Volume 5, Chapter 22: A Raging Inferno Burns the Fortress

Duke Jing Chi of Yan of the first rank came from humble origins and was promoted from the ranks by the Taizong Emperor. He was known for his bravery, ferocity, and his wholehearted loyalty. Every single time Taizong led troops into battle, Chi protected him with desperation, making Taizong value him greatly.

Chi was originally a peasant and did not receive much education. As a result, he was uncultured and uncouth, leading Taizong to rebuke him, “If you do not study, you will not be permitted to command troops.” Hearing this, the Duke could only consent, and focused on studying. Before two years had passed, he had become crudely literate. However, he had not mastered military tactics and strategies, although his leadership subtly contained the art of war. Taizong was left without any options.

In the twenty-fourth year of Wuwei, while Taizong and the Prince of Li were embroiled in the struggle over succession, Chi entered the capital under orders and was taken as an honorary disciple by Major Jiang Zhe. Zhe personally taught Chi the classics, the histories, and the art of war. Because of his coarse character, Chi learned little. However, Zhe overtly told the Taizong Emperor, “General Jing is a lucky general. It is enough for him to have a slight understanding of the art of war.”

In the third month of the first year of Longsheng, Chi was ordered to attack Hu Pass. Unable to capture it after assaulting it for several days, Chi pretended to be injured to lure the enemy to raid his camps. Chi inflicted a crushing defeat upon the enemy. On the twenty-fourth day, after he captured Hu Pass, Chi ordered that the denizens of the pass be massacred. His vicious name became known throughout the lands. Afterwards, Chi marched directly for Qinyuan, slaughtering any and all obstacles he ran into, stating, “Those who bow to me will prosper and those who resist will perish!” Everywhere he passed, blood ran, massacring throughout the countryside. Even though Northern Han’s populace was valiant, they were terrified by Chi’s cruelties and did not dare to hinder his progress.

—Yong Dynastic Records, Biography of the Duke of Yan

Just as the suicidal Northern Han troops arrived before the Yong command tent, the deputy general suddenly trembled mentally. Within the chaos, he could see the burning Yong encampment and the darting shadows of fleeing soldiers. However, the area around the command tent was completely silent. The deputy suddenly shouted, “Retreat! Retreat! It’s a trap!”

The soldiers under his command were all perplexed, their eyes focusing upon the deputy general. Guiding his horse, the deputy was on the verge of retreating when, as if echoing his shout, unending bugle horns and drumbeats sounded from every direction. Afterwards, in an instant, lights appeared and countless Yong horsemen with torches in their hands surrounded the Yong encampment. The torchlight made it seem like day had arrived. As for the fire within the Yong encampment, it gradually diminished. An endless stream of Yong soldiers seemed to magically appear from the depths of night, completely surrounding the Northern Han deputy and his troops. Filled with anguish, the deputy general searched the Yong army, hoping to find the one who had set such a trap.

At this moment, the Yong formations separated and a squad of horsemen in dark blue battle gowns galloped to the front. At their head was a man with a head like a panther’s and round eyes, possessing steely whiskers like a dragon. The man’s appearance was straightforward. It was precisely Jing Chi. Beside him was the commander of the Zhenzhou troops, Lin Ya. In a clear voice, Jing Chi laughed heartily and said, “Haha, little fellow, you’ve follow for this general’s trap! Quickly surrender! Out of consideration for your abilities, this general can spare your life!”

A wave of despair swelled up from within the deputy general. Originally, he had assumed that it was Lin Ya who had foreseen that the Northern Han army would raid the Yong encampments and had set this trap. Who would’ve thought that Jing Chi had feigned an injury in order to entice the enemy? However, although Jing Chi had always been known for his bravery, no one ever knew that he had such ability. Indignantly, the deputy general asked, “Jing Chi, since you were not injured, could it be that you have always wanted to lure us to raid your encampment?”

