Volume 5, Chapter 21: Troops Sally Forth from Hu Pass

Volume 5, Chapter 21: Troops Sally Forth from Hu Pass

Hu Pass was a formidable pass that guarded the strategic route of Baixing through the Taihang Mountains. From Zhenzhou, one was able to pass through Baixing to enter into Northern Han territory. Surrounded by mountains, Hu Pass was an important stronghold that controlled the entire Baixing. To the north was Mount Baigu and to the south was Mount Shuanglong. The pass was called the Jar Pass because it was wedged between the two mountains. Once Hu Pass fell, the Yong army could penetrate deep into the Northern Han hinterlands.

As the Yong army had split in two this time, the one responsible for attacking Hu Pass was Jing Chi. This time, he had brought thirty thousand horsemen and forty thousand troops of the Zhenzhou garrison, beginning a fierce assault upon Hu Pass starting on the fourteenth day of the third month. Hu Pass’s garrison commander, Liu Wanli, was a famous general. At the head of seven thousand troops, he stoutly defended the pass without withdrawing. After assailing the pass for eight days straight, the Yong army still found it difficult to conquer Hu Pass.

On the twenty-first day of the third month, Jing Chi urged his horse forward until he arrived at his command banner. With a frosty gaze, he looked upon the fortifications stained red with blood. Only his somewhat chapped lips revealed his inner anxiety. This time, his orders were clear. He had to breach the Hu Pass before marching upon Shangdang1 to reach Qinyuan and rendezvous with the Prince of Qi to pincer the main Northern Han army. The Northern Han army was heavily outnumbered and could only defend a number of key fortifications. As long as Hu Pass fell, there was only vast, undefended territory behind. However, even though Hu Pass had been assaulted for eight days straight, it remained towering over the Yong army without falling. Jing Chi felt like a fire blazed in his heart, itching to personally take the field. However, it was too much of a great waste to use cavalry to attack fortifications. The Prince of Qi’s intent was very clear—the Zhenzhou garrison was to attack the fortifications, while Jing Chi’s cavalry was to be used for the breakthrough and could not suffer heavy losses at Hu Pass.

Raising his eyes to look up at the sky, Jing Chi saw that the sun had already set behind Hu Pass, shining over the entire walls and towers a blood red light. He ferociously stated, “Recall the troops.” Afterwards, he spurred his horse and returned to camp. He had to think of a way. In at most two days, if he did not capture the pass, he had to set foot within the pass even if he had to personally lead the assault.

On the twenty-second day of the third month, the commander of the Zhenzhou garrison responsible for assaulting Hu Pass, Lin Ya, stood atop the three zhang2 tall command tower with a look of agitation. Over these days, countless numbers of battering rams, ballistae, siege ladders, and catapults had been destroyed. The land below the walls was in utter shambles. The moat had already been filled. The city gates had long been burned to a crisp by the oil used by the Yong army, but the passageway had been completely plugged with stones, bricks, and tree trunks by the Northern Han army. Lin Ya knew that if Jing Chi could capture the pass, it would adversely affect military plans.

It was unfortunate that Liu Wanli was cruel and malicious. When he learned that the Yong army was about to attack Hu Pass, he had levied all of the men in their primes from neighboring areas to help in the pass’s defense, forcing all of the levied men to monitor each other through collective punishment. Although Great Yong had a number of agents who infiltrated Hu Pass, they never had the opportunity to coordinate with the attackers outside of the pass. Were it not for the shrewdness of several of the agents to exploit the tossing of tree trunks and rocks to also pass messages, the Yong army likely would not know the real situation within the pass. Even so, the walls of Hu Pass were firm and the pass was protected on both sides by mountains. Liu Wanli had established strongholds on each mountain. With the three positions working in cooperation, the Yong army suffered heavy losses without success.

Today, Lin Ya had steeled his heart and dispatched the best of his soldiers and officers. As he watched, a siege ladder collapsed under the raging inferno and the blood of the brave Yong warriors was painted upon the façade of the walls of Hu Pass. Even though he was a veteran of a hundred battles,3 Lin Ya felt his temples throb, a raging fury rising.

