Their army at Yangguan was closer to Liangzhou than the troops stationed at Yu City. However, if they provided reinforcement to Liangzhou, the Northern Army would surely take the opportunity to attack Yangguan and break down the main gates of Zhong Yuan. Once broken they would have access to an unobstructed path to attack straight through Southern Kingdom. On the other hand if they didn’t provide reinforcements, Western Liang would surely overpower their troops and seize Liangzhou. War would be inevitable, and the ones to suffer from the ensuing chaos would surely be the people.
Dismissing his injury, Ji Feng Li summoned all the generals and high ranking officers to discuss a plan of action. Though Hua Zhu Yu was now just his guard, Ji Feng Li allowed her into the meeting with him.
Inside the tent, Ji Feng Li and Wang Yu sat at the head of the table presiding over the discussion.
“We must provide reinforcement, otherwise Western Liang will surely take Liangzhou!”
“But the number of troops we have is only comparable to the Northern Army. If we were to provide reinforcement to Liangzhou, our army here will immediately be at a disadvantage!”
“We can attack the Northern Army. Once we have defeated them we can then provide reinforcement to Liangzhou.”
“You sure are a talker! If it was that easy would we be sitting here arguing?!”
“It seems we won’t be able to hold onto both Liangzhou and Yangguan.”
The main problem wasn’t whether to provide reinforcement or not, but that there was not enough troops. In the end everyone agreed that reinforcement was needed, but the issue of where to get the troops was still up for debate.
Southern Army and Northern Army both had 200,000 troops while Western Liang had 100,000 troops.
If they wanted to defeat Western Liang they would need to send at least 100,000 troops as reinforcement to Liangzhou, leaving them with only 100,000 troops to defend against Xiao Yin at Yangguan. Their victory would be uncertain. On the other hand, not sending enough troops would put Liangzhou in a precarious situation. This was a difficult issue.
Despite the tense atmosphere, Ji Feng Li did not expression his opinion on the matter as he sat there with a calm expression, his chin propped on his hand.
The army would lose and the kingdom destroyed if even a single mistake was made. Hua Zhu Yu found it hard to understand how Ji Feng Li could remain so calm.
Could it be he already had a plan?
Hua Zhu Yu’s face darkened, feeling like something amiss.
When did Western Liang’s army grow to be 100,000?
Based on her experience dealing with Western Liang for so many years, Western Liang had suffered a staggering defeat to the Hua Army. Thinking back to last year’s battle, they had lost more than half of their troops. In such a short period of time, was it possible for them to build up their army so quickly? And even if they did, the majority would be new recruits who had no battle experience. Even if they had a large army, it would consist mostly of inexperienced youngsters that never killed before.
If that was the case, Western Liang would not pose as a big threat to them. Their army at Liangzhou was capable of fending Western Liang off. There was no need to provide reinforcement. Why was Western Liang so keen on displaying the fact that they had 100,000 troops ready to attack Liangzhou?
Could it be..?
Hua Zhu Yu suddenly came to a realization, startling herself.
On the battlefield, military tactics was the most crucial. Based on her experience, she believed the main goal of Northern Army was to split up Southern Army.
“You may all withdraw. Wang Yu can remain,” Ji Feng Li suddenly commanded.
Complying with orders, they all retreated including Hua Zhu Yu.
“Yuan Bao, come over here,” Ji Feng Li said as he glanced at Hua Zhu Yu.
Hua Zhu Yu halted her steps and returned to her position.
Seeing Ji Feng Li let a small guard remain, Wang Yu was slightly surprised. “General Wang, how many troops would you say is an appropriate number to provide as reinforcement to our western border?”
“Lord Chancellor, this is difficult to say for certain. I fear Liangzhou and Yangguan cannot both be kept. I feel it is better to transfer 80,000 troops to Liangzhou.That way both Liangzhou and Yangguan can both be kept temporarily. In the meantime, we should send a letter to His Majesty, appealing to him to dispatch troops stationed at Yu City to provide assistance,” Wang Yu said with conviction.
Ji Feng Li narrowed his eyes and said, “His Majesty won’t dispatch troops. The capital cannot be allowed to fall. Even if the troops were dispatched, it would take a month for them to reach the western border. We cannot pin our hopes on reinforcements from the capital.”
“Yuan Bao, what about you? How many troops should we provide as reinforcement?” Ji Feng Li questioned Hua Zhu Yu with a faint smile.
Hua Zhu Yu’s brows knitted as she contemplated for a moment before replying, “Since Lord Chancellor has asked, this subordinate will state his opinion. This subordinate thinks that 180,000 troops should be dispatched to Liangzhou.”
