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There were just the two of them sitting in the side hall, nobody else, so Wang Zhi hid nothing. “To tell the truth, ever since a portion of the manpower was allocated to defend Taiyuan, Datong’s military strength hasn’t been good enough. There are always crucial spots and areas of weakness when laying out defenses.”
Tang Fan nodded, listening attentively.
Wang Zhi proceeded to detail the problem therein. “However, the weird thing is that these last couple of times, the Tartars seem to always be able to sense events in advance. This last time, for example, we heard that they were going from Datong’s eastern side, so we transferred a portion of the troops located at Shuozhou’s west-side gate to protect it, only for the Tartars to instead go strike Pian Pass. If anyone said that there isn’t anything suspicious about that, I wouldn’t believe them even if they beat me to death!
“Supposing that the Tartars or White Lotus Society have sent spies into the city, said spies would need to learn in advance before they would be able to pass information on, the process of which requires time in the interim. If they had to wait until the citizens knew of it before they sent word back to the Tartars’ side, that would be way too late. This means that there has to be someone on our side transmitting information to them!”
“Who would be able to get word ahead of time?” Tang Fan asked.
“The bodyguards plus confidantes at Wang Yue and I’s sides do, but they would never betray us. There’s high-ranking officers on Datong’s side that need to receive appointments and assignments before going to battle, so they would know, too. There’s the Datong Magistrate, additionally, though after we discovered that information was leaking out, Wang Yue and I did all we could to shrink the group at the news nucleus, and he became excluded.”
Wang Zhi paused. “Apart from them, there’s one other I suspect.”
Tang Fan raised a brow. “Guo Tang?”
The other laughed frostily. “Yes. He’s a Wan affiliate that has no reason to be of one mind with us. It’s very likely that he’s cooperating with the Society to take us down!”
“If that’s so, then it’ll be a bit of a headache,” Tang Fan said, lightly frowning. “As Datong’s Governor, his duty in coming here is to keep Wang Yue and you in check. There’s no evidence as of right now, so if you accuse him randomly, not only will His Majesty think that you two are trying to eradicate your detractor, but Wan An and the rest will group up to attack.”
Wang Zhi exhaled in a hiss. As if worn out from pacing, he sat right down in a chair. “Since evidence is needed, give them solid evidence that can’t be refuted! Neither Wang Yue nor I can stick our hands in this, else it won’t be enough to get His Majesty’s trust. On top of that, in line with their habits of previous years, the Tartars will come during threshing time in about half a month. We’re beginning preparations for it now, figuring out how to keep information from being divulged again and seize the source of the spies. This matter will be entrusted to you.”
Threshing was an originally joyous event for the commoners of the Central Plains during harvest season, yet his usage depicted the Tartars coming to pillage. What an abundance of irony.
Tang Fan smiled painfully. “That’s a really high view of me. You all have been looking for someone for months yet haven’t been able to find them, so how could I have the power to?”
“If this wasn’t a difficult problem, why would you ever be sought out? I can put my mind at ease handing it off to someone else.”
“The Brocade Guard is better than me at doing stuff like this,” Sir Tang said, still wanting to struggle at death’s door. “You should go talk to Guangchuan yourself.”
Wang Zhi side-eyed him. “As long as it’s you that passes the message on, won’t he help you? Finding you is much easier than finding him. I don’t have any interest in talking to his rigor-mortis face!”
Tang Fan was without words. “He just did you a massive favor. Isn’t it poor to destroy the bridge after crossing the river like this?”
The other waved him off. “I’ll find an opportunity to pay that back, I’m just not fond of talking to him. We were born with our stars out of alignment. Further words won’t work when our conversations go wrong, I get annoyed when I see him, and I’m assuming he’s the same way — you don’t need to worry about it! If you have the need to interrogate the spies, you can come find me, and if I’m not around, find Ding Rong. I’ll explain to him.”
Tang Fan mumbled to himself for a short moment. “Those spies that you arrested in the city earlier… did you confiscate anything off of them?”
Wang Zhi nodded. “We did. They all had letters.”
“I’d like to take a look at them.”
“They’re in my estate, not on me. I’ll bring them to you later.”
“Also, what happened with those missing soldiers?”
Eunuch Wang, ever unparalleled, sighed out of hardship. Back in the capital, he had always felt that he held no fear of the Heavens nor the Earth. Once he had come to Datong, he had experienced no lack of wind, frost, rain, and snow, polished by the world itself. It was only then that he had discovered that there were many people and things that were beyond his control. “Those three groups, while chasing down the Tartars, all vanished near Weining Sealet.”