Just as Lin Ya with directing the assault, he felt the wooden command tower under his feet begin to tremble. He could not help gazing below, and caught sight of Jing Chi climbing the tower. Jing Chi only wore a battle gown that did not cover his left shoulder with the rest billowing behind him. In Jing Chi’s hands was a war drum as tall as a man. Arriving atop the tower, Jing Chi set the war drum down and shouted in a loud voice, “Bring the drum mallets!”

One of Jing Chi’s personal troops who had followed Jing Chi up promptly handed over two drum mallets with red silk wrapped around their heads. With a loud cry, Jing Chi began to brandish the mallets, forcefully beating the war drums. The drumbeat resounded through the skies, almost like unending thunderclaps rumbling throughout the entire battlefield. After the Battle of Zezhou, Jing Chi had heard of how Jiang Zhe had beat the drums to assist the Yong army to a decisive victory and wished to copy Jiang Zhe’s example. During his leisurely period, Jiang Zhe had only taught Jing Chi for a few days. Although Jing Chi didn’t know anything about music, being an experienced soldier and a military commander, it boosted morale with its magnificence, boldness, and power even though the drumbeat he created did not have countless permutations.

Hearing the drumbeat, the Zhenzhou troops felt their blood surge. After learning that the one beating the drums was Jing Chi, the soldiers were both stirred and ashamed. Simultaneously, they shouted out, “We are attacking Hu Pass under orders to allow General Jing to invade Northern Han! However, we have battled bitterly without success, forcing General Jing to wait here painfully! Now that General Jing is personally beating the drums to cheer us on, if we cannot take Hu Pass, it will be impossible for us to lift our heads before General Jing! In addition, Zhenzhou’s reputation will have been completely lost by our failures!”

The Zhenzhou soldiers and officers mutually encouraged each other. This time, the assault was unstoppable. Hu Pass seemingly began to quake and waver under the drumbeat. In the sky, dark clouds gathered, almost as if the Heavens did not wish to see the bloody and brutal battle on the ground below.

Standing atop the walls, Liu Wanli’s entire face was covered with grime. His eyes were frigidly cold, because there were no reinforcements. The main Northern Han army was battling with Yong’s Zezhou troops; the only available troops were in Jinyang or Daizhou. However, the Jinyang troops could not be lightly moved. As for the Daizhou troops, Liu Wanli groaned. When Lin Yuanting had surrendered to Northern Han, he had come to an agreement with the Northern Han King. The Daizhou army would not leave the borders. On the one hand, this was likely to prevent the powerful Daizhou troops from affecting Northern Han’s political situation. However, Lin Yuanting had cheerfully agreed and proclaimed that the sole purpose of the Daizhou army was to protect the homeland, not for the sake of internecine strife. As a result, over these years, the Daizhou army had never stepped foot outside of Daizhou. Of course, the Daizhou army still marched out of Yanmen to attack the barbarian tribes.

As a result, Liu Wanli knew he could only rely upon his own troops to defend Hu Pass. However, after eight days, Liu Wanli knew that Hu Pass was on the verge of collapse, while the Yong army continued to attack without end. In this battle, he could not win and could only be defeated.

Liu Wanli’s deputy walked over. His lips were blistered and his voice hoarse, as he said, “General, the enemy is attacking again. This time, they have brought up four siege towers. They are truly determined to win.”

Liu Wanli gave a light sigh. The terrain before Hu Pass was narrow. Generally speaking, three siege towers were more than enough. With four siege towers, they would inevitably become too concentrated and increase the casualties. However, in addition, the pressure on the enemy would be quite high as well. A few days earlier, Yong had taken its time in the assault to the extent that they only used two siege towers. Heaving a deeper sigh, Liu Wanli said, “Set them on fire.”

The deputy commander voiced his assent, turning to issue the order. In order to hold out longer, Liu Wanli had already issued orders to wait for the enemy to close before retaliating. The four siege towers pushed the Yong troops to the walls. When the deputy commander issued the order, the Northern Han troops on the walls collected the firewood into bundles. After pouring oil on them, they were catapulted to the feet of the siege towers. Afterwards, fire arrows were loosed. The siege towers were immediately caught in raging infernos. With this, the Yong armies could not climb on top of the siege towers to shoot arrows into the pass.

