Due to the load capacity on the pontoon bridge, only one mule cart was able to cross at one time.
Watchtowers, reaching ten zhang in height, were built on either side of the bridge, with archers serving on sentry duty, to guard and monitor the crossing.
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, "If Li Mi holds back his troops without moving, and does not send his men to burn our granary, we might as well retain only five thousand men at Yanshi, and send out the rest via land water, two routes, to attack Luokou, taking advantage while Luokou's military force is weak, using the before-the-thunderbolt-reaches-the-ears method we seize the city; and then calmly return to Yanshi, holding Li Mi's hind legs. If Li Mi retreated, we then strongly defend our position at Luokou. This was precisely the method with which Li Mi defeated Yuwen Huagu last time."
At that time Yuwen Huaji, using military supply wagon, slipped away again from Huatai, leading his troops north to attack Liyang. Xu Shiji gave up Liyang and went west to defend Cangcheng [lit. storehouse city], while Li Mi's twenty thousand strong cavalry was stationed at Qingqi. After occupying Liyang, Yuwen Huaji sent part of his troops to besiege Cangcheng. Xu Shiji and Li Mi communicated over the distance, and agreed to build deep ditch and high rampart, but did not go out to battle. However, if Yuwen Huaji attacked Cangcheng, Li Mi would send his troops from Qingqi to attack his rear, so that Yuwen Huaji would face the battle in two fronts. Lasting until Yuwen Huaji was out of provisions, employing a feigned-attack-first-and-then-strike-from-behind strategy, they defeated Yuwen Huaji at Tong Hill.
Kou Zhong's strategy would not work the same way; it would require two things to be accomplished: first of all was to wipe out Yang Dong's imperial guards, so that the Eastern Capital would be stabilized, and then he must cut off the supply line between Jinyong and Heyang. From these two, the latter was more difficult to accomplish; at best they would be engaged in open confrontation. But if they waited until Li Mi recovered his strength, the situation would be considerably worse.
How could Xu Ziling not understand Kou Zhong's frame of mind, which was loaded with gains and losses? "Don't worry!" he said resolutely, "Li Mi will come. And a lot quicker than you expected. Because he thinks he really inflicted serious damage on Wang Shichong, and that the Eastern Capital is in such a great mess. If he did not come now, then when?"
Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and said, "No one knows my mind better than you. Our military service at Jingling was merely due to us were there at the right time; during the battle we practically did not have time to think. But this time we make plans first and act later, moving the vehicles and dispatching generals on the battleground to face off against our adversary. If we lose, even if we are lucky enough to keep our little lives, our confidence will suffer big blow, then in the future we don't have to bother our coming out again. 'Victory or defeat is commonplace in military operations' is just pleasant to hear, but for most armies, once defeated, it would be very difficult to rebound, so this time we really cannot afford to lose. If Li Mi won, the world will become the battlefield of two Li's; other people could only stand on the sideline and watch."
Xu Ziling sighed and said, "Worrying is just as useful as his mother's fart. Originally we have nothing, at worst we will be beaten back to our original shape. Just like the Old Yang said, 'planning is with man, accomplishing with heaven' [idiom: man proposes, God disposes]. For example, if there was a sudden thunderstorm, perhaps it would complete change the terrain. There are too many factors on the battlefields that are beyond human's control."
Kou Zhong was silent for a moment. Seeing the mule train has safely crossed the river, together with Xu Ziling they urged their mounts to climb onto the bridge. "What do you think of that beauty Shang Xiufang?" he suddenly asked.
Xu Ziling was stunned, "In time like this you still have time to think about women?" he asked.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "This is called finding balance. Actually, during the banquet she asked me privately to come see her; who would have thought that Wang Shichong was wounded in the assassination attempt that I was so busy that during the dark sky and black earth [idiom: troubled times] unexpectedly I forgot about her."
Xu Ziling appeared as if he wanted to express his feelings; he said, "It would be best to just forget about her. The moment she boarded the boat and started to leave Luoyang, she ought to cast all people and matters that happened in Luoyang to the back of her mind, and became very remote and obscure things. During the time when the battle is imminent, I dare not even think of Su Jie. Ay! How are we going to resolve this problem anyway?"
Reaching the end of the pontoon bridge, the two boys galloped toward the main gate of the wooden stronghold; both sides of the road were jam-packed with soldiers, vehicles and horses. However, under the heavy pressure of the war, not only there was no clamor of people chatting and laughing, they rarely saw smiling face either.
Kou Zhong asked softly, "Even Shi Feixuan is cast away to the back of your mind?"
Xu Ziling sighed and said, "Shi Feixuan is indeed an amazing woman that is hard to forget; however, other than trying to forget her, what else can I do?"
Kou Zhong was astonished, "Ling Ye rarely spoke so forthrightly. I nearly forget to tell you, she called on me yesterday, advising me to withdraw from the power struggle, and then when my mind was in chaos, she simply left. Ay! She is indeed capable to bewitch any man to his death, but is also an unattainable beauty, making Xiaodi also suffer from the same lonesomeness. This is called misfortune we bear together!"
Xu Ziling burst out laughing, "Go to your Niang!" he swore.
Kou Zhong blurted out, "Isn't my Niang the same as yours?"
In the meantime, two boys have entered the fort. The security at the gate was very tight, vehicles were not allowed to enter without thorough inspection. When the guards saw the two, they all showed deferential manners, a clear proof of their lofty status in the eyes of these soldiers.
In the camp, they were met by Yang Gongqing and Wang Xuanshu, since Linglong Jiao was out on intelligence gathering assignment.
During dinner, Kou Zhong took the opportunity to quiz Yang Gongqing about all kinds of military issues.
