When Wu Ziyu ran from the battle site to Bianbo Camp, he passed by Shasan Camp and also went to Changzhu Camp. However, in the eyes of the commanding generals from these battle camps, he was not considered a “commanding general”. He was only good for grain delivery during discussions relating to military affairs. When the Hanshe Tribe launched a sudden assault on the Libei’s mutual trade market in the eighth year of Xiande, the fastest squad to respond to the enemy attack was the transportation escort squad led by Wu Ziyu. That was the one and only battle he had ever fought.
“You are the commanding general of Bianbo Camp now that the main forces of the Bianbo Camp have been dispatched into battle up north. The Imperial Army currently wants to scout for news of the Shasan Camp, and I hope to have the assistance of the Bianbo Camp.” Xiao Chiye set down his bowl and continued, “It’s obvious that the Liaoying Tribe’s surprise attack this time has been planned for a long time. Cut off access to the Shasan Camp’s horse track, and the Bianbo Camp will lose its source of information in addition to its protective barrier. It’s indeed true that you can ensure the safety of the supplies by retreating this moment, but the site of battle – with Shayi Camp as the boundary line – will completely end up surrounded by the Biansha people on both sides. No matter how many people there are in Zhao Hui’s Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang, they will still have to split up and assign a team to bypass Dajing and head for the battle site in the northeast as long-distance reinforcement. By then, even if there are supplies left, all the frontline troops will have been wiped out.”
Xiao Jiming chose to use Bianbo Camp as a supply site because it had horse tracks directly connecting it to Shasan Camp and Northeast Provisions Bridle Path. It could swiftly provide supplies, as well as rapidly send in troops for reinforcement. Once this place was gone, Xiao Fangxu, who was still on the frontlines, would be cut off from his backup forces. There were no direct connecting horse tracks leading to the northeast from the Northeast Provisions Bridle Path. Zhao Hui would have to take a detour, which would still take four days at the earliest. In these four days, Xiao Fangxu would have to face the Hanshe Tribe to the east and the Liaoying Tribe to the south without reinforcements and supplies. The Biansha men could just deploy the tactics of taking turns to fight them, and it would have been sufficient to wear down Xiao Fangxu’s elite forces, who were already exhausted from the long battle.
Wu Ziyu’s fury had already been extinguished. He stood in silence for a moment before saying, “The Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang under Zhao Hui’s command is one of the Libei Armored Cavalry’s elite forces. The Liaoying Tribe that has launched a sudden assault here won’t be able to stop him. He can abandon the faraway route in the northeast and head over to the battle site from this place.”
“The Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang, as the cream of the crop in Libei, have exchanged the most blows with the Hanshe Tribe. Amu’er’s understanding of them won’t be inferior to your and my understanding of them. You know that Zhou Hui can forcibly break out of the encirclement and rush to the battlefield from here, so Amu’er should have also thought of it at the start of the surprise attack. Today was such a good opportunity for a sudden assault, and yet he only sent the Liaoying Tribe over. Guess what he’s thinking?”
Wu Ziyu’s expression gradually turned dark.
Of the thirty-six stratagems,1 there was a stratagem called “letting the adversaries off in order to snare them”. Wu Ziyu’s squad encountered a surprise attack today at the Bianbo Camp, and in the midst of the crisis, his guard rushed on to the Northeast Provisions Bridle Path with the supplies. By the time Zhao Hui received this batch of crucial supplies, it would have already been too late. Reinforcement from afar was the most inadvisable and unwise. So he could only turn his attention back to the seized Bianbo Camp and make the corresponding adjustments to his strategy based on the number of soldiers from the Liaoying Tribe as provided by the guard. Once he came, it was very likely that Amu’er would have already withdrawn the Liaoying Tribe and replaced them with the Biansha’s elite cavalry to lie in wait here. Zhao Hui would then be up against an all-out assault from Amu’er.
Win or lose, Zhou Hui would be held up at the Bianbo Camp, and Xiao Fangxu, over at the site of battle, would be wholly stranded without reinforcement. Amu’er simply understood the Libei Armored Cavalry all too well.
“Zhao Hui can’t come. We can’t win either. The army provisions on the battle site are rapidly depleting. His Lordship is still going to have to fight an arduous battle in a few days.” Wu Ziyu walked over to the shelf, pulled down the map, and spread it out forcefully on the ground. “Shasan Camp is close to Sha’er Camp. When Amu’er launches a sudden assault up north when the time comes, it’ll be His Lordship’s back that he’s attacking.”
