Book 20 Chapter 2 – Chatting and Joking About Troop Deployment
Sure enough, just like the two boys’ expected, as soon as the fake news about alliance with Li Zitong and the borrowed provisions spread out, Yuwen Huaji’s twenty-thousand-man main force immediately advanced at full speed toward Liangdu’s northern city gate, so that its vanguard arrived within two days, and immediately built rampart, dug moat, setup camp, and constructed outposts at the front line.
From the peak of a tall tree, about three zhang high, on top of a hill some distance away, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked down at the plainly visible enemy situation.
Kou Zhong said, “Stopping is to build a camp, moving is to form troop disposition. This army camp has water source, which is also a risk to defend, to attain good grip over the enemy and self’s solid objective. It can clearly be seen that our opponent this time are big and small officers under Yuwen Huagu’s command with enough battle experience; absolutely must not be underestimated.”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling nodded his head in praise. On the surface, Kou Zhong seemed to be a careless person [orig. thick stems and broad leaves], giving out the impression as one who was easily pleased that he loses his sense of measure. However, he was actually cool-headed, prudent and cautious; he would not make the mistake of offending his superior or underestimating the enemy.
To pitch a camp, the most important thing is the location. Currently the enemy setup their fort on a high place, on the slope of a hill, facing a flat land neighboring a forest. In term of defense, this camp was strictly according to the rules, which was another proof that they were not a mob.
Kou Zhong did not dare to take this issue lightly, which was precisely the fundamental prerequisite to become an outstanding commander.
“What does Mr. Lu’s secret book say about this situation?” Xu Ziling casually asked.
Kou Zhong replied, “The important thing in setting up a stronghold is peaceful camp, restful men and beasts, cautious defense, strict camp gate, facility to treat ill soldiers, device to check the army, adequate fire alarm, preparation against disturbance and calamity, clear communication of duties, cherishing the water source and grass, dusk to dawn bugle calls, lighting arrangement, protection against rain and darkness, night security, checking the visitors, avoid water attack, and so on. Is that enough?”
Listening to him casually reciting so many important aspects in setting up the camp, Xu Ziling said in surprise, “You have quite an understanding of what you read.”
Proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, “This is called achievement of diligence, also called cramming too hard just before the battle. But if you look at it, don’t you feel that in term of location, although this camp is solid, but it is far. If they are going to transport besieging equipment from here to the city wall, before they even arrive, they would have tire the mules and the horses half dead; it is not practical at all.”
While making a careful observation around, Xu Ziling laughed and said, “You, this kid, are starting to acquire a little skill! Yuwen Clan deployed their men and generals, they setup their camp like this must be for his mother’s reason; is it possible that its principal usage is for storing provisions and treating injured soldiers? In addition, this is more their rear area, with the main purpose is to provide support to the frontline combat camp.”
Delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Great minds think alike. It could be said that this provision station is the foundation of Yuwen Huagu’s main forces going south this time. But since it is far behind the frontline, they won’t have to worry that we might get out of the city to attack it. Therefore, the defense will inevitably rather weak. If we coordinate with Xuan Yong’s ambushing troops to attack his mother that they are caught unprepared, we would already have half of the victory in our bag. Ha! This battle does not seem to be that difficult.”
Focusing his power to his eyes, Xu Ziling looked at the situation of the enemy’s camp, and spoke heavily, “You seem to think too easily. This camp has the mountain behind it as the natural defense, outside there are moats all around, inside there are barriers. If they also had some pits with sharp bamboo, caltrops, and the likes as defensive measures, plus the rampart has earthen wall, equipped with strong crossbow, and then they also arrange sentries all around, widespread alarm system, plus Yuwen Guan’s numerous martial art masters, do you think that as soon as you say you are going to attack you will be able to attack?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “You seem to forget that what Mr. Lu, the Senior, was most formidable in was not the art of war, but in the design and manufacture of exquisite equipment. In his book he listed in details more than a dozen kinds of different method to break a stronghold, saying that breaking a fort is just like breaking a city. Breaking a city needs cloud ladders, battering rams, and crashing vehicles. Breaking a stronghold also needs vehicles. As long as we can open one or two gaps, and the enemy troops are not too strong, then breaking a fort should be as easy as a hand’s turn.”
