Volume 5, Chapter 27: Scattered, Vivid Shadows of Apricot Blossoms
On the seventh day of the fourth month, the Yong army fled in disarray. Their retreat path was blocked by the light cavalry of the Daizhou army, while Long Tingfei pursued doggedly on their heels until reaching the border between Qin and Ze. As the two armies were consumed by battle, the Yong army’s ambush poured out. On the Yong Emperor’s orders, Zhangsun Ji had hidden all traces of their presence, including his marshal’s banner, as he laid in ambush for several days. Three hundred sixty thousand Yong troops trapped the Northern Han army in the wilderness.
—Zizhi Tongjian, Yong Records Volume Three
The most difficult times to rest were when the temperature began to warm and it was still cold. Within the small hamlet that was my temporary home, the signs of springs were abundant. The plum flowers in the entire hamlet had blossomed—red, pink, and white—in gathered bunches. It was tender, beautiful, fresh, and clean. The most moving were the scattered and vivid shadows of the apricot blossoms.
I ordered Xiaoshunzi to lay out brocade silk rugs within the pavilion at the entrance to the hamlet. The pavilion was surrounded on all sides by brocade curtains. A brazier was placed at one side of the pavilion. Upon the brazier was heated a pot of fenjiu.1 This copper pot could hold ten catties of alcohol and was most suitable for use during social gatherings. Wrapped in my great cloak, I sat on a chair covered with the pelt of an Asiatic black bear. The cozy and warm fur wholly relaxed me.
Expelling a breath to warm my somewhat cold hands, I could not help becoming interested in wine as I appreciated the apricot blossoms outside the pavilion. I glanced at the copper wine pot. Before I had even spoken, Xiaoshunzi had already understood. Taking out a smaller silver pot, he filled it with liquor from the large copper one. Afterwards, he poured a cup of warm liquor, filling a white jade cup. Gazing at the originally limpid fenjiu taking the color of amber within the exceptionally high-quality white jade cup, I took a sip with satisfaction.
At this moment, the thudding of speeding hoofbeats sounded. Lifting my head, I could see a group of horsemen kicking up a cloud of dust. At their head was the dusty and travel-worn Prince of Qi, Li Xian. Behind him were his bodyguards. As he neared, Li Xian dismounted and tossed aside his reins before walking with large strides into the pavilion.
Setting the wine cup down, I rose to respectfully welcome him, inquiring, “Having not seen you for many days, is Your Imperial Highness well?”
Li Xian studied me for some time, the look in his eyes fluctuating greatly. It was a good while before he spoke, “Suiyun, everything was as you expected. I suffered consecutive defeats. Were it not for the arrangements you made in advance and setting that trap with a massive army, I likely would have truly returned after a crushing defeat. However, Suiyun, although I had expected you to mobilize troops from elsewhere—else I would have long been aware of your arrangements. I did not expect that Imperial Brother would send so many troops. Are you not worried about the safety of the Imperial Capital? Don’t hide things from me. Southern Chu is still a threat, while Li Kang is growing restless in Hanzhong. I know all about it. Are you not worried that someone would seize this opportunity to rebel?”
Smiling, I replied, “Your Imperial Highness is overthinking matters. The foundations of Great Yong are as steady as Mount Tai. His Imperial Majesty made arrangements long ago. However, Zhe still has to beg for Your Imperial Highness’s forgiveness. Back when I learned that the Northern Han army had fallen into the trap, I sent an eight-hundred-li emergency messenger to deliver a petition, informing His Imperial Majesty of our army’s crushing defeat at the Qin River Valley and requesting reinforcements.”
The look on Li Xian’s face changed before he broke out into laughter and replied, “So that’s why, that’s why. Suiyun, your mind is truly intricate. In your eyes, the war with Northern Han is merely a corner of a game of weiqi. Presumably, you have set a trap for third brother and are waiting for the situation on my end to be decided before inviting him into a trap.”2
With a smile on my face, I replied, “There is no need for Your Imperial Highness to worry about these trivial matters. Your Imperial Highness, you have suffered innumerable hardships these last several days. Zhe has already prepared fine liquor as a reception for Your Imperial Highness. Your Imperial Highness, you should first drink a cup.”
