Volume 4, Chapter 15: Abyss of Suffering1

After a short period had passed, my mind finally calmed down, and I began to calculate how to respond to the present situation. Four hundred versus three thousand. Although both sides were elite troops, our side had the inconvenient nuisance that was me. Escape was likely impossible. The matter relating to Lu Can was better left to the future. At present, the primary priority was escape. I forced myself to forget that I was presently in the darkness within the jolting carriage, carefully thinking about how I could save myself. After a while, I suddenly came up with an idea. That Flying Tiger General had issued the order to capture me alive and kill the Prince of Qi. It seemed that to him the importance of the Prince of Qi and me were quite different. From the reward being offered, I was of greater importance. However, in my view, this was not the case. For any military commander, the death of the Prince of Qi was more important. In comparison, those soldiers probably could not comprehend my importance. To them, I was merely an objective that they needed to accomplish. Perhaps because of this reason, the bounty placed upon me was so high. This was to avoid all those soldiers from being focused on chasing the Prince of Qi. Even if my calculations were incorrect and they treated me as more valuable than the Prince of Qi, it would not be of great effect upon my plan.

Just as I was thinking of this, the door to the carriage was forcibly pushed open by someone. I saw the Prince of Qi, in a blood-soaked gown, yell at me, “Suiyun, we must split apart.”

I thought, Great minds truly think alike! I promptly replied, “Zhe was also of this mind.” Sticking my head out, I saw that we had reached a fork in the road. On both sides of the road was mountainous terrain. The Prince of Qi had ordered troops to block the road, temporarily hindering pursuing troops. I hurriedly grabbed that specially manufactured azure cloak, draping it around my shoulders.

Afterwards, I commanded Xiaoshunzi, “Quickly change into armor. Then bring me a horse. The Prince of Qi and we must separate. Your Imperial Highness, please give me fifty men. This way, we can split our pursuers.”

A gratified look flashed appeared Prince of Qi’s face, as he stated, “However, Suiyun, you have to be careful. If their target is you, I’m worried that it will be difficult for you to escape.”

Smiling, I replied, “Mayhap … However, in the minds of the Northern Han troops, you are likely the primary target. As a result, this time Your Imperial Highness will be the one bearing the brunt of the pressure.”

Afterwards, the Prince of Qi and I quickly studied the particulars about our fighting escape. After a while, the troops stationed at the crossing had exhausted themselves. Xiaoshunzi had already fully prepared for this eventuality. He untied the two steeds from the carriage. These two horses had been carefully selected and were fully capable of serving as warhorses. Xiaoshunzi handed the reins of one of the horses to one of the cavalrymen. After that, he changed into an exquisite set of white armor. From underneath the carriage’s seats, he took out two pikes, tying them together to form a pike that was two zhang in length.2 Xiaoshunzi then walked over and helped me mount one of the horses. Then he also jumped on, having me sit behind him. Using rope, he carefully tied me to him. Right then, the hundred strong Stalwart Tiger Guard and fifty of the Prince of Qi’s troops had formed a unit. On the horse, I glanced at the Prince of Qi, and coolly stated, “Your Imperial Highness, this subject will go ahead.”

When I finished speaking, under Xiaoshunzi’s command, our unit, including the hundred strong Stalwart Tiger Guard and fifty of the Prince of Qi’s troops charged into the wilderness. After galloping for several li, I turned and looked. I saw the Prince of Qi lead the remaining troops and charge off in another direction. The carriage that I had specially designed was overturned at the crossing, blocking our pursuers. Because of its design, my carriage was extremely heavy. It seemed like it would take some time for our pursuers to get past it.

The decision to split the troops was something that I had made after careful deliberations. The Prince of Qi to also reaching this conclusion left me with admiration. After all, while I had the time to think, he was busy fighting. The enemy had two targets. Even if the two of us were together, our strength wouldn’t be that significant, allowing the enemy to focus completely. Right now, although our separation greatly reduced our strength, the enemy would also hesitate over the decision of how to split troops. When all was said and done, we would not suffer. Moreover, fleeing and unable to strike back would only lead to our defeat. At present, it could be said that the Prince of Qi had nothing to worry about and he could think of ways to counterattack.

