Volume 5, Chapter 26: Surrounded by an Inescapable Trap
The night was cold as ice. In a small mountain village in the wilderness of Jishi, its inhabitants driven away long ago, only their empty homes remained behind. Several days ago, this village gained a temporary master. Within the most spacious farmhouse in the village, a candle flickered and cast red light as the candlewick curled down. The simple and crude wooden bed was covered with gorgeous bedding. A scholar in azure robes leaned against the bedframe and slowly sipped from a medicine bowl emitting a fragrant odor.
Handing the medicine bowl to the azure-clothed youth waiting in attendance, I heaved a heavy sigh and said, “Man’s schemes are inferior to those made by the Heavens.1 Who could have expected that the Northern Han generals would be so vicious? The matter relating to Xuan Song truly fills me with grief and lamentation. Xiaoshunzi, what happened afterward?”
Xiaoshunzi bowed his head and answered, “Long Tingfei was on his guard against a sudden attack from our army. When our troops charged out of the valley, Long Tingfei used catapults and archers to seal the valley entrance, blocking our troops. Because of the narrowness of the valley, it was difficult for them to get out. Only several thousand were able to charge out before dying in the Northern Han army’s encirclement. Everyone else perished in the inferno and their charred bones litter the wilderness. Our army’s scouts were unable to ascertain General Xuan’s fate. However, it may be assumed that he has already died amidst the chaotic fighting.”
Reaching this point and seeing the dismal complexion on Jiang Zhe’s face, Xiaoshunzi consoled, “Young master is not a general leading on the frontlines. Young master is not to blame. There is no need to be ashamed.”
Smiling wryly, I replied, “It isn’t that I am looking for trouble,2 but rather because Xuan Song is a rare talent, capable of both offense and defense. One good general is harder to come by than a thousand soldiers.3 In losing this man, even if we inflict a grave defeat upon the Northern Han army, it will be a case in which neither side wins. How can I not feel distress? Alas, although I had anticipated that the enemy would attack with fire, the conditions of the Qin River Valley would have made it difficult to do so with the sparse trees and the abundant flow of the river. As a result, I did not call their attention to this. But who would have expected that Long Tingfei would pour petroleum into the Qin River to serve as an accelerant for the flames? If General Su had not discovered this, our army would likely have been completely wiped out. As expected, Long Tingfei is not ordinary.”
Reaching the end, I became increasingly gloomy and could not help coughing several times. Xiaoshunzi promptly brought over a cup of tea. Taking it, I drank a mouthful. After feeling more comfortable, I inquired, “How is His Imperial Highness going to deal with the subsequent situation?”
Glancing at the tough silk in his hand, Xiaoshunzi responded, “His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, has personally led his army to set an ambush at the mouth of the Qin River Valley. On the second day of the fourth month, after the flames died down, Long Tingfei left Duan Wudi behind to garrison Qinyuan and personally led the Northern Han army through the valley to attack and was successfully ambushed by His Imperial Highness. The power of the Northern Han army is formidable and after battling for half a day, His Imperial Highness retreated towards Anze. On the third day of the fourth month, His Imperial Highness formed up on Anze’s terrain that limits cavalry, and used Yong infantry to confront the Northern Han army to earn a draw. On the fourth day of the fourth month, His Imperial Highness reached the area north of Jishi and is currently checking the Northern Han army’s pursuit to allow the infantry to retreat to Zezhou. The two armies have already fought for two days. Although the Northern Han army has suffered heavy losses, His Imperial Highness has also suffered greatly. Tomorrow, His Imperial Highness will have the entire army retreat and march at full speed, ceasing their engagement with the enemy.”
A hint of delight flashed across my eyes, as I replied, “After suffering two setbacks after their great victory, presumably the Northern Han army will not let our army off lightly.”
Xiaoshunzi softly spoke, “Young master speaks the truth. I’ve heard that the Northern Han army has fought quite viciously. The two times that he retreated, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, was almost surrounded. In the retreat this time, the enemy will not only pursue, they will do so without end. Even if they pursue to Zezhou, they will not let our army off.”
