Volume 4, Chapter 18: Breaking a Goshawk’s Wings (Beginning)

On the twenty-seventh day of the tenth month of the twenty-eighth year of Great Yong’s Wuwei era, after the recently held military competition, the entire Zezhou main encampment received orders to prepare for battle. Once everything had been prepared, news about the enemy was received from the frontlines. Northern Han patrols had appeared in the valley to the east of Zezhou.

Hearing this news, Li Xian frowned and asked, “Suiyun, why would Long Tingfei launch an attack at this moment? Although he mobilizes and attacks Zezhou every year, those attacks would either occur during the spring planting or the autumn harvest. Right now, the harvest has already entered the granaries. Isn’t it a bit strange for him to attack right now?”

With my outer garments draped over my shoulders, I studied the map under the light of the lamp on the table. I lightly responded, “This spring, Long Tingfei raided Zezhou once. As a result, it wouldn’t be strange if he didn’t come in the autumn. However, that man is a master of strategy. How could he not see our significant movements? Your Imperial Highness personally traveled to the Eastern Sea. Zhe returned and joined the army. The Emperor and Your Imperial Highness have both been busy with readying the supplies and organizing the army. These kinds of warning signs all point to the fact that Great Yong intends to fight. Long Tingfei definitely has subordinates constantly scouting and spying upon us. Now that Qinzhou1 has seen snow and the weather is turning cold, there is another month or so until the snows seal the roads. This is a good opportunity for us to attack. Long Tingfei is likely worried that we will march upon Qinzhou, looting and slaughtering. Then, before the snow falls, we will destroy their stored grain. With this, the following winter will be difficult for Northern Han to endure.

“We have a well-trained and powerful army. If we were to attack Qinzhou, no matter how capable Long Tingfei, he will be unable to take care of everything. Rather than facing our attacks, he probably concluded that it was best to take the offensive himself and gain the advantage by making the first move. After they have retreated, we can only wait until next spring before launching an offensive. Further, a few days ago, when we were ambushed by Northern Han troops, even if we didn’t take that matter to heart, do you think they will believe that we won’t try to take revenge?”

In fact, Li Xian had the same thoughts on his mind. Looking at me, he replied, “Since that is the case, let us teach them a lesson in Zezhou. There is no harm in waiting to attack them after they are exhausted by a long march.2 How should we proceed?”

I pointed at Miaopo, close to where the Qinhe and Qinshui Rivers intersected in Qinshui.3 I asked, “Your Imperial Highness, how do you feel about this location? Don’t you think this is the perfect place to set an ambush?”

After focusing on the map for some time, Li Xian asked, “Who do you think is the best person to dispatch?”

I softly answered, “Nominally, the commander of the garrison there should be Jing Chi. However, the actual commander there will be based upon how tolerant and broadminded Your Imperial Highness is.”

Pride flashed across Li Xian’s eyes, as he replied, “This Prince understands your intentions. You do not need to worry. This Prince will act in accordance with your stratagems this time. I don’t care about acclaim or face. As long as my army is victorious, this Prince’s honorable service will be enormous. Don’t tell me that I will fight over recognition with my subordinates?” Changing the topic, he added, “However, this Prince is worried that they won’t fall into a trap.”

I smiled slightly. “Miaopo holds all of the provisions for the troops in Zezhou. If the enemy do not even think about attacking this location, then aside from a direct confrontation with us, they do not have any chance of success. Don’t tell me that we will be defeated even though neither side holds the numerical advantage and we are on the defensive? By mobilizing such a force to invade the border, if they cannot steal enough provisions, then even if we fight to a draw, they will have lost. Your Imperial Highness, there is no need to worry. No matter how formidable Long Tingfei is, he will not be able to win so easily.”

Only then did Li Xian relax. Staring at the map, he stated, “According to the scout reports, the day after next, Long Tingfei’s main force will arrive at Qinze. We can properly meet them head on there.”

Nodding my head, I replied, “The terrain there is flat. Although there are some wilderness and hills, it is perfectly suited for two armies to battle. No wonder these last several years, Great Yong and Northern Han would always choose this location to fight.”

