Book 18 Chapter 8 - Pincher Attack From Front and Rear
The two boys sat down dejectedly on a hilltop outside Mount Mang.
In the sky, layers of clouds covered the moon. On the plain down below was a faint circle of light, which was the city of Yanshi north of Luo River.
For the full two sichen the two had been groping blindly in the mountains, straight from the city of Jinyong on the other side, yet they still did not see the least bit of the enemy's track, so their strength was gone, their body weary, and it was all for nothing.
Kou Zhong cursed ferociously, "Must be because of the rain earlier today, washing away the ground that not only the traces, even the smell is gone."
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, "It was just a drizzle; the traces ought to remain."
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, "Of course there are traces, but all led to Laojun Temple. Hey!"
"What is it?" Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong thought aloud, "Didn't Xuan Yong said that at the quickest rate, Li Mi's main force would still need one night to travel the tunnel north toward Mount Mang? Why was it that outside Jinyong just now, the water was still, without the slightest bit of different condition?"
The two boys shook at the same time; they came to their senses.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Good Shen poniang! She is really formidable; this must be 'stealth dragon turns into a phoenix' tactic, using the new army recruits to substitute the elite troops, while the elite troops borrow the new army recruits as a cover, secretly heading to a place that would be advantageous to launch a sudden attack. This ruse is indeed very formidable; we nearly fall for it."
Xu Ziling spoke in distress, "It's less than two sichen to daybreak, where will we find the ambushing troops?"
Kou Zhong said, "Li Mi's elite troops departed Jinyong the day before yesterday, resting during the day, and walking at night; perhaps right now they are still on the way toward their camp. Such a grandiose forty thousand cavalry, if they want to avoid other people's eyes and ears, they could only hide somewhere before reaching Mount Mang. That means they still had to go around a circle to get to this side; either they are still pressing on toward the destination, or they are going to arrive soon. Let's go quickly!"
"Don't be anxious," Xu Ziling said, "If we guessed wrong this time, we'll lose the one-in-a-thousand-year opportunity to defeat Li Mi. Under the circumstances, either Shan Xiongxin's new army or Li Mi's wonder troops [Translator's note: again, here I want to contrast 新兵 (xin bing), new army recruits, with 奇兵 (qi bing), troops appearing suddenly (in a raid or ambush). See my previous note in Chapter 5.], the only feasible strategy is to have their troop disposition with Mount Mang on their back; that way they can avoid trouble from the rear. Therefore, we can safely assume that Shan Xiongxin's new army recruits would pitch their camp north of Yanshi, with Mount Mang on their back. They are going to lure Yanshi's army to attack, while Li Mi's main force is hiding somewhere on the mountaintop in the vicinity of Mount Mang; this way it would be more convenient for a light cavalry to attack. If that is the case, the place where Li Mi's forces are hiding is ready to appear at the call!"
Kou Zhong stuck his ear on the ground. It was quite a while later that he sat up and said with a wry smile, "Shen poniang must have her troops wrap their horses' hooves; Xiaodi cannot hear the slightest bit of noise."
Xu Ziling sprang up and said, "In that case, we must use our feet to walk, and use our eyes to look!"
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The two boys withdrew into an underbrush; Shen Luoyan's strange bird circled twice in the air before flying far away.
The two boys crossed over the underbrush toward the opposite hillside, and looked down toward the forest below. They saw army tents extending forever into the distance, everything was clear and in good order, separated from the grassland between Mount Mang and the city of Yanshi only by a hill. If the cavalry rode fast over the hill, they would be able to touch Yanshi's city wall in just one sichen; it was definitely very convenient, while also extremely hidden.
From here to Cui Yun Valley was about fifty li. This place was northeast of the city of Yanshi. Beyond, there were vast grassland and sparse forest and shrubbery. If Shan Xiongxin pitched camp due north of Yanshi, leaning against Mount Mang, then this place became the horn from which the attacking momentum was the greatest; it was indeed following the art of war to the letter.
Kou Zhong leaned over to Xu Ziling and whispered in his ear, "Now we split up. You go to Yanshi and tell Yang Gongqing to send troops immediately, taking advantage while Li Mi's legs are still unsteady, the people weary their horses tired, to brandish our troops and dominate the weak with the strong. I go to Zhai Jiao; while Li Mi's storehouse is busy serving the battle, we will set fire and attack the camp from the rear, so that he will face the enemy from front and rear. After we capture Shen poniang, I will send her to you to become your convenience-wife for a night. Ha!"
Xu Ziling crossly said, "Remember the firework signal; you must not miss this striking opportunity. Don't let Shen Luoyan's strange bird find you first. Ay! It's coming again!"
