Legend of Great Tang’s Twin Dragons - Volume 53 C5
Book 53 Chapter 5 – Between Life and Death
Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Ba Fenghan, Yang Gongqing, Ma Chang, Chen Laomou, Wang Xuanshu, Ba Yegang, Shan Xiongxin, Guo Shancai, Bing Yuanzhen, Duan Da, and the others, more than a dozen men, were crouching behind a thick bush on high elevation mountaintop, looking into the distance at Li Yuanji’s twenty-thousand-man cavalry holding back their troops without moving, about three li away. Three columns of smoke rose up into the air, to notify the far away Tang Army about the breaking-out-the-siege army’s location. Translated by foxs
Five supply ships arrived from the Yi River to deliver food and supplies to Li Yuanji’s army.
No one did not feel the excitement and the bold and powerful emotion for breaking out the siege and for being able to come out. In order to lighten the warhorses’ load, everybody abandoned their heavy armor along the way, and because everybody was more or less wounded in action, due to blood loss and the weariness of rushing about, their countenance was pale, so that there was some kind of path-exhausted-the-end-of-the-road impression.
Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes was flashing, he fixed his gaze on the enemy ranks, and spoke ferociously, “When did Li Yuanji become this astute? We stop, he also stops. Clearly he wants to hang onto our tail, to chip away at the task and not abandon it, yet to avoid fighting.”
Ba Fenghan spoke heavily, “We should have traveled along the Luo River instead of the Yi River, at least we would know Li Shimin’s pursuing troops’ position.”
Everybody was silent, they could not say anything. The enemy’s brilliant tactics forced them to flee continuously, and then at the right time, when their troops were weary, their horses tired, they would launch an attack, to bring them down in one go. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Xu Ziling’s expression grave, he said, “We must try to break away from Li Yuanji’s pursuit, only then will we have the hope to crash through Li Shimin’s barrier.”
Kou Zhong swept his gaze to observe the situation far and near, the Yi Luo River Plains’ fertile land ended here, the terrain was starting to undulate and change. Directly to the south, a row of mountain range extended continuously and expanded, to the east it reached the Yi River, to the west it connected to a wide expanse of primitive forest of ancient, miscellaneous trees. If traveling to the west, with fast horse one could reach the Luo River’s east bank within two sichen.
A stream of small river wriggled its way from the mountain area to flow into the Yi River. The weary-and-unable-to-travel soldiers he was leading were resting and eating on either side of the brook, while the warhorses were eating grass and drinking water.
Kou Zhong looked up to watch the sky, he said, “Shifu! Could it be that the wind is changing?”
Other than Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling, no one had any idea what he was talking about.
Ba Fenghan looked up at the sky and examined the clouds, he said, “If as your Shifu I am guessing correctly, the wind direction tonight will not change, it still blows northwest wind. If we set the dense forest on the northeast mountain area on fire, the northwest wind will bring thick smoke to block the pursuing troops.”
Hearing that, Yang Gongqing and the others’ spirit was greatly aroused.
Knitting his brows, Ma Chang said, “Traveling to and from Yi and Luo, we always took the forest road developed on the west side of the mountain area, but we never tried the mountain area itself.” Translated by foxs
“There is pathway across the mountain,” Wang Xuanshu said.
Everybody was stunned. If this remark was made by anyone who had held important post under Wang Shichong’s administration, it would not be surprising at all; however, Wang Xuanshu has always lived like a prince [idiom, but I believe in this case it is literal, he was, after all, a prince …], how could he know the situation in the mountains?
Wang Xuanshu was obviously remembering his father and elder brother, his countenance darkened, he hung his head down and said, “Fu Huang, he … ay! Die had ordered me to survey the situation of the mountains and rivers the south of Luoyang, hence I went in and out of the mountains many times. There is an exit at the southern end of the mountain area, from there we can reach the forest area northwest of Yique.”
Everybody had a flash of understanding. Wang Shichong has always been greedy for life, afraid of death; he sent his son to survey the terrain, it was to reserve an escape path. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Kou Zhong said, “In that case, Xuanshu should lead the way. Now we will send our men to the forest in the mountain area on the northwest to rig up the ruse, we will break away from Li Yuanji tonight, and escape without a trace.”
