13 Observing
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Kanuen quietly drew a map of the town for Hou Dong, asking him from time to time if the way he did it was alright. This was the only thing he could do for him so he wanted to do it right. Unfortunately, he didn’t know anything about drawing maps so he could only sketch what he remembered while explaining to Hou Dong at the side.

Hou Dong was hugging him around the waist, his chin placed on Kanuen’s shoulder, and lazily looked at the map. He didn’t look as if he was preparing to wipe out a group of bandits anytime soon. "It looks good, don’t worry. Also, this is just another measure that we can use to make it less difficult for us. It doesn’t have to be completely right. If there’s some small errors in there, then we’ll still be able to use it. It’s only so we have a better overview of the situation and know what places to avoid and which ones we can make use of. We still have to go and see for ourselves though."

Kanuen nodded. "So it’s like that. Well, I should still try to do my best. If it can make things easier for you, then that’s good. After all, you’re doing this for me."

Hou Dong raised his head and leaned closer, kissing his cheek. "Don’t mention it. Since we’re a couple now, your family is my family. Saving my family is a question of honor, isn’t it?"

"Mn, maybe you’re right." He continued to draw and finally, the map was finished.

Hou Dong looked at it and nodded, turning to the other three men that would follow him to observe the town’s situation. "Is it clear to you?"

The three of them nodded.

Shen Lei turned to the others. "Maybe we should make a copy for ourselves so we know what to pay attention to? We can also make some adjustments in case the bandits have done anything in the city that Master hasn’t noticed before."

The others nodded and Hou Dong got up and walked over to his horse, rummaging around the bag on his saddle until he found a bit more parchment that could be used to draw the maps. He came back and threw it at the three men, letting them draw a copy themselves while he happily took the one that Kanuen had made.

Finally, the four of them were prepared to set out. Hou Dong waved at them and they left while he returned to Kanuen once again. "Don’t worry. I will be able to make it back as will the others. Today, nothing will happen. At least not for now. We’ll send Sun Jin over after we come back and know the situation a bit better. Until then, there’s really no need to worry."

Kanuen sighed. "I’m sorry. I’m making you say this much even though you’re in a hurry. The more time you have to prepare, the better it’ll be for you but I’m holding you back."

"You’re not. Actually, I’m feeling very sweet seeing that you’re like this. If you don’t want me to be hurt, that means you must love me very much." He leaned down and kissed him again, brushing through his hair and rubbing his back. "Just obediently wait here for me, yes? Stay close to the others. If those bandits somehow appear anywhere close by, retreat. You know this area better than them I bet. You should know where to hide."

Kanuen nodded. "I do. Don’t worry about me. Just worry about yourself while you’re out there."

Hou Dong nodded and once again, their lips met. He took a last look at him and then stepped back, getting onto his horse and riding toward the town without looking back. Ah, if you had a lover, things could suddenly be so complicated. He really didn’t want to leave his side for even a moment. Would it always be like this? Then he probably wouldn’t be able to travel with his men anymore. Just the thought of leaving Kanuen behind and not seeing him for several months or taking him along and subjecting him to danger every day … No, he couldn’t do that. Both options weren’t good.

Hou Dong circled around the town to the other side, keeping out of eyesight. If they wanted to make the most out of this, they’d have to take a look at the town from all directions. That way, they could verify that none of the streets leading outside were blocked and they would be able to go in and come out without any trouble.

If there were in advantageous terrain, they should even be able to see the middle of the town even if they couldn’t make out any details. After all, they couldn’t get too close or they would risk being seen which might make matters troublesome when they attacked tomorrow.

He spurred on his horse and finally arrived at a spot at the back of the town. He couldn’t help but look around. The town wasn’t too far from the mountain that probably marked the outer border of the kingdom of Sou. In the other direction, the hills were getting smaller and the whole ground seemed to slowly slope further down. It was as if the whole kingdom might be one giant crater that had turned into a paradise. He really wondered if it only looked like that this close to the border or if the rest of the kingdom was really like that.

To be honest, he didn’t have a clear image of what this country was like. Sure, Kanuen had told him quite a bit but they had only known each other for a quarter of a year. There was no way that he would be able to understand Sou kingdom just from that. No, to get that, he’d have to travel around and take a look for himself.

Well, now wasn’t the time for that. He shook his head at himself for thinking about unrelated things at such a moment and then turned to the town. With the ground sloping down slowly, there was no way for him to take a good look at anything but the streets at the edge of the town. None of them were blocked and there wasn’t any lookout that the bandits might’ve created either.

No, it seemed like these guys had just taken up residence in a town full of people that didn’t dare to fight back and were now having a good life. Well, it wasn’t too unexpected. If the victims didn’t fight, then why shouldn’t they? Most people didn’t become bandits because they wanted to but because their circumstances were bad. If they could have a simpler life by relying on these people, then they would do so. After a while, if nothing happened, they might even become normal citizens of the kingdom of Sou. Then again, he might also have gotten things wrong. Since their leader had wanted to force himself onto Kanuen, they might actually like this style of being bandits. If they didn’t, wouldn’t they have some rules in place?

