“Emperor, look at Royal Prince Yang, he…” The Minister of War had long disliked the fact that the emperor favored Royal Prince Yang . Thus, when he had a chance to badmouth the other person, he took it .
As soon as he opened his mouth, Zhu Junfan knew what the minister wanted to say . He waved a hand to interrupt the official and said, “Beloved Official Zhen, Princess Consort Jing is still residing in the mountain villa at Tanggu Town ah! The mountain villa is close to the sea and Junyang definitely is worried about his lady mother . We can understand his filial heart and concerns!”
The Minister of War had a tactful personality . When he saw that the emperor wanted to protect the royal prince, he resentfully closed his eyes for a second . Why was the emperor always so lenient to that good-for-nothing and cruelly violent fellow? Was it because he was the son of the emperor’s imperial uncle? The emperor didn’t only have Imperial Prince Jing as his only imperial uncle . Furthermore, weren’t any one of his own sons more talented and outstanding than Royal Prince Yang? Despite all that, the emperor only seemed to regard Royal Prince Yang with importance . He really couldn’t understand why!
While the rest of the court officials were currently discussing the matter at Tanggu Town, Zhu Junyang was currently dashing back to Imperial Prince Jing’s estate . An imperial prince was allowed to have his own private army . He knew that his lord father was in the outer study and rushed over there to inform his father about what he just learned from the emperor .
Once Imperial Prince Jing found out that Wokou pirates were attacking Tanggu Town and that his beloved wife was still in the mountain villa there, he almost lost his reason . If he hadn’t been able to restrain himself, he would have been just like his son and ran to Tanggu Town despite his other responsibilities .
However, since he had been an imperial prince for over twenty years, he was able to squelch the worry towards his beloved wife . He took out the token to the prince’s estate, gave it to his son and solemnly said, “Your lady mother’s safety is in your hands now, son!”
“Lord Father, ease your worries! I, your son, will definitely not disappoint you!” Zhu Junyang gripped the token tightly within his hands and didn’t say another word as he turned around to bring Head Steward Liu and a few bodyguards along . They spurred their horses the entire way to the lands on the outskirts of the capital that housed the estate’s private soldiers .
After checking over the eight hundred soldiers and giving orders to Commander Liu, they all started to head towards Tanggu Town at top speed . However, Zhu Junyang thought that the soldiers’ horses were too slow, so he left a personal bodyguard to give them directions and sped off on his own . He took with him two bodyguards and Head Steward Liu . The four of them raced to Dongshan Village on horseback the whole way there . Because the situation was urgent, all of the relay stations had their horses ready to ride . Thus, Zhu Junyang switched horses at every station and didn’t rest at all throughout the whole journey . A route that normally took two to three days was compressed by him and the three other people into one day and one night . Like that, the small group arrived at the heavily guarded Tanggu Town .
“Master, you’ve already been on horseback for a whole day and night . You haven’t eaten or drunk anything . Even a person made of steel wouldn’t be to handle this ah! How about we first go into town and find a place to eat and drink…” Head Steward Liu had noticed that his master’s lips were dry and cracked, and his eyes were completely bloodshot . The prince was covered entirely in dust and there was no color on his face, so the steward couldn’t help but beg him to rest . Even he, as a servant who was used to doing all sorts of tasks every day, was having trouble handling such a gruesome schedule . His master usually lived a luxurious life full of comforts . In fact, when they were out at sea and encountered storms and other hardships, it was not as difficult as today .
However, Zhu Junyang sped past Tanggu Town’s gates and directly galloped his horse down the official road towards Dongshan Village . It was as if Head Steward Liu’s entreaties hadn’t even entered his ears so he naturally couldn’t respond . Stop to get a drink and eat food? What a joke! What sort of situation was it now? The two most important women in his life (alright, one of them could only be considered a young maiden), were currently being trapped at Dongshan Village by the Wokou pirates and it wasn’t certain if they were still alive . How could he rest at this time?