Voicing his concern, Shan Xiongxin said, “Although we could momentarily stop Li Yuanji from pursuing into the mountain area, but after entering the mountain area, there won’t be any way out even more. If Li Yuanji notified Li Shimin, Li Shimin might merge Shou’an and Yique, two armies into one, and wait for us at the southern exit of the mountain area. If we are trapped in the mountain area, it will be the end of the entire army.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “If Xuanshu is not familiar with the situation on the mountain, who would dare to take the mountain area route?”
Ba Yegang agreed, he said, “Naturally they would abandon the mountain area and take the official road in the forest; it is both faster and more convenient.”
Kou Zhong acted as if he had a card up his sleeve, he calmly said, “This is precisely the using-the-troops’-precious-wonder principle. Because Li Yuanji is guessing that we do not dare to enter the mountain, hence he is holding back his troops without moving, to let us to escape to the south via the official road in the forest, because Li Shimin is stationing troops at the exit on the other side, he has already completed all kinds of construction works for defense, ready to deliver frontal assault on us. If we changed into different mountain path, we will definitely throw his disposition of troops into a great mess, and then we have an opportunity that we can exploit.”
Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, “This is called seeking victory in danger.”
Yang Gongqing sighed and said, “Three exits, Li Shimin can only guard two. If we could leave the mountain one step ahead of Li Shimin completing his interception, naturally there won’t be any problem, otherwise, we should not pick the exit that Li Shimin personally guard.” Translated by foxs
Everybody understood the reason he was sighing, because there was simply no way of guessing it.
Wang Xuanshu said, “The exit close to the Yi River is extremely hidden, the enemy may not know it.”
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, “Can we cross the mountain area in one night?”
“Even hurrying without stopping, we still need half a day,” Wang Xuanshu replied, “But if we do that, I am afraid the men and horses won’t be able to make it.”
Kou Zhong looked up to the sky again, his pair of eyes emitted a contemplative look, he said, “In that case we set the target of going out of the mountain tomorrow night. This time it’s our turn to be in the dark while the enemy is in the open. When the falcon is circling in the air, it will mean that Li Shimin is not far from us!”
At dusk, the mountain forest in the northwest direction suddenly caught fire, which spread rapidly, the fire intensity was fierce, sweeping toward the southeast, bringing with it fire fragments and thick smoke, cutting off Li Yuanji’s pursuing troops path forward. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
The most subtle part was that the breaking-out-the-siege army was already concentrated on the mountaintop between the mountain area and the narrow path. The moment the thick smoke blocking the enemy’s line of sight, they started to quickly enter the mountain area, so that momentarily it was difficult for Li Yuanji’s side to grasp whether they took the mountain area, or withdraw via the official road in the forest.
With Wang Xuanshu leading the way, all the officers and soldiers walked, while pulling their rides along, climbing the mountain, going down the valley, boring through the forest, and wading in the creek, traveling quickly on the unbroken mountain area, until daybreak, when all the men and horses were body weary, strength exhausted, so they hid in a hidden gorge in the forest to rest, striving for some time to sleep.
By this time they had entered forty li deep into the mountain area, only about ten or so li away from the hidden exit at the southern end.
Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan were used to this kind of arduous journey, after sitting in meditation for half a sichen, they have more or less recovered. Taking the falcon Wuming, the three climbed the tallest peak by the gorge, to look down to observe the situation around, only to see the mountain was lost in boundless mists, big rocks stood in abundance on the high and tapered peak, the mountain range was rolling continuously, the boundless ocean of forests covered the mountains far and near, occasionally they saw streams running through the forest. It’s a pity that the three were heavy-hearted and were not in the mood to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Kou Zhong stroked Wuming’s feather, to placate her desire to flap her wings and soar into the sky; he said, “Ha! It looks like we have really broken away from Li Yuanji!” Translated by foxs
Ba Fenghan said, “Li Yuanji is not an idiot at all, he shouldn’t take risks to enter the mountain area. When he ascertained that we had fled into the mountain area from the horse’s hoof and footsteps, he might guard the mountain area’s north side exit, while sending information to Li Shimin using the fastest method, to tell him to seal off all the exits on the southern part of the mountain area.”