At this moment, the Yong soldiers below the walls did not act normally and climb the siege towers. Instead, they forcibly pushed over the siege towers. In an instant, the four siege towers had toppled against the walls, creating an incline. Just then, bugle horns sounded. The Zhenzhou troops opened files and a squadron of five hundred horsemen galloped forward. Under their hooves, billowing dust was kicked up, dispersing the smoke and fire. Unexpectedly, the horses actually jumped onto the toppled siege towers and charged up onto the walls.

Liu Wanli loudly shouted, “Loose! Loose!” No longer using arrows sparingly, the Northern Han army began to desperately shoot at the charging Yong cavalry. At this moment, the general leading the cavalry charge began to laugh heartily as he arrived atop the walls. Two Northern Han soldiers were stampeded by hooves the size of saucers. The general brandished the lance in his hands, sending blood flying all around him. Afterwards, even more Yong soldiers arrived atop the walls.

Hu Pass is about to fall! thought Liu Wanli. Although he was on the verge of despair, the indomitable blood of Northern Han people was ignited. After secretly issuing orders, he personally led the Northern Han soldiers on the wall in a desperate effort to repel the attackers for a period before he shouted, “Retreat! Retreat! Allow them to climb the walls!”

At this moment, Liu Wanli’s face was stained with blood, almost as if he were a devil. Although the defenders on top of the wall were puzzled, they were all intimidated and unwittingly retreated. With this, the remaining four hundred Yong horsemen all ascended to the walls. However, just as they were celebrating, Liu Wanli shouted, “Loose the crossbows!”

A continuous string of crossbow mechanisms clunked and fifty to sixty bolts were shot into the gathered Yong cavalry. Almost every single bolt pierced a horse or a rider. Atop the narrow walls, the horsemen had no way of dispersing or dodging. The retreating Northern Han soldiers had revealed thirty crossbowmen armed with Divine Armed Bows. This crossbow was used to defend fortifications. Each bolt that it fired was four chi4 in length. Each time, the crossbow could fire two bolts. However, each crossbow required three soldiers to operate. Because of the crossbow’s enormous power, the bolts it fired were able to penetrate all armor within a hundred zhang.5 As a result, they were the most formidable prizes used to defend fortifications. Because these crossbows were easily damaged, Liu Wanli had held off from using them, hoping to employ them at the most desperate moment to catch the enemy off guard and seize the advantage. Since it was a matter of life and death right now, Liu Wanli had allowed the Yong cavalry to mount the walls while he secretly marshaled crossbowmen.

Now, the crossbows were showing their awesome power. After three volleys, the Yong horsemen had suffered disastrous losses. At this moment, the Northern Han defenders seized the opportunity to surround the surviving Yong horsemen. At the same time, they poured boiling oil down onto the toppled siege towers, forcing the Zhenzhou foot soldiers to retreat. Finally, the toppled siege towers were ignited and burned to ash. With this, the tens of thousands of Yong troops below the walls could only watch as the cavalry that had mounted the gates were surrounded and annihilated, making all of them feel brokenhearted. As the sounds of battle gradually diminished atop the walls, a hoarse and reverberating voice sang in a loud voice from above:

“Grasping spears, armor sharp,
Our troops are few and chariots broken.
The enemy’s banners hide the sun like the clouds
And arrows fall as soldiers fight.
I walk over the fallen, the left flank dead,
The right flank wounded; and in the dust,
The chariot wheels and mangled horses
Mix with striking drums.
A hateful fate—”6

Just as the voice sang to the end, the voice was suddenly severed, filling the Yong soldiers below the walls with grief.

Jing Chi threw aside the drum mallets and walked down the command tower with large strides. Grabbing the reins of his warhorse, Jing Chi spurred his horse forward and galloped towards Hu Pass without bothering to put on armor. With tears rolling down his face, he gazed up at the walls of the pass. At this moment, the attacking Zhenzhou troops had dispiritedly begun to retreat in defeat. Jing Chi suddenly looked up at the sky and began to sing:

“A hateful fate, the spirits angry,
The slaughter done, we flee the field,
Leaving without return,
Until the battle is far away.
The enemy carries their bows and lengthy swords,
Beheading the living without warning;
Real men were brave and warlike,
Resolute until the end—and no one could cross.
Bodies dead, spirits gone,
Their souls are now heroic ghosts.”7

At first, the Yong soldiers were stunned that Jing Chi had continued the song. Afterwards, the soldiers began to join in the song. Quickly, more and more soldiers joined in, causing the chorus to become increasingly loud, causing the song to resonate under the Heavens. A solemn and stirring aura began to surge amidst the Yong soldiers. As the song increasingly echoed, repeating the verses, the Yong army no longer discouraged and pessimistic by the defeat. The raging flames of confidence and killing intent condensed to become an unstoppable spirit and drive.

