Book 63: Chapter 7: The Decisive Battle in Front of the Disposition of Troops
Kang Qiaoli’s vanguard unit changed its formation, one divided into two, from the center point it changed into two wings.
The large unit of Golden Wolf Army, in a spirited-movement-like-deity high speed rushed forth from the spa.r.s.e forest area like a tidal wave, everyone was murderous-looking. It seems to be abrupt and in disorder without any pattern, but in fact, they have developed team spirit and tacit understanding to the transforming state of without-method-surpa.s.sing-with-method. With the two wings holding out the disposition of troops, they set up the battle array slightly behind, putting their natural color of unequalled mighty army division in full display.
Suddenly, a group of more than fifty warriors rushed forward, holding the shields on their left hands and the spears on the right, shouting and yelling battle challenge, but then swiftly retreating, followed by the second team rushing out and making all kinds of provocative actions, but not attacking for real, yet it was enough to pull tight the enemy’s nerves so that they did not dare to relax.
Li Shimin asked, “What am I missing?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “I forgot that under such circ.u.mstances, Xieli practically has no other choice. He could only attack with troops, regardless of how many troops lying in ambush we had. Because if they were blocked here, they would not be able to join forces with those attacking Jingyang, because in that case, the troops attacking Jingyang will be severely defeated due to lack of reinforcement and lack of food supplies.”
Li Shimin stared blankly for a moment, then he nodded and said, “That’s right! Much less Xieli has full of confidence in himself that he won’t believe that the Golden Wolf Army will be defeated in the plains battle. Ay! It’s not that I haven’t thought about this issue, but it only flashed and died down, I also think that with Shaoshuai’s prestige, we can temporarily press down and scare Xieli, and in fact we still have no choice.”
Kou Zhong raised his head to look back, after flying several large circles, the falcon flew back to the enemy line.
Li Shimin smiled and said, “Our achievement so far can be considered impressive, at least we can delay them for nearly a sichen.”
After the first unit of the Golden Wolf Army retreated, the other two units came out at the same time in military show of force and shouting match, indeed it could make people lose their courage before engaging in combat, no one knew when this kind of taking turn to challenge the opponent to fight would suddenly become real strike.
The sound of hoofbeats arose, Ba Fenghan urged his horse, rushing to Kou Zhong’s other side, he said, “Something’s wrong! Looking at the situation, Xieli is going to ignore the ambush and send his troops to attack!”
One after another Xu Ziling and Hou Xibai rushed to the top of the hill, they both had grave expressions.
This moment, the two units retreated, and suddenly there was a thunderous, shaking the heaven cheers, under the flying banner, Xieli, surrounded by Zhao Deyan, Tonyukuk, Xiang Yushan, and a group of tribal chiefs, along with several hundreds of personal guards escorting him, upright and unafraid – rode his horse in between the front disposition of troops, which split up to create a pa.s.sage lined by wall of men and horses, straight to the front of the formation.
From Kou Zhong and the others’ point of view, before their eyes were Tujue elite cavalry, extending into the infinite depths of the spa.r.s.e forest, everything clear and in good order, in neat disposition of troops, and tight formation.
Knitting his brows, Li Shimin said, “They have thirty-thousand men, enough power to attack three Wugong cities!”
Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “Do you see Bi Xuan?”
Ba Fenghan replied, “It’s impossible for him not to be in it, only we have not found his shadow yet!”
Hou Xibai said, “There is only one move left, we immediately retreat into the jungle to see if they really dare to attack!”
Ba Fenghan said, “And if they really dare to attack?”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “”We have no choice but to flee to Wugong City immediately, try to defend it to the death, and wait for reinforcements to come to lift the siege …”
Smiling ruefully, Li Shimin said, “That is an inferior plan! The other side’s reinforcements might arrive one after another, cutting off the traffic, both water and land routes to Wugong, and then as easy as blowing off dust, they would be able to defeat Ma Chang’s three-thousand men, before attacking Wugong and sending troops to invade Xianyang and Jingyang, while we are trapped firmly inside the city of Wugong, however, I cannot think of a better plan either.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “I still have a plan.”
