Volume 4, Chapter 19: Breaking a Goshawk’s Wings (Middle)

Lu Boyan, Lu Zhongtian, and Lu Shuhan were triplets, sharing the same appearance and ferocity. Apparently, they even shared a tacit understanding and comprehension of each other.1 They were accepted by the Sovereign of the Devil Sect as disciples and imparted with martial arts. When the three joined hands and acted together, they were invincible. After Su Dingluan’s death, they were Northern Han’s most reputable vanguard. They had been observing the battle for some time and were already itching to get involved. Hearing Long Tingfei’s order, they loudly voiced their compliance. Each urged their horse into a gallop and returned to their unit, preparing for battle.

The Yong army had deployed fifty thousand foot soldiers—composed of diverse layers of archers, spearmen, and swordsmen—to create an impregnable formation, filled with a faint killing intent. Seventy thousand cavalrymen were deployed behind the infantry formation. The firm and indomitable elite cavalry did not budge an inch,2 waiting for an order from central command. Aside from an occasional horseman lightly consoling his eager horse, excited by the desperate atmosphere, there weren’t any other movements. There were another thirty thousand infantrymen who were prepared to substitute for their weary comrades at any moment.

As for the Northern Han army, it was entirely composed of cavalry. Thirty thousand horsemen patrolled at the edges of the Yong formation, using their bows and crossbows to look for the Yong army’s weak spot, slowly weakening the enemy defenses. This was a major battle that would pit strength against strength. There was no margin for cheap tricks. The splattering blood dyed the wilderness red. The arrows dancing across the sky created rains of blood.

After half a day of bloody battle, the Northern Han army was never able to obtain a satisfactory success facing the tenacious enemy army. Long Tingfei had also changed out his units. The two sides seemed to be conducting a battle of attrition. When afternoon arrived, the Yong army’s right wing, after sustaining repeated fierce attacks, was finally finding it difficult to prop itself up. The Northern Han attacks were too frequent, preventing the right wing from being replenished with fresh troops. At this very moment, Long Tingfei dispatched the Lu brothers.

Lu Boyan held a lance in his hands. The horsemen behind him all wielded lances and pikes. This unit of cavalry had the primary assault responsibility. However, all of them had small composite bows slung over their shoulders. When the time came, they could serve as horse archers. Brandishing his lance, Lu Boyan shouted, “Follow me!” Finished speaking, he took the lead and charged towards the right flank of the Yong army. The two units slammed together, once again weakening the defensive line. At this moment, Lu Zhongtian and Lu Shuhan also led their units and charged towards the Yong army’s right flank. The three brothers were connected on a deep level. Whenever one unit’s momentum was weakened, it would pull out and retreat to a distance, replaced by another brother’s unit. There was not a moment of separation between their alternating attacks. The continuous, savage attacks finally broke apart the Yong army’s defensive line. Like a flood, the Northern Han army swept into the Yong infantry and began to slaughter, causing flesh and blood to fly everywhere.

Just then, a bugle call could be heard from the center of the Yong army. Hearing this horn call, the infantrymen on the right wing desperately defending against the Northern Han cavalry suddenly split in half. Behind them was revealed the elite, azure-armored Great Yong cavalry. The combined sounds of the hoofbeats were like thunder. They forcibly welcomed the ferocious attacks of the Northern Han cavalry. The two armies were tangled together. At this moment, the entire battle revolved around this location.

Lu Boyan had converged with his two younger brothers. The three men simultaneously let out loud shouts. They were all valiant generals who became fiercer the stronger their opponents. For a moment, they were evenly matched with the massed Great Yong cavalry. Just then, a reverberating bugle horn resounded. His head clearing, Lu Boyan knew that he could not directly confront heavy cavalry. He waved his hand and shouted, “Charge towards their center!” Finished speaking, he led his unit and charged towards the center’s infantrymen. His two younger brothers skillfully took over the vacancy that he had left behind. The cavalry formation’s transformation was naturally smooth. Northern Han’s brave horsemen were like a sharp blade, stabbing into the Yong army’s center.

