Volume 5, Chapter 10: Opening Engagement on the Qin River

On the sixteenth day of the second month of the first year of Longsheng, the fifteenth year of the sixty-year cycle, Taizong issued an imperial edict, dispatching Prince Xian of Qi and Marquis Jiang Zhe of Chu to invade Qinzhou, beginning the war between Northern Han and Great Yong.
—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of Taizong

On the twenty-seventh day of the second month of the first year of Longsheng, the southernmost defensive position of Qinzhou, Lingyuan1 Fortress, was mired in war. The Great Yong borders had been sealed off for the entire winter. Even the most skilled and efficient scouts did not have any way of transmitting any information. However, everyone knew that Great Yong would not give up its designs upon Northern Han and war would soon start.

An isolated, single fortress stood tall and upright atop a small hill. Below the hill the Qin River flowed south. Every spring, the water level of the river rose with the melting of the snow and ice. All of the lands bordering the river needed to be on guard for the flooding of the Qin River. However, the water level was not that high this year and should not serve as an impediment.

The river here was wide and the current gentle. The lands were fertile, with a dozen or more hamlets on both sides of the river. Lingyuan Fortress was the base for the Northern Han army and was the most forward position in Qinzhou. Fifty li from the fortress was the seat of Jishi County.2 Along the Qin River were a series of fortresses and strongholds, easy to defend and difficult to attack. Anze,3 Qingyuan,4 and Qinzhou were the most important strategic defenses.

A squad of Northern Han soldiers stood on the battlements, watching the activity to the south. Since the end of the year, their superiors had issued orders commanding them to be vigilant at all hours against the imminent invasion of Great Yong’s army. As a result, none of them dared to relax. Probably because he was a bit exhausted, one of the soldiers turned his head and was about to complain to one of his comrades. However, as he turned his turned to the side, he noticed that his comrade was staring forward stupefied. The soldier unconsciously turned his head back around. An azure and black line had appeared on the horizon. In only an instant, the line thickened. Although it was far off in the distance, this soldier could already see Great Yong’s banners in his vision. In a hoarse voice, the soldier shouted, “Quickly raise the alarm!”

The somewhat dazed soldier came to his senses and ran to the bell tower, repeatedly ringing the bell to raise the alarm. Afterwards, the sound of horns blared from throughout the fortress. Countless soldiers in trim uniforms spewed forth from each of the barracks. An officer in the uniform of a deputy general rushed up to the battlements. In alarm and anger, he asked, “Why haven’t the scouts we sent out returned? Quickly light the warning beacon.”

One of his bodyguards hurriedly rushed to the highest point of the fortress and lit the warning beacon. The billowing warning smoke directly ascended up into the blue sky.

Since the twenty-second year of Great Yong’s Wuwei era, this was the first time that Great Yong’s army had advanced into Northern Han territory. A war to determine the fate of Northern Han was about to erupt …

The advance guard commander of Great Yong’s advance and one of the Prince of Qi’s trusted lieutenants, Xia Ning, could not help bursting into loud laughter upon seeing the distant warning smoke rise into the sky. Reining in his horse and raising his whip, he pointed forward and said, “Even if they have discovered our troops, what of it? Can a tiny Lingyuan Fortress stop our advance? Listen up! We’ll take Lingyuan in one stroke! As His Imperial Highness orders, raze the fields!”

Finished speaking, the general took the lead and charged forward. The Yong soldiers, wearing azure and black armor, let out battle cries in unison and followed Xia Ning forward.

Even if Lingyuan Fortress vigorously resisted, it would be impossible to stop the Yong army’s advance. In no more than an hour, the fortress had fallen. With the Yong army surrounding the fortress on all sides, no Northern Han soldier escaped unscathed. From the beginning, Lingyuan Fortress was a forward outpost to observe enemy troop movements. Once the Yong army advanced in force, it became impossible to hold Lingyuan Fortress. As a result, all of the soldiers garrisoned here were all ready to face death. In addition, with their campaign only beginning, the Yong army did not have any interest in trying to persuade the garrison to surrender. Under the iron hooves of the Yong army, flesh and blood became pulp.