This Hymn to the Fallen was a battle song known to every single soldier, regardless of whether they hailed from Great Yong or Northern Han. Even those soldiers who were illiterate were able to remember each and every verse. With the morale of the Yong army set ablaze, the Northern Han army’s morale became filled with distress and sorrow. In a flash, the Northern Han soldiers’ faces became grave. Gazing at the power of the Yong army and thinking of the consequences after defeat, every single Northern Han soldier was scared witless.

Standing atop the walls, Liu Wanli slammed a hand down on the ramparts, thinking, “What a formidable Jing Chi, surprisingly using such a method to galvanize the Yong army after a defeat! Contempt flickered in his eyes as he muttered, “Bring my bow and arrow.”

One of Liu Wanli’s bodyguards promptly handed over Liu Wanli’s iron bow. Liu Wanli was a master of horse archery and was able to draw a bow with five piculs8 of pressure. It was a piece of cake for him to take an enemy’s life within one hundred paces.9 However, because he had suffered a grievous injury to his waist, he could no longer use his strength in a sustained fashion. As a result, he had not personally gone into battle for a long time. Right now, seeing Jing Chi bare a shoulder and advance forward, killing intent welled up within Liu Wanli. Fearing that others could not match his archery, he chose to personally shoot the arrow.

After completing the song, Jing Chi was not finished, pointing at Hu Pass and beginning to curse loudly. The several days of anger made him wish that he could swallow Hu Pass whole. At this very moment, a shadow practically invisible to the naked eye shot from the walls towards Jing Chi. As one of Yong’s top ferocious generals, Jing Chi had few worthy opponents. Although he did not hear the bowstring sound and did not see the arrow clearly, in a split second, he felt the terror of being targeted. He instinctively turned his body. His hands were empty and could not pick up his lance in a timely fashion. As a result, he could only extend his empty hands to catch the oncoming arrow. The white feathered arrow unfortunately slipped through the seams between his fingers and penetrated his chest. Jing Chi gazed up at the sky, and with a bellow, collapsed off of his mount like a small mountain avalanche. The Yong army to his left and right raised a clamor. Seizing Jing Chi, they retreated. At this moment, the sound of gongs reverberated from the Yong army’s center, signaling the retreat. Like a tide, the several tens of thousands of Yong troops began to withdraw.

Observing the Yong army retreat into the distance, Liu Wanli practically could not believe his eyes. The officers and bodyguards at his side shouted themselves hoarse, their voices filled with excitement. Liu Wanli suddenly felt a throbbing pain in his waist and could not help smiling wryly. One of the fiercest generals of the Northern Han army had to now serve as a garrison commander and was no longer able to lead the charge.

Grasping a long saber, Liu Wanli’s deputy hobbled over and ecstatically exclaimed, “General’s shot was truly divine! Jing Chi is a ranking general within the Yong army. Injuring him with an arrow will not only weaken the vigor of the Yong army, but has also caused the enemy to lose their commander. This will make it useless even if they break through Hu Pass. Maybe they will retreat tomorrow.”

Smiling wryly, Liu Wanli replied, “That would be for the best. However, if I were the enemy generals, being unable to capture Hu Pass and having their commander injured, even if the Yong court does not punish them, they will be deeply humiliated. They will definitely attempt to break the pass at all costs in the hopes of atoning for their failings. Jing Chi’s fate is likely determined; the Yong army will once again assault the pass. At present, our trump cards have all been revealed. I’m afraid that we can only take matters day by day.”

Liu Wanli had spoken in a low voice. After all, he had no wish to strike a mental blow against his excited subordinate officers and soldiers. Hearing Liu Wanli’s words, his deputy’s face underwent grave changes.

