In the early morning on the road, a carriage bumped by. The dense woods of the past were now only bare versions of themselves. The snow on the roadside was crushed by wheels and turned into dirty water, exposing the muddy land. The person in the carriage wrapped their cotton-padded clothes tighter around themselves and rested against the wall of the carriage. He was around thirty, his face pale and without a beard. His body was thin, his appearance that of a defenseless scholar. The servant sitting on the side handed him the water flask, the hot water inside had cooled off already, and barely had any remaining warmth left.
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Luo Ben took a sip of water and asked the servant: “The journey is difficult. Have you seen any people?”
The servant shook his head: “Most of the villages along the way are all deserted.”
All the people had fled from their hometowns. Luo Ben sighed.
He had ambitions to support a sage king, but of the choices, Fang Guozhen submitted to the Yuan, Liu Futong remained holed up in one place, and while the Red Turban army had revolted all around but most did not last long. Although they held the banner of restoring the Song Dynasty, they all acted in their own power, divided and spread like scattered sand.
After he got the letter from Gaoyou, he thought it over again and again. In the end, he couldn’t resist his inner desire, and finally chose to go to Gaoyou.
Luo Ben had lofty ambitions, but he had nowhere to employ his talents and strengths.
The servant asked: “Why is Gongzi worried?”
Luo Ben: “Lin Yuan is a person I can’t figure out.”
This person occupied Gaoyou and Taizhou. These two places were clearly important locations, but the court had not sent punitive troops over. This person eased the people and won their hearts, and at the same time acted diplomatically with the court. This kind of person, could he only be conspiring for those few acres of land under his rule?
But yet he did not show any signs of claiming kingship, and the people only praised him for his generosity and kindness.
If this person was ambitious, then he, Luo Ben, would be able to employ his talents and strengths. He only hoped that this person deserved his reputation and was not just a short-sighted person.
The carriage driver pulled the reins and the horse stopped. The carriage stopped outside the outer city wall that was being built. He was just about to find the city guards, when he saw a man in an orange vest approaching. The man stood next to the carriage and asked: “What are you here for? Are you here to seek shelter or find relatives? What did you bring? Do you have any proof?”
The servant got out of the carriage and bowed to the person before saying: “We are here to accept an offered position, this is a letter of appointment.”
After speaking, he handed over the appointment letter written by Lin Yuan.
The little official in the orange vest quickly said: “Please come with me. I have already set up a house for Lord Luo. The South Bodhisattva has previously ordered that Lord Luo is his beloved person and must be treated carefully.”
The ancients have always been sappy, and Lin Yuan had become more and more sappy as well recently.
Think about it, calling their trusted aides and officials as beloved qing or even just qingqing and both the monarchs and their ministers were both very happy about this. So in comparison, Lin Yuan using ‘beloved one’ was not much of a big deal. (TN: qing=old term for a high ranking official or a term used by the emperor for his subjects)
Luo Ben in the carriage also heard this. He couldn’t help being surprised. After all, he also knew that he wasn’t as famous as the other scholars out there. He went to school at the age of seven and followed his father in business after the death of his mother when he was fourteen-year-old. However, he had no interest in business, so he went to Cixi city to study with Zhao Baofeng. Even if he had a local reputation how could it reach Gaoyou?
The South Bodhisattva actually regarded him with such respect and affection?
Luo Ben was in a daze, and at the same time his lofty aspirations were aroused.
On the way into the city, Luo Ben lifted the window curtains of the carriage and looked at the streets. Unlike the dilapidated and desolate settlements he had seen along the way, the people of Gaoyou lived and worked in peace and contentment. The small vendors hawked on the streets, and many women even walked around at will. When the bailiffs with knives walked by on the streets, he did not see anyone retreating in fear, nor did he see the bailiffs yelling at the vendors and asking for money.