Kou Zhong looked up at the big empty sky, he said, “I want to let Wuming circle a few times overhead, nothing should go wrong, should it?”
Ba Fenghan patted the Shooting the Moon Bow in his bosom, he proudly said, “With the Shooting the Moon Bow as the protector god, who could harm her?”
Kou Zhong laughed without restraint, he said, “The kid recovers his confidence that quickly, Xiaodi submit cheerfully, both with my mouth and in my heart.”
The chain on Wuming’s feet was untied, Wuming let out a cry, and soared into the sky, flying to her heart’s content.
Seeing Xu Ziling was contemplating with rapt attention, Ba Fenghan smiled and said, “I wonder if Ziling can guess: what is Li Shimin reminding me of?”
Kou Zhong was the one who answered him, “Are you comparing him with a wolf?”
Staring blankly, Ba Fenghan said, “Are you psychic? How could you see the secret in my heart? It’s impossible to guess.” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes was flashing with terrifying bright light, he spoke heavily, “This is called heroes usually agree. In the first place, I remember that you guys worship wolves, and Li Shimin is precisely a wolf; furthermore, he is the most terrifying wolf king; it would wait for an opportunity to devour its prey, it wants to hit the target in one strike. The herd of cattle already knew a pack of wolves are moving back and forth all around them to intimidate them, to affect them mentally and physically, yet they are still unable not to be paralyzed with fear, and their allotted share is just to wait for death.”
Ba Fenghan nodded and said, “Li Shimin is indeed using the wolf’s tactics; compared to us, Tujue people, the way he put it to use has reached perfection even more. We are precisely the herd of cattle waiting to be devoured, and Li Shimin is precisely the wolf king pacing back and forth in the vicinity, leading a pack of vicious wolves. When the herd’s muscle is weary, its strength exhausted, the vicious wolf charge into the herd to scatter it, and then when there’s a cow on its own, the pack of wolves will devour it! Although the cow is stronger than any wolf, but under such circumstances, the cow away from its herd definitely has no chance to get away.”
Kou Zhong smiled bitterly and said, “Only I hate it that even though we are fully aware that this being the case, we are still unable to find a solution like the cow waiting to be slaughtered.”
Ba Fenghan said, “The method that the wolves are using to score a victory relies on absolute focus, patience, chipping away at a task and not abandon it [idiom: perseverance] and dedication. Every moment before your eyes is as important as a life and death matter, you cannot miss any opportunity. If we want to see the Yangtze River, we must learn the tricks of dealing with wolves.” Translated by foxs
Kou Zhong thought deeply for half a day, he asked Xu Ziling, “Ling Shao, what are you thinking?”
He did not really expect an answer, he just wanted Xu Ziling to offer his wise opinion.
Who would have thought that Xu Ziling answered truthfully, “I was thinking that if this moment I am only allowed to see either Shi Feixuan or Shi Qingxuan, one of them, whom would I choose?”
Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan looked at each other; they nearly could not believe their own ears. Unexpectedly Xu Ziling was so open about the secret in his heart, and it was such a personal matter.
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “Fortunately, I will never have to make such a choice in real life, otherwise, I might choose to see neither one of them.”
Drawing out a mouthful of cold air, Kou Zhong said, “Listening to Ziling’s words, there seems to be a feeling of being separated in life and death. I wonder if you don’t feel too optimistic about our breaking-out-the-siege battle tomorrow night?”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “You should know better than me that if Kang Qiaoli releases the falcon, he will grasp from where we are coming out of the mountain. Unless the three of us are willing to abandon the others and escape alone, we will definitely die.” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, “That is the cruel truth. Lao Ba, what do you think?”
Ba Fenghan cast his gaze on Wuming, who was flying higher and higher; he replied casually, “There has never been a moment where I feel that death is so close and inescapable; even when facing Bi Xuan, I never had such feeling. Frankly, I really enjoy this kind of the feeling and the pressure of death. Brother! I wonder if we ought to call Wuming down, she already left my Shooting the Moon Bow’s protection range.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Since we know in our heart that we are going to die, we are going to die beautifully.”