Jing Chi spurred his mount forward. Sneering, he answered, “I, your elder, am not so clever. To speak the truth, the arrow you shot was quite fierce. Your elder wasn’t on guard. Fortunately, your elder’s martial skill is pretty good and that arrow didn’t have any internal energy, allowing your elder to avoid in a timely fashion. As to the minor injuries suffered, your elder fundamentally did not take it to heart. It is your misfortune that your elder immediately thought of luring you out of the pass when I was hit by the arrow so that you all cease learning from the tortoise’s example and hide within the shell even on the verge of death.”

Flying into a rage,1 the deputy general shouted, “We men of Northern Han possess indomitable spirits.2 How can we kneel and submit? We launched this raid upon your encampment today ready to die. Brothers, kill!”

Finished speaking, the deputy took the lead and charged towards the Yong formations. The current minor circumstances naturally did not require Jing Chi to take action himself. The Yong army’s bugle horns sounded repeatedly. Like a drop of water, the Northern Han troops converged upon the vast ocean, unable to cause anything more than ripples.

Under the illumination of the torchlights, Jing Chi’s face had inexhaustible killing intent and malevolence. He loudly shouted, “These Northern Han people would rather die than submit. Fine, your elder is not to be trifled with. I want to see if your bodies can withstand my saber. Behead all of them, collect all of the heads, and exhibit them before Hu Pass. I want to see how long Hu Pass will be able to hold out.”

Hearing this, Lin Ya hesitatingly interjected, “General Jing, we shouldn’t do this. Death on the battlefield is expected. However, if General were to do this, it would definitely stir the resistance within the Northern Han people’s hearts.”

Jing Chi furiously replied, “Could it be that if your elder’s methods are merciful, they will cease their resistance? We have taken so long and failed to capture a single Hu Pass. Your elder still has to rendezvous with His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. If the Northern Han army continuously harasses our advance, then your elder will have delayed military operations. Who can I reason with? It’s fine if it’s only a beating. But if I am punished by copying books by the teacher, your elder will definitely be in a wretched state. Besides, if the plan is delayed, even if your elder wants to copy books, I won’t likely have the opportunity to do so. Once your elder’s head has been chopped off, will these Northern Han bastards shed tears for your elder? Listen to your elder. In a while, assault the pass tonight. If we cannot capture Hu Pass by tomorrow, your elder can only go for broke. After we’ve captured Hu Pass, massacre everything within. If His Imperial Majesty must place blame, your elder will shoulder the responsibility alone.”

Seeing Jing Chi’s fiendishness, Lin Ya could only voice his assent. At this moment, the Northern Han raiders had already been completely annihilated. Jing Chi’s subordinate officers and soldiers had all followed him through immense dangers and difficulties.3 All of them had steely hearts as they carried out their duties to chop off the heads of all the Northern Han soldiers before fastening them to the horses. Jing Chi pressed Lin Ya to give the order to assault the pass. Understanding that Hu Pass was at its weakest, Lin Ya followed orders. Several tens of thousands of Yong troops arrived before Hu Pass. The torches they brandished completely illuminated the area before the pass. Jing Chi’s subordinates tossed the heads of the Northern Han raiders down before the walls, creating a mound. Urging his mount forward, Jing Chi cursed loudly, while the Yong army began to assault the pass.

Early in the morning on the twenty-third day of the third month, Liu Wanli stood atop the walls bewildered. Over the course of a single night, his hair and beard had become the color of snow. Last night, when his deputy had sallied forth to raid the enemy encampment, Liu Wanli had not been idle, commanding the entire garrison to stand ready. Atop the walls of Hu Pass, he gazed off into the distance at the Yong encampment, prepared to meet any contingency. After his deputy had been ambushed and trapped, Liu Wanli had been able to infer the results from a distance. Once the scouts who risked their lives to reconnoiter the situation returned with the details, Liu Wanli felt as if he had been completely drenched by the freezing water of winter. Although he was chilled to the bone, he could only organize the army and prepare for the Yong army’s attack.

