Volume 5, Chapter 24: War Like a Game of Weiqi
The two armies confronted each other without victory or defeat. Advancing for a long distance, Yong General Jing Chi violently attacked the Northern Han army’s rear. Long Tingfei led his bodyguard to meet his attacks and Jing Chi was unable to attain victory.
While everyone was engrossed on the battle, the Princess of Jiaping led the Daizhou army to attack the rear of the Prince of Qi’s army. The Daizhou army was valiant and formidable, and the Prince of Qi was not their match. Thereupon, the Prince did his utmost to break the encirclement, with the Prince personally commanding the rearguard as the entire army retreated.
Because of this battle, the Prince of Qi’s army lost fifteen thousand troops, Jing Chi lost nine thousand, and Long Tingfei lost ten thousand, while the Daizhou army did not suffer many losses. Their corpses littered the wilderness, and made the Qin River run red with blood.—Zizhi Tongjian, Yong Records Volume Three
Thirty li1 away was the mountain range between Qinyuan and Anze. Atop a mountain ridge, over a thousand Yong soldiers were alert and combat-ready behind the fortifications. At the highest point in the stronghold sat an azure-robed scholar and a scholarly general in an azure battle gown.
A black stone lightly fell onto the board next to the white stones, completely surrounding the white weiqi formation. Xuan Song smiled and gazed in the direction of the anxious-looking army supervisor. When it came to weiqi, this army supervisor daren was not his match. But it was only during these games that this Jiang daren would reveal even a hint of childishness. However, Xuan Song’s mind wasn’t on the game.
While the Prince of Qi’s spearhead was pointed directly at Qinyuan, the army supervisor daren had persuaded His Imperial Highness to leave all of the infantry behind to repair the road and build fortifications. Over the mountain range between Jishi to Anze and Qinyuan, they had arranged multiple defensive tiers. If asked why he wanted to waste so many troops on the defensive, Jiang Zhe simply responded, “Before considering victory, one must first consider defeat.”
Everyone felt that the army supervisor was being too cautious. However, remembering the defeat days earlier and since the Prince of Qi had already agreed, no one spoke up in opposition. Initially, Xuan Song was the most baffled by the situation. There had always been a definite need for capable generals when facing Long Tingfei. However, Jiang Zhe had kept Xuan Song by his side. A few days earlier, Jiang Zhe had Xuan Song begin to arrange the defenses. Over these days, with the fortifications roughly completed, Jiang Zhe had pulled Xuan Song to play weiqi, almost as if nothing was happening. It was just that Xuan Song could not be as relaxed as Jiang Zhe. However, Xuan Song’s nature was one of reservation and knew that no matter how anxious he became, it was impossible for the army supervisor to reveal anything. As a result, Xuan Song ultimately decided to be ruthless on the game board.
Gazing at the complete defeat on the board, I reckoned whether I could have Xiaoshunzi help me by transmitting his voice into my ears to decisively win a few games. However, after thinking it over, it was quite easy to be exposed with the clear differences between our playing styles and I ultimately dropped the idea. At this moment, a horseman galloped over kicking up dust. The rider was a young man, Chiji, who had just rushed over several days ago. I had him keep an eye on the military situation on the front lines. For him to gallop back right now, presumably the situation had already changed according to what I had foreseen.
Smiling, I cast aside the stones, as Chiji dismounted and walked over. Bowing, he reported, “Young master, I’ve brought a military report from the front lines. General Jing Chi has already merged with His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. If the battle continues in a brutal fashion, our army could still win a Pyrrhic victory. However, as expected, we discovered signs of the presence of the Daizhou army.”
Waving my hand, I had Chiji withdraw. Looking at the frowning and contemplative Xuan Song, I asked, “Does General Xuan know what is the strongest unit of cavalry in the world?”
Xuan Song smiled wryly and answered, “That is hard to say. There isn’t much difference between the elite cavalry units of our Great Yong and Northern Han. As for Southern Chu and the Kingdom of Shu, there is no need to speak of them. Other than the barbarian tribes in the north, they are the most formidable cavalry units.”
To Xiaoshunzi, I said, “Take the game board away and bring the map over.”
