The words that I told the Prince of De were very simple: “Your Highness, this area is filled with towering mountains and precipitous ridges. There surely must be alternative paths that we can use as a detours. Even if we cannot find a detour, we can pretend that we intend to make our way around the pass, luring the enemy out to battle. We do not fear brave and good fighters. We only fear them obstinately defending the city without any intention of sallying forth. Rather than continuing to forcibly besiege the city, it would be better to lure them out. Furthermore, as Tian Wei is such a good commander, he is unlikely to be willing to simply defend the city.”
Although I only gave an idea, the Prince of De, as an experienced commander, immediately thoroughly understood. In addition, it was impossible for us to capture the city today. It was better to return to our encampment to fully discuss the matter.
Of course, in the subsequent conference, I didn’t say anything. I was still unfamiliar with military issues. I was only skilled in intelligence analysis, relying upon the combination of my experience and knowledge. Furthermore, Rong Yuan was already unhappy with me. Continuing to seek the limelight would only serve to fan the flames of his resentment. It was better to offend a gentleman than to offend someone with a vile character. I remembered this fact very well. But these retainers were all capable. I made a simple suggestion and they were able to consider all kinds of scenarios before fixing any oversights. They came up with three plans before ultimately coming up with feasible strategy. The more I observed them, the more I respected them. Maybe since my admiration was too obvious, the other retainers seemed to become a bit embarrassed. Even the looks that Rong Yuan gave me became gentler.
The next day, the Prince of De dispatched soldiers in all directions to gather firewood, trying to find an alternate route. He then ordered the half of the remaining soldiers to remain in their tents to rest, while the rest of the soldiers stood in formation facing Ba Prefecture, neither attacking nor retreating. They would occasionally feign an attack. As soon as the city garrison reacted, they would withdraw. After noon had passed, the resting soldiers would swap with those who were facing Ba Prefecture.
On the third day, the Southern Chu soldiers feigning attacks upon Ba Prefecture began to get busy. If they weren’t digging trenches, they were training and drilling to loosen their bones and muscles. In addition, the army’s war drums were pushed before the city. The soldiers would pound the war drums and shout every hour.
On the fourth and fifth days, the garrison had become increasingly exhausted and numb. Even though Ba Prefecture was an important strategic city that served as the Kingdom of Shu’s gate, the city only had ten thousand defenders because of the friendly relations between Southern Chu and Shu. As a result, there weren’t enough troops.
On the sixth day, the Shu forces within the city began to grow uneasy. There was also good news on the search, as our soldiers found a small path that would allow us to detour around Ba Prefecture. At this time, the second part of our plan began. The Southern Chu army began to assemble the troops, preparing the foot soldiers and cavalry as if they were getting ready to launch another assault. The garrison quickly grew nervous and additional men could be seen on the battlements. When night fell, the Southern Chu soldiers quietly began to withdraw. This was discovered by Shu agents. They quickly came to the conclusion that the Southern Chu was preparing to take a detour around Ba Prefecture. To the Shu soldiers, for the Southern Chu to take a detour was equivalent to us cutting our own escape route and supply line. But Tian Wei possessed a fiery, warlike temperament. The only reason he chose to strictly defend was because he didn’t have enough troops. Southern Chu had fifty thousand soldiers, and they were the best available. Therefore, the pressure upon Tian Wei was quite heavy. The last several days, he had seen that something was wrong. He had discussed the situation numerous times with his subordinates and all believed that the Southern Chu army would inevitably take a detour around Ba Prefecture. Some of the generals suggested that if the Southern Chu were to go around Ba Prefecture, they would have to attack them from the rear. If the Southern Chu army were to be destroyed, then the officers and soldiers of Ba Prefecture would be punished. This left a shadow in the hearts of the defenders. Finally, Tian Wei gave the order to attack Southern Chu’s supply troops, while the Southern Chu army was still going around Ba Prefecture.
For the fifty thousand Southern Chu taking the side path, their travel speed was quite slow. It didn’t take long for Tian Wei to catch up to the Southern Chu army. Twirling the broadsword in his hand, he hollered, “Southern Chu brigands! Where do you think you’re going?”