At this moment, Xiaoshunzi, out in front, spoke up, “Young master, there are about a thousand troops chasing after us. What should we do?”

I was delighted. As expected, to those unruly soldiers and their commander, the Prince of Qi, as the commander-in-chief of Great Yong’s northern army, was the most important target. However, a thousand pursuers wasn’t a small number. If we could not destroy them in one blow, it would be impossible for us to escape to go help the Prince of Qi. Examining the surrounding terrain, I instructed, “Have Huyan Shou move towards the wilderness. I have twenty Divine Heavens-Soaring Flame cylinders.”

Comprehending my intentions immediately, Xiaoshunzi nodded his head. “I understand. Water and flame are merciless.3 A good plan, indeed!”

Finished speaking, he began to discuss this matter with Huyan Shou, commander of my escort. When I was serving within the Prince of Yong’s household, Huyan Shou was originally an imperial bodyguard assigned to me. On this occasion, the emperor had dispatched him over because of this reason. Otherwise, why would a Vice Supervisor of the Stalwart Tiger Guard deign to serve as my escort? I listened as he and Xiaoshunzi discussed how to lure the enemy to take the bait. As expected, Huyan Shou was a skilled military commander. I silently prayed that we would succeed at the first attempt, otherwise my life would be left behind here.

At this moment, the pursuers behind us had gradually closed. There was nothing that could be done.… Although Xiaoshunzi’s horsemanship was outstanding, when compared to those troops who spent most of their lives on a horses, he was quite lacking. Fortunately, Huyan Shou’s leadership was fairly good. As we ran around in circles, we had not been caught and surrounded by the enemy. After a while more, our pursuers had been lured to a brush-filled wilderness. At the end of autumn, the dried up yellow brush would be so parched that they could be easily ignited. Seeing that the wind direction was suitable, Xiaoshunzi let out a shout. Everyone spurred their horses faster, while our pursuers maintained their speed. This was within our expectations.

When cavalry was chasing fleeing cavalry, their greatest taboo was forcing their horses to run at the fastest possible speed. If this were to happen, it would consume their horses’ stamina, easily falling behind. As a result, generally speaking, they would only spur their horses forward when they had already surrounded the enemy or when the enemy had no road to escape. As a result, they would usually control the speed of their horses, unhurriedly and calmly pursuing the enemy, waiting for the enemy’s horses to become exhausted before violently attacking, attaining victory in one go. Of course, this was applicable only when the quality of the horses on both sides was equal. If the enemy was too weak, they would naturally exhaust all methods. As a result, when we spurred our horses forward, increasing our speed, our pursuers had fallen behind a bit, not increasing speed in order to prevent their horses from being exhausted by the chase.

Unfortunately, that was their mistake this time. When the distance between us and our pursuers had reached approximately two li, Huyan Shou whistled. Our unit split into a dozen or more smaller groups, scattering in all directions. I heard the chasing Northern Han troops break out into laughter. It was clear that with us splitting up in our escape they would definitely win. From their laughter, I could hear their delight at being able to successfully hunt their prey.

At this very moment, Xiaoshunzi suddenly turned our horse around. Afterwards, a small, silver cylinder appeared in his hands. He repeatedly activated the mechanism on the cylinder. Several flames shot out from within the cylinder, swiftly igniting the dry grassland. If using normal arson methods, the Northern Han pursuers would have likely already broken through the fires by the time the flames were ignited. However, the Divine Heavens-Soaring Flame that Xiaoshunzi was using was not ordinary. In only an instant, a conflagration had already spread greatly. At the same moment, the scattered Great Yong troops had set numerous, similar conflagrations. The flames swiftly combined into one. The crescent-shaped fire swept towards our pursuers. The entire area was covered in dry brush. By the time the Northern Han cavalry took a detour to continue their pursuit, it would be too late. Right now, their only option was to retreat. However, they were located downwind. The flames and black smoke chased them. After they had fled for seven to eight li, they despairingly discovered that the fires blocked their retreat.