I could clearly see the transformation of the Northern Han’s cavalry formation from my position below the commander-in-chief’s banner. I could not help but be moved and state, “What an excellent cavalry unit! I have long heard that Northern Han’s cavalry is matchless when it comes to cavalry engagements. Seeing them today, they fully justify their reputation as expected.”

The rider in golden armor, with his visor down, spoke muffled, “Northern Han’s vanguard are indeed elite. This is even after their commander was replaced. Although their tactics have been improved greatly, their vigor has been greatly reduced since the days they were led by Su Dingluan. However, the elite cavalry of our Great Yong are not inferior in the slightest. It is only a pity that our opponents are all light cavalry, able to come and go as they please. As a result, our heavy cavalry’s speed cannot match theirs. In addition, Zezhou is composed of a flat, wide expanse of land, suitable for them to do as they please. If the two armies directly confront each other, their light cavalry is no match for the power of our armored cavalry. Daren, look. Hasn’t the Northern Han cavalry already begun evading the spearhead of our heavy cavalry?”

Observing all this, I nodded my head and replied, “What you say is true. However, don’t forget that you’re playing the role of His Imperial Highness. Don’t make any irresponsible remarks and unnecessary movements.”

The rider mumbled a sentence to himself and did not continue to speak.

By then, Xuan Song had issued an order. The Yong center seemed to transform into a vast ocean that the powerful current that was the Northern Han cavalry flowed into. In the wake of continuous investment of Great Yong troops, I could clearly see that under Xuan Song’s command, it became increasingly difficult for that unit of Northern Han cavalry to move as they pleased. Just then, the Northern Han army mobilized another twenty thousand horsemen, intending to break the Yong battle lines from the outside. However, the Yong lines were extremely tough and durable, resisting the pincer attacks from within and without. Great Yong’s heavy cavalry once again displayed their might, repeatedly smashing Northern Han’s weak spot. The following battle left me completely dazzled. The way both commanders deployed and employed troops was precise and ruthless. However, I could tell that the Northern Han army’s assaults were sharp and ever-changing, while Xuan Song was tenacious and steady. The two sides were practically using a series of grim and callous methods to whittle away lives and time. The Northern Han army only broke through the Great Yong battle lines when the sun set. Long Tingfei personally commanded the rearguard, allowing the Northern Han army to calmly retreat. Xuan Song also took advantage of this to withdraw.

In fact, if speaking seriously, it wasn’t that Long Tingfei could not have withdrawn the cavalry who had penetrated into the Yong army earlier. The reason he had not done so was because the losses would have been disastrous and would not have resulted in the present results. In addition, it wasn’t that Xuan Song could not forcibly detain the Northern Han army. It was only that such a decision would not be of any help to the outcome of today’s battle, only furthering unnecessary losses. As a result, both sides had reached a mutual understanding and respectively retreated.

On this day, Northern Han had left behind six to seven thousand bodies, while Great Yong had suffered twenty-five thousand casualties. It wasn’t that Long Tingfei’s leadership was that superior to Xuan Song, but rather that the Yong army was primarily composed of infantry, while the Northern Han army was composed of light and missile cavalry, capable of coming and going like the wind. This kind of casualty contrast was already a pretty good result. This was already something that could not be helped. The commanders on both sides had not made any grievous mistakes and could only fight a battle of attrition, whittling away lives and military strength. Although the power of the Great Yong elite horsemen was formidable, if the heavy cavalry was rashly deployed, it would have resulted in Long Tingfei finding a gap and inflicting disastrous losses or leaving Long Tingfei unwilling to have a direct confrontation, switching to guerrilla tactics. With this, we would have lost our ability to engage the Northern Han army.

The Northern Han army was mostly composed of light cavalry. Each soldier had two and sometimes even three horses. Their speed was faster than the Yong army. According to my calculations, if Long Tingfei were not trying to engage our army, Long Tingfei would likely not directly confront us. For us, if we did not fight this bloody battle with the Northern Han army, it would be impossible to have Northern Han believe that the entirety of our main army was here. Before, when the Northern Han army invaded, they would frequently raid and harass in all directions. However, since the Prince of Qi took command of the frontier several years ago and adopted the scorched earth policy, it became challenging to the extreme for Northern Han to capture towns and seize strongholds. Moreover, it would be very easy for them to be cut off by the Prince of Qi’s army. As a result, the Northern Han army was forced to change their tactics.