As expected, the Yong army very quickly began to assault the pass. Probably because he was experiencing inordinate despair, Liu Wanli actually found himself unprecedentedly calm as he directed the remaining several thousand troops to defend the walls to the death. Even when the severed heads of his dead comrades were trampled to pulp under the iron hooves of the Yong army, Liu Wanli’s mind was not shaken in the least. At present, the Yong assault was like a fierce tiger, showing the determination of not ceasing until succeeding as they attacked without end. Throughout, Liu Wanli remained standing atop the walls, practically not eating or drinking anything. However, he still felt himself energized as he utilized the previously hidden Divine Armed Bows to strengthen Hu Pass’s defenses.

The Northern Han army fought to the death and did not retreat. After bitterly fighting for so many days, the hatred between the enemies was as deep as the ocean. Every single Northern Han officer and soldier was well aware of the situation. Once the Yong army had broken through, they would not survive even if they surrendered. As a result, no one in the Northern Han army dared to relax in the slightest. As for the Yong army, it suffered heavy losses. Only by massacring everyone within the pass could they dispel the rancor in their hearts. As victory and defeat was a matter of life and death, both sides fought with all their strength. No one dared to be complacent in the least.

Regardless of how secure Hu Pass was, there weren’t enough troops within to defend it. In addition, the Northern Han soldiers lost in the failed raid with the deputy general were all the pass’s elites. As a result, even with the addition of the Divine Armed Bows, Hu Pass was on already on the verge of falling as night fell on the twenty-third day.

Standing atop the walls, Liu Wanli’s entire body was stained red with blood. He felt deep remorse. At the very least, the failed raid had pushed forward the date of Hu Pass’s fall by three days. At this moment, he increasingly regretted that he had ordered the raid out of selfish motives. The difference of three days could possibly change the tide of the entire war for Northern Han. Liu Wanli naturally understood the threat posed if Jing Chi were allowed to penetrate deep into Northern Han territory.

As night deepened, the Yong army madly and continuously assailed the pass. Using his instincts, Liu Wanli directed the defense. However, after defending for a night and a day, the Hu Pass garrison was ready to collapse. As for the Divine Armed Bows, more than half had become damaged and unusable. Liu Wanli already clearly understood that the pass would fall the next day. Just earlier, the militia who were helping the defense had completely collapsed, loudly voicing their willingness to surrender and hoping to open the gates. The levy was ultimately executed by the soldiers Liu Wanli had assigned to supervise them. However, even then, the fighting spirit of the soldiers and commoners within the pass had fallen apart. Liu Wanli understood that it was impossible to hold Hu Pass. From the chaos in his mind, the figures of his wife and beloved son appeared. Liu Wanli suddenly felt endless exhaustion rush into his mind.

On the twenty-fourth day of the third month, as the morning sun rose, Lin Ya personally directed an energetic unit of the Yong army to launch the final assault. Hu Pass’s garrison had finally and utterly collapsed under the Yong army’s continuous attacks. Dark blue figures finally managed to charge onto the blood-soaked walls of Hu Pass. When the Yong troops opened the gates, Jing Chi took the lead and charged into the pass at the head of his cavalry. Following his orders, Jing Chi’s bodyguards scattered in all directions to issue the order, “The obstinacy of Hu Pass’s garrison commander has inflicted serious losses upon our army! General Jing has ordered that the entire population—soldier and commoner—of the pass be massacred! This order cannot be delayed!”

This order that reeked with blood gave the Yong army’s officers and soldiers a channel to vent their indignation after days of brutal fighting. Amidst the cries of bawling and sorrow, blood flowed through the entirety of the pass, creating sanguine rivulets. As the Yong army mounted the walls, Liu Wanli became completely dejected. He loudly ordered the garrison to scatter and flee on their own, and to commit arson as they retreated to block the enemy advance. Leading a dozen bodyguards, Liu Wanli galloped quickly back to his residence. The entire journey, he watched as the retreating Northern Han troops set blazes everywhere. All of the soldiers had heard the Yong orders to massacre everyone within the pass and so were prepared to die to delay the enemy. Even if they died, they could not allow Hu Pass to fall into the enemy’s hands for nothing. The Northern Han army’s intent and the Yong army’s frenzied brutality thoroughly destroyed this pass that had stood for centuries.