Li Xian straightforwardly sat down in the chair. Laughing heartily, he said, “Suiyun, I have now fully experienced your skills. I can only be blamed for my own arrogance. And since I had given you a free hand to act, I definitely won’t ask too many questions. The result was that I became one of your pawns. This Prince will definitely not blame you because of these matters. However, this Prince almost lost my life this time. You should give some compensation.”
I smiled softly and gestured with my hand. Xiaoshunzi took out a brocade case and brought it before Li Xian. With curiosity, Li Xian gazed at the case. Just as he was about to stretch his hand out and take it, I smiled and explained, “The object within the case is not something others can be allowed to see. Your Imperial Highness, take a look after you’ve returned.”
Not caring about that, Li Xian waved his hand and had one of his bodyguards accept the case. Accepting the wine cup Xiaoshunzi handed over, he drained it in one gulp. Languidly, he stated, “Originally this Prince wanted to resentfully compete against you. If I could continuously score victories like a hot knife through butter, any arrangements you made would have been useless. Who could have thought that Long Tingfei would be so formidable and this Prince was not his equal all along, causing me to be so crushingly defeated? If I were not aware that you had made arrangements beforehand and followed orders to lure the enemy into the trap, this Prince would likely have become a sinner of Great Yong already.”
Seeing Li Xian’s dejection, I sternly chided, “Your Imperial Highness’s words are in error. The entire world knows just how formidable the Northern Han army is. Your Imperial Highness only led one hundred thousand foot soldiers and cavalry, while General Jing only had thirty thousand troops. The enemy held both geographical and social advantages. Your Imperial Highness maintaining the main force of cavalry in the face of the crushing defeat at Qinyuan and unyieldingly fighting continuous battles against the Northern Han army to lure the enemy into a trap is the conduct of a famous general. In spite of the damage to your reputation, in spite of the dangers, Your Imperial Highness personally lured the enemy. Without Your Imperial Highness, why would Long Tingfei have pursued south without the least bit of caution? In the following battle, it will only be the strong bullying the weak. Your Imperial Highness contributed the most to this northern expedition. Your Imperial Highness, please understand that these words come from the bottom of Zhe’s heart.”
Li Xian’s heart warmed. He had suffered greatly this time. Although he had fulfilled the objective that had been set beforehand, he had suffered a devastating defeat on the surface. As a result, he inevitably felt distressed. But after hearing Jiang Zhe’s laborious yet comforting words, his mood gradually improved. Smiling, he picked up the jade cup. Seeing this, I hurriedly picked up the silver pot and filled his cup with liquor.
Smiling, Li Xian stated, “Fine. Regardless of victory or defeat, this journey was not wasted since Suiyun has personally served liquor.”
Seeing the gloom in the Prince of Qi’s mind eliminated, I found myself relaxing. In fact, I was also a bit sad because of the disastrous losses. Although I intended to use these defeats to lure the enemy, Long Tingfei’s ferocity and ruthlessness truly left me flabbergasted. Rather than stating that we were feigning defeat to lure the enemy, it was better to say that we took advantage of the defeats to retreat and lure the enemy. However, since the situation was already settled, there was no need to speak of this to prevent the Prince of Qi from being embarrassed. After consoling him with a few more cups, I also drank one myself.
Seeing my pale features become faintly flushed, Li Xian hurriedly asked, “Suiyun, how is your health? Did you suffer a relapse?”
At first I stared at him blankly before smiling and answering, “It isn’t that serious. It is only that Zhe is incapable of enduring exhaustion. Now that the situation has been settled, the remaining fighting will naturally be taken care of by Your Imperial Highness. Zhe can convalesce for a few days and quickly recover.”
Becoming less worried, Li Xian replied, “You cannot goof off. You still need to advise on the follow-up plans. Should Long Tingfei and Lin Bi be captured or killed? How should our army move? Do you have any intentions?”