Luo Ben raised his voice and asked the person leading the way: “I would like to ask this lord to solve my confusions, why are these women……”
The person in the front replied: “Lord Luo may not know this but this is due to the rules set by the South Bodhisattva. Everyone is responsible for the flourish and decay of our world. How can we draw a distinction between men and women?”
“If the burden is only entrusted to men and women only have to give birth to children, but nowadays where can we find so many men to do the work?”
The person smiled and said: “Most men have enlisted in the army. If women don’t farm or go out to make money, the people of Gaoyou can hardly survive.”
Luo Ben was taken aback: “Women are physically weak, how can they be put to work……”
The person: “Lord doesn’t know this but, they are enjoying themselves. In the past, women had no private property. South Bodhisattva pitied them and feared that they would be oppressed and beleaguered by others. Now they can make money by making clothes and cooking. Who of them is not willing? Besides, even if they don’t rely on this to make money, don’t they still do the same job at home?”
Luo Ben was stunned: “Didn’t their parents and brothers ever stop them?”
Asking all the women in the family to go out to work, this face would definitely be lost.
The person: “Why block them? The entire family goes out to work, the mother goes to the laundry bureau, the father also finds a job to do, whether it’s to open up new land for farming, or other random jobs. The sons are the same as well while the daughters go make clothes or be a cook. Tell me, wouldn’t they earn more than before? Everything else is empty, only the money you get is real.”
“Now if you were to tell them to go back, I am afraid that none of them would be willing.”
In the past, the widows who had lost their husbands could not avoid criticisms. And if they were to remarry, they wouldn’t even dare to go out lest the criticism from others overwhelmed them.
But if they don’t remarry, then there was no way to survive. Now, widows could choose to go out and find work, the money they earn was definitely enough to support themselves. They were no longer afraid of being forced by their brothers to remarry for dowry money or do chores at their natal homes. Those who do well and earn more even see an increase of suitors, all getting in line to ask for marriage.
What’s more, people were social animals and possessed a herd mentality. If sixty out of a hundred people do the same thing, the remaining forty would eventually follow suit, and would not even think about whether it was right or wrong to do it. So when Lin Yuan introduced the idea of women working, he first forced the women among the refugees to go out to work. When the duration of time these women worked had become longer, naturally women from some of the less wealthy families would come out to find work.
Slowly and gradually it would become the norm.
When most women had begun to work, the remaining small number of women would also come out because of the herd mentality.
Luo Ben closed his eyes slightly, thinking of something.
Luo Ben asked again: “Why are these bailiffs always walking around inspecting?”
The person: “We call then patrols. They specialize in managing troubles, fights, petty thefts, and if foreigners come, they can also provide directions. If there are vendors who deceive customers, they deal with them. If you have problems, you can also call them.”
This was the first time Luo Ben had seen this kind of bailiff before.
“Why is there a strange line on this road?” Luo Ben pointed to the red line drawn on the ground next to the carriage.
The person: “On either side of the red line are sidewalks, and inside is for the carriages to pass through.”
Luo Ben nodded: “This is a convenient rule.”
Luo Ben’s carriage stopped in front of a house. The house had two entrances and two exits. It was not too big, but it was not too small either. At first glance, it was clear that it had been cleaned and all the furniture in the house was all set up and available. It was clean and tidy, and it indeed expressed how much importance Lin Yuan regarded him with.
The person said again: “Please take a slight break while this one will wait outside.”
Finally able to rest, Luo Ben had his servant boil a pot of hot water so that he could finally drink some hot tea.
He also changed his clothes and tidied up his appearance. He finally felt a little bit more refreshed.
Only after noon did the person outside called out: “Lord Luo, the carriage is here to pick you up.”
Luo Ben almost couldn’t wait to walk out of the door and get into the carriage.
Lin Yuan was also waiting for Luo Ben in the study at this time, that was, Luo Guanzhong’s arrival. Luo Guanzhong arrived earlier than Song Lian. And it was conceivable just how much earlier he had set out, which also showed that Luo Guanzhong was much more excited about his appointment than Song Lian.