Forcefully propping himself up to arrange the defenses, Liu Wanli returned to his residence. His wife had already prepared medication and hot water with deep anxiety. She supported Liu Wanli and helped him lie down upon the bed, feeding medicine and massaging her husband. After a long time had passed, as the pain from the old injury gradually disappeared, Liu Wanli finally drifted off into sleep.

Not knowing how much time had passed, Liu Wanli suddenly felt his nose itch and he could not help sneezing. Returning to consciousness, he opened his eyes and saw his beloved five-year-old son, Liu Huai, shoving a stalk of withered grass up his nose. Liu Wanli could not help breaking out into clear laughter. Reaching out, Liu Wanli pulled his beloved son into his embrace and asked, “Naughty kid, why have you come and disturbed daddy’s sleep?”

A gleam appeared in Liu Huai’s large eyes as he childishly answered with a face full of discontent, “Daddy has ignored Huai’er these last several days.”

Feeling sour, Liu Wanli was filled with guilt and shame, secretly regretting his softheartedness in allowing his wife and son to come from Jinyang a year ago. At the time, he simply felt that Hu Pass would be as steady as Mount Tai. Who would have thought that it would fall into today’s perilous situation? With the enemy army invading, it was only a matter of time before the pass fell. However, as the commander of the garrison, if he furtively sent away his wife and only son, the soldiers and civilians of the pass would probably lose their courage to resist. However, if they were not sent away, once the pass fell, everything would be destroyed indiscriminately. Having suffered disastrous losses after several days, the Yong army would likely massacre everyone in retaliation. When that time came, both his wife and his beloved son would likely die miserably. Thinking of this, Liu Wanli could not help trembling slightly. Hugging his son tightly to him, he could not say a single word.

At this moment, Lady Liu entered the bedroom carrying a bowl of medicine and saw Liu Wanli’s spirits. Having been married for many years, how could she not understand her husband’s feelings? Setting down the bowl of medicine, she walked to the bedside and kneeled down. She said, “Husband, by rights, your servant should not speak. However, with the current situation, husband should make preparations. Your servant and husband have been married for twelve years. We will live and die together. Your servant is willing to accompany husband to the underworld. However, Huai’er is still young and is our family’s only descendant. If something happened to him, even if your servant reached the underworld, how could I face our ancestors? Husband, please send Huai’er back to the countryside and give him to the care of your servant’s elder brother. Your servant’s elder brother is a commoner. Even if something happens in the future, in the event that a sudden change occurs, Huai’er won’t be implicated.”

Pain stabbed into Liu Wanli’s heart. How could he not want the best for his beloved son? Having joined the army at a young age, he had only spent three days with his newlywed wife before he went into battle. Ultimately, the Heavens were caring and he was able to return alive. Over the years, they were separated far more frequently than they were together. His parents were attended to by his wife. It was only six years ago when he had returned home seriously injured that Huai’er was conceived and ensured that his parents could depart without any regrets. Afterwards, he had been dispatched to garrison Hu Pass.

At the time, the war between Great Yong and Northern Han was at its tensest. Hu Pass was in a constant state of emergency. As a result, he had not dared to bring his family over. Who would have thought that just as he was reunited, Hu Pass would face ferocious assaults from the enemy? In addition, the current situation at Hu Pass was approaching a crisis. However, if he sent his beloved son away, it would likely have an adverse effect upon the defense of the pass. Liu Wanli finally avoided the pleading gaze of his wife and whispered, “Madam, do not worry. The Yong army’s commander has been injured by an arrow that I shot. We will definitely be able to hold out until reinforcements arrive.”

Speaking thusly, he heaved a deep sigh. Would there be any reinforcements? Lady Liu also began to shed tears. She was not a woman from the countryside, and had received a classical education. Familiar with the histories and having spent years maintaining Liu Wanli’s household, how could she not understand her husband’s insincere words?

Just as Liu Wanli and his wife were brokenhearted, a maid hurriedly came in to report, “General, the deputy general daren requests an interview.”

Liu Wanli quickly sobered. Handing his beloved son to his wife, he said, “Go into the back for now. I will think this matter through.”

Delighted, Lady Liu repeatedly nodded her head. With Liu Huai in her arms, she hurriedly returned to the inner chambers. Just as she was about to leave, she did not forget to exhort her husband, “Husband, please do not forget to take the medicine.”