Looking up, I gazed at the fleeting clouds on the horizon. Smiling lightly, I responded, “Your Imperial Highness, is there a need to ask me about these issues? Only Lin Bi, because of her effect upon the Daizhou army, is difficult to handle. If possible, it is best that Your Imperial Highness tries to capture her alive. There is also another matter that is important. Is Xuan Song alive? Does Your Imperial Highness have any news?”
“During the ambush at the river valley, I ordered the troops to specifically capture a Northern Han officer,” answered Li Xian with a frown. “However, he claimed that he knew nothing. And, with Long Tingfei’s ruthlessness, our troops practically all perished in the sea of fire. It is unlikely that Xuan Song was able to escape this disaster.”
I sighed, “When I learned that General Xuan was missing in action, I performed a divination. The divination hinted that he was able to make a fortuitous escape from death. That is why I have had hopes of his survival. Now that Long Tingfei’s army is trapped here, Qinyuan will definitely fall into disarray. We need to dispatch scouts and spies to investigate. If General Xuan is still alive, we can use this opportunity to rescue him. Xiaoshunzi, can I hand this matter to you?”
Though Xiaoshunzi’s brows knit slightly, he did not respond. He was well aware of the guilt that Jiang Zhe frequently felt because of Xuan Song. He was so ill being partly because of this. However, he was unwilling to leave the young master’s side.
Li Xian interjected, “I also worry about General Xuan’s fate. How about this? Have Su Qing lead the experts within the army. She is quite capable and will definitely not fail this mission.”
I shook my head and demurred, “Although General Su is quite capable, Duan Wudi is not to be underestimated. Before, he was defeated by General Su because of his old emotions. However, it is very difficult for General Su to succeed now. In addition, if Qinyuan contains experts from the Devil Sect, General Su by herself would be useless if she is outnumbered. General Xuan’s survival is of the utmost importance. If Xiaoshunzi cannot go, I will not be able to rest easy. As for my safety, Zhang Jinxiong has already returned. I can have him take charge of my security with the support of Emei’s Lingzhenzi.”
Seeing my determination, Xiaoshunzi could only reply, “Since young master has decided, I will personally make a trip to Qinyuan. Your Imperial Highness, please look after young master’s safety.”
Li Xian promised, “Do not worry. After I’ve set up camp, I will have Suiyun return with me.”
Seeing that this matter was decided, I smiled and questioned, “Why don’t I see Jing Chi? I’ve heard that he’s unharmed?”
Chuckling, Li Xian responded, “That fellow is worried that you will punish him and ultimately clung to Zhangsun Ji, unwilling to let go. He claimed that he wanted to see Long Tingfei’s misery at being surrounded. No matter what I said, he refused to come with me to see you.”
I smiled serenely and asked, “Is he worried that I will punish him for the massacres he committed?”
Derision flashed across Li Xian’s eyes as he answered, “I don’t know why Suiyun would take him as your disciple. If he were smart enough, he would know that you wouldn’t blame him because of the extenuating circumstances. His detached army traveled great distances. If he wasn’t decisive in his slaughter, he would likely have been embroiled in desperate fighting. Just that, although you are vicious and merciless, you are usually cultured and refined, making others forget that your heart is as hard as iron.”
Not caring or taking notice of the Prince of Qi’s assessment of me, I calmly replied, “Although I do not blame him, I have to punish him. It may be assumed that His Imperial Majesty will hand down some punishments. His great deeds will probably be wiped out. After all, Great Yong ultimately has to pacify the population of Northern Han.”
Li Xian smiled and shook his head, saying, “I am disinclined to pay any attention to these matters, since Imperial Brother will decide it. Suiyun, since Lin Bi cannot be killed, do you have any way of destabilizing the morale of the Daizhou army? Over these last several days, I have had the chance to experience firsthand just how formidable the Daizhou army is. If this elite cavalry army decides to resist, our losses will not be light.”