Hearing this, I clapped my hands and stated, “As expected, His Imperial Highness understands my intentions. Long Tingfei has always had an arrogant temperament. In the past, after being defeated at Zezhou and having his will worn down by my planning, he is presently using the triumph to retrieve his former glory and confidence. In spite of the numerical disadvantage he suffers, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, has ravaged the enemy’s sharp offensive. Long Tingfei definitely won’t tolerate this. His pursuit this time will be even more impossible to resist, but will fall precisely under my control. However, were it not for the firm and persistent will of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, indomitable in spite of the setbacks, who else could have been able to complete this difficult assignment?”
At this moment, Chiji walked in to report, “Young master, General Zhangsun is outside and requests an audience.”
I tranquilly replied, “Invite him inside.” Despite this, I was gazing off into the far distance. This was the most crucial moment. If Long Tingfei became suspicious and retreated, our army’s efforts would have been wasted. At this moment, I naturally did not know of the exaggerated effect the news of the Marquis of Chu’s serious illness had upon the Northern Han army. This news had caused the upper levels of the Northern Han army to rush forward into the trap without any suspicions.
Reaching out to gently caress the wet mane of his warhorse that had been soaked with sweat, Li Xian looked up to peer towards the rear. The Northern Han army had briefly disappeared. Looking up at the sky, he determined that it was midday. Presumably, the pursuing enemy was preparing to rest for a while.
The last several days had been exhausting. The aftermath of his provocation was the enemy’s all-out and fearless pursuit. Even if the Yong army was about to reach Jishi, and Zezhou’s border was only fifty li4 away, this fifty li was even more difficult to traverse. In the past, while fleeing, Li Xian could take a circuitous route. Although he was outnumbered more than two to one by the enemy, it was still difficult for the enemy to surround the Yong army. As long as he was flexible and nimble, it would be impossible for the enemy army to successfully surround him. However, over the next fifty li, they could only flee at a gallop. If they continued to meander all over, if any traces were discovered, they would likely fall into a trap.
Hurriedly feeding his warhorse, Li Xian caught sight of dust kicked up again from behind him. Raising his spirit, he stated, “We will return to Zezhou without stop. There is no need to arrange any formations. Everyone, escape on your own.” Finished speaking, Li Xian whipped his horse and charged out.
When Jing Chi learned of this order in the rearguard, he looked up at the scorching sun. Pulling a long face,5 he said, “Let’s go. Anyone who falls behind will be surrounded by the enemy.”
Over these past few days, Li Xian and Jing Chi had amply utilized the friction between the Prince of Qi’s and the Prince of Yong’s former subordinates to take turns to play the role of the attacking rearguard. As a result, the charges were frequently without fear of death, ferocious to the extreme. Wearing thorny armor, it was often difficult for the enemy to easily close with the soldiers serving as the rearguard. The two commanders had overtly and covertly hinted to their subordinates that, since they had already been defeated, if they were outdone by their former rivals, then they would lose all face. As a result, even though they had repeatedly suffered crushing defeats, the army’s morale had constantly surged upwards. If the enemy had been ordinary and was not formidable, and didn’t have Daizhou’s support, the Northern Han army—half composed of new recruits—would probably have suffered a defeat. However, even though this was the case, the numerical disparity forced the Yong army to continuously retreat.
Having arrived at the final stage of their flight and since Li Xian had issued such an order, the entire Yong army began to scatter and flee on their own. Although habits from years of marching caused the Yong army to remain in formation, their scattered formations extended as far as the eye could see,6 making the enemy lose a defined target, and also increased the difficulty of the enemy’s pursuit and hopes of encircling the Yong army.
Seeing the scattering Yong army, the pursuing Long Tingfei and Lin Bi showed sincere smiles. The next fifty li was flat, open country.7 If they did not pursue tightly, the Yong army would likely escape back to Zezhou. However, the two were both experts at cavalry engagements and were well aware that this was the enemy’s final trump card. The order for scattered flight allowed the fleeing army to not only increase its speed, but also ensured that the direction of their escape was unpredictable. But once this order was given, the Yong army could only flee and lost any ability to counterattack. If they wanted to annihilate the enemy, this was the final and also most optimal opportunity.
