A Step into the Past

Volume 3 Chapter 5

Book 3 Chap 5 – Fighting off enemies at the river

Xiang Shaolong and Wu Zhuo’s 100 men, with strong bows in their hands, lied low in a dense forest about a hundred steps away from the camp, looking at the slowly leaving troops in the gradually brightening sky.

When the sky was bright, Cheng Xu’s men has already disappeared around the bend at the lower stream.

After a moment, sounds of hooves and men talking were heard on both sides of the river.

A group of almost 400 horse thieves rode out from a dense forest at the upper stream while on the opposite bank a large group of surprised thieves ran out. One of them was sitting high atop a horse, with a wave of long and coarse gray beard, and he is indeed the most famous horse thief roaming the Zhao borders, Hu Hui.

He was so furious his eyeballs were almost bulging out and kept hurrying his men to move the rafts for crossing the river out from the hiding place so that they can go after their enemies. Obviously they have lost their footing.

Sounds of hooves were heard, the horse thieves on this side of the river are already riding hard along the river.

The horse thieves on the other side are starting to cross the river.

Xiang Shaolong took a peek at Wu Zhuo and saw that in this dangerous and tense situation, he still maintained his cool and was secretly impressed.

20 odd wooden rafts, with war horses and other equipment on it, came crossing the river.

When Hu Hui’s men ferried 2 batches of close to 400 warhorses and rations, they began to ferry the men across the river.

Hu Hui was on one of the wooden rafts.

By now, on this side of the river there were only about 50 to 60 horse thieves and totally unwary as they were busy moving the horses to the flat plains next to the river bank.

Xiang Shaolong gave a hand signal and a hundred odd men released a wave of arrows from the dense forest, causing chaos amongst the enemy and the horses and more than half their men were taken down.

Hu Hui and the rest were panicking as the hurriedly cocked their arrows to return fire. The small group of soldiers left on the bank screamed and scattered in all directions.

Xiang Shaolong and his men have by now moved behind the rocks next to the bank and the sound of bows clanging were heard as the light arrows flew like locusts towards the horse thieves on the rafts who had nothing to cover them at all.

There was no way the horse thieves could avoid the arrows and fresh blood stained the rafts and river red.

Hu Hui hurriedly gave orders to retreat to the opposite bank.

Everyone aimed at him and a flurry of arrows flew towards this obvious target.

Although the horse thieves held the wooden oars high up, they were unable to block the hundreds of arrows and fell one by one.

Hu Hui saw that the situation was amiss and with an angry roar, jumped into the water and hid under the wooden raft.

The other thieves copied his move and all jumped into the water.

There were about 200 horse thieves still on the opposite bank but besides jumping and shouting, there’s nothing they can do as well.

The light arrows shot into the water, fresh blood kept bubbling up from the water, followed by bodies floating up. The scene looked totally brutal.

It’s either you perish or I’ll die, this has always been a rock hard fact in wars.

The wooden rafts were broken and the pieces flowed downstream.

Xiang Shaolong was worried about the situation at Cheng Xu’s side so he gave the orders to retreat, ignoring whether Hu Hui was dead or alive. They went up the warhorses they stole and led the horses equipped with rations downstream.

By now the battle at Cheng Xu’s side is coming to an end as well.

When they reached a suitable site downstream, they used the carriages as a line of defense and Zha Yuanyu also led 400 men and spread out around the dense woods nearby, waiting for the pursuing thieves.

400 horse thieves came rushing along the river and they had just turned the corner when they saw the waiting Zhao soldiers but by then they have already fallen within shooting distance of the hiding soldiers. Just as they were at a loss whether to advance or retreat, the Zhao soldiers who were under cover behind the carriages let out a volley of arrows together and immediately men and horses felled.

The remaining men were unable to retreat in time and when they were thinking of going around the carriages via the side stream, Zha Yuanyu and his 400 hidden soldiers shot at them, causing total chaos among them.

As they hurriedly retreated, they bumped into Xiang Shaolong’s reinforcements and was caught totally unawares. Less than 50 managed to escape by abandoning their horses and gear, running into the woods next to the bank.

Under this great victory, all the soldiers cheered, even those from the Pingyuan family shared this victorious atmosphere.

