Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
As he stood near the luxury carriage, an arrow tore through a bodyguard's chest, the young man with whiskers, then, fell to the ground clutching his bleeding chest.
The moment Ning Que shouted out "enemies attack", the well-trained Princess's bodyguard reacted immediately. The bodyguard bravely jumped onto the shaft and blocked the window of Her Highness's carriage. He didn't know where the arrow was aimed, but he knew Her Highness in the carriage must be the first target choice for enemies, and he would never let her be in danger.
What the brave bodyguard thought was right, which, however, was at the sacrifice of his young life.
"Protect Her Highness!"
Suddenly, bodyguards roared furiously and shockingly.
Countless arrows were swishing from the deep of the wood like a storm, loud enough to muffle the sound of the wind, and making the place a danger zone.
Though Ning Que kept a distance from the surrounding fleet, he laid down the moment the bows snapped. He even remembered to push down Sangsang and the maidservant, both of whom followed him to see what happened from the tent.
He fell down to the ground with a plump, but it was lucky that layers of layers of rotted leaves and pine needles for leaves accumulated through hundreds of years in Northern Mountain Road served as a large cushion and relieved his pain when hitting on the ground. Face against cold leaves, Ning Que listened carefully to the dense sound of arrows whooping ahead and several ones passing above his head, doing a quick calculation of the number of arrows and archers.
At the entrance of Northern Mountain Road were waves of annoyed and nervous voices. Some bodyguards were shouting to organize a defense, some calling out to make orders, and some screaming for backup. Among them, the sound of putting up shields was clear. Those giant shields made by planks from the carriage were inserted deep to the edge of the shaft, which obviously they helped a lot.
Arrows were deeply inserted in those crude shields with thuds like the pounding of war drums, but much denser and more terrible. Once in awhile, a bodyguard might give a grunt when he was shot by an arrow through the tiny space between shields. Since the horses didn't compare to those of the warriors of Tang Empire, they painfully fell down and rolled on the ground with a neigh of despair.
A din of arrows whooshing, shields cracking, men grunting and horses neighing was enveloping the camp, which just seconds ago, was filled with laughter and sunshine. But later, it became a total hell.
An arrow hit into the mud inches ahead of Ning Que. Dirt and small pieces of rock splashed his face, making it red here and there. But, his expression did not change. He laid flat on rotten leaves and pine needles in stillness. He eyed the spaces between the leaves over that arrow in front of him and then south down the Northern Mountain Road.
Instead of ambushing the fleet in dense wood or taking them by surprise at night, the foes chose to start an attack as they just settled down at the entrance of Northern Mountain Road, which was beyond Ning Que's expectation although he has got natal instinct to danger since young.
At dusk, they were going to meet Gushan Commandery's troops. They would come to help when people in the fleet would easily get lax and turn slack. That hit the spot for the enemy.
Vaguely noticing numerous figures at both sides of Northern Mountain Road and based on his previous calculation of thick arrows, Ning Que inferred there were approximately sixty enemies.
Sixty was not a surprising number. After all, they were in the territory of Tang and their target was a princess who was beloved by the emperor. If they intended to keep it a secret before or after this action, they were not allowed to command real troops but had to chose those faithful suicide soldiers.
Though the number of those suicide soldiers couldn't be large, Ning Que clearly knew it that it was not the number of persons but the quality of fighters that could determine who would survive in a battle. A team consisting of fierce and fearless fighters was most terrifying.
When bigwigs of Empire planned such a shocking assassination, it was likely for him to involve cultivators in his team apart from their suicide men. Thinking of possible combat he might watch today in this place, Ning Que raised a kind of excitement he couldn't describe and sensed a sort of terror he has never had.
"What bad luck," he murmured and turned his sight to the maidservant beside him. Except for a trace of panic and puzzle in her eyes in the very beginning, she did nothing wrong and calmed down quickly, which won a silent praise from Ning Que in his heart.
Enemies from both sides of woods crowded in. Those men dressed in grey military uniform of the Tang Empire didn't wear any mask or veil. Brandishing identical broadswords in hand, they dashed like a pack of wolves. Since they didn't cover their identity, obviously, this battle would not end until people on one side were totally swept off the world.
Since they were in grassland, valiant barbarians around the fleet were Horse Gang under the command of the princess. The storm of arrows aroused pugnacity in the fighters. Some set their crossbows to shoot swiftly, while others drew curved swords their waists with a battle cry.
Blades clanged at the entrance of Northern Mountain Road. In the chaos of grunts and cries, men were killed, bellies stabbed and throats cut open. Blood spouted from their bodies like fountains and painted the leaves red.
This battle became violent the moment it began. No one retreated, however, no one turned back to escape. After all, great courage to bleed and a strong will to fight mattered more than techniques of killing them.