I could hear the miserable screams within the sea of fire. I could feel myself shiver inside. At the same time, I could not help but be proud of myself. Fortunately, because of the small, exquisite design and enormous power of the Divine Heavens-Soaring Flame, I had brought twenty cylinders on the carriage. At present, although we had practically used them all up, we had completely destroyed a pursuing unit of a thousand elite cavalry, truly cost-effective. Although I knew that it would be impossible to kill all of our pursuers, I believed that we would be able to at least kill more than half of them.

However, I regretted that the four individuals I had left behind were unlikely to have escaped. In order to achieve our goal of defeating our pursuers, I had Huyan Shou dispatch four men to leave our formation mid-journey and hidden off to the side. When they saw the fires blaze before them and the Northern Han pursuers retreat, they were to create two more fires. With this, the separate fires could join together and cut off the enemy’s retreat. But the Divine Heavens-Soaring Flame was too formidable. With the current force of the wind, it was impossible for the four of them to make their way back to us. However, I greatly admired their bravery. Although they knew of the dangers of staying behind, each and every one of them had competed for a place. I could not help but blush with shame.

Alas, there was no time to worry about this. Huyan Shou had reformed all of the scattered troops. We quickly departed. Right now, we were too close to the conflagration. If the wind were to change, we would likely also be buried here.

Leaving behind our pursuers who we did not have news about, we rushed towards the planned rendezvous point. Great Yong had numerous strongholds and bases scattered across the frontier. The Prince of Qi and I had arranged one of them as our meeting point. When the time came, the Prince of Qi could rely upon the stronghold’s defenses to stoutly defend, while we could launch a surprise attack from behind on the Northern Han army. This was a plan that we cooked up because we had no other choice. It would be impossible to use twenty Divine Heavens-Soaring Flame cylinders to deal with three thousand cavalrymen. As a result, I could only trick them into splitting troops before crushing one of the two divisions. Fortunately, there weren’t that many troops chasing me. Otherwise, we would likely have been forced to experience a bitter battle.

As I listened to the wind rushing past my ears, I prayed that His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, would be able to safely arrive at our decided rendezvous point. Otherwise, I had no contingencies.

At this very moment, I obviously did not know that over an hour later, once the fires had gradually diminished, leaving behind blackened ash, a number of burned horse corpses would be pushed apart and a man covered completely in ash would stand up. In a grave, terrible voice, he shouted, “Jiang Zhe! You and I cannot exist together in this world!”

This man was Wei Ying. That day, he had abided by Lu Can’s orders. With Lin Bi’s token, he had arrived in the Northern Han army encampment. Under orders to provide support to Lin Bi, when the Flying Tiger General, Shi Ying, received Lin Bi’s orders, he led three thousand cavalrymen and set an ambush on the Prince of Qi’s return road. Wei Ying, who hated Great Yong to the bone, volunteered to take part in this operation. And what caused his spirit to be aroused was the fact that Jiang Zhe, as expected, was traveling with the Prince of Qi. Afterwards, when Shi Ying had split up his force, Wei Ying had chosen to pursue Jiang Zhe. However, instead of success, he had been trapped by the fire. Wei Ying was quite astute. He knew that his horsemanship was poor and it would be impossible to escape the sea of fire. Taking advantage of the chaos, he had killed several Northern Han cavalrymen who had fallen behind. After also killing their horses, Wei Ying had hidden himself under the horses. Covered with blood, he was barely able to escape the fate of being buried in this sea of fire. After angrily cursing, he began his journey back to Southern Chu. He was not so stupid as to continue to pursue Jiang Zhe. He did not have the courage to deal with over a hundred horsemen by himself.

When we finally arrived at the Gu4 Mountain Stronghold, although I was brought along by Xiaoshunzi, I was already extremely exhausted. The skin of my inner thighs had been rubbed raw by the saddle. This year, I was to be thirty years old, but I had never experienced this kind of suffering. Only when I was awakened by the deafening battle cries did I discover that this unit of horsemen had stopped on a slope. Not far from our position was the mountaintop. I could clearly hear the sounds of fighting on the mountain.