Seeing off his wife and son, Liu Wanli instructed the maid to invite his deputy general in. Picking up the bowl of lukewarm medicine, Liu Wanli slowly drank its contents. He wondered why his deputy had come. Did something happen? Gazing out through the window, it was not yet nightfall. Today’s fighting had ended before noon. At present, the defensive arrangements should probably have been completed. His deputy should already be familiar with what was needed to defend the pass and shouldn’t have come to request instructions. His deputy also knew that his old injury had flared up. Why would his deputy come disturb him right now?

The young deputy general quickly entered the room. Seeing Liu Wanli, he excitedly reported, “General, this general has a strategy that can save Hu Pass from this perilous situation.”

Although he was interested, Liu Wanli did not show a trace, either on his face or the hand that held the medicine bowl. He indifferently replied, “Speak. The present situation is very dangerous. Even if there is a shred of hope, we cannot lightly abandon it.”

The deputy excitedly explained, “When this general was organizing the defenses, I dispatched the pass’s most capable scout to observe the enemy army’s situation. Although the state of the enemy commander’s injuries was concealed, the enemy army is restless and anxious. All of the army doctors and medics have been gathered at the commander’s tent on call. In addition, all of the officers are also waiting there. From this, we can clearly see that Jing Chi’s injuries are quite serious. Even if he doesn’t die, he has still suffered gravely. This general believes that since the Yong army’s morale has been shaken, now would be the perfect opportunity to catch them unprepared. Because we have never sallied out, they have let their guard down out of scorn. As such, this general wants to select two thousand elite troops to take advantage of nightfall to penetrate into and set fire to the enemy encampments to destroy the enemy’s supplies. If we can also seize the opportunity to kill a few of the enemy’s important officers, they will definitely retreat when the time comes because their commander is unable to take charge. And their supply train is imperiled by the difficulties of traversing Baixing. Even if they do not retreat, they will be forced to postpone their assault. With this, we will be able to dispatch messages to nearby counties to recruit levies to reinforce our defense of Hu Pass. At that time, Hu Pass will definitely hold out.”

As a veteran, although Liu Wanli felt delight at first, he quickly filled with worry. Although the Yong commander, Jing Chi, had been seriously injured, the commander of the Zhenzhou army was meticulous and probably foresaw the possibility of a nighttime raid. Moreover, the Yong army was well-trained and formidable. This raid might not necessarily succeed. However, Liu Wanli’s eyes flashed, as he caught sight of the withered grass that his beloved son had left behind on the bed. His heart suddenly ached. If the current situation continued, once the Yong army had been able to steady itself, Hu Pass would definitely fall. If he agreed to this plan, if he could force the Yong army to withdraw, then it would be worth it to take such risks. In addition, according to Liu Wanli’s many years’ of battlefield experience, this strategy had a fifty percent chance of success. At present, even if there were a ten percent chance of success, it would be worth the desperate gamble.

Setting down the medicine bowl, Liu Wanli gravely said, “Go and gather fifteen hundred warriors willing to fight to the death. Any more and it would be pointless. Tonight, I will personally lead them in the raid.”

The deputy promptly responded, “General, your old injury has flared up again. How can you lead a unit to raid the enemy camps? It is best that this general takes command.”

Just as Liu Wanli was about to reject, a familiar pain spread from his waist. He instinctively knit his brows. He could only reply, “If that is the case, then everything will have to rely upon you. Our army’s life and death will depend on tonight’s battle.”

The youthful deputy general prostrated to the ground and replied, “General, do not worry. If there are any mishaps, this general would rather die with the men and will definitely not remain alive.”

An ominous premonition rising from inside, Liu Wanli almost wanted to speak up to prevent the deputy from going. However, thinking of the current situation, he thought to himself, Even if this fails, it will only result in an earlier demise by a few days. At present, I can no longer hesitate. Reaching out, Liu Wanli helped his deputy to his feet. Gazing at this youth who had served at his side for many years, a look of sorrow flashed across his eyes. Even if the raid was successful, because this plan called for the pass defenders to attempt the impossible,10 the result would be both sides suffering grievously. However, he had no other alternative right now and could only watch as this matter took place. Never before, he had never so hated the Heavens for their heartlessness. It was said that it was “better a dog in a peaceful time than a man in a chaotic period.” 11

Suddenly, a treasonous thought appeared in Liu Wanli’s mind. If the world could be unified, even if Northern Han were destroyed, then all of this wouldn’t matter. As soon as this thought appeared, Liu Wanli subconsciously avoided his deputy’s gaze. He thought, Whatever the case, I have received His Royal Majesty’s deep favor. It would be proper and expected if I sacrifice my life for the country. If Great Yong’s unification is truly unstoppable, then I will just have to become the sacrifice before Great Yong’s iron hooves.