On Xiang Shaolong’s side only 40 odd men were injured, but none of the injuries serious. The outcome was something to be proud of and once again it proved that Xiang Shaolong has an excellent military mind and flexible and effective ways of warring.

Xiang Shaolong sent 20 men to send the 300 odd warhorses they captured back to Zhao, but kept the weapons and rations for his own use. After tending to the injured soldiers, they continued to travel west along the river.

By the time they pitched tents at dusk, they’re only about two and a half days away from the inner river.

Because the road along the journey was uneven and they’ve just had a short skirmish, the men and horses were all tired. Everyone was trying to get as much rest as possible and no one was talking throughout the night. Early the next morning they continued on their journey.

The scenery changed again, the mountains rose and fell in the distance, the trees and grass grew lushly and everything looked like a painting. Streams flowed between the mountains, with waterfalls, captivating one’s eyes.

At the side is a huge and primitive forest with gigantic tress that even a few strong men holding hands won’t be able to go around its circumference.

Sounds of animals and insects could be heard coming from the forest, and the Zhao soldiers hunted some wild foxes and rabbits on the way to add to their dinner.

Sometimes they will come to a high point and from there they can see the unending plains and forests.

Once in a while they will see an isolated village or farm amongst the tall grass and to Xiang Shaolong, everywhere he looks seems to be a paradise. He does not understand why humans still want to fight, and can only blame it on their inherent greed and evil nature.

Although the scenery is beautiful, the journey was arduous. Not only they need to manually open up a path, many times they have to use tree trunks to pave the roads before they can travel in between the streams.

They traveled less than 10li the whole day, and in the end set up camp at the top of a hill.

Although they were tired, the soldiers were all in high spirits, and very willing to carry out any orders from Xiang Shaolong.

Beauties will always love heroes, so Lady Ya is all the more conceding towards him, letting him enjoy the gentleness of this exceptional creature.

Ever since Zhao Qian spoke to him that day through the window, she has been consciously avoiding him. He has no choice but to allow this situation to continue and did not make any moves to break this stalemate.

After his meal, Lady Pingyuan sent someone to invite him over again, saying there’s something to discuss.

Xiang Shaolong was also curious as to her present attitude, so he hurriedly went to Lady Pingyuan’s private tent.

Who would have expected that Lady Pingyuan would put 2 family warriors in her tent, and he was greatly disappointed, all naughty thoughts disappeared totally.

His relationship with Lady Pingyuan is truly a battle of wills between the 2 sexes. It gave him a feeling of committing something wrong, which gives him a stronger feeling of excitement.

Besides, which man would not like new and fresh things, much less a flirtatious man like Xiang Shaolong.

Lady Pingyuan was sitting on the floor rug with her guards up and after inviting him for a seat, she stared at him angrily and said, “This time we should be able to have a proper conversation!”

Naturally Xiang Shaolong understood her meaning. He was secretly feeling irritated but on the surface he had no choice but to say respectfully, “Lady please give your instructions!”

Lady Pingyuan stared at him again, a look filled with hate and love, but she said icily, “Now that we’re far away from the main road, where are we going actually?”

Xiang Shaolong replied, “The journey has been difficult, Lady must have suffered. We are going to the river’s inlets first, before following the river towards Daliang.”

Lady Pingyuan suddenly sighed and leaned a little closer, saying quietly, “If you… I can make them leave.”

Xiang Shaolong was ecstatic and hurriedly nodded his head in agreement.

Lady Pingyuan dismissed the 2 guards and after staring at him for a moment, she said after some thought, “You really are an exceptionally rare talent. Now no one will disbelieve that you once fought off Hu Hui’s 800 horse thieves with 50 men.”

Xiang Shaolong smiled, “The horse thieves are just a motley crew of men, and it’s easy to win them.”

Lady Pingyuan shook her head, “Some people are born leaders, not only can they make warriors work for them, they can also emerge victorious with their soldiers, never losing. You are one such person.”

Xiang Shaolong has no idea what she is up to again, so he can only humbly accept the compliments.

Lady Pingyuan’s pretty face suddenly blushed and she lowered her head and said, “After passing the river inlets, and about 20 day’s journey towards the southeast, you will reach Pushui, and if continue south down the river, you will reach Fengqiu in 10 days. That city’s general Guan Po is my man, we’ll be out of danger once we reach that place.”