However, Liu Wanli had no time to consider the consequences of his order, focused on spurring his horse to gallop back to his residence. Arriving, he tossed the reins to one of his bodyguards before rushing inside his residence without acknowledging anyone. His family maids had already scattered in every direction. The only ones who remained was his wife holding their beloved son with a look of distress on her face. Seeing Liu Wanli arrive, she let out a cry of sorrow. As for Liu Huai, he shouted loudly, “Daddy, so much blood!”

Liu Wanli calmly lowered his gaze and looked at the bloody state that he was in. Revealing a faint wry smile on his face, he spoke to the remaining bodyguards at his side, “You are all my good brothers. Now that I have been defeated and have no honor to flee, there is only one matter that I want to ask of you. I wonder if all of you are willing to accept.”

The head of the bodyguards was named Liu Jun and was formerly a servant who had attended to Liu Wanli since childhood. Kneeling down and shedding tears, he replied, “My Lord, please instruct us.”

Pointing at Liu Huai, Liu Wanli stated, “I have spent half my life as a soldier and only have this lone offspring. Escort the madam and the young master to seek refuge with my brother-in-law. Remember, do not allow the child to avenge me. With the two countries at war, deaths are inevitable. I only hope that once the world is unified, this child can peacefully live a bucolic existence, marry, and have children to pass along my bloodline. Do you promise to do this?”

Hearing this, Liu Jun unsheathed his saber and used it to cut off the pinky finger of his left hand, solemnly vowing, “My Lord, do not worry. Even if Jun loses my life, I will protect the madam and the young master to ensure their escape. If this subordinate clings abjectly to life, then let me be reincarnated as a dog in my next life and never be allowed to be human.”

Aggrieved, Liu Wanli bowed from the waist and replied, “As long as you all do your best, if Huai’er meets with misfortune, then it is his fate to meet his end amidst the chaos of war.”

How could Liu Jun and company accept their lord’s courtesy? They promptly stepped aside. At this moment, Liu Wanli looked to his wife and said, “Wife, due to me, you spent half a lifetime in hardship. Quickly go with Liu Jun and take good care of our son. There is no need to remember me.”

With glistening tears in her eyes, Lady Liu inquired, “Then what about you, General?”

Liu Wanli dejectedly fell into a chair and responded, “Staying here on royal orders to defend Hu Pass. At present, the officers and soldiers of the army have died for our country. What face do I have to drag out an ignoble existence?”

Lady Liu calmly and composedly handed Liu Huai into Liu Jun’s hands. Afterwards, she drew a dagger from her waist. Pressing the dagger against her heart, the bodyguards were aghast and let out of cries of alarm. Liu Huai also began to wail and cry. Wanting to rise to his feet, Liu Wanli felt no strength in his legs. Over these last two days, he had exhausted all of his energy. Once he had sat down, he unexpectedly was unable to rise to his feet again. Raising his finger, he pointed at Lady Liu and asked in alarm, “Wife, what are you trying to do?”

Lady Liu sorrowfully answered, “Husband, your servant is not adept at horse archery. How can I accompany your bodyguards and flee? Rather than having mother and child die together, it would be better to have Liu Jun escort Huai’er to safety and allow your servant to accompany husband.”

Liu Wanli was overwhelmed with grief. He understood that his wife spoke the truth. A resolute individual, he gestured with his hand and said, “Liu Jun, take Huai’er and go.”

Tears streaming down their faces, Liu Jun and the bodyguards kneeled down and kowtowed twice. Tearing strips from his battle gown, Liu Jun tied Liu Huai to his bosom. Leading the bodyguards, Liu Jun rushed out. Outside the residence were the deafening sounds of war cries and hoofbeats. Very quickly, the sounds of Liu Jun and company disappeared into the chaos. Feeling his entire body grow limp, Liu Wanli was unable to say a single word. In comparison, Lady Liu was very calm. Removing the hall’s curtains, she collected them in one place before dousing them with lamp oil. Afterwards, she handed a torch to Liu Wanli. Feeling brokenhearted, Liu Wanli pulled his wife into his arms and said, “Wife, I’ve let you down.”