The strange bird returned. This time it flew straight toward their hiding place; it seemed to have found them.
Xu Ziling gathered his power and waited with full concentration.
Who would have thought that the strange bird circled one time, and then flew up high into the sky, let out a cry and went away?
Kou Zhong said, "Luckily that flat-haired beast cannot talk; otherwise we will be in trouble. Why haven't you left?"
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Yang Gongqing slapped the table and rose up; laughing aloud, he said, "Li Mi is indeed a grandmaster in using odd strategy, but this time he comes across a tiger; he is using odd tactic to invite disaster. I am going to have him able to come but will not able to leave."
The crowd of high-ranking military officers stood up with a loud rumble, everybody was in high spirit, the morale was very high.
Wang Xuanshu was so excited that his eyes shone, his handsome face brightened.
Although Xu Ziling's natural disposition was subdued and usually let things take their own course [Taoist doctrine of inaction], yet infected by the atmosphere of the army camp, he also had his blood racing.
Thinking about Li Mi's treachery and his ruthlessness, killing people like discarding weeds, also thinking about the innocent maids, servants and children of Zhai Rang Mansion, Ren En and his brothers' demise, he really wished he could chop off Li Mi's head.
Yang Gongqing spoke with a huff, "The army is ready and waiting, everything has been properly prepared."
And then he shouted to the more than twenty generals standing on either side, "We are going out of the city via the eastern gate, follow the river going east first, and then after winding around the forest we will change course to the north, straight toward Li Mi's wonder troops' hiding place."
The generals accepted the order and left first.
Yang Gongqing turned to Xu Ziling and said, "I know Xu Xiongdi has never liked to brandish saber or using staff, but battlefield is not the same as Jianghu, weapon in hand is always a bit more convenient, what kind of weapon would Xu Xiongdi like to use?"
Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders and said, "In that case, I'd like to trouble Yang Da Jiangjun to give me a lance!"
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Kou Zhong, Zhai Jiao, and Tu Shufang, three people crouched low behind a huge boulder, looking into the distance through tall grass at the edge of the forest, to observe the activity in Li Mi's camp.
Even in the darkness before dawn, which usually made people negligent and tired, Kou Zhong could still feel the blazing hatred spewing out of Zhai Jiao's eyes; inwardly he decided that during the attack to the camp later, he must not leave her side even for a moment. Otherwise, if any unexpected misfortune came to this fiery-tempered, ugly yet proud and arrogant Big Miss, he would not be able to answer his sister Su.
Zhai Jiao's voice, which sounded like it erupted suddenly from the gap between her teeth, spoke with hatred, "Li Mi, you have never thought that this day will come. You picked a campsite to emphasis your strength; presently there is no danger around the wide-open camp, the stream under the sloping hill, with forest on both sides, and there is no strategic pass to defend. Whether sneak attack or setting fire, both will make you bag your food and leave before you finish eating."
A strange feeling welled up in Kou Zhong's heart.
After going through the tragedy of having her household scattered and the people perished, although her temperament did not change, her knowledge and experience, as well as her attitude in facing problems, were totally different; she was not like the pampered, arrogant and willful 'thousand-catty gold' Miss of her previous life.
Tu Shufang said, "Li Mi did not make mistakes, because the main purpose of his military operation this time is to subdue the enemy using the ambushing troops. With his back toward the dangerous mountain, he tends to be unassuming. By choosing this place, which is easy to defend and easy to launch attack, if the troops from Yanshi arrive, he could ride up the hill, and regroup on the mountaintop. The only thing he left out by mistake is precisely our troops, which will attack from his back!"
This moment Xuan Yong came back from his hiding place, "The enemy has just eaten their dry rations, men and horses are trying to get some rest, even the soldiers on sentry duty are dozing off; this the best time to attack the camp. If after daybreak the construction battalion managed to dig trenches to lay out a defense all around the camp, the difference in the degree of difficulty in attacking the camp would be like heaven and earth, clouds and mud."
Zhai Jiao impatiently said, "Xiao Zhong, what did you do? How come we have not seen Yanshi cavalry yet?"
Smiling apologetically, Kou Zhong said, "Don't worry! Xiao Ling is handling it; don't you trust him?"
Right this moment, from the sky came the sound of flapping wings.
Shen Luoyan's strange bird, which was able to communicate with the spirits, flew in from the south, and danced a few circles over the camp with anxious movements. The camp immediately rose up in a roar, which rippled through entire camp in a short period of time.
Breathing out a sigh of relief, Kou Zhong said, "They're here! Prepare to attack."
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