A determined light glittered in Long Tingfei’s eyes as he said, “Sister Bi, the Daizhou warhorses are swift. Personally lead them and swing around to the front of the enemy. I will lead the main army to pursue from behind. Now that the enemy is scattering in retreat, they have lost all ability to counterattack. We can attain our goal as long as we detain the majority of the enemy army. When the time comes, if the Prince of Qi tries to escape, we only need to pursue him and directly invade Zezhou at most.”
Lin Bi nodded her head lightly. The entire Northern Han army was unanimous in demanding that the Yong army be completely wiped out. Ignoring the wholesale massacres the Yong army had perpetrated in Qinzhou, after flooding Anze and incinerating the Qin River, although the Northern Han army had won decisively, it had lost a strategic town and a section of its territory. The entire Northern Han army felt full of hateful indignation.
On the second day of the fourth month, as the Northern Han army passed through the still burning valley, when they had assumed that the Yong army had already fled far away, they had been struck straight in the face by the Prince of Qi. The losses suffered were not few. Afterwards, the repeated charges by the Prince of Qi and the roundabout provocations made the entire Northern Han army miserable. The whole army wanted to capture the Prince of Qi alive and gain the most glorious victory. If they withdrew now, the common soldier would probably have many complaints and the officers would be discontent. As a result, pursuit was the only and best option.
Accepting the order, Lin Bi led the Daizhou army and swung around in the direction the Yong army was fleeing to, heading swiftly towards Zezhou’s border at an angle. Daizhou’s warhorses were excellent and all of their riders were skilled horsemen. Their speed was faster than the Yong and Northern Han armies’. They were the most suitable interception and encirclement troops.
At first, if it weren’t for the manner in which Li Xian had cleverly selected the battlefields and the Yong troops significantly outnumbering the Daizhou army, forcibly breaking through the Daizhou army’s lines on several occasions, the Yong army would have long ago been surrounded and wiped out if Lin Bi had wanted to not suffer heavy losses while annihilating the Yong army. Even though this was the case, under the hooves of the Daizhou army, the corpses of countless Yong warriors were left behind. The Daizhou cavalry was matchless in the world.
Li Xian spurred his horse forward to gallop madly. Right now, there was no need to preserve his horse’s stamina. The bodyguards at Li Xian’s side all had brows knit. They did not know if there were any rescue arrangements made in Zezhou. After retreating in defeat from Qinyuan, their communication lines with the rear had been severed. Li Xian was the only one kept informed. During their flight, the uncertain prospects caused them worry.
As for Jing Chi, he and his bodyguard were located near the tail end of the fleeing Yong army. He had three thousand elite horsemen under his command, their structure comparatively intact. If the Northern Han army pursued too closely, Jing Chi would launch a counterattack. However, with the Northern Han army about to encircle the fleeing Yong army, Jing Chi did not intend to graciously waste the strength of his troops. As a result, no battle occurred between the Yong and Northern Han armies. By Jing Chi’s side, a relatively unfamiliar face had been added—a young deputy general named Dai Yue. Last time, in the battle at the northern mouth of the Qin River Valley, Dai Yue had fought against Northern Han’s fierce general, Lu Shuhan. Although Dai Yue had returned in defeat, his shrewdness and cleverness filled Jing Chi with appreciation. As a result, he had retained Dai Yue by his side. At this moment, Jing Chi naturally did not know that he had kept such a dangerous individual by his side.
After experiencing the arduous trek, Li Xian knew he was closing on the border with Zezhou. He felt apprehensive, wondering where the relieving troops were while he focused on fleeing. At this moment, he saw a Yong soldier hurriedly galloping back from ahead, crying out in alarm, “Your Imperial Highness, not good! The Daizhou army is up ahead, waiting to intercept!”