Just as he bellowed, he led five thousand cavalry charging forward into the rear of the Southern Chu army like a sword. The Southern Chu army scattered and ran. Tian Wei ordered his subordinates to burn the supply wagons. In a split second, flames erupted on all sides. Amidst the flames, Tian Wei laughed aloud heartily. He gave the order to continue the attack, intent on completely defeating the Southern Chu army
At this time, the scattering Southern Chu troops revealed a division of white-armored infantry, steadily advancing towards Tian Wei. Tian Wei grew cold, recognizing these troops as the Prince of De’s personal guards, normally tasked with protecting the center of the army. For them to appear here—was this a trap? Tian Wei examined his surroundings. The fires burning the supply wagons were already extinguished. Behind the advancing infantry, Tian Wei could see a banner with the character, Zhao, and a dragon embroidered upon it. Tian Wei was both anxious and worried. If this was an ambush, then the only result would be defeat. But he soon had second thoughts. The soldiers before him were the personal guards of the Prince of De. This meant that the Prince of De was likely close by and he had the opportunity to kill the Prince of De. Unable to resist this kind of enticement, Tian Wei gave the order to advance. Although Tian Wei’s cavalry held the advantage, Southern Chu’s infantry were trained to fight cavalry. The first row kneeled and extended the spears in their hands forward to face the cavalry. Behind them, soldiers notched their bows and fired arrows. Taking advantage of the narrowness of the path, they were able to block Tian Wei’s attack. After fighting for some time, Tian Wei saw that he could not win and ordered a retreat.
The mounted Shu troops were able to quickly extricate themselves and disengage. It didn’t take long before they were far away. Tian Wei rejoiced. This was, at the very least, a small victory. Just as they had withdrawn a dozen li, they were suddenly attacked by Southern Chu forces from both flanks. Caught in the middle, Tian Wei could only order his troops to run the gauntlet and continue to retreat. Tian Wei was afraid. Over the course of a dozen li, they were constantly ambushed by Southern Chu troops. Although there weren’t many Southern Chu soldiers, they sniped at the retreating horsemen from within dense forests or behind large boulders. If this wasn’t a mountain valley, then it was likely that Tian Wei’s several thousand cavalry would have been wiped out. It took more than an hour before Tian Wei finally caught sight of Ba Prefecture. He only had three thousand horsemen remaining. Just as he arrived before the city, Tian Wei saw the fire-red Shu banner float down from the battlements, while the Prince of De’s yellow dragon banner was slowly being hoisted. Tian Wei watched as the Shu soldiers on the battlements were chopped down. Within the cold glint of the flashing swords, Tian Wei spotted a person who seemed to be completely out of place. That person, dressed in a set of light robes, seemed to be a young scholar and was directly looking at him with eyes filled with pity. Amidst the blood and flames, his clothes were spotless. He stood atop the ramparts and yet there seemed to be some distance separating him and the other Southern Chu soldiers. He almost seemed to be a battlefield apparition.
Before the siege had concluded, I had climbed the city walls. This time, under my advice, the Southern Chu army had left behind ten thousand men. This was something that I had thought of after the conference while reading the military manuals right before I fell asleep, and was quickly approved by the Prince of De. While we were digging trenches, we had also dug a number of large holes. At the same time we were pretending to take a detour around Ba Prefecture, ten thousand soldiers hid themselves inside the holes. The holes were covered by tarpaulin with soil on top. Enemy agents only noticed that our encampments were empty and did not notice the holes that we were using to hide soldiers. After Tian Wei had led his cavalry out of the city, we took advantage of the garrison’s neglect and immediately launched an attack. The complacent defenders were quickly defeated.