Tang Fan noticed the area’s name. “Sealet?”
“Yes. The word derives from Mongolian. Locals are used to calling the lake a ‘sealet’, and it’s one of the greater lakes. In the former Yuan, it was called ‘nor’, so the locals also call it Darakh Nor. Weining is the Han name for it.”
“What’s unusual about the area?”
“We later asked Datong locals; purportedly, there’s fog neighboring it all year round, making it easy for one to lose their way. Some have gone missing there before, but only when the weather was poor. Commoners rarely go there for no good reason.
“To its north is Barbarian Ridge, where odd things happen frequently. According to what those few that returned said, when they pursued up to the northern area of the lake, they suddenly encountered disorientating fog that filled the sky, and ahead of them came the sound of a large army, weapons brandishing, and horses whinnying. Some soldiers screamed after heading into the fog, never to return. Those remaining few remembered the rumors of missing people, and felt that they had to go back and report this, thus withdrawing beforehand, which saved their lives.”
That enigmatic description caused Tang Fan to frown heavily. “It can’t be that Weining Sealet is the only path through, right? Is there another road to take?”
Wang Zhi shook his head. “It has Barbarian Ridge to the north and Horsehead Mountain to the south, being the depression between the two. From the Great Wall to the Sealet, there’s only the one unobstructed road.
“Moreover, even if there were other roads besides that one, they wouldn’t be easily traversable. You’ve never been to the prairies, so you wouldn’t know that even though they look level, it’s easy to lose one’s way on them. We aren’t the same as those Tartars, who’ve galloped across the grasslands ever since they were children. Walking along the Sealet is the route least easy to get lost on. Before all this fog and weird stuff happened, the Ming army once passed through Weining to chase down those Tartars that had nowhere to run to. Do you remember that huge victory from the sixteenth year of Chenghua?”
Seeing Tang Fan nod, Wang Zhi looked slightly proud. “The Tartars’ youngest prince was the only one spared from that, even his wife having died in the fight. That battle happened to be fought close to the Sealet. Over the past two years we’ve fought with the Tartars, we’ve always been perfectly safe every time we passed by Lake Dai, yet it’s become inaccessible to outsiders all of a sudden! I reckon the White Lotus Society is up to its tricks!”
“Have you ever tried catching some Tartars or Society members to question them?”
“Yes, but whether it’s making use of intimidation and torture in turn, nothing comes of it. They just keep going on about gods sheltering them, which obviously means that they ought to be ignorant of what’s going on. I’m guessing that if there are magic techniques at use, only the upper echelons of the Society know of them in detail. They’ve presumably lied to their subordinates, as they couldn’t let them know the truth.”
Upon hearing the whole story, Tang Fan felt that this was a bit of a thorny issue, and sighed once he recalled the preposterous Chuyun-zi that had ardently invited himself over for ceremonial practices. “Since that all happened at Lake Dai, what use was there in having a Daoist dispel evil influences at the Commandant Estate?”
“The Society’s demons used demonic arts to contend with us, so we must switch out pigments. Chuyun-zi claimed that chicken blood can ward off evil, as well as counterattack the hexes of the Society. It’s better to believe that there is than to believe that there is not. Do you want to go find him so that he can splash a little chicken blood on you, too?”
Sir Tang placed his palm on his forehead. “No need. Thanks for your well wishes.”
After saying farewell to Wang Zhi, right when he walked out of the side hall, he saw Sui Zhou standing with his back to him in the garden, hands behind him.
Butterflies floated around the yard, making a nice spring scene. When Tang Fan approached, the other didn’t even turn his head. “Done talking?”
From his tone, Sui Zhou clearly knew who it was that had walked up behind him. Tang Fan couldn’t help but be shocked. “How did you know it was me?”
“I recognized the sound of your footsteps,” Sui Zhou answered, only then turning around.
Martial experts were a different breed. Tang Fan had long become numb to such things. “Where is Commandant Wang?”
“Something happened in the barracks, so he was called away.”
While the two of them walked out, Tang Fan asked, “What did he seek you out for?”
“To inquire after recent capital developments, entrust me with saying a few nice things to His Majesty on his behalf, and give me a stack of silver banknotes.”
The other couldn’t help but laugh. “What’s their value?”
Sui Zhou shot him a look. “Ten notes, each one worth a hundred taels.”
“A huge sum, as expected,” Tang Fan sighed.
