Book 22 Chapter 10 – Taking Advantage of Defeat to Pursue
Kou Zhong, following the lead of the ‘old horse who knew the way home’ [idiom: in difficulty, trust an experience colleague] Bai Wenyuan, encountered Cao Yinglong’s troop of thieves withdrawing toward the River Zhang. The two were halfway up the mountain, looking down at the enemy.
It was not until this moment that he really breathed a sigh of relief, having confirmed that Cao Yinglong was indeed acting as they expected: as soon as he heard about Xiao Xian turning his back on the alliance, he immediately abandoned the siege, made a turnaround and retreated to fertile villages.
The Ranch’s main forces should not be too far away.
According to their agreement, if Cao Yinglong retreated, the Ranch’s main forces would go all-out to pursue closely.
Under the moonlight, the procession of the thieves on horseback looked like a long snake slithering across the grassland.
Bai Wenyuan said, “The Three Bandits’ forces consist mostly of infantry; their cavalry should not be more than seven thousand. If they encountered any mishaps, the cavalry would seize the way first and leave the infantrymen far behind.”
Kou Zhong’s tiger-eyes brightened up, as he spoke in heavy voice, “To move the troops, one must observe the enemy first; this is called knowing the other side. The so-called ‘taking advantage of doubt to sow discontent, taking advantage of exhaustion to attack, taking advantage of hunger to trap, taking advantage of separation to scheme, taking advantage of weakness to sweep, taking advantage of chaos to exploit, taking advantage while the enemy has not arrived to thwart their movement, taking advantage while the enemy has not sent out any troop disposition to gain control, taking advantage while the enemy is victorious to seize by force, taking advantage while the enemy is defeated to pursue’. We have used the ‘taking advantage of doubt to sow discontent’ move to break down their three-side alliance, forcing Cao Yinglong’s forty-thousand strong main forces to become like rats scurrying off into the wilderness. This time we are going to use the ‘taking advantage while the enemy is defeated to pursue’ to kill them all that not a single armor remains.”
Full of admiration, Bai Wenyuan said, “What you said resonates deeply with the Art of War; Shao Shuai is indeed an erudite scholar.”
How could Kou Zhong have the nerve to tell him that he learned everything from Lu Miaozi’s secret book? Without any better option, he resisted from answering.
Praising without ceasing, Bai Wenyuan continued, “Shao Shuai’s most formidable move was to make threats and promises; scaring Dong Jingzhen that he took his more than two thousand men hurriedly fleeing back to Yiling. Furthermore, they had not a cun of steel [idiom: unarmed and defenseless], not enough provision, so that even if they did not want to return to Yiling, they simply could not. This matter cannot be concealed from Zhu Can, so that he is more convinced than ever that Dong Jingzhen was indeed the main culprit. Who would believe that someone would be foolish enough to let the tiger return to its mountain? Even if Xiao Xian utters a hundred statements, no one would argue with him. Zhu Can pulled his troops, Cao Yinglong has no choice but to follow his lead and withdraw.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Psychologically speaking, since Dong Jingzhen believed he had leaked military intelligence concerning Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong’s movements to me, he is ashamed and has guilty conscience, hence he would not dare to explain everything clearly to his allies.”
And then, looking down at the enemy, he spoke heavily, “Just by looking at the opponent’s formation in disorder, their provision carts are falling far behind the main column, we know that their body and soul are weary, their thoughts in a whirl. If we rob their provision carts, so that we are adding hunger on top of exhaustion, they will be put in chaos and will scatter away; their only way out is fleeing toward River Zhang, hoping to cross the river as quickly as they could, hence we will have the opportunity we can exploit.”
Squeezing his horse’s belly, he said, “Let’s go!”
Xu Ziling and Xuan Yong were patrolling their camp. Seeing more than a hundred of their men were making straw dummies, Xu Ziling asked in astonishment, “What’s that for?”
“This is called ‘creating diversion’,” Xuan Yong replied, “Because we are a few in number, it will be difficult for us to block tens of thousands of thieves fleeing into the wilderness. We will put small number of soldiers mixed with straw dummies in several strategic locations, giving up the impression of huge momentum, forcing the enemy to only dare to escape toward the place where, on the surface, seems to have fewest men, but the ‘empty’ is actually ‘real’, and thus they are falling straight into our trap.”
“Good plan!” Xu Ziling praised.
Reaching the shore, he saw about a thousand of soldiers digging trenches, also setting up sharp stakes hidden at the bottom to trap horses, and covered the trenches with mud and grass.
Xuan Yong explained, “This is targeted at the enemies who cross the river in haste; they would never expect us to set ambush on this side, hence they will definitely flee in calamity.”
