At the third quarter of the hour of you,1 the sun made its descent in the west.
At this time, Huhelu2 was having his meal. He was the Biansha commanding general who launched a surprise attack at the southeastern camp of Libei. He was born in the Changjiu Tribe, and at almost forty years of age, he was in the prime of his life. After Amu’er took command of the four tribes, Huhelu not only became Amu’er’s adopted son, but also a capable general under Amu’er’s command. Coincidentally, he was also the one who led the squad Xiao Chiye launched a sudden assault on nine years ago at the eastern mountain ranges.
Huhelu was an irascible and narrow-minded man, but he was also quite resourceful and knew when to advance and retreat in a war. Guo Weili had previously suffered in his hands. Both men had hurled insults and spat spittle at the other on the battlefield more than once. The reason Amu’er had transferred Huhelu to the southeast was because the Tudalong Banner had already been captured, and also because Huhelu was a fearsome one when it came to military field operations. He once had Guo Weili surrounded in the swamp for a day and a night, routing Guo Weili’s main forces and sending the morale of the Changzhu Camp plunging.
“The Hero wants me to treat the Libei military craftsmen well, but these people won’t yield at all. It’s a waste of food to keep feeding them.” Huhelu stripped the mutton flesh clean from its bone and said to his vice general in the language of the desert. “I’m thinking of transporting away all the equipment and food here and slaughtering off this batch of military craftsmen. The Changjiu Tribe still has some remaining troops in the east that can temporarily hold the supplies for the Hero.”
“Before you left, the Hero specifically instructed you not to hurt the military craftsmen.” The vice-general, Bayin, was a man with a dark complexion. He was no longer young, but as he was a follower of Huhelu, he never had the chance to be promoted. He faced Huhelu and tried to persuade him, “The Hero has high regards for this batch of military craftsmen. Don’t infuriate him.”
Huhelu threw the dagger in his hands onto the tray and grabbed a handkerchief to wipe his hands. He got up and looked out through the gap of the tent flap that had been hung up.
“But they infuriate me.” Huhelu bent over slightly and looked askance at the bound military craftsmen detained outside in the open field. “You understand the language of Dazhou too. They called me a butcher of the eastern mountain ranges, and they even want to screw my mother.”
Bayin said, “They have been exposed to the sun for four days without food and water. Even the saker falcons of the Liaoying Tribe have to consume meat at this point in time in order to survive. It is said in Dazhou’s Art of War that if you want to make them submit, you should not only make them feel fear, but also gratitude. You have already made them afraid, so you can give them water and food next, untie them, and show them concern with a pleasant countenance. Then they will be grateful to you and to the Hero too.”
Huhelu stroked his short stubble and did as advised. But they overturned the water he sent them, and the curses continued until the hour of hai.3 Huhelu could not sleep well. He decided to abandon the Dazhou way and use his own method, so he ordered his men to skin the military craftsmen who had made noises and had them hung up on the pole rack before the open space.
“Xiao Fangxu doesn’t have enough to eat at the site of battle.” Standing in the open space, Huhelu gestured at his belly with his hands and said in the language of Dazhou, “How can he fight a war on an empty stomach? You people are so fat. It’s a win-win situation if I have your meat delivered to him after air-drying them.”
Huhelu whipped all those people to teach them a lesson. Military craftsmen who could not fight war were worthless in his eyes. He even felt that it was a kind of a burden to be retaining these military craftsmen. Only by killing them as soon as possible would they be done with the matter once and for all. He hung up the head of the commanding general of the Shasan Camp on the watchtower and slaughtered all the captured battle steeds. If not for his fear of Amu’er, he would not have remained in the Shasan Camp to await orders. He had already defeated the Shasan Camp; he wanted to charge forward and be the first among the Twelve Tribes of Biansha to breach the Northeast Provisions Bridle Path.
Silence reigned supreme all around at the third quarter of the hour of chou.4
The Liaoying Tribe did not succeed in their sneak attack of the Bianbo Camp yesterday, which sent Huhelu flying into a rage. As punishment, the squad from the Liaoying Tribe was deprived of food and sleep; they even had to take the night watch. The soldier standing on the watchtower was already so exhausted and sleepy that his eyes glazed over.
The night sky was presently quiet and still, with only a gentle breeze blowing in the air. The soldier on the watchtower rubbed his eyes. Under the faint light of the torches, he saw the grass a distance away from the camp stir in the wind. The walls of the Shasan Camp were high and strong. Limited by the location of the watchtower, the soldier could not see the movements at the foot of the city walls. As the soldier yawned, he heard rustling.
He initially thought that it was the rustle of the grass amidst the wind, but this sound soon intensified into what sounded like tidal waves right in his ears.