Xiang Shaolong replied, “Your subordinate will definitely follow Lady’s instructions.” He added curiously, “Why is Lady’s tender and smooth face suddenly blushing?”

Lady Pingyuan blushed all the way to her neck and said, “Are you back to your old ways again? Now scram.”

Xiang Shaolong saw that she was embarrassed and he felt pleased. He got up with a grin and with a bow, said, “Your subordinate takes his leave!” But his feet seems to have taken root and did not move at all.

Of course Lady Pingyuan doesn’t really mean to chase him away and seeing that his legs are not moving at all, she asked happily, “Why aren’t you leaving yet?”

Xiang Shaolong smiled evilly, “Isn’t Lady going to give your subordinate a little reward?”

Lady Pingyuan was feeling utterly confused, and after looking at him for a moment, lowered her pretty face.

Xiang Shaolong walked over and knelt down behind her. His hands reached out and with a little pull, this regal lady fell into his arms weakly and once again he managed to enjoy her sweet lips.

This time Xiang Shaolong took it a step further, his 2 hands caressed her bosom.

Lady Pingyuan’s body shook violently as she held his evil-doing hands in a death grip and moaned daintily, “Xiang Shaolong!”

Xiang Shaolong understands very well that the most precious thing is something that cannot be obtained. By luring her bit by bit, is the best way to ensure that she won’t be able to harden her heart to harm him after they reach Daliang. So he stopped moving his hands and after having his fill of kissing her, he left, leaving this beautiful woman to spend the lonely night alone.

For the next 20 odd days, they continued traveling east and passed the inner river and the west river. They passed one of the big cities in Wei, Puyang but did not enter it, choosing to travel south on the official road from Puyang directly to Pushui.

After passing these few days in peace, their scouts once again found traces of their enemies scout, making them aware that danger is once again looming.

They have lots of carriages and horses, and have to repair those faulty carriages often so their pace is as slow as a snail. There’s no way they can throw the enemies off their back so they can only pray that these nameless enemies will not be as formidable as Hu Hui.

By now they are close to Daliang, and there are many official stops along the official road and every 10 li or so they will see the Weis military barracks.

The attitude of the Wei soldiers was strange. After looking at their documents, although they did not try to make things difficult, but they refused to send troops to escort them, so when they reached the end of the official road, they have no choice but to travel east towards Pushui.

3 days later they left the mountain track and reached a large grassy plains on the western bank of Pushui but they need to travel another 2 days before they can reach Pushui.

The huge group stopped at the side of the grass plains.

Xiang Shaolong, Wu Zhuo, Cheng Xu and Zha Yuanyu walked to a side for some discussion, their expressions all somber.

Wu Zhuo said, “The enemies are now aware of our route and military strength but we have no information at all on the enemies that may attack us, which is the biggest fault in military with the enemy in the dark and us in the open.”

Cheng Xu continued, “If the enemies were to attack, they’ll surely do it within these 2 days, because on such flat plains, it’s easier to attack than to defend. The enemies will definitely not miss such a good opportunity.” He continued with a bitter smile, “What I’m most afraid is the King of Wei will order his soldiers to disguise themselves as horse thieves and attack us, then we’ll be in very big trouble.”

Xiang Shaolong furrowed his brows and after thinking hard for a moment, said, “This possibility that Cheng Xu has raised, could very well become a fact. Since that is the case, we cannot just sit and wait for death.”

The 3 of them were all ears as they waited to hear what miraculous plan this brilliant strategist has to save their lives.

Xiang Shaolong said quietly, “We might as well find a sturdy and highland around here with a mountain backing us and start setting up tents and ditches, store up on wild meat and spring water and stay here for half a month or so. On the other hand we’ll send out light cavalry to make their way towards Fengqiu, and beg the defending general Guan Po to send reinforcements. So even if the King of Wei has other nefarious plans, there’s nothing he can do.”

After much hard thinking, everyone decided this is the best plan they can come up with for a desperate situation.

Immediately after that Xiang Shaolong went to look for Lady Pingyuan to discuss the plan and through the bamboo curtains, he told her of the plan and the reason. Lady Pingyuan said quietly, “You’re more experienced than me in this area, you shall decide on everything.”

