Volume 6, Chapter 11: Setting Fire to the Yangzhou Road1
General Luo, responsible for Huaidong, dispatched Colonel Sun Ding at the head of five thousand troops to reinforce Sikou. When Sun Ding’s force arrived, Sikou had already fallen. At this time, Yong’s main force had not yet arrived. Ding ordered his infantry to attack, but it bore no fruit. The Yong army had arrived. Sikou was then occupied by the Yong army. Sun Ding was stranded and encircled, his soldiers all begging to surrender. Sun Ding could not stop them, and the Yong army took them all prisoner.
—Zizhi Tongjian, Yong Records Volume Three
In the Chuzhou Barracks, Luo Louzhen sat in the commander’s tent with a scowl. He wasted an entire morning before he reluctantly completed the preparations for war for the Chuzhou Barracks. This made him more worried. How could he meet the enemy like this? If he had three to five days, he would be ready. However, he didn’t know when the Yong armies would come. Fortunately, both Prime Minister Shang and Grand General Lu were worrywarts. But when he thought things through, Huaidong had always been a place of strategic importance. When the Yong army attacked Huainan, they would take Yangzhou in Huaidong if they did not take Shouchun in Huaixi. And if they wanted to take Yangzhou, the Yong army would have to capture Chuzhou, Sizhou, and Guangling. If the Yong army intended to take Huaidong, he was sure to be the first to bear the brunt.
Luo Louzhen glanced at Adjunct Huang. He impatiently asked, “How about now? Have the messengers sent to Sizhou and Guangling returned?”
“They still have not, but the two regions are distant,” said Adjunct Huang, looking uneasy. “One round trip takes until night before they’ll be back.”
Luo Louzhen angrily said, “They’re all useless. Grand General Lu’s messengers can go from Jiangxia to Chuzhou within in a few days. Sizhou and Guangling are right next to us and it still takes that long! There’s also that Sun Ding fellow. I had him go to Sikou and take control of the defenses. Why hasn’t he sent a messenger back to clarify the situation in all this time?”
Adjunct Huang saw his anger erupt and nervously said, “Perhaps he is busy with military affairs. There will presumably be news by the afternoon.”
Luo Louzhen was mollified. “Transmit orders down the chain that all deputy generals and other officers are not to be remiss in their duties. If Chuzhou is lost, and I cannot save my life, don’t think you’ll have it easy.”
Adjunct Huang shuddered and said, “General, should we inform the Chuzhou garrison? They have five thousand troops there. Although they don’t have much combat strength, it’s still good to take precautions.”
Luo Louzhen furrowed his brows. The Chuzhou garrison and he didn’t get along. He didn’t have much standing, so he didn’t want to offend them. However, he finally understood the truth in “without lips, the teeth feel cold.” His base in southwest Chuzhou was isolated, and he couldn’t defend the barracks if the Yong armies came attacking. He could only withdraw to Chuzhou and garrison the city. If he didn’t seize the moment to improve relations, he might not even have an escape route. A moment of consideration later, he scoffed and decided, “Dispatch someone to inform Gu Yuanyong to close the city gates within the next few days and await the enemy army.”
Adjunct Huang hastily complied. Luo Louzhen and Gu Yuanyong were on bad terms, mostly because the Chuzhou Barracks’ soldiers ran riot in Chuzhou. Luo Louzhen didn’t restrain them either, and because his backing was too powerful, Gu Yuanyong had no choice but to think of ways to please him. Although Luo Louzhen didn’t appreciate the effort, Adjunct Huang and others benefited from association. They felt a mild affection for Gu Yuanyong, so Adjunct Huang would think of a way to notify the Chuzhou military intelligence in a timely manner.
Right after Adjunct Huang departed, a bodyguard entered and reported, “General, Colonel Sun’s bodyguards have returned.”
Luo Louzhen rejoiced. “Have them enter.”
Soon, two soldiers walked in. Luo Louzhen recognized the one in front: Sun Fang, a relative of Sun Ding. He was the leader of Sun Ding’s bodyguard. The one in the back was trembling a little, however, and was too scared to lift his head after entering the tent. He was clearly fearful. Luo Louzhen only knew the man was another of Sun Ding’s bodyguards and ignored him, asking Sun Fang, “Colonel Sun has already arrived at Sikou, right? What’s the situation there? The Yong armies have acted.”
Sun Fang looked a little nervous. He replied, “General, the Colonel daren ordered us to report back that the Yong army hasn’t moved yet. However, the Colonel daren has dispatched scouts upstream along the river. They’re reconnoitering, and if there is any news, they will swiftly report to the barracks.”