After all, Luo Guanzhong still had no reputation compared to Song Lian.
When he saw Luo Guanzhong, Lin Yuan’s eyes brightened. He practically strided over in large hurried steps. His words were gentle and the eyes that looked at Luo Guanzhong could be described as lingering and sappy: “Mr. Luo is finally here. I have been waiting for many days.”
Luo Guanzhong didn’t expect Lin Yuan to look like this. This was clearly still an extremely young man. He had a smile on his lips and a gentle demeanor. If one didn’t know better one would think he was a young master of a wealthy family.
“After I received the letter from Gongzi, I have been thinking of Gongzi both days and nights.” Luo Guanzhong also began to say sappy words sincerely.
The two clasped their hands together and walked in step with each other.
Lin Yuan: “Mister, please sit down.”
Luo Guanzhong sat on a chair. Lin Yuan’s study room was very large. It was not so much a study room as a place for discussion.
After Luo Guanzhong took his seat, he realized that he was not the only one in the room.
Lin Yuan introduced: “This is the business manager in charge of merchants and commerce, Manager Song.”
Luo Guanzhong and Song Shizhao both greeted each other.
Lin Yuan also introduced: “This is my sworn brother, the commander of the third battalion and also serves as the supply supervisor, Commander Yang.”
Luo Guanzhong and Yang Zi’an greeted each other.
After the introduction of the people, Song Shizhao and Yang Zi’an stepped back with extreme tactfulness. Although they didn’t know what talents Luo Guanzhong had, but they dare not give someone that Lin Yuan valued this much a xiamawei (TN: display of severity immediately on taking office, initial show of strength, or show someone who’s boss)
After the two of them left, Lin Yuan smiled at Luo Guanzhong and said, “Mister, have you encountered any trouble along the way?”
Luo Guanzhong: “On the way, I have witnessed farmers having no land, village women having no support, young children having no food, and the old, weak, sick and disabled having nowhere to stay. Compared with them, what kind of trouble could I encounter? The suffering of the people makes me unable to sleep and eat.”
Lin Yuan also sighed: “My strength is not enough, and for now I can only manage this small area. Mister’s pity and sympathy for the people makes me ashamed.”
Luo Guanzhong hurriedly said: “Why do you blame yourself? Now the reputation of Taizhou and Gaoyou has even reached the south of the Yangtze River. You are truly loved by hundreds of thousands of people. The world is so big and there are many heroes and great men, but there has never been anyone like you who loves and puts the people in your heart.”
Lin Yuan waved a hand and with the other he covered his face, sighing: “Unfortunately, it is difficult for Yuan to achieve anything without support, too few people are available to assist me.”
Luo Guanzhong: “This humble one is willing to assist you.”
Lin Yuan hurriedly stood up and bowed to Luo Guanzhong solemnly: “It is a blessing for Yuan to receive Mister’s support, and a blessing for the people!”
Luo Guanzhong also became very excited from Lin Yuan’s words.
The two joined hands and delved into a happy conversation. Luo Guanzhong had read many scholarly works, both history and poetry, his conversation was one full of humor and interesting anecdotes.
Lin Yuan had him stay for dinner, and even talked into the night by the light of the candles.
This manner was very in line with the times where one respected the wise and sought out talents eagerly.
In history, Luo Guanzhong helped Zhang Shicheng to repel Zhu Yuanzhang’s army. Lin Yuan also prepared to make the best use of him by having him take on the role of a military strategist. When the time came to attack Changshu, he would also be able to look at his ability. In any case, with Zhu Yuanzhang and Yang Zi’an on the side he waa not afraid of things messing up.
The news sent back by An Laosi was very detailed, the factions and conflict among Changshu officials were clearly recorded. And he even managed to drag Changshu’s Sub-prefect onto their thief boat.
The plan to attack Changshu was on the agenda and the military expedition was imminent.