Long Tingfei would frequently lead a main force to circle around the Prince of Qi, while an auxiliary force would penetrate into Zezhou. If the Prince of Qi wished to maintain a strict defense and did not sally forth, then the Northern Han army would be allowed to freely capture the towns and strongholds in Zezhou. If the Prince of Qi were to sally forth to battle Northern Han’s main force, then the auxiliary force could do as it pleased. If the Prince of Qi sought to cut off the auxiliary force, Long Tingfei could lead the main force, pursuing and striking the Prince of Qi from behind. Moreover, Tan Ji was best at evading after launching a raid, while Shi Ying was adept at rapid march. Although the Great Yong army was stronger than Northern Han’s, it was actually pushed to the point that it was overwhelmed by the Northern Han army. As a result, over these last several years, the Prince of Qi had led his main force to battle the Northern Han’s main force, while he could only rely upon the separate garrisons to defend against the auxiliary force. As a result, the Prince of Qi had shrunk the defensive line back. The inhabitants of the Zezhou region had virtually been completely dispersed as a result of the uninterrupted wars.

This time, the Prince of Qi had taken my advice, having Xuan Song take command and meet Long Tingfei head on, while he personally led troops to meet, or rather to say destroy, Tan Ji. This was definitely an unexpected decision. The Great Yong army originally did not have anyone capable of meeting Long Tingfei head on. Who could have expected that the Prince of Qi, increasingly capable of fighting off Long Tingfei, would actually relinquish command? However, this was all because of Xuan Song’s fortunate existence. Originally, I intended to personally take charge if there were no other options. Under the help of all of the generals, I should have been able to fight Long Tingfei to a draw at the very least. Now that we had Xuan Song, I no longer needed to worry. After all, I had never actually taken command before.

With admiration, I gazed at Xuan Song, complimenting him, “As expected, Adjunct Xuan is a seasoned commander. Long Tingfei is not focused on fighting a decisive battle. In my opinion, he will not continue to attack so violently tomorrow. He likely cherishes his subordinates more than we do. In order to ensure that Long Tingfei does not have spare energy to suspect that His Imperial Highness is not within the army, we’ll have to rely upon Adjunct Xuan’s abilities.”

Xuan Song gazed at Jiang Zhe’s tranquil, smiling face. He could not help but feel boundless and heartfelt gratitude well up from inside. Xuan Song was originally a scholarly individual. However, after joining the army, he had discovered that he was especially suitable to commanding troops. It was a pity that according to Great Yong’s customs, to personally lead troops, one needed to be able to go into battle and lead from the front lines. If one’s martial arts weren’t sufficient, then there would definitely not be any opportunity to become a general. These last few years, although Xuan Song could be said to lead an army in practice, he could never legitimately command an entire campaign. In the beginning, it was because Jing Chi was not present. As a result, Xuan Song could act on his behalf and take command. Afterwards, when Jing Chi returned, he actually commanded two units. This was partly because Li Zhi wanted to reinforce Jing Chi’s strength. Seeing that Xuan Song was a capable commander, Jing Chi handed him one of his units. However, Xuan Song was nominally still only an adjunct. After he had decisively won the competition a few days ago, Jing Chi had happily told him of his intentions to help him get promoted. At the time, although Xuan Song was filled with joyous expectation, he was still on tenterhooks.

