Qiang Jin Jiu – Chapter 197 : (Un)expected

Translated with: Jia<3


Fei Sheng could not figure out what Yin Chang was up to. The Cizhou garrison troops had arrived in Fanzhou for two days, yet no action had been taken. The few times Yin Chang went out had all been to take aimless strolls after his meals. Fei Sheng was burning with anxiety, but he was only an attendant officer tagging along and could not even be considered an army-inspecting censor.

Fei Sheng wanted to write to Shen Zechuan, but he was worried that Yin Chang might turn out to be really capable. If it so happened that the garrison troops were to return in triumph, then, before Shen Zechuan, he would become the real villain who made false accusations on the sly for his own selfish purposes. Even if he had been initially justified in doing so, he would still become the unreasonable one.  

On this day, Fei Sheng lay down to rest. He slept until approximately the hour of xu when he was suddenly awakened by his subordinate.

“Bad news,” the Imperial Bodyguard said. “That old crook is gone!” 

Fei Sheng swiftly sat up and picked up his boots. As he hopped and stomped his feet into them, he asked in disbelief, “Gone? He ran?”  

Fei Sheng swiped the tent flap open and stepped out for a look. The entire campground was still illuminated, but there were only a thousand or so men left. His heart started pounding hard. It’s over, he thought. If they lost the battle of Fanzhou, then his future was as good as finished too. But then, he thought, that can’t be right!

No matter how he looked at it, they would not lose the battle of Fanzhou. Win this battle and take down Fanzhou, and they would be rewarded. Yin Chang could even cement his position as the commander with this one battle; there was no reason for him to flee. Besides, half of Zhongbo was already surrounded by Shen Zechuan. Even if Yin Chang ran, he had nowhere to go. Not unless he switched camps and threw in his lot with King Yi.  

Fei Sheng looked up suddenly in Fanzhou’s direction. “That old crook better not switch allegiance right before the battle…” 

The Imperial Bodyguards on night patrol returned bearing their whips in hands and sounded the whistle before dismounting. “There are traces of troops on the move three li to the southeast!” 

Fei Sheng took a few steps forward and asked, “The garrison troops or the Fanzhou traitors?” 

“They are heading our way.” The Imperial Bodyguards hung up their whips and righted their blades. “In all probability, it’s a night attack.” 

Fei Sheng’s heart sank. From Qudu to Zhongbo, he had never once served as a general, and he was no expert in mobilizing troops to war. He turned around to survey the campground. “So the commander fled. What about the next-in-command, the Platoon Commander? Call him out to fight!”   

The Imperial Bodyguard following behind him answered, “He fled too!” 

Fei Sheng was really regretting it now. If he had known that Yin Chang would be so unreliable, he would have dragged Gu Jin over. At the very least, Gu Jin would be able to stand in for the missing commander. He calmed himself down and asked his subordinate, “How many men do we have left?” 

“One thousand.” The Imperial Bodyguard pressed against the hilt of his blade. “The old man even rounded it up to a round number.” 

Fei Sheng hissed through gritted teeth, “well, I thank his entire family for that!” 

Left without a choice, Fei Sheng could only brace himself and step into the role. He shouted for the soldiers to extinguish all the torches and prepare to evacuate. At the very least, they could not remain in the campgrounds as live targets for the enemy forces. Besides, they could still circumvent the enemies once they got to the snowfield. But they had only put out half the fire when he heard the sound of the enemies’ running footsteps in the wind. 

“Withdraw now.” Fei Sheng knew just from the sound alone that he could not win this fight. “Retreat!” 

The remaining soldiers buckled up and dragged their blades along to follow behind the Imperial Bodyguards. They ran with all their might, cutting a particularly sorry sight as they threw everything away while taking flight. Fei Sheng had a horse, but he dared not leave these 1,000 men behind and flee back to Cizhou by himself. The battle had not even been fought, and they had already lost the soldiers. Fei Sheng could already imagine Shen Zechuan’s wrath. 

Fei Sheng had not even run a few li when he heard the sound of troops surrounding them right ahead in the dark night. They had pitched camp here for several days running, and the Fanzhou soldiers, having long gotten a clear grasp on the routes, had surrounded the front and rear of the campground in preparation of rounding them all up with one fell swoop tonight.

Fei Sheng was caught in a dilemma, with no room to advance or retreat. This situation differed completely from the situation a few months ago in Dunzhou. He was exposed in this wilderness with nothing to provide him with cover. Perhaps the 1,000 soldiers he had on hand might be able to ward off small groups of surprise attacks, but they were undoubtedly too powerless to resist an onslaught of attack from a force that far exceeded their own numbers. 

