It was nearing the end of autumn with the night wind carrying the slight chill of winter, blowing against their faces like the biting sharpness of a sword upon their skin. In the past, Hua Zhu Yu always wore a silver mask so even though she had been on the battlefield for many years, her face was still smooth and delicate. If she hadn't disguised herself as a eunuch, very few would believe that she was male. Now it was different though. Riding these past few days, she could feel her skin darkening due to the glaring rays of sunlight and the sand and dust blown about by the northern winds. Moreover, she had disguised as a man for many years, so she was a natural, giving off the appearance of a standard man.
At night, the northern sky was calm as water. The moonlight illuminated the troops as they continued on, riding forward in solemn unison. In the beating wind, the 8 flags fluttered fervently. The troops only brought along army provisions that would last them 4 days. They moved at a steady pace throughout the night in order to maintain their strength and vigilance against possible attacks.
Hua Zhu Yu pulled the reins riding in front of the Hu battalion. Beside her was the flag-bearer. The flag of the Hu battalion whipped about in the wind, bringing a tremor to her heart.
She never thought she'd go into battle wearing armor again. Her father had lived his whole life on the battlefield only to suffer from false accusations and be executed for treason. The men of her Orphan Army were expelled from service and the troop disbanded despite their contributions.
After all that happened, she decided to never give her life for Southern Kingdom again, however she couldn't turn a blind eye to the current situation and allow Northern Kingdom to invade. She didn't want the people massacred and humiliated. As a general, she had always lived by the belief: protect the people, protect the country. Although her family was gone there were countless other families to protect. The country was more than just the royal family.
She could still differentiate these 2 matters.
The troops rode for 50 miles before setting up camp and resting the next morning. Hua Zhu Yu suggested marching at night and resting in the day in order to defend against possible nightly attacks by the Northern Army. It was like this that they managed to travel more than 200 miles west.
The night was dark with only a faint light from the new moon.
"Reporting to Commander Bao, ahead 10 miles is a ravine." The scout of the Hu battalion reported.
Hua Zhu Yu stopped her horse and furrowing her brows, asked, "Ravine?""
"Yes! It is pitch dark inside and I dare not enter."
"Can we reach Western Liang without entering the ravine?" Hua Zhu Yu asked.
"Yes but it is a longer route. Crossing the ravine is the shortest path," the scout said in a low voice.
Hua Zhu Yu silently contemplated. If the Southern Army was in a rush, traveling through the ravine would be the best course of action. Perhaps the Northern Army already considered it as a possible place for ambush though.
Hua Zhu Yu ordered her Hu battalion to stop and rest. The other 7 battalions also stopped and the 8 commanders gathered to discuss what to do next.
This was the first time the 8 commanders gathered. Tang Yu and Nangong Yue were also commanders, promoted from military officers.
"Up front is a ravine, I feel uneasy. Who knows if the Northern Army is lying in wait there, we shouldn't cross it, "Nangong Yue raised his objection as the main lead commander.
"Are we to wait here then? What if there is no ambush?" another commander asked.
"How about we let 1,000 horses ride across to explore first, and the soldiers wait outside. If there is an ambush, we will definitely know." Hua Zhu Yu slowly said.
The 7 commanders looked at Hua Zhu Yu, contemplating over this then said, "Lets try Commander Bao’s idea."
Hua Zhu Yu was surprised they agreed so easily; she had expected more push back against her idea.
The army set off and half an hour later reached the entrance to the ravine. A thousand horses were gathered, each with a torch mounted at the head and a branch tied to their tails. When the horses were released into the ravine, their tails swished moving the branch causing dust to blow up all around. From afar, it was hard to see that not a single soldier was riding through the ravine.
After an incense stick of time, the sound of falling boulders crashed down from the two surrounding cliffs, making the ground shake. This was followed by the zipping of arrows and the screams of hundreds of horses. Gradually the screams faded away.
The faces of the commanders instantly darkened; Nangong Yue ordered the troops stationed in the wilderness outside the ravine to take position and wait.
Hua Zhu Yu lowered her head and sighed; there really was an ambush. What a pity for those horses. It seemed like a battle would be unavoidable tonight.
Looking around, the terrain was mostly flat, some undulating mounds and high slopes. Not the best terrain for them to exploit.
The night was dark, the new moon hung in the sky surrounded by a few chilly stars. The night wind seeped into the body bringing with it a piercing chill.
Out of habit, Hua Zhu Yu leaned down to grab her wine sack. Before going into battle, she always drank a few mouthfuls of wine, only the stringent taste of wine could suppress the compassion in her maiden heart. She still couldn't forget the horrors the first time she saw how bloody a battlefield was. It made her vomit hard several times. In the end she was only able to calm herself after drinking some wine. The her now was more stoic, however drinking wine before entering battle had become a habit.
But she never prepared it herself, she only had to lean down to grab the wine sack from Ping Lao Da (eldest). Now, Ping, An, Kang, Tai were no longer by her side. An Xiao Er was deep in the palace, Tai Xiao Si was disguised as Ying Shu Xie in Yu City while Ping Lao Da and Kang Lao San remained in Yu City helping her with her investigation.
It was lonely going down a path alone, but she knew she had to keep going.