Seeing that Lingyuan Fortress had fallen, Xia Ning issued the order to have its gates and defenses razed. Then the army spread out throughout the countryside. This time, the Prince of Qi had issued a strict order, demanding that no enemies be left behind in occupied territory. All of the nearby villages and hamlets were burned to the ground. Although most of their young males had enlisted in the military, the people of Northern Han were doughty and valiant. Even women, children, and the elderly would wield weapons to attack the Yong troops. As a result, once Xia Ning’s order was issued, the elite horsemen of the Yong army razed all of the nearby villages and military fortifications. All of those fortunate to survive were forced to flee towards Duanshi5 and Anze. Great Yong’s light cavalry did not charge ahead recklessly, instead advancing at a steady pace. Everywhere they passed, they left behind razed villages and abandoned farmland. The only thing that let the Northern Han people rejoice was that the Yong army did not massacre civilians, under orders from the Prince of Qi. As a result, as long as the civilians did not resist, not only would they be able to preserve their lives, they could even take some of their belongings and go north. Aside from this direction, there was nowhere else they could go.

Along the shore of the Qin River, a group of women, children, and elderly in ragged clothes helped each other as they made the difficult journey north. There were only a few worn out carts in their procession, carrying what little food supplies these refugees had. Some of the children and elderly too exhausted to walk on their own were also on the carts. All of them bore distraught expressions on their faces. Because they were the weakest and most powerless group of refugees, they had been left far behind by all others fleeing. In addition, countless units of Yong cavalry had passed them by, forcing them to undergo numerous and repeated searches. The Yong general who had driven them from their homes had made it clear that if they did not reach Duanshi by the tenth day of the third month, they would be treated as Northern Han spies and executed.

A bitingly cold spring breeze blew forth from the river, causing all of these women, children, and elderly in thin clothes to huddle together for warmth. Qinzhou’s spring was still quite chilling. With their future unclear and faced with the possibility of being executed by the Yong army, many of the elderly within the procession had cried to the point of shedding tears of blood.

Who would have thought the Yong army would use such methods? Six years ago, when the Yong army advanced into Qinzhou, they had not committed a single offense against the villages they passed by. But now, all of the villages were razed without exception. Several of the elderly privately discussed, finding this unsurprising. The former commander of the Yong army was now the Emperor of Great Yong, Li Zhi, while the commander this time was the Prince of Qi, Li Xian. Everyone knew of Li Zhi’s magnanimity and Li Xian’s ruthlessness.

The eyes of one the young children who sat upon the cart inadvertently glanced towards the river. In surprise, he pointed at the river and cried out, “Grandfather, there are big ships over there!” The elderly man who stumbled to the cart’s side looked up and was also astonished.

At the center of the river were more than a hundred vessels of all sizes advancing upriver. One of them was an especially large tower ship. On the prow of the ship was a large banner with the character, “Jiang.” The amount of armored soldiers on the deck numbered as many as the trees within a forest. This ship was surrounded and escorted by twenty warships. Behind them were cargo ships filled with the Yong army’s supplies.

The elderly man’s cry of surprise made everyone turn and look. Seeing the fast ships of the Yong army’s navy and the brightly armored soldiers upon them, the refugees seemingly no longer had the strength to continue their flight. The last time Great Yong had invaded Northern Han, its navy was not used. This time, Great Yong presumably was determined to win.

At this moment, something seemed to be happening aboard the tower ship. Several of the older children with good eyesight could see three individuals walk out of a cabin on the deck of the ship. One of the three walked to the bow and stood at the prow of the tower ship. Holding onto the railing, this man gazed towards the shore. He was dressed in simple, unadorned robes and had an azure cloak wrapped around him. The distance was too great to see his appearance. However, from his graying hair, he probably wasn’t young. Apart from this, those with good enough eyesight could only see a pair of limpid and icy eyes. Although the distance between them was quite far, those eyes were seemingly able to see into their souls, making all of them feel an indescribable chill.