Stepping forward, Xiaoshunzi collected the board, handing it over to Chiji to take away. Afterwards, Xiaoshunzi brought over the map and placed it on the table. He gently spread the map out. Pointing at a clear marker on the map, I remarked, “The most formidable cavalry belongs to the Daizhou army. Regardless of long-distance raids or charges, there are few who can match them. Over these years, the barbarians have suffered only because the Daizhou army has become increasingly formidable. However, jealousy is the tribute that mediocrity pays to genius.2 Do you know why the Daizhou army has been able to remain completely unscathed?”
Frowning, Xuan Song responded, “The Northern Han King is an in-law of Daizhou’s Lin family. Since the Lin family has no rebellious thoughts, why would the Northern Han King harm them?”
Shaking my head, I replied, “Although this is a reason, the most important cause is the enormous flaw in the Daizhou army. This flaw makes it impossible for the Lin family to use the Daizhou army as a foundation for their own attempt at domination. As a result, regardless of the late stages of Eastern Jin or the founding of Northern Han, they could only tacitly accept the Lin family setting up an autonomous regime in Daizhou.”
In an blunt manner, Xuan Song said, “I’d like to hear the details.”
Smiling, I explained, “In reality, General Xuan may not necessarily not know about this only because you don’t know all of the details. Daizhou’s troops although formidable are quite insular and xenophobic. The Daizhou army is maintained using bloodline and fealty. As a result, it is impossible for anyone to obtain a high position in the Daizhou army if one isn’t from Daizhou. In addition, the Daizhou army is only interested in protecting its homeland. That is why regardless of barbarian raids or Northern Han attacks, the Daizhou army would resist to the death. However, if one wants the Daizhou army to leave its homeland to attack, the majority of its troops will politely decline. As a result, as long as Daizhou isn’t invaded, then one can be on friendly terms with Daizhou. This is why the Northern Han King eventually did his utmost to form friendly relations with the Lin family. As for his promise to never transfer the Daizhou army, this was because the Daizhou army could not be easily transferred. As a result, although Northern Han possesses Daizhou, it has been intrinsic that no one considers the Daizhou army to be a part of Northern Han’s military strength, because Daizhou never leaves its homeland.”
Xuan Song’s frown tightened, because he could understand the reason behind Jiang Zhe’s speech.
Heaving a sigh, I continued, “Speaking of this, I have no choice but admire the Northern Han Kings. Ever since Daizhou yielded, they not only scrupulously abided by the promise and never transferred the Daizhou army, they did everything in their power to bind Daizhou. In the several instances Daizhou suffered disasters, the Kings used the national treasury to give relief aid. In addition, the yearly reward silk and gold bestowed on the Daizhou army have been extremely rich. More than a dozen years ago, at the time the Central Plains descended into chaos and there were many warlords, there were several invasions of Northern Han, even going so far as to arrive before the walls of Jinyang. However, the Northern Han King never mobilized the Daizhou army. Because the Central Plains weren’t pacified, as long as Jinyang was held, the invaders could only retreat as they lacked any backup. That’s why when Northern Han is on the verge of destruction, with goodwill accumulated, the relationship between Daizhou and the Northern Han Royal Court is at its most intimate. That was how the Daizhou army was persuaded to send troops to help the Northern Han army to annihilate our invasion.”
Hearing this, Xuan Song’s complexion became ashen. He heavily said, “Although the Daizhou army is formidable, they only represent the force of one province and are finite. They may not necessarily be of any use.”
Pointing at Yanmen Pass on the map, I replied, “The Daizhou army will not send everything, because the time is soon approaching when the barbarian tribes will come south. This time, although the barbarians suffered grievously from the heavy snows, their encroachment and plundering will definitely be even more vicious and brutal. Though the raids won’t last for long, the initial strikes will be extremely fierce. As a result, of the twenty-five thousand Daizhou troops, at most fifteen thousand will come south. As for the commander-in-chief, the only one who can lead them is the Princess of Jiaping. She is both a Northern Han Princess, the next commander of the Daizhou army in the hearts of those soldiers, and also the fiancée of the Northern Han commander-in-chief, Long Tingfei. Only she is capable of collaborating with Long Tingfei to wipe out our army. I had long ago foreseen that the Daizhou army would definitely join the war. If they had not come, then it would be impossible to explain all of the arrangements that Long Tingfei had made.”
