Second Battle of Tigertrap Pass (1)
“I calculated with my fingers!”
--Li Qiye, ‘Emperor’s Domination’
Chapter 96 – Second Battle of Tigertrap Pass (1)
Huang Zheng gazed at the horizon, unaware that Ran Wei was doing the same thing. The two generals did not meet in the recent disaster at Dashan Plains, and there was a sense of an opportunity missed to test one’s mettle against the other.
In Huang Zheng’s case, the situation was disheartening. His own men had survived, but an entire army had been wiped out. Despite marvelling at their survival, his own troops too were demoralized by the calamity. As his soldiers make their way back to Tigertrap Pass, surviving stragglers from Marshal Gao Fang’s forces had joined them; their haunted looks and shuffling feet giving off an air of pessimism to the entire affair. Reports of Wei pursuers had lent wings to their march, but most of the men were cold, tired and hungry.
The aged general sighed as he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, and shifted his attentions towards Huang Ming instead. His youngest son was riding carelessly, his head bowed in thought and his hands loosely holding onto the reins, allowing the horse to meander on its own accord as it followed the march. The amazon Zhao Sunli rode beside Huang Ming, keeping watch in case he fell off his mount.
Huang Zheng frowned. The engagement between the two had been a distraction, even though Huang Ming himself did not seem overly concerned. The general knew better than to indulge in personal matters while still on active duty, but he could not help but feel a little guilty for his friend Zhao Tong and his daughter as long as the ambiguous situation persisted.
Still, he was glad that this prodigal son of his had seemingly repented his ways. Now Huang Ming was a fine man, not too inferior to Huang Lang and Huang Ke. Speaking of which, where the devil was Huang Ke?
The general looked around and saw that his middle son was missing from the marching column. Zhao Tong noted the searching gesture and moved his horse to be alongside Huang Zheng.
“What’s the matter?” the stout family friend asked.
“I seem to have misplaced one of my sons,” Huang Zheng said dryly. He wasn’t too worried, Huang Ke was an experienced military officer of his own right after all.
“Ah Ke? You’re right, I haven’t seen him since we entered the pass,” Zhao Tong replied.
Now Huang Zheng became a little disturbed. What were his sons plotting this time?
There were plenty on Huang Ming’s mind. Having finally witnessed a full scale battle in this world, he realized that there were plenty of ways to improve his father’s troops.
Obviously, the dream of an off-worlder in this sort of situation would be to create a weapon that could be manufactured quickly and cheaply. Usually this meant firearms. However, that would require time and resources. He would have to seek suitable alchemists and sources of gunpowder, both of which may not even exist in this world.
This wasn’t the first time Huang Ming had been in a backward world. He had introduced deadly technologies to spear-wielding civilizations before… and the results were devastating. However, he had the suspicion that he wouldn’t have the luxury of time to do it again in this world, because the Princess of Jin had a ten year headstart over him. If she was indeed the enemy Avatar, it would be logical to assume that she would well be on her way to develop the weapons already.
He shook his head and pushed the matter aside, it was akin to counting eggs before they hatch. There was a more pressing problem, even though he could see the silhouette of Tigertrap Fort in the far distance.
“Are you done daydreaming?” Sunli asked sarcastically from the side.
“Daydreaming? No, I was thinking about a scheme,” he said lazily with a lopsided smile that gave no help at all to his claims.
Truthfully, there was still an air of awkwardness between them, but this was still a military venture and he knew her caustic attitude was a way for her to cope. In return, she too was aware of his cavalier talk was just his way of being friendly. Each was aware of the other’s façade and recognized the pointlessness of breaking the illusion when they have yet to find a suitable conclusion.
A scout arrived to interrupt.
“Sir, you are right,” the scout said in distress, and Huang Ming smiled cynically.
“Go and inform the generals. I’ll be along shortly,” he said and waved a hand dismissal.
Sunli waited until the scout had left before giving him a stare. “Right about what?” she demanded.
“Remember Qin Lang? The man appointed by Gao Fang to take over Tigertrap Fort?”
Sunli nodded. “What of him?”
“He’s blocking the way of our return,” Huang Ming responded simply.
“Blocked. Closed the doors. Sealed the gates. Not letting us go home,” Huang Ming said patiently as if he was lecturing to a child.
Sunli looked as if she was about to explode, but then another messenger arrived.
“Sir, you’re right,” the messenger said, unwittingly repeating the words of the previous scout. But when it looked as if the messenger was about to say more, Huang Ming stopped him.
“Save your breath, you’re going to repeat it again to the generals anyway. Go on, I’ll follow in a few moments,” he said.
The messenger saluted and quickly went away to do so.
Sunli was extremely puzzled, she glared at Huang Ming and waited for him to speak.
“Hold on, wait for it…” he said.
After a few moments, they could hear outraged roars from both Huang Zheng and Zhao Tong in the distance.
“That’s our cue,” Huang Ming said and chuckled.
The march was halted and an emergency meeting was quickly held between the senior officers. The two generals and their trusted aides were doing their best to look as if everything was normal so as not to disturb the ordinary troops, but as Huang Ming and Sunli rode up they could see that their faces were ashen. The only notable person missing was Huang Ke.
“What’s with the gloomy atmosphere, did someone die?” Huang Ming asked lightly.
Huang Zheng resisted the temptation to grab his son by the scruff of the neck.
“We might soon be!” he snarled.
“Let me guess, enemies to the rear, enemies to the front,” Huang Ming said with a grin.
Huang Zheng was exasperated. He admitted that he had completely forgotten about Qin Lang in Tigertrap Fort. The rat-like fellow was one of Gao Fang’s creatures, but Huang Zheng never expected for him to completely bar the way of the returning troops.
According to the first messenger, Qin Lang merely smiled viciously as he tugged the whiskers of his pencil moustache.
“Without the marshal’s order, I cannot open the pass to anyone!” the rat had dared to say. Evidently he did not believe in the messenger’s news regarding Marshal Gao Fang’s defeat, and thought that Huang Zheng and Zhao Tong were returning without the proper orders.
Before Huang Zheng and Zhao Tong could fully register their shock, the second messenger came over to report that the Wei forces which had shadowed their retreat were following them into the pass itself. The generals had assumed that the Wei forces would not do so, because the presence of Tigertrap Fort within would deter any military action.
The generals were aghast. Even though they were confident of beating Wei back; they would incur a tremendous loss due to the low morale of their soldiers. Even if they triumphed against these pursuers, what then? Surely Ran Wei himself wouldn’t be too far behind. And with Qin Lang blocking the pass; they could not retreat back to Wu either.
All these problems presented a grave scenario to Huang Zheng, which was why he was so annoyed with Huang Ming’s nonchalance. Still, he had to praise his son for his foresight. Then he frowned. Why did the messengers report to Huang Ming first?
“Did you send out that scout on your own authority?” he asked.
“Of course. I told you that we might have trouble on the way back,” Huang Ming reminded him.
“You’re just a supervisor, you do not have any actual authority to order my troops around,” Huang Zheng growled.
Huang Ming gave him a wide-eyed stare. “I’m not about to bother you with all the little details, you are more busy with the bigger picture,” he said.
“And where is Ah Ke? Did you ask him to do something?” his father demanded.
Huang Ming smirked.
“Will you stop laughing!” Huang Zheng exclaimed and his long, wintry beard trembled with his irritation.
“Alright,” Huang Ming said, but the smile never disappeared. “Relax, let me tell you what to do…”
The army in dire straits,
But this crisis, he will navigate.