He shook his head and sighed, once again looking around. He needed to find out more. He didn’t think that they wouldn’t be able to beat them if he didn’t but it was still better to make sure. The better prepared he was, the less Kanuen would worry. That was very good. He didn’t want him to be afraid.

In the end, he spotted another small grove on a hill not far from him and rode over, getting down from the horse and climbing onto one of the trees. From this elevated high, he could see a little further and at least make sure that there weren’t any bad surprises in the streets further to the middle. Ah, looking now, he felt that this was actually an idyllic place.

The few people that were out in the street were dressed in clothes that might not look precious but were tidy and didn’t seem like they had been used too often. Even from the distance, the colors were bright enough to stand out. Just like the robe that Kanuen had worn when he found him in the desert, they were also quite thin, the fabric lightly fluttering in the breeze. Well, now that he was here, he could understand. It might not be hot like in the desert but it was pleasantly warm.

Aside from the people, the houses also made a good impression. There were none of the large courtyard houses that were fashionable in Hua. Instead, each of them didn’t seem to have more than two or maybe three rooms. They could probably house one family but not more. Well, this was only a town at the border of the kingdom. It probably wasn’t too strange that the house was small. In fact, this place was probably more like a village. Just that they had a few houses more and streets that were neat and tidy.

Hou Dong couldn’t help but smile when he looked at these houses. In one of them, his future parents-in-law were living. Who knew what they were doing right now? Who knew what they looked like? Ah, maybe someone on the streets out there was one of them? Or one of Kanuen’s siblings? He’d really like to see them! Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to make out the faces from this far out. The most he could do was distinguish them from the bandits depending on the way they were dressed and moved. Speaking of which …

Hou Dong narrowed his eyes. Other than the people in the light robes that he had seen before, he also saw a slightly larger figure dressed in robes that looked a lot like what was being worn in Hua or Kai. As he had thought, they were probably a group that had managed to flee from another country and somehow stumbled upon this place. Seeing that the people there weren’t able to resist them and were even beautiful, they had occupied the town. There was nothing more to it.

His gaze followed the bandit, taking in the way he walked and how he was still carrying a weapon. It seemed they still have to be careful when they attacked. There really was a risk that they would involve the townspeople. Especially if they somehow noticed that Kanuen was on their side. If they found out, they would know that they had a good chance of threatening them with the lives of these people. He couldn’t let that happen.

Hou Dong continued to squat in the branches of the tree for a while longer, trying to see if he could make out any more details. Unfortunately, he really was too far away. Thus he had to climb down and get back onto his horse, riding back to the camp.

By the time he arrived, Lei Kun and Duan Bao had already returned while Shen Ling was still out observing the town. Maybe he had found a better spot to observe things and could bring more information back. That was good.

Hou Dong rode into the camp but before he could get down from the horse, Kanuen already rushed up to him.

"You’re back!" The worry in his voice and eyes made Hou Dong smile.

He got down from the horse and pulled him into his arms. "I’m back. And I think you’ll have one worry less. I’ve seen that the townspeople are able to walk around freely. If it’s the same way for the other directions, then I think they’re not in any danger for now. We still have to be careful tomorrow but it’s a good thing. At the very least, we’ll be able to prevent them from being harmed."

Kanuen nodded but he was actually preoccupied with looking Hou Dong over. Good. It seemed nothing had happened to him. He was really alright. Nothing missing, not even a scratch. He had really come back uninjured.

Seeing his lover pat his chest and tugging at his sleeves to make sure he was alright, Hou Dong couldn’t help but grin like an idiot. Ah, being in love was a great feeling! He could get used to being treated like this whenever he came back.

He tried hard to hold back his grin and then swooped Kanuen up into his arms. "I’m well. You’re also well. And I’ll make sure that your family and friends will be too. Just trust me."

Kanuen nodded and finally stopped looking him over. "Alright, then do you want to sit down? Do you want to eat something?"

Hou Dong shook his head and pulled him over to the others, sitting down again. They waited for Shen Ling to come back before Hou Dong recounted what he had seen on his side of the town. His men listened and then the other three gave an account of what they had noticed.

It turned out that there wasn’t much of a difference. The bandits hadn’t set up any lookouts and hadn’t barricaded the town either. It really seemed as if they were just living there. If not because they were still carrying weapons, one really wouldn’t have been able to see the difference.

Hou Dong narrowed his eyes while brushing through Kanuen’s hair and stared at the map. "Unfortunately, we won’t be able to know where exactly they live. Maybe they’re all in the same building or they have taken up residence wherever they like. One or two people might live together or maybe there’s no system to it whatsoever. We won’t be able to find out. At the very least, not in a short time and even if we sent Sun Jin in, who knows if he’ll be able to leave again if he pretends to be a traveler? He might also give our plan away if he tries too hard. No, I think it would still be better to strike fast."

His men nodded in agreement. Shen Ling motioned at the map and then looked at Kanuen. "Which one is the house of your family?"