Luo Louzhen was put at ease. He looked at the man beside Sun Fang and asked, “Who is this? Why did you bring him into the tent?”
Sun Fang said in disquiet, “He is one of the best experts in our force. The Colonel daren worried the Yong scouts had already sneaked into Huaisi,2 so he ordered him and this subordinate to come together.”
“Rightly so,” Luo Louzhen laughed. “Colonel Sun is indeed careful. What’s your name? Since Sun Ding said your martial arts are pretty good, I presume you are a one in a thousand warrior. Why are you like a timid woman? Someone, give him a goblet of wine. Don’t be so nervous. This general is no murderous tyrant.”
The soldier seemed relieved to hear this. He relaxed quite a bit and lifted his head, taking the goblet with both hands. He stepped forward and declared, “Many thanks to the General for the wine.” Then he downed it all in a single gulp.
Luo Louzhen inspected the soldier, seeing he was around twenty-nine years old with sharp features, handsome and valiant. He looked calm and indifferent, his ramrod straight posture resembling a tall, striking white poplar. Between blinks, a gleam flashed in the soldier’s eyes. Luo Louzhen was aghast. This bearing was similar to Grand General Lu Can’s. If he had seen this man before, how could he have no memory or impression of him? Luo Louzhen stood to his feet, yelling, “You certainly aren’t a soldier of the Chuzhou Barracks. Who are you?”
With him shouting, his bodyguards outside the tent stampeded in, forming a protective barrier around Luo Louzhen.
Luo Louzhen was about to order people to take Sun Fang and the other soldier away when a clamor rose outside the tent. The noise grew louder, and a scout soaked in blood staggered his way in. Collapsing, he screamed in a hoarse and exhausted voice, “General, things have gone poorly. The Yong armies captured Sikou, and their vanguard has already reached the barracks.”
Luo Louzhen looked up from the scout, despair written all over his face. He glared daggers at Sun Fang and the other soldier. He furiously said, “The two of you are spies for the Yong army. Behead them for me.”
Sun Fang was scared out of his wits, but the other soldier didn’t look any different. He offered a brief smile and said, “General Luo, this one is Military Commission of Huainan, Pei Yun. I made the trip with the express purpose of giving the General my regards.”
Everyone in the tent felt their ears pop. How could this be? How could Pei Yun, a commander of a Yong army, in control of the Xuzhou Barracks with a fifteen thousand-strong army, appear at this location? Sun Fang, who had brought Pei Yun in, even felt his teeth chattering. After he had been taken prisoner, he obeyed orders to bring this man into the Chuzhou Barracks and fit in. The whole time, he thought this man was an expert from the White Clothed Camp. How could he knew it was actually Pei Yun? After all, Pei Yun was around thirty-six. How could he have expected him to look so young? No wonder nobody had thought of this soldier’s true identity. Now, the life of Pei Yun emerged in everyone’s mind. He was a distinguished disciple of Shaolin with sophisticated martial arts. They had heard that Buddhist meditation improved one’s mind and body. Today they saw it was indeed so.
While everyone was dealing with turbulent emotions, Pei Yun bolted away and threw himself at Luo Louzhen. A deadly thought popped into Luo Louzhen’s mind. If he captured this man, the Yong army might descend into turmoil. When Huaidong was secured, his contribution wouldn’t be small. He snapped, “Shooting arrows is not allowed. Capture that man for me!” He didn’t permit his subordinates to loose arrows, because he was afraid that if they killed Pei Yun it would anger the Yong army, and they would ravage Huaidong. His guilt wouldn’t be insignificant, possibly even spelling the end for the troops under his command.
Before he could finish speaking, the tent rang out with wretched cries. A dozen bodyguards who had rushed at Pei Yun were rolling in a heap on the ground. Both of Pei Yun’s hands glowed with a steady golden light. His unrivaled Divine Diamond Force had been perfected,3 each palm strike deadly. In the blink of an eye, he broke through the bodyguards’ barrier to face Luo Louzhen. Luo Louzhen drew his sword and thrust forward, the sound of a tempest erupting from it. The average person would dodge, but Pei Yun greeted the attack with a palm strike. As the sword and palm crossed, they created a metallic clang. Luo Louzhen was jarred back a step by the force of the palm strike. Pei Yun threw another palm strike, the power behind it overwhelming.4 Luo Louzhen was again driven back a step. The wind created by the palm strike surged through the tent, the gale roaring. Pei Yun slowly and calmly forced his way to Luo Louzhen, step by step. He turned a set of the Shaolin Temple’s ordinary fist techniques into an awe-inspiring display. The bodyguards couldn’t even intervene, let alone mob Pei Yun.