Xuan Song naturally knew of Jiang Zhe. Although Jiang Zhe had entered the Prince of Yong’s service later than he had, the man’s status was completely unordinary and he was the Prince of Yong’s most trusted adviser. If Jiang Zhe were willing to speak up for him, Xuan Song would likely see his dream come true. However, Xuan Song had also heard Jing Chi say that Jiang daren’s natural disposition was a bit indolent. He never meddled in unrelated matters. As a result, Xuan Song did not fancy his expectations. Who would have expected that he would be summoned to the Prince of Qi’s tent that night and been temporarily granted the heavy responsibility of briefly commanding the main force? As long as he was able to successfully stop Long Tingfei’s advance, then after the battle, he would definitely be promoted. His desire to command an army by himself was no longer a pipe dream. This battle was of the utmost importance. As a result, Xuan Song was filled with fear and trepidation during the entire battle. Now that he had successfully survived the first day, Xuan Song could not help but relax. Wiping the perspiration off his forehead, he saluted from his seated position on his horse, stating, “I have to profusely thank Army Supervisor daren. Were it not for daren’s recommendation, how would I have the opportunity to command the entire army?”

I smiled and replied, “This is also a result of Adjunct Xuan’s years of preparation, resulting in today’s accomplishments. This one only spoke a few kind words.”

At this moment, the fake Prince of Qi stretched on his horse, asking in a vexed tone, “Daren, how about we allow Qiao Zu to serve as the body double tomorrow? Unable to lead from the front lines and having to wear this heavy armor is too excruciating.”

At that moment, Qiao Zu, who played the role of Xuan Song’s bodyguard begged for forgiveness, “Daren, how do I have His Imperial Highness’s demeanor? It’s better to have Ma Su act as His Imperial Highness.”

I could not help but laugh. “Don’t worry, neither of you will be able to escape. These next few days, both of you will take turns acting as His Imperial Highness’s body double.” Ma Su and Qiao Zu could not help but simultaneously let out pained groans. I snickered mentally. That day within the Hunting Palace, the four of you kidnapped me from the Cherishing Fragrance Park to the Prince of Qi’s residence on the Prince’s orders. Although all of you saved my life, none of you had good intentions. Afterwards, you four repeatedly urged the Prince of Qi to kill me to prevent leaving roots for future trouble. Although the Prince of Qi ultimately did not adopt your plan, this grudge cannot go unavenged! Tao Lin and Zhuang Jun are at the Prince of Qi’s side, making it impossible for me to retaliate against them. However, since you two have fallen into my hands, what reason do I have to spare the two of you? Today, I’m only having the two of you play the role of His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. Although you are forced to maintain the airs of the prince and cannot move recklessly, it shouldn’t be too unendurable. Moreover, from henceforth, with our grudges settled … you two will have been let off lightly. The other two will likely not be as fortunate as you two.

Thinking of this, the corners of my mouth involuntarily curved into a smirk. Qiao Zu and Ma Su felt chills run up their spines. No wonder His Imperial Highness had such a smile on his face when Jiang daren had specifically named the two of them to stay behind and mumbled something about Jiang daren being fond of holding grudges. So it seemed Jiang daren always obtained retribution. Thinking of this, the two of them did not know whether to be happy or anxious. It would be pretty good if their grudges were resolved in such a manner. It was just that the two did not know how they would be teased these next dozen or so days. In addition, the two did not know whether to envy or sympathize the two bodyguards accompanying the Prince of Qi. After all, those two would fall into the army supervisor’s hands sooner rather than later.

Just then, Xiaoshunzi advanced and stated, “Young master, are you going to stay on the battlefield the entire day tomorrow? I can see that your complexion isn’t too great.”

I complained, “The sand blown by wind is too much, and I’ve sat on a horse for an entire day. I’m exhausted. If I wasn’t needed to help cover for His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, I would have ordered you to drive a carriage here.”

At this moment, having arranged the withdrawal, Xuan Song worriedly spoke, “Daren, how about bringing your tent tomorrow? You can rest as needed within. As long as you show yourself now and again, it should not raise the enemy’s suspicions.”

“There is no need to be overly worried,” I replied with a smile. “Long Tingfei should not fight so desperately tomorrow. If his limited resources are consumed, there will be no need for us to worry about invading Northern Han. Adjunct Xuan is probably thinking about how to contend with Long Tingfei tomorrow, correct? As long as we are able to hold out for ten days, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, should be able to relay a victory report.”