Xuan Song jumped to his feet and declared, “Army Supervisor daren, since you long knew that the Daizhou army would send troops, why did you not inform His Imperial Highness? His Imperial Highness only has forty thousand horsemen. Combined with General Jing’s army, His Imperial Highness has seventy thousand at most. The Northern Han army already started with a hundred thousand troops. Combined with these wolves from Daizhou, wouldn’t His Imperial Highness definitely meet with defeat? Daren, why have you sat idly by while this matter happened?”
I glanced serenely at Xuan Song and asked, “General Xuan, do you know what the goal is for our invasion?”
Resisting the ire in his mind, Xuan Song answered, “To defeat the enemy army of course. Our army and Northern Han’s cannot coexist. If the Northern Han army is defeated, they will suffer the danger of being subjugated. If our army is defeated, we will not have the strength to come north for years to come.”
“General Xuan, what you have said isn’t complete,” I stated, shaking my head. “The Northern Han army wants to win, but does not want to do so in a Pyrrhic fashion. Great Yong’s power is formidable and Northern Han’s national power is inadequate. If we are defeated, we will be able to make a comeback after several years. Even if the Northern Han army wins a Pyrrhic victory, they will be unable to encroach south for at least twenty years. At present, the war for hegemony has already reached the most crucial moment. If Northern Han’s national power were to plummet, even if Great Yong is destroyed, there will be others who will invade them. As a result, both the Northern Han King and Long Tingfei want a decisive victory, while also reducing the losses as much as possible.
“That is why our army continued to march north after the defeat at Anze and set foot on the battlefield that Long Tingfei had set. He wants to utterly crush our army’s main force at Qinyuan, preferably either capturing or killing His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. Only in this way will Great Yong suffer heavily, while Northern Han’s national power will not fall significantly. With this, they will be able to watch our Great Yong sink into a prolonged war with Southern Chu, while they will be able to recover. Once the Great Yong state and its people have been exhausted, the Northern Han army will be able to invade to the south and the west, seizing Great Yong’s territory.”
Hearing Jiang Zhe’s explanation, Xuan Song repeatedly nodded his head. “That is why Long Tingfei would mobilize the Daizhou army, because he can’t comfortably defeat our army with merely the hundred thousand troops under his command.”
I added, “Not only that. Do you really think that Long Tingfei would not know General Jing’s whereabouts? He deliberately did not keep any troops in reserve and sent everything he had after His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, luring General Jing to immediately attack without caring for the exhaustion of his army after a long-distance march.”
Xuan Song inquired, “What would happen if General Jing had been able to guess Long Tingfei’s intentions?”
I shook my head and responded, “Ignoring the possibility of Jing Chi seeing through Long Tingfei’s ploy, if General Jing did not attack, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, would definitely suffer calamitous losses. When the time came, even if the two armies were able to merge, they would have no way to victory. That is why General Jing would definitely join the battle. Moreover, the Jinyang army could not lightly be moved and is primarily composed of infantry. General Jing could not have imagined that such a powerful cavalry army would exist to serve as Northern Han’s reinforcements. Therefore, General Jing would definitely fall into this trap.”
Perplexion shone in Xuan Song’s eyes, as he asked, “This general does not understand. Since Army Supervisor daren knew all of this beforehand, why did you make changes to the plan and advance steadily?”
“With this, we will have to discuss our army’s objective for fighting this war,” I answered with a smile. “Our army is numerous and powerful. If we forcibly stormed Northern Han, although we would inevitably suffer losses, Northern Han is not our match. No matter how brave and formidable the Daizhou army is, they cannot leave Daizhou for long, and only have fifteen thousand troops. As a result, if our army advances steadily, we will either win in a decisive or Pyrrhic fashion. This is insignificant. What’s important is that Northern Han is very different from Shu and Southern Chu.
“The people of Shu are content with holding their small piece of territory. Once their country fell, they were easy to placate. Although there are individuals who overestimate their own capabilities and desire to restore Shu, if they cannot receive the help of a powerful outside force, it will be impossible for them to cause any major problems. The people of Chu are weak. Once Southern Chu falls, as long as their interests are not harmed, the majority of them will not dare to resist.
“Only Northern Han is different. Their King can be considered wise and capable, and their population is united. If we greedily pursue a rapid victory, solely preoccupied with seizing cities and strongholds, it will be impossible to fully govern Northern Han in the face of rebellious armies even if we capture Jinyang and control the Northern Han Royal Family.