After Xiaoshunzi had helped me off the horse, he spoke, “Young master, ahead of us is the Gu Mountain Stronghold. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, is surrounded outside the stronghold. The troops within have tried on several occasions to rescue him, but have failed.”

My mind tightened. Gritting my teeth, I stood and replied, “Support me and let me take a look.”

Xiaoshunzi picked me up at the waist. Seeing that I did not resist, he brought me up the mountain. After we had hidden behind a boulder, I poked my head out to observe the battlefield.

Gu Mountain Stronghold was so named because of its position atop a small mountain. In reality, rather than calling it a small mountain, it was just some rock outcroppings. Moreover, within the stronghold was a spring with an enormous quantity of water, following the terrain and flowing down the mountain. When building the stronghold, a two to three zhang5 deep moat had been dug around it. Afterwards, the moat was filled with water from the spring. The Gu Mountain Stronghold, topographically well positioned and with the moat to keep the enemy at a distance, was a strategically important stronghold. However, because of the excessive sturdiness of the stronghold, the majority of the troops inside it were infantry. There were only three hundred horsemen garrisoned within.

Looking down, I could see that a thousand paces from the stronghold, the Prince of Qi was leading over a hundred wounded cavalrymen charging non-stop, seeking to break through. He was surrounded by a thousand Northern Han horsemen. The remaining seven to eight hundred horsemen were tasked with harassing the Gu Mountain Stronghold, deterring any reinforcements. I clearly saw that beside the moat there were a large quantity of corpses and several masterless horses wandering about. At the highest point of the stronghold, I saw black smoke curling up into the sky.

By this point, Huyan Shou had followed over. Deeply worried, he stated, “Daren, just now, the soldiers within the stronghold sought to provide support and rescue His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. However, they were driven back. Although the stronghold has used the fire beacons to notify nearby strongholds and encampments, they likely won’t arrive for another two hours. Daren, we must rescue His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi.”

I stared with admiration at the two sides battling below. This was the first time I had seen two units of elite cavalry fight. Although the disparity in strength was clear, the Prince of Qi did not reveal a single hint of cowardice and timidity. Every single time he charged, he would target the enemy’s weakness. Although Flying Tiger General Shi Ying’s responses were swift, ensuring that the Prince of Qi’s force was surrounded within the formation, he was unable to suppress the Prince of Qi. A bit baffled, I asked, “Huyan Shou, although it could be that His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, has brilliant tactics, why does it feel like Shi Ying does not live up to his reputation?”

Huyan Shou replied, “Daren, there are some things that you don’t know. Each of Northern Han’s ranking generals has their individual strengths. Shi Ying is adept at performing long-range raids. This time, the fighting ability of the elite household troops by His Imperial Highness’s side is better than Shi Ying’s. As a result, Shi Ying cannot be in a rush to succeed. Within the Northern Han army, the one most able at marching and formations is Tan Ji, the Ghost-Faced General. Within our Great Yong military, there aren’t any who can compare to the Prince of Qi when it comes to leading cavalry from the frontline. That is why such a situation has arisen.”

I thanked my lucky stars. If the one responsible for ambushing us was Tan Ji, the Ghost-Faced General, I would likely have been only able to collect the Prince of Qi’s corpse. Of course, this was only if I had been able to escape the calamity. It wasn’t that the preparations made by Northern Han weren’t comprehensive, but rather that they hadn’t realized that I would bring along the Divine Heavens-Soaring Flame that I had originally prepared for the Eastern Sea. In addition, they had forgotten that late autumn was the perfect time to use fire to attack. As for Shi Ying’s tactics being restrained by the Prince of Qi, this was something outside of everyone’s control. Northern Han probably had never expected that the Prince of Qi would make this journey to the Eastern Sea. They had probably hurriedly dispatched the nearby Shi Ying over just after receiving the news. If any of those conditions were different, then we would not see today’s situation.

After carefully observing for some time, I grimly stated, “Xiaoshunzi, in a moment, follow General Huyan to seize the advantage and penetrate into the Northern Han army. Although your horsemanship isn’t as good, you should be able to compare with the typical horseman. These last few years, you have trained in the Marquis Jiang family’s spear techniques. It should be of use. If you can take Shi Ying’s life, that would be the best. If you cannot, you must ensure that Shi Ying is unable to command the enemy army. What do you two think about these arrangements?”