Greatly delighted, Hou Xibai said, “Speak quickly, if you delay, I’m afraid it will be too late.”
Kou Zhong cast his gaze to watch the movements on Xieli’s side, he spoke calmly, “It’s Lao Ba going down the arena to challenge Bi Xuan!”
Shaking his head, Li Shimin said, “Xieli is not going to let Bi Xuan to take such an unnecessary risk, it’s not worthwhile to deliberately complicate the issue even more, because he has the confidence to break through our practically non-existent hidden troops!”
Xu Ziling said, “Kou Zhong’s words are not without any reason, because in Longquan, Bi Xuan once agreed in public to fight Fenghan. If Bi Xuan shrink his head [like a turtle] and does not come out, it will affect the Tujue side’s prestige! The problem is that I don’t think Fenghan should be allowed to take this risk.”
Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, “What if I take this risk? Xieli definitely will not let Lao Bi go out to fight Fenghan, but if he can kill me on the spot, it will be akin to he wins this battle, so much so that he is accomplishing the purpose of the entire invasion operation!”
Knitting his brows, Ba Fenghan said, “If the one challenging him is you instead of me, won’t you be afraid that the other side will get suspicious?”
Kou Zhong said, “I don’t have time to explain, Lao Ba quickly challenge Lao Bi!”
Ba Fenghan shouted loudly in Tujue language, “Bi Xuan … you dare to fight to the death with me, Ba Fenghan, to continue the unfinished karma outside the City of Longquan?”
The Tujue warriors suddenly fell silent, waiting for Xieli to speak.
Xieli, who was giving orders to his various generals, looked at them. Throwing his head back, he roared in laughter and shouted loudly back, “Ba Fenghan, if you want to follow the path to your own doom, no one is going to stop you, if you can survive being trampled by our Golden Wolf Army, Shengzhe [the holy one] will naturally make his move to send you on your way!”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Such a beautiful speech. Turns out little kid Xieli is afraid that Shengzhe would be slaughter by my brother, hence he does not dare to let Shengzhe go out to fight. Ha! Really funny!”
Xieli was suddenly very angry, all the Tujue warriors were even more furious, they shouted and cursed together. Tujue people attached utmost importance to the warrior honor, how could they endure the person they revered the most to be publicly humiliated like this?
Bi Xuan’s voice came out from inside the opposite disposition of troops, each word shook the eardrums, but the tone of his voice remained calm; he said, “Bi Xuan wishes to decide life and death with Shaoshuai first, Great Khan, please bestow permission!”
The crowd of Tujue warriors burst into thunderous cheers, they were greatly excited because Bi Xuan turned the table by challenging Kou Zhong. It should be noted that Kou Zhong once rendered big blow to the Golden Wolf Army at the Rushing Wolf Plain, bringing extraordinary shame and humiliation to the entire Golden Wolf army. If Bi Xuan could defeat Kou Zhong, naturally it would be to the satisfaction of everyone.
Xieli laughed heartily, acting as if Kou Zhong could only blame himself for this, acting very pleased with himself without any care to anybody else; he shouted, “Kou Zhong, did you hear that? Let us see if you have the guts, don’t tell me you don’t dare to meet the enemy head-on!”
It was only this moment that Li Shimin and the others understood Kou Zhong’s brilliant scheme of spurring the opponent into action by making negative remarks, yet they were also very worried.
“Do you have the confidence?” Hou Xibai asked.
Kou Zhong responded with a smile full of confidence, he shouted loudly, “Pei! It’s not the first time I fight hand to hand with Bi Xuan, what guts do you need?”
Finished speaking, he slapped the horse to gallop down the hill and shouted loudly, “Bi Xuan, where are you?”
Li Shimin, Ba Fenghan, Hou Xibai, and Xu Ziling, four men, unable to take their eyes off, they look at where Xieli and his subordinates, the great general and tribal chiefs were, waiting for Bi Xuan to appear.