“This is why His Imperial Majesty was not worried that we would suffer defeats, as long as we continued fighting. However, it will be highly problematic if we are unable to win a total victory. If the enemy army continues to exist, they will definitely defend each and every city, making the situation unresolvable. There are some things that you don’t know about. We do not have that much time left. Even if we defeat the Northern Han army’s main force, as long as ten to twenty percent of them remain, then what faces us will be resistance by every single Northern Han citizen with the escaped Northern Han soldiers serving as the sparks. If someone like Long Tingfei is allowed to escape, forget about three to five years, it will be difficult to vanquish Northern Han even you double that time frame. That is why when our army wins, we must deal with the entire Northern Han army in one blow, capturing every single important military leader.
“To achieve this goal, we must lure the enemy to a battlefield of our own choosing. However, none of Long Tingfei, Lin Bi, and the Northern Han generals are stupid. If we want to lure them to attack, we have to make sufficient sacrifices. That is why His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, must suffer a defeat at Qinyuan before the enemy can be lured by his retreat. As for the Northern Han army, in order to attain suitable results, they will definitely pursue without stop. Only in this way can our troops achieve our objectives.”
Listening to all this, Xuan Song was stunned. It was some time before he was able to respond, “So that is the case. Does His Imperial Highness know about the particulars? Woe be to the brave soldiers of our army who will meet tragic ends.”
Sighing, I said, “His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, knows some but not all of the plan. Only the Emperor and I know the entirety of the plan. I stirred His Imperial Highness’s fighting spirit by warning him of the coming defeat, so that he would be incomparably dauntless when battle broke out. Only then will Long Tingfei fall for the trap. However, when defeat is at hand, His Imperial Highness, being a veteran commander, and possessing a temperament of not being puffed up by success and dismayed by failure, will definitely be able to do his utmost to ensure that our army is able to retreat without suffering disastrous losses.
“General Xuan, if there aren’t two equal, nation-level opponents playing weiqi, it will often be wanting. In the arrangements, it is because our opponents are capable that they fall into my plans. If Long Tingfei weren’t aware that this defense of Northern Han would be successful only if he captures or kills the Prince of Qi, how would it be possible to lure him to the battlefield of my choosing? Even if Northern Han has someone else with superior intelligence, they will be unable to see through this trap. Entrapped, how many people can truly hold themselves aloft?”
Submitting cheerfully, Xuan Song requested orders, “Army Supervisor daren, please inform this general on how to proceed.”
Pointing to a location on the map, I instructed, “The enemy’s pursuit will undoubtedly be matchlessly ferocious. If our army is to retreat, we also have to ensure that it occurs securely. General Xuan, you only need to use some methods to provide support to the Prince of Qi and Jing Chi to retreat to this point. That, in itself, will be considered a great deed. General, you must remember that the enemy commander isn’t ordinary. General must do your utmost in the retreat. The enemy will definitely not anticipate that our army has a trump card yet to play.”
Seeing the location I pointed at, an ardent radiance flickered across Xuan Song’s eyes. He replied, “So that is why. No wonder, no wonder.”
“After Northern Han flooded Anze, the roads were destroyed,” I continued, smiling slightly. “For several days running, I have ordered men to repair the roads for the sake of providing support for our retreating troops. First, it reduces casualties. Second, the more thorough our preparations, the likelier that Northern Han will believe that we are out for victory and not foresee that our retreat has any ulterior motives.”
At this moment, Xiaoshunzi handed me my cloak. Taking it, I draped it around my shoulders as I said, “Since General Xuan is already aware of the plans, I will take my leave in advance. I am useless and cannot withstand the bitter toil of war. I will go ahead to wait for everyone. There is no need for General Xuan to worry. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, is protected by experts led by Great Masters Upright Dharma and Persevering Dharma. Although there will be some dangers, they will ensure His Imperial Highness’s safety.”
A peculiar look appeared on Xuan Song’s face. Who would have thought that the army supervisor would speak with such convictions upon fleeing on the eve of battle? However, upon learning that His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, would not run into any dangers, Xuan Song still breathed a sigh of relief. Right now, the highest ranking officer present was Jiang Zhe. If he wanted to leave, no one could prevent him from doing so. Perhaps this was why Jiang Zhe had forcibly kept him behind: to allow Xuan Song to support the Prince of Qi after Jiang Zhe had run off.