Frowning, Xu Ziling asked, “And where can we get the vehicles from?”
Kou Zhong replied, “From refitting the existing vehicles. Xuan Yong is in charge of this. Xiaodi has mastered Lu Miaozi’s handed-down techniques; at least it’s like half of Sun Wu [Sun Tzu] came back to life. Yuwen Huagu is dropping by like this, if I didn’t lead away a goat in passing [to take advantage of a crisis for personal gain] by stealing his provisions, stealing his horses, angering him until he vomits blood, how could I live for Niang? Don’t worry! I understand your filial piety!”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling did not know whether he should laugh or cry, while at the same time he was secretly anxious for Kou Zhong’s enemies.
Kou Zhong was a genius in military tactics and strategies; during the various battles earlier, he had used unusual methods, and now he even understood battle machines, designed by Lu Miaozi, that can be used to deal with all kinds of situation, inside out [orig. ripe as a melon that rolls from its vine]. Once he managed to assemble a group of well-trained elite warriors, who in the world would be able to resist this military power? Perhaps even Li Shimin would have to suffer defeat.
Currently, what he lacked was precisely this group of elite force, and the ‘Duke Yang’s Treasure’.
“But the top priority right now,” Kou Zhong continued, “is not to break the stronghold, but to steal arrows. You ought to know that our supply of arrows in the city will last less than half a sichen. And when that happens, we could only rely on boiling oil, boiling water, and rocks; which would not last too long either.”
Xu Ziling was stunned, “How do we steal arrows?” he asked.
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “Not stealing, but re-enacting Kong Ming’s [Zhuge Liang] borrowing arrows skill. We send them fake arrows, they shoot us real arrows. Won’t it be so profitable?”
Pointing to the Tongji Canal flowing on his left, he said, “Our spies reported back that Yuwen Huagu’s main force will arrive tonight. I already sent men to hide more than a hundred fast boats full of dummies tied onto them in the forest on the opposite bank. By the time his troops arrive, we’ll launch the fast boats into the river, and sail downstream. Each boat will only have three men in it; one man to steer the boat, two men to release bamboo arrows, while at the same time we’ll dispatch troops to feign an attack. In his distress, Yuwen Huagu will have no choice but to send some arrows for us to use. Just consider it the appetizer before the main course is served.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Now even I am a bit confident that you might win this battle.”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys, on their horseback, stood side-by-side on top of a small slope, gazing into the distance, at the spectacular scene of millions of dots of torches snaking their way along the prairie right next to Tongji Canal.
Kou Zhong laughed quietly and said, “I was right in saying that in order to reduce the possibility of being attacked, Yuwen Huagu would travel along the river; who would have thought that he is doing exactly what I was thinking?”
Xu Ziling looked up at the moonless and starless night sky; he said, “Your fake alliance and fake provisions tactic has worked, otherwise Yuwen Huaji can’t possibly urge his troops to travel even at night, which is giving us the opportunity that we can exploit.”
Kou Zhong took a deep breath and said, “It’s time!”
Finished speaking, he raised his hand to the sky. A rocket immediately soared and exploded into blazing fireworks high in the sky, brightening the murky, cloud-covered night sky.
Instantly battle cry rose up from the direction of Liangdu, followed by dots of torches casting their light on the enemy. It appeared to be an awe-inspiring display of military prowess. But the fact was that each person was holding two torches, without holding any weapon or wearing any armor, plus a whole bunch of ordinary citizens holding short bows and fake arrows coming out to put up a show.
At first glance, it appeared that nearly ten thousand men came out of the nearby hill and forest north of Lingdu to launch a surprise attack toward the enemies invading their territory.
Riding behind Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were nearly two hundred riders, consisted of Peng Liang Hui men whose horsemanship and martial art skill were the best, exhausting all the horses within the city of Liangdu, forming the only cavalry they had.
