“See that kid? The one dreaming to serve his country. That Jarhead is me.”
--Anthony 'Swoff' Swofford, ‘Jarhead’
Chapter 89 – Collapse
General Ran Wei’s headquarters,
There was a cold smile on the brutal, handsome face of General Ran Wei as he read the latest report. Although Fei Yue’s command was independent from his, it did not mean that he was unaware of what was happening. One of the earliest things he did as he rose through the ranks was to put spies into the various factions of the Wei army, for Ran Wei’s ambition was to be the Grand Marshal of it all someday.
“You look happy,” an armoured woman remarked. She too had cold features, similar to the Wei general. Her long black hair was tied in a pony-tail, and there was an impressive scar running across her nose. Such a scar combined with her flaring brows and armoured attire gave her a wild outlook that brooked no nonsense. It wasn’t just her demeanour that commanded immediate respect, for this was Ran Bing, Ran Wei’s sister. She had loyally followed her brother through numerous battlefields, she was every inch the warrior he was.
“That fool Fei Yue split his forces into three in an attempt to surround the Wu forces,” Ran Wei told her.
Ran Bing frowned, causing the scar on her nose to deepen. “Since he outnumbers them, it does seem the logical thing to do. I would do the same, since General Huang Zheng is refusing to stand and fight.” Then she added, “That old man disappoints me, I expected more from the one they call ‘The Great Blade’.”
Ran Wei shook his head. “Then you will be defeated.”
His sister’s frown deepened. “Explain,” she demanded.
“It is true that Fei Yue’s seventy thousand is superior to Huang Zheng’s forty thousand, but what happens when you split seventy thousand into three?”
Enlightenment dawned on Ran Bing’s face. “I see! You mean to say that Wu’s forty thousand will still be one solid fist, and they can break Fei Yue’s fingers one by one since they are not united.”
Ran Wei smiled. “Knowing Fei Yue’s disposition, he surely would have kept a bigger portion of the army with himself, thus his flanking pincers would be weak, at most they would be twenty thousand strong each. Furthermore, he gave each wing such a large circuitous route and neglected to put a continuous line of communications between each; only giving them a date and place to gather. Forty thousand Wu soldiers against twenty thousand on each wing, this is much better odds, isn’t it?”
“But that means the Wu forces have to fight at one place and then quickly march to the other before Fei Yue’s main force arrives. Are the Wu devils really that capable?” Ran Bing asked.
“They don’t need to defeat Fei Yue himself,” Ran Wei pointed out. “Once they have crushed his two pincers, it will be Fei Yue who is demoralized. He will be frightened into retreating.”
“But once he retreats, Wu could then attack our cities directly,” Ran Bing said.
Ran Wei smiled cynically. “I do not think that Huang Zheng has any intentions of attacking our cities. Look at his movements, he has been marauding the countryside and scrounging for supplies. Our spies tells us that the bulk of their forces under Marshal Gao Fang are still in Tigertrap Fort, even though it has been nearly a month since their vanguard have marched into our country. What does this tell you?”
Ran Bing subconsciously thumbed the scar on her nose as her pretty brows furrowed. “You know I don’t like this sort of complicated matters. Just tell me already.”
“I heard that Gao Fang has a feud with Huang Zheng. If I’m not mistaken, this is a poorly veiled attempt from the marshal to get rid of him.”
Ran Bing’s eyes bulged. “He’s willing to sacrifice forty thousand soldiers just to settle a private matter?”
“Do you find it so strange? I am doing the same thing to Fei Yue,” Ran Wei said blandly.
“You mean you’re not going out to rescue Fei Yue?” Ran Bing asked, her eyes widening further.
“First, he would not appreciate my unsolicited help,” Ran Wei told her. “Second, the true battle is with Marshal Gao Fang. Once Fei Yue is defeated, the marshal will surely move, because he would not bear to see his rival to be covered in glory. We need to gather our strength for the decisive confrontation.”