The Fanzhou soldiers gathered together as they approached. These people were even more of a motley crew than the Cizhou garrison troops were; they had no armors or even standardized weapons. The circle of soldiers shrank as they closed in on them like an ant colony swarming towards them. Fei Sheng’s horse and the garrison troops pressed up against each other. Enemy troops that were more than double their numbers were everywhere around them. The wave of enemy forces pushed against the wall of men, crowding the garrison troops so much that it was hard for them to even bend over. 

The only way to get a slim chance of survival in such a situation was to do or die.

Gasping for his breath, Fei Sheng hesitated for merely a fraction of a second. He killed his horse with a slash, and as hot blood splattered, he raised his blade and shouted, “I am a trapped beast, just like all of you. If we cannot fight to the death and break out of this encirclement, then this can only be our burial grounds!” 

The soldiers were already terrified when they were surrounded, and when they saw Fei Sheng riding on his horse, they were afraid he would abandon the troops and flee. That consequently made them even more unmotivated to fight. All they wanted to do was to kneel and beg for mercy. But now that Fei Sheng had slashed his horse dead and expressed his determination to advance and retreat with them, their morale was instantly boosted. Fei Sheng knew very well the effect of taking the lead in battle, and in the middle of his speech, he had already charged up to cut down the enemy’s troops head-on as he led his men towards the northwest in a desperate fight to break through the encirclement. 

Right at this moment, a bellow suddenly burst out from the southeast, and a file of soldiers charged into the ranks of Fanzhou soldiers like a sharp blade stabbing into their bodies, tearing them apart with terror and sending sprays of blood splattering all over. In no time, eight columns of troops had already penetrated their way in. 

Yin Chang’s face was so flushed from drinking that it was hard to tell if he was drunk or freezing cold. He blew his nose, so happy that he leaped in joy and boomed in a loud and clear voice to Fei Sheng across hundreds of men. “Oh, you’re still alive!” 

Fei Sheng kicked out at the enemy’s chest without pulling his blade out. All the words he wanted to say condensed into one: “Fuck!”    

He had been used as bait by Yin Chang!

Given that a total of 8,000 men from the Cizhou Garrison Troops were mobilized, there was originally no need to design such a tactic to take down Fanzhou. But Yin Chang sensed something amiss after their arrival in Fanzhou. He had long heard that King Yi did not permit the commoners in Fanzhou to flee out of the territory, and he had installed troops at the borders to stop these people. But they did not encounter any obstructions when they crossed into the border; in fact, they had not even come across a single Fanzhou soldier. 

King Yi had already received the declaration of war. If he had the intent to surrender, he should have opened the gates a long time back to welcome them. But not only did he not open the gates, he even recalled the troops at the border. He was clearly concentrating his forces in preparation for a fight to the death with the Cizhou garrison troops. 

Yin Chang guessed that Fanzhou would ally with the Dengzhou soldiers in order to emerge victorious. It was only when they had the numbers to crush the Cizhou garrison troops they would dare to meet Cizhou’s attack in such a way. The old man was a crafty one. Knowing that he had not brought along enough men, he threw Fei Sheng out as bait for the Fanzhou soldiers to bite. He waited for the Fanzhou soldiers to assemble together in a group, then used the “dagger” formation1 to launch a surprise attack from the back to break them up before destroying them one by one. 

As Fei Sheng wiped away the blood, he saw those dagger squads2 cutting through the enemy forces like hot knives cutting through butter, so much that the Fanzhou soldiers were unable to converge together again.

The blades of Yin Chang’s squads were facing outward on all sides; it was a battle formation clearly drawn on the same one Lu Guangbai used to fight the Biansha Cavalry, although Yin Chang made some changes by lining these squads up in very narrow columns, turning them from Lu Guangbai’s square-shaped “war chariot” into a long-shaped “dagger”.

Such dagger squads were ruthless and swift when launching a surprise attack from the back. The moment they pierced into the enemy camp, they would be able to tear the other party apart from within. The Fanzhou soldiers, who did not even have armors, had no time at all to cover their asses. In the blink of an eye, they were all cut down into bloody pulps of flesh.

This old man really is something! 

Fei Sheng’s confidence soared upon seeing victory within their grasp. But before he could open his mouth, he took a hit from Yin Chang’s sweeping leg.3 Yin Chang might have been advanced in age, but his martial art moves with his lower limbs were the real deal, and it caused Fei Sheng to fall headfirst. Fei Sheng had only just landed on the ground when a blade above his head sliced through the air with a “swoosh”. 

The Fanzhou soldiers were now beating a retreat. Dragging his blade along, Yin Chang chased after them and hollered, “Where are you running off to, lads!”   

Since Fanzhou had amassed together its troops, then those who had turned up tonight were the main force in the territory. As long as they could defeat these people, there would be no more possibility of King Yi resisting. The morale of the Fanzhou troops was already crushed, while the morale of the Cizhou garrison troops was at an all-time high. This was the moment to fight and win a quick battle. Yin Chang would never let them return to the city. 

