Book 20 Chapter 3 – War Games
Leading two hundred light cavalry, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling left the city from the eastern gate, went around a big circle, and galloped into a forest east of an enemy’s outpost camp, when suddenly Xu Ziling called a halt.
Stunned, Kou Zhong reined his horse, and waved their men to stop. “What is it?” he asked.
With grave expression Xu Ziling replied, “I feel something is very wrong. When we rounded the plain northeast of the city, I developed a sense that someone was watching us; I am afraid we have fallen into the enemy’s evil schemes, that they are transporting provisions this time is actually a trap.”
The two boys urged their horses to advance about ten paces toward the edge of the jungle, and peered outside.
Under the bright sun in the sky, outside of the forest was a long strip of grassland; on the left there was a hill with a graveyard on it, on the right the sloping hill extended forever into the distance, about half a li ahead was another sparse forest. Beyond that forest ought to be the route where the enemy was transporting their grains.
They have already planted spies at the enemy’s rear army’s camp. As soon as the enemy’s provision wagons left the camp, they would intercept it midway, and rob the army provisions.
“Your senses have always been right,” Kou Zhong said, “Shall we withdraw the troops immediately?”
Xu Ziling calmly laughed and said, “Imagine that you are Yuwen Wudi; how would you lay out this trap?”
Kou Zhong pointed his horsewhip to the sparse forest ahead and said, “Naturally by setting up a trap like horse-tripping ropes or something like that in the forest. But unless his Lao Ge [ol’ elder brother] was a born immortal, how would he know from which direction would we come from to intercept their grains?”
“Well said,” Xu Ziling said, “Yuwen Wudi may be a valiant military leader, but he is definitely not an expert in playing with schemes and conspiracy. This transporting-grain trap must be coming from the strategic adviser under his command. My guess is that he would prepare archers on the higher elevation like a hill slope to ambush us, while his cavalry is hiding in the forest. We might as well lure the tiger out of the jungle; the target is to take Yuwen Wudi’s dog head. What do you think?”
Kou Zhong was excited, “Cut down his dog head, and hung it high outside the city,” he said, “That way we won’t have to worry that Yuwen Huagu would not immediately attack the city that very night.”
Xu Ziling was surprised, “It seems like you are very eager to have Yuwen Huagu immediately besiege the city tonight; I wonder what plan do you have.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Mountain man has an excellent plan. Tonight you will find out. Ha! This game is getting more and more interesting!”
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Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling led their men galloping into the prairie, spurring their horse to full speed, toward the sparsely wooded area between two sloping hills.
At first glance nobody would notice that they left twenty men in the forest to set up a trap.
Reaching the middle section of the prairie, Kou Zhong signaled his men to halt; everybody reined in their horses at once.
Putting on an act, Kou Zhong shouted, “I’ll go first to scout our path; watch for my signal to proceed.”
“I am coming with you!” Xu Ziling responded.
The two boys urged their horses to continue, and in the blink of an eye they reached the edge of the sparsely wooded area. Suddenly Kou Zhong roared, “There’s an ambush!”
Before he finished speaking, someone was shouting ahead, “Release the arrows!”
From the top of the hill on both sides arrows poured down on them like rain, while like a storm they already turned around and galloped away like mad.
Because the two were prepared, while the enemies were caught off guard and shot the arrows in haste, one after another the arrows fell on empty air.
Just as the two boys rushed back to where they were coming from, several hundred enemy riders swarmed out of the sparse forest, led by their old friend Yuwen Wudi.
Kou Zhong’s men pretended to be like a mob who did not know what to do; they acted chaotic, without distinguishing east from west they charged to the left and dashed to the right, until finally they had nowhere else to go but to return to the jungle.
Upon seeing this, Yuwen Wudi advanced courageously and pursued closely behind them. More than five hundred riders charging along, the sound, like rolling thunder, shook the prairie sky.
One after another Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling rushed into the forest, leaped up, and hid among the dense shade of the trees.
In just a little over ten breaths later, like a tornado Yuwen Wudi’s cavalry stormed into the forest, and galloped underneath the two boys.
And then there was a series of sound of the warhorses stumbling and neighing miserably; the enemies were either falling into the trap, or were tripped by the ropes that they flipped over and threw their riders off, or were hit by the arrows. This time it was the enemy’s turn to be in chaos; they scattered in all directions.
