It has been three days since Peng Wu went down the mountains and there was still no news at all. Meanwhile, there had been corpses transported back from the Pan Long Mountain Ridge periodically and they all belong to the members of the lost teams a few days ago. The atmosphere in the mountains was growing heavier as the days passed.
As she picked wild vegetables, Ye Jiayao stood on the elevated ground, gazing into the distance. She worried as she saw that there were more sentries posted on the steps.
"Auntie Jiang, do you think the army would attack up from the waters?" Ye Jiayao asked, pointing at the endless haze lake.
She had been studying the small piece of the map under the pen holder in Chunyu's study. Adding her observations up at the mountain these few days, she had a fair understanding of Hei Feng Gang's terrain and the positions of the sentries. However, she was troubled. There was a huge chance that the army could also attack from the haze lake. Huge battleships could come in majestically and still take down Hei Feng Gang.
Auntie Jiang laughed. "Didn't you see the cliff overlooking the lake? Only a small path leads to Haze Lake and there are men watching there. The year before, the army came to annihilate from the lake and ended up returning without any achievements. Countless of men died in that lake, feeding the fishes and prawns.
Ye Jiayao shuddered. The fishes and prawns in the lake are so meaty! Could that be because they ate a lot of corpses to grow so fat?
Ye Jiayao had never been to the lakeside. Looking out from the mountain, she could not really see the exact terrain of the side of the lake. No wonder the village was assured in Hei Feng Gang. They knew that they had an upper hand in terrain.
"Besides, there are sentries along the sides. Once the army's ships draw close, we would be able to easily spot them and get ready for battle," Auntie Jiang explained.
"What if they swim over to sneak an attack?"
"It would be possible if there are only a handful, but it would be impossible when there are a lot of people. And I'm pretty positive that they wouldn't take just a small handful of people when they attack. They wouldn't stand a chance unless all of them are highly skilled like third-in-charge."
Ye Jiayao watched the surface of the lake gleaming and reflecting the light around it. If it was so difficult to attack up the mountains, what about escaping it? Basing off on her swimming skills, she should be able to sneak out without being noticed. However, she was uncertain of the lake's size. Her current small frame was obviously not as strong as her body in her previous life. She might not be able to make it halfway through the lake before drowning.
After plucking the wild vegetables, Ye Jiayao cut some grass back as Da Bao and Er Bao were getting bigger appetites.
When she was on her way down, she heard the urgent sound of the bugle horn. She rushed down only to see many people running towards the meeting room.
"What happened?" Ye Jiayao was confused.
Auntie Jiang's face changed. "That was the signal to show that the enemy has invaded."
"What? They have started attacking the stockade?" Ye Jiayao started to feel anxious. Does that mean Chunyu has to go out to battle?
Ye Jiayao rushed home. She had to prepare some dried provisions to send to Chunyu and Song Qi. If they start fighting, they might not have time to come back to eat.
Just when she was kneading the dough, Song Qi ran back.
"Sister-in-law, third-in-charge brought some men to Pan Long Mountain Ridge."
"Has the army started attacking?" Ye Jiayao asked fearfully.
Song Qi nodded. "They have already camped under the mountain. The sentry at the front could already see their campsite, and there was a dense mass of at least ten thousand people."
"Then… wouldn't releasing the Dragon-breaking Stone be fine?"
"I'm afraid it's not going to work this time. From what the brothers had said, the authorities brought artillery to break through it."
Then why are we bothering to fight at all? A few shells would leave everyone dead.
"Isn't Peng Wu part of the group of people who went down to get news? Is he back yet?" Ye Jiayao asked as she suddenly recalled the missing person from her household.
Song Qi seemed to find it difficult to speak about it. He kept hesitating as he was about to talk.
Ye Jiayao's heart sank. Did Peng Wu get into trouble?
"Say something!" Ye Jiayao urged.
Song Qi clenched his teeth as he replied, "Big sister, Peng Wu was actually the spy."
Ye Jiayao was flabbergasted. "No, that's impossible! How could he be the spy? Isn't he part of the pioneers of the stockade? First-in-charge trusted him so much."
"Well, as they say, you cannot judge a book by its cover. Who would have expected that? However, that is the truth. The people who escaped back said they saw with their own eyes that he got invited back, politely might I add, by the court officials."
Ye Jiayao was speechless. She didn't expect that the spy would come from their own courtyard.
"Then… did first-in-charge suspect third-in-charge?" Ye Jiayao wanted to ascertain the safety of Chunyu first.
Song Qi shook his head. "Not to that extent. Peng Wu was originally first-in-charge's man. It was first-in-charge who sent him over to third-in-charge's side. Moreover, first brother was the one who sent him down the mountain this time. The most crime that could be pinned to third-in-charge was that he failed to notice Peng Wu's traitorous ways. However, now that the stockade is facing a calamity and in need of manpower, first brother would not pursue the responsibilities of third-in-charge."
Ye Jiayao heaved a sigh of relief. At least, she doesn't have to worry about Chunyu on top of fearing for her life.
"Right! Third-in-charge only got me to get some things, and I have to go now, big sister. We might not be back these couple of days." Song Qi said offhandedly as he went off to the central building.
Ye Jiayao hurriedly took all the steamed buns left in the pot, stuffed some salted vegetables inside them and started to stow it away. Just when she finished packing them, Song Qi came back, saying, "Sister-in-law, third-in-charge wants you to stay inside within the next days. Don't leave the house as much as possible, and he wants you to know that he won't abandon you."
Ye Jiayao was really touched that Chunyu still remembered his promise amidst all the chaos that was surrounding them.