Li Xian reined in his horse in distress. Who would have thought that the Daizhou cavalry would be so swift? Presumably, they had traveled along the outer edge of the fleeing Yong troops to get ahead before cutting in. He was already nearly with the vanguard of the Yong army and yet had still been intercepted by the Daizhou army. If there were no reinforcements right now, then wouldn’t the entire Yong army be annihilated? He had no extravagant hopes that he would be able to break through the Daizhou army’s blockade. This was not the southern mouth of the Qin River Valley where it was enough to block the valley’s entrance to stop the Northern Han army from advancing. This was also not Anze where the roads were muddy, slowing down the quickness of the horses so that the speed discrepancy was practically eliminated. Aside from Qinze, this open country was the most suitable for cavalry to fight on in the border area between Zezhou and Qinzhou.
In his head, Li Xian secretly cursed Jiang Zhe, One surnamed Jiang, if you haven’t prepared an ambush here, you can only come to collect my corpse. This Prince does not yet have a Princess born of my formal wife and your daughter-in-law is not yet born. If this Prince is to die here, I will curse your son to never be able to marry even if I become a ghost.
However, when he opened his mouth, he instead languidly said, “All right. Gather the army here. This Prince will go to meet that Princess of Jiaping.” Finished speaking, Li Xian galloped forward, thinking, In any case, before the pursuing troops behind arrive, the Daizhou army will not freely attack. There is no harm for me to meet Lin Bi and speak a few idle words to delay for a time.
Lin Bi was at front of the just arrayed Daizhou army formation. The entire army’s soldiers and horses were exhausted. As a result, she had no interest in immediately launching an attack. Seeing the Yong army begin to retreat, Lin Bi did not order a pursuit. After resting for some time, Lin Bi felt her energy recover, as she calmly waited for the decisive battle to arrive.
At this moment, Lin Bi caught sight of a troop of cavalry in red armor approach. With the escort of his bodyguards, the Prince of Qi arrived. Separated by over a hundred paces,8 guaranteeing that he could escape at any moment, Li Xian laughed loudly and stated, “Your Royal Highness, the Princess of Jiaping, when you came with an army to help General Long, did not think about the safety of Daizhou? If the barbarians come south, Daizhou will likely become a sea of blood. If that happens, then Princess’s gains will not make up for your losses.”
Lin Bi’s face darkened, as she loudly replied, “Great Yong has invaded our territory, bathing the lands in blood through massacring towns and capturing passes. You are no better than the barbarians. If Your Imperial Highness is not detained, the Daizhou army will definitely not return home.” Lin Bi’s voice was as clear and melodious as a silver bell. Even though it contained killing intent, it made people palpitate with eagerness to do something.
In a solemn and grave voice, Li Xian responded, “Why is Princess saying such words? During these years, our two countries have constantly been at war. When you invaded us, you would perform bloody massacres in Zezhou. When we attack back, naturally we will have to kill in retaliation. However, the Daizhou army has never participated in the war between our two countries and only ensure that these lands are not raided and pillaged by the barbarians. Surely there is no need to get embroiled in this unbeneficial war, correct?”
Lin Bi’s face reddened. She also had similar thoughts before. The whole of the Daizhou army had no interest in the war between Great Yong and Northern Han. However, having received deep favor from the Northern Han King, how could Daizhou decline the king’s request? Furthermore, she was a patriot and Long Tingfei’s fiancée. How could she refuse such a request?
Seeing that Lin Bi could not reply, a young officer galloped out from the Daizhou formation. He was Lin Bi’s elder brother, Lin Chengshan, and was Lin Yuanting’s third son. As a Daizhou general, he coldly interjected, “Your Imperial Highness, the two armies are battling. What use is there in being so talkative? If you do not wish to fight, Your Imperial Highness need only dismount and wait to be bound. It may be assumed that with the respected status of Your Imperial Highness, it is unlikely His Royal Majesty will harm you.”
Li Xian smiled slightly and thought, How can I, Li Xian, allow myself to be bound? Besides, if Suiyun has made the appropriate arrangements, who knows who will become the captive? Not speaking a word, Li Xian turned his horse around and retreated back to the Yong army.
Two li9 away from the Daizhou army, the Yong army began to mass. Although the Daizhou army was aware of this, because they had yet to recover and also worried that Li Xian would escape if they rushed their attack, they only guarded against the Yong army’s line of retreat, waiting for the Northern Han army to arrive.