That very night, we pitched camp thirty li south of Qinze. When night arrived, when I was falling into a blurry sleep, I heard the sounds of battle coming from outside. I promptly got up, draping the cloak around my shoulders. Xiaoshunzi slept in the outer tent. Seeing me walk out from within, he whispered, “The enemy is raiding our camps. Young master, there is no need to worry.”

I was a bit worried anyway. Although Adjunct Xuan had asserted that it was possible that the enemy would raid our camps and that he had made the proper preparations, I still fretted that the enemy would be successful. Disregarding Xiaoshunzi’s efforts to stop me, I gazed out of the entrance of the tent. Under the dark skies, flames had sprung up everywhere. Countless dim shadows traversed back and forth within the wilderness and the camps under the dim, dusky light of night. After a short while, the Northern Han army retreated like the tide, probably seeing our meticulous defenses. Just as the Northern Han army retreated, a Yong unit that had snuck out of a gate of the camp suddenly shouted in unison, loosing volleys of arrows and crossbow bolts. However, the Northern Han army had taken precautions beforehand, quietly disappearing into the darkness. As a result, neither side suffered excessive casualties.

Just as I breathed a sigh of relief, the rear camps suddenly caught fire. The Northern Han army had come back again. This time, they did not enter our camps, only shooting fire arrows. Xuan Song promptly directed the firefighting operations. By the time the counterattacking troops had left the camps, the Northern Han army had already retreated. Throughout the night, the Northern Han army repeatedly launched raids. With the unpredictable behavior of the Northern Han army, our army did not have any way to confront them in the darkness. Although we did not suffer too many losses, we were unable to rest the entire night.

When the second day arrived, even though the sun was already high up in the sky, I was yawning non-stop. As for the officers and soldiers, they had taken turns to rest. Although their vigor was a bit reduced, they were not as dispirited as me. It seemed they had made preparations long ago. After asking Xuan Song and company, I learned that the Northern Han army was fondest of raiding camps. The Great Yong army had once thought about returning the favor. However, every single time they sought to raid the Northern Han camp, they were either ambushed or surrounded. As a result, they only sought to steadily defend the camps, setting up countless layers of sentry points around the exterior. I was unhappy. How were they so successful when we suffered losses? After asking the generals, I learned that the Northern Han army was skilled at utilizing birds of prey and mastiffs. Birds of prey could be used to investigate enemy intelligence during the day, while mastiffs could be used to maintain vigil at night. Reportedly, if our army approached within ten li of the Northern Han camps, it would be impossible to escape the mastiffs’ noses. The more I thought about this, the angrier I got. Instead, I issued the order to not sally forth, commanding that crisscrossed trenches a zhang3 deep be dug in a three hundred pace4 radius around our camps to ensure that it would be impossible for the Northern Han army to approach our camps. Afterwards, at every entrance, we left an intact path. With this, the Yong army could enter and exit the camps without any problems, while the enemy would not be able to launch raids as they pleased.

Standing behind me, Xuan Song gazed at the bustling digging. Hesitating, he asked, “If the Northern Han army completely seals the exit routes, what should we do?”

“How would that affect things?” I asked rhetorically with a smile before continuing, “First, our army has heavy cavalry. If Northern Han is willing to directly confront them, that’s exactly what I want. Second, when I ordered the trenches dug, I had the troops prepare plenty of wooden planks. If they were to seal our exit routes, we will only need to lay out the planks to form a path. Moreover, our army still has over half the infantry left. For them, this kind of terrain is only to their advantage.”

Xuan Song nodded his head in agreement after hearing my explanation. In fact, this method wasn’t that strange. It was only that both Great Yong and Northern Han primarily relied upon the power of their cavalry and were too impatient for victory, using courage and strength to seek victory, using offense as the best defense. They were a bit remiss on defense. Moreover, the Northern Han army was unpredictable in their raids, making it impossible for the Great Yong army to entrench. In addition, restraining enemy cavalry would inevitably restrict the routes allowing one to sally forth. As a result, it had occurred to no one to go to the trouble and effort of digging trenches. However, to someone like me, focused upon defense, this kind of method could ensure my own safety. In addition, I trusted that Long Tingfei would not dare to bypass us. These last several years, the defensive system that the Prince of Qi had painstakingly and meticulously established did not have that many flaws that could be exploited. Moreover, with this, at the very least, no one would come to disturb my beauty rest. Even if we needed to strike a camp, I had nothing to worry about. After all, with this many troops, it was good to allow them to exercise a little.

