Book 3 Chap 8 – Defending against the enemy with fire
The snow this year came especially late, the grass is still green on the plains and the lakes still sparkling.
This place lies between the main Yellow River and it’s tributaries and the 2 main river splits into hundreds of smaller rivers. The rivers weaved across each other like silver threads, the grass was lush, thick and fragrant and it was a meeting place between the forest grass and dried grass of the plains.
The entourage traveled slowly through this large piece of flat carpet-like grassland.
This is still a place which has not been developed, and only a handful of nomads stayed there. They each have their own lifestyle, like the pretty Baiyi tribe in Zhao, and goes about their own business, not accepting the control of the government.
This place has lots of cows, horses and deer. Traveling past this area, they will see them galloping in the distance or lazily grazing.
But this prehistoric place is also a place where fierce beasts roam.
The more frightening are the wild wolves pack, who kept following in front of behind the troops, not afraid of humans at all.
Xiang Shaolong sent out 10 teams comprising of 5 men each to scout around the area to avoid being ambushed by enemies who might be hiding in the tall grass or the woods.
3 days later, the terrain started to change, with rising and falling hills and wild grass everywhere, greatly slowing their progress.
Xiang Shaolong felt extremely uneasy.
With Xiao Weimou’s evil reputation, if his men are all really good as rumored, he will certainly know that they have battled Hui Hu. At the very least he would have captured some ‘escaped thieves’ and grilled them to find out their whereabouts.
If his deduction is correct, then Xiao Weimou must be following them and waiting for the best time to strike.
But where will they strike?
By noon, the answer appeared finally. It’s a huge mountain diagonally in front of them, and the only way past it is a narrow passage about 3li long.
Xiang Shaolong furrowed his brows deeply on seeing it and was silent for a moment before summoning Cheng Xu, Wu Zhuo and Zha Yuanyu over and said, “If my guess is correct, Xiao Weimou and his men must be waiting for us at that narrow valley.”
Cheng Xu nodded his head, “According to our scout’s report, if there are people lying in ambush on the top of both side of the cliffs, just throwing rocks at us will be enough for all of us to perish.”
Zha Yuanyu said with a miserable look, “This place is dense with grass and trees, if the enemy were to set up a fire upwind, the thick smoke will be enough to suffocate us to death.”
Xiang Shaolong laughed, “Thick smoke can only be used to deal with those who are unprepared. Yuanyu, you will immediately organize all the men to remove all the grass and trees on this side of the mountain and slopes and dig a deep ditch at the bottom of the valley to lure the nearby streams into the ditch to surround the camp. We will join the carriages to face the mountain to protect the camp. At the same time prepare a large amount of clear water in the camp, each camp is to have at least 2 barrels and everyone is to carry with them cloths or handkerchiefs. When there’s thick smoke, soak it in the water and cover the face with it, then they need not fear the choking smoke.”
Zha Yuanyu was about to get to work when Xiang Shaolong called him back again and said, “Tell everyone to remove their armors or it might affect the tasks!”
Zhao Yuanyu left with that order.
After Xiang Shaolong discussed a little further with Cheng Xu and Wu Zhuo, he was about to look for Zhao Ya and Zhao Qian when Prince Shaoyuan appeared hurriedly towards him with a few family warriors and demanded, “Xiang Shaolong! Why are we stopping at such a dangerous place? How are we going to fend against the enemy if they use fire to attack us?”
Xiang Shaolong replied coldly, “You can cross the narrow valley alone if you like! But I won’t be accompanying.”
Prince Shaoyuan’s eyes were burning and after staying silent for a moment, naturally he dared not take the risk so he changed his tune, “Since we can’t enter, then we should retreat to a safer place.”
Wu Zhuo can’t help but interrupt, “The sun will set in 6 hours, and the mountain terrain is difficult to maneuver, if we retreat to a place where we get stuck, we might as well…”
Prince Shaoyuan shouted angrily, “Shut up! A servant like you has no right to interrupt.”
Wu Zhuo’s expression changed and his hand moved to his sword.
Xiang Shaolong put his hand around Wu Zhuo’s shoulder and said with a smile, “Young Master is mistaken, Wu Zhuo is my battle mate, his words are my words.”