Right now, it was as if a blistering fire was in his heart . His mind was only filled with the thoughts of his lady mother and Xiaocao and their safety . He could care less about his own physical discomforts at this time . The sooner he got to Dongshan Village, the sooner the danger would lessen a bit for his lady mother and Xiaocao . He absolutely could not stop now nor rest at this time . For the sake of his loved ones, time was of the essence right now! If the two women who had treated him the best in his life were . . . gone, what was the point in him living anymore?
The horse crop in his hands came down heavily on the horse’s rump again . His beloved horse had already been exhausted on the way to Tanggu Town, so he was currently riding a horse he had switched into when he was at Jinwei Prefectural City . The horse had been spurred on at full speed this whole time, so it already had streaks of sweat and foam at its mouth . It was likely it wouldn’t be able to endure such a punishing speed for much longer .
Suddenly, the sound of a horse whinnying in distress could be heard followed by a loud thump . Head Steward Liu turned back to look and saw that one of the horses that a bodyguard was riding had collapsed from exhaustion . It lay there, trembling weakly . All of them knew that once a horse fell from exhaustion, there was nothing left for it . How many horses had fallen already? Not even the best horse in the world could endure galloping at top speed all day and night without rest ah!
When Head Steward Liu turned back to the front, he found out that his master had already traveled a great distance and left the three of them behind . Zhu Junyang only had one thought in his mind right now: faster, faster, faster! Everything else could not even enter his scope of attention now . Nothing was more important to him than getting to Dongshan Village as fast as possible .
Fortunately, the horse that Zhu Junyang was riding still had some energy left . Only when he reached the entrance of Dongshan Village did the hapless animal finally collapse from exhaustion . At the moment the animal stumbled down, Zhu Junyang leapt out of the saddle and landed not far in front of the horse . He didn’t stop moving for a single second and continued to run forward with his two legs towards the direction of Dongshan Village .
Head Steward Liu had a face full of worry as he mustered his energy and jumped off his horse to reach a further distance to chase after his master . His horse also collapsed not long after . Despite his advanced age, he had to move his old body and run after the prince .
“Master, the village has Wokou pirates there . You should observe it first and then come up with a strategy…” Before Head Steward Liu had finished talking, Zhu Junyang had already gotten to the village gates and was in the midst of fighting against the pirates standing guard there .
Zhu Junyang looked like a crane in a flock of chickens as the pirates were all shorter than him . He didn’t say a word as the pirates surrounded him with their knives on hand . It was better to act first and talk later . He unsheathed his double-edged sword in one swift movement and took care of these pirates in a few moves .
Perhaps he had finally heard Head Steward Liu’s words but he no longer charged forward into the village in a conspicuous manner . Instead, he slunk forward and made sure to stay hidden . When a patrolling group of pirates came by, he avoided them and then headed towards the direction of the Yu Family’s residence, which was at the foot of the West Mountain .
This was already the second night that the Wokou pirates had been lodging in Dongshan Village . Watanabe Hiroshi was currently in the middle of the Yu Family’s courtyard . Every day, he ate chicken meat, pork meat, white rice and food made from white flour . It was quite a luxurious situation for him . However, he was very much aware that he couldn’t spend too much time here . They needed to leave on either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow at the latest . The Great Ming’s army was not to be trifled with!
Watanabe Hiroshi ganwed on a chicken leg as he frowned in thought . It had already been a day since he sent some men to the docks . Why hadn’t they come back yet? Did General Yamaguchi encounter some difficulties over there?
When Zhu Junyang came over the wall and looked into the Yu Family’s courtyard, he saw that all of the vegetable fields had been stomped over and defiled . He remembered that these fields were all lovingly taken care of by Xiaocao and her family . He was so incensed by the destruction that he barely managed to restrain his urge to jump in and slaughter all of the pirates in there!