Jiang Zheng’s recent days have been very good. Since he and An Laosi connected, gold, silver, and precious jewels have flowed into his mansion like running water. The female family members in his inner court wore delicate and smooth silk that looked as beautiful as sunset clouds. Compared with this silk, the cloth used in the past was no longer even comparable to the coarse cloth worn by farmers. Numerous exquisite decorations were also placed in the house. For all of this, he didn’t need to put much effort at all, but just make things convenient for An Laosi.
In the past, he had to worry about the fees and gifts from the people below him. But now even without any of this from those people, he could still live a luxurious life.
An Laosi also brought him beauties, curvy or slender, gentle or vivacious. There were all types and he had his pick. He was young and vigorous after all and had little resistance to the female sex. He lingered on the bed every day, and sometimes even bedded five different women a night.
If he became hollowed out due to bed affairs, An Laosi would also give him a pill that could replenish his strength and did not hurt his body. Moreover, it even increased his strength and vigor to the extent that all the beauties could not help crying out for mercy in his bed.
He had both money and beauties, and even the Emperor might not necessarily have a better life than him.
But his desire for power became more and more inflated, and he started to intervene into the affairs of the army under the instigation of An Laosi. This was originally not under his jurisdiction, but he could get his way in with money.
He also kept offering beauties to Sukhbaru.
In Changshu, his status had also become higher and higher. The people underneath him counted on the benefits he would give, so naturally they all appeared loyal.
Sukhbaru, having received his share of benefits, also looked the other way on the schemings of his subordinate.
This only caused Jiang Zheng to feel even more restless, and he developed thoughts that he shouldn’t have.
An Laosi sat in the seat under Jiang Zheng. The dancers in the hall put on a lively performance. Their movements were like immortals, their waists were pliable and curvy and their eyes were like spring pools, causing people to be unable to look away.
“I must say that only Sub-prefect Jiang knows how to enjoy the pleasures of life.” An Laosi sighed, “Not like An, who makes money but always has to run tirelessly around. This kind of lifestyle might not even be comparable to that of the servants at home.”
Jiang Zheng was also somewhat self-satisfied.
An Laosi was so busy that it was hard to even find the time to sit down and take a breath.
How could he compare to him, leisurely and content. He could get money even when he was just sitting there, all of his desires met.
Jiang Zheng also laughed: “Brother An is a rare talent, but when it comes to this, you are indeed not as good as me.”
An Laosi hurriedly said: “Ai, I am born to toil, destined to run tirelessly, if I could cast my lot in with Sub-prefect……”
Jiang Zheng’s eyes widened and his face became stern: “Brother An! Silence! Do you know what you are saying?”
An Laosi knelt down quickly, but raised his head and said firmly: “My lord! If An never met my lord, I could never have thought of this!”
An Laosi took a few steps on his knees: “I look at my lord and feel that it is guidance from the heavens! My lord is not only popular in Changshu, but also holds great power! My lord!”
Jiang Zheng calmed down quickly after the initial shock. He sat in his chair and his face had on an expression that was difficult to decipher. After a while, he said, “Brother An, be careful, don’t say this again! Nor can you let a third person know!”
An Laosi: ”My lord, you treat people with sincerity. But does the lord magistrate treat you with the same sincerity?”
An Laosi tried his best to persuade: “My lord! It’s not worth it!”
Jiang Zheng finally couldn’t help but cover his face with a hand and said, “Brother An, only you know my suffering, but if I follow what you say, can I still guarantee my life and wealth? There is no turning back when the arrow is loosened!”
An Laosi knew that the opportunity had come, and said sincerely: “Fang Guozhen turned against the court, and the court gave him a position as a governor. My lord has great talents. How can just a simple governor seat be worthy of you? My lord, the world is turbulent and unrest is everywhere, the court cannot pay attention to one thing without neglecting the other. This is your luck, my lord! You are the chosen one by the heavens, so why bother to belittle yourself and be overcautious?”