I scaled the battlements in order to witness the conclusion of this battle. As I was originally outside of the city with the other retainers, I feigned worry over the vengeance Tian Wei would wreak with his troops upon those waiting outside. Based on this reason, we entered the city under heavy guard to protect us from any stragglers. I then mounted the battlements on the pretext of observing what was going on outside. Beaming, Xiaoshunzi dispatched two royal guardsmen to follow me. Although these royal guards were assigned to protect Army Supervisor Wang Hai. Wang Hai knew that Xiaoshunzi was a skilled martial artist and was on close terms with me, and so agreed. From what Xiaoshunzi told me, these two guardsmen’s martial arts skills were better than average, and could protect me until reinforced by the Southern Chu soldiers
I walked through the sea of blood, careful that no blood stained my clothes. But because of the river of blood at my feet, my shoes became soaked with blood. I was lucky, however. My clothes were unstained. By the time I endured the scents and screams, and mounted the battlements, the last few Shu soldiers were cut down. I looked down from the parapets and caught sight of the returning Shu cavalrymen. The red-armored general stared up at the city blankly. Behind him, smoke and dust roiled, which foretold of my country’s forces approach. Suddenly, the red-armored general shouted a command and charged with his cavalry. Then I watched as these horsemen were first surrounded, weakened, and finally defeated. From a distance, I saw the red-armored general use his sword to cut his own throat, cursing as he died.
I shuddered on the inside. War was very different from the easy and light way it was chronicled in the history books. In the eyes of the ten thousand Shu soldiers garrisoning Ba Prefecture, we were a malicious enemy who intended to kill them and steal their cities and land. But what were we supposed to do? At this time, I profoundly despised this war. In order to fulfill the interests of Great Yong and Southern Chu, the Kingdom of Shu must be annihilated. Using a river of blood to acquire joy for those above … was it really worth it?
Afterwards, I fell ill. The blood and blood-curdling screams left me unable to sleep, unable to eat. During the forced march of the army, my illness grew progressively worse. Later, one evening, I was visited by Xiaoshunzi. He pulled me up and said, “I understand why you fell ill. You should collect your cheap sympathy. Our two sides have become enemies. We are at war. If we were to lose, we would lose our lives and be unable to return home. What traditional virtues,1 what four social bonds?2 I only know that I need to stay alive. For you, I need to stay alive. What about you? At the very least, you need to stay alive for me. Remember, you saved my life. If you do not allow me to repay this debt, I definitely will not allow you to die.”
Seemingly in a trance, I looked at the tears that flowed down Xiaoshunzi’s face and replied, “Xiaoshunzi, brother. I know that you treat me as a real brother. But I constantly bully you, and yet you continue to take care of me, continue to protect me. I am about to pass. You should not feel sorrow. You don’t owe me anything.”
Xiaoshunzi slapped me ferociously and reprimanded, “Why do you think I follow you? You have never looked down upon me and have treated me as a person. You are my teacher. You have helped me learn martial arts. Without you, there is no one else that would even glance at me. If you were to die, I would follow you. We will continue to be brothers in the next life, allowing for you to always be there for me.”
My tears flowed freely. That’s right. How could I die? I still have a brother. If I were to die, Xiaoshunzi would be alone. I always knew that Xiaoshunzi continually came to see me because I treated him like a person, someone with flesh and blood. I never considered him as a lowly eunuch or a faceless person. Humph! The Kingdom of Shu was nothing. Your people dying had nothing to do with me. Let alone the Kingdom of Shu, even if Southern Chu were destroyed, it would not matter to me one bit. Over these last few days, while I was gravely ill, other than Xiaoshunzi and the army doctors, I did not see anyone else. Although the Prince of De came to see me twice early on, he soon forgot about me. With difficulty, I pushed myself upright and ordered, “Bring me two pills from the white porcelain bottle in my bag.” Xiaoshunzi immediately followed my orders. With difficulty, I took two of the pills and said, “I am going to rest for a while. Tomorrow morning, prepare a sumptuous breakfast for me.”
Three days later, during which I was in a coma, I awoke and finally was able to eat the breakfast that Xiaoshunzi had delivered. I walked out of my tent and looked up at the sunny and cloudless sky. I extended my arms and took a deep breath. I told Xiaoshunzi to inform Army Supervisor Wang that I was going to ride in his carriage as I had just recovered.
During the dozen days that I was ill and confined to bed, the Southern Chu advance had proceeded relatively smoothly. Capturing Ba Prefecture was a heavy blow to the confidence of the smaller fortresses along the way. By using the strategy of heavy assaults and soft deception, our army’s progress was faster than anticipated. We did not know how Great Yong was doing on their front as we received no information on the subject. Over the following days, as I had only just recovered, I wasn’t assigned too many duties, frequently using the leisurely free time to write verses. I did not say anything more. Although the Prince of De remorsefully came to check up on me, I refused to forgive him. He originally had treated me as important. But once I fell ill, he was quick to discard me. As a result, I apathetically expressed my thanks. As I was frequently with Army Supervisor Wang, I did not have to worry about the Prince of De making things difficult for me. I was exactly so narrow-minded. What about it?