The Tujue warriors at the front of the formation kept adding new torches that they held high in their hands. The stars and moon in the sky were robbed of their radiance by the blood-red firelight. Suddenly, from Xieli down, everybody let out ‘Ouwo’ shout like wolf howl. From the front of the formation extending far away to the rear, for a period of time, the entire forest and plain were filled with wolves’ howl stuffing the sky and filling the earth, scaring the warhorses that they skipped over. Those who heard it had their heart chilled.
It was in this strange, indescribable atmosphere that Bi Xuan, black robe draped over his body, holding a lance in his hand, urged his horse to gallop slowly out from the split open disposition of troops to meet Kou Zhong, standing proudly outside the formation.
Ba Fenghan’s pair of eyes narrowed, it was focused on Bi Xuan. He sneered and said, “The lance in Bi Xuan’s hand weighs ninety-nine catties. The name of the lance is ‘Agushihuaya’, and old Tujue expression, which means the wolf in moonlit night. When he was young, he relied on it to charge and break through enemy lines, crisscrossing the gra.s.sland without any rival, since his debut he had been acclaimed as ‘the adversary whom no one can knock down from horseback’. After he turned sixty years old, he gave up the lance and no longer used it; who would have thought that today, not only he dons armor and goes into battle, he is even using this wolf lance again.”
Kou Zhong reined his horse to halt, looking at Bi Xuan who was continuously coming near, he laughed aloud and said, “Turns out the skill that Shengzhe kept at the bottom of your chest is unexpectedly a heavy steel lance; forgive me for failing to show respect!”
Bi Xuan remained unmoved, his demeanor was calm and cool-headed, so much so that he appeared without any emotions of joy, resentment, delight, greed, anger, hatred, and fear that human beings should have, his pair of eyes grim, just like a vicious wolf staring fixedly at its prey. Suddenly the warhorse reared and stood on its hind legs. The moon wolf spear pointed diagonally at the night sky, the wolf’s howl immediately turned into thunderous cheers and shouts, enhancing this grandmaster’s, who considered himself unexcelled in the world – spirit!
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Kou Zhong was like an immortal descending to the earth, he controlled his mount that man and the horse landed behind Bi Xuan. Under the million pairs of wide-opened eyes, the warhorse rushed forward more than ten steps, and then, without making any noise, it stumbled weakly forward, its head touched the ground first, followed by the horse’s body sliding on the gra.s.s, it kept rushing for nearly a zhang before it finally stopped altogether.
Bi Xuan leaped off the slumping horseback, the man followed the lance, the tip of the lance was aimed at Kou Zhong’s back. The Tujue side exploded into cheers again, but it was far less intense and full of confidence than before, because on the surface, Kou Zhong was at least able to share the limelight Bi Xuan.
Xu Ziling knew that both men were injured at the same time, but he was greatly rea.s.sured instead, because the Long-Life Qi had given Kou Zhong more capital to resist injuries compared to Bi Xuan, not to mention that Kou Zhong was at least sixty years younger than Bi Xuan. [Note: sixty years (一甲子 – yi jia zi) refer to one cycle of 12 zodiac and 5 elements.]
Ba Fenghan was able to see that Bi Xuan’s lance momentum was somewhat inferior to before, he said, “If Bi Xuan is defeated and dies, what will be the consequences?”
He knew the answer better than anyone, the reason he said that was to remind Li Shimin.
Before Li Shimin could answer, Kou Zhong’s, who had not yet touched the ground – saber struck backhandedly, heavily hacking Bi Xuan’s spearhead. And then he seized the opportunity to somersault several times in a row and landed to the side close to the slope of the hill.
At first glance, both sides seem to be making moves at will, far less swift and fierce, intense and beyond everybody’s expectation than confrontation on the horseback just now, but actually it was the result of thousand-hammer and hundred-refinement martial art cultivation, which had reached the transformation state between with and without intention.
Bi Xuan’s lance strikes repeatedly disappeared and attacking, like flowing water and floating clouds, hiding ingenuity within clumsiness, countless changes were completely hidden within the seemingly straightforward and honest lance strike, not much inferior to the Heavenly Saber. But Kou Zhong counterattacked with a backhanded saber strike, it was even more remarkable. Purely by virtue of the man and heaven merging into one, surpa.s.sing ordinary person’s agility and reaction, he broke Bi Xuan’s lance momentum changes in one fell swoop, and found Bi Xuan’s escaping one. However, if it weren’t for previously Bi Xuan’s ‘horsemanship’ was inferior, which landed him in the disadvantageous position, he would not have been able to achieve such good results. From this, it could be seen that when martial art masters fought, it was a matter of finding flaws and pressing against gaps, fighting for a cun difference.