Far away ahead, the enemy’s torches near the tail of the line were starting to turn chaotic, but the front and the middle of the line were still in order.
Kou Zhong turned to Xu Ziling and said with a laugh, “This move was not taught by Linglong Jiao; it is called ‘observing the torches’ method. Evidently this second batch of Yuwen Army’s 5,000 men consisted of new and old troops, good and bad intermingled; the tail must be new recruits. We’ll give them a sudden and violent attack to clip their tail first; I guarantee we’ll occupy the advantageous position.”
The long fiery dragon of the torches separated and stopped; apparently the enemy was putting up battle array to deal with the enemy.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling clamped their horses’ belly, and led the 237 riders along the predetermined route through the jungle, across the prairie, charging toward the enemy’s rear.
Another rocket burst open in the sky with a loud noise.
Battle cry sprang up everywhere from the direction of the river and canal, more than a hundred light boats and speedboats filled with dummies rushed downstream, several hundred fiery arrows, made of bamboo with cloth dipped in oil wrapped around its tip, streaked across the empty air of the river bank, toward the enemy marching in the direction of Liangdu.
All the real fighters on the boats were hiding behind wooden board to block the arrows, letting the dummies dressed in soldier uniform to take the arrows.
The long grass of the forest and prairie along the bank started to catch fire, so that the enemy believed they were caught between two fires; immediately they were thrown into confusion. Especially the rear of the line.
Kou Zhong shouted his order; pulling a shield with his left hand, he urged his horse to charge at full speed toward the enemy’s rear.
The two boys switched to using long spears, long-reaching weapons which were beneficial to be used in battle on horseback, fighting at the head of the troops, passing through the sparse forest, blocking a dozen or so arrows that were occasionally shot toward them, breaking into the enemy ranks.
The riverbank was full of individual torches running away for their lives, while the water was full of light boats, continuously increasing the intensity of the light; certainly it appeared as a terrifying momentum.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s two spears were like a pair of dragons coming out of the sea, stabbing, slashing, sweeping and striking; everywhere they went, one after another the enemies fell to the ground.
This particular unit of Yuwen Huaji’s army was exclusively made of infantry; their responsibility was to transport army provisions and other supplies using covered military wagons. They had been shocked and scared by the false bravado of the earlier pincer attack from front and rear, and now that they saw the enemy’s cavalry charging in with imposing manner like a rainbow, and they had guessed correctly that the leaders were Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong, whose names shook the heavens, momentarily their soul flew away, and could never think that the enemy was only a little more than two hundred men. Unexpectedly they dispersed with a fight, and fled to all directions.
Everybody was greatly delighted. Under Kou Zhong’s direction, some pursued the enemy, while others burned the carts.
Amidst the thundering hoof beats, several hundred enemy riders were charging along the riverbank.
With his sharp eyes, Kou Zhong saw that the leader was their old acquaintance, Yuwen Wudi [see Book 4, Chapter 5]. Laughing aloud, he said, “Wudi Xiong, I trust you have been well since we last met; Xiongdi [I, your brother] has to leave!”
Leading his men, he hurriedly galloped back into Liangdu.
This battle not only let them borrow several tens of thousands of arrows, they also managed to burn a large quantities of the enemy’s siege equipment and army provisions. The most important result was that it greatly aroused the morale of troops and citizens of the city, and greatly increasing their confidence in the two boys. The loss to their side was minimal, while the enemy suffered heavy casualties.
Even the two boys did not expect such a splendid military victory.
When they entered the city, Ren Meimei-led soldiers and civilians were lining the street, their cheer shook the entire city, as they made a pledge to go through honor and disgrace, and life and death, together with the two boys.
As for the Yuwen Army, who was returning back to the north that very same day, killing and looting along the way, nobody did not gnash their teeth in anger.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stood on top of the northern city wall, looking into the distance at the Yuwen Army’s camp being built about a li outside the city.