With this, the Southern Chu army arrived before Luocheng, rendezvousing with the previously arrived navy. Luocheng was the protective defense of the Kingdom of Shu’s capital, Chengdu. Here was gathered an army of fifty thousand Shu soldiers. The famed Shu general, Wei Xian, commanded twenty thousand troops before Luocheng close to the mountains, while Grand General Long Bu commanded Luocheng’s thirty thousand strong garrison. The combined Southern Chu army and navy had quickly attacked Fushui Pass. The garrison had fought bitterly for several days before abandoning the pass and retreating. The combined force encamped at Fushui Pass. The Prince of De knew that the coming battle would be long and protracted, and only carefully deployed the defensive forces, while ordering the navy to patrol the Fushui River to isolate Luocheng from any reinforcements. As Luocheng’s northern gate was against the Fushui and the southern gate against the mountains, the Prince of De used his navy to transport his army to attack Luocheng from the east and west. But in the face of the support by Wei Xian on the outside, Southern Chu could not gain the advantage even after several days of bloody conflict. Seeing the exhaustion of his soldiers, the Prince of De decided to withdraw his troops. Aside from occasional moves by the navy, he rested his troops by the Fushui and prepared to renew the battle. Although we were far from Southern Chu, we could rely upon the waterborne supply line and Sichuan’s abundant resources. As a result, we did not lack any supplies. However, the war entered into a stalemate.
On the twenty-seventh day of the eleventh month, we finally received news regarding the Great Yong front.
Great Yong had dispatched the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, at the head of two hundred thousand troops. As they had bribed the garrison commander of Yangping Pass, they were easily able to capture the pass. The Great Yong fought and continuously won numerous battles, using only two months to capture Nanzheng. Although the eastern Sichuan region3 was also a part of the Kingdom of Shu, the vast majority of Sichuan’s prosperity was located in the western region.4 As a result, the people of the eastern Sichuan region were resentful. When Li Zhi entered the region, he ensured that his soldiers committed no offenses.5 He quickly destroyed any remnant Shu forces and also cleared the region of any bandits. After not even three months, the eastern Sichuan region was fully pacified. Afterwards, Li Zhi led his army against Jiameng Pass. If Jiameng Pass were to fall, then there would be nothing standing in the way between the Great Yong army and Chengdu.
Facing enemies on two fronts, the King of Shu, Meng Yun, found himself in an emergency situation where he had insufficient troops to defend everything.6 Jiameng Pass had ninety thousand troops defending it. He further dispatched twenty thousand troops to defend Luocheng. As a result, Chengdu had no troops. On the twelfth day of the eleventh month, the twenty thousand reinforcements entered Luocheng under the assistance of Long Bu and Wei Xian.
When the Prince of De saw the report, his face grew dark. Even if Great Yong were to retreat, their control over Yangping Pass ensured that they controlled the Hanzhong region. Whereas if he did not capture Luocheng, then there was no way he could defend against the Shu army. He did not want to retreat to Ba Prefecture, as it would mean giving up all the captured territory. As a result, Southern Chu was even more anxious to attack. But having faced off for several days, there was little to no progress made. How could this not cause him worry? A consolation was that our reinforcements had also arrived, increasing our total strength to ninety thousand men. At minimum we would not be forced to retreat in defeat. Under these circumstances, facing the two-pronged attack by Great Yong and Southern Chu, Shu would ultimately fall. The problem was that Southern Chu may not end up with Chengdu.
For me, these few days passed quite leisurely. Aside from eating my meals, I wandered all over. Of course, in the face of Shu’s agents and assassins, I made sure to not stray too far from the encampment. In addition, I could not be too leisurely, otherwise it would catch other’s envy. In any case, I wasn’t able to do anything to intervene. Taking advantage of my illness, Rong Yuan took over my duties. According to him, I was still lying ill in bed. But I didn’t bother to bicker. In any case, it wasn’t like we would lose in this coming battle.