As the two sides stood opposite one another for almost an hour, the majority of the Yong army assembled, while the Daizhou army began to launch sporadic probes to prevent the Yong army from adopting a battle formation. After the two sides had been engaged for some time, even though the Yong army was only slightly weaker than the Daizhou army’s bravery and strength, because many of the Yong soldiers had fallen behind, the disorganized formation did not pose much threat to the Daizhou army. Once Jing Chi had rushed over from the rear, the Yong army began to ferociously attack the Daizhou army. However, because of the Daizhou army’s harassment, the Yong formation was jumbled which inevitably weakened the assault. In the face of Lin Bi’s command, the Yong army very quickly was forced to retreat to reorganize.
At this same moment, the long call of the bugle horns and the booming sound of iron hooves capable of stampeding the entire world sounded from the rear. Although they were some distance away, Lin Bi immediately caught sight of Long Tingfei’s marshal banner fluttering in the breeze. The Daizhou army bellowed. It wasn’t long before long whistles mutually echoed from within the Northern Han formation. The noise of the bugle horns and the shouts of the Northern Han horsemen resounded through the skies. The Northern Han army had finally surrounded the Yong army.
Long Tingfei gazed at Li Xian’s marshal banner and finally let go of his worries. Ruthlessly he commanded, “Relay my order: surround and annihilate the enemy.” With this order, the decisive battle began.
The Daizhou and Northern Han armies coordinated quite well as they surrounded the Yong army. Although the Northern Han army was only twice the size of the Yong army, the Daizhou army was proficient at hit-and-run attacks. Operating on the outer layer, any Yong troops that slipped through gaps in the Northern Han army would immediately be shot to death by the Daizhou horse archers, effectively stopping any intent the Yong army had of breaking the encirclement. Although the Yong army persisted in its resistance, their area of operation was increasingly limited.
By now, Li Xian was silently cursing without end. If this were to continue, he would definitely be completely wiped out. Suddenly a strange thought appeared. Could Jiang Zhe be doing this deliberately or could Jiang Zhe be following the emperor’s orders to reduce his military strength?
While Li Xian was on tenterhooks, Jing Chi encountered trouble. Jing Chi was always fond of charging at the forefront. This time was no exception. However, he now had someone who harbored malicious intent by his side.
Deputy general Dai Yue kept closely by Jing Chi’s side during the battle. Onlookers only assumed that Dai Yue was wholeheartedly protecting Jing Chi out of gratitude at being promoted and appreciated. No one knew that Dai Yue was planning something.
Although he had successfully infiltrated the Yong army and become a mid-ranking officer, commanding two thousand horsemen, he was still a failure as a mole because he, let alone also the high-ranking generals in the army, knew nothing about the planning of this campaign. As a result, Dai Yue had not been able to obtain any valuable information. Moreover, the head of the Yong scouts, Su Qing, was extremely formidable, making it difficult for him to pass along any intelligence. As for the single risk he had taken to deliver the intelligence he had gathered that allowed Long Tingfei to push forward the fire attack, although of some value, it also contained the misinformation that Jiang Zhe was seriously ill. Of course, Dai Yue did not yet know this point. Besides, when Li Xian withdrew that very night, it still caused Dai Yue to realize that the intelligence he provided was useless.
Now his mission was about to end. When the Yong army was destroyed, there was naturally no need for Dai Yue to remain at Jing Chi’s side. Considering this and having not made any contributions, he resolved to kill Jing Chi out of vexation. If he could kill one of the Yong army’s chief generals in sight of the Yong army, they would definitely lose their confidence and fighting spirit. Although there was the risk that he would be killed by the bodyguards surrounding Jing Chi, the shock at their commander being attacked by an assassin might briefly make them lose their ability to respond. As a result, Dai Yue had focused on battling while searching for the opportunity to assassinate Jing Chi.