I freely spoke, “As for the Daizhou army, everything will depend on the barbarian’s cavalry. With spring arriving at Yanmen, the barbarians will assault Daizhou within ten days. The troops that remain in Daizhou only number around ten thousand. Against the elite barbarian cavalry, their spirit will be unable to match their strength. Now that Daizhou’s Lin Yuanting is bedridden, the generals left in Daizhou, Lin Chengyi and Lin Cheng’er, are fierce enough, but lack intelligence. As for the youngest daughter, Lin Tong, she has never led troops. The situation will likely bode ill. As long as this news is spread, the Daizhou army will lose all taste for battle. If the decisive battle is not fought within ten days, it is possible that Lin Bi herself will be unable to control the Daizhou army.”
Just as Li Xian was about to nod his head, a plate shattered. Hearing this, Li Xian looked over. Within the apricot blossoms, a young man about twenty stood tall and upright under the pink blossoms. There was palpitating fear on his face and his complexion was pale. At his feet were the shattered pieces of a plate of china, the ground strewn with scattered dried fruits and pastries. Li Xian was stunned. He recognized this youth as Suiyun’s subordinate attendant, Chiji. Li Xian had met him several times before and wondered why he looked so panic-stricken right now.
Fury flashed in Xiaoshunzi’s eyes as he frostily commanded, “Chiji, withdraw and consider your misdeeds before the wall. Without permission, you are not permitted out.”
Li Xian found all this strange. However, witnessing Xiaoshunzi so directly punish the youth, it seemed that nobody intended to inform him of what was happening. As such, Li Xian could only laugh it away.
No one expected that the youth would rush to the pavilion’s entrance and prostrate himself on the floor to say, “Young master, please grant a favor and allow Chiji to go to Daizhou.”
Li Xian’s mind shook as his gaze fell upon Jiang Zhe’s face. However, Jiang Zhe’s face remained calm, only gaining a bit of solemnity.
It was only when he had prostrated himself did Chiji realize what he had said. But he had no regrets, even if he would be detained because of this request and lose everything. At this moment, all his head was filled with was that young lady in red, the beautiful figure that had yearned for day and night ever since returning from the Eastern Sea. Although he had already been warned by Daoli and had since mistakenly set aside his love, vowing to confront it head on, he eventually realized he was taking the coward’s way out. He had tried to avoid all of this and had followed Princess Changle back to Chang’an before heading south on secret orders to reorganize the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets’ intelligence network in Southern Chu.
At long last, he could no longer endure and had come to Northern Han on the young master’s orders. He had believed that he could apathetically watch as that beautiful young lady perished on the battlefield or died at the hands of an executioner. However, when he learned that Daizhou was about to fall into danger, he had still found himself crumbling in spite of everything. At present, he only wanted to go to Daizhou and fight alongside her, even if it meant death.
Sighing, I spoke, “The moonlight disappears soundlessly with the flowing water. In the scattered, vivid shadows of the apricot blossoms, I play the flute until morning.3 I heard you play the flute last night and detected that you were weighed down by a quandary. You have followed me for nearly ten years and know my temperament well. I have never liked to force anyone to do anything. If you leave my service hereafter, I will allow you to go to Daizhou. It is only that, even if Daizhou is able to hold out against the barbarian incursions, they will still be trampled by Great Yong’s elite cavalry. You and your little princess are viewing this through rose-tinted glasses. Chiji, do you truly wish to abandon your bright future to live and die with her?”
With tears sorrowfully falling down his face, Chiji answered, “After being sheltered by young master, all of Chiji’s skills were bestowed by the young master. This subordinate also thought about meeting her in a life or death struggle on the battlefield. However, learning that she is about to battle the barbarians, it is impossible for me to set it aside. Rather than fighting against her to the death, I would rather protect her and die outside Yanmen Pass. If young master grants the favor and allows Chiji to go to Daizhou to help her, after the barbarians have been repelled, even if Chiji somehow manages to survive, I will die to thank young master for your benevolence and will definitely not reveal any of young master’s secrets.”
I gently shook my head. It was some time before I said, “Ever since journeying to the Eastern Sea, you have become fond of playing the flute. Today, you only need to play one piece on the flute for me. If I find it acceptable, I will allow you to depart.”