Smiling, Lady Liu replied, “Husband, the day the two of us were married, we promised to spend our lives together. Now that General’s hair is already white, your servant naturally has to abide by her promise. As husband and wife, we live and die together. General should actually be happy.”

Letting out a pained cry, Liu Wanli tossed the torch onto the doused curtains. The flames quickly spread. Liu Wanli did not feel anything, only holding his beloved wife and wailing a sorrowful howl. Lady Liu closed her eyes, leaning into her husband’s embrace, a look of joy on her face. The blaze shone on her elegant face, making her smile look increasingly beautiful. The fire raged and quickly surrounded the two of them. The flames quickly converged with the fires that had been set throughout the pass, causing the entire Hu Pass to become a sea of flames. Black smoke billowed up into the air, as the flames licked. Within the flames, Hu Pass trembled and crumbled.

Forced to fall back by the flames, Jing Chi ferociously glared at the sea of flames that was Hu Pass, loathing growing in him. In Jiang Zhe’s plans, Hu Pass was an important fortification that needed to be guarded by the Yong army. As long as Hu Pass was held, it would be impossible for Northern Han to cut Jing Chi’s supply train. However, now that Hu Pass had been completely destroyed, it was a difficult challenge to defend this location. Full of hate, Jing Chi became increasingly determined to wantonly slaughter during his advance to ensure that the Northern Han people no longer dared to resist.

As for Lin Ya, he had a pained face. Although he was extremely dissatisfied with Jing Chi’s decision to refuse to accept surrender which made the Northern Han army resist to the death, whatever the case, Hu Pass had still fallen. The majority of this result was Jing Chi’s contribution. What could he, Lin Ya, do?

***

On the twenty-ninth day of the third month, within the Northern Han marshal’s tent in Qinyuan, Long Tingfei looked over the military reports. His brows were tightly knit. Although everything was within his expectations that Northern Han would be unable to stop Jing Chi’s advance, the disastrous losses suffered still shocked Long Tingfei.

On the twenty-fourth day of the third month, Jing Chi attacked Shangdang. On the field, Jing Chi executed Shangdang’s garrison commander and completely slaughtered the entire garrison. The Zhenzhou army left a portion of its force to protect Hu Pass, while the majority of its force was garrisoned at Shangdang. As for Jing Chi, his troops did not enter Shangdang, instead capturing and massacring ten towns and strongholds in its vicinity.

On the twenty-sixth day of the third month, Jing Chi arrived at Lucheng,4 declaring that he would massacre the populace if the city did not surrender. Lucheng’s garrison commander surrendered. After passing through, Jing Chi made a beeline for Xiangyuan.5

On the twenty-seventh day of the third month, Jing Chi burned Xiangyuan to the ground. The city’s garrison commander died for Northern Han. According to estimates, Jing Chi will arrive at Qinyuan between 1-3 PM on the twenty-ninth day of the third month. The Yong army will very quickly rendezvous.

Although there was only so few words, they contained countless quantities of blood and pain. As for Long Tingfei, he could only watch idly as Jing Chi slaughtered untrammeled through the Northern Han’s southeastern hinterlands. He hid the pain in his heart. He consoled himself inwardly, We will get our revenge on Jing Chi very soon! At this moment, Duan Wudi came in to report, “Grand General, the Prince of Qi is inviting battle before our camp.”

Surging killing intent flashed across Long Tingfei’s handsome face. He replied, “Fine. He is seeking his own destruction this time. Wudi, pass along my orders. Have the entire army prepare. After I have reviewed the troops, we will go into battle.”