Jiang Zheng waved his hand: “I want to think about it, I have to think about it……”
An Laosi did not press further, only saying: “If my lord is interested, I would be willing to support my lord with my all. If my lord has any need, I will definitely not refuse! Even through a sea of swords and fire, An can still charge forward!”
Jiang Zheng was unable to not feel moved by these words. He quickly walked down the steps and took the hand of An Laosi: “Brother An, I feel the sincerity and heart you hold for me. If there is one day, I will definitely share the prosperity with you!”
An Laosi squeezed out his tears and cried bitterly: “The heart this one has for my lord, the sun and the moon can be of witness! If there are any false words, let me be struck with thunder!”
The two looked at each other, and both felt that they saw what they wanted in each other’s eyes.
From that day on, An Laosi came to the Jiang manor every day. He came up with plans and made suggestions to help Jiang Zheng win over the minor officials. The minor officials seemed inconspicuous, but they were the ones in charge of the people’s livlihood. The big officials above only took care of the big things, but these minor officials were an important presence among the people. Gathering them together would present a force that could not be underestimated.
What’s more, the lives of the minor officials was not easy now. They couldn’t get much out of the people below, and the big lords above don’t care about them. So long as Jiang Zheng gave some benefits, they would naturally bow their heads. An Laosi taught Jiang Zheng how to lead them onto the thief boat so that by the time they realized anything, they would have already become grasshoppers on the same rope and could only follow after Jiang Zheng.
Jiang Zheng also discovered much benefits.
Almost no one took him seriously before, but now it was different. Whatever he wanted to happen he only need to pass a word downwards, and there would be many people who would be eager to help him.
This encouraged his desire for power.
Gradually, he didn’t even hold Sukhbaru in much regard.
The man was just a boorish fool. He felt he was more capable and more popular than Sukhbaru.
The greater his desire for power became, the greater his appetite grew.
At first, he hoped that everyone would respect him.
Then he hoped that everyone would listen to him.
Now he hoped that more people could listen to him.
After the beginning of the spring, An Laosi felt that the time had come, so he bluntly said: “My lord, the time has come.”
Jiang Zheng: “Brother An, we shall discuss it in detail.”
Even Fang Guozhen, a rebel thief could sit on his head so how could he be willing to remain common all his life, having to answer to the likes of Sukhbaru?
He wanted to take over Changshu, he wanted to be king!
He wanted the people to kneel at his feet, and he wanted to achieve the highest pursuit of a man!
An Laosi passed on to Lin Yuan the day when Jiang Zheng would rebel.
Lin Yuan saw the letter from An Laosi, and his whole person was greatly shaken. He thought that An Laosi could only cause chaos in Changshu, but he did not expect that An Laosi could directly instigate the rebellion of an imperial court official……
What kind of talent for incitement was this?
Even Song Shizhao was speechless and said: “This person……is deeply scheming and can be of much use.”
Luo Guanzhong said: “When the time comes, we will go forward with our troops, and we will take the opportunity to capture Changshu as they are distracted with internal conflict. In this way, the cost would be the least.”
Lin Yuan took out a map of Changshu and pointed to three places: “This is the granary, this is the armory, and this is the barracks. These three places are the most guarded.”
Luo Guanzhong smiled and said: “We threaten the east and strike to the west.” (TN: create a diversion)
Lin Yuan nodded: “Yes.”
Luo Guanzhong also started to say: “Send people to the granary, but the target is the armory. At that time we split the troops on three fronts. Changshu has no more than 10,000 troops. When the people flee, it will be our opportunity.”
Lin Yuan smiled at Luo Guanzhong: “Then I entrust it to Mister.”
Luo Guanzhong startled.
Lin Yuan: “I forgot to say that for this attack on Changshu, Mister will serve as a military strategist.”
