Chapter 230 Leaderless
In order to eliminate the Iron Mountain, the Central Plains had planned for a long time and their pretext for invasion was exactly Wei Lingmiao's death.
Wei Song had directed his hatred towards the Meng family of Northern Jade City, but the Central Plains claimed that the mastermind behind the scene was Big Head God. Originally, it wasn't a big deal because the forces of the Central Plains always blamed each other and most of the blame merely stopped at words. This time, however, the Central Plains took it seriously. On the surface, they kept exchanging opinions through paperwork, while really they were secretly deploying their troops.
In late July of this year, less than two months after the murder of Wei Lingming, five thousand officers and soldiers went to war, and sixteen vassal countries of the Western Regions provided the same amount of troops as support.
Even then, Big Head God still thought that war would not break out. Although the Central Plains had ten thousand soldiers, the Iron Mountain had over five thousand people who were well rested and supplied. Besides, they had many killers and sabremen of Golden Roc Castle, which was also a force to be reckoned with. He believed that he could clearly explain to the Central Plains that the Iron Mountain had nothing to do with Wei Lingmiao's death.
But at the crucial moment, Shangguan Nu betrayed his father-in-law. The details of the case varied from person to person. Some said that the two of them had had a big fight the night before Big Head God was assassinated, while others said that the two didn't have a quarrel at all. During the day, while the two were discussing how to fight the enemy together just like a real father and son pair, the eighth young lord suddenly made a signal and one hundred killers rushed into the tent and killed Big Head God and all the chiefs of Iron Mountain.
In any case, one thing was certain. Big Head God had died at the hands of his son-in-law. Perhaps Shangguan Nu didn't do it himself because rumors spread that Big Head God was so formidable that he had killed hundreds of enemies with his iron spear before he was hacked to death.
As soon as Big Head God died, the Iron Mountain Camp became leaderless and the robbers either ran away or surrendered. The largest gang of bandits which had overrun the Western Regions for more than a decade had simply vanished into thin air.
The details were always exaggerated. Gu Shenwei believed that Shangguan Nu must have adopted the safest method to assassinate Big Head God, knockout drugs.
The Iron Mountain had been destroyed. All of a sudden, the army of the Central Plains had arrived at the border of Jade City, which was the first time in many years. A lot of people suddenly realized that the bandits' gang had actually been the guardian of the city.
The Central Plains didn't withdraw its troops, and neither did it make its next move public. Jade City was in chaos now, as a great clamor had arisen around the rumor that the army would slaughter the city next. Some people even fled to the Shu Le country in the West, and many more waited for the attitude of Golden Roc Castle.
Golden Roc Castle had kept surprisingly silent as if the matter had nothing to do with it. The residents at the foot of the mountain came forth in droves to petition and inquire the Unique King, but he didn't say a word. For five days in a row, the people of Jade City all had a sense of impending doom.
Five days were enough for Gu Shenwei to do many things. He had learned long ago that Shangguan Nu would betray the castle and that the Central Plains would eradicate the Iron Mountain. He had considered the consequences of the event long enough, so his reaction was quicker than anyone else's in the castle.
As soon as the news of Big Head God's death was confirmed, Luo Ningcha fell into a state of hysteria. She cried from morning to night, smashed every item that she could hold, beat every servant she could reach, and then implored everyone around her for protection.
After causing a lot of trouble for Servant Huan and Lotus, Luo Ningcha still treated them as her most trusted people and forced them to swear to stay with her forever. Then she ordered them to go immediately to the Iron Mountain Camp in search of Big Head God who might still be alive.
More news came the next day. Big Head God was confirmed to have died under the hands of his son-in-law. Luo Ningcha was completely crushed by the news. Instead of making any more noises and shouting, she hid in the bedroom and lowered her voice even when speaking. She came up with a strange idea that the whole matter was a conspiracy of Golden Roc Castle and that as soon as her father died, she would be the next in line.
Luo Ningcha forbade the servants and killers assigned by the castle to enter her backyard. Instead, she commanded all the people she had brought from her family to guard outside the house while several close maidservants and those two killers were ordered to stay inside. Every now and then, Gu Shenwei and Lotus had to go out and search on the roof to make sure that there was no assassin, so the Miss could be at ease for a while.
In fact, there was no need for Luo Ningcha to worry about her own safety because most people had simply forgotten about her. The silence of Golden Roc Castle was not intentional either. Like all the others, the second young lord Shangguan Tian was overwhelmed by the unexpected news. He panicked and issued a series of contradictory orders. In one moment he declared Shangguan Nu a traitor, and the next he wanted to negotiate with the Central Plains through his eighth brother. The killers were pushed around without even knowing for what purpose. It was the counselors of White Clothes Yard who held back those ridiculous plans and didn't let Golden Roc Castle show its cowardice in front of outsiders.
Shangguan Tian's only reliable plan was to wait for his father's instructions.
The Unique King had not yet recovered but had to solve the immediate crisis himself. Instead of showing up right away, he coldly looked on as a bystander and arranged his plans in secret. During the five days, while he watched as a cold onlooker, Golden Roc Castle didn't issue any statements. Gu Shenwei, however, took the opportunity and solved a series of problems.
The first thing he did was to save Chu Nanping.
When the news that the eighth young lord had defected to the Central Plains came, Shen Liang's position as a sabrelord was taken away. In Shangguan Tian's eyes, Shen Liang, who was the eighth young lord's uncle, was obviously a spy placed in the castle by the Central Plains.
Amidst the turmoil, Shangguan Ru received the order to release people and went together with Servant Huan to the torture chamber of Washing Heart Yard.
Gu Shenwei left Luo Ningcha in the name of going on safety patrols.