Fei Sheng climbed to his feet and gave chase. But who could have guessed that this old man would have such amazing footwork? He was astonishingly fast as he ran and barged his way through in the night. Fei Sheng could only just about barely keep up. They chased for a few li when Fei Sheng realized that the direction was wrong. He was about to call out to Yin Chang when he suddenly heard the sound of horses’ hooves. 

“Reinforcements!” Fei Sheng’s legs straightened as he came to a halt and tried to drag Yin Chang back. “Elder Yin, it’s the reinforcements from Fanzhou!” 

Fei Sheng was just the same as Gu Jin—he had a keen sense of hearing. As he had few opportunities to be the Attendant Officer tagging along with the army, he did not have Gu Jin’s ability to identify the type of soldiers from the sound alone. However, he had extraordinary observational skills, and he could tell that the sound of these horses’ hooves was slightly heavy; they did not seem to be ordinary cavalry. 

The night was starless, with continuous stretches of snow dunes in the wilderness. Fragments of snow slid along the mounds, rustling in the wind as the wind blew them to the feet of the Cizhou garrison troops. Yin Chang, ever the obstinate one charging at the fore, could already see the small number of cavalry. With his sense of smell wrecked from inhaling the fumes of one too many wines, he failed to catch a whiff of the smell in the air even with the wind blowing in his direction. 

Fine, delicate bits of snow pounced on Fei Sheng’s face. In that instant the snow melted, he caught the smell of gunpowder in the air. His hair promptly stood on end. He braked to a sudden stop, swung his arms apart, and said sharply to the Imperial Bodyguards beside him, “Firearms—!” 

Before Fei Sheng’s voice even fully left his mouth, flames burst out of the darkness like that of a meteor shower. Without even thinking, Fei Sheng sprang into the air like a tiger and pounced onto Yin Chang’s back from behind, taking the old man along with him as he tumbled into the snow. That resounding “BANG” slammed into his ears like a blunt instrument smashing onto his skull, the sound so explosive that Fei Sheng nearly lost his sense of hearing.  

What a miscalculation!

Fei Sheng’s back, which had been hit by shrapnel, was burning with searing pain. He propped himself up with an arm and shook his head hard. As he could not hear his own voice clearly, he could only shout with all his might at Yin Chang, “This stuff burns! Retreat, NOW!”  

Fei Sheng had seen firearms in the armory of the Eight Great Training Divisions before. This instrument could only be equipped by the Chunquan Battalion of the Eight Great Training Divisions; it was restricted by the imperial court, with the blueprint to forge it left under the charge of the Ministry of War. Xiao Chiye and Shen Zechuan both had designs on firearms before, but neither of them had managed to get their hands on the blueprint. 

No wonder this cavalry stood unmoving earlier—they were loading the firearms. Who knew how long the enemy had been observing them for the night? They were not here for the Cizhou garrison troops, but Yin Chang. As the saying goes, strike at the most vulnerable spot, much like hitting a snake seven inches below its head, and Yin Chang was the Achilles heel of the Cizhou garrison troops. 

Yin Chang had been blindsided by this bullet. The old man struggled in the snow, covering his ears as he shouted in alarm at Fei Sheng, “Why the hell is there thunder?!” 

Where in the world would Fei Sheng have the time to explain things to an old country bumpkin who had never seen the world? He got to his feet and dragged Yin Chang along as he ran back. Yin Chang shifted his palm away and cranked his head to take a look. Another explosion resounded from the cavalry behind them, and the barrage of fired projectiles scraped past Yin Chang’s buttocks, hurting Yin Chang so much that he yelled at the top of his lungs.  

Fei Sheng thought Yin Chang had been hit. In a moment of anxiety, he said, “Don’t you die now!” 

No matter what happened tonight, Fei Sheng had to keep this old man alive. He knew very well that Shen Zechuan was currently lacking generals, and Yin Chang would no doubt go on to be of great use in the future. The point was that if Yin Chang were to die here, then Fei Sheng, a stranger to warfare, would return in disgrace, and when that time came, it remained to be seen whether or not he could still retain his original post, let alone have a future to speak of. Shen Zechuan still had Qiao Tianya at his disposal; Fei Sheng was not his only option.   

Therefore, Yin Chang must not die!

Frightened, Yin Chang took to his heels with his hands covering his head. He did not even need Fei Sheng to pull him along as he left Fei Sheng trailing behind in his wake after a few steps, repeatedly muttering to himself, “Strike anyone but me. This old man has never done anything unconscionable. Strike anyone but…” 

Bullshit! 

Following close on Yin Chang’s heels, Fei Sheng felt pissed. With a sudden burst of strength, he cursed Yin Chang as he chased him, “You old crook, you are too black-hearted! Weren’t you the one who threw me in the camp as bait?”  