A litter had been waiting outside, along with Pang Qi, Ding Rong, and the others. Upon seeing the two exit, Ding Rong quickly stepped up. “Sirs, Eunuch Wang ordered this lowly one to bring you to lodge at the government posthouse in the city. It was recently renovated some time before, and is no inferior to the Commandant Estate. He said that you two cannot stay with him for the time being, so please forgive him.”
Wang Zhi and Wang Yue dared not shack up with them on account of Guo Tang watching like a tiger nearby. If they all stayed in the Commandant Estate or the Defending Supervisor Estate, Guo Tang would be able to accuse them of collusion later.
Tang Fan nodded. “It’s no matter. Lead the way.”
Ding Rong affirmed, politely requested that they all get on respective litters, gave the litter-bearers directions, then saw them off to the posthouse.
It wasn’t that far from the Commandant Estate. Just as Ding Rong has said, the interior was freshly renovated, its decor not surpassed by any top-notch inns. It even had a spacious bathing pool, though, of course, that was only provided for officials of ranks like Tang Fan and Sui Zhou’s to wash up in, while Pang Qi and the Guards weren’t qualified for it.
Tang Fan stepped in on his front foot, and someone from Wang Zhi’s side came in on his back foot, bearing some letters. As Wang Zhi had brought up to him before, they had been confiscated from spies.
Not caring about washing up or changing his clothes, he took the letters and flipped them open for a look. They were written with information on Datong City’s internals, such as where granaries were located, the directions Ming’s defenses were, whatever date whatever gate was left out of, and so on. One of them also mentioned that Ming troops had showed movement in Pianguan County, likely about to be relocated in the next few days.
Even though Wang Zhi and the rest had snatched these letters in time, they proved that information was as unimpeded as ever after the fact. Tartars getting it ahead of time made it so that they not only had the time to wind around Ming’s defenses, but also select spots where manpower was weak, causing the army to be weary of such troubles.
Afterwards, they had interrogated the carriers of the letters, but couldn’t get anything, because said people didn’t even know how to read. They had simply accepted taels to help deliver it.
Tang Fan looked at Sui Zhou. “What do you think?”
The other pondered. “They might have other hidden methods for passing information on. These letters are just to distract by deliberately making a commotion.”
Tang Fan nodded; his thoughts matched up with his. “Wang Zhi said that Guo Tang is the most suspicious.”
“That isn’t impossible.”
He was taciturn, yet cautious, never hastily jumping to conclusions before the truth was known. Tang Fan had long gotten used to how he was. “Guo Tang is not an ordinary person, and there would be no way he would let us casually search the Governor Estate. I’ll trouble you with getting the Guards to keep watch on the Estate during this time period, and if there’s any movement, report it.”
“Okay,” Sui Zhou answered concisely.
Tang Fan stretched out. “Looks like Datong City has some really muddied water. You can’t even see the fish swimming in it clearly.”
“You intend to just keep watching?”
“As things are now, that’s all that can be done.”
Sui Zhou raised his brow. With how well he understood this man, he held no belief that he was genuinely getting ready to tuck his hands into his sleeves and be a bystander.
Seeing his disbelieving look, Tang Fan grinned with secrecy. “Actually, I just gave Wang Zhi an idea.”
The very next day, Tang Fan and Sui Zhou paid a visit to Guo Tang. The latter accepted them politely, and everyone exchanged pleasantries. After saying a huge heap of garbage that had zero nutritional value, he sat with them for a whole morning, repeatedly inviting them for a meal while the other two repeatedly declined, after which they got up and took their leaves. Guo Tang saw him off to the entrance himself, feeling like his back was sore and mouth was dried out.
There had been no getting around this. The most commonly-seen spectacle in officialdom were such niceties. Tang Fan’s group had just arrived at Datong, so it was only logical that they would come to visit Guo Tang, and he would have to accept them. Still, as the two sides were not on the same squad, there was nothing for them to discuss aside from polite junk.
For that reason, not only did Tang Fan and Sui Zhou feel tired, but Guo Tang, the host, had to be mentally and physically exhausted.
After leaving the Governor Estate, the two of them went right into casually strolling about the city.
The weather of spring’s beginning was just warming up, still cold. Datong seemed to be a little colder than the capital, where spring garments could be seen, with many here continuing to wear lighter winter clothes.
However, women’s beauty-loving nature could not be subdued in any area. Ruquns hemmed with silver thread, recently fashionable in the capital, had risen in popularity here, too. Many young girls from well-to-do families were already wearing them.
