“Their defences have fallen, let the slaughter begin!”
--Megatron, ‘Transformers the Animated Movie’
Chapter 190 – Pyrrhic victory
While Huang Ming was cleaning up the conspirators within Beihai, the Jin commander besieging the city was also busy. Though the Jin commander was desirous of completing his mission to capture the city, Huang Ming’s letter of surrender was too good to be true.
Despite his misgivings, the Jin commander was more concerned about Huang Ming’s purported gesture of goodwill. The warning about General Yin was worrying enough: he had enough spy intelligence to know about the much talked about time of thirty days for Wu reinforcements to arrive.
The Jin commander conferred with his senior commanders and came to a logical conclusion that the warning was too dire to ignore. What did it matter if Huang Ming was lying? Three days were short enough for a break, but not long enough for the Wu defenders within Beihai to fully repair the breaches in their walls. The Jin mounted archers have supremacy outside of the walls, they could ride to and fro to harry such measures.
And if Huang Ming was telling the truth, then the Jins would have three days to scout, rest and prepare to counter the arriving Wu reinforcements anyway. Therefore he had a taskforce detached to scout for the Wu relief, and lure them away from Beihai if needed be.
The Jins decided to accept the gamble that Huang Ming would indeed open the gates to surrender after three days. If he reneged on his word, they would proceed to continuously assault Beihai until the city falls. Having already incurred some losses and facing stiffer resistance than expected, the Jins did not relish the thought of a full-blooded assault against a determined foe while being flanked by enemy reinforcements.
Thus the citizens and defenders of Beihai enjoyed a brief respite from combat. Three days were all too brief, but for many it gave them a much needed break.
On the third day, the face of the Jin commander was blackened with anger. There were no signs that Huang Ming was going to fulfil his promise to surrender the city.
Summoning what remained of his dignity, the Jin commander drew up his army before the city gates and demanded for Huang Ming to show up and explain himself.
When the scholar finally showed his face atop the city walls, the Jin commander was struck by how young and scholarly his adversary was. It only added to the preconception that these ‘southerners’ were soft and crafty: bookish people who had their noses in the air with their minds full of deceit and treachery.
“Huang Ming! What do you have to say for yourself!” the Jin commander hollered from just beyond bow range.
“Whatever do you mean?” Huang Ming shouted back, and it all but confirmed the Jin’s suspicions that his enemy would remain just that: an enemy.
“Three days! You promised to surrender today!” the Jin commander screamed, the veins on his neck bulging with fury as he waved Huang Ming’s letter in the air.
Huang Ming paused and made a face full of exaggerated incredulity.
“I was of course lying. Don’t tell me that you really believe in such a simple trick!” Huang Ming exclaimed in feigned shock, even as his Wu soldiers around him were trying to suppress their laughter. Only their helmets hid their grins, only their armor hid their shaking bellies.
“You treacherous scum! I will have you skinned alive!” the Jin commander seethed.
He ordered a frontal assault. The Jins attacked in waves, assaulting the city walls as well as via the breaches. After several volleys of arrow fire, the Wu defenders gave up the walls and fled into the city. The city gates were barricaded with all sorts of rubble: blocks of granite and heavy stone torn down from the houses of the rich, preventing them from being thrown open to the Jins.
The wooden fencing which had been used as offensive spikes did not appear. The lack of resistance gave the impression that the Wu defenders were simply overwhelmed by the simultaneous attacks, and had given up on trying to plug the holes.
The Jins bayed for blood and made their way towards the pagoda-like building.
Yet when they poured deep into the city proper, they were confronted by a strange sight. The long wooden spikes that had impaled their previous attacks reappeared… but this time they were planted firmly into the ground and turned into proper wooden walls and fencing. Their towering heights giving the Jins a pause, for they had attacked with horse and foot. It was common practice that once the city walls had fallen, the population within would be at the invader’s mercy.
But Huang Ming had built a wooden fort within the city, much to the astonishment of the Jin invaders. None of their intelligence reported the existence a defensive structure.
They had no way of knowing that Huang Ming had instructed the citizens and soldiers of Beihai to build a crude but effective camp reminiscent of an ancient Roman castrum. The long wooden spikes were now converted into walls and ramparts, sealing off the streets and connecting existing structures carefully chosen for their sturdiness and strategic importance.
What used to be mansions, shops and restaurants now became turret-like defensive buildings; their balconies and windows now providing ample avenues for the archers within to peek in and out to harass the Jins.
