Editors: Xu Xian, Nyxnox
Chapter 109 Merging Camps
Meng Fifth Gongzi's team camped on the other side of the road. Naturally, the two groups joined together the next morning.
The Meng family's caravans were much larger. They had fifty or sixty camels, the same number of horses as Golden Roc Castle, and over a hundred people in total with more than thirty being guards.
These guardsmen were the Meng family's own people. The only one from the castle was a man carrying a golden roc flag at the front of the group. The brown-belted killers didn't know him, and neither was the man interested in the group of brown-belted teenagers.
Polite and friendly, Meng Mingshi seemed to have become a different person. He chatted with Servant Qing as they walked, neither badgering the two gongzis of the Shangguan family nor showing a trace of hatred towards Servant Huan. In fact, he didn't even seem to recognize that 'sabre-wielding kid'.
Gu Shenwei ordered the brown-belted killers to stay alert. There were only seven of them while the other party had over thirty armed people. However, all of these bodyguards of the Meng family were temporarily hired sabremen from southern Jade City. They looked scary, but their sabresmanship was slow. When Gu Shenwei scrutinised them, he found that only two or three could barely be considered experts.
At first, the two new guards surnamed Shangguan followed their leader's order and didn't provoke the Meng family's entourage. But not long after, they couldn't help but mercilessly taunt those in the caravans. Meng Fifth Gongzi continued to calmly accept the taunts, even acting repentant. It was Servant Qing who became anxious and kept apologizing to Meng Fifth Gongzi.
Soon, Shangguan Ru and Shangguan Yushi got bored of Meng Fifth Gongzi and returned to their team.
The first three days went well, but on the third night, the two teams camped out at a mountain pass. This was on the border of Golden Roc Castle's territory. To the North of the mountain pass were endless steppes belonging to Bei Ting. However, they weren't actually guarded by anyone. Bandits ran rampant in the area, but the golden roc flag kept their path unobstructed.
Another two days passed without a hitch, and they passed less and less people along the way. If one looked ahead, one would see an endless wilderness with sparse grass and trees. Shangguan Ru started complaining about how boring the journey was and tried to challenge the Meng family every now and then, but was persuaded to stop by Servant Qing and Servant Huan.
The two teams had a dispute at the crossroads.
The Northern road looked better as they could stop by residential areas every few days. It was also very safe because Bei Ting's cavalry guarded the route. But this way was also longer, taking about twenty days to reach Iron Mountain camp.
The other road led to the Northeast and would reach the Meng's family's destination: the capital city of a small country in the Western Regions. It was also closer to Iron Mountain camp and would take about ten days to get there. However, the road was rough and said to be unsafe.
Meng Fifth Gongzi had long been determined to take the shortcut. He had a golden roc flag leading his team and also had over thirty sabremen behind him, leaving him with no fear. He formally said farewell to the two gongzis of the Shangguan family, "There are a lot of bandits along this road, no one would blame you two if you're scared. Actually, there's no need to worry, Tenth Gongzi. I'll stay for more than ten days in the city and will probably meet you again. I hope that Tenth Gongzi can teach me more lessons then."
Meng Mingshi was obviously trying to goad Shangguan Ru into taking the shortcut, but Shangguan Ru easily ate it up. She once again overstepped her status as a 'sabreman' and strongly requested to take the shortcut.
Both Dao San'er, who was responsible for leading the way, and Gu Shenwei wanted to take the predetermined road North. Besides this, Gu Shenwei also had another unspoken reason for wanting to go North; he thought that Meng Fifth Gongzi had a hidden purpose, and there was no need to purposefully step into a trap.
Servant Qing made the final decision since he was the big leader and everyone had to listen to him. "Isn't it a good thing to travel together? The caravans of the Meng family have more people, if we take care of each other, even the bandits won't dare to approach us, isn't that right?"
Servant Qing had been persuaded by Meng Mingshi a long time ago, and he would happily agree even if he were asked to be a servant of the Meng family's right now.
The team turned to the Northeast road. At Shangguan Ru's insistence, they stayed out of sight of the Meng family's caravans. Because of this, they camped early and decided to travel later on the next day. Tenth Gongzi was anxious to meet some bandits so that she could show the power of her golden roc sabresmanship.
Gu Shenwei secretly ordered the brown-belted killers to strengthen their vigilance and asked Lotus to focus more on taking care of Shangguan Ru. Right now, the most precious item wasn't the boxes on the camel, but rather an unwelcomed female 'sabreman'.
Gu Shenwei felt again that life was unpredictable. The teenage girl he was now wholeheartedly protecting was the enemy he must kill in the future.
Another two days safely passed. The biggest incident was that a wolf somehow approached the camp and was shot to death by Liuhua. Even so, Shangguan Ru was excited for a long time.
They were walking down a narrow mountain road early in the morning of their third day when Shangguan Ru walked over to Gu Shenwei as he was putting away his saddle-cloth. Her left hand pressed against her sabre's hilt, her head was slightly tilted, and her eyes looked even darker against the first rays of morning sun. "Why don't you talk with me?"
"You're a sabreman, I'm the leader. This is how it is."
"No, you were talking and smiling with those brown-belted killers."
Gu Shenwei couldn't remember himself talking and smiling with anyone, but he felt he was a grown-up now and didn't want to waste time on a childish question, so he smiled and replied, "Now we're talking and smiling."
