Chapter 223: One against Many
According to Nan Xun’s shadow guards, the third prince of Eastern Wu had brought thirty thousand soldiers to face off Northern Qi. Jun Huang frowned. “Thirty thousand? Are you sure?”
Nan Xun nodded. “We’ve double-checked. Thirty thousand, no more, no less.”
“That couldn’t be all the soldiers they could deploy,” she said calmly. “And if that’s all of their available soldiers, they wouldn’t have sent them out just like that. They must be planning something.”
“I agree,” said Nan Xun. “We’ve deployed an army of a hundred thousand, and yet they sent only thirty thousand. It’s akin to hitting a stone with an egg. However, our information has been validated. I’m at a loss as to what they’re plotting.”
Jun Huang mused. She didn’t voice her suspicion since she didn’t have any evidence. She only told Nan Xun to be on guard. Once Eastern Wu’s army reached the border, they would see for themselves how many soldiers there were.
Nan Xun could understand her concerns. He told his soldiers to keep their eyes open.
Days passed. The Eastern Wu’s army emerged. There were indeed only thirty thousands soldiers on horseback. It wasn’t a lot, but it wasn’t that little. Northern Qi had deployed forty thousand cavalry units and sixty thousand infantry units. Mounted soldiers were key to any battles. The fact that all thirty thousand soldiers of Eastern Wu were on horseback lessened her suspicion somewhat, but she still had a feeling that this was a ploy.
“Do you think this is all they’ve got now?” asked Nan Xun.
Jun Huang shook her head. “We’re missing something here. It’s impossible for them to defeat Northern Qi at the moment, and yet they sent out soldiers instead of admitting defeat. I wonder what they want.”
Nan Xun didn’t have an answer. Perhaps they would have a better clue after a few battles with Eastern Wu. He directed the conversation to another topic. “Your letter to Qi Chen is appropriately written, but he’s bound to see this battle as an opportunity rather than a crisis. He’ll think that the emperor had assigned Qi Yun to this post to let him prove himself. Aren’t you worried that Qi Chen will conclude that the emperor now favors Qi Yun?”
“Isn’t that the truth?” asked Jun Huang.
He frowned, looking at her with puzzled eyes. She smiled and didn’t volunteer an explanation.
Eastern Wu had made camp near the border as well. The state preceptor shuddered at the sight of Northern Qi’s army. He couldn’t stand doing nothing. He rushed into the third prince’s tent.
“Northern Qi has an army of a hundred thousand, while we have only thirty thousand,” he said without preamble. “Aren’t we just marching to our doom?”
The third prince flicked him a glance and smiled coldly. “That’s what I’m aiming for.”
“You’re going to surrender without a fight?”
“No, no. That’s not in our nature. We have to engage them in a few battles to relax their guard. Even if they have doubts, they won’t be able to find anything concrete. They’ll think they’ve overestimated us. When autumn came, we’ll destroy them once and for all.” His eyes were chilling, and his tone dripping with malice.
The state preceptor gave him a considering look before walking out of the tent.
A few days later saw the first full-blown battle between the two countries. Before that, they had been testing the waters. Northern Qi pulled back before a real fight broke out, and Eastern Wu retreated before they suffered great casualties. Today, both countries sent out their armies for a real fight.
Qi Yun was here to gain experience. This was a learning opportunity he couldn’t let slip. He volunteered to join the troop. Nan Xun didn’t argue. In his opinion, it was a good thing for Qi Yun to fight alongside the soldiers. If they won, he would win the approval of the soldiers and make a name for himself. That would help him in his pursuit of the throne.
Jun Huang was unwilling to stay behind on her own. She insisted on fighting as well.
Nan Xun looked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone watching them. “Anyone can die on a battlefield. This isn’t a game. I don’t think you should join the troop.”
Her hatred for Eastern Wu had overpowered her reasons. She ignored Nan Xun’s objection, staring at him with steely gaze. “Everyone has their goal,” she said, wrapping her lips around every word. “I don’t know what’s Your Highness’, but you know mine. And you know I won’t be swayed in this matter. I hope Your Highness can grant me my wish.”
