, the governor’s face darkened as he sternly said, “This is cheating, take him away. Quick, someone save the person who was just pulled down.”
The governor’s personal guards jumped into the water and brought Gu Yue back up. Gu Yue coughed a few times, spitting out a mouthful of water. Seeing his panicked expression, Yuan Li said directly, “You are the fiftieth person to come ashore, and you will be one of my personal guards. Take him down for a rest.”
After speaking, Yuan Li looked at the person who had pulled Gu Yue down with a stern face and asked, “What did I say before the competition started? Have you forgotten?”
Although this competition was a solo battle, all the soldiers belonged to the same army, and unity was the top priority. Before the competition started, Yuan Li had instructed Wang Er and Guan Zhihuai multiple times that they must not maliciously harm others.
If the internal competition was won by using despicable means, what would be left of a righteous army? Where would military discipline and unity be? Such a person could never become Yuan Li’s personal guard.
This person would harm others for the sake of a personal guard position, and in the future, they would plot against Yuan Li for the riches offered by others.
Moreover, all the other recruits were witnessing this scene. In front of the other soldiers, Yuan Li couldn’t let this person go.
Yuan Li’s anger suddenly subsided. “What’s your name?”
The person who had just shown a fierce expression shrank his shoulders and timidly said, “My name is Wu Ze.”
Yuan Li said in a cold tone, “Do you know that you have violated military law?”
Wu Ze immediately kowtowed and admitted his mistake, “I was wrong, I was wrong.”
Yuan Li coldly lowered his head, looking at him.
This person was resolute, ruthless, and didn’t hesitate to admit his mistake and kowtow after hearing Yuan Li’s words. Such a person couldn’t be underestimated.
“Military orders are like mountains,” Yuan Li raised his head, withdrew his gaze, and said calmly, “Take him down and execute him.”
The personal guards approached, pressing down on Wu Ze and dragging him away.
Wu Ze’s mouth was covered, and he suddenly widened his eyes. Then he struggled fiercely. Several guards forcefully restrained him. Unable to break free, Wu Ze glared hatefully at Yuan Li with bloodshot eyes, as if he wanted to pounce and kill Yuan Li.
But soon, his head fell to the ground.
Silence enveloped the surroundings.
Yuan Li said, “Clean up and let’s return.”
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