"Don't ruin my plan all day long, or I'll castrate you."
Uh, I don't know whether this counts or not but... this chapter is full of them scheming to murder someone?
Editor(s): Jelly, opal
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The next day, at noon.
Li Qingcheng was practicing his stances in the courtyard when he suddenly saw a soldier standing outside the door.
"Wang Hu, what is it?" Recognizing the soldier, Li Qingcheng stopped his movements and went to the hall to have a proper talk.
Wang Hu took off his helmet, gasping for air as he said, "Where's General Tang?"
Li Qingcheng was stumped at once. Wang Hu continued, "At dawn, someone looking like a messenger was dispatched from the governor's manor to go out of the city. They went all the way south to the Western Plains."
Taking a deep breath, Li Qingcheng angrily said, "Since he went out at dawn, why didn't you report it until now?"
Wang Hu: "General Tang can't be found."
Li Qingcheng: "Dispatch a team immediately... No, Zhang Mu! Go call Zhang Mu over!"
After Zhang Mu arrived, Li Qingcheng asked, "Do you have a subordinate with nimble feet? Go contact them and ask them to deliver a letter."
Zhang Mu: "What do you want to do?"
Li Qingcheng said, "Chase after the messenger from the governor's manor. I want to see the content of Governor Sun's letter. What I've carefully planned before is all messed up now."
Soon after, Zhang Mu whistled with his fingers and the arctic gyr flew in. Zhang Mu then said, "You take the gyr and go. Give the letter to it later."
Turning around, Li Qingcheng took out a paper envelope from the cabinet and gave it to Wang Hu while also carefully giving him a set of instructions. As Wang Hu hurriedly went out, Li Qingcheng paced back and forth several times across the hall before saying again, "Mu-ge, do you have a subordinate that can forge letters? Call them over, we need to take precautions, just in case."
And so, Zhang Mu personally went out to give an order. He returned to the residence not long after, bringing with him a scholar, only to see Tang Hong standing in the courtyard, bare to the waist, while Li Qingcheng stood on the other side with a dark expression.
Li Qingcheng was furious. "I gave you a woman and you indulged in soft and tender pleasures to the point where you couldn't be found the next day. I told you to go out, but you were actually still asleep this morning! General Tang! Do I have to cut off that thing of yours for you to finally take your job seriously?! On your knees! Bring me a whip!"
Tang Hong, as a young man currently in his prime, was full of vigor. Moreover, ever since he was a child, because he was born from a house of generals, his family rules were extremely strict; eighteen years of life and not once did he ever touch that matter between man and woman. Last night was the first time he received such a sweet-tempered mistress, inevitably resulting in him going overboard. It was unfortunate that spring nights were all too high and short, and he failed to rise until long after the sun had come out, even missing out on an important event. When Li Qingcheng dragged him out of his room and threw him in the snow, he knew he was in the wrong and just bowed his head, ready to be punished.
"A beautiful woman is the source of calamity; I gave you a hint last night but you didn't listen. Do you understand now?" Fang Qingyu, taking joy in other people's misfortune, ridiculed him on the sidelines.
Li Qingcheng roared, "Tang Hong, you listen to me properly! There will be no next time! If an accident like this happens again, bring your woman and get lost!"
The songstress Tang Hong had taken yesterday knew that she had brought about a catastrophe. She came over, wearing only thin clothes, and knelt with Tang Hong.
Coldy, Li Qingcheng said, "This doesn't concern you. Don't come out."
The songstress replied in a trembling voice, "Your Highness, please quell your anger. This humble woman is fortunate to receive General Tang's favor..."
Li Qingcheng was displeased. "Return to your room. How improper!"
Without another word, Tang Hong carried the songstress back to the room. After closing the door once more, he went back, knelt down, and raised his hand to give himself two slaps in the face, sharp and clear.
The scholar, who was standing in the corridor, smiled and asked, "How old is Young Master Li?"
Zhang Mu replied in a low voice, "Seventeen."
The scholar sighed. "He has quite an attitude."
Zhang Mu gestured with his hand, motioning for the scholar to not be too wordy. Li Qingcheng saw them and, somewhat quelling his anger, entered the hall then said, "What a poor sight I made you see. Please have a seat. What is Teacher called?"
The scholar smiled. "I am surnamed Bai."
After ordering someone to get them tea, Li Qingcheng said, "Teacher Bai, I may have to trouble you with something later."
