This chapter has been brought to you by me, and larkspur.
Chapter 13: Horse Bandits
Guanzhong had eight hundred miles of flat land with vast expanse of farms outside Lueyan District. The scenery looked like a beautiful painting with the occasional hill and village as adornment.
The Xie Family caravan moved steadily and started to slow down thirty miles away from the district city.
“What does this mean?” Fu Su said with a frown, when he noticed the Xie Family caravan slowing down.
Right here, dry fields and unplowed lands lined both sides of the road. There was no village around, only a moderately sized horse farm near a small stream. A dozen grazing horses were scattered on the hill.
There did not appear to be anyone that was doing business with the Xie Family present.
“They are just slowing down, not stopping completely. This means that this place is where they are conducting business, but the other is not here yet,” Ding Ning turned to look at Fu Su and said slowly.
Forefather Zhou narrowed his eyes slightly. He looked like he was dozing but his thoughts were active.
Suddenly, his ears moved slightly. He heard something.
“It’s horse bandits.” A few moments later, Ding Ning took a deep breath and said as he looked at Fu Su.
Fu Su was shocked and puzzled. But then he sensed the slight vibrations on the bottom of the carriage, caused by the wheels on the ground. He immediately realized and frowned.
In the eight hundred miles of Guanzhong, there were no mountains or rivers that would hamper the pursuit of armies if someone were to flee from them. But even without any mountain bandits, there were still other bandits.
The flat plains gave birth to horse bandits.
The horse bandits usually had three or four horses each. They would never linger at a place and set camp at different places each day. The Qin Dynasty hated these locust-like horse bandits that did not produce anything and only caused destruction. The Qin Dynasty had cavalry specifically trained in Guanzhong to pursue and kill bandits. But an elite cavalry was hard to train while horse bandits were an easy occurrence. Often, when one group was destroyed, two others would emerge.
A long trail of dust rose in the distant fields. Soon, a group of horse bandits appeared in Ding Ning and Fu Su’s line of sight.
There were more than a hundred people in this group, each one with at least four horses. Other than the one they rode, and the one they kept as a spare, the other horses were heavily burdened with luggage. Both the heavy bags and the horses were stained with dry black blood.
Though they were all dressed differently, the horse bandits had yellow cloths covering their faces. Even though their bodies were not upright and lacked the bearings of the Qin cavalry, they gave off a cold and bloodthirsty presence.
Ding Ning’s gaze grew colder. In terms of numbers, these horse bandits were not much. Strong horse bandits usually had over a thousand horses, and thousands in reserve. They had the power to openly fight small groups of cavalry and cultivators. Yet, from the height of the dust that rose under the hooves of the horses, he could judge that these horses were extraordinarily burdened.
It was normal for a caravan to transport heavy items, but for horse bandits, if they carried too much, it would be fatal.
The Xie Family only had carriages that carried people, and each carriage clearly had passengers. They could not carry the weight from the horse bandits’ burdens.
For Ding Ning, this meant danger.
“These bandits’ spare horses seem to be laden,” Fu Su turned and said seriously to him, “and they do not look large, so it is likely to be some seal weapons or military equipment.”
Fu Su was the most valued son of Emperor Yuanwu and the empress. He had been taught from birth by wise teachers. Ding Ning was not surprised that he could make such an evaluation.
He nodded. “These bandits do not look like they are conducting business but coming for a fight.”
“Even the drivers of the three carriages are not ordinary people.” In the Xie Family carriage, Xie Lianying did not look at the gang of horse bandits coming towards him. He put more attention on the three black carriages following behind him.
Seeing the three carriages remain calm, a relaxed smile appeared on Xie Lianying’s slightly plump and greasy face. “Even the carriage drivers are so relaxed. This important person from Changling must possess high status.”
“Let’s go out.”
In the next moment, his smile disappeared only to be gradually replaced by rare coldness. “Let’s not waste this important person’s time.”
