Chapter 362: Great Harvest!
With the Great Tang empire's wealth, how could it possibly lack the finances to build and equip a heavy infantry regiment? But sometimes, money simply wasn't the problem.
Take the Wootz steel, for example. Wang Chong would have loved to purchase several million jun at once, but even if he could get the finances for it, the production of the ore couldn't possibly keep up with him!
Sometimes, if a resource is severely lacking, no amount of money can get you what you need.
"Iron Cloak Li sure wasted a precious material!" Even without giving it much thought, Wang Chong could guess that the superior Xuan metal was stolen from Arabian merchants traveling along Silk Road.
Even Great Tang was sourcing for such superior Xuan metal to equip their armies, but the merchants from the Western Regions were still able to secure such a huge stock and deliver it back to their country. From this, it could be seen how prosperous the black market along the Silk Road was.
As long as sufficient profits were involved, there was nothing that couldn't be sold or traded. It was no wonder why Elder Zhao and Elder Ye raised this issue at grandfather's birthday banquet.
However, just by looking at the metal door before him, Wang Chong realized that Elder Zhao and Elder Ye might still be underestimating this issue! The resources that were being smuggled out of Great Tang were probably far more than they had imagined.
I should call those from the Zhang Clan to carry this metal gate back as soon as I return, and have them find some way to forge it into heavy armor. I believe that they would be interested in working with Xuan metal. I should also ask Big Uncle and King Song to look into this matter, Wang Chong thought.
After seeing the metal gate, Wang Chong lost interest in whatever was inside. Just the gate in itself made the journey here one worth making.
On the other hand, unaware of Wang Chong's thoughts, the remaining group inside the Iron Cloak Highwaymen's treasure vault was dancing in joy.
Treasures of all sorts were stacked up high within the vault, be it top-notch swords, sabers, bows, silver, copper coin, antique, paintings, agate, pearls...
Even Xu Gan and Huang Yongtu found themselves blanking out before the sight, needless to say, the others.
Bai Siling also leaped into the sea of treasures and screamed in delight, shocking everyone with her excitement.
To flash such a brilliant smile only in the face of treasures, as expected, all women must be dragons!
"Unbelievable. There must be at least a few million gold taels worth of wealth here, right?" As a military man through and through, Zhang Lin didn't have much of a concept of wealth, but this didn't hinder him from being stunned by the huge wealth in Iron Cloak Li's treasure vault.
"A few million? Lieutenant Zhang, you forgot to add another zero to that figure. There must be at least ten million gold taels in here. The Hu merchants that travel along the west road are oozing with wealth! Not to mention, dozens of bandit bands chose to join his group, and the treasures presented to him should at least be worth several million by themselves. Just that, it won't be easy to exchange the artifacts here for money.
"Painting, antiques, and that sort are indeed worth quite a sum, but finding a buyer for them won't be easy. But nevertheless, even if we were to take those out of the equation, there should still be around seven million gold taels in here!" Huang Yongtu said excitedly.
Coming from a prestigious clan, he had a sharp sense for treasures and artifacts, and he could easily gauge the value of an item by looking at it. On this aspect, Zhang Lin could hardly compare with him.
"Seven million?" Bai Siling sat up from the pile of gold, stunned by the figures Huang Yongtu reported as well.
Her dragon-like senses for wealth had told her that the pile of items here was worth a great deal, but she didn't expect it to be so much. It was only at this instant that she realized that they had truly struck it rich!
The rewards earned from eliminating a huge bandit band were way too generous!
If it was known that one could make a fortune out of hunting bandits, the recruits from the Three Great Training Camps would surely fight with one another for this mission opportunity.
"I wish to take out one million from the fortune earned in this operation to compensate the cavalrymen who fell in this operation, what do you think of it?" Wang Chong suddenly walked in from outside the door and asked them all.
"Un." The group glanced at one another before nodding in agreement.
The ones who had put in the most effort into the operations were indeed the Great Tang military veterans here. Had they not been here, it would be difficult for them to clear even a smaller band of bandits, let alone the powerful Iron Cloak Highwaymen.
On top of that, they were the ones who had used their lives to protect Xu Gan and Huang Yongtu in that desperate situation. The two of them understood that they would have lost their lives back then had it not for their noble sacrifice.
As scions, they were indeed proud, but they weren't heartless.
As such, there were no complaints about Wang Chong's decision to split a million of the pot with them.
"Let's do as you have said, then," Xu Gan and Huang Yongtu agreed.
Leaning against the side of the treasure vault, Wang Chong nodded before falling silent.
He needed great wealth in order to accomplish his plans, but compensation still had to be given to the kin of the fallen soldiers. Such money shouldn't be skimped on.
As the treasure vault was uncovered by the four of them, Wang Chong couldn't simply claim possession of it all. He could donate his portion to the fallen soldiers, but he couldn't force Xu Gan, Huang Yongtu, Zhang Lin, and Bai Siling to do the same as well.
With a million gold taels donated to the fallen soldiers, each family should be able to claim around 27,000 gold taels. Considering how an ordinary family only spent around ten gold taels each year, that was a huge sum.
The families of the fallen soldiers need not worry about their livelihoods for the rest of their lives.