Li Xian lamented, “Right … although the Qinze wilderness brims with lush vegetation and weeds, it was the result of the lands being saturated with the blood of soldiers from both countries. Until now, this Prince and Long Tingfei have fought four times at Qinze. Each time, this Prince was only able to barely escape unscathed. My Great Yong buried countless loyal and brave warriors there. This time, this Prince wants Long Tingfei to experience the pain of losing one of his wings. I hope that he is smart enough and does not leave this Prince to gaze with eager expectation.”

Having thought this all out, I said, “There is no need for Your Imperial Highness to worry. The clues we have left behind are more than enough to allow them to discover that Miaopo is where we store our provisions. Moreover, the generals of Northern Han are awfully conceited. Even if they discover that something is off, they will be focused on completing their objectives at any costs. However, this time, they will discover that they have kicked an iron plate.”

Li Xian smiled slightly without responding. Unless Long Tingfei was personally leading troops this time, none of the other Northern Han generals were worthy of Li Xian’s attention.

***

The autumn wind soughed; the brush shook. In the ten-li-vast desolate wilderness to the north of Qinze, several of Great Yong’s scouts in yellow light armor were hidden in the hills, focused upon the distant horizon. At the foothills, several warhorses were leisurely eating fodder. One of the scouts tiredly rubbed his eyes, sore from staring for so long into the distance. At this very moment, one of his companions shouted out with alarm, “The enemy army has come!”

The tired scout quickly looked up. At the horizon, under the backdrop of the dark blue skies, a dark brown crescent line suddenly appeared. In only a single breath’s time, the bobbing line became increasingly clear. On the yellow plain, their movement was very rapid. After a while, he could see clearly that the line was actually composed of tens of thousands of Northern Han elite horsemen.

In the middle of the dark brown group was a noticeable mass of crimson. The several scouts could also see goshawks soaring in the sky above them. These were the birds of prey used by the Northern Han army to gather military intelligence. These scouts very clearly understood that the commanders of both Great Yong and Northern Han shared the same hobby—having their personal troops wear red armor. However, though both sides wore red, they could easily discern between one another on the battlefield. Not only was the armor style different, the Prince of Qi’s troops all wielded lances and pikes, while Long Tingfei’s troops wielded strong bows and sturdy crossbows.

From the sight before them, the scouts all knew that, as expected, Long Tingfei had personally led his army to invade Zezhou. In addition, their positions were likely already discovered by the goshawks flying overhead. If they were to continue to stay here, they likely wouldn’t survive to return. Quietly, they mounted their warhorses, spurring them into a gallop, heading back to make their report.

After a spell, the Northern Han army had come close. The originally dashing, scattered formation that resembled a surging and turbulent ocean tide rapidly converged. With their front shrunk, the aura of the wildly galloping, lightning-like formation became increasingly thick, bearing suffocating pressure. All those who witnessed them would be convinced that if there were anyone seeking to halt their advance, they would be torn to shreds by the advancing crack horsemen. When they were several li from the hills, their speed began to slow down. Afterwards, under the surveillance of Great Yong scouts, they stopped at the foothills. Only a hundred or so horsemen in red armor did not slow down as they accompanied a high-ranking military officer in a fiery-red battle gown forward, directly galloping up a hill. They stopped at the hilltop.

The general in the red battle gown raised the visor covering his face, revealing a flawlessly handsome face. His deep blue eyes, as deep and hidden as the abyss of the ocean, revealed an intense expression. He peered down at these lands soaked with the blood of soldiers of Great Yong and Northern Han. That proud figure, which looked at the world with disdain out of the corner of his eyes, seemed like the loftiest of mountain peaks. The bodyguards by his side and the tens of thousands of Northern Han troops behind him all looked to this man’s figure. Their gazes revealed zealous radiance that seemed to show their willingness to sacrifice their lives for this man.