Bewilderment glimmered in Chiji’s eyes. However, because he always only had wary veneration for Jiang Zhe, he took out a yellow bamboo flute. Kneeling, he began to play it. Chiji was originally a homeless orphan from Chu but it was not strange for him to play the flute. It couldn’t be said whether he liked it or not. After wandering the world, walking back and forth on the boundary between life and death, he had long since lost the elegant mindset to play the flute. However, after going to the Eastern Sea, he frequently felt anxious and could not help picking up the childhood hobby again, playing the flute to mitigate the worries in his heart. He was always intelligent and had once studied music under Jiang Zhe. Although it was only a few months, he played the flute in a moving manner. Last night, when he played the flute, he brimmed with yearning. Therefore, he had played a flute piece that was in vogue in Jiangnan, Falling Plum Blossoms. The melody was poignant and indirectly moving.
Now that Jiang Zhe wanted him to play today, Chiji’s soul was stirred and he began to play a piece that he was not that familiar with, Breaking off Willows Branches. This was a piece he had heard during the time he had spent in Daizhou. At the time, he had unintentionally copied the score. When he later returned to Southern Chu, he had arranged it in his free time. He had practiced it several times. When he played it today, although he was not altogether familiar with the piece, the sentiments in the piece fit with the worries in his heart. The melody from the flute was clear and raw, as if penetrating the depths of the cloudy sky. The pain of separation and the emotions of parting had the sounds of battle, of weapons clashing.
This performance by him wasn’t a serious matter, although it stirred those who were emotional. Not far away, a group of men was walking over, leading their horses along. At their head was the procrastinating Jing Chi who could finally put off this meeting no longer. He had followed Zhangsun Ji tightly in the hopes of remaining with the army. Trying not to laugh, Zhangsun Ji had convinced him that it was better to pay his respects to Jiang Zhe sooner rather than later. Regardless of making amends or offering apologies, things needed a conclusion. As a result, Jing Chi had ultimately led over a dozen bodyguards to come meet Jiang Zhe. Of those accompanying him included Dai Yue who had deliberately shown the hope of meeting Jiang Zhe. Having formed a good relationship, Jing Chi appreciated him greatly and had thus brought him along.
Before they even arrived at the hamlet, Jing Chi grew increasingly apprehensive. Stating that he was afraid of failing to be respectful, he had dismounted and proceeded on foot. Dai Yue and the bodyguards could only dismount as well. Before the entire entourage had even arrived at the entrance, they heard the pure sound of a flute. The entire party could not help but stop to listen carefully. Dai Yue was originally from Northern Han. Because this piece was not only prevalent in Daizhou, but in Northern Han as well, Dai Yue felt feelings of nostalgia swell upon hearing the piece. Remembering how the main pillar supporting Northern Han was now surrounded by the Yong army and his country was about to be destroyed, he found it difficult to express his heartfelt suffering. Were it not for his training, he likely would have long since revealed discrepancies.
As the tune went back and forth without end, Jing Chi’s group walked closer. After arranging his attire, Jing Chi strode over to the two individuals listening to the music while seated without consulting anyone. When Dai Yue was about to follow, he was held back firmly by one of Jing Chi’s bodyguards. Dai Yue was startled, thinking that the killing intent within him had already been sensed. The bodyguard instead informed him, “You cannot get close. The Marquis of Chu daren does not allow any strangers to approach him. Can you not see the Stalwart Tiger Guard watching us attentively? Aside from General Jing, none of us have the qualifications to approach Jiang daren.”
Dai Yue looked carefully and, sure enough, the pavilion was surrounded by watchful Stalwart Tiger Guard. Even the Prince of Qi’s bodyguards were forced to stand at a distance and could not close to a hundred paces of the pavilion. Feelings of vexation appeared in Dai Yue’s mind, although his face remained the same. Turning his head, he asked, “Why is this Jiang daren so arrogant?”