Xiaoshunzi and Huyan Shou both frowned slightly. Huyan Shou spoke first, “Daren, this general has once witnessed Lord Li’s superb martial arts before. However, daren’s safety is more important. If Lord Li joins the fight, when the time comes, if daren is harmed in the chaos, we cannot take the responsibility …”

Smiling wryly, I replied, “General Huyan, this is something that we do not have a choice over. You have to command the troops. As such, it will be difficult for you to undertake the task of killing the enemy commander and seizing the banner. Moreover, if we cannot win, even if you stay behind to protect me, it will be of no use. How about this? Leave behind several of the Stalwart Tiger Guard to protect me. As long as you resolve this in the shortest time, I should not fall into too great a danger.” Of course, I couldn’t bluntly state that I feared that Huyan Shou did not have the ability to completely subdue Shi Ying.

Xiaoshunzi did not say anything. He understood our current predicament clearly and the weight behind Jiang Zhe’s words. He could only kill Shi Ying as swiftly as possible so that he could return to Jiang Zhe’s side. This was the best solution. He could not help but regret his failure in convincing Jiang Zhe to bring a few of his trusted guards.

At this moment, the Prince of Qi’s formation was becoming disorderly. It seemed that they were completely spent. I promptly ordered, “General Huyan, quickly act! If His Imperial Highness is harmed, we surely can’t take responsibility.”

Huyan Shou uttered his agreement in a low voice. After assigning several of the Stalwart Tiger Guard with excellent martial arts skills to protect me, Huyan Shou remounted his horse. Xiaoshunzi glanced at me and also mounted his horse. At this moment, I remembered something, promptly leaning over and shouting, “Xiaoshunzi, there’s something else!” A look of inquiry appeared on Xiaoshunzi’s face. When he leaned over and lowered his head, I hurriedly whispered a few sentences into his ear. After that, I immediately retreated to the side.

Seeing that everyone had finished making preparations, Huyan Shou lifted his cavalry lance, soundlessly pointing it up at the sky. Afterwards, he abruptly plunged it down. Close to two hundred horsemen charged up the slope. As fast as lightning, they then violently charged down. Standing off to the side, I could feel the earth quake and the mountains shake. With rocks shaking and rolling down chaotically, I almost lost my footing and toppled to the ground. Fortunately, there were several of the Stalwart Tiger Guard left behind to protect me by my side. They steadied me.

These Stalwart Tiger Guard were part of my protection detail during the years I had lived within the Cold Courtyard. These last several years, they had been promoted. At the worst, they were military officers of the sixth-rank. However, when they met me again after years apart, they had complained. After I had departed that year, because of their failure to protect me, they had been thoroughly reprimanded by the then Prince of Qi and the current emperor. Fortunately, the Prince of Yong also knew that they had grievances and had not punished them. On the contrary, because they had served at my side, they had all been placed in important positions. However, they were still unable to raise their heads for some time. Fortunately, they were the ones here and would not ridicule me. At the time, within the Cold Courtyard, they paid close attention to my health. Whenever they saw that my complexion was poor, they would immediately go to invite the imperial physician who the Prince of Yong had assigned to look after my health. Although I had basically completely recovered, in their eyes, I was probably still an invalid who could collapse at any moment.

When our footing had stabilized, we watched as Xiaoshunzi accompanied Huyan Shou and charged into the Northern Han cavalry formation. A white horse, a silver spear, a snow-white battle gown, truly majestic and awe-inspiring. It made me quite envious. It was a pity … it was impossible for me to go into battle. The black- and scarlet-armored iron tide was an irresistible force. The Northern Han army did not realize that they would be ambushed. In a moment, their formation was thrown into disarray, while the Prince of Qi’s troops were reenergized. They spared no effort, fighting desperately. At this moment, the troops within the stronghold were also sent out. The stronghold gates were opened and the remaining slightly over one hundred horsemen charged out. Although the fighting ability of the Great Yong army was inferior to that of Northern Han’s, they were caught in a pincer attack from within and without. With just fierce attacks from three sides, the Northern Han army was thrown into chaos.