At this moment, four of the bodyguards trotted out, simultaneously giving rhythmic soft whistles. The goshawks circling above all swooped down, landing on the left forearms of the four bodyguards. Spurring his horse forward, Long Tingfei did not seem to have noticed, seemingly completely focused on the field where they would conduct bloody battle. After several moments, once the army had been organized, the other mounted commanders also scaled the hills, respectfully waiting at attention behind Long Tingfei.

Practically all of the Northern Han generals had tall and powerful figures, with heavy, heroic spirits. Of them, one of the generals in an azure battle gown stood out from the masses.4 He was slim and lanky. Although he was eight chi5 in height, he did not have an oppressive aura and his face was completely covered by a sinister bronze mask. The only thing that could be seen was his pair of heartless and deep eyes. The weapons hanging from his saddle were a pair of long dagger-axes, their entire hafts as black as ink. Only the blades glinted with gleams akin to frost and snow. From what could be seen, it only felt as if this man was unsociable, as if he was maintaining his distance from the other generals. Apart from this, there weren’t any other abnormalities. However, the other generals seemed to cower from and dread him, as if this man was the most terrifying existence in the entire world.

Long Tingfei did not turn his head. However, he could sense the strange atmosphere behind him. He sighed softly inside. He knew well the exclusion and fear of his subordinates towards the Ghost-Faced General, Tan Ji. However, Tan Ji was his indispensable lieutenant. As such, he could only wrong these subordinates. Long Tingfei had a galaxy of talents under his command. Although the Vanguard General Su Dingluan had died in the Yong capital, the three disciples that the Devil Sect had dispatched—Lu Boyan, Lu Zhongtian, and Lu Shuhan—were all comparable to Su Dingluan. Every time Long Tingfei campaigned, Boulder General Duan Wudi would assuredly and stoutly defend the rear, steadily guarding the Northern Han army’s retreat route; Flying Tiger General Shi Ying was like a sharp sword, easily capable of striking at the enemy’s weaknesses. However, neither of these individuals could compare to the importance of Tan Ji.

The Ghost-Faced General, Tan Ji, was originally from a hunting household located in the mountains on the border between Zezhou and Qinzhou. In the mountains, his family neither contributed grain nor paid taxes, having no thoughts about country. However, fourteen years ago, during a confrontation between Great Yong and Northern Han, during the execution of an ambush upon the Northern Han army, a Yong general passed by the aloof Tan family stronghold. In order to maintain secrecy, that bloodthirsty general massacred the entire stronghold. The more than two hundred members of his village were slaughtered, aside from Tan Ji, who had gathered the collected fur pelts and went into town to purchase a gold hairpin for the woman whom he loved. Unable to endure the excitement in his heart, Tan Ji had hurried back, arriving as the Yong army was wantonly massacring the mountain stronghold. However, the powerless Tan Ji could only hide on the ridge, looking on helplessly as his home was completely destroyed. Knowing that he was powerless to exact revenge, Tan Ji burned down the stronghold. Afterwards, he had traversed a craggy mountain path that only hunters knew, and rushed to Qinzhou before the Yong army could approach. Then, that bloodthirsty Yong general had been surrounded and annihilated by the Northern Han army waiting in ambush. At the time, Long Tingfei, still a deputy general, gained a new bodyguard.

After that, Tan Ji had risen from a foot soldier to a general. Although he was valued by Long Tingfei, Tan Ji’s position was extremely challenging. Because he personally witnessed that massacre, Tan Ji’s temperament had changed greatly. He was not fond of socializing and was known for his harsh discipline. Everyone, including his subordinates and his colleagues, feared him as a tiger. Even those who were of higher rank than him felt fear. According to the customs of the Northern Han army, its soldiers were brave, fierce, and unrestrained. With this, there were plenty of unruly soldiers and officers who ignored military regulations. However, Tan Ji’s command was governed by strict military regulations. Any violations would see beatings or floggings. A repeat offense would see execution. At the beginning, there were those who did not accept it, resisting with their courage and strength. Although he looked refined and gentle, Tan Ji’s methods were incomparably savage and cruel. All those who tried to resist were arrested and executed. In addition, by charging these individuals with the crime of rebellion, their families were also implicated. With this, no one dared to offend Tan Ji. After respect for military regulations was institutionalized, Tan Ji had focused upon training an elite unit of horsemen. These horsemen were skilled in both long-range and close combat. Mounted or dismounted, they were outstanding warriors. They were always required to carry long dagger-axes, cavalry sabers, and sturdy crossbows. Tan Ji had further studied battle formations under Long Tingfei. It could even be said that the student had surpassed the teacher. Upon the battlefield, he could use cavalry formations to defeat enemies that were several times larger than his troops.