“But we can’t just sit here! What if Fei Yue accuses you in front of the king later?” Ran Bing said.
“It doesn’t matter. Once Fei Yue is defeated, the king would have no choice but to turn to me.”
Ran Bing sighed. “I feel sorry for Fei Yue’s soldiers.”
“This is why we fought tooth and nail to promote ourselves, so that we did not end up being under an incompetent,” Ran Wei reminded her. “Once I become Marshal of Wei, I reform the forces and get rid of the likes of Fei Yue.”
Ran Bing’s eyes shone. “And then?”
“Then we shall sweep across the four states and unite the continent!”
Fei Yue’s northern wing,
A Wei sentry yawned mightily as he leaned on his spear. It was almost time for the evening meal, and the veteran was eager to return to his tent once his shift was over.
“Come on, don’t slack off,” his younger partner chided.
“Relax newbie, we’re days away from the meeting point. If the Wu devils are smart, they would have fled long ago, otherwise they would be trapped between our forces,” the sentry who yawned replied.
“You almost sound like you’re glad to be not fighting,” the younger soldier said accusingly.
“You’re damned right I am. Did I ever tell you about my hometown?” the veteran asked.
“Only like a million times,” his junior muttered.
The veteran chuckled at his partner’s reticence. “Why so grouchy?”
“All we have done is to march and camp, march and camp. We haven’t seen so much as a shadow,” the younger soldier complained
“Listen kid, this is the best part of army life. We get to eat and sleep without danger. I for one want this to continue. All we have to do is survive until the end of the fighting season, then you’ll get to go home to your mom and pop and make your chick swoon with your glorious return.”
“I just want to see some action,” the younger soldier muttered. Then he stood a little straighter, staring towards the horizon. “What is that?” he asked, pointing towards a silhouette in the distance.
“Kid, that’s eastwards. It’s probably General Fei Yue’s messenger to confirm our arrival,” the veteran said nonchalantly.
“There’s more of them now,” the younger soldier said, his voice tinged with alarm.
Their faces turned ashen when they saw the silhouettes became more numerous, and the cloud of dust that rose behind them became thicker. Before long, the sentries could make out a large banner in the midst of the silhouettes.
It bore the character for the word “Huang”. Soon they saw the mass was actually a body of cavalry, and it was riding at full speed towards them.
“Wu soldiers!” the younger sentry exclaimed in horror. He picked up a gong and banged it frenetically. All around the Wei camp, cries of alarm rose.
The veteran soldier remained rooted. “Why are they here? How are they attacking from behind us?” he asked, dropping his spear in shock.
“Come on, old man! Pick up your weapon!” the younger soldier urged.
The veteran shook his head. “It’s too late…” he whispered. The veteran backtracked a few steps, before turning around and broke into a run.
The younger soldier stared at him. Then he turned to see the Wu cavalry that was boring down towards him.
Then he too dropped his spear, turned and ran.
It was as General Ran Wei had predicted. Mere days before Fei Yue’s north and sound wings were to converge on the agreed meeting point, the Wu soldiers suddenly appeared and ambushed them. Each wing had just over twenty thousand men, while Huang Zheng kept his entire forty thousand men in a single column.
The Wei soldiers on the northern flank were just settling down to camp when Huang Ke’s cavalry suddenly appeared and led the charge. The Wei commander in charge of the northern wing managed to climb onto his horse, but before he could rally his troops, he was cut down by Huang Ke with his mountain-splitter axe. The Wei troops were routed and the camp was burned.
Two days later Huang Zheng swung down towards the southern wing and repeated the same. This time Sunli took first merit, she led the charge into the enemy camp and personally slew the commander there with one thrust of her spear. No one doubted her mettle thereafter, for when she returned all could see that her black scale armour was splattered by the blood of the Wei soldiers that she had personally killed.
It was said that when General Fei Yue received news of the destruction of his two wings, he collapsed in shock and had to be helped to bed by his aides.
Fei Yue sought to divide and conquer,
Alas, it only made Huang Zheng stronger.