Xu Shu had initially thought of stalling the attack. Instead, the attack came earlier than usual.
“Kill! Kill!” Xu Shu repelled the first wave of the joint attack by Liu Bei and Zhang Xiu. However, Xu Shu not happy. This was because there were flames burning at the East, outside the city. It was Shouchun’s flourishing industrial zone. It was now being burned to ashes. These flames were not only caused by Liu Bei’s Army but also Xu Shu himself. This was because Zhang Xiu’s Xiliang Cavalry was too quick. He would be at Baohe at one moment and reach the industrial zone in less than half a day. Xu Shu had been caught unprepared. Fortunately, Zhao Yun was there to fight back. Otherwise, the industrial zone would have fallen into Liu Bei’s hands. At that moment, Xu Shu would have sinned against the Lu Bu’s Army. This was because there were still a lot of things that have not yet been moved over from the industrial zone.
However, this was the time for action and not thoughts. Liu Bei’s Army and Zhang Xiu’s Army would not stop as it is still not dark. There will be a second and third wave of attack. He needed to lead his men and hold on to the last paradise in Yangzhou.
“So it really was the Lu Bu’s Army trying to drive a wedge between us and the Liu Bei’s Army!” Zhang Xiu looked at the city with a smirk. He had launched a raid to capture the East of Shouchun but was stopped by a small yet elite cavalry. Zhang Xiu realized that they were suspicious and ended up reconciling with Liu Bei.
“Lu Bu’s Army’s schemes cannot be hidden from General Yang Wu’s eyes! Haha!” Liu Bei complimented Zhang Xiu. In the past half a day, they were incompatible like oil and water. Now, they were like good friends. A lot of things had happened.
At Zhang Xiu’s camp the previous night, Zhang XIu had made up his mind to withdraw his troops. He will let Liu Bei’s Army and Liu Mang’s Army kill each other while he attacks Runan as vengeance for his Xiliang Cavalry. If his luck was good, he would even be able to ambush Liu Bei and send him to hell. If this plan was implemented, Liu Bei’s luck would be really bad as he would meet his end in the hands of an ordinary man.
If Zhang Xiu could think of such a stratagem, Pang Tong would be able to as well. He knew that Zhang Xiu had been given the advantage. Zhang Xiu would not only attack Liu Bei but also steal his position. This was a nasty action. If it was Lu Bu or Sun Ce, they would have already taken action on Liu Bei. However, Liu Bei was someone who could endure what others could not. This was why he paid Zhang Xiu a visit at his tent.
“What? Liu Bei came to visit?” Zhang Xiu was about to sleep when he received a report that Liu Bei had come.
“Milord. What is the point of meeting Liu Bei? We are going to leave tomorrow and he will fight alone. We now know how he operates! He schemed against Milord and ambushed me!” Hu Che Er was dissatisfied. He was not only the deputy general of the Xiliang Cavalry. He was also Zhang Xiu’s bodyguard. This is why he also received the news.
“Hm?” Zhang Xiu frowned. He thought for a while in the tent with flickering lights. After a while, he asked the messenger. “How many of them are there?”
“Including Liu Bei, there is a total of three people. The other two is a scholar and a general.” The messenger replied.
“Three people? Haha. It seems like Liu Bei came to die! Milord. Watch me, Hu Che Er, lead the troops to capture Liu Bei. This way, Milord would not only be able to kill Liu Bei but also shame him! You can also receive tens of thousands of troops!” Hu Che Er wanted to gather the troops to get rid of Liu Bei and absorb his soldiers.
“Kill Liu Bei? Absorb his army?” Truthfully speaking, Zhang Xiu was tempted. Liu Bei’s White Armored Soldiers were something to drool for. However, the most important thing was the provisions. If he could obtain the provisions from Liu Bei, he would not need to worry about taxes for about a decade. After all, the provisions from Liu Bei mostly belonged to Liu Pi that couldn’t escape from Yuzhou.
However, Zhang Xiu’s fiery heart began to cool down. “Invite Liu Bei in.”
“Milord? What are you…” Hu Che Er could not understand. “Milord. This is a rare opportunity! After killing Liu Bei, we would obtain his soldiers. We would be able to attack Shouchun, capturing both Yangzhou and Yuzhou. Alongside our own Wancheng, we would be able to contend in the world!” Hu Che Er was simple minded but still understood the importance of having an army.
“Sigh.” Zhang Xiu really wanted to do as Hu Che Er suggested but was unable to. Liu Bei only came with a scholar and a general. His subordinates were also the types that were loyal to him till their deaths. Even if there was only one general with him right now, the remaining general would go all out for Zhang Xiu’s head the moment Liu Bei is killed. On top of that, these generals were all difficult to deal with.
“Milord!” Hu Che Er still tried to give his advice.
“Wait.” Zhang Xiu stopped the messenger. Hu Che Er’s expression turned into a happy one. He believed that Zhang Xiu was finally going to accept his suggestion and kill Liu Bei.