Sensing the heroic aura suddenly exuded from Long Tingfei’s body, Duan Wudi felt his spirit also surge. Although Long Tingfei had not informed him of the complete arrangements, Duan Wudi could sense from Xiao Tong’s extended absence and Long Tingfei’s absorption in studying maps that Long Tingfei was already sure of victory. With the decisive battle at hand, although Duan Wudi was somewhat dissatisfied with Long Tingfei for failing to keep him informed of the particulars, Duan Wudi held no grudges with the decisive battle about to occur. As long as they were able to defeat the Yong army, then any and all sacrifices would be worthwhile.

Compared with Long Tingfei, Li Xian did not have a complete and accurate grasp of the situation. He did not know about Jing Chi’s movements and activities, so much that he didn’t even know where Jing Chi was currently. After all, this was Northern Han territory, making it impossible for any of Jing Chi’s messengers to traverse through the layers of security. As a result, Li Xian had done as usual in issuing the challenge.

In the wilderness around Qinyuan, Li Xian gazed forward from his saddle on his mount. Behind him, forty thousand Yong troops were deployed. From the square formation composed of soldiers in dark blue armor, killing intent soared up into the sky. The most dazzling were the three thousand Iron Guard behind Li Xian. All of them wore crimson battle gowns. In the spring breeze, the battle gowns rustled, making them look like a rampant and fearless wildfire. Around them, the other Yong cavalry were like congealed and motionless molten cast iron. Although the formation was stationary, they revealed two different kinds of imposing auras. Regardless of which, they had a domineering and powerful might that was impossible to resist.

However, although Li Xian was making a show, he was in fact extremely gloomy. Although he was defeated at Anze, he still had plenty of troops—forty thousand horsemen and nearly another forty thousand foot soldiers. Although the Northern Han army claimed it had a hundred thousand crack horsemen, they probably only had fifty thousand elite troops. The rest were mostly new recruits and conscripts. Regardless of ability or training, they were all inferior to Northern Han’s elite units. It was reasonable for Li Xian to think that his army was well-trained and powerful. Combined with Jing Chi’s thirty thousand horsemen, though no one knew when they would arrive, if battle were to be joined, Li Xian felt that he definitely wouldn’t be defeated.

But even with the current situation, Jiang Zhe had actually told him to not push too much. If defeated, it wouldn’t be a problem if he retreated as Jiang Zhe would repair the road in preparation for the retreat. In addition, Jiang Zhe had arranged for Xuan Song to lead the foot soldiers to provide support if necessary. Li Xian angrily wondered, Could it be that I will suffer a defeat? But having battled for several days, when had Northern Han gained any advantages? I might as well utterly defeat the Northern Han army. There is no need to completely wipe them out. As long as another defeat is inflicted, could it be that they would still have the ability to retrieve the desperate situation?

At this moment, activity suddenly arose within the Northern Han encampment. The southern camp gates that faced the Yong army opened wide and cavalry in fire-red battle gowns thundered out. At the same time, the eastern and western gates also opened and an endless stream of Northern Han cavalry poured out like the tides. The Northern Han army was unlike the Yong army; they did not adopt a formation upon exiting the encampment. Like a pack of wolves, they turbulently charged out. And like a wolf pack, the cavalry was not orderly. However, as they gathered on the field, they were like rivers converging into the ocean. Very quickly, they had formed a tight battle formation. It wasn’t long before several tens of thousands of Northern Han troops were in formation. Behind them were countless horsemen in brown armor forming another formation.

Atop his mount, Li Xian frowned. From the present situation, it seemed that Long Tingfei was determined to fight the decisive battle today. In fact, over these days, the Northern Han army had gradually taken the advantage. However, no matter Li Xian had tried to repeatedly provoke the Northern Han army, Long Tingfei had been unwilling to fight. But why had he suddenly changed his mind today? Could it be that there was a significant change to the military situation? Li Xian’s heart nervously beat as he thought, If this is truly the decisive battle, my army likely won’t be able to resist. It seems that we truly will have to use that escape route. But didn’t Suiyun say that Long Tingfei wouldn’t sally forth lightly?