Likely due to border cities being more open-minded in customs than the capital, the shades of women’s clothes were bolder, colors like peach-red, rose-red, and orange-red all over the place. It could make one imagine that this place was not a border garrison that could light up with the fires of war at any time, but charming Jiangnan.
“Pretty?” a voice suddenly asked from beside him.
“Very much so, don’t you think?” Tang Fan countered.
Everyone held the mindset of hating ugliness and looking towards beauty. Even if one held no vile thoughts, only looking at such rosy-countenanced, vibrantly-dressed, gorgeous people with appreciative gazes, their mood would still get a lot better.
Today, Tang Fan was wearing a lake-blue shenyi. There was no pin-crown on his head, just like in the capital, his hair simply bound atop his head, a jade hairpin fastening it into place. Someone that was good-looking never needed to be decorated with too many complicated accessories, though. As those that came before had said, a lotus that grew out of clean water would be embellished by nature. The simpler a beauty was adorned, the more that could actually complement their grace.
All along their trek, and unknown amount of eyes lingered on Tang Fan, yet he himself never noticed, continuing to look at other people. He had scarcely realized that, in the eyes of onlookers, he was lovely.
“No,” Sui Zhou coldly answered.
A few courageous girls seemed to want to think up an excuse to step forward and strike up a conversation with Tang Fan, but they were scared off by the ice-cold eyes beside him, forced to hide their faces and flee.
Tang Fan touched his nose, retracting his line of sight from them. Right as he wanted to say some wisecrack, he saw Ding Rong scurrying all the way over from the posthouse in search.
“You two are easy to find, Sirs!” he said. “Mister Commandant and Eunuch Wang have invited you to come forth for a discussion.”
Mister Tang’s fantastical thought to stroll about Datong City was dashed. “I’ll go, then.”
“I won’t,” Sui Zhou stated.
Ding Rong showed a look of difficulty. “Um… Eunuch Wang said that he wanted to invite you both over…”
Before he even finished, Sui Zhou had already turned and walked a couple of steps away.
Ding Rong stared right at him. “…”
He had been at Wang Zhi’s side for years. Most people were extra polite to him, if not for his own face, then for Wang Zhi’s. This was the first time he had been met with straight-up disregard to the end, causing him to be dumbstruck, wholly unable to react. It wasn’t until someone poked his shoulder that he dazedly looked at Tang Fan. “Are we going yet?”
Ding Rong bitterly smiled and shook his head. “Would you like a sedan chair?”
“No. It wasn’t far when I arrived before, so I’ll be fine walking.”
The other looked pained. “If you go alone in a second, Eunuch Wang will probably punish me when he learns of it.”
Tang Fan was unbothered. “He won’t. Guangchuan not coming is something your superior longs for. You can put your heart back into your chest.”
Sure enough, just as Tang Fan had said, Wang Yue and Wang Zhi didn’t say a thing when they saw Tang Fan arrive alone. Joining them was Guo Tang, who he had met not too long prior.
The four first exchanged greetings, then took their respective seats.
Wang Yue cleared his throat, taking the lead. “You were invited into the Commandant Estate today because Governor Guo claimed that there is something to discuss. Since everyone’s here, Governor, go ahead and say what you want to.”
“This humble official just received a correspondence from the capital,” Guo Tang said.
The instant that was said, everyone was stunned.
“What does it say?” Wang Yue asked.
“For the Weining Sealet, the capital’s response goes that we are to send people to investigate it. If it’s confirmed to have relation to the White Lotus Society, then we’ll dispatch troops to eliminate them, in order to prevent the situation from worsening.”
With that said, Wang Yue frowned. “Is that ‘capital response’ the response of His Majesty, or the response of the Cabinet?”
Getting glared at by the other’s cauterizing eyes, Guo Tang was too afraid to say that it was His Majesty’s response, because that answer was too stupid, and looked down upon Wang Yue’s intellect too much. He had no choice but to skirt around it. “This is urgent. To be brief, regardless of whether it is the Cabinet or His Majesty’s response, as the officials of this locality, we should all obey it.”
“There’s a huge difference!” Wang Yue sneered. “Just go ahead and say that it’s the Cabinet’s! Dispatch troops to eliminate the Society? Does their back not hurt from all the standing they do while they preach? Do they think that the Sealet is part of Datong, where we can come and go from it at will?!”
“Don’t be hasty, Mister Commandant. Let’s hear what the Governor has to say, first,” Tang Fan mediated.