Shi Ying had absolutely not expected that a hostile force would appear at his rear at this moment. Beforehand, he had eliminated a significant quantity of Yong scouts. Moreover, under the Prince of Qi’s strict command, the garrisons of the strongholds and encampments did not lightly deploy troops. As a result, he was under the impression that he was secure in his assault on the Prince of Qi. He completely did not worry about the escaped Jiang Zhe. A talented and brilliant strategist would not necessarily have the ability to be a battlefield commander. If Lin Bi’s orders had not expressly commanded Shi Ying to capture or kill Jiang Zhe, or due to the insistence of the Southern Chu emissary, Shi Ying would definitely not have dispatched a thousand men to pursue Jiang Zhe. Shi Ying did not expect that Jiang Zhe would be able to escape. As such, he did not anticipate that there would be reinforcements nearby. Seeing the black- and scarlet-armored troops approach, Shi Ying’s first thought was the safety of those troops whom he had sent to pursue Jiang Zhe. While he shivered inwardly, his command to hinder the ambushers was inevitably delayed. In this instant, his loss was already determined.

Shi Ying was extremely decisive, immediately giving the command to retreat, while he personally led his household troops to serve as the rearguard. Based upon their numerical superiority, the Northern Han elite cavalry scattered to the wind. Just as Shi Ying had swept a intercepting Yong soldier off his horse, a white silhouette flashed by in front of him. A rider in white armor and a battle gown obstructed his path. The man’s face was covered by a visor and he could not see his appearance. However, his build wasn’t large. Shi Ying heartlessly smiled, conceited by his great strength and bravery, stabbing down with his lance. The rider did not dodge, his silver spear shooting out at an angle. When the spear and lance slammed together, Shi Ying felt as if he had attacked a cotton ball, not knowing whether the force was solid or fluid. Shi Ying felt himself stagger. At this moment, the rider’s spear swiftly split, creating numerous spear afterimages that covered the entire sky. The spearhead stirred up countless small, but ice-cold bursts of air that swept towards Shi Ying. Shi Ying gave a loud grunt, his lance arcing through the air, creating a fervent gale that blocked the spear’s offensive. With the noise of metal clanging, the sharp sounds of weapons clashing and the resulting storm prevented anyone within a radius of several zhang from remaining on their feet.

Shi Ying was a celebrated general of Northern Han. Although he had met opponents on the battlefield before, he had never found things as difficult as today. If he had not discovered that there was a big disparity between his opponent’s spear techniques and horsemanship, and using the superiority of his own horsemanship, it would have been impossible for him to fight evenly with his opponent. The two exchanged over a dozen bouts. Shi Ying’s opponent gradually gained the advantage. Suddenly, the silver spear became like a shooting star or a lightning bolt, piercing through Shi Ying’s defenses. Shi Ying spared no effort to dodge, but was still pierced through his right side by the spear. Shi Ying let out a miserable scream. Not caring about his life or death, Shi Ying struck back with his lance. His opponent reined back his horse and retreated a step. Shi Ying turned his horse and fled. Acting together, a dozen or so Shi Ying’s household troops immediately prevented the enemy from giving chase. The silver spear transformed into a meteor shower. In the air, numerous captivating blossoms of bright red flowers spurted into existence. As the dozen or so household troops died under the silver spear, Shi Ying fled far away under the protection of others of his household troops. Seeing that it was too late to give chase, the warrior in the snow-white battle gown shouted, “Shi Ying! Inform Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Jiaping, that Southern Chu does not have any good intentions! They only passed along the message, while you have lost troops and commanders! Can you not see through the strategy—‘two parties fight, only the third party benefits?’”6

Hearing this, Shi Ying understood. Although he knew that the enemy was trying to sow discord, he still felt an unexplainable resentment grow in his heart and could not help but become suspicious of Southern Chu’s intentions. From that emissary’s words, the instigator was Southern Chu’s Lu Can. Reportedly, Lu Can was Jiang Zhe’s student. How could it be that the student did not know of his master’s abilities? Could it be that Lu Can understood that he could not succeed easily and thus passed along the information?

