“He who controls the past commands the future, He who commands the future, conquers the past.”
--Kane, ‘Command & Conquer’


Chapter 97 – Second Battle of Tigertrap Pass (2)


When Yan Bei and Zhe Chou finally saw the tail end of the retreating Wu troops, they smirked in self-satisfaction. They saw that the Wu soldiers were disorderly and behaving exactly as how defeated would be.


“Look at this lot, we should put them out of their misery,” Zhe Chou said mockingly.


His colleague Yan Bei laughed uproariously. “And to think our general was so fearful of them!” he said loudly for everyone within earshot to hear. His subordinates chuckled maliciously in agreement.


They were all part of the various selfish factions of Wei. Most of them were highborn and thus looked down on Ran Wei who had fought his way to the top. Besides, his overwhelming victory at Dashan Plains was through trickery. At the end of the day, it wasn’t very glorious for them to celebrate such ungentlemanly conduct. This in turn fuelled their desire to achieve merits of their own. They want to be able to say that while Ran Wei had defeated Wu, it was these noblemen who had finished the job.


“Well, here I go,” Zhe Chou said conversationally.


Yan Bei frowned. “Hold it, why should you be the one who gets this victory?”


“Hah! Why don’t we vie with each other? Let’s see who will get to kill their officers!” Zhe Chou suggested.


“That is fine, then we shall parade their heads before that upstart Ran Wei!”


They slapped their palms together to seal the deal.


In the distance, the Wu soldiers began to move and shout animatedly as if they had just noticed their Wei pursuers. The retreat became a chaotic rout as they threw aside their weapons and ran helter-skelter. The Wu soldiers looked very miserable, behaving like ordinary peasants running away at the first sign of violence.


Zhe Chou and Yan Bei could not resist the temptation and immediately ordered a charge. The Wei soldiers roared with bloodthirst and surged forward. The Wu rearguard collapsed and fled without even attempting to put up a fight.


“This is too easy!” Yan Bei laughed.


“Perhaps too easy,” Zhe Chou said. “Remember how we had tricked Wu into complacency at Dashan Plains. We should be careful as not to fall into a similar trap.”


Yan Bei realized that the advice was sound and ordered his men to be more cautious.


Just as they predicted, a Wu ambush really occurred.


“Zhao Tong is here!”


The two Wei officers were startled when they saw the stout general who was brandishing a long spear. Then they relaxed when they saw the Wu ambushers were quite small in number, and despite the valiant Zhao Tong’s presence; they looked very reluctant to attack.


“Just a feeble attempt to buy more time,” Yan Bei sneered. He ordered his men to push back and once again the Wu soldiers ran away even as Zhao Tong shouted at them to fight. It was almost a tragic sight, even the Wei officers felt a twinge of pity when they saw Zhao Tong gnashing his teeth in futile rage as he retreated.


“Even if the generals want to fight, the morale of their men is completely broken. We should take this chance and assault Tigertrap Fort itself. Word of what happened at Dashan Plains surely would have reached them, they must be panicking by now,” Zhe Chou stated.


Yan Bei agreed and the two officers ordered a march towards the fort. Along the way there were numerous little ambushes and blockades by Zhao Tong, but all were ineffectual in delaying their advance. Each minor skirmish ended with the Wu soldiers pulling back in disorder, and each little victory inflated the ego of the Wei soldiers.


Then they saw the broken and defeated Wu troops forming a stand. A large banner with the word ‘Huang’ was emblazoned on it. At the head of these dispirited men was a general with a long, wintry beard and holding a great glaive.


“The one ahead must be Huang Zheng, eh?” Zhe Chou called out mockingly.


“So you know of my name! Why then do you press my men so hard?” Huang Zheng asked, almost genially like a grandfather.


It only invited derisive laughter from the men of Wei.


“It’s time for you to enter the grave, old man!” Yan Bei ridiculed.


Huang Zheng angrily twirled his glaive above his head in a show of strength. “You menial! You’ll find my blade young enough!”


Yan Bei was about to charge out to meet the venerable general in a duel, but Zhe Chou stopped him.


“Hold it, this is just too suspicious. I’m sure Zhao Tong is hiding somewhere,” he warned.


But after witnessing so many failed Wu attempts, Yan Bei was in no mood for such mild advice. “Hah, another ‘ambush’? After what we have seen, what do we have to fear from them? You can hold position here and keep our men on the lookout, I’ll go and collect the head of Huang Zheng,” he snorted.


Without waiting for his colleague’s response, Yan Bei rode out and duelled Huang Zheng. Zhe Chou was nonplussed but placed his men on alert.


