The siege of Beihai (1)
“Why would anyone charge a castle? Do they expect it to be intimidated into running away? Castles don't run away, this is a fact I know about castles and now you know it too.”
Chapter 180 – The siege of Beihai (1)
It began like any morning.
The first to catch sight of the Jin invaders were the sentry guards atop the walls of Beihai. There were now even fewer in numbers than when Huang Ming had first arrived, but they still stood vigilantly at their posts.
Though they were mentally prepared for an emergency, the sight of thousands of horsemen swarming the horizon shook the men. Then the sound of pounding hooves thundered in the air. Faint at first, but it grew louder as the Jins approached.
Though Beihai had seen much conflict over its long history, in reality it had only been the site of actual battle for a handful of times. When historians and storytellers talk about the different heroic ‘Battle of Beihai’ through the ages, they were actually referring (or dramatizing) to the various battles that were fought in the vicinity of Beihai. The defenders of Beihai in the past had always met the Jins in the field.
To put it simply, Beihai had not seen an actual siege for many, many years.
But thanks to the training regime and drills introduced by Huang Ming and the mix of veterans who remained in the city, the young soldiers quickly scrambled into action. The gongs were beaten, their alarm quickly rousing the entire city out of the morning chill.
Huang Ming himself was already awake, and he rushed to the city wall to observe for himself. By the time he had climbed to the top, the soldiers on duty had the city gates closed and barred.
The sight of seeing an advancing army from atop a vantage point was awe-inspiring. It was like the numerous war movie from his original Earth, all that was missing was an epic orchestral soundtrack to accompany the imposing army.
Even if the said imposing army was marching towards him.
Still, it was nothing he haven’t seen before. His eyes carefully scanned the encroaching invaders, his silent survey a calming influence among the nervous soldiers. They whispered about his nerves of steel; if someone as esteemed as Huang Ming was untroubled about the crisis, surely he had a plan to resolve it.
Huang Ming roughly estimated that the Jins were at least twenty thousand in number; the majority of whom were mounted. It seemed very small for the task of capturing a city, but the Jins were taking full advantage of Beihai’s lack of soldiers.
The fierce Jin warriors were dressed in furs and marten hats, yelling and whipping their powerful steeds into a frenzy. One could almost feel the earth shaking beneath their hooves. Eventually their screams merged into one, a ringing battlecry of ‘Ala-la-la-la-la-la!’ roaring in the air; curdling the blood of those who heard it.
Huang Ming was not worried about the horsemen at all. After all, what could they do to the walls of Beihai except to inefficiently pelt the defenders with arrows from their shortbows at an awkward angle?
He was far more concerned with the infantry lagging behind the dust kicked up by the cavalry. Marching less glamorously on foot were the common soldiers wielding swords and thick round shields. Further behind were the baggage train: donkeys and oxen pulling fully laden wagons.
It was these wagons that was the focus of Huang Ming’s attention. Some of the cargo were inevitably the food and fodder needed to sustain the army, but some of the animals of burden were dragging strange looking wheeled carts.
The soldiers of Beihai would not recognize the foreign implements, but the sight of them made Huang Ming’s countenance grim.
The carts were carrying hollow metal tubes, and Huang Ming instantly recognized their use. They were crudely vase-shaped, somewhat stubby and short.
Firearms in this world had yet to be developed. While fireworks were common in festivals, upscaling the power of the decorative pyrotechnics into deadly explosives was still just beyond the reach of current technology. Huang Ming knew that refined gunpowder had yet to be discovered, and he was still experimenting about the chemical properties in this world to truly develop it himself.
But it seemed that his enemy Avatar, the Princess of Jin; had used her ten-year headstart to her advantage.
Fortunately the cannons were still primitive. Unfortunately, it meant the Jins were also bringing along other ‘traditional’ siege weapons: battering rams, catapults and trebuchets. As the defenders of Beihai watch on helplessly, the Jin infantry unloaded their cargo and began the ponderous task of assembling the siege engines.
“Ring the great bell, give the people the signal,” Huang Ming ordered quietly.
The great bell that was part of the alarm network was struck, its sonorous sound rang throughout the city and temporarily drowned out the commotion from the Jin industry outside.
The Jin soldiers and engineers paused to wonder at the ringing sound. Was that a signal for something? But their overseers then cracked their whips, and their tedious work began anew.
What the Jins didn’t know that similarly within the city, a bustle of activity commenced. Everyone who had participated in Huang Ming’s recent festival of light jumped into action, forming small groups of enthusiastic militia.
Those who were absent during the present exchange due to ill-will and sheer miserly behaviour were dragged out of their homes by their neighbours and local officials who were armed with spears and pitchforks.
“What is going on?”
“We are to do what?”
“We didn’t know! How are we supposed to do it?”
The laggards complained. Those in the know grinned at each other, enjoying the opportunity to lord it over them and marvelling at Huang Ming’s foresight.
Huang Ming had ordered for the festival little notes to accompany the gift exchange. Those who had participated found hidden instructions in it to be taken at certain signals. They were to secretly teach those that they trusted and spread the word.
It was the same sort of technique employed by the ancient Han Chinese on Earth to secretly mobilize against their Mongol overlords. Instead of concealing the messages in mooncakes, Huang Ming used presents.
As most who had stayed away from the festival were the likes of overbearing bullies and scalping merchants; the ordinary folk relished the chance to push them around with the help of the soldiers organizing the militia.
“Stop, stop! Surely there is a way for us to make it up!” the wicked people cried.
“Of course!” a woman laughed. She was an ordinary person, elected by her neighbours to be one of the militia leaders by virtue of her generosity and outspokenness… as well as the growling dogs that she had with her. The tyrannical landlords had unreasonably raised the rent on the local community; and now she and her fellow tenants enjoyed turning the tables on them.
“Seize their homes, take everything of use!” she ordered.
Similar scenes occurred elsewhere in the city.
It goes without saying that the ordinary folk who had been sneered at and oppressed by the unscrupulous were extremely thorough in their duties. To the distress of the affected, vast quantities of wealth and food were confiscated and sent to the government godowns for distribution. It was a task done with much joy and zeal by the common people.
The woes of the bad characters did not end there: their opulent homes were torn down. The stones and rubble were transported to the city walls, the wood taken to the furnaces and the brass pillars sent to the artisans to be melted down and reworked.
Even their slaves were taken away. The male servants were drafted into the militia, the maids and serving girls sent to work in the factories; with promises of freedom and monetary compensation afterwards giving them something to cheer about.
The Princess of Jin may have brought cannons in this world, but in Beihai, Huang Ming had introduced the concept of total war. Each and every single citizen was to do their part.
Thus, within and without the city of Beihai, both sides geared for a siege…
The city surrounded,
The alarms sounded.
Echoes of war resounded,
No one will be left unwounded.