The bodyguard smiled and replied, “You cannot blame Jiang daren for this. In fact, Jiang daren has a quite amiable temper. These are His Imperial Majesty’s orders. I have heard the general say that Jiang daren was seriously injured by an assassination attempt in the past, nearly losing his life. From that point on, the bodyguards serving at Jiang daren’s side were all directly assigned by the Emperor.”
Dai Yue nodded his head in understanding, although a strange thought appeared in his head. Wouldn’t it be easy for the Great Yong emperor to kill this Jiang daren? Just as he thought of this, he felt an icy gaze flit across his body from within the pavilion. Dai Yue could not prevent himself from trembling. Restraining the terror he felt, it was some time before he could bring himself to turn his head back around. Raising his gaze to look up, he caught sight of a young man in azure robes with an appearance like ice and snow standing in the shadows cast by the apricot blossoms. In his hands the young man held a silver pot. Although he was performing the job of a servant, his bearing utterly lacked servility. The name Demonic Shadow Li Shun immediately appeared in Dai Yue’s mind.
While Dai Yue was lost in thought, the flute’s tune came to an end. Seeing the young man kneeling kowtow without speaking, Dai Yue was completely baffled. However, he did not dare to ask too many questions and could only secretly pay attention. In the pavilion, the gray-haired and azure-robed individual slowly rose to his feet. Walking down the steps of the pavilion, he raised the kowtowing young man up. The scholarly individual sighed and said, “I am already well aware of your intentions. I will not stop you from wanting to go to Daizhou. It is only that you cannot lightly speak of sacrificing yourself. I hope that you can come back to see me when the Yong army pacifies Daizhou. Don’t worry, it isn’t that I don’t want you to do anything. I only want you to do your best to stay alive and come back to see me.”
After the young man had risen to his feet, he used the sleeve of his clothes to wipe away his tears before respectfully withdrawing. Although Dai Yue could not make heads or tails of what was happening, he clearly heard that this youth wanted to go to Daizhou, which gave birth to a haze of doubts and suspicions.
At this moment, Jing Chi had already advanced to salute, a grotesque expression on his face. He stated, “This general pays my respects to Teacher. I wonder if Sir is doing well?”
I secretly snickered as I gazed at the uneasy looking Jing Chi. I remarked, “Oh, General Jing finally has the free time to come see me.”
Making a face, Jing Chi said, “This general understands my offenses and has come to ask Sir to punish me.”
“Why would I punish you?” I serenely replied. “You are an important official of the court and a ranking general in the army. By striking so deeply, even if you didn’t contribute anything, you still put in hard work. Although I have a minor title of nobility, you, Jing Chi, will become a marquis sooner rather than later. If we consider our positions, my health has been poor these few days and I have already submitted a petition to resign from my post as the army supervisor. Although there isn’t an imperial decree and I still hold the post, I would never punish a dauntless general who commands troops like you.”
Hearing my words that seemingly reprimanded his intentions, Jing Chi was scared out of his wits, almost believing that Jiang Zhe was truly angry. Jing Chi promptly dropped to his knees and begged, “Sir, please do not get angry. Jing Chi was not trying to deliberately slight Sir. It was only that there were many insufficiencies in my leadership during this campaign and I was afraid that Sir would blame me. That is why I came late. I hope that Sir does not get angry. Sir is still sick. If your health is affected, this general will be extremely worried and troubled.”
Seeing this from a distance, Dai Yue felt overwhelmed with shock. He could just barely hear the two converse. Ordinarily, when he followed by Jing Chi’s side, he observed Jing Chi forthright and dogged. During this campaign, Dai Yue had noticed Jing Chi suppressing all opposition with his bloodlust. Dai Yue had long considered Jing Chi to be the murderous star. Who would have thought that Jing Chi would be so servile to this weak and feeble looking scholar? This frightened Dai Yue. Could it be that this roughneck was actually someone who respected his master or was it that this azure-robed scholar had the strength to make all those before him have no choice but to feel dread and respect? The people of the Devil Sect all respected power and strength, and held in contempt those who relied upon their influence and position to bully others. No matter how Dai Yue looked, this azure-robed scholar did not seem to have any power. Why were both that earlier youth and Jing Chi filled with fear and trepidation before him, and why did an unfathomable expert like Demonic Shadow Li Shun willingly serve as a servant?
