“I feel like ima break this damn thing!”
--J, ‘Men in Black (1997)
Chapter 183 – The gifting
The city shuddered at each hit from the Jin siege engines. Great stones struck its walls at regular intervals, each blow breaking off chunks and carving pits.
Yet, Huang Ming was quietly drinking tea in his office. Every now and then he would look through the window, timing the intervals between each impact.
“Are you not worried at all?” Qiong Ying asked. Her own cup of tea remained untouched.
“I observed that they did not carry a lot of ammunition, and there is no ready source in the area. They will stop soon enough,” Huang Ming said calmly.
The Jins were still using the ‘traditional’ siege engines and lobbing great blocks of stone. The small cannons that Huang Ming had identified remained unused, presumably due to their shorter range... or that the Jin commander was unfamiliar with the proper usage. He could see that the Jins were lackadaisical about the cannons, placing them casually among their baggage train which had suspicious looking barrels...
Qiong Ying rolled her emerald green eyes. “That is exactly the point. This cannot go on forever. What are you going to do when there is a gaping hole in the wall in another day or two?”
The corner of Huang Ming’s lip tugged upwards. “By my reckoning, there should be a hole in a few hours. They have been zeroing in on a few spots repeatedly.”
Qiong Ying was incredulous. “And yet, you’re here? Drinking tea with me? I am honoured,” she commented sarcastically.
“You should be. You might not get to do it here again.”
It was a simple off-handed statement from Huang Ming, but it caused Qiong Ying to tremble.
“What do you mean?” she asked. Then her eyes widened. “Don’t tell me…” she said slowly.
Huang Ming rose from his seat and gestured vaguely towards one side of the room. “Get that ready,” he said.
Qiong Ying turned to look at the direction where he had waved, and her eyes landed at the armoury cabinet. She turned to look back at Huang Ming.
“You must be joking,” she said flatly.
“No, I’m Huang Ming,” he replied lightly.
She raised a hand to slap him, but stopped herself. Huang Ming did not even blink.
“I suppose you have a plan to prevent a breach?” Qiong Ying asked.
“Mm, not really. I’m just going to plug the hole. It’s going to be an old-fashioned blood-and-guts counter attack.”
Qiong Ying glared at him. “I never took you for one of those who would die stupidly for glory,” she said venomously.
Qiong Ying threw her arms wide in exasperation. “Then tell me, how did we end up being surrounded here? Now you’re preparing to die with a sword in your hand!”
“Hey hey, who said anything about dying?” Huang Ming said. “I plan to live a long and prosperous life, thank you very much.”
He strode over to open the armoury cabinet, revealing the thick armour of a high-ranking military official.
“Then why do you want to put on armour?” Qiong Ying demanded.
Huang Ming placed his fists on his hips. “Whoever said I’m going to wear it? I’m asking you to pack it up. We’re moving out of this place.”
Qiong Ying narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “You said it’s going to be ‘an old-fashioned blood-and-guts counter attack’. Don’t try to deny it,” she said.
“I am not going to ride out and fight,” Huang Ming insisted with a straight face.
As Huang Ming had said, there were soon a breach in Beihai’s wall. A loud cheer rose from the Jins, and the order was given for a general advance. As before, the mounted troops were held in reserve. If the Beihai defenders decided to open the gates to counter attack, the cavalry would sweep in and overrun them.
The Wu archers atop the wall rained arrows on the approaching Jin soldiers, but there were too few of them. Soon the Jins were swarming through the breach, shrugging off the negligible casualties.
It was not a large opening and it was littered with rubble, and the Jins were pushing each other forward as they climbed laboriously over the broken stones and bricks.
In hindsight the Jins would be better served with a longer barrage to widen it, or wait for more breaches for simultaneous attacks. But the Jins were impatient. They were given thirty days to take Beihai, and Huang Ming’s stalling tactics had already consumed a week of their time.
Besides, once the Jins get through, they will overwhelm the defenders and open the gates themselves…
Or so they thought. Much to the puzzlement of the first Jin soldiers that had climbed through the breach, they were immediately greeted with a forest of spear-like fortifications. These were no ordinary spears, they were lashed together like teethed fencing. They were like gigantic stakes, with their business ends pointed at the incoming Jins.
In fact, these were the coniferous trees that Huang Ming brought into the city as part of the winter festival. Once the first tree was brought in, the rest of Beihai were encouraged to imitate Huang Ming’s gifting tree. Thousands of smaller trees were brought into Beihai as part of the festival.
Once the invasion was sighted, Huang Ming had these trees taken and fashioned into mobile fencing. He knew that holding the walls of Beihai indefinitely was impossible: the Jins were bound to breakthrough. But once they do, they would encounter the forest of spear-like trees. Placed atop carts, they could easily be transported to wherever needed.
Even the smaller trees that could be placed indoors were used: they were used like ‘deer antlers’. The entire setup was done according to Huang Ming’s specifications.
In their rush through the breach, the first lines of the Jins died horribly to these sharp implements. It was similar to a tragic cavalry charge where the horses and their riders impaled themselves against a static hedgehog defence. It was a defence manned with far more Wu soldiers than the Jins had seen previously.
Standing behind the wooden fortification, Huang Ming curled his lips grimly.
“Let them have it,” he said, and the order was repeated by a herald.
Instead of pelting futilely at a large mass from atop the wall, the Wu defenders now had a narrow zone to focus their fire. Surrounded by three sides and their way back blocked by their own compatriots, the Jins were showered with arrows.
The Jin commander outside kept urging his men to charge through the breach, unaware of the slaughter within. By the time confused reports filtered back to him and the attack called off, it was already late in the day. Piles of corpses littered around the breach.
The Jin commander was absolutely furious at yet again another deceitful Wu trick. Siege ladders were prepared for the assault the next day, the Jins were going to throw more men at the city at simultaneous points.
But just as the Jins settled down for the meal time, the gates were suddenly thrown open. Huang Ming led some Wu soldiers and charged out, taking the Jins off-guard who had grown accustomed to quiet evenings due to Wu’s inaction.
They rode through and fro, causing great confusion as they set off fires. Huang Ming led his raiders towards the baggage train… towards the small cannons the Jins had brought.
“Stay back!” he warned his men, and lobbed a torch at the small barrels around the cannons.
As he had expected, the barrels exploded. What he didn’t expect were the low yield: they were much weaker than he had thought. It appears the gunpowder within were still roughly made.
Still, the pyrotechnics were enough to shock the Jin’s attempts to intercept Huang Ming’s force.
Their mission accomplished, the raiders retreated back to Beihai in triumph. All the Jins could do were to gnash their teeth as laughters of ‘Ho ho ho!’ from the raiders rang in the night…
Underhanded tricks and dishonesty,
In war there is no need for modesty.