Wearing a cold expression, Shangguan Ru pursed her lips and didn't say anything. She circled 180° around Servant Huan then suddenly asked, "That day at Bodhi Garden, why did you come out to protect me?"
So she already knew. Gu Shenwei stopped what he was doing, becoming more and more regretful of his impulsive action at the time, "That was my fault, you had already discovered that someone was approaching and were pretending to be asleep, didn't you?"
Shangguan Ru was a highly competitive person, Gu Shenwei thought she would go along with his words and say 'of course', but what she said was, "No, I was drunk and didn't hear anything."
Gu Shenwei didn't know what to say, he kept silent for a while. "Because I'm Servant Huan, a disciple taken in by Tenth Gongzi, and a killer under your command."
In few months it would be Shangguan Ru's thirteenth birthday. After that, she would be called 'tenth young lord' and would be qualified to command real killers. She had undergone all the education a young lord should have, including how to see through and buy over people, but she would never understand the resentment and sarcasm hidden in Servant Huan's words.
Shangguan Ru revealed a smile, seeming a bit proud, "It's good you still remember. I'll have another kung fu competition with you once I have the chance. Let's see if your sabresmanship has improved or not."
Gu Shenwei slightly bowed. "No matter how fast the disciple improves, he can't catch up with his Master, but now I'm the leader."
Shangguan Ru also slightly bowed and smiled as she retreated. "It's not easy to earn ten liangs of silver a day."
Gu Shenwei had been wishing to kill the whole day, and he was eager to slit another throat. The red blood would make his stomach roil, but keep his heart quiet.
That afternoon, his wish was partially fulfilled. He saw a corpse.
The escorting team saw that, far ahead, the caravans of the Meng family had stopped by the road, as if they were waiting for their arrival.
Servant Qing, Servant Huan, and Dao San'er rode their horses to catch up to them while the others held their positions.
Even Servant Qing felt the ominous atmosphere amongst the caravans. His face turned pale and his voice became hoarse when he ran over to the front of the team.
"What …", Servant Qing didn’t finish his question. The corpse lying in the centre of the road made him shut his mouth.
It was a sabreman of the Meng family laying on his back. A black arrow had pierced his heart, and the sabre hanging at his waist wasn't even unsheathed.
The killer carrying the golden roc flag looked up. "Someone wants our goods."
Servant Qing nervously looked around. "Where? Who is so daring? How about we turn around and take our original path?"
"No." The killer shook his head and refused. Servant Qing was slightly stunned as his status was much higher than before in the castle and an average killer should have been politer to him.
Dao San'er was well-versed with the local activity, so he explained, "This is a mark made by the bandits, showing that they will take these goods and that others should not lay their hands on it. It will not work to turn around; the road at the back must have already been blocked."
"What, just a group of bandits, this … We have the golden roc flag …"
"Famous bandits will show some face to our flag, but unknown wandering bandits don't care about anything," the killer calmly said, as if he were already used to it.
"Wandering bandits? Wandering bandits aren't a threat, are they?"
"They aren't. As long as they dare to show up, we'll kill them all."
The flag-carrying killer's calmness had greatly encouraged the morale of the crowd. A sneaky shot didn't mean the bandits were capable of robbing them. In a robbery, one still had to rely on face to face fights.
"Let's camp here." The flag-carrying killer said to Meng Fifth Gongzi. It was more accurate to call it an order, than a suggestion.
Meng Mingshi's face became as pale as Servant Qing's as he nodded repeatedly and asked a nearby footman to pass on the order.
Then, the flag-carrying killer then said to Servant Qing, "It would be better for everyone to stay together." Servant Qing had been waiting for this order, so he nodded even faster than Meng Fifth Gongzi.
Those two teams merged again. Shangguan Ru and Shangguan Yushi didn't believe the people of the Meng family, so they went to check the corpse themselves. They came back looking serious and volunteered themselves as sentries for the night.
Gu Shenwei arranged for them to do the earliest shift.
As usual, as a crisis approached, the clearer Gu Shenwei's mind was. Peeling away the accidents, coincidences, and incidents, he simply analyzed everything. The underlying reasons and consequences of the whole matter naturally unfolded in front of him.
Gu Shenwei believed that he had seen though the scheme behind the corpse.
Night fell. He walked around the team and checked everything before walking over to the cameleers.
The five cameleers sat around a small fire, drinking and chatting. Gu Shenwei joined them for a chat.
They were all experienced workers. The four cameleers hired from Southern Jade City soon left with the excuse of wanting to sleep early and left the cameleer from Golden Roc Castle and the leader of the guardsmen alone.
Gu Shenwei stared at the cameleer. He didn't know his name yet, but it was not needed.
That cameleer lowered his head without saying anything for a long time. His eyes sharpened when he raised his head again. Those eyes were a killer's eyes. "I do my business, you do yours."
Gu Shenwei nodded and left. He just wanted to make sure his guess was right. That cameleer was a killer sent by Golden Roc Castle to protect Tenth Gongzi. Shangguan Ru's little scheme had already been seen through before she left the castle. With this person, those two teenage girls would be safe.
The two gongzis of the Shangguan family were still standing guard, Gu Shenwei called out the other four brown-belted killers. He ordered White Camel to stay behind while he and the remaining three performed a task.
"Let's go find the 'bandits.' If I'm right, these 'bandits' aren't far."
The four hid from the sentries as they led their horses out . They circled around the camp from the other side and then dashed forward.