Possibly because his appearance did not look mighty enough, Tan Ji always wore a bronze ghost mask. As a result, he was nicknamed the Ghost-Faced General. Afterwards, Tan Ji had selected several warriors with surpassing aptitude, personally teaching them dagger-axe techniques. He selected the best thirty-six of them as his bodyguards, having them wear bronze masks that were the same as his. They were nicknamed the Ghost Cavalry. These Ghost Cavalry only carried long dagger-axes, masters of rapid attacks. Every battle, they would either attack the enemy’s weaknesses or use strength against strength to break the enemy’s spearhead under Tan Ji’s orders. These thirty-six Ghost Cavalry were the sharp weapon used by Tan Ji to destroy the enemy’s taste for battle and morale. Tan Ji never stopped training and replenishing them. Any casualties would immediately be replaced. More than half of Tan Ji’s fame was earned because of these thirty-six Ghost Cavalry.

However, if this was solely the case, it would not be enough to cause everyone who met Tan Ji to be afraid of him. What caused Tan Ji to be castigated was his fondness for slaughter. Although during the chaos of war, all those who enlisted in the military would regard the lives of human life as grass, this did not mean, however, that people did not have bottom lines. Everyone believed in the inauspiciousness of killing prisoners and karma’s retribution. When the land fell into chaos, although commoners were massacred, women raped, and children killed, as the situation gradually cleared, if there weren’t any need, they would avoid slaughtering innocents if they could. However, Tan Ji was the exception, never leaving captives alive. Wherever his army passed, nothing was left alive. Even the Northern Han generals who were colleagues of Tan Ji found this kind of savage cruelty unbearable. Fortunately, Long Tingfei always earnestly exhorted and tightly supervised him, otherwise Tan Ji’s conduct would likely have become even more excessive. How could this kind of “invincible”6 general who was a master of formations, and possessed such a steely and ruthless heart, not cause others to be wary?

Long Tingfei sighed again inwardly. Although he valued Tan Ji, he was not fond of the Ghost-Faced General. According to Long Tingfei’s personality, he greatly disliked Tan Ji’s sinister and savage methods. However, Long Tingfei also knew that aside from Tan Ji, none of his subordinates could be able to handle Great Yong’s elite cavalry by themselves. Moreover, Tan Ji’s savagery was the primary guarantee that the Northern Han army could devastate Great Yong’s territory. If not for the great fear of Great Yong’s frontier citizens and their comparison of Tan Ji to a demonic tiger or wolf, the resistance that the Northern Han army faced would likely be even more severe. As a result, although Tan Ji was not liked by Long Tingfei, he was trusted and relied upon by Long Tingfei.

Collecting his helpless thoughts, Long Tingfei smiled and stated, “General Tan, tell me … how should we attack this time?”

An ominous and cold voice came from behind the bronze mask. “Naturally, Grand General has long ago calculated how to succeed. Although this general is ignorant, I know that we only have a hundred thousand troops, while the enemy has three hundred thousand. If we cannot attack a point that requires rescue and sow fear in the enemy, it will not attain victory and we will only be defeated. If General permits it, this general is willing to take charge of a unit and destroy the enemy’s foundation.”

Pleased, Long Tingfei replied, “General Tan speaks the truth. Our army has come from afar. The enemy has favorable geographic and social conditions. If we cannot win with surprise, we will only be defeated. Xiao Tong, inform everybody of the intelligence that you have gathered.”

