The Bianbo Camp was an important supply site at Libei’s borders. To keep the physical strength of the frontline military forces up, Xiao Jiming successively set up the Shayi, Sha’er, and Shasan Camps1 at the southeastern side of Libei to act as protective barriers to the Bianbo Camp. The Bianbo Camp was always stocked with reserve military provisions and equipment meant to be supplied to the frontlines. There were stables here too, with battle steeds on standby to replace those on the frontlines.
Dawn had yet to break when Wu Ziyu woke up. He squatted at the tent entrance and had the soldier who was his personal guard pour water over his head. “The fighting at the frontline is too intense. We start running right on opening our eyes and lie down right on closing our eyes. It has already been half a month since I last bathed.”
The guard handed him a handkerchief, which he used to wipe his face.
“Eat well these two days. We still have to head north three days later to replace Guo Weili’s soldiers. The Tudalong Banner has also been cleared out by the Biansha baldies. This battle has already made its way right to our doorstep.”
Wu Ziyu was the youngest general in the current ranks of generals in Libei. He was originally a guard in the Prince’s residence, and because he had gone drinking and stirred up trouble, Xiao Jiming dismissed him from his original post and had him sent to the military camp. He did not really know how to fight battles, but he was resourceful when it came to transporting military supplies and allocating provisions. Libei had a shortage of military grains in the early spring, and he went to swindle a batch of grains out of the bandits in Zhongbo, thereby resolving the pressing emergency of the battlefields ahead.
When Chen Yang escorted the grains to Libei, the one he had met was Wu Ziyu. The latter had been following Xiao Fangxu these two months, running all over until his legs were about to break. Finally, it was Bianbo Camp’s turn to take a break; the soldiers under his command were already all exhausted.
“I originally thought that it’d be a breeze to drive off the Hanshe Tribe now that His Lordship is here.” The guard took Wu Ziyu’s dirty handkerchief and washed it in the water basin. “Who would have known that it would become harder the more we fought? The boundary line has already been shrinking until it now lies on the fringes of the Shayi Camp. If this keeps up, Bianbo Camp would have to shift back.”
A bare-chested Wu Ziyu wiped his nape with a damp handkerchief. He looked to the east and said, “Once the Bianbo camp moves back, the Hereditary Prince’s deployment in the southeast will cease to be effective. This place is the bedrock that will enable the Shasan Camp to keep on fighting as usual. We can’t afford to lose it.”
The guard picked up the basin and splashed away the water. He said, “We can’t afford to play the long game either. Leaving the soldiers aside, there are still military craftsmen in these camps who need to eat. If the Second Young Master had not rebelled and remained in Qudu as the Marquis of Dingdu, then we might just be able to fight the battle this way. But he has now killed the emperor, and Juexi is no longer supplying us with military provisions. The Northeast Provisions Bridle Path’s reserves won’t last for long either.”
Wu Ziyu covered himself with a towel and looked at the sky with squinting eyes as the water dripped. He did not respond to the guard’s gripes.
The guard set aside the basin and said, “General, how about steamed buns and milk tea for breakfast? The milk is good stuff that has just been transported over from the back. It can’t be stored for too long, so we have to drink it as soon as possible. I asked the mess cook to brew tea made out of plain leaves with clotted cream.2 You—”
Wu Ziyu raised his index finger as a signal for the guard to shut up. He listened to the hubbub of splashing water and footsteps all around and looked at the sky, but he did not hear the whistle of today’s eagle patrol. He listened for a moment before asking, “Has last night’s patrol squad returned?”
The guard happened to be rinsing his feet with water. On hearing him, he looked up at the sky too and answered, “It’s not time yet. The earliest they’ll return after turning back from Shasan Camp is, at the very least, the third quarter during the hour of chen.”3
“Why am I not hearing the whistles from the eagle patrol?”
“Didn’t let them out.” The guard hesitated for a moment. “We were too tired when we arrived at the camp last night, so we didn’t report it to you immediately. The eagles we brought back this time are all wounded, having been brutally clawed by the Biansha Cavalry’s saker falcons at the battlefield. Even ‘Hou’ died. Those who raise eagles all treasure their eagles like they would a child. After we came back here, we dispensed with the eagle patrol today and had the physician tend to their injuries.”