Cheng Xu said with a cold smile, “Whoever sounds more reasonable, we will obey that person.”
Prince Shaoyuan was so furious that the color on his face alternated between pale and red, and he left in a huff.
Wu Zhuo said gratefully, “To be able to fight side by side with Young Grand Master-in-law, is the happiest thing in my life.”
Xiang Shaolong patted him warmly before letting go of his hold on his shoulder and looking at the narrow valley, said, “If we can survive tonight, I’m confident that I can deal with Xiao Weimou’s soldiers hiding in ambush above the narrow valley.”
Chang Xu replied, “According to my calculation, Xiao Weimou’s men are certainly not as many as ours, or else they would have attacked us head on long ago when we were traveling.”
They talked a little further before Xiang Shaolong went to see Lady Ya.
Xiao Zhao and the rest had just set up camp and on seeing his arrival, hurriedly paid their respects.
Looking at these pretty young girls, Xiang Shaolong’s spirits lifted and after flirting with them for a moment, he went in to see Lady Ya.
Lady Ya received him warmly and after letting him have his way with her for a while, they sat on the rug and she said, “Shaolong! There are some words that Ya’er must say, please don’t be offended!”
Xiang Shaolong laughed, “You must be wanting to ask me about my relationship with Zhao Qian. Don’t worry! She’s still a virgin.”
Lady Ya replied, “But you have aroused her desires, how can she be willing to marry to Wei, and if so why do we still need to go to Daliang?”
Xiang Shaolong replied nonchalantly, “Naturally it’s to steal ‘Lu Gong’s Secret Manual’!”
Lady Ya exclaimed seriously, “Shaolong!”
Xiang Shaolong stopped smiling and said, “I know you want to say, ‘if Prince Xinling knows that we are going there to steal the manual, he definitely won’t allow us to succeed’, right?”
Lady Ya bit his shoulder in anger, so upset that she could not say a word.
Xiang Shaolong caressed her shoulder and consoled her, “Trust your husband! In this era where everyone is trying to trick everyone else, we can only act according to circumstances. For all you know we can have our cake and eat it too. Hei! It seems like a long time since I was intimate (xin fang = doing intimate things in a room) with you.”
Lady Ya replied coquettishly, “It’s ‘not been intimate in camp’, we don’t have a ‘room’ here.”
Before Xiang Shaolong has a chance to reply, Xiaozi’s voice was heard calling from the outside, “Vice-Commander Cheng invites Master Xiang to come out immediately!”
Xiang Shaolong sighed and told Lady Ya, “It must be that fellow Prince Shaoyuan who has gotten into trouble again.”
As expected, Prince Shaoyuan has summoned his family warriors and was determined to have his own way and retreat from this mountain on his own.
By the time Xiang Shaolong arrived, Lady Pingyuan was trying to persuade her beloved son to abolish the idea.
When Prince Shaoyuan saw Xiang Shaolong, he got even more furious and exclaimed irritably, “I am not going to sit and die with others. There are forests all around this place, we’re in the open while the enemy is in hiding, how long can we defend ourselves? Only a fool who knows nothing about military matters will do such a stupid thing which is akin to committing suicide.”
Lady Pingyuan replied angrily, “What right do you have to criticize others? Can you defeat Hui Hu’s huge army? That day when Hui Hu was attacking, besides hiding in your tent, what outstanding things have you done.”
Prince Shaoyuan did not expect his mother to embarrass him in public and he nodded his head and said, “Fine! Now you’re totally siding with an outsider, and turned around to deal with your own son. From today onwards, I don’t have a mother like you.”
Lady Pingyuan gave him an angry slap and with her body shaking, exclaimed, “Say that again one more time!”
Prince Shaoyuan cupped the side of his cheek that was slapped, his eyes filled with viciousness and alternated between looking at her and Xiang Shaolong before saying frostily, “Now that you have a lover, why do you still need a son like me!” He raised his voice and cried out, “Children! Those who still want to stay alive, come with me.”
Lady Pingyuan was so furious her face paled and she cried out, “No one is allowed to follow him. I am still in charge of this family, since when is it his turn to talk.”
The family warriors all kept quiet, but everyone knows that no one will take the risk with Prince Shaoyuan.