Out of curiosity, Xu Ziling asked, "When we were in the south, we witnessed Du Fuwei recruited village peasants into his army by force; it was extremely inhuman. How did the Eastern Capital army come about?"
Sipping his hot tea, Yang Gongqing said, "Since the beginning of Qin dynasty [221-207BC] up to the Northern and Southern dynasties [420-589AD], conscription has been the main method of army recruitment, with mercenary system as secondary. The so-called conscription means all adult males were required to enlist; when nothing happened, they were to serve for a number of years, but during the war, they stayed for the duration of the war. However, since the beginning of Western Wei [535-557AD], the government implemented military system in which in peacetime, when home manufacturing and farming were not busy, citizens went into military training. They have to serve one month of every year, either in the capital or borderland garrison. In wartime, they went to the battlefield; the war ended, they returned home. Weapons, equipment, and provision would have to be self-provided."
Wang Xuanshu sighed and said, "Yang Guang sent out military expeditions over many years, making the soldiers stayed at faraway garrisons over a long period of time, which was hard to endure, so either they deserted and became fugitive, or rising in rebellion against him. Therefore, Die adopted the mercenary system. Under current situation, as long as we have adequate army provisions, those with courage and strength can throw their lives in for us. It is far superior to the conscription system. Especially the bodyguard unit; they must regard this as a lifelong career, and willing to live as professional military personnel with high salary, generous remuneration. Otherwise we would be thrown into a 'many-generals-with-no-accomplishment' or 'large-tail-obstructing-action' [i.e. rendered ineffective by subordinates] situation."
Kou Zhong was puzzled, "With Eastern Capital's financial resources, why is the number of army recruits less than Li Mi's 'many men, great force'? If we recruit talents that Yang Guang left behind, shouldn't we be able to summon a large number of men and horses?"
Yang Gongqing laughed and said, "Haven't you heard 'all troops engaged in fine matters are not engaged in many matters'? Li Mi's several hundred thousand main forces full of crafty plots and machinations, plus Yuwen Huaji's lack of food supplies, still ended up in tragic victory. From this you know the importance of elite troops. Ancient sage once said, 'the higher the number of troops, the weaker the army is; the higher the soldier's pay, the poorer the country is'. Shangshu Daren is well aware of this principle, if he did not stop the recruitment process, it will only result in superfluous soldiers in crowded situation, which only bring out waste and dire poverty."
After a short pause, he continued, "Too many men are useless, it will depend on whether the equipment and army provisions can match it. The recruits must undergo strict selection process, to eliminate redundancies and increase quality. The reason Li Shimin prevails in every battle lies in the team of thousand-plus elite troops through rigorous selection and training to form the 'Black Armor' cavalry, waiting for an opportunity and attacking suddenly, which repeatedly rendering amazing meritorious service, but also receiving extravagant reward. Although the number is small, they do not fear the enemy's magnificent army with thousands of men and horses; as soon as the enemy's disposition is thrown into chaos, his main force would immediately seize the opportunity to launch violent attack, inside and outside working together, the enemy could only nurse a grievance on the battlefield."
Listening to him, Kou Zhong was radiant with delight; only then did he realize the importance of the 'Duke Yang Treasure'. No wonder Wang Shichong's twenty thousand men 'small army' was able to make Li Mi so afraid.
This was definitely the case of 'listening to the words of a wise man can be superior to studying ten years of books' [Chinese proverb].
Noticing that Yang Gongqing's excitement, he asked about the organization within the military.
Although Lu Miaozi's book on military strategy contained exquisite principles, it lacked Yang Gongqing's personal hands-on, practical experience in managing the army.
Twisting his moustache, Yang Gongqing smiled and said, "How can an army of numerous men and horses, at least several tens of thousands, at most several hundreds of thousands, be formed into elite squads that can be used in battle? There is only one rule: 'managing the many just like managing a few'. Namely, use a squad of five soldiers [orig. wu]. Two squads become fireteam [orig. huo, classifier for military units (old)], five fireteams become a squad [orig. dui] , two squad are Guan [platoon?], two Guans are Qu [regiment?], two Qus are Bu [division], two Bus become Xiao [brigade?], two Xiaos become Pi [corps?], and two Pis are the army [jun]. Whether it is ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, each unit must have control, one line of communication, and one way to string these units together, as if millions and millions of silk become one thread, crooked strands are pulled together into straight line, none does as he wants, there is no single stray strand. This is a whole and cohesive army, with the great general giving the guiding principle, attaining an effective control and simplifying the complex. In the entire army, from the generals to the soldiers, each person must understand his own responsibility and his relationship with superior, subordinate, and peers, left and right. The formulation is not random. Only then there will be 'managing the many just like managing a few' result."
Kou Zhong praised, "No wonder just now there were so many people on the road, but there was no chaotic situation at all."
Yang Gongqing said, "Whether it is a wu, a huo, a dui, a guan, a qu, a bu, a jiao, a pi, a jun, or perhaps wu, dui, qi [lit. banner], shao [sentry], si [department], ying [camp/battalion], shi [army division] are only different names, but all use either ten or five as the base, as its principle. Other commissions include heralds, drummers, flag bearers, physicians, groomsmen, signalmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, and other choice of persons, each department with its own duty, constituting a sophisticated combat system, which is qualified to decide superiority on the battlefield against the enemy."
Kou Zhong was about to speak, suddenly there was shouting outside. While everybody's countenance was changing, a bodyguard burst into the tent; flustered and exasperated he said, "Reporting to Commander Yang, things look bad."
The four men were shocked; could it be that Li Mi's wonder troops have arrived at Yanshi?