Just then, several bodyguards escorting a single individual slowly separated from the Northern Han formation. Lifting his visor, the individual exposed handsome features. The deep blue eyes contained deep-seated pain, grief, and indignation. His rather thin complexion was somewhat haggard. The only thing that was like the past was his former bearing, which retained its disdain toward the entire world. Long Tingfei lightly stroked the haft of his beloved halberd, full of killing intent. Over the last several months, the countless humiliations had caused him long ago to hold boundless rancor. Of his four generals, only Duan Wudi remained. In the past, his officers and soldiers had always cheerfully and willingly followed orders. However, ever since Shi Ying’s death, Long Tingfei could sense feelings of discontent spreading from within the army. For now, he could only temporarily use his martial might and prestige to suppress these feelings.

Several days ago, when he had used a flood to drown the Yong army at Anze, although the costs were considerable, the results were ultimately astonishing. With this, his troops’ confidence was finally restored to its previous state. This was all because of Jiang Zhe and this prince before him. No matter what, he had surmounted all of the difficult challenges he had faced. As long as he inflicted a grievous defeat upon the Yong army, the situation could be retrieved. When the time came, he would have the opportunity to reorganize the army.

Gazing at the intractable mounted figure opposite wielding a lance, raging flames burst in Long Tingfei’s eyes. If not because he feared that the Prince of Qi would retreat into the mountains after being defeated and collaborate with the Yong foot soldiers to hinder the Northern Han army to wait for reinforcements, he would have sallied forth long ago. Today, he could finally annihilate the enemy. When the time came, the Northern Han army would be like a pack of wolves on the hunt and destroy the invading Yong army one by one. The Yong army would definitely suffer a crushing a defeat and be unable to invade Northern Han for several years. Even several years afterwards, Great Yong would probably be too preoccupied to do anything.

Lifting the halberd in his hands high up into the air, Long Tingfei shouted loudly, “Annihilate the Yong army and capture Li Xian alive!”

Hearing this, the spirit of the entire Northern Han army quaked and simultaneously echoed this same war cry. In a short period of time, their vigor and spirit increased enormously.

Li Xian had always had a fiery temperament. Hearing Long Tingfei’s yell, he could not help becoming furious. Wielding the lance in his hands and pointing at the Northern Han army, he mocked, “Brothers, the people of Northern Han always claim that they are heroes, but only dared to use a crafty ruse to drown us at Anze! These days, they have further cowered inside their encampment and dared not come forth! Do you believe that cowards can annihilate us?”

Behind Li Xian, of his four chief bodyguards, Tao Lin was the most jocular. He loudly answered, “Your Imperial Highness, General Long is only boasting shamelessly. There is no reason to be so enraged. Once we have captured Grand General Long, we can have him serve Your Imperial Highness wine.”

Hearing this, the entire Yong army erupted into laughter, while the Northern Han army swore. As for Li Xian and Long Tingfei, they only gazed at each other coldly. The calm of both armies’ commanders gradually infected the officers and soldiers of both armies. Unwittingly, the battlefield recovered its silence. However, with this, the stillness filled with killing intent and caused the atmosphere to grow increasingly heavy. Everyone found it difficult to breathe.

Afterwards, almost like a meeting of minds, Long Tingfei and Li Xian practically issued orders at the same time. Like a flood, soldiers in dark blue and brown armor simultaneously surged forward and slammed together. With this, the decisive battle between Great Yong and Northern Han began.

Footnotes:

火冒三丈, huomaosanzhang – lit. fire raging three zhang up into the air; fig. fly into a rage
顶天立地, dingtianlidi – idiom, lit. able to support both the Heavens and the Earth; fig. of indomitable spirit
刀山火海, daoshanhuohai – idiom, lit. a mountain of swords and a sea of flames; fig. immense dangers and difficulties
潞城, Lucheng – a county-level city in modern-day Changzhi
襄垣, Xiangyuan – a county-level city in modern-day Changzhi

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