Luo Louzhen’s swordsmanship was originally fairly outstanding, but he had indulged in women and wine, which greatly impacted his internal energy. Seeing Pei Yun force his way closer, Luo Louzhen couldn’t even slash a blow to counterattack. He had wanted to call out for his bodyguards to shoot arrows, but he was worried he would get entangled in the volley, so he lost all strength to speak. Though the Chuzhou Barracks currently lodged thirty thousand troops, Luo Louzhen felt all alone.
Bang! Luo Louzhen crashed his back into the back wall of the tent. By this time, all the soldiers in the barracks had charged to the flap of the tent. Adjunct Huang snarled, “Shoot him dead! Don’t harm the General.”
Luo Louzhen rejoiced. He gave a savage smile. As long as he could ward off a few strikes, he could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. He didn’t believe that flesh and blood could resist a volley of arrows. He just had to wait for Pei Yun to block the arrows and take the opportunity to cut through the tent and escape. Adjunct Huang was bound to have reinforcements ready to come up.
Luo Louzhen saw the hint of a sneer appear on Pei Yun’s calm face at this moment. He was shocked. Luo Louzhen suddenly slashed his sword at Pei Yun, exhausting all his strength in the blow. The blade glinted like a foaming waterfall and blasted away everything in its path. Admiration shone in Pei Yun’s eyes for a second, and he unsheathed his saber to meet the attack. The blades clashed, screaming and screeching. Luo Louzhen couldn’t avoid being rammed into the back wall of the tent again. Then, a long saber cut through the wall, slicing right into Luo Louzhen’s body. Blood sprayed, and Luo Louzhen gave an ear-piercing shriek as Pei Yun beheaded him, his head flying into the air.
Adjunct Huang sounded like he was about to break into tears. “Loose!” he roared.
Watching their commander die horribly struck terror into the hearts of these soldiers. When they heard Adjunct Huang’s order, they unconsciously drew and loosed arrows. Their thoughts were running wild, though, so the first volley had no power behind it. However, Sun Fang, who had shrank away into a corner of the tent once fighting began, was still caught in the crossfire. He died taking many arrows to his body.
Pei Yun kicked aside Luo Louzhen’s corpse and picked up his head. He then sliced the tent open with his saber, a Southern Chu soldier wielding a long saber appearing in the perforation. All around him on the ground were corpses, the reinforcements Adjunct Huang had sent for. Pei Yun cut through the tent and exited, the second volley of arrows merely chasing after him. However, that soldier slashed his saber in the arc of a rainbow and blocked every single one of the arrows. By the time the third volley of arrows were shot, Pei Yun and the soldier had ran a dozen zhang5 away without heading into the center of the Southern Chu barracks. Two people shouted from within the camp, “Luo Louzhen has died, Luo Louzhen has died.”
The entire camp descended into chaos. An untold number of people ran around in a flurry, crying out, while officers tried their best to rein in their subordinates’ swearing and tongue-lashing. Then, from the surrounding countryside, bugle horns blared and drums beat. A Southern Chu soldier hollered, “Not good, the Yong army is here!”
The stamping of thousands and thousands of hooves and feet galloped close to Adjunct Huang, the shaking ground giving proof a cavalry troop was approaching. He looked back and saw Yong heavy cavalry wearing blue-gray armor flooding into the Chuzhou Barracks from outside the main gates. The Yong cavalry trampled the shaken Southern Chu officers and soldiers into paste under their iron horseshoes. The Yong cavalry wielded “embroidered spring” sabers, the blades of which extended out three chi and two cun6 and required two hands to use. People could be split in twain with a chop from their sabers. The cavalry attacked the barracks with speed and ferocity, routing all resistance.
Who could stand against this force? was the thought that rose in the mind of nearly every Southern Chu officer and soldier. Some of them risked their lives trying to escape out of a different camp gate; others hid in tents, petrified, waiting for the arrival of their end. Still, some were shouting themselves hoarse to organize a counterattack, one of them being Adjunct Huang. He already realized this Yong force didn’t actually have that many men, only around a few thousand, so he started giving orders for the soldiers to counterattack. Deputy General Li, who was supposed to assume this duty, had stolen away out through the rear with over a hundred bodyguards the moment he saw the Yong force enter the barracks.