Yin Chang turned his neck around to refute, “warfare is all about deception, deception!”4

They dashed frantically through the wilderness without letting up. Fortunately, the enemy did not have the intent to pursue them, and they withdrew after chasing the Cizhou garrison troops away for half a li. After running for half a night and fighting with the Fanzhou troops for the other half, the Cizhou garrison troops were now utterly drained and exhausted. It was such a cold day, and yet they were all drenched in sweat and panting like an ox while propping themselves up.  

As Fei Sheng wiped his sweat and caught his breath, realization hit him. He turned around. Looking at the first glimmer of dawn on the horizon, he spat hard and said, “We’ve been tricked.”

◈     ◈     ◈

By the time the military reports made their way back to Cizhou, it was already the dead of night. Shen Zechuan had on in a loose-fitting robe as he finished looking over Fei Sheng’s report in the hall. The entire hall was utterly silent; no one dared to take a peep at the expression on the Prefectural Lord’s face.

Everyone had believed Fanzhou to be in the bag and had not expected to meet with a tough fight. The Cizhou garrison troops had prepared for half a year, and Shen Zechuan had previously invited Libei and the Imperial Army to train them, yet their first battle was so hopelessly botched. Anyone else would be infuriated.

It was so quiet in the study that one could hear a pin drop. Yao Wenyu covered his mouth and coughed for a long time. As he clenched his fist, he said, “Your Lordship, please be appeased for the time being. Firearms have always been prohibited by the court, so their appearance in Fanzhou is truly unexpected. Even though King Yi is in possession of such powerful weapons, his defeat is already cast in stone—he won’t be able to change the outcome .” 

Yu Xiaozai, who had just returned from Dunzhou, had not even warmed his chair yet. Afraid that Shen Zechuan would severely punish the garrison troops because of this, he braved the solemn atmosphere and spoke up. “Cool it, Your Lordship…” 

Oh no, he forgot to switch to bureaucratic speak!

Yu Xiaozai slapped his knees in chagrin, and the advisors around him promptly bowed their heads even lower. 

With this interruption from Yu Xiaozai, Shen Zechuan’s fury cooled. He covered the letter, and his expression warmed up again. Only then did the rest of them dare to breathe.  

“Yuanzhuo is right,” Kong Ling continued in a soft voice. “Even with firearms in his possession, King Yi can’t stir up any waves. Fanzhou is in short supply of grains. Even if he shuts the gates and stays inside, there is no way he can make it out alive.” 

As Yao Wenyu lowered his sleeves, he said, “But it’s rather strange… if King Yi already had firearms in hand, how could he have been forced into a corner to such an extent? Just by reselling them to the Mount Luo bandits, he would have been able to earn enough to cover the military salaries for recruiting new soldiers. Moreover, the confrontation this time doesn’t seem like King Yi’s usual style.” 

Zhou Gui recalled the words Yao Wenyu said a few days ago, and the color promptly drained from his face. “Could it be that King Yi has already been killed by the bandits in Fanzhou as Yuanzhuo had anticipated? This battle feels rather odd to me when I look at it too.” 

Zhou Gui knew Yin Chang well. His promotion of Yin Chang was not what Fei Sheng thought it was. Rather, it was because he felt that Yin Chang had the capability to fight wars. If King Yi also had such an ability, then Fanzhou should have launched an attack on Cizhou a long time ago. 

Kong Ling was also getting suspicious too. “As Fei Sheng said in his letter, it indeed doesn’t look like what King Yi would do.”    

Silence gradually returned to the study as everyone waited for Shen Zechuan to speak. Shen Zechuan raised his eyes to look at the group with an icy expression in his eyes and said, “Reply and tell Yin Chang that either the garrison troops will return in triumph seven days later, or he will come and see me with his own head in hand.” 

Shen Zechuan gave the garrison troops abundant provisions and even equipped them with superior gear. If the garrison troops could not even take down Fanzhou, then there was no need at all to further consider his grand, ambitious plans to reign supreme.

A mountain cannot accommodate two tigers.

After this spring, Zhongbo could only have one master. Regardless of whether King Yi was real or fake, Shen Zechuan was set on taking Fanzhou. 

Author’s Note:
The bronze firearm is more like a shotgun or scattergun. It has an advantage only in the face of the enemy. It won’t work from a distance away. For detail, please refer to chapter 37.
Thank you for reading.  

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Footnotes

  1. 尖刀阵型, dagger, point, or spearhead formation that concentrates manpower and firepower to pierce enemy lines and create an opening for its attacking forces.
  2. 尖刀队 dagger, point, or spearhead squad, a squad in the forefront of a battle that first invades enemy territory or pierces the enemy lines in a battle.
  3. 扫堂腿 a leg sweep, a martial art move where one typically sweeps out a leg in a circle.
  4. 兵者,诡道也, all warfare is based on deception, from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.