The duel was a stalemate but it could be seen that the elderly Huang Zheng was having the worst of it. Soon he was parrying more than attacking, and Yan Bei was incited to launch continuous blows to finish him off.


When it seemed that Huang Zheng could withstand no longer, Zhao Tong reappeared with some horsemen, making as if to flank Zhe Chou’s position.


“Ra-ha-ha! I’m back!” Zhao Tong laughed, a drastic change from his earlier self.


But Yan Bei remained unimpressed. “Here’s your so-called ambush!” he called out to his colleague, and Zhe Chou was pleased for having predicting it. His men were already warned for such an occurrence, they quickly turned to face this challenge unlike Gao Fang’s men who were too late to block Ran Wei’s devastating charge in Dashan Plains. The men of Wei adjusted their facing and lowered their spears and halberds in a porcupine position, and it seemed that Zhao Tong and his horsemen were about to impale themselves upon them.


But Zhao Tong and his men wheeled away, as if frightened by the fearsome wall of spears that had sprouted before them.


Zhe Chou smiled, congratulating himself for his foresight.


“Sunli is here!” a female voice shouted.


Zhe Chou turned around wildly and saw it was a female warrior in scale armour of black and red, wielding a long spear. She led a large group of howling men wielding axes and swords.


“How dare you use our own trick against us!” Zhe Chou shouted indignantly, remembering the same tactic used by the Feng brothers against Du Fang. His own disdain towards Ran Wei and the Feng brothers for using this underhanded manuever disappeared and it was replaced by fear.


Sunli wasted no words, she saw that the Wei troops were facing the wrong direction and took full advantage of her surprise appearance. She and her men crashed into the rear Zhe Chou’s troops and smashed his formation. Her men who were armed with short-ranged weapons wreaked havoc on the ponderous Wei formation.


At the same time, Zhao Tong returned to smite them, so that the Wei troops were now caught in a pincer.


“Yan Bei! Come back!” Zhe Chou shouted in panic.


Yan Bei saw the dire straits his colleague was in and wanted to pull away from his duel with Huang Zheng, but the veteran general fought back ferociously.


“You had your fun, now it’s my turn,” Huang Zheng said menacingly, and Yan Bei knew too late that he had been fooled all along. Huang Zheng’s great sword rose and fell, and Yan Bei was cleaved in two.


Zhe Chou had no time to mourn for his colleague. He tried his best to fend off Sunli, but the amazon’s spear soon found its mark and he too fell to the earth to rise no more.


The Wei soldiers cried piteously, how did their moment of victory become so perilous? Now it was their turn to flee, their turn to throw aside their weapons as they took to their heels.


Huang Zheng nodded in satisfaction at the victory. It was meagre compared to the devastating defeat at Dashan Plains, but once again things have played out exactly as Huang Ming had told him.


“We’ll lay multiple ambushes and lure them in, before destroying them in a pincer attack,” he had said.


“What? Isn’t that exactly what they did to us at Dashan Plains? Wouldn’t they be on their guard against the same trick?” Huang Zheng had asked.


“So what? It doesn’t mean they have exclusive rights to such schemes,” Huang Ming scoffed. “It doesn’t matter if they know our blatant intentions, it is obvious from their hot pursuit that they are confident in themselves. We just need to keep feeding their ego, and they will not be able to resist and thus fall into our trap. If they are too cautious and wouldn’t follow, then we’ll have more time to make our way to Tigertrap Fort. In any event, we will be safe at our own fort.”


“A fort that remains closed to us,” Zhao Tong reminded him.


“Wei don’t know that,” Huang Ming said. “Once we have dealt with these pursuers, we’ll have time to think about the fort.”


The two generals agreed with his assessment and duly followed the drama that he had laid out for them. Zhao Tong were to act defeated and lay incompetent ambushes to earn the scorn of the enemy, and he enthusiastically did so to great effect. The sudden appearance of Sunli was another factor in surprising the Wei forces, after all Zhe Chou and Yan Bei had only been mildly concerned about Huang Zheng and Zhao Tong and paid no heed to the other nameless Wu officers.


Huang Zheng looked down at the corpse of Yan Bei that he had split in twain, and realized that he didn’t even know of his dead opponent.


It brought a grim smile to his face. Everything had played out as Huang Ming had predicted.


Then he narrowed his eyes. Where was his son anyway? And what about Huang Ke?


He grimaced with annoyance.


Why are they making it a habit of disappearing without telling him?

 

Two leaders brought low,
Their lives they did throw,
How were they to know,
That they would become food for the crows.​