The soldier’s ears twitched, and he leaned over the railings of the watchtower to look out beyond the camp. It was too dark. All of a sudden, a row of arms reached out from the battlement, followed right after by a row of men flipping up in unison. Both sides looked at each other, equally stunned.
The soldier from the Liaoying Tribe reacted swiftly. He promptly let loose a long whistle even while they were trading wide-eyed stares. The sound resonated through Shasan Camp, and Huhelu, who had only just fallen asleep, immediately got up and put on his boots quickly.
Huhelu lifted the tent flap and was about to mount his horse when Bayin stopped him. “We still don’t know the details of the enemy forces. I fear we will fall into an ambush if we rush out after them this rashly.”
Huhelu hesitated for an instant, but in this instant, a rain of arrows burst forth from the top of the fortress walls. Enraged, he shoved Bayin aside and said, “Those from the Bianbo Camp are all wimps, and there is no elite squad from the Libei Armored Cavalry stationed here. They just want to launch a sneak attack under cover of the night and throw my deployment into disorder. Get on your horse. The battle steeds of Libei can’t outrun us!”
“The Hero’s command isn’t here yet!” Bayin tugged at Huhelu’s reins and said quickly, “This is too strange! It’s true that Bianbo Camp has no more troops, but since they dare to take the initiative to launch an attack, then they must have come prepared! Huhelu, this is a trap! We should remain here at Shasan Camp. Don’t go out. They can’t breach this fortress!”
Huhelu spurred his horse on, causing Bayin to stagger a few steps. He pointed his horsewhip fiercely at Bayin. “You’ve gone silly from reading their books! To hell with your defense. We are the heroic fighters who pursue our enemies on the prairies. If we remain here, we will be defeated!”
There were merely five hundred men in the squad that had scaled the walls, but they occupied the great bows on the battlements, thereby preventing the Biansha soldiers who were responding to the attack from climbing up. The sharp-eyed Huhelu had already seen the ropes on the battlements and the unfamiliar soldiers, who were still continuously climbing into the fort one after another.
“That’s not the Libei Armored Cavalry.” Bayin flipped atop his horse behind Huhelu and chased after him. “They’re not the Libei Armored Cavalry!”
But Huhelu did not care who the other party was. He had fought Guo Weili, one of Libei Armored Cavalry’s elite forces, at the boundary line of the Tudalong Banner, and then he had moved southeast and defeated the Shasan Camp. He was a mighty general blessed by the gods of Gedale. He was on track to become an invincible legend on the battlefield. He had the power to fight, even if he were to come face-to-face with Zhao Hui’s main forces.
The heavy, overhanging gate of the camp opened with a loud rumble. Huhelu led his elite troops out on their horses, but what met Huhelu was not the gentle night breeze, but flames ignited by a lit arrow.
The horse track outside the camp had been padded with hay. The fire burned, but did not blaze. Billows of thick smoke that followed right after completely blocked off the horse track Huhelu was advancing on. Huhelu choked, unable to urge on his horse. The thick smoke threw the battle formation of the Biansha Cavalry into disarray. There was no way to see the path ahead in the dark of the night. Worried that there was an ambush ahead, Huhelu turned his horse and led his cavalry around the track towards the grassy fields.
Within a few moments of riding, the hooves of their horses suddenly sank. The horses of the Gouma Tribe were fast. The cavalry in front stumbled and tumbled, and the cavalry at the back, unable to rein in their horses in time, crashed into those before them and went down together with them.
Huhelu rolled into the grass and saw the newly dug pits in the ground along with the iron spikes. He was familiar with these spikes—these were all traps the Shasan Camp initially put up around the camp, but he never expected someone to move them right under his feet without so much a noise.
“Retreat!” Bayin followed in pursuit behind them. “It’s an ambush!”
Huhelu climbed to his feet and suddenly heard a loud bellow. Tantai Hu, who had been lying in ambush among the grass for many hours, drew his blade and charged. More than a thousand Imperial Army men crawled out from the billowing grass and engaged the Biansha Cavalry, who had fallen to the ground, in a battle.
Tantai Hu had been wanting to fight with the Biansha Cavalry all his life. He did not recognize Huhelu, but he recognized these horses. The tragic massacre of the cities after the defeat of Zhongbo remained fresh and vivid in his mind as blade collided against blade. Tantai Hu, as his name implied, bellowed and moved swiftly like a ferocious tiger, his strike so powerful as he faced up against Huhelu that Huhelu was repeatedly forced back into a retreat.
The Biansha Cavalry was too used to fighting against the Libei Armored Cavalry, and the Imperial Army’s advantages over them soon became apparent. The Imperial Army completely departed from the ways of the Libei Armored Cavalry, wielding their blades with even more deviousness than anyone else among these pitch-dark clusters of grass. Huhelu’s elite troops, having lost their horses and faced with even shorter blades than the ones the Libei Armored Cavalry used, were unable to meet the attacks as they usually would. Those terrifying heaviness of Libei was gone. On the ground, the Imperial Army’s blades moved just as fast as the Biansha Cavalry’s machetes.