Within the procession, contempt flashed across the eyes of a simple-looking middle-aged peasant when he caught sight of the tower ship. However, he immediately lowered his head, restoring his dejected and fretting demeanor. He would frequently touch his right leg, which had been carelessly bandaged. He had probably suffered an injury to his leg. No wonder he had fallen behind.

Just then, everyone heard the sound of hoofbeats from behind them. Although the sound wasn’t too loud, the vibrations of the ground were enough to make the refugees panic. Several peasants picked up their hoes and sickles, prepared to do everything to protect their families. They did not know when the Yong troops would begin the slaughter.

A small group of no more than thirty horsemen appeared before the refugees. At their head was a female commander in a set of azure and black leather armor. Although she wore armor that made it difficult to distinguish her rank, this woman was at the pinnacle of beauty, which made everyone understand that she was a heroine amongst women. She had a black cloak tied around her shoulders and a sword cinched at her waist. On her back was a crossbow. The soldiers behind her were similarly dressed. Although they were equipped with crossbows, each of them carried different primary weapons.

When the horsemen reached the refugees, they scattered and began to slightly surround the refugees. One of the horsemen asked in a loud voice, “Why are you still loitering around here? Don’t you know how strict military orders are? Once tomorrow passes, if you cannot reach Jishi, the time of your deaths will arrive.” The voice of the horseman speaking sounded melodious and moving. It seemed like this horseman was also female.

One of the elderly stumbled forward and responded, “My Lord, all of us here are elderly, women, and children. As a result, our progress has been delayed. Please treat us leniently.”

The horsewoman turned her head to look at the female commander. The female commander’s eyes swept across the refugees one by one, her gaze as cold and piercing as ice. All of those caught in her gaze felt as if they were enveloped by the shadow of death. The woman’s eyes ultimately fell upon the injured middle-aged peasant, a mocking smile appearing at the corners of her mouth. Raising her whip and pointing, she said, “You, come out.”

The middle-aged man hesitated momentarily before hobbling forward. The female commander’s eyes remained fixed upon him. When he reached the front of her horse, she callously asked, “You are an agent under Xiao Tong, correct?”

Seemingly at a loss for words, the middle-aged man seemed to not understand what the female commander was saying, only trying to explain in a panic, “This lowly one isn’t a spy. I’m only a dutiful farmer. Because my leg was injured in a fall, I was left behind by my fellow villagers and fell behind.”

The woman laughed humorlessly and replied, “I, Su Qing, am a professional spy. How are you able to hide from my eyes?”

Finished speaking, the whip in her hand lashed out like a viper towards the middle-aged peasant’s throat. A look flashed across the man’s eyes, pretending that he could not react, only letting out a blood-curdling scream and closing his eyes. As he expected, the whip pulled back upon touching his skin. The middle-aged peasant was soaked with sweat and collapsed to the ground, scared witless.

Looking down from her mounted position, the woman coldheartedly stared at him for a long while before turning her head to say, “Request permission from the Army Supervisor daren to board his ship.”

The horsewoman who had spoken first took out an iron whistle. She blew on it several times, directed at the center of the river. The whistles reverberated through the air. In a short while, a fast boat rowed rapidly towards the shore. While Su Qing guided her horse to the shore, her subordinates also left, following the river north. In contrast, the horsewoman stayed behind amongst the refugees.

The middle-aged peasant breathed a sigh of relief. Just as he was about to rise to his feet, he felt an ice-cold and sharp, strange object pierce his throat. As he struggled to raise his head, he saw the horsewoman looking at him heartlessly. Fury and bewilderment flashed across the peasant’s eyes.

Dismounting, Su Qing walked towards the riverbank. Her face was as calm as water, almost like she didn’t know what was going on behind her even though the refugees could not stifle their apprehension. It was only when the young woman guided her horse and hurried over that Su Qing spoke indifferently, “Ruyue, it is better to mistakenly kill then to allow any to escape. You did very well.”