And then he let out a shrill whistle to summon Wuming back.
Suddenly they heard the sound of wind gust, from behind the mountain peak in the southwest, six black dots rose up to the sky and rapidly grew big as they flew over at high speed. Surprisingly, they were the six vicious vultures that the Tang Army raised specially to deal with Wuming.
The three men’s natural reaction was to separately draw the Piercing the Sun, Shooting the Moon, and Mulberry Wood, three bows, and put an arrow on the string.
Wuming instinctively felt the danger, she circled around and swiftly glided down toward where the three were standing, immediately dropping down from a high altitude of over a hundred zhang to about fifty zhang. Translated by foxs
At this time, the six vicious vultures already spotted Wuming without any misgivings, they quickly closed the distance that they were only about twenty zhang away from Wuming, and even flapped their wings to increase their speed, fast like an arrow dart.
Bowstrings twanged, three arrows split the air, while Wuming continued to drop down, they shot at the vicious vultures coming to attack Wuming from above her head.
The vultures cried, three vultures were hit by the arrow at the same time and died, they fell into the abyss between the two mountains. The other three vultures were startled and scattered. Before the three had a chance to shoot the second arrow, they flew away for their lives, and in the blink of an eye disappeared behind the mountain range.
Wuming returned to Kou Zhong’s shoulder.
Putting away the Piercing the Sun Bow, Kou Zhong spoke with lingering fear, “What was that about?”
“Li Shimin ought to be nearby,” Xu Ziling replied. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Ba Fenghan shook his head and said, “Li Shimin and his men are outside the mountain area, this time it was just an accident. This kind of product-of-the-proud-prairie vicious vultures are violent and aggressive by nature, the breeder must release them every day to let them hunt for food for themselves, in order to maintain their ferocity. They were not ordered to attack Wuming, it’s just that since falcons are the target of attack that has been drilled into them since they were young, so as soon as they saw Wuming, they spontaneously attacked.”
Lightly stroking Wuming, Kou Zhong blew out a mouthful of air and said, “This is called the result is obtained entirely without a great deal of time and effort. It would have been much better if we could shoot the other three as well.”
Ba Fenghan said, “How could things of the world happen entirely according to man’s expectation? Six vultures, only the three remaining vultures came back, how will the enemy react?”
Kou Zhong said, “Naturally they would know that the birds have encountered us. According to reason, Kang Qiaoli should release the falcon, to see our position. The falcon can safely detect the enemy from the high elevation where the arrow darts cannot reach. Kang Qiaoli will never miss this good opportunity.”
Ba Fenghan said, “This is perhaps our only chance to get rid of the other side’s falcon before we go out of the mountain. Why haven’t you immediately made your move?”
Kou Zhong hurriedly took out the small bottle containing the deadly poison that Chen Laomou gave him, and applied the poison on the tip of Wuming’s eagle claw. Upon completion, Kou Zhong spoke happily to Wuming, perching on his arm protector, “Nice darling, you are being promoted, from a falcon [lit. hunting eagle] to venomous eagle. Those who want to carry out mutual-destruction with you won’t be able to do anything to you. Because war is just like this, only those who are ruthless enough will be able to survive.” Translated by foxs
Blurted out laughing, Ba Fenghan said, “That’s a lot of crap!”
The three nervously searched the southwest sky with their eyes.
Shaken, Kou Zhong said, “His Niang’s! Indeed like Lao Ba said.”
Under the blue sky and white clouds, a barely-seen black dot appeared high in the sky, hovering slowly over the mountains, gradually approaching.
Wuming revealed a look that showed she had seen it too, her eagle eyes gleaming, she looked at her fellow bird up in the sky.
Ba Fenghan said, “Eagles are aggressive by nature, they will attack other birds that enter their territorial air space, they are extremely ruthless. Usually, the only way to avoid defeat twice is to flee from that particular air space. Go!”
Kou Zhong has already been waiting anxiously; he immediately issued a command in eagle talk to attack. Wuming flapped her wings and soared into the sky, charging at an angle toward the enemy’s eagle above the three men’s head.