Xiang Shaolong has never heard her speak so gently and so obediently towards him before and he felt lust arising, so he asked, “Would Lady like me to visit you tonight?”

Lady Pingyuan sighed, “Shall we talk about this after we’ve reached Daliang? My son is already very unhappy that I was alone with you on a few occasions, and now that he is slowly recovering, I don’t want him to get upset over us.”

Xiang Shaolong thought of Prince Shaoyuan and his mood disappeared. He left her carriage and went to inform Lady Ya of the plan and told her to convey the message to Zhao Qian.

After scouting for half a day, they finally find a flat piece of highland with a mountain backing at a stream next to the plains and started setting up camp.

The whole army began busying themselves and at the same time they sent out 20 light cavalry carrying Lady Pingyuan’s handwritten letter with her seal and went to Fengqiu via 10 different routes to ask for assistance.

The process of setting up camp this time is vastly different when compared to the past, with ditches being the main form of defense.

Along the circumference of the highland they dug ditches one foot deep and five feet wide. The soil that was dug out was piled in front of the ditches and stones were added, making it into a short mud wall about half a foot high, with holes in it for the usage of bows and arrows and it was quite sturdy. They then pushed the carts along the inner circle of the wall to fortify the wall against the force of the enemy’s attacks.

Outside of the short wall, the slope was filled with sharpened bamboo stakes and holes to trip the horses. There was danger everywhere to deal with the strong attacks of the enemy.

The long grass and woods surrounding the area were removed to prevent enemies from taking cover amongst them.

The camp itself was set up according to how it’s usually done, in the shape of a crescent moon, with the main tents in the middle and the 6 armies split into both sides, forming a half circle with the front protruding out. The camp and the short wall was more than 3 feet apart so unless the wall has been taken over, the camp will be out of reach of the enemy’s projectiles.

After busying themselves for 3 days, they’ve finally made the camp into one strong in defenses with the ditch on the outside, a rampart on the inside and pikes and holes outside the walls.

In order to prevent the enemy from using fire to attack, Xiang Shaolong dug ditches to connect the stream behind them into the camp. By the time everything was done, 5 days has passed.

That day when Xiang Shaolong was instructing his men to set aside rocks collected from the slope, the scouts returned to report that they found a group of horse thieves close to 10,000 in strength rushing through the flat plains.

Everyone understood in their hearts that this must be the enemy that has been waiting for them a long time in the plains without avail, therefore they could not take it any longer and has come to attack them directly.

And this also proved that their guess was correct. No one will believe that there are no Wei soldiers mixed into the group of enemy.

Although they know that to be the truth, they’re still not sure why the King of Wei would want to be so ruthless, and the only explanation is that Prince Xinling is indeed a threat to his throne and he’s thinking of using this to spoil the relations between Prince Xinling and the Zhaos. As for any other reasons, it something that they will not know. But the King of Wei is well known for being a useless king, so no one will find it strange that he’ll actually do something so ridiculous.

The night passed peacefully and the next day, Xiang Shaolong instructed that besides the soldiers on duty, everyone else were to rest so that they can conserve their energy to deal with the enemy’s attack.

Luckily they have kept a large amount of weapons, rations and arrows from Hui Hu and it’s enough for them to stay besieged for half a month without having to worry about food and arrows.

Another advantage they have is that the enemy will not expect them to build a barricade so reasonably speaking they would not have brought equipment that can deal with barricades, so it will make their job defending much easier.

At dusk, the horse thieves could be seen appearing on the plains and they even set up camp. Obviously there’s going to be a standoff between the 2 armies.

Xiang Shaolong scrutinized his enemy and exclaimed hoarsely, “Look! Isn’t that Hu Hui?”

The others strained their eyes and saw a group of horse thieves riding nearer towards them, and the one leading them is indeed Hu Hui.

Cheng Xu exclaimed furiously, “From what is seen, Hu Hui does belong to the King of Wei and those horse thieves are Wei soldiers in disguise. Their job is to disrupt other state’s financial and political stability. The Weis are really vicious!”

Zha Yuanyu shook his head and sighed, “I really do not understand why his Majesty would want to marry our prettiest princess to the Weis.”

Cheng Xu warned him, “You’d better be careful with your words, if this goes to his Majesty’s ears, you and your tribe will all be in big trouble.”