Like the celestial soldiers or heavenly generals Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling dropped from the sky, and wherever they went, they carried out killer move, without showing any mercy at all.
The two boys’ men also appeared from everywhere and all directions and attacked. The enemies, whose imposing manner was originally like a rainbow, were immediately thrown into utter defeat. Although their number was a lot higher, but they had lost their fighting spirit, and only wanted to flee for their lives.
Realizing their situation was far from good, Yuwen Wudi shouted his order to retreat. While leading a dozen or so his personal guards forcing their way out of the forest, suddenly ahead of him his men were thrown away, their horses flipped over. His response could be considered quick as well; immediately he abandoned his horse and soared onto the top of a tree nearby. But when he was about to leap to another tree, Kou Zhong suddenly appeared on a horizontal branch of a tree ahead of him.
Holding the saber across his chest, Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Outside the Wagang City, Yuwen Xiong killed our beloved horses, Hui’er and Bai’er [see Book 4 Chapter 5]; it was such a tragic scene that broke our hearts, a deeply unforgettable event that seemed to happen only yesterday. And now we finally have the opportunity to face one another to settle this account.”
A sinister expression appeared on Yuwen Wudi’s copper-like face; the wart on his forehead trembled slightly, he laughed coldly and said, “I was just killing two livestock! Not raping and murdering your Niang. If you can’t forget it, blame it on your stupidity, don’t blame anybody else.”
A deep, cold murderous aura flashed through Kou Zhong’s eyes; thinking about he and Xu Ziling owned real gold and white silver for the first time, and used the money to buy two nice horses, and also thinking about Fu Junchuo, he nodded firmly and said, “All right! I was actually thinking of capturing you alive and exchange you for something else. But now I decided not to show you any mercy; I want to chop your stinking head off.”
Yuwen Wudi roared wildly, the lance in his hand fantastically turned into countless spear shadows, as he leaped horizontally across the empty air between the two trees to attack Kou Zhong.
If Kou Zhong evaded even for a little, he would have a chance to escape out of the forest, and joined his infantry, who were rushing over to provide help.
Kou Zhong calmly, like a stone statue, watched Yuwen Body’s huge body as it rushed over straight toward him, while quietly focusing his power.
The whole world seemed to suddenly changed; his senses seemed to be many times more sensitive. Not only he was able to accurately calculate and grasp every single detail of Yuwen Wudi’s movements, he was also very clear about Xu Ziling unleashing his divine prowess under the tree, cutting down every enemy who wanted to escape out of the forest, while snatching their valuable warhorses.
Two men’s eyes met.
In that instant, he saw the fear deep in Yuwen Wudi’s heart.
The opponent has been intimidated by his cold composure.
The Moon in the Well swept an amazing, almost magical as if it was made by heaven, curve in the air, penetrating Yuwen Wudi’s millions of spear shadows.
No word could describe the shock in Yuwen Wudi’s heart.
He has had confrontation with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling before, therefore, although he has heard that their martial art skill was constantly advancing at a terrifying rate, inwardly he was not too convinced, and thought that the rumors were greatly exaggerated.
But after exhausting his skill by unleashing countless changes yet Kou Zhong, using saber moves that appeared to be clumsy and rudimentary, was still able to neutralize all his feigned moves, he now knew Kou Zhong’s real power.
He was a veteran of a hundred battles, and had wanted to take advantage while Kou Zhong’s mastery has not reached the same maturity as his own, to send the ‘Black [or Mysterious] Ice Energy’, a unique skill handed down in his family, toward the tip of his spear, hoping that he could borrow the reaction force to fly away to escape; a move that was not aimed to achieve the best possible result, but rather trying to avoid making mistakes.
Who would have thought that although the tip of his spear was able to block the chopping saber, but the pit of his stomach felt like it was crushed by ten-thousand-catty sledge hammer, his ‘Black Ice Energy’ dispersed into the wind like a thin smoke, while the enemy’s violent, incomparably powerful spiraling strange energy, swift like an arrow, penetrating his heart and meridians.
Yuwen Wudi’s lance fell off his hand and dropped down the tree.
Shaken by the impact, Kou Zhong also staggered back a little, and had to vomit half a mouthful of blood.