That very night, under the dim moonlight, Hu Pass’s deputy led his personally selected soldiers on the suicide mission. In the distance, he could see the forbidding terrain of the Yong army’s main encampment. Behind the deputy, there were five hundred horsemen and a thousand foot soldiers. Each soldier had coins in their mouths to prevent them from speaking. As for the warhorses, their mouths were muzzled and they had cotton wrapped around their hooves. Although there were plenty of troops and horses, there was not a single sound. The deputy signaled with his hand. Over a hundred men saluted him and disappeared into the darkness. These men all wore tight-fitting black clothes and bore sabers on their backs. Each of them carried kindling used for setting fire to the Yong encampment. Once the fires erupted, the deputy would lead the rest of the soldiers and assault the Yong encampment to throw the enemy into complete disarray.

The distant Yong encampment was completely silent. Aside from the soldiers on night watch, there were practically no signs of people present, almost as if the entire Yong army was deep asleep. Presumably, the tumultuous changes had mentally exhausted the entire army. However, the deputy was apprehensive. After all, the soldiers and officers that he was leading were the elite of Hu Pass. If the raid failed, then there would be no hope for reprieve.

It wasn’t long before the flames suddenly sprang up all around the Yong encampment. As a disorderly cacophony sounded, fleeing shadows could be seen in the flickering flames. The deputy was delighted and raised the lance in his hand. He shouted, “KILL!”

Afterwards, the deputy took the lead and charged into the Yong encampment. Following along the path created by the scouts that had infiltrated into the Yong encampment beforehand, the deputy first charged into the rear camps of the encampment. On both sides were raging flames. Brandishing his lance to the left and right, he ripped the burning tents off the ground, throwing them towards tents that had not yet caught fire.

Like a hot knife through butter, the five hundred horsemen charged into the center of the Yong encampment. As for the foot soldiers, they scattered to commit murder and arson. The deputy was untroubled. The entire journey, aside from killing and knocking down the Yong soldiers who had dared to block his path, he had been unwilling to be delayed, completely focused on reaching the center of Yong encampments in the hopes of killing a few of the Yong army’s generals. From the corners of his eyes, he could see that the Yong encampment had already become a sea of fire. He laughed heartily. After slaying a Yong soldier desperately trying to block his path, he shouted, “Kill! Cause the rivers to run red with blood!”

In the face of the flames, the morale of the Northern Han raiders swelled greatly. The soldiers all loudly shouted their murderous intents. Like this, the deputy reached the center of the encampment. In front of him, he could see a command tent with a banner with the character jing (荆).


  1. 上当, Shangdang – a prefecture and county that dated all the way back to the Spring and Autumn Period; modern-day Changzhi
  2. 8.82 meters (about 29 feet)
  3. 身经百战, shenjingbaizhan – idiom, lit. veteran of a hundred battles; fig. experienced, a veteran
  4. 0.984 meters (about 3.2 feet)
  5. 294 meters (about 320 yards)
  6. This poem is entitled Hymn to the Fallen (国殇) and is a part of an ancient set of poems called the Jiu Ge (九歌) or Nine Songs. Even though it is called Nine Songs, there are actually eleven elegies altogether. The Nine Songs are a part of a poetry anthology known as the Chuci (楚辞) or Songs of Chu that are typically attributed to the Warring States Period poet Qu Yuan.
  7. This is the second half of the poem entitled Hymn to the Fallen (国殇).
  8. Roughly 600 catties or 300 kilograms
  9. 147 meters (around 160 yards)
  10. 以卵击石, yiluanjishi – idiom, lit. to strike a stone with an egg; fig. to attempt the impossible
  11. 宁为太平犬,不做乱世人, ningweitaipingquan, buzuoluanshiren – Chinese proverb, lit. better to be a dog in a peaceful time than to be a man in a chaotic period
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