Wang Yu’s laughter erupted in the tent. “This little guard simply speaks before thinking. There is currently 20,000 troops stationed at Liangzhou. Dispatching 180,000 troops would mean there would be a total of 200,000 at Liangzhou. With 200,000 troops fighting against Western Liang’s army of 100,000, isn’t that a complete waste of resources? Meanwhile, Yangguan would be left with only 20,000 troops to defend against Northern Kingdom’s army of 200,000. That’s no different from opening our doors wide and welcoming them with open arms to attack us. Are you sure you’re not a person of Northern Kingdom?”
Facing Wang Yu’s ridicule, Hua Zhu Yu remained calm and merely smiled.
Instead of laughing Ji Feng Li had a slight smile on his lips as he stared hard at Hua Zhu Yu. “Yuan Bao, say, why should we dispatch 180,000 troops?”
Hua Zhu Yu thought Ji Feng Li would ridicule her as well, not expecting him to remain so calm and serious. She slowly explained, “The Northern Army is strong, skilled in fighting an all out battle. However, in regards to besieging a city, they fall short. Thus, they won’t be able to break our stronghold in a short period of time. Presently, the Northern Army clearly wants to take advantage of us when we send troops as reinforcement and fight a full out battle on the field. Imagine if we were to dispatch 100,000 troops and Xiao Yin were to dispatch his main forces to the mountain pass to Liangzhou and lie in ambush. At that time, our troops would have to fight the Northern Army head on. We cannot compare to their strength and speed. In addition, the troops would be exhausted from the journey. I dare ask General, if our troops were met with an ambush, what will be the results?”
Wang Yu’s face darkened. A moment later he replied, “The army would surely be annihilated!”
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Hua Zhu Yu calmly questioned further, “If the reinforcement army is annihilated, where would we get more troops for reinforcement?”
Wang Yu shook his head and said, “But if we dispatch 180,000 troops, what will we do if Northern Army suddenly decides to attack Yangguan?”
“General still doesn’t understand. The Northern Army doesn’t have any intentions of attacking Yangguan. The strength of Western Liang’s army can’t possible compete with ours. The target of the Northern Army is our Southern Army of 200,000 troops. Their goal is to weaken our forces,” Hua Zhu Yu said in a clear and slightly domineering voice.
Wang Yu contemplated a short moment before slapping the table and saying, “Didn’t expect a small guard to have such an understanding of strategy. This general is truly ashamed. Just now I insulted you. I ask that you not take offense.” Wang Yu was an excellent general and had instantly understood Hua Zhu Yu’s logic. He admired her intelligence.
Ji Feng Li’s face was relaxed as he sat there with a smile on his lips, as though he wouldn’t be affected even if Mt. Tai were to collapse.
“Lord Chancellor, this general shall go mobilize 180,000 troops,” he turned and said to Ji Feng Li. Wang Yu was technically the general in charge of the troops, however because he was stationed to defend the capital for so long he lacked experience leading a battle campaign.
“General Wang should not be anxious, we must transfer 180,000 troops, but not all at once. Otherwise we’ll be defeated if Northern Kingdom sends 200,000 troops to lie in ambush.” Hua Zhu Yu said with wrinkled brow.
The eyes Ji Feng Li fixed on Hua Zhu Yu flickered with praise, “Yuan Bao is right, but tell me if I were to ask you to lead 80,000 troops, would you be willing?”
“Me?” Hua Zhu Yu asked not understanding why he would give her command of so many troops. “Lord Chancellor truly knows how to jest, though Yuan Bao is dedicated to serving the country, Yuan Bao is merely a small soldier, how can I command an army?”
Ji Feng Li threw Wang Yu a glance. Understanding the motivation behind it, Wang Yu said, “All the generals started as small soldiers, rising through the ranks over time. How about this general give you command of a large battalion first? What do you say?”
According to established military order a battalion roughly consisted of 8 officers, each commanding 1,200 men. Add to that the support crew and the lieutenants and you had well over 10,000 people. Essentially she would be jumping from being a small soldier in charge of no one to lead commander in charge of an entire battalion.
“Yuan Bao, didn’t you want to make contributions to the country? Now that Southern Kingdom is in a bind, it is time for you to step up. Your talents should not be buried,” Ji Feng Li slowly said.
Hua Zhu Yu remained silent.
In the silence Wang Yu said, “Yuan Bao, listen to your orders. You are now the appointed commander of the Hu(tiger) battalion. You and 7 other battalions will ride out 50 miles into the night. Should you meet with Northern Army, you are to lead the troops as necessary. Do you understand?”
“Yuan Bao accepts the command!” What could she say to a command already given?