Luo Guanzhong never thought that he would be put in such an important position despite it just being over a month after he came here. After returning to his senses, he quickly said, “If I can’t take Changshu, then this official will bring my head to see you!”
He adapted quickly to his new status. When he didn’t have an official position, he referred to himself as this humble one, and when he had an official position, he referred to himself as this official.
His ambitions and abilities finally had a place to shine.
In the April of the 12th year of the current emperor’s reign, the earth recovered and the bare trees sprouted with new leaves.
Jiang Zheng stood in the courtyard, letting his family servant put the armor on him. He was a civilian court official but just wanted to try out wearing armor. Today was a big day. If he won then a bright future awaits. If he lost, he would lose everything. But Jiang Zheng felt that he would not lose.
He believed that he had the heart of the people and the small officials below were also dependant on him. Even the military officers in the army had recieved favors from him.
He benefited them and they considered themselves loyal to him.
Jiang Zheng said to the person next to him: “Is everything ready?”
The man wore tight practical clothes and had strong muscles: “Answering Sub-prefect, everything is ready.”
Jiang Zheng smiled and said, “Where is the lord magistrate?”
The person: “Still hunting outside the city.”
Jiang Zheng snorted: “Boorish lout.”
“Have someone close the city gates, and when Sukhbaru returns, kill him outside the city! Don’t let any of them go!”
The people Sukhbaru brought out with him were all confidantes. None of these people were Han people. They were Sukhbaru’s henchmen. Jiang Zheng was planning to seal off the entire city after he took Changshu to prevent anyone from leaking the news.
He planned to delay until the imperial court sent troops to attack other rebel thieves, and then declare himself as king.
He had even conferred his left and right prime ministers.
This was a method An Laosi taught him, to use empty positions to win over some people. When the time came, whether he wanted to confer the position to them or not, was it not up to him?
Sukhbaru was leading his people back to the city at this time. Hunting in spring had always been his custom, year after year. The prey that they caught would be shared among his subordinates. At that time, the soldiers and guards at the gate of the city would come and welcome him back, praising him as a Mongolian warrior.
But today, when he came back from hunting, he saw that the city gates was closed tightly. He was riding a horse and the horse was pacing irritably in place. Sukhbaru had a fierce look and shouted: “Where is everyone! Open the gates!”
When the words fell, he didn’t see any soldier appearing to open the gates, but many soldiers armed with weapons emerging from a side door of the city wall. Archers also appeared on the city wall aiming their arrows downwards.
Sukhbaru’s eyes widened: “You want to rebel?!”
On the city wall, wearing an armor made of gold, Jiang Zheng looked down at Sukhbaru and his group of more than two hundred people condescendingly, shouting: “The Yuan Dynasty meets its decline. If you submit to me then kneel and beg for mercy and I will spare your life. If you don’t then this official can only send you on the road!”
“I, Sukhbaru will never bend my knees to vile characters like you!” Sukhbaru gritted his teeth and raised the heavy sword in his hand, “I’ll take your dog life!”
Jiang Zheng’s expression changed, and he shouted: “Shoot!”
The archers let out their arrows in unison.
Sukhbaru waved his heavy sword, and the arrows that lost their momentum fell to the ground.
He was surrounded by brave and combative Mongolians, and few were hit in the rain of arrows.
But the horses were unable to dodge and some people rolled off their horses, the tremendous impact causing them to break their legs and fracture them instantly.
After the arrows were released, the soldiers on both sides rushed forward with their weapons.
The two sides instantly engaged in battle. Sukhbaru was only wearing hunting attire made of cloth, not armor, and he received several wounds on his body. The blood stained his eyes.
“Jiang Zheng! You shameless villain!” Sukhbaru pointed at the city wall with his sword, “One day, I will have you die without a resting place!” After he finished speaking, he shouted to his confidantes: “Withdraw!”
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Jiang Zheng yelled: “Catch up with them! One gold tael for each head!” “Whoever cuts off Sukhbaru’s head, I will appoint him as general!”
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