The bandit group suddenly stopped when they were hundreds of meters away from the Xie Family caravan and then arranged themselves in a line. Under the control of the bandits, the horses they rode and the burdened horses all stopped. Dust stirred at the hooves like fire burning. But the riders and the hooves were silent and gave off a mountainous pressure.
A horse bandit with gray hair slowly urged his horse forward. He saw Xie Lianying and Xie Rou who had walked out of the carriage. His slightly yellowed and dim eyes flashed with light. Then his gaze landed on the three black carriages of the Zhou Family in the distance and his brow imperceptibly furrowed.
“Where are our people and goods?”
Seeing this bandit come out, Xie Lianying spoke first with a smile as he walked to the helm of his caravan.
The gray-haired horse bandit looked calmly at him, without breaching his silence.
As the dust trail behind them settled slowly, the sight of tens of horses in the distance came into view.
Those horse bandits were in a small circle with a dozen riders, dressed in different clothing, at the center.
“Your people know where your goods are.”
The gray-haired horse bandit leader spoke calmly, “Your people have seen them. Now you should let us see what we want.”
Xie Lianying nodded. His expression did not change but his tone suddenly grew disdainful. “I really admire your bravery. You dare to even rob my people … you really think that anyone in Guanzhong can touch the Xie Family?”
The gray-haired horse bandit frowned deeply.
He could discern an unusual meaning in Xie Lianying’s words, yet he said nothing. His left hand released the reins and was about to lift up.
“Do not think you can casually kill one of my people to threaten me.” Xie Lianying’s eyes narrowed and he said disdainfully, “See what I brought you first and then speak.”
As he spoke, the drivers of the other two carriages lifted the curtains of the carriages in unison.
The gray-haired horse bandit leader’s body suddenly froze.
There was only one passenger in each of the two carriages.
One was an old woman with white hair. The other a child of five or so
Xie Lianying looked at the stupefied horse bandit leader and said with great disdain, “How about it? Is what I bring you important enough?”
“You can kill any of my people starting now as you please.”
In the next breath, this seemingly tacky merchant changed expression and sneered. “But if you kill one, I will have your Chen Family have no elders or children.”
Ding Ning and Fu Su were trying to hear the conversation between Xie Lianying and the horse bandit leader. Fortunately, they were not quiet so they could hear some things.
So, while they could not see what was in the two carriages, the pair quickly realized what was present through Xie Lianying’s words.
“These are not true horse bandits. Or rather, they usually have other identities.”
Fu Su turned to look at Ding Ning and said softly, “They stole the Xie Family and their goods but they didn’t expect the Xie Family to investigate them and also kidnap their people.”
The horse bandit leader took a deep breath, yet maintained his silence.
Xie Lianying continued.
He looked sympathetically at the horse bandit leader, shook his head and said, “While my Xie Family cannot compare to the true nobility in Changling, we have been in Guanzhong for more than fifty years. What kind of storm have we not weathered! Your children think that you can replace the Xie Family’s position with tactics like these?”
“It’s fine if you want to attack the Xie Family.”
Xie Lianying’s tone suddenly turned harsh and his expression frosty. “But you should know what the Xie Family is transporting. You are also Qin, you can do something like this?”
Hearing Xie Lianying’s words, the horse bandit leader slowly shook his head. His dim yellow eyes showed a deep powerlessness.
Then he took off the yellow cloth covering his face.
Underneath was a pale and thin face.
“This son is unfilial to have brought you a fright.”
This thin gray-haired man bowed deeply to the old woman in the Xie Family carriage. Then his expression turned calm. He looked at Xie Lianying and simply said, “We will trade people.”
Xie Lianying smiled coldly. He knew that starting today, these people could only become true horse bandits so he nodded and said, “Agreed.”
The horse bandit leader took a deep breath. His left hand once again left the reins.
But at this time, a cold voice sounded behind him. “I want to try.”
Translator Ramblings: I had a hard time visualizing this so this is how I think they are laid out. The horse bandits and the Xie Family are facing off. Ding Ning’s group is located a fair distance behind the Xie Family. Then there is a small group of bandits behind the main bandit group in a circle, keeping other members of the Xie Family and their good hostage.