As we were busying ourselves here, Xiaoshunzi suddenly walked to my side and whispered, “Young master, there is someone spying upon our camps from a distance. He’s an expert.”

After hearing him speak, I continued to banter with Xuan Song and company, while making a gesture. After the command had been issued, it wasn’t long before Qiao Zu, dressed in the Prince of Qi’s golden armor, strode over from the main tent. As he walked, he seemed to be nodding with satisfaction. Arriving at my side, he deliberately paused to chat a few words with me. Then the two of us returned to the main tent. After walking inside, I immediately asked Xiaoshunzi, “Who is spying on the camp? Did you see clearly?”

Xiaoshunzi answered, “He’s quite far off. This subordinate could not see clearly. However, the interloper’s martial arts skills are quite good. It seems to be an expert among Northern Han’s spies and scouts.”

I did not find this troubling. It was only a few scouts. They were probably only here to see why we hadn’t sallied forth today. It was best that they be allowed to return. However, after thinking it over, there was a plan that was most suitable for this moment that would not arouse Northern Han’s suspicions. Thus, I said, “Qiao Zu, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, promised me command of the suicide troops. Go find a suitable candidate for me. His martial arts skills need to be sufficiently good. I have a use for him.”

Qiao Zu had received the Prince of Qi’s order long ago. Naturally, he would not ask too many questions. He issued several instructions to the bodyguards. It wasn’t long before several bodyguards brought a soldier in. I carefully observed him. This man had a doughty appearance and a calm, unflustered bearing. It was quite a pity that he was a suicide soldier. The Prince of Qi’s suicide troops were composed of soldiers who had committed offenses and also convicts who had been drafted into the army. These suicide troops were responsible for performing suicidal assignments. Any who performed great tasks were allowed to have their death sentences commuted, so much so that they could regain their ranks. The suicide troops were mostly composed of cruel and savage individuals who had superb martial arts. All of them had committed capital offenses. In order to live, they were extremely diligent in carrying out their assignments. It was exactly this kind of talent that was suitable for my use.

After regarding this suicide soldier for some time, I spoke, “This army supervisor has a task for you to complete. This matter is extremely dangerous. If you can return successful, I will report this matter to His Imperial Highness, commuting your death sentence and restoring your rank. If you are to die, you will be treated as having died in battle and your family will receive bereavement pay and death gratuities. Tell me, do you have the courage to perform this task?”

The soldier kowtowed and replied, “This lowly one understands that I have committed a capital offense. Because of His Imperial Highness’s grace, I was allowed to atone for my crimes. I dare not offer any excuses if there’s an assignment. Daren, give your orders.”

I handed him a letter that I had just hurriedly written and instructed, “Bring this letter to the Miaopo camps and hand it to General Jing Chi. Once he has read the letter, he will understand. Remember … the letter and you are one. If the letter is lost, so are you. I have heard that you are from jianghu and have excellent martial arts skills. Be sure to handle this matter with care. There is no need for this army supervisor to speak of what will happen if this letter is lost.”

The soldier accepted the letter. He was not a fool. He knew that he would not have been selected from the suicide troops if this task were easy. His martial arts skills were in the top two amongst the suicide troops. Since he had been specially selected, it was undoubtedly an important and deadly mission. After kowtowing again, he replied, “This lowly one only has my mother and younger brother as relatives. Daren, please look after them.” This was a military custom. If dispatched to undertake a suicidal mission, they would impart their last words before departing.

Somewhat unable to bear it, I glanced at him, stating, “Do not worry. You mother and brother will be supported by the court.”

Seeing that the soldier was about withdraw, I sighed inside. In a barely audible whisper, I uttered, “You only need to allow that letter to fall into the hands of the Northern Han scouts.” My voice was extremely low. That soldier had gone far and probably did not hear me speak. However, I could see him pause, almost as if he heard what I had said. However, he did not turn around, instead accelerating his stride.