Qi Yun cut in before Nan Xun could say anything. He had heard their conversation. Jun Huang’s determined eyes caught his attention. “If the gentleman wants to fight, Royal Brother should let him. The battlefield is dangerous, but to my knowledge, the gentleman is a competent fighter. He should be able to protect himself.”
Nan Xun wanted to argue, but he knew it wouldn’t help. Jun Huang had made up her mind. He would only make the two of them mad by turning her down.
With a resigned sigh, he looked up at her. “Since you’ve decided, I’m not going to try changing your mind. You must not be reckless on battlefield, however. Obey the orders. We don’t know what Eastern Wu is planning. If they retreat, don’t make chase.”
Jun Huang knew that Nan Xun was telling rules every soldier would have to follow. She nodded in acknowledgement. Tomorrow, they’d fight.
Nan Xun couldn’t help being worried after their conversation. He came to a decision. He summoned his shadow guards and ordered them to protect her at all cost tomorrow. Nothing was to happen to her.
Early in the morning, everyone in the camp rose to prepare for the fight. The soldiers were driven and vigorous. There was no trace of fear on their faces.
Jun Huang put on the armor Nan Xun had given her before walking out of her tent. From a distance, she spotted Qi Yun, who was training with a sword.
She didn’t know Qi Yun was this good with a sword. Every move he made was perfectly controlled. Of course, there were soldiers who thought his moves were merely parlor tricks. Only when he entered the battle would they see if he truly was a good fighter.
Qi Yun smiled in response to their doubts. His silence spoke volumes.
Nan Xun approached Jun Huang. “Remember to protect yourself.”
“Same with you,” she responded with a smile, looking at the strong frame under his armor.
He turned away. It was time for them to set out. He left in big strides, leaving Jun Huang staring after him. She lowered her head and chuckled ruefully.
Her melancholy vanished as soon as she rode towards the enemy force. She gritted her teeth, her eyes fixed on the Eastern Wu soldiers. She was suddenly transported back in time to the day Western Que was destroyed. The weight of the whole world had been on her shoulders, but she must not fall. She wouldn’t be satisfied until she killed every last one of the Eastern Wu soldiers.
The shadow guards cursed under their breaths. They had to keep an eye on Jun Huang in the chaos of the battlefields. Nan Xun had ordered them to protect her even at the risk of their own lives. The dozen of men dared not let their attention stray.
Jun Huang fought ferociously. Her eyes seemed to have turned red. Blood geysered out of the enemies’ wounds with every of her strikes. She was fearless against the soldiers. The warm blood and the metallic taste didn’t deter her. She didn’t even flinch when blood splattered onto her face, into her eyes. She blinked it out and continued fighting.
The shadow guards started. They didn’t know this frail-looking man could be this fierce a fighter. She didn’t hesitate at all before she struck, and with every slash, an enemy soldier fell to his death.
Soon, she had carved out a bloody path for herself into the center of the enemy’s formation. The shadow guards were the only ones still at her side. She had strayed from the main army. Still, she was as fearless as she’d been.
“We can’t rush further ahead, Gentleman Feng.” One of the shadow guards finally decided to intervene. “Otherwise the Eastern Wu army will easily trap us here.”
She paused to look at him. She soon figured out what was happening. After a moment of silence, she nodded and turned back. There was no point in making it difficult for Nan Xun’s subordinates.
Even though hatred had pushed her to reach her full potential, she was but one person. Exhaustion caught up with her. She ducked down to dodge a sword coming her way. Before she could straighten up, her horses tripped and fell, throwing her onto the ground. She rolled, dodging both the enemies’ spears and the horse’s hooves.
She backed away, steadying herself. When several riders came at her with their spears, she leapt into the air with a push of her hand and landed some distance away.
Her horse was nowhere to be seen. She stood out as a target even though she was standing among a swarm of soldiers with her hair unkempt and her armor dirtied.
She felt the force of the hit when a burly man ambushed her from behind before it landed. The shadow guards couldn’t make it in time. Their hearts jumped to their throats, worried that she would be hurt. Fortunately, she quickly whirled around and blocked the attack with her sword. She was knocked back by the sheer force of the attack. She darted to the man’s back when his attention faltered and, without hesitation, stabbed through the man’s neck and slit his throat. Blood gushed out of the cut and splattered all over her.
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