The surrender (2)
“We have captured the kitchens, but still fighting for the living room and the bedroom.”
--World War II German soldier, Stalingrad
Chapter 185 – The surrender (2)
Over the course of the next few days, the Jins continued their pounding of the city walls with their siege weapons. Having tasted the folly of being funnelled into a single killing zone, the Jin commander ordered for multiple breaches to be made. It was a slow and tedious process as they only had a few catapults remaining after Huang Ming’s daring night raid.
It maddened the Jin commander, especially since the walls themselves were barely manned by the Wu soldiers. The Jins had thought of building huge siege ladders to scale the undefended walls, but could not find the materials in the steppe plains to do so. The northern forests were sparse to begin with, but Huang Ming’s winter festival had depleted what few mature trees there were.
Thus the strange sight of seeing a large Jin army sitting around in the cold, impatiently waiting for their catapults to crack another part of the wall.
There were attempts to use battering rams to break down the city gates, only for them to be thwarted by copious amounts of oil and flammables poured by the defenders. The Jins were stunned by the sheer amount of combustibles used, but later reports made them realize that Huang Ming could afford it, having made substantial preparations in advance.
Who was it that said Beihai was there for the taking? Who wrote the reports saying Huang Ming had no soldiers? Who told the Crown Prince of Jin that 30,000 men were enough, that Beihai would never expect an attack in winter? Huang Ming was far more decisive and resourceful than the stories suggest. There were those who had dismissed his exploits during the campaign in Wei as propaganda, that his elevation was Wu’s attempt to dig a silver lining out of that particular disaster. After all, he was under the command of his father the Great General Huang Zheng; surely those accomplishments rightly belonged to his illustrious father instead…
Yet here he was, confounding the Jins who outnumber the defenders of Beihai. Unless of course, one took into account how Huang Ming had mobilized the citizens of Beihai themselves, his ruthless confiscation of materiel from the wealthy people of Beihai now paying dividends.
Obviously, the ones who had their ill-gotten wealth seized were not pleased. Even their homes were torn down as raw material, forcing them to share temporary homes with those of the lower classes. No matter how rich they were, how influential their relatives were elsewhere, those who enjoyed respect and prestige suddenly found themselves slumming it with the common folk. To make matters worse, the common folk were now part of the militia and were lording over them in this time of difficulty.
Thus it was inevitable for them to clandestinely gather to voice their grouses. At first, such meetings were merely an outlet for complaints. But as the days passed, more insidious talk began to flow.
When the second wall opening finally happened, the entire city braced itself. But the attacks did not come. The men and women responsible for transporting and wielding the mobile spear-fences spent a restless few nights waiting on edge.
But the Jins continue to bombard the walls, this time at another point. It was clear that the Jin commander was not taking chances and was now more cautious, for he only attacked after there were three gaping holes in Beihai’s walls. The defenders of Beihai were stretched to their limits for the next several days as the Jins attacked the breaches in turn, alternating between them and sometimes on all of them at once. They could not break through the forest of spears, but it was getting more and more difficult to drive the Jins back each time.
Huang Ming’s recent success slowly faded as a sense of crisis slowly took hold. ‘Thirty days’ was the call, but to the citizens of Beihai, the sight of blood and corpses in their streets made it seem so distant. They could not repair the wall: the mounted Jin archers lurking outside prevented any such endeavour with their hail of arrows.
With this new development, the rest of the Jin army advanced their deployment. The siege weapons were inched forward, the catapults were now lobbing their projectiles directly into the city proper, hoping to sow panic and confusion in Beihai. The gigantic banner that Huang Ming had commissioned now served as a convenient target for the Jin siege engineers to aim at.
Unfortunately, their catapult attacks did not have the sort of morale-damaging effect the Jins had hoped for. Instead, the citizens of Beihai were quietly laughing as each subsequent catapult launch landed near the flagpole; for one night Huang Ming had it relocated from his pagoda-like office to the gigantic festival tree in the middle of the city square. It meant the Jins were harmlessly and wastefully lobbing their ammunition at a relatively empty spot of the city.
Still, it gave some impetus to the discontent within Beihai.
“You’re in trouble now,” Qiong Ying said to Huang Ming.
“When have I not?” Huang Ming mumbled as he looked out the window.
“You’d better be prepared. The conspirators plan something horrible for you tomorrow,” Qiong Ying said.
“Oh, finally. What do are they going to do? Kill me in my sleep? Poison the wells? Open the city gates?” Huang Ming listed as he continued to look at the horizon. From his vantage point he could see the Jin encampment outside of the city, but he was looking at another direction.
“They plan to kidnap you,” Qiong Ying said quietly. “The spies have planted the idea in the malcontents to bundle you up like a prize.”
The tone in her voice caused Huang Ming to turn around. “Ah, to use me as a bargaining chip to appease the Jins?” he asked.
Qiong Ying shook her head, and Huang Ming could see that she was truly shaken.
“The spies… they are working directly for my sister,” Qiong Ying whispered.
Huang Ming resisted the urge to ask if her cover was blown, because it was a silly question. If it was indeed blown, Qiong Ying would have already been killed per the Princess of Jin’s desire to obliterate her entire clan.
“They tricked the affected merchants and rich folk to kidnap you, to use you to save themselves from the Jins. But Xilei told me that they want to take you directly to the Princess of Jin. You have become a person of interest to her,” Qiong Ying said.
Then Huang Ming understood. Though Qiong Ying was an extremely beautiful and intelligent woman, she had been pursued and terrorized by Qiong Hua the Princess of Jin. Now her sister had set her eyes on her man for nefarious reasons, how was Qiong Ying not affected?
“Don’t worry. You have taken my chastity, you’re not going to get rid of me that easily,” Huang Ming told her with a straight face.
Qiong Ying gawked at him.
“Or do you not want me any more?” Huang Ming asked.
Qiong Ying laughed. It dispelled her gloomy mood.
“Why did Xilei tell you that anyway?” he asked.
“My charm may have been too effective,” Qiong Ying groaned. “She’s head over heels over ‘Quan Lu’, she wants ‘him’ to follow her back to Jin.”
Huang Ming eyed her suspiciously. “I should keep a closer eye on you and Xilei.”
“There is a siege going on, in case you forget. You have more important things to do,” Qiong Ying pointed out.
“But watching two women getting it on is more interesting,” Huang Ming said with a wicked grin.
Qiong Ying smacked him.
“Be serious. How are you going to deal with them?” she asked.
“I have always wondered if Xilei was working for General Yin, or for the Jins. Now that we know for sure, there is little need to maintain the charade any longer. I will let them gather all those malcontents together, then bundle them up.”
Finishing the tune.