From within Long Tingfei’s personal guard, Bodyguard Xiao, who had accompanied Lin Bi to the Eastern Sea, walked out. In a clear voice, he reported, “Grand General, all the assembled Generals, this subordinate investigated the enemy situation. We have already obtained news of the enemy’s movements. The enemy commander-in-chief is personally commanding one hundred fifty thousand troops in the main army. They will arrive at the Qinze battlefield tomorrow. According to our scout reports, the commander is the Prince of Qi himself. Army Supervisor Jiang Zhe is accompanying them. The enemy’s supply camp has been set at Miaopo. The commander responsible for its defense is the deputy commander-in-chief, Jing Chi. He has approximately thirty thousand troops. Other than that, the one hundred twenty thousand troops garrisoned throughout Zezhou have begun to mobilize.”

Xiao Tong was a beloved disciple of the Devil Sect Sovereign, responsible for collecting military intelligence. He had a significant number of Devil Sect experts under his command. There would naturally be no mistakes with the intelligence that he gathered. However, everyone exchanged looks of dismay. One of the generals spoke up, asking, “Bodyguard Xiao, Jing Chi is an important commander for the enemy. Why was he dispatched to defend the supplies? Isn’t that a waste?”

“General is not aware of this, but although Jing Chi is an important commander for the enemy and the Yong Emperor’s trusted commander, he has always been at odds with the Prince of Qi,” answered Xiao Tong with a smile. “At present, the Yong Emperor is focused on repairing relations with the Prince of Qi. Jing Chi would naturally be forced to experience some unfair treatment. This subordinate received news that when Army Supervisor Jiang Zhe arrived at the Yong army’s main encampments at Zezhou he had Jing Chi beaten. As a result, the Prince of Qi seized the opportunity to strip Jing Chi’s authority, demoting him to the rear to defend the supplies. The seventy thousand troops that Jing Chi originally commanded have also been divided by the Prince of Qi, only allowing Jing Chi to command thirty thousand troops to protect the supplies. The remaining forty thousand troops have been left by the Prince of Qi within his army.”

Another general laughed and declared, “Li Xian conceitedly claims to be a capable commander. Isn’t this kind of reprisal a bit too petty?”

Tan Ji ruthlessly replied, “This is not necessarily because Li Xian is too narrow-minded. All of us have heard that these last few years, Jing Chi has never stopped handicapping the Prince of Qi. If Li Xian were not going to exploit this kind of golden opportunity, it would have been too much of a pity. Li Xian was lenient, though. If he truly wanted to deal with Jing Chi, Jing Chi would be dead.”

Hearing him speak, everyone fell silent. Immediately, the atmosphere became awkward. Sighing again mentally, Long Tingfei clearly said, “Jing Chi can be considered an outstanding battlefield commander. With him leading thirty thousand troops and protecting the supplies, it will be extremely difficult if we want to strike at the enemy’s weakness. This decision by Li Xian cannot be considered as using a talented person in an insignificant position.7 Tan Ji, do you have the confidence to defeat Jing Chi, seizing the enemy’s supplies and provisions?”

In an emotionless voice, Tan Ji answered, “Although Jing Chi is a fierce and valiant general, his temperament is like a raging inferno. This general naturally is capable of dealing with that kind of individual. Grand General, please rest assured. This general will definitely trap the enemy in an impossible situation.”

Pleased, Long Tingfei nodded his head. “Excellent. Tan Ji, accept my command! I’m giving you ten thousand elite troops. You are ordered to defeat Jing Chi and capture the enemy’s supplies within ten days. Afterwards, you are permitted to act at your own discretion. However, you must return back to headquarters by the end of the eleventh month. Do you have any objections?”

Tan Ji insidiously replied, “This general accepts the order.” His voice carried a bit of fanaticism. When they heard his voice, all of the Northern Han generals could not help but feel shudders run up their spines. If Tan Ji were allowed to act on his own initiative, it would likely lead to another bloodbath in Zezhou. After many years of war, Tan Ji had broken enemy counties on three occasions. Two times, he had massacred counties west of the Yellow River, penetrating as far as the Duan Family Village and Jiafeng. Even the environs around the heavily defended Jincheng within Zezhou had been sacked by Tan Ji. To the army and civilians of Zezhou, Tan Ji was a devil that could cause babies to cry at night.