Gazing at the departing figure, I told Xiaoshunzi distantly, “This man’s temperament is firm and unyielding, and he is quite intelligent. For me to speak thusly, he will definitely understand that this mission requires that he needs to sacrifice his life. After all, if he were to escape with his life, then some of that letter’s credibility would inevitably be lost. Hearing me speak thusly, he will definitely be full of gratitude. Even if he originally could escape, he likely will willingly give his life now. Am I too cruel, forcing him to sacrifice himself?”

Xiaoshunzi smiled slightly. “Isn’t that why the suicide troops exist? If he accomplishes this great achievement, young master can report this matter to His Imperial Highness to offer additional financial support to his family. This is better than bearing the weight of a capital offense and living in humiliation.”

I laughed humorlessly. “I need to continue to be savage and cruel. Although that man is heroic, I am still worried that when things come to a head he will cling abjectly to life. Go follow and keep an eye on him. If he wishes to escape with his life, send him along. However, be sure to not reveal any traces. Based upon your martial arts, other than the personal arrival of the Devil Sect Sovereign, there shouldn’t be any problems.”

Xiaoshunzi lightly nodded his head, saying, “Young master must be careful about your own safety.”

Breaking out into laughter, I replied, “If this many troops cannot ensure my safety, then it would be useless even if you were present.”

“That may not necessarily be the case,” voiced Xiaoshunzi, smiling. “If I were the assassin, even with so many troops, I could take young master’s head.”

I could not help but rub my neck, feeling almost as if a cold breeze had brushed past. I knew that Xiaoshunzi was a bit indignant that I had said he was worthless and was deliberately trying to frighten me.

At this moment, several li away, the hawk-like eyes of Xiao Tong were studying the Yong camp. He was filled with numerous thoughts. Spying on the camp today, he had intentionally come personally, because yesterday’s battle had caused the generals of the Northern Han army to be filled with doubt. Although the Great Yong army was as tenacious and capable as always, it seemed like someone else was commanding it. In battle, Li Xian, the Prince of Qi, would always fight at the front. Moreover, his tactics were doughty and intrepid. However, this time, the essence of the tactics could be described with the word, “steady.”

Since there were doubts, it needed to be checked out. As a result, Xiao Tong had come personally to serve as a scout. However, upon seeing the trenches being dug around the Great Yong camp, Xiao Tong was also convinced by the suspicions made after yesterday’s discussions. Jiang Zhe was definitely advising Li Xian. If it were Li Xian, he would definitely not have thought of such a cheeky method. In addition, Xiao Tong did not believe that the Prince of Qi dared to ignore Long Tingfei and not be in personal command of the army.

However, based upon yesterday’s tactics, although Jiang Zhe was capable, he was not an outstanding genius. And though his tactics were tidy, there was nothing unusual or special about them. That was not surprising. Although Jiang Zhe’s name was known throughout the world, he was only a strategist. Battlefield command was probably not his strength. With this, Xiao Tong believed that the Prince of Qi was present.

After observing for some extra time, just as he was preparing to depart, Xiao Tong saw a lone rider exit from the Yong camps, galloping towards the south. Xiao Tong’s heart leapt into his throat. At this moment, in this direction, the Prince of Qi was definitely sending an order to the supply camp. Right now, Tan Ji was eyeing Miaopo covetously. If they some valuable intelligence, it would definitely be of help. Even if it was useless, it was a good thing to cut off enemy communications. Although it was inappropriate to use large quantities of mounted scouts at this moment, the disciples of the Devil Sect were adroit killers. It would be easy to slay a single messenger.

Thinking of this, Xiao Tong let fly a black hawk. The hawk hovered in the air for a beat before also flying south, carrying the order to have that messenger intercepted and killed.

Footnotes:

灵犀, lingxi – lit. rhinoceros horn, reputed to confer telepathic powers; fig. tacit understanding or comprehension
纹丝不动, wensibudong – idiom, lit. not stirring in the slightest; fig. not budging an inch
2.3-2.5 meters (7.5-8.2 feet)
370-450 meters (400-500 yards)

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