Xu Ziling halted his steps. Looking into the distance at the opposite shore, he spoke heavily, “War is imminent, I wonder what Xuan Xiong’s reflections are?”
Xuan Yong stood side-by-side with him. Sighing contemplatively, he said, “Since Da Longtou’s [reminder: big boss, referring to Zhai Rang] death, I thought that I would have nothing to look forward to in military campaign, in the battlefield! Who would have thought that I received Shao Shuai’s promotion? Not only to avenge Da Longtou’s deep enmity, but also to display what I am good at. The longer I associate with Shao Shuai, the more I admire him. I am referring to not only his knowledge, strategy, and martial art skill, but also his insight. The best trait that makes people willing to submit cheerfully is his conduct; you would never doubt that he might be suspicious and jealous of you. And any impossible task, in his hands it will become possible, as if ‘where the water flows, a canal is formed’. To be in contact with him is really exciting and interesting.”
Xu Ziling pondered quietly that that was precisely Kou Zhong’s charm, as well as his biggest asset in the contention for hegemony over the world.
The sound of hoof beats shook the heavens; under the afternoon sun, the Ranch’s ten-thousand strong elite cavalry appeared from the surface of the earth like a tidal wave. Kou Zhong and Bai Wenyuan galloped down the hill to meet them.
Amidst the bugle horn, the two-thousand strong vanguard units under the leadership of the Ranch’s two Managers [orig. zhishi], Liu Zongdao and Luo Fang gradually stopped.
Liu Zongdao’s single eye emitted sharp yet warm expression; even from afar he laughed and said, “Zhong Xiongdi, how are you? In just a short one year you have become the Shao Shuai whose name shakes the world.”
Kou Zhong urged his horse to come near him; leaning over, he embraced him, and said with a laugh, “Just a ripple of false reputation, not worth Liu Shu [uncle] mentioning. Is Changzhu with the main force behind you?”
Liu Zongdao smiled and said, “Changzhu is here!”
The vanguard army suddenly separated into two sides, creating a pathway in the middle of the men and horses, while at the same time they drew their swords and shouted, “Long live Changzhu!” The morale was boiling to its extreme point.
From the middle of this human path, Shang Xiuxun, wearing full body armor, in awe-inspiring heroic spirit, urged her snow-white, without a single colored-hair, divine-spirited, top-quality warhorse, forward, galloping over as fast as lightning. With the silver white body armor and helmet, and the bright yellow cape fluttering in the wind behind her, she looked like the goddess of war descending into the world of the mortals.
Evidently her mount was very fast. Behind her, the Da Guanjia [big housekeeper/manager of the household] Shang Zhen, leading a group of high-ranking officers, was struggling extremely hard to keep up with her.
Stunned by her heavenly beauty and stately appearance, Kou Zhong was dumbstruck.
Shang Xiuxun’s equestrian skill was superb; with her men saluting and cheering on both sides, she galloped faster and faster. In the blink of an eye, like a tornado she already reached Kou Zhong.
“Kou Zhong,” she shouted tenderly, “Is your horse a Khitan steed? Let’s have a race.”
Before Kou Zhong even had any time to respond, like a gust of wind Shang Xiuxun already flew in-between Kou Zhong and Liu Zongdao.
“All right,” Kou Zhong called out, turned his horse around and galloped away in a wild chase.
Liu Zongdao, Bai Wenyuan, Luo Fang, and the others waited until Shang Zhen and his men caught up before they led the troops to pursue behind the two, who, by this time, have become two small dots in the distance.
In one breath Shang Xiuxun rode for more than fifty li, before she finally stopped on the top of a hill. Kou Zhong fell behind about half a li or so, and by the time he came to her side, the Ranch’s main forces were still about ten li behind.
The sun was setting behind the western mountains, the glow dyed the sky on the horizon red. Sitting on horseback, Shang Xiuxun’s eyes looked straight ahead, as she spoke, calm and composed, “Go figure!”
Deliberately gasping for breath, Kou Zhong said, “Changzhu’s horse is really fast.”
Looking at him, with a hint of smile in her beautiful eyes, Shang Xiuxun said, “I was not talking about that at all. Comparing horses, even Khitan steed can’t compare to my enhanced breed.”
While greedily drank on her beauty, which he had not seen for a long time, Kou Zhong laughed and said, “What was Changzhu talking about then?”
Shang Xiuxun’s beautiful eyes looked deep into his eyes, she said, “Figuring you knew I was in difficulty, and immediately rushed over in disregard of everything else, and executed a brilliant scheme in timely manner, breaking Zhu Chan, Xiao Xian, and Cao Yinglong’s conspiracy, yet when you see me, you did not out on an air of someone who had rendered a great merit. Do you understand?”