At this moment, the only ones who were not completely focused on the battle was Lin Bi and Xiao Tong. Lin Bi ordered someone to summon Xiao Tong. When he arrived, she asked with deep worry, “Xiao daren, I just ordered scouts to determine whether there are reinforcements from Zezhou, but have received no response. Even the goshawks disappeared without a trace. Although not long has passed, I am still restless. Can you personally send some people to take a look?”
Xiao Tong also felt himself shiver inside. Since passing Anze, although the Yong army had already reached a dead end, Xiao Tong had still sent out many scouts. Initially, there were no anomalies. However, once Jishi was passed, the advance was too rapid and there wasn’t enough time for the scouts to report back. As a result, there were some times when no information was sent back. Thinking back on it now, Xiao Tong felt an ominous premonition. But is something really off? he thought, looking at the encircled Yong army.
After repeatedly being defeated, the Yong commander-in-chief, the Prince of Qi, had continually commanded the rearguard and met with danger. Were it not for the immense skills of the Prince of Qi’s bodyguards, including a number of experts from jianghu, he probably would have been captured or killed long ago. Even if there were an ulterior motive, there was no need for the enemy commander to personally serve as the bait. Xiao Tong wavered, determined to dispatch his best scouts to reconnoiter.
Unable to stop worrying, Xiao Tong instructed one of his trusted scouts to go investigate. Not long after this scout had disappeared, an ear-piercing warning sound came from the direction of Zezhou. Aghast, Xiao Tong looked over and saw his trusted scout madly spurring his horse and galloping back while waving his arms. Afterwards, Xiao Tong felt the entire ground begin to tremble.
In the distant horizon, a black line appeared. Like rolling thunder, the black line surged over. Then Xiao Tong saw the scout fall weakly from his horse. He could clearly see that a sharp arrow had penetrated his back.
Practically everyone was dumbfounded, including Li Xian who was well aware of what was going on. Just as he was becoming suspicious, reinforcements had arrived. He could not help feeling both ashamed and happy. Not bothering to mock the stupefied expressions of his subordinates, he roared for the formation to be reorganized and to quickly disengage from the Northern Han army, opening up some distance to ensure that they were not entangled.
The black line became increasingly clear. Very soon, everyone could see the faces of the soldiers and the fluttering banners. Immediately, the banners’ black base and the characters Zhangsun (長孫) were seen by all. Like wolves and tigers, the elite horsemen of the Yong army were majestic and bore plentiful auras of death about them. When they were five hundred paces10 away, the Yong army came to a sudden stop.
A general rode out of the formation under the escort of his bodyguards, wearing black armor and a similarly colored cape. The general raised his right hand. In it was a clear and bright longbow the color of gold. Under everyone’s watchful gaze,11 he pulled out an eagle-feathered arrow and drew his bow. Coincidentally at this moment, the figures of two goshawks overlapped. After the sharp arrow pierced one of the goshawks, there was sufficient power remaining to pierce the second goshawk’s body.
The general lifted his visor, revealing a handsome face with long eyebrows and phoenix eyes. The general’s face was white and whiskerless, refined like a Confucian scholar. However, he had an awe-inspiring and inviolable austere aura. The whole battlefield was quiet. Aside from the snuffling and snorting of the warhorses and the groans of the wounded, there was no other sound.
The general loudly declared, “This general is Zhangsun Ji! Under orders from Great Yong’s Imperial Majesty, I have come to crusade against the wicked Northern Han army! All those who throw away their weapons and surrender can be pardoned from capital punishment! If anyone obstinately resists, there is only death!”
At the same time that Li Xian finally breathed a sigh of relief, he wrung his hands and scolded, “That Jiang Suiyun is truly secretive. This Prince simply assumed that you had only arranged the tens of the thousands of troops I left behind. Who would have thought that Imperial Brother would fish out his trump cards to go so far as to send Zhangsun Ji? If we cannot completely wipe out the Northern Han army this time, then it would definitely be a fantastic story for all eternity.”
Jing Chi was also bewildered. Scratching his messy hair, he asked, “So Zhangsun has also come. What’s going on? When was this ambush placed here?”
Seeing the situation, Dai Yue stealthily put away his concealed weapons. Pursuing an assassination at this moment would be bringing about his own demise.
