Tigertrap Pass (2)
“Wait my lord, do not despair. For I have a cunning plan.”
Chapter Eighty - Tigertrap Pass (2)
“Lend me some soldiers, I’ll draw them out,” Huang Ming said.
Huang Ke squinted at his younger brother. “No,” he grunted in dismissal.
“What? Why?” Huang Ming demanded.
“What do you mean, ‘why’? I’m not going to let my men get killed by your lack of experience,” Huang Ke said. Then he added offhandedly, “Nor you. Mother would be most disappointed if that happened.”
“I assure you, getting killed is not part of my plan,” his brother said dryly.
Huang Ke was not amused. “This is no joking matter, lives are at stake here.”
“That’s the point. I don’t want to see you throw the lives of your soldiers against a prepared enemy position,” Huang Ming said.
Huang Ke sighed. “Well, what do you have in mind?”
Huang Ming leaned in and whispered. Those who were observing the two brothers saw that Huang Ke’s eyebrows rose higher and higher.
“...Is it going to be so easy?” Huang Ke asked dubiously.
“The enemy will not be able to resist the temptation.”
Huang Ke had several other questions, his brother was able to supply the answers readily.
“Fine, we’ll do it your way,” his brother agreed finally. Whereupon he assigned a troop of a thousand veteran soldiers to his younger brother; experienced men who were brave and clever. The veterans were dismayed at this assignment, thinking that it was a demotion.
“Sir, have we done something to slight you?” a grizzled veteran boldly asked Huang Ke.
“Nonsense,” the Mountain-Splitter said. “My brother might not look like much, but he will be going into the lion’s den with you; so you lot better clean out your ears and follow his orders. To the letter! Understand?”
The veterans were greatly astonished. They had thought that they were given a babysitting duty and did not expect that the milk-faced, scholarly-looking younger brother of their commander was risking his own life.
“I know you men have some doubts, but I’m not an idiot out to make a name for himself. If we pull this off, we will be able to spare your fellow brother soldiers from a frontal assault,” Huang Ming told them.
Convinced, the veteran soldiers bowed. “We will hear and obey!” they chorused and saluted.
Then Huang Ming told them to prepare certain things.
“I’m coming with you,” Sunli announced.
“Of course,” Huang Ming replied easily, much to her surprise.
As planned, Huang Ming and his troop of veterans split from the main legion and went ahead to Tigertrap Pass. Huang Ming saw that there were indeed Wei soldiers at the pass. Already there were the crude outlines of a walled structure being constructed. If given time, the wooden fencing and palisades would be reinforced by rammed earth and bricks; turning the encampment into a true fortification.
“This is a strategic spot, why hasn’t anyone try to build a fort here before?” Huang Ming asked.
One of the veterans told him: “There wasn’t a need to, at least for us. On our end, we have the cities of Tianxin and Wuxin nearby, guarded by General Huang and General Zhao. On Wei’s side, the pass is quite barren. They must have needed to transport every piece of timber and stone from elsewhere to build this much.”
“We must really thank Wei for spending the time and effort to build this fort for us,” Huang Ming smiled.
He gave orders to several doughty men to disguise as Wei soldiers, to tear their uniforms and splatter themselves with the blood of animals so as to appear ragged and heavily wounded. Huang Ming himself did the same, scrubbing dust and dirt over his hair and face to complete the disguise.
When Sunli saw that Huang Ming was personally joining in, she became alarmed.
“What are you playing at?” she demanded.
“I need you to stay here and hide with the rest of the men. You will do so-and-so, just wait for the signal,” Huang Ming told her.
Sunli was nonplussed. “And you? What are you going to do? Don’t tell me you’re going in there?”
“Someone has to open the door,” Huang Ming said. Sunli was about to protest, but he cut her off. “Off you go. Remember, I’m depending on you,” he said.
Sunli reluctantly obeyed and took the remaining veterans to hide.
Huang Ming eyed the score or so men with him, all suitably dressed for their part of the drama.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” he said light-heartedly, his confidence bolstering the veterans.