She had just reached her hand down towards the horse, when a long hand outstretched towards her. In this hand was a wine sack with the cork opened; the stringent smell of wine wafted in the wind towards her.
Hua Zhu Yu was startled, how was there someone in the Hu battalion aware of her habit?
She looked up and smiled at the person that handed her the wine.
Lips set in a tight line, calm slender eyes that contained wisdom and a pair of sharp brows. This familiar face made Hua Zhu Yu's face warm up, she received the wine sack, tilted her head back and downed a mouthful of wine.
It was the Sao Dao Zi wine she also drank, it was still that hot stringent feeling as before, the feeling like her throat was burning. She wanted to drink more but the wine sack was nearly empty after only a few mouthfuls. A hand reached over and took the sack back before she could empty it into her mouth.
"Five sips only! Not a sip more!" his low serious voice exclaimed.
Ping Lao Da was a man of few words, but when he spoke he was one to keep his word.
Hua Zhu Yu's lips hooked up, "Ping, why did you come here? Where is Kang?" luckily it was really noisy and everyone's attention was on the ambush in the ravine; no one was paying attention to them.
Ping Lao Da looked at Hua Zhu Yu with narrowed eyes for a long time without saying anything.
Hua Zhu Yu understood. Ping Lao Da hadn’t seen her appearance before. Perhaps he was still in shock. But she knew Ping Lao Da would never ridicule her like An Xiao Er.
But if he had never seen her face, how did he recognize her?
translations at peachblossomgrove . com
"I've been hiding in the army, Kang is back at Yu City," Ping Lao Dao returned to his calm self and shifted his gaze away from Hua Zhu Yu's face, his brows furrowed.
"How did you recognize me?" Hua Zhu Yu asked in a low voice.
Before she left the northern border, she had sent a message to An Xiao Er. She hadn't thought about letting them come with her. Ping Lao Da following her was an unexpected surprise. On top of that he had hidden himself really well. If it was Kang Lao San, he would have slipped up and revealed his identity.
"I heard from An," Ping Lao Da replied.
Among Ping, An, Kang, and Tai, only An Xiao Er knew she entered the palace as a eunuch, only he had seen her real face. She had made him swore to not tell anyone else so she had always passed on her message to the 4 through him.
"Don't blame him. We are all worried for your safety. Actually, An never told me specifically, I just made a guess." Ping Lao Da lightly said.
He remembered when An Xiao Er described the general's appearance he only said this phrase "extremely beautiful." No one would think he was a general based on appearances.
Ping Lao Dao knew An Xiao Er had a poisonous mouth. How could he use the word 'beautiful' to describe the general? But when he followed the army to Yangguan, and saw the man fight with Northern Emperor Xiao Yin, he had recognized her moves. And that was also the first time he agreed with An Xiao Er's point of view.
An Xiao Er wasn't wrong.
Hua Zhu Yu nodded, of course she did not blame them.
The roar in the ravine went on for a long time before finally subsiding.
The Northern Army originally planned to annihilate Southern Army by ambush, but instead they failed and were fooled into revealing their own position. But they did not mind; they were very confident in their fighting strength. Their commander gave the order to attack and a number of infantry units rushed forward. The battle had begun.
The soldiers of Northern Kingdom were strong and they used heavy weapons such as maces.Once the two sides confronted each other, soldiers of Southern Kingdom ate a bit of a loss. Despite this Northern Kingdom did not gain the upper hand, but suffered heavy casualties instead.
The front line soldiers of Southern Kingdom used spears. This gave them an advantage in distance because their spears had a longer reach, allowing them to cut the down the shorter reach mace wielding Northern troops. Once the mace wielders were down Southern troops using machetes rushed forward to attack before retreating behind the spear holders again.
Commanding Northern Army were Xiao Yin's left and right hand men Wei Zhang and Wei Da Ji. Wi Da Ji's tiger like eyes glared fiercely, the veins on his forehead popping up visibly. What strategy should they use? Even their second attack failed! Southern Kingdom was truly crafty he thought.
Wei Zhang watching the battle before him, said, "Da Ji, this is the tactic the troops at the western border used, did not expect troops from the capital would know it too.We should quickly change tactics!"
The spear and machete tactic was a tactic Hua Zhu Yu brought up when when the commanders met to discuss the battle.
Northern Kingdom's entire cavalry force rushed up from the ravines, resembling a rolling wave, intimidating and fierce. It was a swift division with lightning fast mobility that was hard to defend against. They were worthy of being called the best in field combat.
Hua Zhu Yu's face darkened as she looked onward. If the fight continued like this, then Southern Kingdom would lose. She had to think of a way to suppress the north's momentum. Thinking for a moment, Hua Zhu Yu called for the trumpet blower to blow three times to get everyone's attention. She raised her voice and using internal voice so everyone could hear said, "The five rows of cavalry in front of the Hu battalion quickly dismount, thrust your sword into your horse's side, direct them to rush towards Northern troops, quickly!"
All I could think about during this chapter was “poor horses!!”
but anyways I was trying to wait until I finished translating the whole chapter to upload it since there wasn’t a good spot to stop but I haven’t had the time so I decided to just upload what I have~