The young woman saluted from her mounted position and replied, “Many thanks for the young miss’s compliment.” Afterwards, she took the reins that Su Qing threw her.

Su Qing leapt from the shore onto the boat. To the one of the Stalwart Tiger Guard dressed in pure black armor, she said, “Many thanks for welcoming me. Is the Army Supervisor daren doing well?”

The Stalwart Tiger Guard answered with a smile, “Daren is accustomed to traveling by boat and is well. General Su, presumably you have brought some military intelligence? Daren is waiting for you.”

Standing on the deck of the tower ship, I serenely gazed at the refugees on land. Although the spring breeze was bitingly cold, it was unable to penetrate the heavy cloak I wore. Although we were only separated by five hundred paces,6 our fates were completely different. I was in rich attire and was a high-ranking official from an enemy state, while they were refugees whose lives were worth nothing. Living in this chaotic age, having come from the beautiful landscapes of Jiangnan to this austere and freezing north, I had witnessed these scenes quite frequently. Even if Great Yong flourished, it was impossible to prevent these situations from occurring, let alone the fact that we were now in war-ravaged Northern Han. Seeing that the majority of these refugees were the elderly, sick, and weak was enough for me to understand the predicament Northern Han faced.

Sighing softly, I turned my gaze forward. The plan I had personally formulated must not be cast to the wayside. If these people could not escape to Jishi, then they could only face death. Since I had already pushed them to the edge of the abyss, what point was there for me to feel cheap sympathy to cover the sins of my decisions? It was best that the pity within my heart be smothered by mercilessness. As long as Great Yong unified the world, I would not have to witness these tragic scenes in the future.

Standing behind me, Xiaoshunzi suddenly took a step forward and whispered, “Young master, it is best to return to the cabin.”

I turned and studied Xiaoshunzi for a moment. From his gaze, I could tell that he did not want me to feel sorrow because of those refugees. In this world, although there were plenty of people who I respected and loved dearly, only Xiaoshunzi was my closest and most intimate of friends. Laughing lightly, I replied in a low voice, “You do not need to worry. I have always been selfish and afraid of death. All this, you know well. Why would I feel bad about people who have nothing to do with me?”

Xiaoshunzi did not reply and did not retreat from his position. I felt increasingly warm in my heart. The words I had spoken just now weren’t meant to comfort myself. I was only a simple human and did not have the power to consider the common people of the entire world. Aside from me, my close friends and family, and my colleagues and subordinates, it was impossible for me to care about anyone else.

Just then, Huyan Shou reported in a clear voice, “Daren, the Head Scout of the Frontline, Su Qing, General Su, requests an audience.”

Nodding my head, I returned, “Please invite General Su aboard.”

Su Qing was a commander I valued greatly. Although she was a woman, she was calmer and more clever than many men. Furthermore, her thoughts were merciless and savage. This time, both the Prince of Qi and I had agreed to name her as the commander of the scouts operating on the front lines, responsible for gathering enemy intelligence and intercepting Northern Han scouts and spies. This time, she was probably passing near the Qin River. Catching sight of my tower ship, she was paying a formal call upon me, the army supervisor. This in itself was an unwritten rule of the army. Moreover, according to my calculations, the armies of both countries had yet to formally engage. As such, there shouldn’t be any urgent intelligence.

It wasn’t long before Su Qing boarded the tower ship. As I expected, she did not have any urgent matters to report. However, from Su Qing’s tone, I could hear her misgivings. In order to drive away all of the Northern Han civilians, it had taken more than a dozen days to advance this far. If we had marched forward without hesitation, we would have reached Jishi in two days. However, in order to clear away all of the villages and fortresses in our path, the army was still dithering in this area. It was said that “speed is a crucial asset in war.”7 It was no wonder she was puzzled. However, she had a calm and steady temperament, and did not openly call my strategy into question, only revealing her discontent about the slow advance of the army.