The Southern Chu army’s resistance started showing some results, as a thirty thousand-strong army was not so easily broken. Though Luo Louzhen had stripped them of their spirit and drive after all these years, the Huaidong army was originally an elite force, and when it came to life or death, they still knew how to fight. The Yong force’s assault began to get checked, and they could no longer attack as they pleased.
Pei Yun, who had disappeared in the chaos of the camp, appeared right at this time. During the confusion, he had changed clothing, now wearing a black uniform and armor, the black cloak on his back flapping in the autumn breeze. A dozen bodyguards trailed behind him, all of them wearing standard blue-gray armor. However, they had white cloaks draped over their bodies, and their armor didn’t have any markings indicating their identities. These were the hallmarks of Pei Yun’s White Uniform Camp. Among them was Du Lingfeng, the man who captured Sikou. These men had strolled in on foot during the rout and headed to the commander’s tent.
Adjunct Huang was at the tent coordinating the Chu counterattack. Although he came from a civil service background and was usually extremely timid, he still had some martial talent. The mob of Chu troops only needed a leader to resist the far inferior number of Yong troops.
Adjunct Huang saw Pei Yun amble into the melee at the head of his bodyguards and was terrified. If he let Pei Yun slaughter his way over, they might not have another opportunity to defend the barracks. So Adjunct Huang gave constant orders to intercept Pei Yun and company. However, Pei Yun’s bodyguards were a tough and powerful force and didn’t need Pei Yun to lift a finger. Their sabers slashed and their spears pierced a path of blood through the camp. Facing them, the Southern Chu army began to crumble and rout. Adjunct Huang couldn’t make them continue to listen to orders either.
Pei Yun reached the commander’s tent in this fashion. He didn’t look at the pale Adjunct Huang protected by soldiers. Rather, he lifted his head and gazed at the huge banner flying before the commander’s tent, his expression remarkably detached. He lifted a leg and walked toward the banner. The soldiers charged with guarding the commander’s banner resisted with all their strength, but against Pei Yun’s White Uniform Camp’s blades, their resistance was but a paltry struggle. Walking under the huge banner, Pei Yun bellowed and chopped at the middle of it. A gorgeous ray of light glinted off his blade and the flagpole was cut in twain.
When the Southern Chu troops in the barracks saw the commander’s banner collapse, all their remaining fighting spirit finally shattered. Some of the braver soldiers slipped out of the barracks, while others simply dropped their weapons and prostrated on the ground, having completely given up resisting. The Chuzhou Barracks’ banners had fallen, scattered and mangled, and over half of the thirty thousand-strong army was helpless and taken prisoner, the rest either dead or fled.
Adjunct Huang was petrified as he gazed at the barracks, the entire length of which had shattered. A good while later, he drew his sword and tried to slit his own throat. But his limbs trembled and he didn’t have the courage to carry it out. Before he could pluck up his courage, one of Pei Yun’s bodyguards had spurred a horse over and hit Adjunct Huang on the back with the flat of a saber to knock him to the ground unconscious. The Chuzhou Barracks were captured.
Watching as the Southern Chu troops dropped their weapons and surrendered under threat of force by the Yong army, Du Lingfeng laughed loudly. “Martial Uncle, why is the Southern Chu army so weak? If all their forces are like this, it might not even take half a year for us to eliminate Southern Chu.”
Pei Yun gave him a brief glance and said, “Luo Louzhen was an incompetent fool. He only knew how to use the allure of money to rope in officers and nothing about the consolidation and defensive operations of an army. If you could see Lu Can’s army, you’d realize Southern Chu also has heroic men. If you underestimate the enemy, I will never let you be the advance guard again.”
Du Lingfeng stuck his tongue out. He replied, “Yes, this subordinate recognizes his mistake. I won’t ever underestimate the enemy. Please do not leave me behind, General.”
Pei Yun offered a thin smile but did not respond. Turning to a different White Uniform Camp warrior, who was middle-aged and had honest and noble features, he told him, “Wei Ping, you’re in charge of the five hundred men who will be left here to guard the captives. I need to immediately assault Chuzhou.”
“General, you’re the commander of the First Army. You shouldn’t lead the charge,” stated Wei Ping in worry. “Entering the camp alone and beheading Luo Louzhen can be explained away by the fact that General’s martial arts have surpassed ours, but assaulting Chuzhou is very important. Please think twice, General. If something happens to General, how could we explain it to the Third Army’s men?”
“Don’t you worry,” Pei Yun said with a smile. “After capturing Chuzhou, I believe there will be no more opportunities for me to take risks. Zhang Wenxiu is leading an attack on Sizhou in a day’s time. Then we’ll converge on Guangling, and after assaulting Yangzhou, we desire to engage Lu Can. By that time, how could I have any chance to show off?”