Bi Xuan spun around like a whirlwind, his long robe rose up, unexpectedly he simply tossed away the Moon Wolf Lance, laughed cheerfully, and said, “The past is indeed an unnecessary burden. I never have thought that after the small farewell in Chang’an, Shaoshuai’s saber technique has made another progress, which made me pleasantly surprised!”
On the top of the hill, Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Bi Xuan finally understands his mistake, but Kou Zhong’s advantage has been established, even if Bi Xuan still has the power to reverse the rotation of the sky, it will be difficult to distinguish between victory and defeat.”
Ba Fenghan nodded and said, “Because he still can’t let go of the past glory and war!”
It was only this time that Li Shimin answered Ba Fenghan’s previous question, “If Bi Xuan dies in battle, the 30,000 Golden Wolf Army before our eyes will lose their reason, everyone will want to wash away the humiliation brought about by Bi Xuan being killed – like mad. They would want to kill as many Han people as they can, to ma.s.sacre and wash Wugong with blood.”
Aghast, Hou Xibai said, “What should we do then? Other than the empty forest strategy, we have an empty city strategy. Wugong’s current city defense is less than five hundred men, practically it is unable to withstand a single blow!”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Xibai, don’t worry, Kou Zhong knows this fact better than we do!”
Kou Zhong stood with the saber in his arms, he spoke respectfully to Bi Xuan, standing three zhang away, “This kid Kou Zhong was lucky to take chances and succeeded, making use of the warhorse’s nature to save his little life, plus Shengzhe was starting off leniently! I am asking Shengzhe to allow me, Kou Zhong, to take back the delirious utterance that was blurted out just now!”
Bi Xuan knew his own condition, the internal injury he received was more serious than Kou Zhong, yet Kou Zhong modestly admitted defeat and publicly declared it in Tujue language, it was precisely to give him a fair chance to step down the stage. No matter how much hatred he had for the Han people. But because of his outstanding status within the Tujue, if he pressed on and incurred his own defeat, he had no choice but to think thrice about the consequences, also, he could not help having good impression toward Kou Zhong.
He smiled and said, “Shaoshuai need not modestly decline. Martial art masters vying against one another, it is to seek after victory, by fair means or foul. Between you and I, although victory or defeat has not been decided, if we continue to fight, it will become a mere act of courage. Unfortunately, this battle is related to the rise and fall of our Tujue, not something that Bi Xuan could settle with his words. Everything will be up to the Great Khan to decide!”
Finished speaking, he laughed aloud, returned to the formation, and disappeared behind the disposition of troops.
Sitting high on the horseback, the fierce light in Xieli’s pair of eyes flaring greatly, he ferociously stared at Kou Zhong. No one made the least bit of a noise, time seemed to stop suddenly.
Kou Zhong returned Xieli’s penetrating gaze, he had a faint feeling that Xieli’s hatred against him was greatly reduced. Because he was willing to let Bi Xuan save his face and step down the stage, but of course this did not mean that Xieli had the intention to pull his troops back. Just as Bi Xuan said, it was related to the rise and fall of their nation, people and tribes, plus the entire invasion, military operation this time was led and spurred on by Xieli. Like an arrow leaving the bow, there was no possibility to take it back.
Li Shimin and the others held their breaths and calmed their qi. Other than waiting for Xieli’s reaction, there was no other way. Were it not for the heavy spring fog, they could release fire to burn the forest, to temporarily obstruct the enemy troops.
Ba Fenghan looked into the distance at the enemy ranks, he spoke heavily, “I dare to bet my head that Xieli’s will immediately issue the order to attack.”
Suddenly Hou Xibai’s entire body shook. Stunned, the other three men looked at him. Hou Xibai reached into his bosom and said, “I have an idea.”
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