Zha Yuanyu smiled bitterly, “Let’s talk about it after we survive tonight!”

Xiang Shaolong knows that he has seen that the number of horse thieves are almost 10 times more than their troops and was feeling afraid. From that he can deduce that the others will feel the same as well and morale will definitely be affected. He furrowed his brow and came up with a plan. He told Cheng Xu, “Prepare a round of fire arrows for me, I might be using them tonight.”

After he spoke, he returned to his tent, ignoring their querying looks. He collected his tools and walked towards the back of the camp.

At the area between the camp and the back of the mountain, the mules and horses were separated into 2 huge wooden enclosures, leisurely drinking the clear water redirected from the stream and nibbling on the green grass.

Luckily this is only the beginning of winter, or those animals would be in big trouble if there’s a huge snowstorm.

He lifted his head and studied closely the layout and shape of the cliffs and the nearby mountains and with the metal hooks, easily climbed up. He used a hammer to install the climbing rings that Guo Zhong made for him at the appropriate spots, moving towards the next mountain and attached a rough rope before climbing back to camp. As long as he can climb over the neighboring mountain, he can easily use this ‘secret route’ the drop down to the plains dozen of feet below and proceed with his secret mission.

By the time he returned to the commander’s tent, Cheng Xu came running towards him anxiously and said, “Come and take a look quickly!”

When he returned to the frontline, he saw that the horse thieves at the bottom were all at work, cutting down trees and putting a pile of sharpened stakes about a foot long on the ground in a row.

Wu Zhuo furrowed his brows and asked, “What are they trying to do?”

Xiang Shaolong has an idea on what it could be and exclaimed, “Those are the tools for attacking our mud city. They just have to line those trunks in a row on the slope, then they need not fear the attack from our arrows and rocks.”

Zha Yuanyu exclaimed, “This is a very effective move, they just need to have 3 rows of these together front and back, they need not fear even rolling rocks. Also, this would block our view of them and we won’t be able to see what they’re planning.”

Wu Zhuo laughed icily, “If they want to defeat this thing, they would first have to pay a horrible price.” He continued with a sigh, “If only their strength was halved.”

What he meant was that, even if they sacrificed a lot of men, the remaining strength would still be enough to overrun and enter their barricades.

Xiang Shaolong laughed, “Don’t worry! The enemy made a biggest mistake, and that is to belittle their opponent. Look at their camp, there’s no defenses at all. The rations and horses are just abandoned behind there. If we can give them a good fire, their expressions will be very interesting to watch!”

Wu Zhuo and the rest furrowed their brows, looking at the packed thieves on the small hill below and secretly thought that it’s not them who belittle their opponent, but even a rat will find it difficult to slip out and set a fire to their camp.

Xiang Shaolong just smiled and did not explain any further. He returned to his tent for a rest.

After sleeping for 4 hours, it was dusk by the time he woke up. Lady Ya was waiting there quietly to have dinner with him.

Xiang Shaolong sat up feeling refreshed and after freshening up, he ate 3 big bowls of rice.

Lady Ya looked at him curiously, “It seems that you’re very confident, or else you won’t be so excited and in high spirits? But I cannot think of why you would still be so confident of defeating the enemy this time.”

Xiang Shaolong hugged her and laughed, “Is Ya’er afraid?”

Lady Ya happily kissed him before saying with a smile, “I really am a little afraid without you around, but after seeing you, I’m suddenly fearless. That’s right! Go over to Zhao Qian’s place! She said there’s something she would like to beg of you.”

Xiang Shaolong thought to himself that Zhao Qian is a bigger headache to him compared to the horse thieves.

After this pretty Third Princess dismissed her maids, she came to his side and said shyly, “Xiang Shaolong, can Zhao Qian borrow something from you?”

Xiang Shaolong was asked curiously, “What do you want to borrow?”

Zhao Qian suddenly opened her fair and tender palm and said quietly, “I want your personal dagger which you carry at all times.”

Xiang Shaolong was perplexed, “Do you have so little confident in me? I will definitely send you to Daliang.”

Zhao Qian’s pretty eyes reddened and she stared at him with sadness and hatred before saying, “Zhao Qian does not want you to bring her to Daliang. Everywhere else is fine, but not to Daliang.”

No words other than these can so clearly express the love she felt for Xiang Shaolong.