Eagles were not easy to rear. Patience was required when domesticating them,4 and those that could act as scouting eagles were the cream of the crop. Even though they were not gyrfalcons, they were similarly valuable. Xiao Fangxu was fighting a battle in the frontline this time, and the battle was not going smoothly for both the soldiers and the eagles. In Libei, horses and eagles were good buddies with friendships that ran deep with the armored cavalry. No matter which was to get injured, the soldiers would not be happy.
Wu Ziyu pulled off the towel and bent a finger to whistle. An eagle swooped down from the top of the tent. As Wu Ziyu was not wearing an upper garment, this eagle did not land on him but instead hopped onto the drying pole where the clothes were hung up. Wu Ziyu said, “Release my ‘Chi’. We are fighting a battle now. Doing away with the eagle patrol is just like losing an eye. Even if we are in Bianbo camp, we mustn’t be negligent and careless.”
The guard said, “… Chi has already been patrolling the battlefield for half a month. General…”
“We have no choice.” Wu Ziyu has a gruff voice, yet he was very gentle when he looked up at Chi and commanded, “Go.”
Chi spread its wings and soared into the sky. It hovered over Bianbo Camp for a moment, then charged into the morning sunlight in the east.
A bare-chested Wu Ziyu entered the tent and warned, “The batch of battle steeds that have followed us down should be replaced too. The reserve horses have to be taken to the north in three days. Guo Weili’s defense at the Tudalong Banner has been breached by the Hanshe Tribe. A group of brothers was killed, and quite a number of horses have sunk in the swamp. He has already sent three military reports to urge us. He’s in urgent need of new horses.”
The barefooted guard slipped on his shoes and followed behind him. “I’ve already gotten the men to prepare the horses early in the morning, but this batch of horses is the last batch. Autumn isn’t here yet, and our new battle steeds from Dajing aren’t here.”
“I’ll talk to him about it.” Wu Ziyu put on his clothes.
Guo Weili was single-handedly promoted by Xiao Jiming. This person could fight, but he was most suited to be used by Xiao Jiming, because Xiao Jiming was like an iron chain that could pull Guo Weili back every time Guo Weili let it go to his head, thereby preventing the main force from suffering heavy losses. Xiao Jiming was also the one Guo Weili was the most willing to submit to. Now that the commander-in-chief had changed to Xiao Fangxu, the way of combat was different. There was no one to pull him back, and so there were plenty of areas where he ended up on the short end of the stick.
Wu Ziyu retreated and brought along a batch of equipment that those at the frontline needed to repair. The Libei Armored Cavalry used a tremendous amount of equipment and relied heavily on army supplies and gears, so they had over ten thousand military craftsmen. These military craftsmen were split up among the various camps. Once the battle started, they had to repair equipment for the armored cavalry day and night.
Wu Ziyu’s own armor was also badly worn out. He went to the military craftsmen’s tent to check on it, and on the way, he asked the guard several times, but there was no news of Chi’s return. Sparks spattered out of the stoves when it was nearly noon; it was so hot inside that it was hard for anyone to breathe.
The weather was too hot, so hot that it made them sleepy. Even the wind outside the tents was hot. Wu Ziyu was sweating profusely as he looked at the ground. This steaming hot temperature had already caused many military craftsmen to suffer from heatstroke. Wu Ziyu got his men to splash cold water, but this was simply a futile attempt, much like trying to put out a burning cart of firewood with a cup of water.
“Get the kitchen to boil green beans. Boil as many as you can.” Wu Ziyu covered his face with the cool handkerchief and instructed the guard, “The equipment repair cannot be delayed. His Lordship and the rest are still donning worn-out armors on their end.”
The guard nodded in acknowledgment. He was feeling so hot that he was not wearing his armor, and his collar was open. He was about to turn around when he felt a few drops of water dripping onto his face. Puzzled, he wondered aloud, “Why is it raining…”
Wu Ziyu’s nape was wet with water too, but this water was sticky. He raised his head and saw Chi’s figure charging out from the hot sun before it suddenly plunged. But halfway down, two saker falcons swooped out midair and simultaneously grasped hold of Chi before soaring once more. Chi let out a shrill cry as it was torn into shreds, its feathers scattering in the air.