Du Lingfeng overheard them and asked, “Martial Uncle, is Lu Can sure to come and relieve Huaidong?”
Pei Yun nodded and answered, “If Yangzhou falls into our hands, our armies can deploy at the Guazhou7 Ford and threaten Jingkou8 on the opposite bank. If we do not capture Jingkou, Swallow Rock is upstream and Jianye can be threatened from there. Therefore, Lu Can absolutely cannot allow us to parade our military prowess through Huaidong. Though Shang Weijun has monopolized power, he releases his grip in times of crisis. And though it will take some time, we must first eliminate the surviving Southern Chu forces. If we want to attack Yangzhou, it will still take a month’s time even if we could move faster. By that time, Lu Can is certain to be at the Yangtze waiting for us and arrayed in formation.”
“That being the case,” Du Lingfeng said, “why not force march and attack Yangzhou, not stopping along the way? And make it so Lu Can has no time to rush over?”
Pei Yun smiled noncommittally and replied, “This battle is imperative and impossible to avoid. You don’t need to ask any more questions.”
Du Lingfeng was at a loss, but he didn’t dare keep pressing.
Wei Ping said at this time, “General, these grounds hold over ten thousand captives. My force hasn’t close to enough strength to spare to guard them. Could General please show us how to handle them?”
“Killing captives is inauspicious, not to mention these Southern Chu troops have lost heart. They’re harmless enough. Imprison them in the barracks, and if the situation changes, you can slip away. After another two hours, He Ying will arrive. You can hand over command of the Chuzhou Barracks to him. Split off twenty thousand troops to meet me in Chuzhou,” said Pei Yun, walking out of the camp. Meanwhile, the vanguard that had accompanied him in the seizure of the Chuzhou Barracks were in formation, awaiting his arrival.
At 1 PM, the infantry, the main force of the Yong army, reached the Chuzhou Barracks. They were under the command of a middle-aged general, and the sight he saw rendered him speechless. More than ten thousand Southern Chu troops were sitting in silence inside of tents, with only five hundred Yong soldiers on patrol subduing them. After meeting with Wei Ping, the middle-aged general, He Ying, immediately took over the Chuzhou Barracks with a thirty thousand-strong army. Wei Ping led a force of twenty thousand infantry and cavalry toward Chuzhou.
Four hours after the Chuzhou Barracks had fallen, the Sizhou Barracks were assaulted by fifty thousand Yong troops. As Luo Louzhen’s messenger had been intercepted and assassinated en route by the White Uniform Camp, the Sizhou Barracks were caught off guard. However, because the garrison commander was normally quite cautious, the Sizhou Barracks lasted until the dawn of the second day before falling. Afterwards, Zhang Wenxiu led an attack on Sizhou. The Sizhou governor was cowardly and didn’t dare meet him on the field of battle. He opened the gates and surrendered, while Chuzhou had changed hands last night. By this point, the only remaining Southern Chu garrison in Huaidong was the Guangling Barracks. The prelude to the Yong-Chu War had finally been formally unveiled.
The famous capital of Huainan, Yangzhou; the beautiful Bamboo West Pavilion; the endless natural beauty of the Yangzhou Road were now shrouded in the flames and storm clouds of war. Heavy cavalry trampled on the temporary peace and sweet dreams of Southern Chu.
- 烽火扬州路, fenghuo Yangzhou Lu – lit. setting fire to the Yangzhou Road; likely a reference to a poem by Southern Song Dynasty poet Xin Qiji entitled “Meditations on the Past Inside Beigu Pavilion in Jingkou, to the Tune of Everlasting Joy” (永遇乐·京口北固亭怀古) that expresses his intense grief and indignation at the imminent death of the dynasty and his ambition to save his country
- 淮泗, Huaisi – the area between the Huai and Si Rivers, modern-day central Shandong Province
- 炉火纯青, luhuo-chunqing – lit. pure blue flame in the furnace; fig. mastered one’s skill to perfection
- 泰山压顶, Taishan yading – lit. Mount Tai bearing down on one’s head; fig. bear a heavy burden, crushing, overwhelming
- About 35 meters (about 115 feet)
- About 94 centimeters (around 3 feet) in total
- 瓜洲, Guazhou – in the exact same location as modern-day Guazhou, Hanjiang District, Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province (not to be confused with the Guazhou in Gansu Province)
- 京口, Jingkou – also in the same location as modern-day Jingkou District, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province; the two locales are separated by the Yangtze River