Scholar Bai nodded slowly without asking Li Qingcheng's purpose for calling him here. For a period of time, it was all quiet inside the hall. Li Qingcheng, not minding others, flipped through some scrolls, organizing summarized papers by categories. Among them, there was a paper that clearly showed the arrangement of Ting City defenders' western and eastern barracks, as well as the duty roster of the city's defensive troops.
All of them just sat inside the hall, saying no words until the sun was about to set. Li Qingcheng put away the document when it was time to light a lamp. Suddenly, the sound of wings flapping could be heard; the arctic gyr passed through the porch and flew into the room.
After removing the oiled envelope from the gyr's neck, Li Qingcheng finally let out a sigh of relief. He lit a lamp before unfolding it to take a look while also giving out a command, "Tang Hong, get up."
Tang Hong immediately put on his robe and came to sit inside the hall.
Once he had finished reading, Fang Qingyu asked, "What did Governor Sun say in that confidential letter?"
Facing the light, Li Qingcheng carefully examined the paper to determine whether it had hidden handwriting that would show up only if it was soaked in the water before finally giving out a reply, "Exactly the same as we had assumed the other day. This confidential letter reported three things. First, the fact that the Sun family and the crown prince are colluding. Second, that Provincial Officer Lin Xi has already fallen to the crown prince's side. And third, that he earnestly requests for the court to send troops to help."
When he heard this, Scholar Bai was internally frightened, but he dared not butt in.
Tang Hong asked, "How did you get the letter?"
Fang Qingyu answered him, "Because this move had been well-predicted beforehand. When our spy saw a messenger going out of the city, someone would be sent to chase after them. At dusk, when the messenger reached the stage station, they would stop for a rest. At that time, our people would give them scented medicine or maybe some knockout drugs before taking out the letter to have a look."
Li Qingcheng said, "I had originally intended to go with Qing-ge to chase after them, but you almost ruined everything."
Tang Hong immediately shut up and dared not ask any more questions.
Li Qingcheng looked at that letter, deep in thoughts. After a while, he said, "Teacher Bai, please help me copy this handwriting. Create an exact copy of this letter, but remove some sentences."
"Which ones?" asked Fang Qingyu.
Li Qingcheng: "Omit the part about Provincial Officer Lin Xi and change it to 'I will discuss it with Lin Xi on a later date. If he persists in following the wrong path, I'll order an executioner to get rid of him and temporarily take over Ting City's troops. Requesting the court to send over an envoy followed by 2,000 troops to the West to give me a hand, to ensure we can capture Li Qingcheng alive.'"
As Scholar Bai took the letter, he said in a trembling voice, "The Great Yu's crown prince... is still alive, and is currently in Ting City?"
Li Qingcheng said, "I am the Great Yu's crown prince. Asking for Teacher's help; in the future, once this one has ascended to the highest position, I will not forget today's kindness."
Scholar Bai took the letter in disbelief, while Li Qingcheng once more made a "please" gesture. After he had finished copying the letter, Li Qingcheng neatly folded it before putting it inside the envelope. Then, just like before, he tied it on the arctic gyr's neck. The gyrfalcon turned around and flew out of the hall once more, going south amidst the boundless night.
After Scholar Bai had taken his leave, Li Qingcheng told someone to set dinner up on the table.
"This way, everything is taken care of." Li Qingcheng lifted his chopsticks, saying, "We only need to wait until the 15th of the 1st lunar month."
Tang Hong asked, "Do we have to act separately?"
Slowly shaking his head, Li Qingcheng took some food and put it in Tang Hong's bowl while side-eying him with nonchalant eyes. Tang Hong immediately felt overwhelmed by this favor.
"Don't ruin my plan all day long," threatened Li Qingcheng, "or I'll castrate you."
Fang Qingyu burst into laughter. Tang Hong said, "I won't snooze off anymore."
Li Qingcheng commanded, "Save two dishes and deliver them for your mistress to eat."
After thanking Li Qingcheng for the reward, Tang Hong went to the kitchen to instruct people. Li Qingcheng said, "We'll properly discuss this again tomorrow. There are still 12 days remaining, we must find a way to resolve this as soon as possible."
Some days later.
Li Qingcheng paced around inside the hall. He moved one step at a time, walking to the left and then to the right, sometimes putting his hands behind his back and jumping with both of his feet, imitating how a gyr moved.
"On the night of the Lantern Festival, we'll all leave at breakfast. The route surveyed by Fang Qingyu is all clear. You all go take a careful look."
The gyrfalcon following behind Li Qingcheng skipped over.
Tang Hong said, "It would be better if I go ba."
Li Qingcheng made a waving gesture with his hand. "No, I have a more important thing for you to do."