In a roundabout explanatory manner, I asked her, “General Su, have the agents we infiltrated among the refugees entered Jishi?”

Su Qing shook her head and answered, “The garrison commander of Jishi has been extremely cautious. He has blocked all of the refugees from entering the town. In addition, he has settled them in accordance with their former home villages, instituting baojia8 and collective punishment. Because our spies have been hiding for many years, they have yet to be discovered and eliminated. However, their actions are greatly restrained. In addition, it is extremely difficult for them to transmit any information. I’m afraid they won’t be of much use when we attack Jishi. In addition, this general has received word that Jishi has already received orders to move all of these refugees and the civilians of Jishi towards the interior of Qinzhou, only leaving behind a few strong young men to help defend the town.”

Smiling lightly, I said, “Northern Han’s defensive commanders deem Duan Wudi as number one. Presumably this was his idea. They probably have already decided to use a scorched earth policy to consolidate their defenses against us. There is no harm in all of this. Our first step was always to clear out Northern Han civilians to ensure that there are no civilians present when our two armies fight. Their actions are actually helping us. However, they have no choice in the matter. If they do not do this, before our troops have even begun to attack Jishi, it would have already fallen to the refugees.”

Hesitating somewhat, Su Qing finally inquired, “Daren, there is one matter that this general does not understand. These commoners will have no effect upon the general situation. Why has daren insisted that they be driven away? Could it be to force these commoners to serve as our vanguard? Our Great Yong is a great power. Why are we using such methods? Wouldn’t these actions be a heavy impediment to our future governance of Qinzhou?”

A radiant light twinkled in my eyes. Who could have thought that Su Qing had such insights and was not simply a talented spy? I praised, “For General Su to be able to understand this, it could be said that your foresight is quite profound. We have no choice but to drive all these civilians to the north. I cannot yet reveal to you the crucial point of this strategy. I have had His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, issue strict orders to prevent the willful slaughter of innocents as much as possible. With this, the greater part of these civilians will be able to escape safely. Moreover, Qinzhou has always been the frontline of the war between Great Yong and Northern Han. The people here hate Great Yong. As a result, there is nothing to it even if they come to hate us even more. Similarly, the people of Zezhou, don’t they also greatly loathe Northern Han?”

At this moment, a disturbance suddenly occurred in front. I instinctively looked and caught sight of a number of warships bearing the banner of Northern Han suddenly appearing from a corner more than a dozen li9 before us. I could not help being startled. Northern Han never had a navy as the cost of such a fleet would have been prohibitive. For Northern Han, it was easy to acquire warhorses and train cavalry, but extremely difficult to train a navy. As a result, aside from commandeering civilian boats in times of war to transport supplies, they had never deployed a navy to fight before. I could not help but glance at Su Qing. She had spent years in Northern Han. How could she not have discovered the existence of Northern Han’s navy?

Su Qing’s face turned ashen. Being responsible for Great Yong’s intelligence network in Northern Han, her not knowing that Northern Han had a navy was not only a significant dereliction of duty, but also an enormous disgrace. Her stern and austere gaze traveled across the surface of the river. At this moment, the Yong warships at the front of the formation had already moved into a formation to welcome the enemy attack. Although the Yong navy was no match for Southern Chu’s navy, it should be far more formidable compared to the never-before-seen or heard of Northern Han navy.

Following the current, the Northern Han ships descended downriver. When I saw those warships, I could not help sighing inwardly. They were the covered assault and fighting ships that were commonly used by Southern Chu. It would have taken a year or so to build even one of these ships. After looking carefully, I realized that these warships were brand new. Presumably, these ships had been prepared before the battles last year in Zezhou. Seeing their design, I figured they were built by Southern Chu shipwrights. With the introduction of shipping by sea, the separation between Northern Han and Southern Chu was not as big a problem as before. It was no wonder that Northern Han had been able to build a navy. However, considering the manpower and matériel required to build such a force, it seemed like Northern Han truly had individuals with courage and drive. At present, although our forces only had one tower ship and over a hundred warships, we were at a disadvantage compared to these covered assault and fighting ships in both speed and defensive ability. Moreover, the Yong fleet was downriver. Having not foreseen this, the fleet positioned at Zezhou was not all that formidable. It seemed like the Yong military would have to suffer some losses.