Lady Pingyuan looked at Prince Shaoyuan coldly and said, “If you do not come and kowtow to me and admit your mistake, you can forget about expecting my forgiveness.” She humphed and returned to her camp.
Xiang Shaolong did not even bother to take a look at the stoned Prince Shaoyuan, but just gave the orders, “Those who really want to live, get to work immediately.”
All the family warriors uttered their reply and ignoring Prince Shaoyuan, went about chopping trees and cutting grass.
The others all dispersed, leaving only Prince Shaoyuan standing all alone there, helpless.
The sun was setting, the earth getting dark, the freezing wind blowing from the northwestern direction.
Xiang Shaolong’s army was all on the alert, waiting with their weapons. Only a few lamps were lighted in the camp and the scene was miserable and cold.
Xiang Shaolong, Cheng Xu and Wu Zhuo were sitting on a carriage, which surrounded the camp, looking at the movements around them.
The sound of something hard dropping was heard from the other side of the mountain.
The three of them immediately perked up.
They’ve finally confirmed the presence of the enemy, confirmed Xiang Shaolong’s analysis.
The sound of something falling came because the enemy ran into the horse-tripping ropes they put up.
It must be known that before this moment, whether there really is an enemy out there is still an unknown, with no facts to support that point. They only deduced that if there is an enemy out there, then they must be hiding in the narrow valley. This place still belongs to the Weis after all, so Xiao Weimou will have to work speedily and attack the camp in the cover of the night.
If they have to attack at night, this kind of place is most advantageous to attack with fire, and to attack with fire they must first position themselves upwind. Therefore their enemy will certainly have to leave the narrow valley and go to another mountain, which faces them at the other side of the camp.
So based on this point, they laid down horse tripping ropes in the wilderness on both sides of the camp. If the enemy were to trip and fall and make some noise, they would be able to know the position of the enemy even in the darkness.
Sounds of things dropping and quiet groans were heard.
Xiang Shaolong laughed loudly and shouted, “Xiao Weimou, you’ve been tricked! Release the arrows!”
Lamps were lighted in the camp, hundreds of fire arrows were shot high into the air, aiming towards the side and the entrance of the narrow valley, leaving only a clear spot upwind.
The flames burned all around as the dry woods caught fire rapidly, and the wind blew the flames and smoke towards the narrow valley, surrounding the enemies who came under the cover of the night with flames. It turns out that Xiang Shaolong has already ordered his men to splash oil on the woods so that it will burn once it catches fire.
Thick smoke rose up, most of them blown towards the narrow valley, with only a little smoke floating towards their camp.
Everyone hurriedly dampened their cloths and covered their noses and mouths with it.
Screams and groans were heard, the enemy is helpless and did not expect Xiang Shaolong to strike first and use fire to attack them instead.
The entrance to the valley has been blocked by the huge fire and the enemies who were in hiding around the camp has no choice but to take the risk and attack the camp.
The Zhao soldiers saw that their commander’s eccentric plans have worked again and morale was greatly boosted. In unison, they all rushed over and started shooting arrows at the enemies who were making their way up the slope.
Without any cover for protection and hindered by the dark smoke, the enemies fell one by one and only 10 odd enemies managed to past the flooded ditch that surrounded the camp but all of them perished at the slope.
The outcome of the battle is certain.
Xiang Shaolong saw that even in such dire circumstances, their enemies were still fierce and swift and was secretly thanking his good luck. If it’s a head on attack, he may be able to win but he will certainly suffer heavy losses on his side as well. The situation would not be so easy like now. Obviously intellect and bravery must work hand in hand, neither one can be missing.
By now the surrounding forests were all in flames and the fire burned high into the sky, ancient trees falling one by one, swallowed by the fire, increasing the magnificence of the scene.
Thick black smoke traveled into the narrow valley and the fire followed close behind.
The enemy was forced by the fire to launch an attack and some of them have already become inferno men even before then rush out, and they will die even without the arrows shooting them.
What was originally a picturesque wilderness has now become hell on earth.
Screams and cries kept coming out from the scene of the fire, the shouts shattering the sky.
Blood flowed like the river along the slope and ditch.
By dawn, the perimeter up to 10 li away all became charred soil, the fire was still burning far away but has weakened greatly by now.