From my position, I could hear Xiaoshunzi’s shouts. A smile appeared on my face. Lu Can and Lin Bi’s cooperation to harm me must be avenged. Northern Han’s military leader was Long Tingfei. If he were on guard against Lu Can, then it would ensure that the collaboration between Northern Han and Southern Chu would not be too elaborate. This will also lessen my troubles.

After a while, the battlefield had settled down. The only ones remaining were the Great Yong soldiers cleaning up the battlefield. Only when I saw this did I finally walk down the mountain under the protection of the Stalwart Tiger Guard. It was a short journey and would be quickly completed if mounted. However, my inner thighs were badly chafed by the earlier ride. I did not want to ride again. Although it was painful to walk, I could only do so. When I reached the foot of the mountain, the Prince of Qi came over to welcome me with his troops. He was completely covered in wounds and blood, cutting an extremely sorry figure. However, he did not care about his appearance. Seeing my arrival, he laughed loudly and declared, “Suiyun, you’re truly skilled! In the future, you might as well command an army into battle!”

Resisting the urge to look at him with derision, I replied, “Your Imperial Highness, you’re trying to make things difficult for me. If even I can go to battle, then all of Southern Chu will be capable of leading troops into the battle.”

Just then, the stronghold garrison commander came over to respectfully invite us to enter the stronghold. Seeing that Xiaoshunzi and Huyan Shou were cleaning up the aftermath, I felt that there shouldn’t be any danger. I walked alongside the Prince of Qi towards the drawbridge. There were many corpses there and they had not been cleaned away. However, the people here, aside from me, were all experienced in war and did not take things to heart. I could only turn a blind eye and walk towards the interior of the stronghold, focused on bathing, changing, and sleeping.

***

In the hazy moonlight, Li Hu opened his eyes. He was a lowly cavalry squad leader under the Flying Tiger General, Shi Ying. While impeding the reinforcements from the Gu Mountain Stronghold, he had been inattentive and been pierced, falling off of his horse. As it turned out, his head had struck a rock, knocking him unconscious. In the chaos of war, no one had noticed that he was not yet dead. He had been unconscious until Shi Ying had been defeated and retreated. During this extended period of time, no one had expected that there would be someone alive in this area filled with corpses. The Yong soldiers busy cleaning up the battlefield had not yet had the time to clean this area up, only dragging away the bodies blocking the drawbridge before moving to other parts of the battlefield to clean up and administer first aid. For those heavily injured Northern Han soldiers, they either sent them on their way to the underworld or taken captive.

As a result, no one showed an interest to Li Hu lying unmoving on the ground. When he had opened his eyes, he saw a general in the golden armor of an imperial clansman and a scarlet battle gown and a scholar in azure walk side by side towards the drawbridge. Li Hu’s heart burned like a raging inferno, immediately understanding that the Northern Han army had been defeated. He tightly gripped the cavalry lance that he had never released. Gathering all of his strength, he suddenly sat up and stabbed the cavalry lance forward. He had seen that almost everyone was wearing armor and was worried that he was too weak to succeed with one strike. As a result, his lance hurtled towards the scholar in azure. Having used up the last of his strength, Li Hu felt his vision grow dark.

As the scholar in azure’s back was pierced, his body on the verge of collapse, everyone watched flabbergasted as the man fell off the bridge. Li Hu did not have the strength to resist as the Yong army rushed over to bind and batter him. Li Hu was filled with joy, beginning to laugh heartily.

Footnotes:

水深火热, shuishenhuore – idiom, lit. deep water and scorching fire; fig. abyss of suffering, extreme misery, untold suffering
Roughly 5.9 meters
水火无情, shuihuowuqing – idiom, lit. water and fire are merciless; fig. flood and fire have no mercy for anybody
固, gu – lit. sturdy, solid, strong
Roughly five to seven meters deep.
鹬蚌相争,渔翁得利, yubangxiangzheng, yuwengdeli – idiom, lit. when the oyster and the kingfisher fight, a fisherman benefits, catching them both; fig. if two parties fight, a third party will benefit

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