Merchant City, Gao Xianzhi’s military camp, inside the large central tent:
Crown Prince Song and Gao Xianzhi sampled tea while sitting as Lin Chong stood respectfully before the two.
“How is the troops’ morale now?” Crown Prince Song asked with a smile.
Lin Chong nodded and said, “Commander’s arrangements made the soldiers even more motivated. At the same time, they hate Gu Hai with all their guts. Now that they can write home, their morale is at an all-time high, raising their ferocity as they claimed the surrounding cities. We are now progressing at an even faster pace!”
“Then, what about the wealthy merchants?” Gao Xianzhi asked as he sipped his tea.
“The wealthy merchants no longer dare to behave wantonly. No one dares to release fireworks or firecrackers. Everything is low-key. At most, they just bring some letters from home or sneak in some family members with bad news. However, after Commander’s explanation, all the soldiers blame Gu Hai for their missing family members. The soldiers no longer kick up a fuss,” Lin Chong said with admiration.
“Gu Hai’s schemes are hard to guard against. Carefully monitor that group of wealthy merchants. Don’t let them come in contact with the soldiers for too long. Capture anyone that dares defy or resist,” Gao Xianzhi ordered while sipping tea.
“Yes! Commander, rest assured. However…” Lin Chong suddenly frowned.
“Oh?” Gao Xianzhi’s expression suddenly turned tense. Did something happen again?
Ever since Gao Xianzhi learned that Gu Hai was his opponent, he did not dare to relax at all. Even if it were just a minute detail, he had to be careful with it. After all, the earlier commotion happened despite his vigilance.
Then, Lin Chong glanced at Crown Prince Song.
“What’s wrong? Do you need me to leave?” Crown Prince Song asked sullenly.
“That’s not it. Commander, Your Highness, you two should know that it is likely Gu Hai who kidnapped the families of some of the soldiers, then blamed it on the local officials. Although it might not really be the local officials, it inspired fear in everyone. Despite Commander having asked the emperor to deal with this using heavy punishments to calm all the soldiers, stories of families being wiped out continue to happen,” Lin Chong explained.
“That’s right. Now, all we can do is search everywhere. We already know about this matter. What is different about this?” Gao Xianzhi asked in puzzlement.
“This time, they targeted the crown heir, Song Zhengxi,” Lin Chong replied gravely.
“What?” Crown Prince Song’s expression changed, and he suddenly stood up.
The crown heir? That was his son! How did his son get dragged into this when his son was far away in Song City, the capital?
Gao Xianzhi’s pupils contracted.
“Previously, it was just ordinary officials and nobles. This time, it’s the crown heir? Is Gu Hai finally baring his fangs?” Gao Xianzhi said with an unsightly expression.
“What’s going on?” Crown Prince Song asked, his expression changing.
“The news from Song City linked fifteen cases of families being exterminated to Song Zhengxi. Furthermore, the reason for all of them was Song Zhengxi lusting after beauties, causing harm to Song City. At this moment, fifteen soldiers are kneeling before my tent, begging me to ask Commander to stand up for them,” Lin Chong said with a frown.
“That bastard Gu Hai! How dare he frame my son? Lin Chong, did you explain it to them? This is all just slander!” Crown Prince Song said anxiously.
Frowning, Lin Chong replied, “This subordinate has investigated. The soldiers received the news via their relatives personally showing up or writing letters. However, thirteen of them only reported that their families were missing. That Gu Hai has not fallen to killing the families of the soldiers yet.”
“Hey, if Gu Hai killed those people to frame my son, wouldn’t it be better for him?” Crown Prince Song asked while frowning.
“Oh, no! Oh, no!” Gao Xianzhi’s expression changed.
“It just occurred to me how terrifying and ruthless Gu Hai is at psychology. I nearly got fooled by its superficial appearance. To think that there is an insidious plan hidden within his insidious plan. Although the soldiers hate Gu Hai for kidnapping their families, they still feel hope, thinking that their families are alive, at least. They only hate Gu Hai but not to the point of hating him to the death. At the very least, Gu Hai did not kill their entire family. To these soldiers, Gu Hai kidnapping their families is the best result. If it were really like the people who reported the news say, that would be the true nightmare. I managed to change their viewpoint and suppress their anger. However, they have not stopped feeling angry; they just restrained themselves. If this anger erupts again, they probably will not listen to me anymore. Furthermore, if the soldiers’ families are really in Gu Hai’s hands, they will hold back when they fight, lest harm befall their families. Although it is just a small number of people, these feelings will spread. Who knows what other schemes Gu Hai will employ on them. If he instigates them into defecting, they might…” Gao Xianzhi’s expression kept changing.
“Instigate them into defecting? Hiss!” Crown Prince Song inhaled sharply.
“Lin Chong, you said that out of the fifteen soldiers, the families of thirteen of them went missing. However, what about the other two?” Gao Xianzhi stared at Lin Chong.
Lin Chong showed an unsightly expression. He looked at the crown prince and lowered his head as he replied, “They were indeed the doings of the crown heir, Song Zhengxi.”
“Huh?” Crown Prince Song’s face sank.
“Your Highness, this subordinate is going to speak frankly. Crown Heir Song Zhengxi has been abusing his identity and status for the past few years, bringing harm to many women in Song City. It’s not that you don’t know about it. Before the war started, Your Highness even gave some favors to Song City’s officials so that they would help suppress one of the crown heir’s scandals,” Lin Chong reminded softly.
Bang! Crown Prince Song slammed his hand on the table.