Fang Qingyu, who had one hand holding his knee and one foot braced against the edge of the chair, was deep in thoughts. Li Qingcheng asked, "Are there any more changes?"
Fang Qingyu shook his head. "Shouldn't be."
Li Qingcheng said, "Mu-ge, is half a shichen enough? After you've killed Lin Xi, change your robe and immediately return to the Sun manor."
Zhang Mu slowly nodded.
"On the same evening, I'll hold Sun Yan back. Mu-ge, use your own discretion, act according to circumstances, and look for an opportunity to kill the enemy. If the information somehow leaks out, don't stay too long. When it's time to go back, just do so accordingly."
Tang Hong asked, "Both the Provincial Officer and the Governor are using the same route, there's only one route going from the eastern to the western street. Why not just kill them together?"
Li Qingcheng halted his steps. "Are you stupid? If we kill them both, isn't it evident that we are the culprit?"
Tang Hong: "What's the use of only killing one then?"
Letting out a long sigh, Li Qingcheng first stared at the ground before turning around and starting to hop along the brick floor tiles one by one. "I'll tell you in detail ba. Listen carefully, prick up your ears."
"The Sun family, the Provincial Officer, and the Governor —— these three are not the same. For the Sun family, we have to find a way to drag them down into the water. Sun Yan wants to have a smooth relationship on both sides; he will let other people carry the blame while he himself will receive meritorious deeds. Don't ever think of that. For Lin Xi, a single cut to end him will save us trouble. We can conveniently take possession of the military power, so letting this person stay will just overcomplicate matters. It's not worth it. As for Governor Sun, it really doesn't matter how he is right now, he's already useless. All I want is for him to 'help' me bring words to mislead thousands of troops into coming to the Western Plains. This amount can't be too many nor too few; 2,000 is just right.
"At the Lantern Festival, the Sun family is inviting me to watch a play. Lin Xi and Governor Sun will also come to listen to it. First, we must let Lin Xi die on the road. Time it right, and it should be when the governor has already arrived in the Sun manor..."
Tang Hong asked, "What if, by any chance, Lin Xi goes out first? Or what if Lin Xi's carriage is somehow too close to Governor Sun's ne?"
Li Qingcheng asked mockingly, "Can you not find something to stall him? We have several agents planted inside the provincial officer's manor ne."
As Tang Hong nodded, Li Qingcheng continued, "Make sure the governor goes first. Lin Xi, who will follow behind him, should die on the road. At the same time, Sun Yan should be accompanying us to watch a play..."
Tang Hong asked, "What if Sun Yan wants to wait for the rest of the people before starting the play ne?"
Li Qingcheng was annoyed. "I am the crown prince, can I not order him to start the play first?"
Tang Hong promptly nodded. Li Qingcheng asked, "Still have more 'what if'?"
Tang Hong waved his hand. "No."
Li Qingcheng: "Of course, Provincial Officer Lin’s death on the road will become a major event. Once the news is out, the governor will be the first one to hear it. Moreover, once the troops in both the inner and the outer city barracks get wind of the news that the provincial officer has died, the scene will become fully chaotic. When that happens, the governor will also dare not disclose anything, because he knows that this matter, in all likelihood, has something to do with us and the Sun family."
Stopping at the wall on the other side, Li Qingcheng turned around to face the arctic gyr before creating a hook shape with his fingers. The gyrfalcon flew in and perched on his shoulder guard, making both of Li Qingcheng's eyes flash. He smiled, immensely proud of himself. "You might as well guess, at that time, what will he do then?"
Zhang Mu: "Escape."
Li Qingcheng thought for a while before replying, "If he truly knows how to escape, it will make things much easier. Though, I actually kind of feel that he's not going to be that obedient and simplify matters at all."
Fang Qingyu said, "I think he'll find an excuse to leave the banquet and then find a way to incorporate Lin Xi's army into his troops after said person's death."
Li Qingcheng replied, "Yes, this is the next major thing we have to trouble ourselves with." Having said that, he, matching with the gyrfalcon, hopped together. Tang Hong, who had been looking, couldn't help smiling at this scene.
"At this moment, that great young heir of ours, Sun Yan, will absolutely be dazed because he still has no idea what has transpired. Then, Tang Hong, you immediately bring this confidential letter, the one we had forged the other day, to the provincial officer's residence. Here, you see, in addition to a stamp on the top, Governor Sun's official seal is also on the letter. He can't help but believe it.