Head Steward Liu noticed that his master’s restrained urges and quickly stated, “Master, we haven’t seen a single villager in Dongshan Village and we also didn’t find any places where they were holding prisoners . They must have been able to flee in time! Master, let’s not do anything here and find the people first!”
“Did you already go and look at the mountain villa up the mountain? How’s the situation there?” Zhu Junyang took a deep breath . The fury within his phoenix eyes was enough to burn a man to ashes . He glared fiercely at Lord Watanabe, who was currently sitting in Xiaocao’s personal rocking chair and leisurely gnawing on a chicken leg . He snarled inside, ‘That miserly little lass never let me sit in her rocking chair in the past . You, you stinking dwarf, actually dare to sit in Xiaocao’s chair . Once I guarantee my lady mother’s and Xiaocao’s safety, I’m going to rip you into pieces!’
“Master, the mountain villa has been locked up securely and the people inside must have retreated to safer grounds . Perhaps the Wokou pirates weren’t able to find the villa because it’s halfway up the mountain and hidden among the trees!” When Head Steward Liu saw the condition of the mountain residence, he had let out a sigh of relief . The princess consort must be safe somewhere!
Zhu Junyang nodded in reply and then lowered his head to think for a bit . He mumbled to himself, “Looks like my lady mother must have fled along with Xiaocao and the others to a safe refuge . But where would a hundred or so people from Dongshan Village go?” As he spoke, he looked towards the lofty and grandiose West Mountain in the distance . He scowled slightly .
“Head Steward Liu, wait at the mouth of the village for Xiaowu and Chunzi . Tell them to guard the mountain villa . If any little nasty pirates come around, kill them instantly!” Zhu Junyang jumped down from the tall walls of the Yu Family’s residence and dashed towards the direction of the West Mountain .
Head Steward Liu hurried after him and lowered his voice as he projected, “Master, where are you going ah?”
“I’m going to the West Mountain . Xiaocao is a sneaky little lass and must have brought my lady mother and the villagers to hide in the mountain range! I’m going to go find them!” Zhu Junyang felt even more desire to see Xiaocao . He knew, with that weird and clever little lass around, his lady mother would be perfectly safe!
Head Steward Liu stated somewhat dispiritedly, “Master, the mountain range is vast, do you know where Miss Yu took everyone? You’re not very familiar with the terrain there . What if you encounter some vicious beasts…”
He didn’t say anything else because his master had already ran into the mountain forest and had already disappeared into the thick vegetation . Head Steward Liu thought of the task that his master had given him and angrily went back to the entrance of the village . He leapt onto the old elm tree that was there, which must have been at least a few hundred years old, to wait for the two imperial bodyguards to arrive .
With what he knew about Xiaocao, Zhu Junyang could already guess where the little lass had most likely taken all of the people . Zhu Junyang had gone a few times to Xiaocao’s secret valley . The ravine not only had a bunch of beautiful and rare flora, but it also had a lot of wild herbs and fruit trees . The creek there also had lots of fish swimming in the waters . The most important part was that the secret valley was hard to find yet had no savage beasts . There were also enough caves in that area that could hold at least a few hundred people . This was naturally the best place for the people to hide in!
Zhu Junyang hurried in the direction that he remembered . He rejoiced inwardly that, in the past, he had used the excuse of guarding Xiaocao against any beasts and tagged along a few times . Thus, he had a decent idea of where to go .
At this time, he felt tired, thirsty and hungry, but he could only continue to worry about his lady mother and Xiaocao . With those thoughts on the forefront of his mind, he leapt through the thick vegetation that was about as tall as a man . In that short half an hour, he felt like time was creeping by slowly, as if it was slower than two days or even two years .
“Who’s there?!” Not far from the inner forest shrouded by mist, a familiar figure jumped down from a tree . If he hadn’t already recognized the person’s voice, Zhu Junyang already would have attacked Commander Zheng and killed the other man, leaving a corpse on the forest ground .