Full of hard to understand misgivings, he paid even more careful attention to what followed. He didn’t expect that a Stalwart Tiger Guard would come over and quietly instruct them to enter the hamlet to rest. Dai Yue had no alternative but to follow everyone else and depart. However, he deliberately slowed his pace, doing his utmost to listen. But the conversation became increasingly indistinct and only a smattering of vague words could be heard. “You were not wrong to massacre the pass. Why are you remorseful?” The voice was gentle and soft, simple and elegant, and yet was able to say such pitiless words, making Dai Yue feel extremely frigid.
“Speckled white starry hair, drooping from the temples. Although not bottle flies, they dirty my lustrous appearance,”4 Lin Yuanting, wearing martial attire, recited clearly under the thick and cherished old locust tree that stood at the center of the courtyard. When his recitation ended, he laughed heartily without restraint, stating, “Brothers, although this old one is aged, I still have the power to ride a horse and wield a spear. Although the barbarians are fearsome, would the good men of our Daizhou fear them?”
The Daizhou commanders standing on two columns to the right and left simultaneously shouted, “The men of Daizhou hold death on the battlefield as glorious. How could we fear the barbarians? General, please give the order to drive the barbarians from Daizhou.”
Lin Yuanting laughed heartily. His originally somewhat sallow appearance overlay a heroic and awe-inspiring spirit that was not diminished from his former glory days. Looking behind him, he could see that all of the important ranking officers of the Daizhou army were present. There were those who were fifty to sixty years old, veteran generals completely scarred and gray-haired. There were also those middle-aged generals in their primes. And there were youngsters who still carried a hint of childishness. His two sons, Lin Chengyi and Lin Cheng’er, were included among them. Unfortunately, although these generals all had bravery and ferocity in abundance, their intelligence was wanting.
The barbarian incursion this time was like a torrent. If only relying upon these generals to fight, the likely result would be one where neither side won and both sides suffered. A hint of sorrow shone in his eyes before vanishing quickly. As the present commander-in-chief of the Daizhou army, he could not show the dismal feelings he hid.
Lin Yuanting apologetically continued, “In answer to His Royal Majesty’s orders, Bi’er has led our main force to Qinzhou, creating the present grim situation. Yuanting is full of shame. Brother Qi, you originally had retired to civilian life, but now have donned your armor to return to battle. This elder brother has wronged you.”
An elderly veteran with hair and beard white stepped forward. Clasping his hands together in greeting, he declared, “General, do not say these words. His Royal Majesty has treated our Daizhou with profound kindness. Now that the country is at peril, it is understandable that he had no alternative but to summon the Daizhou army south. That decision was a result of public discussion within our Daizhou army, and has nothing to do with General and the Princess. My son has the fortune of following the Princess south, while my grandson is still young. With the barbarians invading, how can my Qi family not send anyone into battle? Although this general is aged, I have not allowed my martial skills to waste away. General must not look down on this general.”
Lin Yuanting’s heart warmed, as he replied, “Many thanks for brother’s understanding. However, you are still a veteran general and cannot enter battle lightly. It is already the greatest contribution if you can remain at the army center and issue appropriate orders. This time, I have implemented conscription to draft all men fifteen and above in Daizhou to prepare for war. They are in the prime of their youths and require your steady hand to lead them. As for fighting hand-to-hand, that is the business of the youngsters. You must not try to vie for achievements alongside them.”
At first, the elderly general revealed a look of unhappiness. However, seeing the resolve upon Lin Yuanting’s face, he understood that his responsibility was to pass along his experiences to the youngsters. As a result, he vowed his agreement before withdrawing.