Long Tingfei gently sighed. If it weren’t for the numerical inferiority of the Northern Han army, he would definitely not have used this savage to massacre the innocent commoners. However, he needed someone capable of handling these matters. Aside from Tan Ji, who was capable of shouldering such an evil reputation?

Everyone guided their horses down the hill. Under the escort of the thirty-six Ghost Cavalry, Tan Ji rejoined his own unit. Originally, Tan Ji was conceited by the formidability of his dagger-axe techniques and was not fond of such protection. However, more than three years ago, an assassin from the Fengyi Sect had taken advantage of the absence of the Ghost Cavalry to disguise herself as one of Tan Ji’s household troops and seriously injure Tan Ji. Were it not for Tan Ji’s brilliant martial arts skills and the sacrifices of his household troops, Tan Ji would have likely lost his life then. From that point on, Tan Ji constantly paid careful attention to his safety. If the thirty-six Ghost Cavalry did not charge into battle, they were inseparable from Tan Ji. All of them wore the same attire and armor as Tan Ji. In addition, all of them wore the same bronze mask. Aside from trusted lieutenants, no one could distinguish the actual Tan Ji. When the Ghost Cavalry was in battle, if they were not being led by Tan Ji, then Tan Ji would be protected by the Ghost Cavalry’s replacement candidates. Because of this, no one could approach Tan Ji. With this, if someone wished to assassinate Tan Ji and was not a grandmaster, it was more difficult than ascending to the Heavens. In addition, these measures weren’t taken because Tan Ji was afraid of death. In Tan Ji’s view, even if he were to die, there were plenty of souls who would be buried with him.

In reality, Tan Ji understood Long Tingfei’s feelings towards him. For a sensitive individual like him, although Long Tingfei did not explicitly express his feelings, Tan Ji clearly understood Long Tingfei’s faint disgust and exclusion. However, Tan Ji never harbored a grudge because of this. He had been personally taught the art of war by Long Tingfei. It was also Long Tingfei who had asked a famous master to teach him martial arts. Tan Ji understood that Long Tingfei highly valued his savagery and calmness. He was a sharp weapon in the hands of Long Tingfei. When the day arrived that Long Tingfei could no longer tolerate his conduct and would toss him aside like a worn shoe, Tan Ji would not change his methods. He clearly understood that, as long as he was able to limit his conduct and not exceed everyone’s bottom line, he could receive Long Tingfei and all the other generals’ acceptance. However, to Tan Ji, his life had already ended long ago when his family had been massacred. Tan Ji lost any yearning to survive when he saw his beloved lying naked in a pool of blood, when he saw his white-haired grandfather nailed alive to the door, when he saw his respected and loved father die unable to close his eyes and yet still protected his young brothers and sisters, and when he saw the miserable condition of his affectionate mother committing suicide by biting her tongue.

However, the loathing in his heart was extremely grave, unable to be dispelled even when he saw his enemy die under the Northern Han army’s horse hooves. As a result, Tan Ji had chosen to enlist, pointing his butcher’s knife at those who had massacred his kinsmen. He loathed the Great Yong army who had slaughtered his family, hating the commoners of Zezhou who wholeheartedly supported the Yong army to preserve their lives and assets. Only with blood and fire could Tan Ji temporarily dispel his sorrow and warm his heart. Firmly holding the long dagger-axe in his hands, an icy killing intent flashed across Tan Ji’s eyes. He wanted to bathe this dagger-axe in even more blood to offer sacrifices to the departed spirits of his parents and kinsmen.

***

On the thirtieth day of the tenth month, after one night’s reorganization after several days of forced march, the Yong army arrived upon the battlefield from the southern end of Qinze. After experiencing the spring battle, both sides had restrained themselves. But now, the Battle of Qinze that would completely change the northern frontier began. In this battle, one hundred fifty thousand Yong troops and ninety thousand Northern Han troops would transform this one-hundred-li Qinze into a bloodbath with a mountain of corpses.