Kanuen looked up and then pointed at a house not far from the edge of the town. It was the side closest to the mountain so Hou Dong wouldn’t have been able to see it from where he had been. He couldn’t help but feel a little reluctant. If he had known, he would’ve gone and watched from this side again.

Shen Ling rubbed his chin and pondered. "How about we send Sun Jin there? He can tell them that we found Kanuen and can also try to get some information out of them."

Hou Dong shook his head. "That’s true but he won’t be able to get that information back to us."

"Maybe you’re right but at the very least, he would be able to give a message to them and he could check some things. For example, the biggest problem right now is that we have to be afraid that the bandits will use the townspeople’s lives to threaten us. If we are able to have Sun Jin let Kanuen’s family spread the message that they had to stay in their houses and lock the doors, then the bandits would have a harder time to reach them. In the meantime, we might be able to finish them off already. That way, the threat to the townspeople wouldn’t be as big."

Hou Dong nodded slowly. "That’s true. And if the bandits are indeed staying at the same location … It would make sense anyway. Even if the people aren’t fond of fighting, they might still be able to gang up on some bandits and take them out if they were alone. Especially so if they don’t have any lookouts and don’t take any precautions at night. So it would be safer for them to stay together. Even after a quarter of the year, they shouldn’t have let their guard down that much."

The men murmured in agreement while Kanuen looked up at his lover. Hou Dong … He really knew about this kind of thing. He had worried too much before. He should just do as Hou Dong said and then wait for his good news.

Hou Dong turned to Kanuen just at that moment. Seeing him smile, he couldn’t help but smile back. "Say, would anybody leave a candle on at night or light them up every now and then?"

Kanuen raised his brows. "Of course. If something happened, they’d naturally do so. Isn’t that normal?"

Hou Dong nodded. "It is. I just wanted to make sure." Then he turned to Sun Jin. "Alright, here is the plan: We will wait until dusk and then you’ll sneak into the town and go to the house of Kanuen’s family. You’ll go in and tell them that we’ve picked him up. Then you will tell them that we will come tomorrow to drive off the bandits. Ask them whether the bandits are all staying at the same place or in several. If it’s just one, then light up a candle in one of the windows after it has gotten dark. You have to make sure that all the lights in the house are out at the time so we can be sure that it is your signal and nothing else. Do you understand?"

Sun Jin nodded. "No problem, I can do that."

"Good. You also have to tell them that they need to tell the other people to stay in their houses and lock themselves in as we’ve talked about. They can’t do so too soon. Only after you give the signal, alright?"

Sun Jin raised his brows. "We’re not talking about the light in the window now, are we?"

Hou Dong shook his head. "No, we’re talking about you making a fuss the next morning and trying to take down one or two of those bandits, then leading some of them away. When that happens, the people can use their fear as an excuse to run into their houses, and barricade themselves." He wanted to speak further but couldn’t help but turn to Kanuen. "That would be something they would do, wouldn’t it?"

Kanuen nodded. "I think so. At the very least, they wouldn’t stay around if something like that happened."

Hou Dong nodded. "Alright, then we’ll do it that way. Have you understood everything, Sun Jin?"

Sun Jin smiled. "Of course! It’s not that difficult, is it? I just go in there, tell his family everything and then I can wait until tomorrow and make trouble for the bandits."

Hou Dong nodded. "Exactly. Good, then I guess I won’t need to worry about you." He looked at the other men and his expression turned grim. "As for us, we’ll wait until we hear the commotion. By that time, we need to be in position. If Sun Jin signals in the night, then we’ll rush go in from this direction. If he doesn’t, it means that they are in different positions and we can’t act rashly. Then, we’d split up into four groups and go into the town from all four directions. That way, we’ll be able to clean up a good portion of the bandits even if some of them try to use the townspeople against us. Afterward, we’ll have to play it by ear."

The others nodded. Shen Ling couldn’t help but furrow his brows though. "If the bandits are staying in different positions, then what about the people locking themselves in? How will we know that none of the bandits are still in there? We can’t check all the houses, can we?"

Hou Dong sighed. "I’m afraid we can’t be sure about that. We can only hope that it won’t be that way. If it is …" He shook his head and sighed. There was nothing they could do in preparation, was there? He turned to Kanuen and caressed the back of his head. "I’m sorry. I’m afraid with the little time we have, there is no way to take care of that too."

Kanuen pursed his lips. "Well, maybe there is. My people know where the bandits are. After Sun Jin has told my family and they’ve spread the message, they could go to other houses to make sure they’re safe when everything starts."

Hou Dong raised his brows. Right. Why hadn’t he thought of that? Even though Kanuen’s people might not like to fight, they would be able to escape. Hadn’t he also managed to escape back when the leader of the bandits tried to force him? "You’re right. Well, then I guess we’ll do it that way."

The men nodded and went to prepare for what they had to do. When dusk fell, Hou Dong once again reminded Sun Jin of everything he had to take note off before the warrior finally set off. Now, they could only wait for his news.