Smiling slightly, Lin Yuanting declared, “Good! All generals, listen up! All the inhabitants outside of Yanmen Pass have already begun to move back behind the Great Wall. We must strictly defend the mountain passes. This time, we don’t have enough troops and cannot directly confront the enemy force outside of Yanmen Pass like before. However, simply closing the passes is death. The barbarians have suffered from the snows this time and will definitely attack Daizhou utterly disregarding their lives. If we only focus on defense, the barbarians will definitely enter through the gaps in the Daizhou defenses. As a result, we still need to sally forth to fight the decisive battle. However, we can only send our best troops to confront them. I intend to have Chengyi and Cheng’er command the troops. What do you all think?”
All of the gathered officers knew that although the Lin brothers were young, they were fierce generals. Though they could not match Lin Bi’s resourcefulness, they were generals who followed the norms of warfare. Their abilities were superior to the other youthful generals. As a result, there were no objections.
When Lin Yuanting was about to give the order for the troops to be mustered, a young lady in red walked out from the rear residence. She wore blazing red armor as well as a red silk cape. She was equipped with a bow and arrows, and had a saber tied at her waist, not lacking for anything. She was Lin Yuanting’s youngest daughter, Lin Tong. At this moment, Lin Tong’s face was frostily cold, containing prestige that made people tremble with fear, while her pair of eyes blazed with battle fury.
After returning from the Eastern Sea, this young girl had seemingly matured. Her pampered and charming mischievousness had disappeared without a trace, replaced by a blazing fire that was as dazzling as a reborn phoenix. In just a short timespan, she was only behind her sister when it came to horse archery and art of war. However, in this offensive, Lin Yuanting still did not want her to go into battle. After all, of the Lin family’s four sons and two daughters, there were already five who were rushing headlong into battle. For this youngest child, when all was said and done, Lin Yuanting had his own selfish motives.
Lin Tong walked into the center of the main hall. Genuflecting, she stated, “Daughter requests permission to accompany Father and go into battle to drive away the barbarians and protect my homeland.”
Lin Yuanting angrily replied, “You are only a small woman. How can you utter these delirious ravings? There is naturally no need for you to go into battle. Your father and elder brothers will assume that responsibility. It is best that you remain in the residence to protect your mother.”
Trembling, Lin Tong retorted, “Father’s words err. Although daughter is young, I am already seventeen years old. Elder sister was fifteen when she went into battle. Daughter is well aware of my shallow knowledge and does not dare to have extravagant hopes of commanding troops into battle, and will be perfectly satisfied by accompanying Father and elder brothers to attack the enemy in service to my country. Moreover, for the survival of our country, elder sister has gone to Qinzhou to battle Great Yong. As such, please allow Tong’er to take elder sister’s place to go into battle and drive the barbarians from Daizhou.”
Lin Yuanting’s face had both gratification and grief on his face, alternating mightily. He was well aware of this daughter’s temperament. Even if she were prohibited from accompanying the army, it was likely that she would join the militia without approval and go into battle. In addition, he was extremely delighted to see his daughter’s resolute character. Heaving a sigh, Lin Yuanting finally conceded, “Going into battle this time, you will temporarily serve as your father’s bodyguard.”
Lin Tong kowtowed before rising to her feet. Walking next to her father, she had a gaze that seemed to penetrate far into the distance, reaching the distant Qin River. If I were to die in battle, it is possible that I won’t have to meet you with the lives of my family on the line.
At this moment, a handsome, elegant, carefree, and amiable young man appeared in her mind’s eye, causing profound grief to well up from her heart. A single tear dropped to the ground.
- 汾酒, fenjiu – a liquor fermented from sorghum
- 请君入瓮, qingjunruweng – idiom, lit. would you kindly step into the jar; fig. to invite someone into a trap, to give somebody a taste of his own medicine, try what you have devised against others
- These are verses from a poem entitled Immortal by the River: Scaling the Small Pavilion in Luoyang at Night to Reminisce on My Old Haunts (临江仙·夜登小阁忆洛中旧游) by Song Dynasty poet Chen Yuyi (陈与亦).
- This is a poem by the Eastern Jin Dynasty poet Zuo Si (左思) entitled Rhapsody on White Hair (白发赋).