That following day, Hua Zhu Yu called a meeting of the 8 officers under her command to discuss the matter. A small soldier bypassed the normal order of promotion to become their commander? Who amongst them could accept such a thing? As a result none of them took her seriously.
She smiled and said, “This commander wants to exchange pointers with you military officers, what do you say?”
“Good, truly great timing, we also like to exchange pointers with Commander!” the 8 officers agreed.
The soldiers gathered around the open space near the small river bank to watch the duel between their newly appointed commander and military officers.
In the wan sunlight Hua Zhu Yu held her spear and looked at the 8 men through narrowed eyes. “Come at me all at once!”
The men had been arguing over who would go first when she interrupted them with her order. The same thought went through their minds: did she think she was stronger than all 8 of them combined? They glanced at each other and fiercely attacked her in unison coming at her from 8 different angles using 8 different weapons.
Hua Zhu Yu held her spear in her hand and calmly watched them approach. When they reached a certain distance she spun her body around in a circular motion with her spear angled outward. This created a circle of light filled with qi energy that forced the men to retreat. Several clangs resounded one after the other as all 8 men lost their weapons.
The sounds of screams quickly followed as Hua Zhu Yu struck each man in quick succession, leaving them sprawled in defeat at her feet. She looked at them with a smirk. “Anyone else still unconvinced?”
The men weren’t dense, they wouldn’t have risen through the ranks otherwise. She defeated them before they could even touch her. How could they dare to doubt her abilities? They stood and agreeably said, “We yield. Commander Bao is truly skilled.”
The sun had set tinting the entire sky a reddish color. Under this sun the Hu battalion soldiers solemnly knelt down, the weapons in their hands casting a bleak cold light.
Ji Feng Li rode to the front of this group and swept his eyes across the crowd before saying, “Men, I trust you have all heard. Western Liang is invading Liangzhou. Their force is 100,000 strong while we only have 20,000 – nowhere near enough to counter them. On top of that there is also Northern Army to defend against. Even a small careless mistake will allow the enemy entrance through our gates, allowing both into our kingdom, into our towns. Our towns where our fellow elderly countrymen live, where our wives and children are. Everything will be laid to waste under their iron hooves. Everyone massacred under their swords and spears. Are we to look on and allow them to destroy our homes and families?”
His voice was not exceedingly loud, but his passion was conveyed and reached everyone’s ears.
“No!” the 80,000 troops roared in unison.
“We are men how can we let such a calamity occur!”
“Today our mission is to provide reinforcements to Liangzhou. It will be a difficult task and we may encounter the enemy. Some of you may spill all your blood in these battles, however the heavens will testify we are not afraid! We are not afraid to spill every drop of blood in the defense of our country and loved ones! Those who dare assault my country shall face death. No matter how strong, they will be executed. Those that dare harm my family must also die!” Ji Feng Li lifted his spear to the sky.
The 80,000 soldiers raised their swords and shouted, “Those who dare assault my country shall face death. No matter how strong, they will be executed. Those that dare harm my family must also die!” With weapons raised, they took an oath with heaven as their witness.
Hua Zhu Yu was at the front of the battalion but even she couldn’t help but look back at the soldiers. Their eyes reflected their unswerving determination. The sight touched her heart and made her blood boil with fervor.
She was once a general so she knew how important a soldier’s emotional state of mind was and the impact it had on the battlefield.
This was the first time she felt any admiration for the figure sitting atop the horse.
After the oath was complete, the troops set out.
Hua Zhu Yu led the Hu Battalion and along with the 7 other battalions, they set off. Suddenly, the sound of horse hooves approached from her side. Ji Feng Li had ridden over and was blocking her way.
“Lord Chancellor, is there something else you wanted to instruct?” Hua Zhu Yu frowned when he stopped her horse.
Ji Feng Li leaned over and stroked his horse’s mane. He whispered a few words then dismounted. “Commander Bao, I will lend you my horse, but you must remember to return her whole and uninjured, else you will be held responsible.”
Hua Zhu Yu knew the value of a good horse on a battlefield, however why was he giving her his horse?
“What? Afraid my Ying Xing is too fierce for you to tame?” Ji Feng Li said with a smile on his lips.
Hua Zhu Yu replied with a faint smile. Her Zhui Dian was also famous for her fierceness but was ultimately tamed by her. Of course Hua Zhu Yu had no intentions of refusing. She had once rode Ying Xing and knew the horse was one of the best. It would surely be a big help to her on this journey. She was bound to face the brute strength of Northern Army. A tiny, careless mistake would be the death of her.
Hua Zhu Yu mounted Ying Xing, “Many thanks to Lord Chancellor.” She was a person who could distinguish good from bad and so recognized his good intentions for what they were.
Pulling back the reins, she set off with Ying Xing into the far distance.