Without showing any care, Kou Zhong returned his saber into its scabbard, and used his other hand to wipe the blood from the corner of his lips. “Success!” he shouted, “Let’s go!”
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Kou Zhong looked into the distance, at the plains outside the city wall, where millions of torches were flickering incessantly like fireflies. Sighing, he said, “It was really fun! I had never thought that a chop of my saber could be that fun, victory and defeat was decided in the blink of an eye. It was not a fluke either, all of a sudden I have avenged our Hui’er and Bai’er.”
Under the star-studded night sky, Liangdu was actually in a blackout; no lantern, no fire, the soldiers and civilians on top of the city walls were waiting for the enemy’s approaching in the dark.
The watchman’s clapper sounded, denoting the first watch of the night [7 – 9pm].
The enemy’s blocking-arrows vehicles made their advance toward the city wall, and stopped about a hundred paces outside the wall, to regroup and fix their formation.
Since dusk, the battle drums had been beaten incessantly.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to hang Yuwen Wudi’s head high on the city wall to publicly expose him?” Xu Ziling asked, “How come at the last moment you even abandoned his dead body and paid it no more attention?”
“I was just saying,” Kou Zhong replied heavily.
This moment Chen Jiafeng came over and reported, “According to Kou Ye’s instruction, dried branches and dried grass have been removed everywhere from under the city walls. Hey! Kou Ye’s calculation is certainly exquisite beyond compare. The most formidable thing is that you guessed the enemy’s movement like a deity; you already predicted that the enemy would attack the city this very night.”
“Let’s talk about it after our victory!” Kou Zhong said, “Tell you men to guard their posts tightly, wait for my further instructions.”
Chen Jiafeng left cheerfully.
Kou Zhong said, “Today we managed to snatch nearly two hundred warhorses from the enemy, so the odds of our victory are great increased. Oh, Yuwen Huagu! Perhaps even in your dream you would never think that you would nurse a grievance over Liangdu!”
The drums suddenly increased in intensity.
The enemies shouted loudly, close to a hundred trebuchets rolled in, followed by blocking-arrows vehicles and crossbow vehicles.
The wheels rumbled, battle cries shook the heavens, filling the sky outside the city wall; it was an extremely alarming momentum.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were totally unfazed; they continued looking coldly at the enemy’s vanguard approaching the city wall.
The infantry holding shields were divided into three groups; each group, consisted of a thousand soldiers, was equipped with two cloud ladders. One after another these three groups arrived.
Yuwen Huaji’s cavalry arranged themselves on a distant hill, ready for deployment, in preparation to provide support to the forces besieging the city.
Like a plague of locust boulders and fiery arrows flew toward the wall, their flames lit the night sky.
One after another the soldiers and civilians on the top of the wall hid behind the city wall or defensive wooden boards. Like a rolling thunder the boulders hit the city wall. Momentarily fragments of rocks splashed everywhere, shaking everybody to the core.
“Deal with firewood!” Kou Zhong thundered.
The entire soldiers and civilians responsible for the city defense, numbered about five thousand men, on the top of the wall shouted at the same time. About one thousand of them were archers, who immediately returned the salvo. The rest of them were in charge of throwing sticks, as well as rocks, down the city wall.
Battle cry shook the heavens.
Near the wall the wood started to pile up. In the dark night, the enemy could not see clearly what was going on; they thought that the city lacked arrows and rocks, so they threw down thick branches to make up the number.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cried, ‘What a close call!’ inwardly. If Kou Zhong did not come up with this plan, with such power disparity between theirs and the enemy’s, perhaps in just one night the enemy would be able to breach the city defense.
Finally the enemies were charging under the city wall. One by one they setup the cloud ladders to scale the wall.
Seeing the urgency of the situation, Kou Zhong roared, “Release the fire!”
Instead of throwing down sticks, each and every one of them threw fire balls at the same time.
While the intense battle on top of the city wall between the attackers and defenders started to unfold, the sticks and dry grass piling up at the foot of the city walls caught fire, which then spread rapidly.
On top of the wall, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling leaped back and forth, saber and spear moved together, they killed the enemies climbing the wall until flesh and blood flew everywhere, and fell down the city wall.