This matter concerned the survival of the whole army, the three grabbed their heart and suspended their guts, and held their breath as they raised their head up to wait and see. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
The enemy eagle perceived the incoming danger; furthermore, it might think of itself as the intruder. Making a sharp turn, it flew out in southwest direction. It was unclear whether because she has been trapped and locked up for a long time, Wuming was particularly aggressive. Fast like the wind, she overtook the enemy eagle, with both claws opened wide, she glided down to claw the enemy eagle’s back.
Feathers flew violently, the enemy eagle let out a cry, as it plummeted down for more than thirty zhang, before it flapped its wings and continued flying. Wuming did not seize the opportunity to pursue and attack, but instead of flying down, she circled in the air to show off her might.
Ba Fenghan’s gaze continuously followed the enemy eagle getting farther and farther away, he spoke in heavy voice, “Down! Down! Down!”
The enemy eagle continued flying away and became a little black dot.
“Success!” Xu Ziling blurted out.
Kou Zhong spoke dejectedly, “Doesn’t it seal the throat upon contact with blood? Could it be that the claw did not scratch skin and flesh?”
In an erratic flight pattern, the enemy eagle, in the three men’s expectant and longing gaze, dropped down more than ten zhang, but it continued flying for a moment before it began to fall rapidly down. Anybody could tell that the enemy eagle was indeed poisoned to its death. Translated by foxs
Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan cheered at the same time, they were excited endlessly.
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Now it should be nine deaths and still alive [idiom: narrow escape], it is much better than before.”
The former said, “How much chance of success do you think we have of breaking out the siege and fleeing for our lives now?”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “No … we will definitely be able to break out the siege and flee for our lives. Because Laotianye is still standing on our side.”
The sickle-shaped waning moon was hanging low in the cloudy western horizon, from the gaps of the clouds, they could faintly see one or two dim, no-light stars. It was in such a night that the breaking-out-the-siege army left the mountain area, quietly got out of the concealed exit, and entered the sparse forest area northwest of Yique.
Kou Zhong took chances by releasing Wuming to scout the surrounding area, near and far. After determining that there was no enemy in the vicinity lying in ambush, he ordered the troops to set off on the arduous journey where danger lurked on every side.
He divided the breaking-out-the-siege army into five units; he personally led two-thousand-man vanguard army to occupy the front, assisted by Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling, bearing the heavy responsibility to break the siege and open up a path.
Yang Gongqing, Ma Chang, and Wang Xuanshu’s two-thousand-man troops occupied the center position, assuming the full responsibility of the overall situation.
Bringing up the rear was the two-thousand-man unit under Ba Yegang’s command, with Bing Yuanzhen as his deputy. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
The left and right wings each have fifteen hundred men, under Shan Xiongxin and Guo Shancai, respectively, as the commanding general.
Their target was to pass through the hills and sparse forests between Shou’an and Yique, and head straight to the south.
Wuming was back on Kou Zhong’s shoulder. While spurring his horse to bore through the forest and cross the field, Kou Zhong said, “Li kid cannot be compared to Li Yuanji at all, we must deal with him carefully.”
Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling remained silent, they did not respond.
As the trees were gradually thinning, the vanguard unit reached the edge of the dense forest region, outside the forest, the open plain was dark, which made people’s heart heavy.
Kou Zhong could not help asking Xu Ziling, “Any unusual feeling?”
Xu Ziling reined in his horse to stop, he spoke heavily, “The enemy is outside!”
The divine light in Ba Fenghan’s pair of eyes flashing, he said, “We have no way back, there is only charging ahead, use fast to control the slow.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “So be it!” Suddenly he roared in earth-shattering voice, “Brothers! Come with me!”
Squeezing the horse’s belly, he took the lead to get out of the forest. Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan followed closely behind, leading a thousand riders, like an angry dragon, putting aside all misgivings, penetrating the boundless plain in the dark of the night.
The other four units followed out of the forest, the sound of hoof beats shook the mother earth, more than ten thousand riders galloped wildly on the grassland.
Thunderous shouts and battle cry arose, ahead, from left and right, torches emerged in large numbers, they vaguely saw covering the mountains and the plains were the Tang Army, completely sealing off the road with astonishing momentum, and were charging directly toward them.