Xiang Shaolong with his marvelous plan managed to take care of the enemy without losing a single man, and without even knowing what Xiao Weimou looks like. As the saying goes, ‘those who are adept in battles, will have outstanding outcomes.’
Corpses lined the area after the fire and according to their calculation, almost a thousand men were burned or shot.
It’s just that they do not know if Xiao Weimou is one of the dead.
Xiang Shaolong led a team personally to the narrow valley to make sure that there’s no enemy left before letting the others set off immediately, leaving this horrendous place which now looks like hell.
After passing the narrow valley and traveling northeast for about 4 hours, the group reached the western bank of Pushui.
This part of the river was filled with more rocks than mud, so the water was very clear.
After few li down north, a clear and sparkling huge lake appeared in front of them, with lush plants growing around it and huge eagles, wild ducks and kingfishers flying about. With the blue sky and white clouds as backdrop, it formed a very enchanting scene.
After working hard for one whole night, everyone was in high spirits on reaching this place and immediately set up camp next to the lake and started preparing dinner.
The soldiers were casting nets and catching fishes, and it feels as if they are on a holiday instead.
Lady Ya was suddenly in the mood and ordered someone to put up curtains at a corner of the lake and started bathing and playing in the clear water. In the end even Zhao Qian, Cui Tong and Cui Lü couldn’t withstand the temptation and joined them, their eyes filled with endless joy and fun.
Xiang Shaolong sat lazily on a huge rock next to the lake, admiring the view of the lake and mountains, looking at the endless green grass, with the lake's water clear and green with the reflection of the trees, feeling extremely intoxicated.
The soldiers were enjoying themselves too, stripping themselves naked and jumping into the lake and swimming languidly. After going through so much shocking events, no one can blame them for letting loose now.
As Xiang Shaolong was sharing their joy, Lady Pingyuan’s voice rang out gently behind him, “Shaolong, why aren’t you swimming as well?”
Xiang Shaolong turned his head around and smiled, “If Lady is willing to frolic with me in the water, your subordinate will gladly oblige.”
Lady Pingyuan’s pretty face blushed slightly and sat down next to him before sighing sadly, “My opinion of you is getting higher and higher. If you were in charge of the battle of Chang Ping, I can guarantee that the 400,000 who died would not be the Zhaos but the Qins, and the whole situation would have been different.”
Xiang Shaolong leaned over, touching her shoulder, smelling her fragrance and said humbly, “Lady you flatter me, it’s just a small victory, nothing to talk about.” He paused and asked, “How is Prince Shaoyuan?”
Lady Pingyuan’s face turned icy and she said through clenched teeth, “Don’t talk about that useless beast.” She sighed helplessly, and was silent.
Xiang Shaolong was shocked, “Does he dare not to kowtow to you and apologize?”
Lady Pingyuan turned her head around and looked at him deeply and said, “What’s the use of kowtowing and apologizing? I’ve never been satisfied with my late husband, and now this beast is even worse than him.” She lowered her head and said with a blush, “Shaolong! Can you give me a child, as long as he is half like you, I’ll be very satisfied.”
Xiang Shaolong was initially startled, then he was ecstatic and said, “It’s only at this time that I really do not feel any enmity Lady has towards me.”
Lady Pingyuan’s pretty face blushed more crimson as she replied quietly, “You earned this with your capability. After seeing your almost divine tactics time and again, I no longer wish to be your enemy.”
Xiang Shaolong reached out and held her wrist, asking, “Do you want to become my woman?”
A look of helplessness came over Lady Pinyuan as she sighed quietly, “Now I no longer wish to hide anything from you. For my return to Wei this time, it’s been arranged that I’ll re-marry a general who has control of the military, this is a fact that cannot change. You… will you blame me?”
Xiang Shaolong was relieved instead. In reality he only has lust and not feelings for this woman, and only harbored the feeling of having fun with her. On one hand he will use this to take revenge against Prince Shaoyuan for causing the death of Su Nu, and it’s also a way to stay alive, so how can he blame her. Of course he had to pretend to be sad and extremely disappointed on the surface.
The alarm sound went off.
Xiang Shaolong looked over in shock, and saw on the flat lands in the distance, a troop of horses and men were running towards them.
Lady Pingyuan’s hands gripped his tightly and said ecstatically, “The reinforcements from the pass are here.”