Book 22 Chapter 8 – Strange Tactic To Subdue The Enemy
At noon, everybody abandoned the ships and disembarked at the eastern bank of Ju River. They hid the seven ships in a tributary of the River, and took their horses to hide into a dense woods near the riverbank. While the horses were resting and eating grass, Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Luo Fang, Bai Wenyuan, and Xuan Yong, five men left first to scout the enemy situation.
Dong Jingzhen’s ten-thousand-man elite troops were stationed only five li upstream from the place they disembarked. Several landing docks were built along the Ju River, and moored on these docks were more than a dozen battleships. Close to shore were three main wooden strongholds, for Xiao Xian, Zhu Can, and Cao Yinglong, respectively, the three factions’ troops.
The positioning of their garrisons was indeed very strategic and impeccable; it was close to both the water and land major routes, not only it would enable them to rapidly provide assistance to the attacking troops toward Yuan’an and Dangyang, they would also be able to intercept Kou Zhong’s Shaoshuai Army, either by water or land.
The five men felt a very big headache.
Disappointed, Bai Wenyuan said, “Although I was clear about the situation in here, I didn’t know they would be divided into three strongholds on separate hills. Watchtowers standing in great numbers are not the problem, but they also flattened the nearby trees, so that in attacking one faction’s stronghold, no sound can be hidden, no risk can be avoided.”
Frowning, Xuan Yong said, “These three wooden strongholds are extraordinarily sturdy, the defense inside and outside the fort are adequate; just by releasing arrows from the battlement holes, they can smash our attack. If we had more time, we could use battle equipment to attack the fort, but now we are unable to do anything.”
Distressed, Kou Zhong said, “If we cannot break the enemy tonight, tomorrow we cannot hide from the enemy’s spies. The biggest headache is that our military strength is already inadequate to attack one stronghold, forget about attacking the three forts at the same time. Looks like we can only use deceit.”
Xu Ziling patted Luo Fang’s shoulder and said with a smile, “Xiongdi, I am afraid we will have to wrong you!”
A sailboat appeared from the tributary, braving the darkness going upstream in the direction of the enemy’s stronghold.
Everybody was standing on the observation deck, looking into the distance at the terrain on both banks.
This evening the moon was casting its light directly onto their faces, shrouding the mountain forest near and far in its golden light. Even without any lantern, everything could be clearly seen.
Naturally Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had their masks on to hide their real identity. The former sighed and said, “Next time we are using ambushing troops to attack the enemy, we must plan it not to happen on the full moon. Like right now, there is not much difference to mounting a sneak attack during the daytime.”
Xu Ziling asked Bai Wenyuan, “In Bai Xiong’s knowledge, is it possible that Chen Wu of Jiujiang would use a homing pigeon or something like that to notify Dong Jingzhen one step ahead that we are going to take a prisoner for him?”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Bai Wenyuan replied, “That possibility is surely quite high; while naturally homing pigeons do not know how to fly here, but they could fly to Yiling, and then the information can be sent here using fast horse.”
Kou Zhong said, “We’ll find out really soon. Come!”
Calm and unhurried, Bai Wenyuan personally operated the signal lantern to notify the two skiffs coming to meet them.
After the three boats met, the two skiffs turned around and piloted them toward the place where they should dock.
Before they even cast their anchor, a high-ranking military officer from Baling Army jumped aboard, saluted to Bai Wenyuan, and said, “Bai Jiangjun, how are you? Xiao Jiang Lei Youshi. Dong Shuai already knew you are coming, but did not know it would be this soon.” [Translator’s note: interesting fact, Lei Youshi means thunder is starting.]
Laying down the load on his mind, Bai Wenyuan laughed and said, “Such an urgent matter, naturally we’d do everything in our power to come quickly to deliver the prisoner. Any news about those two small thieves?”
That Baling Army’s Deputy General called Lei Youshi replied, “We received news today that by using some tricks, those two small thieves turned Rong Fengxiang’s Bai Ye General Assembly upside down and in complete shambles. Um, didn’t Bai Jiangjun come from there? You ought to have clearer knowledge about this.”