Hot blood rushed up Xiang Shaolong’s veins and he blurted, “Fine! I promise you, even if I bring you to Daliang, I’ll have a way to bring you back to Zhao whole and unblemished.”

Zhao Qian was shocked, “Really!”

Xiang Shaolong can feel her pretty face light up, filled with hope and he gritted his teeth and replied, “This is a promise!”

After saying this sentence, he felt himself lightening up.

In truth, every since he found out the complicated situation in the Wei royal family, and knowing that the King of Zhao is going to steal the ‘Lu Gong’s Secret Manual’, he felt that he cannot be the accomplice that helps to sacrifice Zhao Qian’s lifelong happiness. Now that he has expressed his stand, that feeling is so great.

Zhao Qian was ecstatic, “Shaolong! Qian’er is really very grateful to you!”

Xiang Shaolong saw that her confidence in him is so much greater than his confidence in himself and felt happy about it. He took out his dagger and shoved it into her tiny hand, taking the chance to hold her soft hands and said, “Unless it’s the last choice available, you must not kill yourself with this dagger.”

Zhao Qian blushed to her neck and held this love token tightly against her chest. She lowered her head and said with love, “Qian’er will listen to Shaolong’s instructions.”

Xiang Shaolong was captivated and was thinking of taking the opportunity to go a little further when the sounds of drums were heard coming from the foot of the mountain.

Looking at the situation at the foot of the mountain, the expression on Cheng Xu and the rest were ashen. Only Wu Zhuo maintained a calm composure.

The thieves had successfully lined the ground with rows of wooden stakes about 2 feet wide and surrounded all routes of escape at the foot of the mountain.

There’s only a small gap in between the tied wooden stakes, only wide enough to allow a single person to pass, and he won’t be able to go through if he’s on a horse.

Lanterns were hung on the top of the stakes, illuminating the slope clearly.

Beyond the wooden stakes about 2000 horse thieves gathered, the 200 men at the forefront carrying a huge wooden shield as tall as a man, it’s ends pointed so that it can be driven into the ground too help block the attacks from falling rocks.

Another 200 odd men carried tools like shovels and hoes and it seems that they are first going to remove the obstructions along the slope and fill up the ditches filled with sharp stakes. Following behind them are 500 archers holding strong bows, and after them came the troops holding long halberds, spears, etc. The formation looked majestic and sends a chill down their spines.

Hui Hu and a few men who looked like leaders were sitting atop their horses, making pointing actions towards them, obviously discussing their plans of attack.

Wu Zhuo pointed to a burly man, who looks like a wolf, next to Hui Hu and said, “That man is called ‘Wolfman’ Li Ao, a famous horse thief who frequents the border along the State of Han. His fame is on par with Hui Hu, and I did not expect that he also belongs to the King of Wei.”

Xiang Shaolong commented, “So it seems that this 10,000 strong troop is made up of different groups of horse thieves, but they’re all men sent by the King of Wei. Humph! I think I understand now, the King of Wei is dealing with us so as to give Prince Xinling a hard blow, but also because there’s a personal grudge involved. Because I once killed a large group of Hui Hu’s men.” He suddenly realized, no wonder at that time Dou Liang would secretly leak news to Hui Hu, and ask Hui Hu to come and steal the horses and women. It’s because they are all spies sent by the King of Wei to stir up trouble at the Zhao border.

Cheng Xu said, “It seems that they will take turns and attack us relentlessly day and night. This will be a long battle which will see who weakens first.”

Zha Yuanyu heaved a cold sigh and said, “Even if reinforcements were to come immediately upon hearing the news, it’ll still take at least 15 days. I’m afraid we can’t even hold them off for 3 days, who would have expect them to be so strong?”

The sounds of drums were heard.

A string of men carrying shields came out from the tiny gaps between the rows of wooden stakes and lined up neatly in front, followed by the soldiers with tools and the archers.

Xiang Shaolong saw that the sky is getting dark and after asking Cheng Xu for the bag of fire arrows that has been wrapped in oiled cloth, instructed them, “All of you will be in charge of defenses here. I’ll go behind enemy lines to burn their rations and chase their horses away, let’s see what great they can still do after that?”

Everyone looked at him in shock, not comprehending how he is going to make his way to the enemy camp.

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