I naturally knew what Xuan Song was thinking. However, in order to not have to once again taste the suffering from running away, I would rather flee on the eve of battle. Leading Xiaoshunzi, Chiji, and the discontented-looking Stalwart Tiger Guard, who were itching to go to battle, I walked to the carriage that had been prepared. Just before I climbed aboard, I instinctively raised my head to gaze upon the Heavens. It would be sundown in less than an hour. Presumably, between 7-9 PM, the Prince of Qi should be able to retreat to this first defensive line. Unfortunately, the route of retreat was not easy to traverse. However, I was helpless to do anything about that.
According to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, “A general who wins a battle must consider many things in his mind before the battle is even fought.” At present, everything was happening within my expectations. If our army was still defeated, then it could only be said to be Heaven’s will and not something that could be reversed by a mortal. However, I was not worried. The Northern Han had only so many troops. At worst, our victory would be more difficult and the future problems more virulent. Don’t tell me they could topple the Heavens?
I could not help thinking of Long Tingfei. From his leadership and tactics, he was a first-class genius. Unfortunately, he was my opponent. I could not help softly saying, “By shearing away your wings, tying together your hands, and exhausting your willpower, it could be said that we are surrounding you with an inescapable trap. If you don’t have the talent to overturn the Heavens and the Earth, how can you escape from my palm?”
Not knowing why, a difficult to explain exhaustion washed over me. Over these days, I had racked my brains to carefully make all of these arrangements, fearing that there was something capable of transforming the situation. Now, with everything finally set, everything that followed was no longer my purview. I practically climbed dizzy into the carriage.
Just as I climbed aboard, I suddenly turned my head and told Xuan Song, “Tell Su Qing that she must do everything in her power to intercept and kill the scouts and agents of the Northern Han army. Northern Han must not be permitted to discover the trap our army has set. Of the experts in the Northern Han army, it is not possible for Duan Lingxiao to act personally, while Qiu Yufei has been detained in the Eastern Sea. Su Qing should be able to handle the ones that remain. Even with those she can’t deal with, the experts by the Prince of Qi’s side can provide assistance. Most crucially, they must not be permitted to see through the ambush we have set.”
Xuan Song essentially replied with caution, “This general obeys. Is daren unwell? It is best to go rest.”
Looking up, I peered around and saw worry on the faces of Xiaoshunzi, Chiji, Huyan Shou, and company. Smiling, I asked, “What is it? Why is everyone making a fuss over nothing?”
Xiaoshunzi suddenly sighed softly, shoving a pill into my mouth. I felt my body and mind gradually relax as I fell into sweet dreams. Very quickly, I fell asleep.
Xuan Song apprehensively asked, “Why was daren’s complexion so pale? Has he suffered a relapse?”
Xiaoshunzi distantly answered, “For this battle, young master has exhausted his mental faculties for half a year. Now that everything is within his calculations, young master has finally been able to relax and could not help feeling somewhat exhausted. General Xuan, you are of utmost importance to the fate of this war. If young master’s plan fails because of you, I will definitely not let you off.”
Finished speaking, Xiaoshunzi carried Jiang Zhe into the carriage. Worried, Chiji gazed within the carriage before taking a seat as the driver and brandishing the whip.
Staring at the carriage departing into the distance, Xuan Song felt a burst of guilt inside. Just now, he had been silently criticizing Jiang Zhe for fleeing on the eve of battle and had completely forgotten the enormous mental power consumed in order for both armies to act in accordance with Jiang Zhe’s arrangements. He resolutely stated, “Immediately set out. We will go and provide support for His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi.”
Naturally, one of Xuan Song’s bodyguards brought him his armor and the reins of his horse. After changing into armor, he used his spurs and whip to urge his horse into a gallop in the direction of Qinyuan.
In the distant battlefield, Li Xian was simultaneously leading the rearguard and cursing his own stupidity. At the time, he had racked his brains and somehow had completely forgotten the existence of the Daizhou army. He had anticipated that Lin Bi could come reinforce. However, he had never thought that more than half of the Daizhou army would arrive. After all, it was general knowledge that the Daizhou army never set foot outside of its provincial borders. In addition, everyone knew that the northern barbarians were growing restless. Surprisingly, Lin Bi would be quite audacious and lead more than half of the Daizhou army south.