Meanwhile, Ghost-Faced General Tan Ji led ten thousand troops along the Qin River southward, making a beeline for Miaopo. Everywhere they passed, they saw no sign of life because the Yong army still maintained a scorched earth policy. However, Tan Ji still dispatched countless patrols. Any living person they ran into would be executed without exception. On the second day of the eleventh month, Tan Ji could see the supply camps at Miaopo in the distance. He began to plan how to annihilate the enemy and score a victory. At the same time, at Qinze, after preliminary probing attacks, the battle began.

Stationed upon a hill on a high slope, Li Xian’s princely and commander-in-chief banner danced wildly under the autumn wind. The fiery-red-armored cavalry impregnably surrounded the army center. Under the commander-in-chief’s banner, to the left of a general in golden armor and a fiery sorrel warhorse, I looked down upon the gathered army, wearing that specially designed azure cloak. Behind the general was Xiaoshunzi mounted upon a white horse, carrying a silver spear. His gaze was as cold as ice. Behind me to the side was a middle-aged man wearing light armor and an azure battle gown. Raising his whip, he pensively gazed down on the battlefield. His appearance was refined and scholarly. He had thin eyebrows and long eyes, refined in manner. Although he wore armor, aside from the sword hanging from his waist, he did not carry any other weapons. He frequently issued all kinds of orders to command the battle, having the Prince of Qi’s personal troops rapidly transmit them. My gaze pierced through layers of obstructions, focusing on a figure in the distant army surrounded by a mass of fiery red. There, under a fluttering red banner with the character, “Long (龍),” was a severe figure that stood out even in an army of tens of thousands.

At this moment, while Long Tingfei was commanding his troops, he was also paying attention to the enemy army. Underneath the banner of the Great Yong imperial family was an enemy of his who he had faced for many years and become increasingly tenacious with as they had battled, the Prince of Qi, Li Xian. In addition, he also paid attention to that azure-robed scholar who remained leisurely and carefree even upon the battlefield. These were the enemies before him … An intense fighting spirit welled up from deep within Long Tingfei. However, he instantly calmed down. His goal was not to defeat and destroy the enemy, but rather to wear down the enemy army’s strength, and collaborate with Tan Ji to nibble away at the whale that was the Yong army. Only in this way could the Northern Han army become increasingly formidable to the point of ensuring that the Yong army was powerless to invade Northern Han.

What a pity … A feeling of helplessness welled up from inside Long Tingfei. According to his plan, he had indeed stirred up a surging tide against the Prince of Qi within the Yong court. However, once Jiang Zhe had become the army supervisor, that plan had suffered a severe setback. Under the collaboration of Director Zheng Xia of Imperial Secretariat and Right Vice Director Shi Yu of the Department of State Affairs, they had completely suppressed all of the impeachment attempts and attacks directed at the Prince of Qi. Jiang Zhe, Jiang Suiyun, had only taken a minor action and yet had wasted Long Tingfei’s painstaking efforts. It was no wonder that the Princess of Jiaping wanted to exhaust all methods to have that man assassinated. Unfortunately, Shi Ying suffered a defeat at the last hurdle. After a look of dejection flashed on his face, Long Tingfei summoned up his confidence. No matter how resourceful that man is, as long as I make no mistakes with my leadership, what fear do I have that he will cause any turmoil?

Thinking of this, Long Tingfei smiled slightly and commanded, “Three Lu Generals. Lead your units and make a charge. The enemy’s right wing is a bit sluggish. We cannot let this golden opportunity pass.”

Footnotes:

沁州, Qinzhou – modern-day Qin County (沁县), Shanxi Province
以逸待劳, yiyidailao – idiom, lit. wait at one’s ease for an exhausted enemy or opponent; fig. attacking an enemy when they are fatigued from a long journey
沁水, qinshui – modern-day Qinshui County (沁水县)
与众不同, yuzongbutong- idiom, lit. to stand out from the masses; fig. out of the ordinary
Over six feet tall
所向披靡, suoxiangpimi – idiom, lit. sweeping everything before one; fig. to be invincible
大材小用, dacaixiaoyong – idiom, lit. put fine timber to petty use; fig. using a talented person in an insignificant position

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