Guo Tang lightly coughed. “Three times, people sent have gone missing. This is no small amount. The Court wants it looked into no matter what; we speak of disappearances of our end, so how are they disappearing? If even the shadow of a White Lotus Society member isn’t seen, that will be very hard to explain upon return. Presumably, I, Commandant Wang, Eunuch Wang, and Censor Tang all don’t wish to witness such a thing happen, yes?”
Wang Yue stared at him coldly. “And what’s your idea?”
“Send someone to investigate again. We need to understand what is happening with the Sealet, else the Tartars will keep coming and running after the fight is done, while the Ming army won’t be able to chase them, as they’ll disappear as soon as they do. How would that be alright? If things continue on like this, morale will take a heavy hit.”
“You talk so animatedly, Governor Guo. How about you lead the troops to investigate?”
Guo Tang was annoyed. “Please refrain from being aggravating, Mister Commandant. I am a military attache that indirectly has a part in military affairs, and the Court sent me here to help all of you. If I go out with the troops, who will serve as the Governor?”
The instant he finished speaking, he heard someone else speak up. “What he says is reasonable. This humble official also believes that people should be sent to investigate.”
Guo Tang turned his head in confusion, just in time to be met with Tang Fan’s endorsing look. He was mystified, thinking to himself that if Tang Fan wasn’t on their side, why was he helping him speak right now?
Unexpectedly, this mysterious event did not stop there, because as soon as Tang Fan was finished, Wang Zhi also spoke out. “Right. Our Great Ming has repeatedly defeated the Tartars before, beating them into the muck, with even the Great Bend close enough to grab. There’s no logic in being frightened off by a trifling demonic trick. No matter how awful it gets, we still have Chuyun-zi around!”
Guo Tang’s eyes automatically widened. Even Wang Zhi, who typically wore the same pair of pants as Wang Yue, was standing on his side. What was going on today?
In their previous few fights, Guo Tang had faced defeat every time precisely because once they started, Wang Yue and Wang Zhi would team up to deal with him. He truly hated and feared their menacing demeanors, but whenever they were flaring their nostrils, he would be standing alone, and it would be hard for him to have any speaking power. He had only been able to bitterly complain to the capital over and over again. He had believed that the other end had heard the voice of his heart at last in sending two helpers over, only for that heart to go cold the second he had seen the list of names.
Tang Fan and Sui Zhou. Who didn’t know that they had conflict with the Wan party? Solon Wan had even gotten those two to come over — had he been wanting them to join up with Wang Zhi and toy with Guo Tang to death?
But, looking at today… why did that not appear to be the case at all?
Before he had time to think up of any solutions, Wang Yue was heard to laugh coldly. “So, it turns out that since you don’t personally lead these soldiers out, you don’t feel a teeny bit of heartache, Eunuch Wang? But I do! We have sent people to investigate before, yet what have the results been each time? Every single one of them has gone missing! I don’t have any trust in such large grasslands. Aside from the road near the Sealet, there is no other path to take!”
“Even if there was another road, and the Tartars went down it each time, why wouldn’t we be able to?” Wang Zhi countered.
“Have you never once thought about how shaken morale will be if the people we send disappear yet again? When that time comes, everyone will know that the Tartars have supernatural abilities, and then what kind of fight will they put up?”
“Like what Governor Guo said, the Ming army cannot be a turtle shrunk into its shell, as the loss of morale will be even greater like that. You’ve led troops for years, Commandant Wang, so why have you suddenly become timid in the span of a day? If even the leading general is too afraid to fight, what will the officers subordinating you do?”
Wang Yue’s expression was hard to look at. “Don’t forget that I am Datong’s commander-in-chief, Eunuch Wang! I have the authority to decide on whether or not to dispatch soldiers!”
Wang Zhi sneered. “And don’t you forget who single-handedly got you promoted to where you are today! If I wasn’t here, would you be able to be the Datong Commandant, and earn so many war merits?!”
Guo Tang was taken aback watching this. He had clearly been the one that had incited this topic, so how had this ended up with the other two squabbling? On top of that, they were crossing blades, the smell of gunpowder permeating, each having the attitude of being about to duke it out if they had one big moment of disagreement.
Wang Yue was a civil official, but he had been leading troops for so many years, he had acquired an aura of death. Wang Zhi needed to be spoken of even less — were it not for his pale, whiskerless face, no one would ever associate him with the label of ‘eunuch’.
“Ah— both of you, calm down! You can just talk!”
Guo Tang was naturally excited about a conflict arising between them, but on the surface, he still needed to urge them to behave. However, someone beside him pulled his sleeve; as soon as he lowered his head, he saw Tang Fan.