"You take the letter and give it to Lin Xi's second-in-command. Tell him that Provincial Officer Lin has been assassinated by the governor. Ask him if he is loyal to the crown prince or loyal to the governor who conspired to murder the provincial officer."
"Tang Hong has no previous experience, it's a bit risky," Fang Qingyu said. "I'd better be the one going ba."
"It won't be." Li Qingcheng frowned. "According to the intelligence you have provided, this second-in-command, who had been personally promoted by Lin Xi, is greedy for money, lecherous, afraid of death, has little loyalty, and also secretly accepts a lot of bribes from the Sun family. This kind of person is very easy to pick up.
"The governor's letter clearly stated that the crown prince and the Sun family, together with the provincial officer, had already allied. Promise him a position and wealth, bestow him with the general's waist token, and let him take over Lin Xi's position. With the crown prince personally bestowing this upon him, how can he reject it? As soon as he agrees, take him out of the residence. At this moment, wait until the governor is estimated to be on his way, and immediately go out and allow him to act as well, as in, letting the vice general kill the court official. Since his life and the evidence are both in our hands, it'll be improbable for him to have the heart to betray us then."
Tang Hong thought about it. Li Qingcheng added, "So, it's all up to you, don't screw up. You must bring back Lin Xi's corpse from the personal army of the provincial officer's residence in a short time span before the governor arrives, while also thoroughly convincing the vice-general who has the military tally to instigate him to move his hands and kill Governor Sun."
As Tang Hong's brow furrowed, Li Qingcheng continued, "If you really can't convince him, just kill him with one halberd swing ba. I'll help you figure out a way to clean up the mess... Tang San, do you dare to go or not? There is no harm if you dare not to go, I'll swap you with Qing-ge. He's guaranteed to be successful."
Tang Hong said, "I'll go."
Li Qingcheng nodded. "Don't be too nervous, just let go and do it. Even if you mess up over there, we still have some people at hand. At that time, we'll seize the tally and support Sun Yan together outside the city gate. Sun Yan is of a local distinguished family; with the provincial officer and governor both dead, the city defensive troops will be like a group of dragons without a head, and thus, will have no choice but to listen to him for the time being.
"And then, we'll summon both the captain and the vice-captain to one place. I'll pass the word around and make clear my identity. Those who are unwilling to surrender will be killed without pardon."
Tang Hong said, "You don't have to go that far, I can get it done."
Li Qingcheng gladly said, "It is for the best that Mu-ge and I continue to watch the play with Sun Yan, while you and Qing-ge bring the provincial officer's second-in-command alongside the tally to take over the military barracks. After the play is over and the deed is done, let them all go back to guard Ting City."
"When the imperial court's envoy comes bringing 2,000 men to the city, we'll have 8,000 people plus a whole city. We can let those who randomly go inside piss their pants in terror. If you send some of the remaining soldiers to report afterward, Sun Yan will be forced to kneel even if he doesn't want to. That's it, scatter for now ba. Withdraw and have a rest. Hopefully, there won't be any changes these days."
Fang Qingyu got up, while the gyrfalcon was handed over to Zhang Mu. The two then left the hall and only Tang Hong was still standing inside.
Li Qingcheng titled his head to look at Tang Hong, knowing he still had something to say. After a moment, Tang Hong opened his mouth, "You trust me just like that."
Li Qingcheng nodded and smiled as he replied, "So it's not good to trust you?"
Tang Hong thought for a while before saying, "Fang Qingyu and Zhang Mu..."
Li Qingcheng said lightly, "Because they both treat me like a child, and you're the only one treating me as a leader. Go and embrace your woman ba. Don't indulge yourself in spring nights these days. In the future, I'll give you all the women you want, and I'll also hand you the Yulin Army. Learn carefully and be vigilant of today's arrangement. When you become the commander of the Yulin Army later, it won’t be worth it if you follow the exact same path."
Tang Hong's heart surged and his whole body was boiling. Having no more to say, he bowed and took his leave.
Li Qingcheng walked to the table and picked up the brass fish, the mouth of which was filled up with soil. Fang Qingyu crammed it with seeds that autumn on Feng Pass. Now that spring was here and the weather had warmed up, green sprouts had unknowingly started to grow at some point; they were full of vitality and lush.
Altogether, it had been only 22 days. Li Qingcheng counted his fingers, the corners of his mouth slightly raising. No matter how carefully Sun Yan guarded himself, he still wouldn't be able to foresee that Li Qingcheng, in the span of a scant 20 or so days, would be able to arrange an inescapable net for him and was currently waiting for him to fall for the trap.
Welcome opal who is joining our team as an editor!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.