However, the one Li Xian cursed most was Jiang Zhe. Li Xian had not been fully briefed about the comprehensive plan. As a result, he was full of uncertainty and did not know if all of the appropriate arrangements behind the lines had been made. He could not help but regret being easily incited by Jiang Zhe into fighting to the death with the Northern Han army without careful questioning.
At this moment, Jing Chi had returned from the head of the retreating column. Ahead, there were naturally other veteran Yong generals clearing the way. Jing Chi had come to the rear to help the Prince of Qi lead the rearguard. Galloping to the Prince of Qi’s side, Jing Chi somewhat dispiritedly remarked, “Your Imperial Highness, we are unworthy of calling ourselves heroes and were actually so utterly defeated by a woman. What’s to be done now? What face do we have to see anyone after we’ve returned?”
Li Xian was disinclined to explain the situation to Jing Chi. In any case, Jing Chi would naturally know what was going on when the time came. Pursing his lips, Li Xian replied, “What are you distracted by? The Daizhou army has come again!”
From a distance, billowing dust was being kicked up, concentrating and not dispersing. As the Daizhou army closed on the Yong army’s rear, they did not charge, instead cruising back and forth, frequently using bows and arrows to kill any Yong horseman who had fallen behind. Occasionally, a particularly brave warrior would charge into the Yong formation. After fighting in close quarters for a time, the warrior would retreat, stirring up a hornet’s nest.
Scorn shone in Li Xian’s eyes. Raising his lance, he personally moved to the rear. With his personal presence, the Yong rear was invigorated and heartened, and began to counterattack harshly. In this manner, the two armies were unceasingly engaged. However, neither side reduced their speed. As the sun began to set, the vanguard of the retreating Yong army had already reached the first defensive line that Xuan Song had prepared.
Two mountains towered on either side of the mouth of the valley, allowing the Qin River to pass through. On both sides of the river were rugged mountain paths that could permit a horse to gallop. The cold water of the river trickled, while the strange rock formations on both sides towered. The mountains here were all made from solid rock with only sparse vegetation atop them. The rocks were hard, making it difficult to bore holes, which made it impossible to construct any solid fortifications. On both sides were towering cliffs that rose several dozen zhang above the river. Although they faced the water, it was difficult to obtain water, making it difficult to both attack and defend. That was why the Northern Han army had not fortified and defended this location. Rather than squandering resources at such a narrow location, it was better to fight on the plains where their cavalry’s advantage could be fully employed.
However, the present defender was the Yong army. It was the best to employ Yong foot soldiers to defend hastily built and makeshift fortifications. Although it was impossible for them to hold out long-term due to a variety of restrictions, as long as each stronghold could hold off the Northern Han advance for a half a day to a day, they could dramatically delay the speed of the Northern Han progress. This was also what Long Tingfei worried most about. He did not wish to meet Yong reinforcements after he had painstakingly broken through these defensive lines.
According to calculations, it would take at least half a month once news of the defeat had reached Zezhou before it could finish amassing troops to dispatch. This was something that Long Tingfei was prepared for and was not something impossible. As such, when Long Tingfei led the main Northern Han army and hurriedly arrived to join up with Lin Bi, they determined that if they could not trap Li Xian here, they would have to push the Yong army back to Anze within ten days. Only in this way would Long Tingfei be able to complete his objective of completely annihilating the Yong army.
An azure-robed scholarly general stood on one of the mountain peaks towering over the river. Outside the valley, tight Yong formations were ready and waiting with bows and crossbows at its rear, providing support and helping the Yong horsemen enter the valley. The Yong retreat column was neat and tidy, without a hint of disorder.
By this moment, the Northern Han army had already sensed the urgency of the situation, as their offensive became increasingly fierce. Were it not for Li Xian and Jing Chi personally bringing up the rear, the Yong rearguard would likely have been broken long ago.
As the blood-red setting sun sank in the sky and disappeared, the gorgeous sunset glow was astonishingly beautiful. The two armies exhausted everything they had to fight bitterly, completely disregarding casualties.
The lives of countless numbers of soldiers composed a most magnificent painting of the fires of war.