“Don’t bother persuading them, Governor,” the other whispered to him. “When I just arrived yesterday, they fought.”
Guo Tang let out an exclamation. “How do you say that?” he quickly whispered.
“As per His Majesty’s order, I asked after how the war had been going, but all their talk resulted in them beginning to pass each other’s responsibilities off to each other.” Tang Fan quirked his lips. “Were it not for me stopping them, their bickering would have gotten a lot worse.”
Guo Tang was shocked. No wonder he had felt that the mood in here was off when he had just entered; Wang Zhi and Wang Yue had actually been at odds before this?
Following his arrival at Datong, he had always been repressed by these two. Now that he had abruptly discovered that his counterparts’ seemingly-solid alliance was actually not at all solid on the inside, his feeling of exultation defied description.
Yet, he couldn’t show off the fact that he was reveling in the calamity too prominently, lightly coughing. “Commandant Wang is too stubborn. If he refuses to send troops regardless, that will place the situation at large into a disadvantage!”
Tang Fan sighed in his wake. “Who could speak of it? If the Tartars learned that we’re fighting amongst ourselves, they might be even happier.”
While the two whispered quietly on their side, Wang Zhi and Wang Yue just got louder and louder, until they ultimately had a falling out. Wang Zhi left with a simple flick of his sleeves, disregarding Guo Tang and Tang Fan, who were still seated in the hall.
Wang Yue gave them a pained laughed. “You two have witnessed quite an embarrassment.”
Guo Tang wanted to say a few polite things, but Tang Fan asked what he wanted to, instead. “Mister Commandant, do we dispatch people, or no?”
Wang Yue was displeased. “You’ve all agreed, so what use would my dissent be? Two imperial envoys are here! If they both file complaints about me to the capital, my troubles will never end!”
Guo Tang smiled dryly. “You’re overthinking, Sir. How could things be that bad?”
“People will be sent, but not right now.”
“Then when? Please give this humble official a timeframe, so that I can report it to the Court.”
“Weather has been poor these days, so the fog at the Sealet will likely be even greater. The Tartars might choose this time to come pillaging. We’ll deal with that battle, then talk more on it. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to Datong’s Left and Cloudriver Posts for patrols, so I won’t be able to greet you two then. If you please.”
Wang Yue picked up his gaiwan, striking a pose of seeing his guests off. Guo Tang and Tang Fan had to get up and leave, walking out of the Commandant Estate.
Because of the spectacle of Wang Yue and Wang Zhi’s fight, plus Tang Fan agreeing with Guo Tang’s idea, a thread of sympathy instead rose up between them. Guo Tang also felt that he might be able to win him over, thus pulling him to his side.
“The Commandant’s temper is much too explosive,” he couldn’t help but grumble. “It’s little wonder that even Eunuch Wang cannot stand him!”
Tang Fan laughed. “We annoyed him, too. On any other day, he certainly wouldn’t be like that.”
Guo Tang shook his head. “I still don’t even know what I should write in my memorial to the Court.”
“The Commandant’s days are typically rife with thousands of things going on, so we should be considerate of him. In any case, if the Tartars genuinely are about to launch an attack, negligence cannot be allowed.”
Guo Tang laughed in mockery. “What attack? He said the same exact thing last time, yet they never came. He, the Datong Commandant, is nothing to write home about! Maybe all of those contributions he claimed before were all him killing good people, then using their heads as proof!”
Tang Fan was alarmed. “Governor Guo, rash comments are unwise. We’ve only just left his estate. If he heard you, would we not have corporal punishment awaiting us? This is not the capital!”
Evidently, Guo Tang had tasted Wang Yue’s ferocity before, so he immediately went quiet.
The two spoke some more, then went their separate ways. Guo Tang had official business to handle, so he went back to his own estate, while Tang Fan went straight to the Defending Supervisor’s Estate in a litter.
On Sui Zhou’s end, after he had parted from Tang Fan, he had gone to the city gate by himself. On the road, he bumped into Corporal Meng Cun, who had led them into the city prior.
 Naming scheme borrowed from Dabasun Nor. Darakh is a Mongolian re-translation of the likely-Mongolian-to-Mandarin calque name of 奄遏/yan’e, which means ‘suppression, suffocation, stifling’. As an aside, if you try to go Mandarin-to-Mongolian with 奄遏, it gives you the phrase Үхэж байна, which, in turn, translates into English as… ‘I’m dying.’ Thanks, I hate ghosts trying to communicate with me in Google Translate.