Soon, the items in the vault had been organized and recorded down. Adding up all of the money and artifacts, the combined estimated value was 13 million, or 8 million after excluding the paintings and antiques which would be more difficult to sell.
Huang Yongtu's estimation was pretty accurate.
As Wang Chong's contribution was the greatest, the group decided to give the largest portion, worth 2.4 million gold taels, to him.
On the other hand, Xu Gan, Huang Yongtu, Bai Siling, and Zhang Lin received 1.2 million each, and the remaining 1.2 million was divided among the surviving cavalrymen.
As for the remaining 5 million worth of jewelry, agate, painting, antiques, and that sort, Huang Yongtu offered to use the connections of the Huang Clan to sell all of them, and the sum would be split equally among Wang Chong, Xu Gan, Huang Yongtu, and Bai Siling.
Regarding this matter, there was no one who had any objections.
Everyone had their fair share of rewards from this operation.
Night finally set once more, revealing a sky twinkling with stars. While Wang Chong was seated on the slope of the mountain, gazing up at the night sky, a voice suddenly sounded from behind him.
"Siling?" Wang Chong glanced at the figure behind him in astonishment as he stood up. "Why are you here?"
"Why do you look so surprised? You don't welcome me here?" Bai Siling glared at him with a frown.
"How could I possibly dare to not welcome you!" Wang Chong quickly waved his hands. In the end, this was what familiarity brought about. When his identity was still a mystery to Bai Siling, the latter dared not do anything to him.
However, after the life-and-death battle they had together, such hesitation had disappeared. Perhaps it was due to the feeling that they had gotten closer, but the latter began to threaten him into giving in with force!
One must know that Bai Siling wielded strength on par with Marquess Yi, so how could Wang Chong be her match?
"Hmph, that's more like it." Bai Siling's frown broke into a smile as she passed a black object roughly the size of a fingernail to him. "Here!"
"What is that?" Wang Chong asked as he subconsciously took the item from her hands. It felt extremely light, as if devoid of weight at all.
"I found this on Iron Cloak Li, it was in a hidden slit in his clothes. I took a look at it, but it doesn't suit me. I wanted to pass it to you earlier in the day, but I couldn't find the opportunity to do so, especially since Xu Gan and the others were around." Bai Siling said nonchalantly.
Hearing those words, Wang Chong's heart skipped a beat. Under the dim illumination of the stars, he could see that the black object was an extremely thin layer of silk bundled together. Slightly translucent, Wang Chong could see some extremely small characters through it.
Unwrapping it, Wang Chong saw three words at the top of the piece of silk.
Iron Cloak Technique
Indeed! Wang Chong's skipped a beat as he saw those words. Raising his head, he saw Bai Siling adjusting her smooth hair with her slender fingers awkwardly as a slightly embarrassed expression crossed her face.
Perhaps it might just be an illusion of the night shadows, or maybe it was just an imagination on his part, but Wang Chong seemed to see a crimson tinge on Bai Siling's cheeks.
Holding the silk record in his hands, Wang Chong asked, "Why? You know, even if you don't hand it over to me, I wouldn't have told anyone about it."
"You knew?" Bai Siling's heart skipped a beat as she abruptly turned her eyes back to him. Her expression revealed her incredulity at Wang Chong's words.
"Of course, I am not a fool. It's clear that Iron Cloak Li hadn't mastered his Iron Cloak Technique yet, so it would be bizarre for him not to bring his manual around to cultivate. Besides, I saw you searching through his body back then!" Wang Chong rolled his eyes, as if saying that anyone in his place would have known it.
"Bastard!" Provoked, Bai Siling glared at Wang Chong hatefully as she stomped away. "You ungrateful brat, I shouldn't have given it to you!" Bai Siling furious voice echoed from a distance away.
"Haha!" Wang Chong chuckled lightly in response. But as Bai Siling disappeared in the darkness, the chuckling gradually faded.
Staring in the direction Bai Siling had disappeared toward, Wang Chong's eyes rippled with complex emotions. Eventually, they converged into a long sigh before he retracted his gaze.
Bai Siling's intentions were as clear as day, how could Wang Chong remain oblivious to them? But with a heavy responsibility weighing down on his shoulders, he didn't know whether he could reciprocate her feelings.
Soon, the night dissipated in the face of the morning sun.
By the time dawn set in, the pigeon from the royal court finally arrived.
When the pigeon with the golden band on its claws didn't return, the royal court had already sensed that something was amiss. After all, the convention was for it to return to its post after delivering whatever message required of it. This anomaly had caught the attention of the royal court.
As such, instead of the usual golden band pigeon, the one arriving this time around had a silver band wrapped around its claws instead.
The golden band pigeon was usually used for relaying commands and was one-way in nature. On the other hand, the silver band pigeon was used by the royal court to signify the establishment of a two-way communication.
Just from this gesture, it meant that the royal court had turned their attention to this area.
Zhang Lin swiftly compiled a letter explaining the events that had occurred and sent the silver band pigeon back.
So far, the group had completed the first and second missions of the operation, but the royal court hadn't relayed any subsequent orders yet. As such, not even Zhang Lin knew what they had to do next.
The only thing they could do at the moment was to wait patiently for the royal court's response.