The Qin River wasn’t that wide. Seeing the Northern Han fleet with rams at their prows and lacquered bodies divid into three columns, charging towards the Yong ships, I could not help sighing. Recalling the previous scenes of Southern Chu’s navy in battle, I hesitated about whether to interfere and take over from the Yong naval commanders. By now, the naval commander of the Zezhou fleet, Zhuang Ru, had been by my side for a long while. Not having the time to ask for my instructions, he brandished signal flags to issue orders. After looking on for a brief time, I felt myself relax. It seemed that he had ample experience commanding a fleet. Even if he met with the Southern Chu navy, he could probably be able to hold his own, let alone this newly formed Northern Han navy.

The Yong warships split in two, avoiding direct attacks from the Northern Han warships, attacking the flanks with full force. Immediately, the surface of the Qin River was full of storms of arrows. Battling on the water, bows and arrows were of utmost importance. In addition, a large number of covered war boats were lowered. Using their small size and superior speed, they were used to penetrate the Northern Han lines. Within a few moments, the sounds of battle on the Qin River reverberated up to the Heavens, as flying weapons began to blot out the sun.

I studied the battle. Although the warships all had their advantages and disadvantages, and the tactical abilities of the commanders were not of the same level, the scene before me was still quite impressive. It seemed both sides had put a lot of effort into their navy. Not knowing why, I began to think of Southern Chu. With both Great Yong and Northern Han developing their navy, it seemed like both had the ambition of invading south. However, within Southern Chu, aside from the Prince of De’s establishment of a capable cavalry unit in the past, its military focused primarily upon its navy and infantry. To the best of my knowledge, after the Prince of De’s death, the cavalry units positioned at Xiangyang had been greatly reduced by the Southern Chu court, losing a lot of their previous fighting strength. From the military investments alone, I could see that Southern Chu had fallen far behind.

Just as I was feeling a bit melancholic, Zhuang Ru came over and said, “Daren, this general wishes to entice the enemy fleet into an encirclement and must use the tower ship as bait. Daren, please take shelter inside for now. Or how about going to a different ship to rest?”

I glanced indifferently at him. Zhuang Ru was twenty-seven years old. His face was somewhat dark and his appearance was average. Although he was of medium height, he had a powerful build and a calm temperament. He was one of Great Yong’s few capable naval commanders. His sole flaw was that his temperament was excessively upright and deeply scorned civil officials who were afraid of death to the point that I could faintly see the hidden contempt that he held for me in his eyes. However, his seniority was low. As a result, he probably viewed me as no more than a feeble scholar who was adept at scheming and machinations, and had luckily received the Yong imperial family’s good graces. After all, information about many of my activities was kept secret and was not something that an officer of his lowly position had access to.

Deliberately ignoring the hidden contempt of his words, I serenely stated, “Since you wish to entice the enemy, Huyan Shou, command the Stalwart Tiger Guard to shout loudly that the Army Supervisor of the Zezhou Army Encampment, the Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe, is here.”

Huyan Shou hesitated. However, intimidated by my apathetic, but firm tone, he turned to issue the order. Taking the lead, he shouted, “Army Supervisor of the Zezhou Army Encampment, the Marquis of Chu, Jiang Zhe, is here! Does the enemy commander have the balls to come here to fight?”

Aboard the lead Northern Han warship, a fiery light burned in the eyes of a tall general. Waving his arm, he cried out, “Men! Capture Jiang Zhe alive and break the Zezhou fleet!”

With his command, the attacks of the Northern Han fleet became increasingly fierce. Both sides fought to the death. I watched as the warships collided, occasionally seeing a warship sink. After a short while, three of Northern Han’s covered assault and fighting ships had arrived beside the tower ship and enemy marines were beginning to board. In a loud voice, I shouted, “Huyan Shou, you will temporarily follow General Zhuang’s orders.”