How did he construct such a thing within the city so quickly? How did construction proceed unmolested, when they had bombarded them previously? Didn’t their spies tell them that they only needed to aim their siege weapons towards the great ‘Huang’ flag as it marked his pagoda headquarters? Why was his pagoda still standing in the middle of the wooden fort?
Then they realized that the great flag which they had aimed for was actually tied to a gigantic tree in the middle of an empty plot of land, and their previous bombardment did nothing but some haphazard landscaping renovations. The stray shots had flattened some buildings; which only resulted in dead-ends and obstacles that hindered their movements in the city.
The Jins were at a loss: they had finally defeated the city walls, only to be confronted with yet another layer of walls within. Furthermore, the innards of the city limited their movements, funnelling their efforts into carefully prepared kill zones and gauntlets of traps and harassment. There weren’t even any loot nor supplies to be found: every scrap had been taken away into the wooden fort by the people of Beihai.
When told of this ridiculous scenario, the Jin commander flew into a rage.
The situation had devolved into a strange circumstance: the Jins had control of the outskirts of the city, yet the Wu had built themselves a fortification within it.
It was a ring within a ring.
“Bring our siege weapons inside!”
It meant dismantling the weapons, packing them into transports, pull it through the ruined streets of the city before reassembling them again for direct fire. Huang Ming’s night raid had destroyed the more portable cannons, and the Jin commander truly regretted their loss. It meant more time loss as the laborious process of transporting the siege weapons began. Seeing that it was fruitless to attack the wooden fort, the Jin commander instead sent more men to assist the engineers.
They were still huffing and puffing for two days when war cries filled the air.
The Jin commander despaired when he heard the sound. It was not the familiar Jin battle cry of ‘Ala-la-la-la-la-la!’, meaning that his detached taskforce had failed in its duty; perhaps it was even defeated.
The dawn saw the arrival of the Wu reinforcements, and they came just as the Jins were still exhausted from assaulting the city. The Wu cavalry swept down like a torrent, crashing into the stunned Jins. Caught unprepared, the Jins died in droves as the Wu soldiers charged irresistibly.
Numb at his predicament, the Jin commander did not know what to do. The worst scenario had came true: Half of his force were tied inside the city, while the other half was being slaughtered outside of it.
He put no resistance even as his men broke and fled around him, scattering to the four winds. His splendid marten hat and thick furs marked him as an important figure and he was not able to escape; a Wu spear easily impaled him and then threw aside his corpse with almost contemptuous ease.
Such great was the shock that none of the Jins noticed the one who had defeated their commander was a woman. Only later did they piece together reports and witness accounts that the woman was a valiant person in red and black armour; that her eyes blazed like fires against her dusky complexion.
Who else could it be, but Zhao Sunli the War Goddess?
This was the plan arranged by Huang Ming. In the garden that night, Huang Ming had gave her secret instructions. It was given in full view of Xilei, yet the spy would never know how it was done. All the spy saw was that Huang Ming had grabbed hold of Sunli’s hand and it infuriated the Amazon that she cleaved the rock in two with her sword.
But it was all a drama, something that Huang Ming had told her to do by tapping on her palm the secret coded method that Qiong Ying had devised. They had remarked on the usefulness of such a method, and thus Qiong Ying had taught it to Huang Ming and Sunli.
Huang Ming had told Sunli to act aggrieved to lull the Jin spies and had them deliver false impressions. Once she had left, she was to raise as many men as she could and rendezvous with General Li Jing to prepare for the Jin attack on Beihai. They were to wait until the Jins had committed themselves into a full assault on Beihai, so that their smaller force could then surprise the Jins and smite them at an opportune time.
And thus Zhao Sunli led the Wu reinforcements this way and that, cutting the Jins down like they were harvesting wheat. After thoroughly routing the Jin forces outside, she then charged into the city and struck the Jin invaders from the rear while Huang Ming led his men out of the wooden fort.
Attacked from both sides, the defeat of the Jins were total: only a pitiful remnant managed to flee.
In the aftermath of the battle, Huang Ming greeted Zhao Sunli.
“You’re a little late,” he said tiredly. All around them, the citizens of Beihai rejoiced.
The Amazon only bit her lips and bowed her head.
“Cheer up, you still arrived just in time to save us all,” Huang Ming said, thinking that she might feel chastened.
She remained quiet, and the reinforcements that she brought were also without cheer. They did not have the airs of victorious soldiers, they were just as ragged and tired as the ordinary citizens who had endured nearly a month of being besieged.
“What’s wrong? And where’s General Li Jing?” Huang Ming asked with concern.
“It’s over. It’s all over,” Sunli said as her eyes reddened.
Defeat in victory,
A bitter turn in history.