“No need to invite Liu Bei in. I will go out and greet him personally.” Zhang Xiu said and began to dress. Either way, he did not want to kill Liu Bei. In that case, he might as well show a good impression. After all, Liu Bei was still the Left General and of high position than himself.
Exactly three people had appeared at Zhang Xiu’s camp. One of them was Liu Bei and the other two was Pang Tong and Liao Hua. In Liao Hua’s hands was a parcel.
“This Zhang XIu really deserved his reputation for holding on to Wancheng for so long. The arrangement of his camp is truly sophisticated.” Liu Bei took a close look at Zhang Xiu’s military camp. It was formed in a triangle, such that if one of them was attacked, the other two would be able to react quickly. This was a cautious behaviour worthy of praise. He initially thought that Zhang Xiu relied on his uncle a lot but it seemed like Zhang Xiu was also talented.
“Milord. Look over there!” Pang Tong’s eyes were sharp. He saw many cloth bags with a single glance.
“Cloth bags?” These bags were used for provisions. The ones Pang Tong pointed at were empty.
“Fortunately Milord is wise and was prepared to enter the tiger’s den. Otherwise, Zhang Xiu would have already cleaned this up tomorrow!” The provision bags would be collected after use. After all, the bags were also considered supplies. This also meant that Zhang Xiu’s Army were already preparing food. They were still preparing the food and did not have enough time to clean up.
“Sigh.” Liu Bei sighed just like Zhang Xiu. He believed he would not be in this condition if he had more power and better ancestry like Cao Cao and Yuan Shao. He believed he would have already conquered a part of the world if he had a huge army like Yuan Shu and occupied Yangzhou and Yuzhou. However, Liu Bei was simply a seller of straw sandals. He had worked harder than any of the others yet gained less. To accomplish his ambition, he endured what others could not and do life threatening things.
As Liu Bei thought of this, the camp became brightly lit and a person rode to him.
“Protect the Lord!” Liao Hua had already drawn his sword and protected Liu Bei who was behind him.
“Huh?” Pang Tong and Liu Bei frowned. ‘Is Zhang Xiu really that brainless to seek mutual destruction? Doesn’t he know that he would only trap himself by fighting? Does he want this to end only when one of our armies is destroyed?’ Just as Liu Bei felt uncertain, a clear voice was heard. “Xuan Degong. This one didn’t know that you have arrived and was late in greeting you. Please forgive me.”
Liu Bei calmed down upon hearing this and replied, “You are too kind. This one is the one at fault for bothering General Yang Wu’s rest this late at night.” After the two exchanged polite greetings, Zhang Xiu invited Liu Bei into camp.
“What is the bandit Liu Bei doing here? Are you here to see if Milord had been killed by you?” In comparison, Hu Che Er was not as polite.
Liu Bei did not give Hu CHe Er a reply and instead looked back at Zhang Xiu. Zhang Xiu did not stop him. Evidently, he still held a grudge over the ambush.
“Haha!” Hu Che Er was a deputy general. His position was not small but he was also not a big shot. Liu Bei did not need to give him a reply. Pang Tong stepped forward as he laughed and said, “General Hu Che Er. Milord and I came to visit this late because we have important things to discuss. We also need to apologize to General Yang Wu.”
“Apologize? Haha. Does Xuan De Gong guilty of something?” Zhang Xiu laughed. This was just a rhetorical question. Liu Bei already knew where he went wrong and needed to admit his mistake.
“General Yang Wu. Milord was not strict enough. His subordinate Liu Pi attacked allies for merits. That was why Milord became angry after learning the truth. He had already punished Liu Pi.” Pang Tong replied frankly.
“Hmph. You all are just cooperating with each other. The one you wanted to deal with was not me, Hu Che Er, but Milord!” Hu Che Er refused to listen to excuses.
“General Hu Che Er is overly concerned.” Pang Tong stepped forward and said to Zhang Xiu. He knew that Hu Che Er was only a deputy. If he wanted to prevent Zhang Xiu from withdrawing his army, he needed to persuade Zhang XIu. “I will not keep this a secret from General Yang Wu. Before my army met General Yang Wu, we were attacked by a heavy cavalry. They are the ones that killed two thousand of our men.
“Who would believe that?” Hu Che Er did not buy it. After getting ambushed, his impression of Liu Bei’s Army had dropped to the bottom. If it was not because Zhang Xiu stopped him, he would have already attacked them.
“General Zhang Xiu. Did you all come across a scout that day?” Pang Tong asked Zhang Xiu.
“Yes.” Zhang XIu replied honestly. He did not find any meaning in hiding keeping such a trivial matter a secret.
“Did the scout remain silent even though he is tortured at the start and then spoke of the provisions coming from Lujiang when he finally could not endure anymore?” Pang Tong asked again. Zhang XIu did not reply but his expression told Pang Tong that he was correct.
“Don’t you find it strange? Why did you not say it earlier?”
“What is strange about that? Did you think everyone were glory seekers like you? That scout was a man. I, Hu Che Er, respects him!” The scout named Feng He had been personally tortured by Hu Che Er. Hu Che Er even lacerated his flesh. The scout initially remained silent and only spoke when he was finally unable to bear it any longer.