She stuffed the bundle she has prepared into Song Qi's hands. "Take these dried provisions and just put up with the food for now. If you have time tomorrow, come back and I will make more for you guys."
Song Qi nodded. "I shall get going, sister-in-law. Take care."
Ye Jiayao said anxiously, "You guys be careful too. Watch out for each other, please."
After Song Qi left, Ye Jiayao stood blankly, rooted to the ground. She had gone from being on edge and flustered to empty in just a blink of an eye. She never expected that this day would approach so fast. It had been barely a month since her arrival, yet she had grown fond of this place. She had grown to love the Chunyu, who was at times overbearing and at times gentle. She had learned to adore Song Qi, the footman, who was the obedient punching bag, and Peng Wu, who did not speak much but very attentive. She had become close with the loud and warm-hearted, Auntie Jiang. If they die, she would be very upset.
Da Bao and Er Bao hopped to her side. Ye Jiayao squatted down and picked Da Bao up, caressing Er Bao. "Your Father Rabbit has gone to fight a battle. Although he was fierce and unreasonable at times, there were also times when he was nice to me. I don't want anything to happen to him, will you pray with me for him?"
Xia Chunyu stood at the apex of the Pan Long Mountain Ridge, gazing down. Helian Xuan must have come personally because the banners below were as dense as the forest.
As agreed, He Lianxuan began encircling the mountain at the sight of Song Qi's dagger. First-in-charge and Peng Wu must not have thought that he used this method to pass the message, so they both cooperated with his plan. They put on an act of Peng Wu going behind the enemy lines to make everyone in the stockade mistake him as the spy, and draw the real one out. Although Peng Wu followed his orders obediently, Xia Chunyu knew that ultimately, Peng Wu was only loyal to first-in-charge. If he did not eliminate Peng Wu, his operation would be hindered greatly.
Following their plan, Helian Xuan would send a convoy to persuade the stockade to surrender, and when the time comes, he would find a chance to send the map out. As long as he managed to block the escape route of, Bai Zongye, the first-in-charge, he can attack fearlessly.
"Third-in-charge, sister-in-law got me to deliver this to you." Song Qi approached, handing a bundle over to Xia Chunyu. Xia Chunyu looked down at his hands and there was a piece of paper in his palm.
Xia Chunyu squeezed the paper, asking expressionlessly, "Did you pass my words to her?"
"I said everything. Sister-in-law wants you to be careful," Song Qi replied.
Xia Chunyu opened the bundle and saw that there were eight steamed buns inside. His heart warmed with unknown emotions. These past few days, he only saw her drink porridge and nothing else. Whenever he asked her, she would just say that there was more in the pot. Today, before he left, he went to open the lid of the pot to take a look. There was a total of eight inside, including the four that he and Song Qi had for breakfast. Initially, there were 12, which meant that for these past days, she had been drinking plain porridge to pass by. She was leaving the steamed buns and egg for them.
If she was really sent by first-in-charge, she would not have done this.
Ye Jinxuan. Her name was like a mantra in his thoughts, anchoring him to the memory of the lovely days they spent together.
Ye Jiayao was bored to death. Whenever she has nothing to do, she starts to overthink. The more she thought about the brothers' situation, the more anxious she got. She was desperate to find something to do to keep her from worrying so much.
First, she cleaned up the courtyard, then brought the bed sheet and bedding out to the sun. She crawled up and down to wipe the furniture in the house. It was when she was cleaning the study that she realized the pen holder on the table had been moved.
She had observed that Chunyu always placed his things in specific positions without any deviation. Was Song Qi the one who moved the pen holder? He did mention that Chunyu sent him back to retrieve something. Was that it?
Ye Jiayao picked the pen holder up, pressing on the dragon's eye. The pedestal swiveled open, and indeed, the little piece of paper was no longer there.
Perhaps, they needed that map before the battle, so Chunyu got Song Qi to come back to retrieve it. Ye Jiayao did not think much about it and placed the pedestal back.
Ye Jiayao only started making dinner after the whole house had been swept, the windows shined and the tables wiped. Although Chunyu and Song Qi would not be back to eat, she still had to deliver food to second-in-charge.
As she prepared the food, she could not help but think of Peng Wu. How could he have been the spy? He must've been very good in order to trick big brother. Would he lead the army to attack the stockade? If he came personally, would he let her off on account of her making him many delicious foods?
Ah! Forget it! These were all matters of the future. Auntie Jiang mentioned that the imperial court had sent many troops to annihilate the stockade. Each time has been bloody and dangerous, yet everything had been fine in the end. She might be able to get through the crisis this time, too.
Ye Jiayao made a bowl of shredded meat noodles. The noodles were made by hand, cooked till medium well and taken out immediately to rinse in cold water. The expansion and contraction would cause the noodles to become chewy. The soup was made separately. She fried the streaky pork till it was fragrant, then added greens, shiitake mushroom, and tomatoes. She added some boiling water, plus a pinch of salted vegetables to make it more palatable. Lastly, she added the noodles that had been cooled to heat up for a while, sprinkled some chopped green onions on top, and the dish was finished.
Ye Jiayao carried the lunch box over to second-in-charge's place. As soon as she entered the courtyard, the big black dog that was laying at the corner, basking in the sun, jumped up, ears straight and alert. When he realized that it was only Ye Jiayao, he plopped back down and closed his eyes.
Second-in-charge's house always had someone outside guarding it, yet there was none today. Everyone must have gone out to defend the safety of the stockade. Just when Ye Jiayao was about to enter, she heard first-in-charge's voice from inside.
"Let third brother guard the place. I will assign someone to send you out."