Tantai Hu was done washing up and walked in barefooted with his robe hanging off him. When he saw them gathering around the map, he squatted at one side to look too.
“What are we to do?” Wu Ziyu lifted his eyes and looked at Xiao Chiye. “We’ll lose if we advance, and we’ll lose if we retreat. Any move we make will be within Amu’er expectation.”
Tantai Hu touched the scar – caused by a blade – on his face and said, “Not really. He doesn’t know about the Imperial Army. We are the troops he couldn’t have anticipated.” He pointed to Shasan Camp. “This place is close to Mount Luo in Zhongbo, where bandits abound. The Liaoying Tribe must have had the help of the bandits to be able to evade Libei Armored Cavalry’s eagle patrol and bring along heavy equipment – that is, the stone catapults – around to the south of Bianbo Camp to launch a sneak attack. I don’t know much about all these devious schemes, but there’s something the Vice… Young Master said that makes sense.”
Xiao Chiye raised his eyebrows slightly. “What did Lanzhou say?”
“Smart people don’t do redundant things.” Tantai Hu’s expression turned grave. “Why would Amu’er go to all the trouble of stopping Zhao Hui? If it has been going smoothly for him in his battle with His Lordship at the battle site, why would he need to split up his forces and send them here?”
Xiao Chiye bent over slightly and looked at the map. As he twirled his thumb ring, he said, “That’s right. Making such plans shows that Amu’er is having a hard time on the battlefield too. It’s already the seventh month now. If the war drags on beyond autumn without any progress, Amu’er will have to face the bitter coldness of winter. All the Biansha grain reserves this year have been delivered to the battlefield. The longer the war drags on, the more unfavorable it will be for Biansha.”
Wu Ziyu remembered something.
It just so happened Xiao Chiye spoke up. “After my eldest brother was injured, Amu’er changed the battle strategy he has been using these few years. When I was in Cizhou, I heard that the Biansha Cavalry had already fought their way to the Tudalong Banner. In the past, their cavalry always fled after a fight, yet it wasn’t the case this time. Not only did they not run, they even advanced in full force. Amu’er has already lost his patience back in the desert. He’s progressively encroaching upon Libei, trying to occupy our grasslands and camps. It can be seen just from this point alone that Bianbo Camp is vital. If we lose this place, Libei will have to take a big step back. Shasan Camp will soon fall, and our so-called line of defenses in the east will completely collapse. But if we can hold on to Bianbo Camp, we will be able to give Father some breathing space to recharge himself. With him at the site of battle, Amu’er will not be able to shift this boundary line even the slightest.”
At this point, Xiao Chiye pointed out Bianbo Camp’s location to Wu Ziyu.
“You just have to hang in there until the first snowfall of this year, and you’ll deal a heavy blow to Amu’er. No matter what, we cannot lose Bianbo Camp. Mark a north-south boundary line here. We can only pull forward; we must never retreat again.”
Wu Ziyu said, “Since Amu’er wants to trap Zhao Hui’s Three Great Training Divisions of Liuyang here, how can we stop him with the 25,000 men we have at present? Shasan Camp is a key strategic point. If Amu’er had the Hanshe Tribe stationed there to guard it, then all the more we will have no chance to launch a counterattack.”
Xiao Chiye retracted his arm and thought for a moment. “The Biansha Cavalry is already used to the passive rhythm of the Libei Armored Cavalry. Amu’er dared to place such a bet because he was sure that the troops in Bianbo Camp would not dare to head east and launch a sudden assault arbitrarily. Their surprise attack troops were caught off-guard. Going by the distance, they will retreat to Shasan Camp only tomorrow morning. If we set off before dawn, we will arrive at the border of Shasan Camp just at the time when they are resting.”
Wu Ziyu shifted the legs on which he was squatting and looked at the map without a word for a long time. It was only when his legs went numb that he hardened his heart and decided. “If you have made up your mind to go, we can let you use the remaining battle steeds in Bianbo Camp.”