Long Tingfei sucked in a deep breath, issuing the order to retreat. Currently, Lu Boyan was by his side and he anxiously stated, “Grand General, there is no need to retreat. Although we are outnumbered, the difference is not too great. As long as we spare no effort and fight hard, we may not necessarily lose.”
Smiling wryly, Long Tingfei replied, “Boyan, I also hoped that was the case. However, if it were another general, the possibility would exist and I would only believe that the Prince of Qi is being rescued by reinforcements from Zezhou. However, it actually is Zhangsun Ji who has come personally. That man is the Yong Emperor’s trusted lieutenant and was originally an important officer who commanded the defense of the Yong capital. Now that he has surprisingly appeared in Zezhou, it is clear that we have fallen for the enemy’s bait. Li Xian was quite ruthless. He repeatedly fought exhausting battles to lure us here. For a stately prince of Great Yong to ignore death to such a state truly leaves me filled with admiration. If my expectations are correct, when the Yong army first invaded Qinzhou, the reason they adopted a scorched earth policy was all for this trap. Although we have now seen a portion of the Yong army, there are likely more behind us. The only thing that can be done now is to swiftly retreat and hope that the Yong army isn’t able to surround us before we can retreat to Qinyuan. Otherwise, our army will be completely annihilated.”
Hearing this, Lu Boyan woke up to reality. Wariness appeared on his face as he remarked, “The Yong army is really quite ferocious. Our two armies have continuously battled from the flood at Anze, the brutal battle at Qinyuan, the incineration at the Qin River, and the two ambushes. And it was all to lure us into this trap. Grand General, do not worry. Even if there is an ambush behind us, based upon our hundred thousand horsemen, we may still have the opportunity to break out and return to Qinyuan.”
Long Tingfei could only accept the consoling. At this moment, Lin Bi sent a messenger over to say, “The enemy will definitely have set ambushes on all sides. The Daizhou army is skilled at attacking and is willing to take the lead.”
Long Tingfei gave a faint sigh and responded, “I hope that Princess Bi will be able to break out in time. I will personally command the rearguard. Boyan, you and your brothers will follow the Daizhou army. If the enemy attacks with all of its strength and we cannot return to Qinyuan, we will all die within the Yong army’s encirclement.”
The response of the Northern Han army was extremely swift. Practically without any hesitation, it began to retreat. Almost as if he didn’t see it, Zhangsun Ji urged his horse forward and arrived before the Prince of Qi. While mounted, he bowed and reported, “Zhangsun Ji pays my respects to Your Imperial Highness. Please forgive this general for being unable to pay my proper respects while wearing armor.”
Having relaxed greatly, Li Xian calmly inquired, “General Zhangsun, has the trap been properly prepared?”
“Your Imperial Highness, there is no need to worry,” answered Zhangsun Ji respectfully. “There are eighty thousand troops each to the left and right. South of Jishi there are one hundred thousand elite troops prepared to block the Northern Han army’s return. My army is composed of three hundred and sixty thousand cavalry and infantry. We have a set an inescapable trap. The enemy troops won’t be able to escape.”
“Okay,” replied Li Xian, seemingly unintentionally. “For General Zhangsun to entrap Long Tingfei and Lin Bi here, your contribution will be enormous, while this Prince’s tens of thousands of troops can only return after a crushing defeat. This Prince blushes with shame.”
Zhangsun Ji was quite intelligent and naturally knew that this prince was resentful. As such, he promptly stated, “Why is Your Imperial Highness saying such a thing? If not for the dangers that Your Imperial Highness braved, luring the enemy into the trap, how could we surround the Northern Han army here? His Imperial Majesty long ago instructed this general and my troops to all comply with Your Imperial Highness’s orders. Your Imperial Highness, please issue orders without hesitation.”