After the Sabrelord lost his status, the executioners' manner immediately changed. Their flattery towards Tenth Gongzi was even more excessive than the slickest servant.
Gu Shenwei had heard a familiar voice before he entered the torture chamber. "Hey, what's going on today? Why are you still not coming to serve your lord? I'm itchy now. Xiao Chu, aren't you itchy?"
"Not itchy, just a bit hungry."
"I was laughing at them, can't you just play along?"
"Oh, I'm a little itchy now, but I don't want to be tortured again."
"Are you going to confess?"
"I will not confess, but I also don't want to be beaten."
Xu Xiaoyi was actually here too. Gu Shenwei immediately understood that Shen Liang had intentionally hidden this news and wanted to throw it out at the last moment. But he hadn't expected that the eighth young lord would betray the castle and he himself would be imprisoned first.
The pair of good friends were badly tortured. Xu Xiaoyi's eyes had swollen into slits and he didn't even recognize Brother Huan at the beginning. And in just a few days, the scars on Chu Nanping's body numbered no less than the killer's.
When Xu Xiaoyi finally recognized Brother Huan, the first words he said were, "I didn't say anything, and neither did Xiao Chu."
"I know." Gu Shenwei wrapped the two up with cloaks, and personally drove them down the mountain before leaving them to someone he trusted the most.
Xu Xiaoyi finally relaxed and quickly fell asleep in the carriage after suffering for a few days. Before he succumbed, he asked Chu Nanping, "We've gone through thick and thin together. Will you still kill me?"
Chu Nanping carefully thought for quite a while before he replied, "According to the emotionless swordsmanship, the more painful it is to kill you, the more complete it will be to sever the emotions, and the better it will be for the swordsmanship. If Yang Huan is willing to practice it, I still have to kill you."
Xu Xiaoyi was lucky to not hear such heartless words. He had already fallen asleep while Xiao Chu was still analyzing his feelings.
It was already late in the night when Gu Shenwei returned to the castle. Luo Ningcha, who hadn't seen him in a couple of hours, was almost on the verge of losing her mind. She suspected that he had either been plotted against by his enemies or that he had betrayed her and joined the Madam's side. She cried bitterly in the presence of many maidservants, rebuked Servant Huan for being ungrateful, and then rapturously welcomed him back.
Gu Shenwei said many insincere words to comfort her. When she finally quieted down, Luo Ningcha motioned the maids to leave, leaving only Lotus and Tsui Nü.
In such a sad moment, Luo Ningcha still didn't forget to wear the veil. Being separated by the screen, Gu Shenwei could only see a vague figure.
"Miss, it's not the time to be sad, we must find a way to save ourselves."
"What else can I do? You told me that a woman's status came from her father and husband, but my husband killed my father. I have nothing left and can only wait to be slaughtered. It's all your fault for teaching me nonsense. I've offended everyone in the castle and everyone wants me dead. No one will protect me now." Luo Ningcha hadn't restored her reason yet and her voice full of anger, ready to 'offend' the last few people around her.
"That's why we need to find a way." Gu Shenwei remained patient.
"You find the way!" Luo Ningcha almost yelled out. Then she suddenly stood up and continued in a soft tone that she had never used before, "You've got an idea, don't you? Servant Huan, good Servant Huan, quick, tell me, I'll give all my treasures to you."
"The urgent thing is to ask for Madam Meng's understanding. She has the power that can determine whether Miss lives or dies."
"Yes, yes, you go tell Madam that I'm willing to apologize. I can even apologize in public."
"I'll go ask her, but Miss has to hand over the board first."
If it were another person, one would think of that the board was one's only bargaining chip and that handing it out meant resigning oneself to fate. Luo Ningcha, however, was already panic-stricken and unguarded so she hastily agreed. "It's at Elder Zhang's place, I asked him to hide it in the stable."
Gu Shenwei was surprised by her again. Luo Ningcha's mind was sometimes strong and sometimes feeble. The stableman Elder Zhang was a servant of the castle, so who could imagine that the Miss had given the board to him? And the fact that Elder Zhang had somehow gained the Miss's trust also surprised Gu Shenwei.
"I'll be right back." Gu Shenwei made an eye contact with Lotus to signal her to stay.
It was midnight now, but Elder Zhang was still awake. He was alone in the stable, taking care of the last two horses left. The other horses had been taken away by the eighth young lord and no one knew whether they would have a chance to return.
"Elder Zhang, I've come to collect what Miss has given you." Elder Zhang had helped him before. In Gu Shenwei's eyes, he was one of the few good people in the castle. So instead of using his kung fu to force him, Gu Shenwei tried to put it as politely as possible.
Without raising his head or speaking, Elder Zhang reached into the manger and searched for a while before handing over the last board.
Gu Shenwei took over the board and said, "Thank you."
The board was covered with several layers, of which the outermost layer was yellow silk, followed by linen, soft paper, and a silk handkerchief. Elder Zhang was very careful in protecting the board.
Gu Shenwei was suddenly inspired. He stared at Elder Zhang for a long time, put the board in his robe and returned those several layers of silk and cloth. "I don't need these things."
Without a word, Elder Zhang snatched them and carefully put the silk handkerchief away before throwing the rest aside.
"You have seen Miss's real face?"
"Mind your own business." Elder Zhang stirred up the fodder vigorously and said in a harsh tone, but his face became red, so red that even the dark night couldn't hide it. "It was an accident. Young mistress wanted to ride, and I … You mind your own business."
Gu Shenwei had more confidence in his plan now. He not only got an idea to help Luo Ningcha find a way to save herself but also filled in an important missing part of the plan he had been working on.