“The Imperial Army isn’t a cavalry, and so has no need for battle steeds. Besides, the battle steeds of Libei are too heavy, and they make quite a commotion when they run. They aren’t suitable for launching a surprise attack.” Xiao Chiye swept his gaze around to look at Tantai Hu, Chen Yang, and Gu Jin. Finally, he said to Wu Ziyu, “Let the Imperial Army say hello to Amu’er this time.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Before dawn the next day, the Imperial Army set off.
Although Gu Jin was still injured, he still assumed the position of a scout. Tantai Hu followed Xiao Chiye, and only Chen Yang was left behind in the Bianbo Camp. Wu Ziyu did not understand, but seeing as Chen Yang had no complaints about it, he did not probe further.
Dew was still visible at this time. The Imperial Army had only been walking among the grassy fields for a short moment, and already their armors were wet with dew. They did not follow the horse track, but the path the Liaoying Tribe took when they retreated.
“This place isn’t that far away from Zhongbo’s borders. Master, why isn’t there a relay station arranged here?” Tantai Hu looked south and said, “Cross this grassland and run for a day and a night, and you’ll be at Mount Luo.”
“The defenses of the Libei Armored Cavalry are all set up with the Biansha Cavalry in mind.” Xiao Chiye looked for a moment with his blade at his side. “The bandits did not dare to go this way before. But times are different now.”
“Whoever throws in their lots with the Biansha baldies are fucking bastards.” Tantai Hu said hatefully as he plucked at the grass.
The speed at which the Imperial Army advanced was not slow, and it was already afternoon when they arrived within range of the Shasan Camp.
Gu Jin lay prone among the grass and remained still for a long time. Tantai Hu followed suit and waited for a moment, but he could see nothing of interest ahead, so he asked, “What do you see?”
Gu Jin reached out his hand to brush aside the grass and said, “Wu Ziyu is right. There is cavalry from the Hanshe Tribe in Shasan Camp; the horse dung is fresh. And they have set up patrols around the camp with far more vigilance than the Bianbo Camp.”
Then Gu Jin turned over and squinted up at the sky.
“No whistles, and no saker falcons. The Liaoying Tribe that carried out a sneak attack on Bianbo Camp yesterday was indeed just a front.”
“This isn’t a good place to fight a battle.” Tantai Hu said. “The camp site has an open view, and it’s all grassy fields. There will be nowhere for us to hide if we go any closer.”
“This is the Shasan Camp.” Gu Jin felt for the tobacco in his robe and stuffed it outright into his mouth to chew on. “Not only will we have no place to hide, but there are also iron spikes2 on the outskirts of the camp, and defensive barriers3 set up in the front and at the back. All four corners have a watchtower too.”
“How about going through the ditch?” Tantai Hu looked back and said softly to Xiao Chiye. “They still have to eat, drink, shit, and take a piss.”
Xiao Chiye did not answer, and Gu Jin looked a little embarrassed. He lowered his head and lay low among the grass, saying in an even softer voice, “There were indeed ditches that lead out in the past. Didn’t Master use this move to take down the Biansha soldiers during the battle at the eastern mountain ranges? The Hereditary Prince felt this to be a loophole and so sealed off the various camps’ ditches upon returning.”
Tantai Hu wordlessly shut his mouth and lay low too.
The advancing troops’ selection of a site to set up camp was very important, and the latrine was the most important of all. Generally, filthy ditches like this could not be close to the army provisions and the tents for dwelling. It had to be deep, or lead out. As a commonly used camp, a ditch that led out was naturally the most convenient for the Shasan Camp. But Xiao Chiye previously dug his way into the Biansha Camp with just a small number of cavalry and fought from within the Biansha Tribes until the Biansha Tribes were utterly routed. This left a deep impression on Xiao Jiming. In order to play it safe, the ditches of Libei’s military camps were reconstructed into deep ditches with wastes to be disposed of on a fixed schedule. Who would have known that such a change would instead go on to be a problem for Xiao Chiye a few years later?
How were they to fight now?
Xiao Chiye looked at the sky and said, “No worries… I have a way.”
- 三十六计 a Chinese essay used to illustrate a series of stratagems used in politics and war.
铁蒺藜 Specifically caltrops, a four-spiked iron ball or four joined spikes laid upon the ground as a device to lame cavalry horses, etc.
拒马 Specifically chevaux-de-frise. I have no idea what this term is in English, and it seems weird to have them suddenly spouting French lmfao. It’s a portable barrier of spikes, sword blades, etc, used to obstruct the passage of cavalry.