Wu Ziyu promptly rose to his feet. Someone atop the watchtower in the distance was already shouting, “ENEMY ATTACK—!”
The drums sounded, each beat pounding Wu Ziyu hard in the chest. He immediately gave his commands. “Put on your armors. This is a sneak attack by the Liaoying Tribe. They are not Hanshe Tribe’s cavalry—don’t panic!”
Flaps of tents lifted in unison. From wearing their clothes to putting on their armors, the Libei Armored Cavalry carried out every step without a hitch. With swift and orderly movements, they gradually turned from individual men into men of iron and steel enveloped within the oppressive, heavy armors.
“Squad Six, go guard the stables. Squad Three, go guard the granary. If the vanguards led by me die in battle, Bianbo Camp is bound to fall. When you see that the situation is critical, don’t wait any longer. Release the stables immediately and lead the military craftsmen along the horse track towards the Northeast Provisions Bridle Path where Zhao Hui’s Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang are.” As Wu Ziyu spoke, he saw that Chi had already fallen to the ground. That shocking mass of red made him pause a moment, then he quickly turned his head away and hauled up the guard. “The horses and the military craftsmen can leave when Bianbo Camp falls, but the grains can’t be sent away, so when the need arises, set them on fire and burn them clean. Do not leave even a single grain of rice to the Liaoying Tribe! Head back home. There is still the Hereditary Prince back in Dajing to assume command.”
Conventions dictated that the general should retreat with the troops and leave the vanguards behind to stall for time when the situation was bad. But Wu Ziyu knew that the sneak attack this time was a force to behold. There were only two possibilities in which the Biansha men could bypass the Shasan Camp before Bianbo Camp.5 The first was that they took a shortcut and made their way over in silence. The second was that Xiao Fangxu, Zuo Qianqiu, and the rest had all perished in battle; the frontline had already collapsed, and Shasan Camp was completely wiped out even before they had the time to send back the military reports.
Regardless of which it was, the men who had come along for the sneak attack this time could not be underestimated. Wu Ziyu did not dare to hand the responsibility of stalling for time to others; he had to guard this place himself.
Wu Ziyu passed through the squad as he put on his helmet. “Which—”
Wu Ziyu had yet to finish his words when a large boulder came falling from the sky and smashed into the middle of the newly erected watchtower with a thunderous crash. Even before the sound of the watchtower’s collapse could be heard, it knocked down a tent.
“Stone catapults!” The guard shouted at the top of his voice from behind. “General, they are coming around from the south!”
“Fucking bandits!” Wu Ziyu spat. “Get on your horses! It’s inconvenient for them to move around since they’re bringing along heavy equipment, and they won’t dare to make a show of it when taking the detour. Without the ponies from the Gouma Tribe, this group of people can’t get away!”
But following right after, the sounds of neighing rang out from the horse stables, and the battle steeds scurried all over amidst the machetes and flames. The other party had the same idea as Wu Ziyu—slaughter all the horses they could not grab and burn away all the grains they could not take away with them. That way, the materials heading north in Libei will be in short supply immediately. They could think of ways to transfer the grains again, but without this batch of battle steeds, Guo Weili’s Cangzhu Camp would lose their combat capability.
“Motherfucker…” Wu Ziyu slowly gripped his blade. “Tell Squad Six to leave first with the horses!”
The guard flipped onto his horse. The tents near the stables were all on fire. He led his men and charged over. His saddle suddenly sank, and the guard felt an ill sense of foreboding. Following right after, the horse beneath him raised its hooves from an attack. A Biansha soldier clung to its abdomen like a spider. The Biansha soldier pulled out a dagger from the side of his leg and stabbed the horse in its belly.
The dagger made a white mark on the armor but did not pierce through it right away.
The battle steed landed back on the ground, and the guard tumbled off his horse and drew his blade to trade blows with the Biansha soldier. The Libei Armored Cavalry’s armor was too heavy, and the impact was so strong that the Biansha soldier was forced back, his feet scraping against the ground. However, the soldiers’ armors were not as hard as the horses’ armors. The guard hacked off the other party’s head, but he also ended up taking a blow from the other party’s blade.
