“War. War never changes.”
Chapter 87 – The grind
It had been several days since the Huangs and their forty thousand soldiers marched into Wei. The lack of response from Wei was disconcerting to Huang Zheng. There wasn’t even a manned checkpoint to put up a symbolic gesture of resistance. There used to be an outpost to monitor the comings and goings from Wu to Wei, but it was abandoned and its buildings torn down.
Huang Ming secretly praised the wise decision of the enemy commander to take flight; for what could he have done with a mere border outpost against forty thousand Wu soldiers?
Though the lack of action was pleasing to the Wu soldiers, the commanders themselves were worried; as each ‘easy’ victory meant they had to march deeper into Wei to seek out a decisive battle. This in turn would leave them vulnerable, for Marshal Gao would rather have the forty thousand Wu soldiers die just to satisfy his desire of having Huang Zheng martyred.
Huang Ming grinned when he saw his father, Zhao Tong and Huang Ke pouring over the maps.
“What the hell are you smiling about?” Huang Ke growled, noticing the lackadaisical look on his younger brother’s face.
“We just had a ‘victory’. Why are you so worried?” Huang Ming asked in return.
General Zhao Tong snorted. “Do you not understand the situation? The willingness of the enemy to flee meant they were prepared to give ground to buy time,” he said.
“I’m not worried about the enemy in front, it’s the enemy behind that’s more dangerous,” Huang Ming said.
Huang Ke exhaled heavily. “But what can we do? We’re ordered to ‘draw off’ the enemy, but the enemy doesn’t want to stay for a fight.”
“You’re looking at this the wrong way,” Huang Ming said.
“That Qin Lang said that we’re not expected to attack the Wei cities, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to do so. We direct our attentions to one and make the enemy come to us, rather than just chase aimlessly after them.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” his father snapped. “We’re not equipped for a siege, and I’ll will not throw my men pointlessly at their walls.”
“Who said anything about walls?” Huang Ming asked.
“But you just said-” Huang Ke began to protest.
“We don’t need to attack the city itself proper. Storm every village and outlying township for supplies, but ignore those with walled defences. If the enemy comes out, then we could attempt to destroy them in the field and take the city. If the enemy stays stubbornly within the walled city, then we may proceed unmolested here and there. Sooner or later, Wei will be forced to act,” Huang Ming said.
“You want to cause hardship to ordinary countryside peasants?” Huang Zheng asked in shock.
Huang Ming shrugged. “Father, this is war. I know you value good conduct in war, but this is a fight that we never wanted; and we have an adversary sharpening his dagger to stab us in the back. This is no time for niceties and have proper, ‘honourable’ combat.”
His father sighed, and Huang Ming could see the creases and wrinkles on his face deepen further.
“It’s just so…so…” Huang Zheng muttered.
“So cruel,” Zhao Tong finished for him. “But your son is right, this is war. And while I have no love for Wei, it is clear that our true enemy is that damned marshal.”
“There is an additional benefit to this,” Huang Ming added.
“What do you mean?” his father asked.
“For every little position we take, send messages back to report your ‘victory’. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small outpost like this one, or a village, or a town. All you need to do is to tell the marshal that you’re winning. Have your messenger then spread the word everywhere. The marshal will be needled into moving, he cannot afford to stay back and let you grab all the glory. He will insist to take charge of the invasion proper,” Huang Ming explained.
Huang Zheng brightened. “Good!”
Capital of Wei
General Ran Wei was a towering man in his late thirties. He had a brutal sort of handsomeness: a square jaw, glowering eyes and thick brows. He had a presence about him that dominated the room, an intimidating aura that struck awe and terror to all who saw him. This was a man who used his dreadful reputation as an armour.
His reputation was not undeserved. Despite his relative young age, he had carved a bloody career as he rose relentlessly in the ranks. Wei was a nation where martial prowess was prized, and General Ran Wei was the epitome of a great Wei Warrior that had great cunning to go along with his strength.
There were few who dared to challenge his authority, but in recent days his mystique had eroded in the face of Wu’s aggression. When he had proposed the invasion of Wu, no one had spoken a word against it. He had argued a convincing case: that Wu’s king was a weakling and that there was dissent in the court, that Wu was ripe for the picking.
Who would have expected Wu to have struck first? The capture of Tigertrap Fort was akin to a slap to the face, and those who were jealous of this young man’s meteoric rise were quick to take advantage of it, resulting in this emergency inquest at the King of Wei’s palace. General Ran Wei could feel the cold, mocking looks of the court officials and old mainstays of the army, all revelling in his moment of weakness.
He had made a lot of enemies in his thirty years, either directly or indirectly. The nail that sticks out would be hammered down, as the saying goes.
Ran Wei was one such nail.
“How is it that your invasion plans of Wu resulted in us being attacked instead?” a courtier asked.
“I warned that antagonizing Wu would do us no good. You have misled the king with your false advice!” another accused.
“Enough,” the King of Wei said wearily from his throne. “Now that we have invited the enemy into our realm, what is your plan to defeat them?”
Ran Wei saluted the king. “Sire, most of our own forces are dispersed. It will take time for us to gather our forces into a cohesive unit. In the meantime, I have instructed our garrisons to hold fast and ignore the enemy provocations.”
One of his military rivals sneered, a certain general called Fei Yue. “Sire, what General Ran meant was for us to hide behind our cities while the enemy is rampaging through the countryside. Would the general continue to stay still until the enemy is right before Daliang?”
The King of Wei leaned forward. “Well, General Ran?” he asked.
“Wu is doing this precisely to draw our defenders away. If we allow our soldiers to sortie forth to do battle, it would to play directly into their hands. No, we must stay within and let the enemy exhaust themselves.”
“Hah!” Fei Yue scoffed. “Exhaust themselves? The Wu devils are pillaging the towns and villages for supplies, causing hardship to our people! It seems that General Ran has grown too lax after being promoted too quickly. Sire, give me the honour to crush the Wu devils!”
The King nodded. Ran Wei was his best general, but his passive advice did not please him. Still, he wanted to give some face to the young man.
“What do you think?” the king asked.
“Let General Fei Yue try,” Ran Wei said as he bowed, and his rival exulted at his humiliation.
No one saw the cynical smile on his face.
‘Do you think the likes of Huang Zheng and Zhao Tong are mere scarecrows? They are veterans of a hundred battles! Let him try, and fail. Then you’ll have no choice but to rely on me once more.’
Fools rush in,
Confident in their desire to win.