When a third of the retreating Yong army had entered the valley, the warships of the Northern Han navy appeared upriver on the Qin River. Following the river, they rapidly rowed downstream. The marines and sailors aboard the warships wielded shields and crossbows. Clearly, they intended to use the river to break through into the valley before using crossbows to block the Yong army’s retreat.
Seeing the navy’s banners from a distance, the entire Northern Han army’s power increased greatly as their attacks became ever smoother and easier. Although the Yong army was uneasy, they were an army composed of veterans of over a hundred battles. In the beginning, they were a bit worried. However, they quickly steadied, only speeding up their retreat considerably, while not daring to relax their resistance against the Northern Han army’s advance.
Just as the three leading warships approached the valley, the azure-robed general directing the defenses atop the mountain peak waved a flag. The bows of the three warships collided with some obstacle, powerless to continue forward. The body of the ship could not help tilting diagonal because of the momentum and river flow. It wasn’t long before the three warships had blocked most of the river. Because the marines and sailors aboard were not veterans from Chu, they could not help falling into disarray.
At this moment, several dozen ballistae and catapults were pushed out from the Yong formation. Ballista bolts and large boulders began to fall like rain. The commander of the Northern Han navy issued orders and the grounded warships began to dauntlessly return fire. However, because the warships could not move and were diagonal, it was difficult for them to resist. After a short while, the naval commander sounded the bugle horn for retreat. The marines and sailors aboard the three stuck warships abandoned ship, jumping directly into the water or into small boats, in retreat.
Long Tingfei’s bladelike eyebrows were tightly knit. It wasn’t long before a scout came to report, “Grand General, the Yong army has installed an iron chain to block the river. Just now, when the navy attacked, the Yong army pulled the chain taut to stop our warships.”
Little by little, the Yong army entered the valley. Seeing the Yong army’s banners disappear from his line of sight, Long Tingfei could not help hatefully stating, “The Yong army’s methods are truly brilliant, spending so much effort on their avenue of retreat. Who would have thought that, in only a few days’ time, they have even forged an iron chain to block the river? How unfortunate. Otherwise, if our navy could block the valley exit, the Yong army would have no chance of escaping.”
By Long Tingfei’s side, Duan Wudi consoled, “Grand General, there is no need to worry. Although it is not within our reckoning, from another aspect, the Yong army does not have any reinforcements that have come up. Otherwise, what would be the harm in letting us pass, waiting for our exhausted troops at Anze and soundly defeating our army? Their defenses being so strong represents that their forces in the rear are weak and they hope to use the favorable terrain to wear down our army’s strength. However, since we are more familiar with this region than them, as long as we can quickly break through their defenses, we will definitely be able to annihilate the Yong army using our army’s specialties—pursuit and charges. Li Xian has a tenacious temperament and will definitely not abandon his men. We still have further opportunities to detain him.”
Resolve appeared in Long Tingfei’s eyes as he replied, “If we cannot capture or kill Li Xian, it will be no different from defeat even if we are victorious. Circulate my orders: shoot fire arrows to burn the grounded warships. The iron chain can be melted by fire. Have the navy perform this task. Even if we have to transform this thirty li1 area into a sea of fire, I will not permit the Yong army to have any place for shelter. In the past, I had you prepare petroleum3 and saltpeter. As long as pour petroleum into the Qin River and set it aflame, we will be able to force the Yong army within the valley into retreat. I’m give you two days’ time. Can you do it?”
Duan Wudi shivered mentally. Petroleum was a strange substance that did not sink underneath water and was easy to burn. In addition, the flames were long-lasting and continuous. Only, if petroleum were set afire, black smoke would curl up into the sky. All of the land that petroleum permeated would become barren. Although this method by Long Tingfei was vicious, even if this thirty li barren mountainous region and downriver of the Qin River suffered damage, they had no time to worry about these consequences.
Duan Wudi bowed and complied, “Grand General, do not worry. This general definitely won’t fail.”
Footnotes:16.2 kilometers (about 10 miles) 木秀于林，风必摧之, muxiuyulin, fengbicuizhi – idiom, lit. if a tree stands out of the forest, the wind will break it; fig. jealousy is the tribute that mediocrity pays to genius, the squeaky wheel gets the grease 黑油, heiyou – lit. black oil; petroleum