A faint smile appeared on Li Xian’s face. Although he was not someone to fight over credit, if credit for the annihilation of the Yong army was seized by Zhangsun Ji, then he would truly find it unjust. He had had his fill of the humiliation of defeat during these days, and repeatedly braved the dangers of nearly being captured or killed by the enemy. At present, he wanted most to personally take revenge. Seeing Zhangsun Ji so tactful, Li Xian was deeply pleased. As someone who did not know how to appreciate favors and since Zhangsun Ji was so magnanimous, there was no urgent need for him to seize command. Li Xian only calmly replied, “Our army is completely exhausted and needs to be reorganized. General Zhangsun, you can surround them as you will. Who is the general responsible for checking the enemy’s retreat at Jishi? We have to be on our guard to prevent the Northern Han army from forcibly breaking through.”
Zhangsun Ji respectfully reported, “That army is commanded by Xia Ning and Luo Zhang. After Your Imperial Highness left them behind in Zezhou, they have long since been impatient to act. Because the two generals have battled Northern Han for years and are familiar with the tactics they employ, I asked them to lead the hundred thousand Zezhou troops for the intercept at Jishi.”
Pleased, Li Xian nodded his head. “Okay. Go arrange the encirclement. Where is Suiyun? This Prince wants to discuss military matters with him.”
At this moment, Jing Chi chuckled. Throughout the retreat, Jing Chi had already heard Li Xian darkly mutter on more than one occasion about balancing accounts with Jiang Zhe. As for military matters, it was only an excuse. When Jing Chi chuckled, Li Xian grew angry, sizing up Jing Chi for some time and making him shrink from fear. Only then did Li Xian evenly say, “General Jing, you can come along with this Prince. This time, General Jing was quite fearsome, throwing the lands of Northern Han into chaos, committing bloody massacres, and having a disregard for human life. I wonder what your Sir Jiang will think when he hears of this.”
Hearing this, Jing Chi’s complexion immediately paled. On the day when Jiang Zhe had taught military regulations, he had once stated that he was least fond of those who committed massacres without reason. This time, Jing Chi’s unruliness had violated the Yong army’s regulations. When the time came to reward each person’s contributions, he would likely be censured by the imperial court. However, this in itself was a later problem. Right now, he would have to face Sir Jiang. Could it be possible that he would be forced to copy books until he became hoary headed? Thinking of this, a look of worry appeared on his face. Ignoring him, Li Xian ordered Zhangsun Ji to send a bodyguard to serve as a guide and departed. Hanging his head dispirited, Jing Chi wished to follow. However, when his gaze fell on Zhangsun Ji, a proud smile suddenly appeared.
Having seen off the Prince of Qi, Zhangsun Ji’s face became graceful and light, as he unhurriedly issued orders. Leading the Yong army, Zhangsun Ji began to close in. If anyone was able to look down from the Heavens, they could see that two armies were starting to close in from the Northern Han army’s flanks. In addition, from the direction of Jishi, a Yong army had blocked the Northern Han army’s retreat. Within a hundred li,12 three hundred and sixty thousand Yong troops were slowly and casually closing, beginning to tighten the envelopment. The Northern Han army had already fallen into the trap. Although it could still fight, there was no way to survive.
Footnotes:人算不如天算, rensuanburutiansuan – idiom, lit. man’s plans cannot compare to those made by the Heavens; fig. the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray (usu. shortened to “best laid plans”) 自寻烦恼, zixunfannao – idiom, lit. looking for trouble for oneself 千军易得，一将难得, qianjunyide, yijiangnande – idiom, lit. it is easy to have a thousand soldiers, but hard to find a good general; fig. a general is harder to find than an army 27 kilometers (about 17 miles) 愁眉苦脸, choumeikulian – idiom, lit. knitted brows and a bitter face; fig. to look miserable, woebegone 漫天遍野, mantianbianye – idiom, lit. to fill the whole sky and cover the land; fig. everywhere, as far as the eye could see 一马平川, yimapingchuan – idiom, lit. flat land one could gallop straight across; fig. wide expanse of flat country, a stretch of open country 147 meters (about 160 yards) 1.08 kilometers (about two-thirds of a miles) 735 meters (about 800 yards) 众目睽睽, zhongmukuikui – idiom, lit. a crowd of people staring; fig. under everyone’s watchful gaze 54 kilometers (about 33.6 miles)