Xu Ziling said indifferently, “Yuwen Huagu will need at least two more days to set up camp on four sides of the city and complete their besieging potential. These two days are enough for us to accomplish a lot of things.
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “The most important thing is still robbing their army provisions. Last night we burned a large amount of Yuwen Wudi’s vanguard army’s provisions, he must replenish his supply from the rear camp. This will be the good opportunity for our light cavalry to launch a surprise attack to snatch their provisions.”
And then he sighed and said, “If I had a team of elite troops like Li kid’s Black-Armored Elite Cavalry, that would be 100% ideal.”
Xu Ziling’s spirit was moved, he said, “Do you remember in the early days in Yangzhou we saw Sui Dynasty’s cavalry in full battle attire and heavy armor? Even their horses appeared impenetrable by blades and arrows. What a formidable air! But how come they were unmasked, beaten and fled at the mere sight of the enemy, were utterly defeated by poorly equipped militias lacking of armor, weaponry and warhorses?”
Kou Zhong mumbled his response, “That must be because they lost the people’s support, their morale went down the hill!”
Xu Ziling said, “That was indeed the main reason; but it also proves that full-armored and heavily-equipped cavalry is outdated long ago. For example, if the troops under your command were such a heavy cavalry, how could you rush in time toward the rear of the enemy’s line and cut off their supply? Now is the rise of large number of field infantry, combined with cavalry donning light armor for sudden and violent attack. This kind of tactic is the most flexible, and Li kid is the expert in using this kind of equipment and combat style.”
Kou Zhong said, “I don’t know if this has something to do with my character, but I always love the combat style where we rely mainly on light cavalry; because cavalry can turn into infantry at any time, whereas infantry cannot turn into cavalry. In term of agility, it is also a tad more superior.”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “You cannot forget the sweet taste of victory at the battle of Yanshi! But what you said is not without any reason.”
Kou Zhong stretched out his limbs and said, “Can you guess, after I put Yuwen Huagu in order, what is it that I am eager to do?”
Xu Ziling shook his head, indicating he had no idea.
Kou Zhong’s pair of tiger eyes shot expectant expression; he said, “I will think of a way to gather a group of blacksmith and artisans, day and night incessantly manufacture the siege equipment that Lu Miaozi designed, and use them to recapture Jingling. With Jingling in my hands, Xiangyang will be within my grasp.”
Before Xu Ziling had time to respond, Ren Meimei, taking a thirty-something man, slim, covered in dust from head to toe, came to the two boys’ presence and said, “This is our Ren Hall’s Xiangzhu, Luo Qifei, known as the ‘Devil’s Shadow’. He has been following the trail of Yuwen Huaji’s main forces, spying on the enemy’s real situation along the way, so it is only now that he arrived here.”
The two boys looked over. Although this man had nothing special to look at – he looked like a typical local peasant, but his hands and feet were especially long, his eyes full of spirit; evidently he was a man whose brains and skill were extremely nimble and quick.
Kou Zhong asked, “Has Yuwen Army’s main force arrive?”
Luo Qifei saluted respectfully, and then replied, “They should be arriving around nightfall. The entire army numbers thirteen thousand men, under Yuwen Huaji and Yuwen Zhiji, two men’s command, divided into center army, left and right Yu and Hou, and rear army, four units in total. Among those, three thousand are archers, both regular bows and crossbows, one thousand men are cavalry, and the rest are infantry.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were both emotionally moved, not because of the size of Yuwen Army, but because of this man’s confidence in the way he talked, and the meticulous, down to the smallest detail, intelligence.
Luo Qifei continued, “Apparently due to the disastrous defeat against Li Mi, the cavalry of Yuwen Army are using long bow, instead of bow decorated with animal horns [orig. corner bow (角弓)], so they can be easily identified.”
The two boys looked at each other with blank expression on their faces.
Ren Meimei said, “Qifei used to be Sui general, his specific duty in the army was equipment management, hence he is very knowledgeable in this area.”