Bai Wenyuan cheerfully said, “This matter is unusually complicated, we’ll talk in details after I make my appearance. How about Lei Xiong come to our side’s fort to chat after we hand over the prisoner to DongShuai?”
Smiling bitterly, Lei Youshi said, “I am on duty tonight; how about tomorrow night? Those two small thieves have always appeared and disappeared unpredictably [orig. gods appear and devils vanish]; even Li Mi, Yuwen Huaji, Li Zitong, and the others are not their match, it won’t do if I don’t have twelve awake-spirits.”
A bizarre feeling rose up in Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s hearts.
It was not polite words, but it came from the enemy’s mouth, heartfelt words full of wariness; it could clearly be seen that their names had intimidated the world, no wonder Xiao Xian, Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong were so active in plotting against them, and attached more importance to them rather than the Flying Horse Ranch.
The hull shuddered slightly, the shipped was docked.
“Bring the prisoner out!” Bai Wenyuan shouted.
Immediately someone pushed Luo Fang out and handed him over to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who took their positions on his left and right, as they walked down the ship. On the surface Luo Fang looked like he had been beaten pretty bad; not only his clothes were tattered, there were streaks of dried blood and some bruising on his face as well.
The others remained on board the ship.
Leading the way, Lei Youshi casually commented, “Your ship seems to be riding low on the water, it must be filled with goods.”
Walking behind, Kou, Xu and Lou, three men were secretly startled, but Bai Wenyuan nonchalantly laughed and said, “Lei Xiong’s eyesight is indeed formidable; the entire hold is full of rice grain, it would be strange indeed if it weren’t low. If not for the tail wind, we would not have arrived here this quickly.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance; they both could see the brilliance of this answer. With these few sentences, Bai Wenyuan successively resolved several issues; not only he was praising Lei Youshi, he also addressed the heavy load of the ship, and most importantly he explained the tail wind, which enabled them to arrive swiftly, and thus dismissed the other party’s misgivings.
Arriving on shore, a group of more than twenty Baling Army’s troops escorted them, in front and behind, as they walked toward the Baling Army’s stronghold.
Lei Youshi looked back at the hanging-his-head-dispiritedly Luo Fang, and spoke in a low voice, “This kid seemed to have received some sufferings from Bai Jiangjun; what’s his name? And what kind of useful information did he bring?”
Bai Wenyuan was waiting precisely for these questions; delighted, he replied, “This kid is called Luo Fang, an important figure of Fu Zhishi [deputy manager, see Book 9 Chapter 4] level within the Flying Horse Ranch. He was on his way to see those two small thieves to ask for help, but was returning alone earlier to inform Shang Xiuxun about the grand plan concerning the counteroffensive against us. Tell me, do you think this is a useful information?”
Emotionally moved, Lei Youshi said, “That is indeed an extremely important information; Bai Jiangjun is really resourceful.”
Bai Wenyuan responded gloomily, “It was none other than that set of old tricks, nobody’s mouth is stronger than those malicious torture.”
Lei Youshi shouted to a Baling Army soldier in front of him, “Run to notify Dong Shuai: Bai Jiangjun has an extremely important information to be reported immediately.”
Accepting the order the soldier ran away.
Lei Youshi suddenly smiled evilly, “The day before yesterday we caught a group of village girls in the neighboring villages, among them there are two whose appearance is fairly beautiful, is Bai Jiangjuninterested?”
Murderous intent immediately flashed through Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s eyes.
Bai Wenyuan laughed and said, “Let’s set them aside for Lei Xiong’s enjoyment! I just came back from Hefei. Ha! Lei Xiong ought to know what I am talking about!”
Greatly delighted, Lei Youshi said, “Understand! Understand! Ay! Living in wild, mountainous country is indeed too dry and maddening.”
This moment the entourage turned uphill along the sloping path leading toward the mountain stronghold; they saw on both sides of the road three layers of trenches to trap horses, full of sharp thorns in the inside. Seeing this, Kou Zhong and the others cried ‘lucky!’ inwardly.
Were it not for this brilliant scheme of entering by deceit, with less than a force of two thousand men attacking three separate wooden forts with tens of thousands men inside, it would be like a moth throwing itself into a flame, or like using a praying mantis’ arm to block a chariot.