“That sounds about right. In that case, Milord and Zhang Xiu had fallen into a scheme.” Pang Tong said that both armies had fallen into a scheme and shifted the blame.
“Schemes? Fallen into your schemes! You caused two thousand of my men in the Xiliang Cavalry to die without reason!”
“General Hu Che Er. I would like to ask. When was the provisions supposed to arrive according to the scout?”
“Sometime after noon.”
“General Hu Che Er. The scouts our army captured said that it was at noon.”
“Isn’t it just a time difference? What about it? It is just a discrepancy of about one hour. The provisions were still there. We fell into your army’s ambush!”
“It matters a lot!” Pang Tong spoke of a crucial point. “If it were cavalries, one hour was enough to kill and return. The cavalry we ran into were not of the Xiliang Cavalry. They pretended to be Xiliang Cavalry and ambushed our Yuzhou Army. After fighting for a while, they retreated. After that, your Xiliang Cavalry arrived. What do you think they would think? They believed that you were the fake Xiliang Cavalry that came to take their merits and did the despicable thing of ambushing you all!” Pang Tong spoke of the general strategy implemented by Xu Shu. He deserved his title as the Fledging Phoenix to make this conjecture with only a little bit of clues.
“Now that you say it, I remembered that there was the stench of blood and the traces of a horses’ stampede. But how would you explain the line saying that this was not Zhang Xiu? It seems like this person is the one that shouted it out!” Hu Chu Er saw Liao Hua and remembered that this was the guy that shouted.
“General Hu Che Er. This one requires General Liao Hua to explain it to you personally! Liao Hua!” Pang Tong then shouted at Liao Hua.
“General Hu Che Er. Please forgive me for that incident that day. I had been too anxious. My words meant that the earlier cavalry was not from the Zhang Xiu’s Army and that we had killed the wrong people. However, it was too late on the battlefield.” Liao Hua knelt down and cupped his fist towards Hu Che Er. “I will accept whatever punishment Hu Che Er decides.” It seemed as though Liao Hua was here to apologize and accept punishment.
“I will kill you!” Apologizing was definitely not enough. Hu Che Er wanted to take out his weapon and execute Liao Hua.
“Hu Che Er! Stand down!” Zhang Xiu suddenly shouted.
“Milord. This is…” Hu Che Er could not understand. This was the enemy that killed thousands of their men. How could they not avenge them?
“Stand down!” Zhang Xiu repeated, causing Hu Che Er to reluctantly stand at the side. “It is natural for men to make mistakes. It would be good is General Liao Hua could still correct his mistakes!” Zhang Xiu had also thought of killing Liao Hua but the situation would not be resolved with just that. Killing Liao Hua meant losing a chip. Since Liu Bei’s Army have attacked the wrong people, they would need to pay the compensation. The amount compensated would depend on Liu Bei’s sincerity. How much was Liao Hua worth?
Pang Tong laughed quietly to himself. Zhang Xiu’s expression and reaction were all under his control. During times of chaos, a human life is measured by money. To deal with Zhang Xiu, one must feed his greed. “Two thousand of the Xiliang Cavalry were killed. This made Milord very sad. So, we will return two thousand horses, two thousand armor, and two thousand of our Qingzhou elites!” These two thousand horses gave Liu Bei a heartache. They were very difficult to obtain at the Central Plains. A good horse can go for hundreds of gold at the black market. Even places like Jiangdong could only obtain the Yuzhou Cavalry.
“Haha. I will accept the two thousand horses and armor in exchange for him!” Zhang Xiu unceremoniously received the horses and the armor. Once he have those, he could return and recruit men. On the other hand, he did not dare to accept Liu Bei’s men even if the other side was willing to give him. After that, he continued to look at Pang Tong unsatisfied. He believes that these were things he was entitled to receive in the first place.
“On top of that, Milord is willing to pay five thousand gold to console the victims. Three thousand gold would be given to General Hu Che Er while two thousand would go to those that were killed.” Five thousand gold had been given away. Liu Bei’s entire treasury had pretty much been given to Zhang Xiu already. Since the start, several tens of thousands of gold had been spent.
“There is also the ten thousand provisions to be given to Zhang Xiu’s Army from the cooperation of both armies in taking Lujiang’s provisions.” That was actually only two thousand provisions. The remaining was given by Liu Bei.
“Hmph. Did you think you could buy Milord over with money?” Hu Che Er interrupted again. Zhang XIu was starting to become annoyed by him.
Pang Tong continued to smile. His smile looked good but gave Zhang Xiu a chill. “General Hu Che Er need not be angry. We have already arrested and punished the main offender for you.”
“The main offender? This Liao Hua?” Hu Che Er asked disdainfully.
“No.” Pang Tong shook his head. “Liao Hua. Take the culprit and give it to General Zhang Xiu!”
“Yes!” Liao Hua nodded and took out a package that looked round. He then removed the cloth to reveal it content.
Inside the package was Liu Pi’s head. The blood on it was still fresh. Its expression full of regrets.