The ‘wounded’ group limped and groaned their way to the Wei encampment. They were quickly spotted by the Wei soldiers, and they were brought to the encampment’s commanding officer’s tent.
“Who are you? What happened to you?” he demanded when he saw Huang Ming leading the group of injured Wei soldiers.
“We’re from General Wei Kun’s supply convoy, we were ambushed!” Huang Ming said as he prostrated on his knees in exhaustion.
“What?! I have been wondering at the delay, so that’s what had happened!” the commanding officer seethed.
“It’s that devil Zhao Tong, he came out of nowhere and attacked the convoy. We were scattered, and we know not what happened to General Wei Kun,” Huang Ming lamented.
“That fool! I told him that his feud with Zhao Tong would be his undoing. Now I’m dragged along by his incompetence!” the officer snarled.
Huang Ming trembled, affecting the mannerisms of a terrified underling. “Sir... there is something else…” he stammered.
“Speak!” the officer hollered.
“Sir, as we hid to evade capture by the Wu soldiers, we overheard them talking about their plans,” Huang Ming said, lowering his eyes in fear.
“Plans? What plans?”
“That… well, they say Zhao Tong has already went away to celebrate his victory, but he’s not taking the captured supplies with him. They say it’s being sent to Tianxin City instead. Something about a relief effort,” Huang Ming replied slowly.
“Relief effort…” the officer repeated in a murmur.
“Sir, there are rumours about Tianxin City being marauded by bandits lately…” Huang Ming ventured to say.
“Yes, I heard the same. I heard even the hoary old Huang Zheng had a tough time with them,” the officer said, much to Huang Ming’s elation.
The officer stroked his chin in thought. “Tianxin City isn’t too far from here… maybe there’s a chance we can get the supplies back,” he mused. Huang Ming could see the greed on the officer’s face.
The officer then called for an attendant. “Send some scouts and check towards the direction of Tianxin City!” he ordered.
“Sir… about my men…” Huang Ming said plaintively.
The officer gave him a look of dismissal. “Report to the quartermaster and make yourselves useful.”
“Yes sir!” Huang Ming grovelled profusely, his men following suit.
Huang Ming then told his men to mingle in the encampment, they went about unmolested as they were ‘injured’. Several days passed uneventfully before the encampment became abuzz with activity.
“What’s going on?” Huang Ming asked a passing Wei soldier.
“The scouts have returned, they really found our supplies! The commander has ordered a sortie to recapture it!” the soldier said excitedly.
Huang Ming nodded and went off to find his men to give them instructions.
Soon, a large contingent of Wei soldiers left the encampment, leaving behind only a token force to guard the encampment. Huang Ming then went to the command tent to seek an audience with the commanding officer.
“What is it?” the officer asked.
“Sir, I just heard that you have sent troops to recapture the supplies?” Huang Ming asked.
“Indeed. What does it have to do with you?”
“Sir, my men and I wish to serve under you,” Huang Ming said.
The officer laughed. “What use do I have for defeated soldiers, especially those of that incompetent Wei Kun?” he sneered.
“I have some dirt on General Wei Kun regarding the loss of the supplies…” Huang Ming said.
Huang Ming made as if to whisper, but in one swift motion he grabbed hold of the officer and clamped a hand over his mouth. The Wei officer began to struggle but slackened when a hidden blade suddenly ejected from Huang Ming’s wrist. The officer’s eyes widened in fear as the blade’s point hovered near his eyes.
“Hail Hydra,” Huang Ming whispered menacingly.
“What?” the officer mumbled in confusion.
Huang Ming grinned. “Just a private joke.”
The Wei officer snarled. “You are seeking death! What do you think you can accomplish by doing this?”
“Don’t bother resisting, you and your men have been poisoned,” Huang Ming told him coldly.
He could see the panic in the officer’s eyes. “W-what? What did you do?” the officer stuttered.
“We have been your cooks for the past few meals, I’m sure you can imagine,” Huang Ming said slyly, causing the officer to slump in defeat.