But Huhelu soon realized that this squad was pretty much small in numbers; they could not even encircle around him. Although Tantai Hu was fearsome in his strikes, he was merely fueled by righteous ardor. These people had no reinforcements to speak of at all in these vast plains. Their so-called ambush was merely those horse traps they had dug.
Rage overcame Huhelu. He slashed down a man and pressed forward towards Tantai Hu, bellowing, “So it’s just a few rats.”
Tantai Hu was injured. He kicked Huhelu away, wiped away the blood and sweat, and continued to attack for all he’s worth. The more Tantai Hu fought, the more Huhelu was convinced that the other side had no reinforcements; otherwise, the reinforcements would have long come to help after all this time.
Both sides fought viciously for nearly an hour. Eventually, Tantai Hu withdrew in disarray. They had no horses and could only beat a hasty retreat among the grass.
Huhelu’s bloodlust was already at an all-time high by this time, so how would he be willing to let Tantai Hu go? He immediately regrouped the battle steeds and led his men in pursuit of the latter. He brandished his machete, his curses sounding vague in the night wind. This provocation by the Imperial Army had enraged him so much that he was determined to kill them and sacrifice them to his blade.
Holding on to his injured arm, Tantai Hu dashed wildly without even looking back. He was panting heavily, and he nearly tripped on several occasions. Huhelu was close on his heels behind him. Tantai Hu could not run faster than the horses, and it did not take long for the Biansha Cavalry to catch up right behind him.
A sweat-drenched Tantai Hu covered his nearly sliced buttocks and shouted at the open fields before him, “Fuck your ancestors!”
Battle drums suddenly sounded on the horizon, the sound of it so thunderous and deafening that it made all their ears ache. Sensing something amiss from the change in situation, Huhelu promptly reined in his horse and surveyed his surroundings with his cavalry. Dense clusters of men stood up among the grass all around, wearing grass crowns as they remained concealed under cover of darkness. For a moment, Huhelu could not get a clear count of them.
Huhelu’s horse restlessly stomped its hooves. He looked ahead as the torches were lit in successive order, stretching like a long dragon from where Tantai Hu had run into the far distance. The concentrated sound of drumming sent the alarm bells in Huhelu’s mind ringing as he sensed imminent danger. He immediately concluded that he had played into the other party’s hands—the main forces of Libei were here, and their numbers far surpassed the Biansha Cavalry’s.
“Retreat.” Huhelu commanded sharply as he yanked his horse into turning around. “Retreat!”
Huhelu’s horse broke into a run. He heard the sound of running horses flanking him. Lang Tao Xue Jin took the lead and charged to the head of the crowd. To Huhelu’s surprise, it caught up with him.
Huhelu turned his head aside and promptly felt terror-stricken. He almost thought it was Xiao Fangxu, but Xiao Chiye was even taller than Xiao Fangxu. As they galloped in the dimness of the night, Huhelu got a clear look of the pair of eyes that was completely different from Xiao Fangxu’s—a pair of eyes brimming with greed so insatiable that it shook him to the core.
Huhelu felt a chill on his nape. He suddenly had the impression that there was no running away under that gaze. Sharp fangs were pressing in, close at hand. To break free of this oppressive pressure, he lashed out at his horse hard. Huhelu remembered it now. Nine years ago, at the eastern mountain ranges, this wolf pup had bitten off a chunk of his meat. His troops, with exponentially more men, had suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of a youth covered in filth.
The horse galloped wildly in pain, breaking up the incohesive formation of the cavalry.
Huhelu could already see the Shasan Camp. He wanted to call out to Bayin for reinforcement, but he had only just opened his mouth when the sky spun before him as his head rolled off into the grass.
Xiao Chiye had already charged his way into the Biansha Cavalry’s formation. Langli Blade flung off droplets of blood as he slashed. Spatters of the warm, spurting blood stained his cheeks. At the same time he reined his horse in, he wiped the blood off with the thumb that had the thumb ring on.
Huhelu’s horse was still galloping when the headless body jolting on its back slid off and tumbled to the ground before the camp, a pool of blood spreading beneath it.
- 酉时 5-7 pm, based on the system of two-hour subdivisions used in former times.
- As usual, using pinyin for foreign names in this novel for the time being due to unfamiliarity with the language involved and to avoid mistranslations with the actual names in its original language. (Basically, Lianyin sucks at names). If we do get official subtitles someday, I will replace them in the translation (the same goes for titles). Until then, please bear with me. _(:3」∠)_
- 酉时 9-11 pm, based on the system of two-hour subdivisions used in former times.
- 丑时 1-3 am, based on the system of two-hour subdivisions used in former times.