Exploiting my free time, I took the opportunity to speak with Xiaoshunzi about finding personal guards. Xiaoshunzi thought for quite some time, finding it extremely difficult. He did not know many skilled martial artists to introduce to me. According to him, all of the skilled martial artists that he had ever fought, he had killed. In addition, these guards must be loyal. This was more difficult. He suggested selecting a eunuch that he could take as a disciple and train to later protect me. I rejected this suggestion. One reason was that this proposal would take too long. Another reason was that eunuchs could not constantly leave the palace. Thinking for some time, Xiaoshunzi suggested, “How about this: after a few years, I will feign my death and leave the palace to come stay by your side.”
I originally had decided to nod my head, but I realized that things would become problematic if Xiaoshunzi were to be recognized. I said in a straightforward manner, “How about this: I am prepared to resign when I return to the capital. Since you don’t seem to like living in the palace, we can both leave to travel the world.”7
Thinking it over, Xiaoshunzi replied happily, “This isn’t a bad idea. I have long wanted to travel everywhere. I had long grown sick of Jianye. Where should we go?”
After thinking, I responded, “In any case, the Kingdom of Shu is going to be destroyed. If Great Yong and Southern Chu remain at peace, we can go to Great Yong. Once war erupts between Great Yong and Southern Chu, we can go to Northern Han. If Great Yong goes to war with Northern Han, we can return to Southern Chu. Over the next several decades, there is plenty of time for us to travel everywhere. If, at any point, we become fed up with traveling, we can find someplace to settle down.” Xiaoshunzi’s face was filled with yearning.
Just as we were planning out our futures, Xiaoshunzi suddenly pounced without warning into the courtyard’s shrubbery. His silhouette was like that of a demon, matchlessly agile. From within the shrubbery, a gray silhouette shot out. The two silhouettes merged before separating. Xiaoshunzi retreated several zhang before his silhouette turned, flipping through the air, pouncing once again. The other person hastily fought back, but was struck in the chest by Xiaoshunzi and was cast to the ground.
Seeing Xiaoshunzi nod at me, I walked lightly over. This person was a young man of twenty with an ordinary appearance that could easily disappear into a crowd. He was wearing the uniform of a Southern Chu soldier, but I could see that the uniform was not the right size. In addition, I could smell the faint scent of blood. This man was a Shu agent. Under normal circumstances, I should hand him over for two reasons: first, to gain merit; second, as my duty. But I did not want the Prince of De to learn of what I had said earlier. My mind immediately produced a desire to kill. I gave Xiaoshunzi a look. Understanding my look, Xiaoshunzi raised his palm and was getting ready to strike the man’s head.
The man painfully opened his eyes and saw Xiaoshunzi’s actions. He rolled with difficulty. Xiaoshunzi laughed harshly, flipping his palm and continuing to strike at the man’s head. Seeing the grief and indignation in the man’s eyes, I did not know why, but I ordered, “Stay your hand.”
Xiaoshunzi’s palm had reached the man’s head when he heard me call out. He abruptly retracted his palm, retreating to my side. Solemnly, I stated, “Brother, I must kill you. If you have any last wishes, I can fulfill them.”
An emotional expression on his face, the man whimpered, “Please release my wife.”
I was stunned. When did I steal his wife? I don’t seem to have done such a thing.
仁义道德, renyidaode – idiom, lit. compassion, duty, propriety, and integrity; the traditional virtues (often used in a sarcastic and hypocritical way)
礼仪廉耻, liyilianchi – the four social bonds (四维, siwei): sense of propriety, justice, integrity, and honor
东川, Dongchuan – lit. eastern Sichuan region; refers to the region around Hanzhong that is today a part of Shaanxi province
西川, Xichuan – lit. western Sichuan region; refers to Sichuan
秋毫无犯, qiuhaowufan – idiom lit. not harming a feather; soldiers not committing the slightest offenses
捉襟见肘, zhuojinjianzhou – idiom, lit. pulling on the lapels exposes the elbows; strapped for cash, unable to make ends meet
浪迹天涯, langjitianya – idiom, lit. to roam far and wide; to travel the world