“What do you want?” he moaned, already feeling his stomach churning with unease.
“Tell your men to light a smoke signal and open the gates, you’re about to have guests. Don’t worry, we’ll give the antidote later.”
The officer glared at him, but he knew it was helpless to disagree. He ordered his men to light a smoke signal.
Soon, a troop of Wu soldiers appeared, at its head was Zhao Sunli; magnificent in her black and gold armour. The Wei soldiers were at first alarmed, and then confused when their commanding officer ordered the gate to be opened.
“Sir, what’s going on here?” one of the Wei soldiers asked.
The officer gritted his teeth. “Listen to me, we have all been poisoned by treachery. Our lives are in their hands, open the gate!”
The Wei soldiers became so terrified that they abandoned any thoughts of resisting.
Sunli had her own doubts, wondering if the Wei soldiers in the encampment would shower her and her troops with a hail of arrows. Much to her surprise, the gates were flung open and she effortlessly led her soldiers into the camp. The veteran soldiers with her were astounded when they saw the Wei soldiers within were kneeling in terror. The small group of men that had followed Huang Ming had smug grins on their faces, openly revelling at the puzzlement of their colleagues even as they went about disarming the cowed Wei soldiers.
A score of men had taken the camp intact and even captured the commanding officer.
“I have done as you have asked, now give us the antidote!” the commanding officer demanded.
“It’s coming, wait for it,” Huang Ming told him.
“What about those men who had went to recapture the supplies?” the officer asked.
Huang Ming gave him an emotionless look, and the officer sunk into a depression as he realized the implications. Within the hour, his worst fears were confirmed as Huang Ke and the rest of his legion marched triumphantly into the encampment with a contingent of defeated Wei soldiers. There were obvious signs of a battle, and the demoralized looks on the Wei soldiers all but told the story.
“Well done, little brother!” Huang Ke exclaimed joyfully.
“I take it that all went well?” Huang Ming asked.
“It is as you said. We dangled the bait and they were more than eager to rush for it. Once they had fallen into the trap it was a simple matter to encircle and rout them,” Huang Ke said.
The Wei commanding officer heard this and fell onto his knees in despair.
“Who is this?” Huang Ke questioned, seeing the distraught look on the Wei officer’s face.
“The commander of this camp,” Huang Ming told him.
“Oh. What do you plan to do with him?”
Huang Ming glanced at the sorrowful Wei officer and took pity on him. “You and the rest of your men are free to go,” he said.
The Wei officer was stunned, he stared at Huang Ming blankly.
“Didn’t you hear him? Leave!” Huang Ke said gruffly.
“We… we haven’t gotten the antidote yet,” the Wei officer stammered weakly.
“Antidote? What antidote?” Huang Ke frowned.
“For the poison!” the Wei officer shouted in desperation.
Huang Ming shook his head. “There was never any poison,” he said blandly.
“No poison? A trick?” the Wei officer whispered.
“A bluff,” Huang Ming corrected him. “Now leave this place, and tell your General Ran to forget about invading Wu.”
The Wei officer’s eyes turned bloodshot, he glared at Huang Ming with hatred. “Good, good!” he raged through clenched teeth.
He gathered his remaining men and marched back to Wei.
“You shouldn’t have spared them,” Huang Ke remarked as the defeated Wei soldiers disappeared into the horizon.
“There has been enough blood for today,” Huang Ming said.
Huang Zheng, the Great Blade,
He had three sons, two made the grade.
Huang Lang the eldest, courted in secret,
And opposed his father without regret.
Huang Ke the middle, found a woman of the forge,
Their love as fiery as a roaring torch.
Huang Ming the third, was a wastrel,
But in their marriages, he was able.
With his schemes he brought them all together,
Two brides for his two brothers.
Yet, he had his own troubles,
For women, he had double.
He went into battle to prove his worth,
And shed his frivolous ways in his rebirth.
END PART ONE - THE MARRIAGES OF THE HUANG BROTHERS