Luo Qifei explained, “Long bows are intended to be used by the infantry; most are made of mulberry tree branches. Cavalry ought to use composite bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composite_bow], comparatively smaller than longbow, very convenient to be used on horseback. Therefore, the Yuwen Army cavalry using longbows must be because they have no choice due to the corner bows shortage.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Such a knowledgeable intelligence gatherer like Luo Xiong must be very rare.”
Ren Meimei laughed and said, “Qifei not only has superior qinggong, he is also a master in the art of disguise. A man like him being a spy, naturally he is more outstanding than anybody.”
Luo Qifei said, “Two Daye must not address Xiaoren as Luo Xiong, you may call me by my name. Later on Qifei will disregard life and death in obeying two Daye’s order. Whatever instruction you have for me, just let me know.”
Xu Ziling asked, “In Qifei’s opinion, what is Yuwen Army’s real strength?”
Luo Qifei replied, “Except for the four-thousand-man Center Army, the rest are inadequately trained new army recruits. If I am guessing correctly, they will start attacking before dawn tomorrow.”
Kou Zhong was stunned, “That quick?” he asked.
Luo Qifei replied, “Because starting from last night, every time they pitch camp to rest, the corps of engineering took turn to spruce up their siege equipment. If they were not going to besiege the city immediately, why would they not let the soldiers rest? When they arrive at the city and settle down properly, starting to fight won’t be too late!”
Ren Meimei asked, “Are their siege equipment ready?”
Luo Qifei replied, “Can be considered ready. There are twenty cloud ladder vehicles, more than a hundred trebuchets, ten crossbow vehicles, more than seventy blocking-arrows vehicles, and four siege tower vehicles. More than enough to besiege a city.”
Kou Zhong spoke resolutely, “If Yuwen Huagu is going to attack the city before dawn, Yuwen Wudi might pretend to attack tonight, to shake our troops’ morale, and to engage us so that our strength exhausted, our muscle weary. Humph!”
Xu Ziling asked, “Could you go into more details about his siege equipment?”
As if enumerating his own family’s valuables, Luo Qifei said, “Cloud ladder vehicles are double-length ladders fixed on a bed with six wheels, there is a well pulley at the end of the ladder so that it can be extended to climb the enemy’s city wall. Trebuchets are mechanism on wheels to fling rocks, by using poles to throw the huge rocks to destroy the wall. Crossbow vehicles are thus strong crossbow with winch to open it, capable of shooting eight iron-feathered giant arrows at once; its range can reach up to 1000 paces, extremely formidable. Blocking-arrow vehicles are four-wheeled cart, its upper part are covered with layers of thick raw cowhide, with the soldiers hiding behind it. And when the cart advances, it can block arrows and rocks, so that it is able to press close under the city wall. Siege tower vehicles are eight-wheeled cart with tall tower on it. It can be used to spy the enemy, as well as to shoot arrows into the city.”
Kou Zhong’s eyes lit up, he said, “Can we pour out kerosene and set fire to his mother’s cowhide rawhide, crossbow vehicles, cloud ladder vehicles, to burn them all?”
Luo Qifei shook his head and said, “These past couple of days, Yuwen Huaji precisely had his men applied fire-retardant chemical coating on all siege engines. This kind of chemical will lose its effectiveness if scorched and drenched by sun and rain; therefore, it must be used as quickly as possible after the application, hence the reason I am guessing he would attack the city as soon as he arrives.”
It was only then did the two have sudden understanding.
But they were also greatly puzzled and had headache. The enemy’s siege equipment was that formidable, yet their defensive tool was so simple and crude that the difference was too far.
If they sent their troops out of the city on desperate battle, it would be no different than sending them to their death.
Right this moment, from the far away mountaintop suddenly came three flashes of light.
Kou Zhong knew that it was their own spies using mirror to send signal back to the city. Momentarily setting aside their worry, he laughed aloud and said, “Thank you for all Qifei’s trouble! Ren Dajie, take Qifei and help him to settle down. We are going to rob some provisions, and then we’ll continue this talk.”