Barbarians from grassland were proficient in archery. Calm and brave, they gained the upper hand over rushing enemies. People in wood fell down now and then, so Barbarians charged in return with bellows and gradually control places around the fleet. Tough and valiant as they were, Barbarians chose to guard their places rather than march blindly.
Absolutely, Barbarians adopted correct tactics, at least from Ning Que's perspective. Therefore, it puzzled him that the maidservant's facial expression grew grave and blue as if she were concerned about something.
In fact, those courageous grassland Barbarians had never experienced that particular kind of clash` in Central Plains. Considering this, she intended to make a sudden rise and give commands to them.
Ning Que would not allow her to expose herself and lead both Sangsang and him into an awful situation. He clenched his right hand to hit her leg, which hence knocked her down.
"Hey! You! What!"
Glaring at his eyes, the maidservant slowly reached her right hand to her waist.
Ning Que focused his attention on the battle and ignored her question. When he noticed the scene in the fleet, something occurred to him that made him quiver.
Fierce killing at the entrance of Northern Mountain Road was still on, but a weird tranquility covered the fleet. Less than a score of guards from an elite troop of Tang, who must have accompanied the princess when she married into the grassland, were all down on one knee like statues.
In front of a carriage sat an elder dressed in a worn robe, eyes closed. Protected by circles of bodyguards, he faced deep in the wood which was increasingly gloomy and dark.
Nervously, Ning Que licked his numb lips and reached his hand to Sangsang. He didn't know when his palms had sweated heavily, making his hands moist.
Sangsang took a glance at him and handed him the bow. Then, she mutely undid the big black umbrella on her back and quietly placed it on fallen leaves beside her.
Killings were still on. The fleet was in the middle of the three prostate on leaves and the battlefield. Battles between Barbarians and suicide soldiers seemed not to affect them right away. Nonetheless, Ning Que was in anxiety he has never met before and his palms and brow continuously sweat.
Those stone-like bodyguards beheld the wood icily, with calmness and fortitude on their sunburnt faces. They are alerted but not dreaded.
They came from Yulin Royal Guards in Chang'an and were picked up to accompany Princess Li Yu into grassland when she married. No doubt that they were among the most elite members of the troop. In this battle, however, at the entrance of Northern Mountain Road, their performance was a little bit unusual.
When storms of arrows attacked them from the obscure and dark places deep in the woods, they responded quickly by falling in around the defensive formation and hid silently behind shields. When opponents flocked to kill them, they maintained their postures in stillness, regardless of violent fights and killings around them.
Occasionally, one of the grassland Barbarians of their side might be killed all of a sudden right under their nose. Once in a while, dead bodies might bump into shields with thuds. They maintained their postures without even a wink and kept gazing glacially at the woods with both heart and body as sturdy as iron or rock.
Down on one knee, the bodyguards dressed in cotton clothes from edges of which parts of armor could vaguely be seen. They bent their hands toward their backs and clenched the hilts of their broadsword which stuck out. They had two carriages closely surrounded and kept staring forward with poker faces.
One of the two carriages was luxurious and creepy silent. And in front of the other carriage, the only elder in the fleet sat with legs crossed and eyes closed. He placed a sword upon his knees to feel at ease. The sheath was shabby and frayed, just like the robe he wore.
It seemed that poker-faced bodyguards around the elder couldn't see fierce fighting and hear any cries. Only when one or two enemies were about to intrude their territory did one of them pulled out a broadsword and joined others in the killing.
Being outnumbered helplessly, the guard who dashed out alone was quickly injured and kept on fighting bravely with blood covering him. Nevertheless, other bodyguards were not disturbed at all. They refused to be a little further from the elder and remained to stay with him in tranquility. It appeared that even their eyelash didn't move.
Ning Que had no idea why bodyguards behaved like this or what was hidden in the dark woods. They stared alertly, but he was sure there would be something extremely horrible.
He thought that he could guess what would happen. A splendid new cold world would be unveiled and come to reality, which made him exceedingly nervous. It was a horrid feeling for him so he rubbed the bowstring with the index finger and middle finger, silently and constantly. A moment later, his breath marvelously slowed down and expressions on his face appeared more steady and composed.
An air of repression emerged due to unspecified terror when they waited. Abruptly, fierce fighting around the fleet as well as clanging blades seemed to disappear.
Right at this tense moment, the window of the luxurious carriage was pushed open and a young beautiful girl reached out with her bun loosening a bit, her face appeared worried.
Before she could say something, the poker-faced leader of bodyguards whispered, "Take care, Your Highness!" and swiftly closed the window to block her eyesight. His facial expression showed he was respectful and cautious, but his action appeared rude, which probably resulted from the tense situation.