This bunch of Biansha soldiers was like locusts that opted to surround the enemy and fight to their death when faced with a trapped beast like the Libei Armored Cavalry. The helmet Wu Ziyu had just worn had been struck off him. He was surrounded by several people. The fire from the stables had already burned its way to the horses that had yet to run out, their blood-soaked neighing jarring on Wu Ziyu’s ears.
He was not a general who could fight. The soldiers under his command were also from the Libei Armored Cavalry’s backup transportation squad. They had only just retreated from the battlefield a few days ago, and their already exhausted bodies could not withstand such a strong assault. What’s more, he still had to divert manpower to protect the Libei military craftsmen who were just as important as the battle steeds.
The guard flipped atop the horse once again and spurred his horse on to knock over the blazing railings of the horse stables. In a split second, the battle steeds within galloped out.
Wu Ziyu said, “Let the military craftsmen get on the horses. Remove the armors and hurry on to the horse track…”
Wu Ziyu was still speaking when he felt a sudden weight on his back as he was forced down by two men before being flung to the ground. The back of his helmet-less head struck the ground hard. The next moment, a rope was put around his neck, and both men dragged him in unison.
Wu Ziyu tugged at the rope tightening around his neck. It strangled him so hard that the timber of his voice changed as he hissed at the back of the guard, “When… coughs, when you reach the camp… tell Zhao Hui to head north…”
Beads of sweat dripped into his eyes, stinging them until Wu Ziyu could barely open them. He tumbled amid the smoke and dust, unable to breathe as he watched the sky turn yellow. That group of saker falcons that had torn Chi to pieces was hovering up there.
“Fuck…” Grief overwhelmed Wu Ziyu. His vision blurred as eyes that stung from the sweat brimmed with tears. He cussed without letting up. “… Fuck!”
He had already been dragged to the edge of the sea of fire amidst the chaotic sounds of horses’ hooves. Wu Ziyu knocked against the rock and caught hold of the railing. The pain from being burned by fire was excruciating.
The saker falcons in the sky suddenly dispersed, and a falcon cry reverberated through the sky in the wind. Meng gripped the back of a saker falcon in midair, and both parties engaged in a fierce battle. At the same time, the sound of galloping horses closed in on them from afar. Choked by the smoke, Wu Ziyu could not get a clear look; he could only get a vague glimpse of a tall figure riding steadily on horseback.
Surprised, he shouted, “Your Lordship!”
Wu Ziyu felt a grip on his ankle and heard Chen Yang bellow, “Drag him out!”
The rope tightened around Wu Ziyu’s throat. He hurriedly cried out in a hoarse voice, “Drag, my ass! I, I’m still being hanged by the neck!”
Chen Yang promptly let go and brandished his blade at the side of Wu Ziyu’s neck, scaring Wu Ziyu so much that his hairs stood on end. And just like that, he was dragged out with the rope still around his neck. He rolled as they swatted at him to extinguish the fire. Gasping for breath, he lifted eyes against the sunlight and saw the man on horseback dismount. The man raised a finger between his lips and let loose a long whistle.
Meng flung the saker falcon from side to side as it swooped down. Its feathers were in a mess from all that tearing at one another. The saker falcon let out a cry of pain. Meng’s sharp talons were like blades as they ripped into the saker falcon. Breaking through the wind, Meng rushed over to Xiao Chiye and kicked out its talons to toss the saker falcon to the ground.
“I’m not my old man,” Xiao Chiye raised his arm to let Meng perch and turned his head back to look at Wu Ziyu, “I’m your Second Young Master.”
SPECIAL THANKS TO : Ami
- Literally Sand I, Sand II, Sand III Camps
- 奶皮子 öröm/urum in Mongolian cuisine, a rich, highly calorific cream from animals such as yaks, goats, and cows.
- 辰时 7-9 am, based on the system of two-hour subdivisions used in former times.
- 熬鹰 literally torturing falcons, it’s one of the ways to train them by not allowing it to sleep and torture it to exhaustion to wear down its wild nature.
- For those referring to the map for reference, it says Shasan Camp is to the east of the Bianbo Camp in the text but it’s Shayi Camp that’s to the east of Bianbo on the map. :V It’s likely the AD mixed it up and Shayi and Shansan were swapped around. I’ve revised the maps to reflect the correct position in the novel (that is, until the next time it changes again lmfao).