Seeing their commanders dashing on bravely with no thought of personal safety, as well as the fire blazing under the wall, engulfing the enemy troops, as well as the trebuchets, the crossbow vehicles, and everything else in the sea of fire, the soldiers and civilians on the top of the wall knew that their chance of victory was within grasp; millions of people all of one mind, they summoned up courage and determination to repel the enemies.
Yuwen Huaji knew the situation was far from good. But by the time he ordered the bugle horn to sound the retreat call, he was already unable to reverse the rotation of the sky.
The area about seven hundred paces from the city wall has already turned into an ocean of fire, burning the enemies that their blood-curdling screech reached the sky, turning them into balls of fire rolling around and screaming in the midst of the raging inferno.
In the blink of an eye, there were no longer any enemies on the city wall. Those who were fortunate enough not to be burned by the fire retreated like a tidal wave.
Kou Zhong leaped down from the wall and said to Ren Meimei, “I leave the situation here to you!”
Ren Meimei was stunned, “Where are you going?” she asked.
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “To catch an enemy off guard with a surprise attack [an idiom from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’]. Do you understand?”
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Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, leading four hundred cavalrymen, rendezvous with Xuan Yong’s thousand plus horsemen at the appointed place, on top of a sloping hill northeast of the battlefield. Everyone was in high fighting spirit, and was full of energy.
Xuan Yong admired wholeheartedly, “Watching Kou Ye and Xu Ye using brilliant scheme burned down Yuwen Clan’s besieging vanguard troops and their equipment, killing them that they ran away abandoning their spears and armors, none of all my Xiongdi here and me are not won over, and could only gasp in amazement. We were nearly unable to hold back from moving our troops to attack the enemy ranks directly.”
With extraordinary modesty Kou Zhong replied, “It was just a small victory! But we did inflict enormous blow to the enemy’s acute spirit. However, if the enemies return tomorrow in a swirl of dust [idiom: to regroup and come back even stronger], they will definitely be more cautious and solemn, and will not be reckless. If that happens, we will be in trouble.”
Xu Ziling joined in, “Even if we could defend the city, the casualties will be inevitably disastrous. Therefore, we must seize this opportunity to strike the enemy in one go, tonight; we are going to kill Yuwen Huaji.”
Although Xuan Yong was a fierce general who was both courageous and intelligent, and was known to be daring and unafraid of death, hearing that, he could not help but was stunned for half a day. Finally he said in astonishment, “I thought we were just going to attack the enemy’s rear position, just to disturb the enemy’s morale and to improve the outcome of the war!”
The sound of hoof beats was coming near; Luo Qifei, who was an expert in spying the enemy’s situation, galloped up the hill toward the three men and reported, “Just like Kou Ye’s expectation, after suffering devastating setback, the Yuwen Army lay out heavy defense outside their camps, afraid that we might follow up our victory by attacking their camps.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “I know Yuwen Huagu; he is looking down on us as tired soldiers lacking food supplies.”
Frowning, Xuan Yong said, “If that’s the case, how are we going to launch our surprise attack?”
With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong replied, “Isn’t there a stratagem called ‘besieging Wei and rescuing Zhao’ [idiom: to relieve a besieged ally by attacking the home base of the besiegers]? Let us split our troops into two groups; you are in charge of attacking the rear of the army camp, use battering wagon to break the camp’s wall, use fire arrow to burn their tents, make the chaos as big as possible. The rear camp is Yuwen Huagu’s lifeline; he cannot but trying to save it. When he is leading his troops to come to help, I will ambush him along the way. I guarantee we can kill his mother until their blood flows like a river, and they will be utterly defeated.”
Xuan Yong gasped in admiration, and no longer had any objection.
It should be noted that the most formidable aspect of Kou Zhong’s stratagem was that while the Yuwen Army was busy in dealing with Xuan Yong’s raid, they had no idea that there was another ambushing troop nearby. Therefore, if they saw that the rear camp was being attacked, they would not let Kou Zhong seize their army provision. Furthermore, after the recent defeat, they knew that Kou Zhong’s strength was inadequate to instill fear on them; therefore, in order to turn defeat into victory, they would definitely muster their troops to rescue the camp, and thus they would fall into Kou Zhong’s trap.
Kou Zhong said, “Success or failure, we will see it from this operation!”
Finished speaking, the two groups of army went their separate ways.