A look of appreciation flashed on the face of Zhuang Ru, continuously issuing orders, directing the marines and Stalwart Tiger Guard aboard the tower ship. Although these Stalwart Tiger Guard were not versed in naval warfare, all of them were skilled fighters who had long grown accustomed to moving about on the decks of a ship, at the very least, under the calm conditions of the Qin River. As a result, the Northern Han marines, aside from a few warriors, did not have any way of being able to board the tower ship.

Snatching a moment out of his command, Zhuang Ru said, “Daren, it’s too dangerous here. It is best to go inside to rest.” This time, his tone was extremely cordial.

Smiling faintly, I shouted, “Although I am a weak and feeble scholar, with the protection of all these brave warriors of Great Yong, what do I have to fear about Northern Han’s assault? Today, I will stay right here and watch as everyone soundly defeats the enemy!”

All of the marines and Stalwart Tiger Guard found their spirit emboldened, as they shouted, “As daren believes in us, we will definitely fight to the death!”

In a short span, their morale and vigor were boosted, killing or forcing all of the Northern Han marines who had managed to board the tower ship to retreat. Aboard one of the covered assault ships, a handsome and tall, youthful commander shouted sternly, “Eat my arrows!” A bowstring twanged and three arrows with falcon-plumed fletching shot out with matchless speed towards my face. Even with my eyesight, those arrows were as fast as shooting stars.

Several of the marines and Stalwart Tiger Guard between the two of us shouted angrily and tried to stop the arrows. However, most of them were too slow. One of the Stalwart Tiger Guard managed to chop one of the incoming arrows in half with his saber. However, the front end of the arrow continued to travel towards me without slowing down. The skin between the guard’s thumb and forefinger was ripped apart, nearly causing the saber in his hand to be sent flying. The distance between the archer and me was only just over twenty zhang.10 It was no wonder that none of the marines or Stalwart Tiger Guard could stop the arrows.

Just as the two and a half arrows were about to reach me, a hand as white as snow appeared before my eyes. The middle finger of the hand flicked out lightly. With three crunches, the two and a half arrows were knocked aside. I had long known that Xiaoshunzi would be able to ensure my safety. As such, my complexion did not change in the slightest. My gaze falling upon the youthful commander who had shot arrows at me, I broke out in laughter and shouted, “If someone is able to present his severed head, he will be rewarded with fifty taels of gold! If someone is able to capture him alive, he will be rewarded with a hundred taels of gold!”

All of the Yong soldiers were inspired. Their previous private worries about meeting such a powerful navy had long disappeared without a trace. Since their commander-in-chief wanted to capture this enemy general alive, it seemed like their side had already seized the upper hand. Several of the especially loud Stalwart Tiger Guard had already begun to shout, “Enemy general, why haven’t you surrendered yet? I, your elder, will definitely acquire those hundred tales of gold!”

The youthful commander’s complexion became ashen, as he directed his subordinates to attack the tower ship with their all. The two fleets battled ceaselessly, the sounds of battle shaking apart the floating clouds above.

Footnotes:

凌垣, lingyuan – lit. rising wall
冀氏县, Jishi County – modern-day Anze County (安泽县), Linfen Prefecture (临汾), Shanxi Province
安泽, Anze – Anze County
沁源, Qingyuan – a county in Changzhi Prefecture (长治), Shanxi Province
端氏, Duanshi – an ancient county that is now modern-day Qinshui County, Jincheng Prefecture (晋城), Shanxi Province
735 meters (just under half a mile)
兵贵神速, bingguishensu – idiom, lit. speed is a crucial asset in war; fig. swift and resolute
保甲制度, baojia zhidu – the baojia system was created by the reformer Wang Anshi during the Song Dynasty to serve as a community-based system of law enforcement and civil control
Around 6.5 kilometers (about 4 miles)
About 59 meters (around 66 yards)

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