“Lin Chong, are you certain that the crown heir did it?” Gao Xianzhi asked, appearing unsightly.
“Yes. Those two are this subordinate’s followers. This subordinate knows that their younger sisters are extremely pretty. Back then, the two of them wanted to set their younger sisters up with me. However, I already had Xiaodie and do not want to take concubines, so that never happened. The person who delivered the news was a brother who went through life and death with them. Since he suffered injuries in battle, he returned home to recuperate. He witnessed it all. He even brought their families’ corpses and some of their families’ keepsakes,” Lin Chong answered in a soft voice.
Plop! Crown Prince Song sat down heavily on his chair.
“That little rascal. Before I left, I told him not to cause trouble. On the way here, I kept writing back to his mother to keep him in check. Unexpectedly…unexpectedly…!” Crown Prince Song said in pain.
“You said earlier that the news came from a brother who had been through life and death with them. Is that person reliable? Could Gu Hai have bribed him? You should know that for some friendships, it is not about what they had experienced together but the value of the friendship,” Gao Xianzhi suggested sullenly.
Crown Prince Song’s eyes lit up. That’s right. Gu Hai could have bribed the messenger.
“This subordinate cannot guarantee it. However, they have been kneeling outside my tent, begging for Commander to stand up for them and mete out heavy punishments as announced. All those who humiliated the families of the soldiers are to be punished accordingly. For the crown heir’s offense, that should be execution. They beg for Commander to deal with this fairly, to get revenge for their families,” Lin Chong replied in a gloomy voice.
“The…the verdict is not out yet. How do we punish accordingly?” Crown Prince Song asked anxiously.
Lin Chong looked at Crown Prince Song and said, “Your Highness, although this subordinate cannot guarantee anything, the crown heir is capable of doing such things. Furthermore, while you could control the crown heir when you were in Song City, no one can do so now, as you have been gone from Song City for so long. If it really were Gu Hai who did this, Gu Hai would be going too far. Before these fifteen soldiers left, they had already felt disgust for the crown heir, something deeply ingrained in them. If we question the messenger’s credibility, while I cannot guarantee it, I believe that there is a ninety percent chance that there are no problems with him. I have met that person before. He is someone who would rather die rather than surrender, someone who deeply values friendship. Furthermore, he had corpses as proof.”
“There’s a ninety percent chance that it really is my son?” Crown Prince Song showed an extremely unsightly expression.
“They want the crown heir executed as proclaimed.” Lin Chong nodded.
“Song Zhengxi cannot die!” Gao Xianzhi said with a sullen expression.
“Huh?” Crown Prince Song’s eyes lit up as he looked at Gao Xianzhi.
However, Gao Xianzhi turned even more sullen.
“I finally understand. The crown heir is just a symbol. If we kill the crown heir today, evidence of the imperial tutor’s wrongdoing will show up tomorrow. Then, it would be the prime minister next. Soon, it would include the various princes and archdukes. At that time, we will be killing the members of the royal clan every day. Our entire army’s confidence would be shaken. At that time, we can forget about fighting the war. The imperial court would panic at the slightest move, shaking up the entire nation,” Gao Xianzhi said with an unsightly expression.
“Song Zhengxi cannot die?” Lin Chong looked at Gao Xianzhi in shock.
“Gu Hai’s schemes are too convoluted. We cannot remain here any longer. We need to summon all the soldiers and quickly start the decisive battle. Immediately set out for Hulao Pass. We will end this quickly, no matter the losses. Otherwise, we won’t be able to defend against him,” Gao Xianzhi said with an unsightly expression.
“Then…then, what do we do now? They are still kneeling outside my tent,” Lin Chong asked worriedly.
Crown Prince Song also stared at Gao Xianzhi. At this moment, this war had implications for everything. If Gao Xianzhi wanted to kill Song Zhengxi, even he, the crown prince, could not stop it. The emperor and even the immortal sects were watching. There was no way for him to save Song Zhengxi.
However, Gao Xianzhi was going to save Song Zhengxi?
“Commander, could this be considered abusing your position for personal gain, protecting the evil and harming the good?”
“No. The situation is worse than I thought. We need to suppress this immediately. Your Highness, go give the order to withdraw all the soldiers claiming the surrounding cities and assemble our eight-hundred-thousand-strong army, then immediately head to Hulao Pass. As long as we conquer Hulao Pass, Gu Hai cannot do anything no matter how scheming he is,” Gao Xianzhi said.
“Alright!” Crown Prince Song said gratefully while nodding.
“What about Song Zhengxi?” Lin Chong looked at Gao Xianzhi.
“You said earlier that fifteen people are kneeling outside your tent, right? You should be able to pacify thirteen of them easily; just blame it all on Gu Hai. Immediately pick out the soldiers with missing families and allow them to return home to search for their families with the rest of the city. They should be willing to do so,” Gao Xianzhi said.
“This subordinate understands. We will remove the unstable elements first. However, what about the two soldiers whose families are ninety percent likely to have been harmed by Song Zhengxi?” Lin Chong asked.
“Calm them down and seal off the information. You can even let them return to investigate. We have to minimize the spread of this information,” Gao Xianzhi replied sullenly.
“What if they insist on Commander standing up for them?” Lin Chong pressed with a frown.
“For now, the big picture takes precedence. Lin Chong, you have followed me for many years already. You should understand that compassion cannot run an army.” A cold light appeared in Gao Xianzhi’s eyes.
“Yes!” Lin Chong left the tent with a frown.
Crown Prince Song quickly sent out the various orders.
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