Book 11 Chapter 07 – Pine Forest Ambush
Snowflakes fell relentlessly from the sky.
On the dark snowy plains, everyone is silently packing up the tents and getting ready to leave.
Xiang Shaolong, Teng Yi, Jing Jun, Xiao Yuetan, Li Si as well as the twelve elite Wu family warriors are p.r.o.ne on the riverbank, scanning for any suspicious activity on the opposite sh.o.r.e.
Beyond the black pine forest, there was no other sign of life. If not for the capture of Deng Jia and knowing the enemies’ ambush from his confession, it will be hard to imagine that there were three thousands enemies spying on them with ill intentions.
Xiao Yuetan coldly snorted: “Yan really stooped so low just to relieve the siege by the Zhao army.” However, Xiang Shaolong thought that it is rather common for such despicable acts during these warring times.
Lu Xiong appeared and reported: “Grand Tutor! Everything is ready. We can set off anytime.”
Xiang Shaolong gave the order to depart.
The one thousand Qin soldiers were split into two groups of five hundred each. Pulling their horses and carriages, one group went upstream while the other group went downstream. Lighting their lamps, they resembled numerous fireflies.
Ji Yanran, the other girls and the three hundred Lu Family warriors retreated among the darkness into the red pine forest.
The stillness of the night was shattered by the galloping sounds of the horses and the movement of the carriages.
Teng Yi eyed the black forest opposite the river and laughed: “If I am Xu Yi Luan, I will be having a bad headache now.”
Xiao Yuetan asked in a deep voice: “Will he be tricked?”
Jing Jun replied in a low voice: “We will know soon enough!”
It is difficult to navigate the paths in the dark and the armies moved at a snail’s pace. It was only two hours later that both groups are considerable apart from each other.
As agreed, they will meet twenty days later at Mount Yangchang which is situated besides Qinshui and at the Zhao-Han border. If they did not meet up after three days of waiting, they will meet up again at Mount w.a.n.g Lung Ling at the Zhao-Qi border.
The Qin army has undergone strict training and everyone is highly skilled in archery and horse-riding. With a smaller force, it is much easier to escape in this uninhabited territory.
Teng Yi softly whistled: “The enemy is moving!”
Footsteps and hoof beats sounded from a hill on the opposite sh.o.r.e. Hundreds of torches were lit and two groups of men chased upstream and downstream like two fire dragons.
Xu Yi Luan guessed that he has been discovered that there is no more need to keep hiding.
When the two fire dragons have gone far, Xiang Shaolong ordered: “Little Jun, please investigate the opposite sh.o.r.e again. If everyone is really gone, we will cross the river at dawn tomorrow.”
Jing Jun grunted a reply and led the twelve elite Wu family warriors across the river on two hidden rafts. Li Si and Xiao Yuetan went along with them.
Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi returned to the red pine forest leisurely.
This surprise ambush by the Yan army has caused them some panic but everything is resolved for the moment.
Xiang Shaolong was about to say something but he interrupted by what he sees in front of him. Trembling, Teng Yi shouted: “Not good!”
The edge of the red pine forest is filled with a thousand red flaming torches. Closing in like a fan towards the centre of the forest, the air is filled with battle cries and the attack is earth-shattering.
Both men thought of the a.s.sa.s.sination of Lord Longyang. The colour disappearing from their faces, they drew their swords and ran madly towards the red pine forest.
There were at least five hundred invaders and they had approached the forest in silence. When they were discovered by the sentries of the Lu Family Warriors, they charged straight into battle.
From the start, the Yan army has ambushed Xiang Shaolong’s entourage from three sides – upstream, downstream and within the red pine forest. Even if they wish to escape now, the river will block their escape.
In such freezing weather, jumping into the river is as good as committing suicide.
Their opponent employs the most vicious, bloodthirsty and well-planned strategies to kill them all.
Killing sounds filled the air as men and horses fell alike. Ji Yanran was directing the family warriors and was protecting Wu Tingfang, Zhao Qian and the four maids. Together with the Meng brothers, they escaped towards the river.
Luckily, the forest is very dense, the ground is uneven and it is dark at night. Otherwise, they would have perished under the arrows of the enemy.
However, they were being forced to the river by the attackers and they may not survive anyway.
Countless enemies are streaming over from all over. The Lu Family warriors may be top fighters and fought with their lives but the overwhelming majority of enemies soon overcome them.
Barely leaving the forest, Chun Ying gave a tragic cry. A long arrow has pierced her back and she died on the spot.
Wu Tingfang and the other maids wailed in agony.
Coolly, Ji Yanran pulled Zhao Qian and yelled: “Follow me!” Snaking through the edge of the forest, she advanced towards a small hill besides the river.
Only about a hundred warriors are with her. Half of them re-entered the forest to re-engage the enemy. The remaining sixty-odd men covered their retreat and rushed up the hill together. The snow-covered slopes only caused their ascent to take twice as long.
Behind them, torches can be seen everywhere and the forest is shining red like blood.
On the side, ten odd enemies disguised as hunters came a.s.saulting. Mad on her killing spree, Ji Yanran pierced continuously with her lance and killed several men in a row, creating an opening.
Another enemy chopped down at Zhao Qian who is behind Ji Yanran, disregarding the fact that she is female and powerless.
Ji Yanran’s lance is embedded into another enemy’s chest and cannot rescue her in time. Meng Tian who is on her right dashed over and his sword flashed, severing the man head from his body.
As they are about to reach the hilltop, a shower of arrows rained on them and another ten family warriors were felled.
The enemies scrambled over and chopped furiously at those hit by arrows to ensure their deaths.
Qiu Ying slipped and fell onto the ground.
Xia Ying and Dong Ying were as close to her as real sisters. They turned back to help her up. With this lapse, a gang of unscrupulous invaders broke through their defences and in the chaos, murdered all three of them. It was a heart-breaking sight.
Wu Tingfang nearly fainted upon seeing this. Supported by Meng Wu and Meng Tian, they reached the hilltop.
The remaining thirty family warriors utilise their advantageous terrain height and managed to hold the attackers at bay but not for long too.
At this crucial moment, Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi arrived to help them. Noticing the maids’ absence, they could guess what had happened.
Xiang Shaolong exclaimed: “Get to the river. Jing Jun is there!”
Wu Tingfang wailed: “Hubby!” Meng Wu interrupted her and dragged her away.
Ji Yanran cried: “Don’t get caught up in the fighting!” Leading the four persons, they ran down slope towards the river.
Teng Yi had reached the hilltop. Waving his heavy sword, he ma.s.sacred everyone in his sight.
Xiang Shaolong cut off the pursuers of Ji Yanran and began his own killing spree. The fighting is simply horrendous.
As another hundred of attackers swarmed up the hill, someone shouted: “Xiang Shaolong is here!”
Xiang Shaolong just disembowelled two men. Scanning his surrounding, he can see more enemies advancing. Except for Teng Yi, there is no other survivor. He knew that if he still continued to fight, he will meet his end here. Roaring loudly, he brandished his sword and fought his way to Teng Yi, bellowing: “Go!”
By now, their bodies are filled with sword wounds. Teng Yi nodded and swept his sword, killing another two men.
Fighting as they retreat, they were hard pressed and found it hard to slip away.
Eyeing the countless fighters coming out of the red pine forest and climbing the hill to engage them, Xiang Shaolong called out: “Let’s roll down!”
Pulling Teng Yi, they bend down and rolled down the hill slope.
Thanks to the heavy snowfall, the ground was wet and soft and they rolled safely to the bottom of the hill.
Like madmen, the Yan army chased down the hill.
As they got up, Teng Yi grunted. His right shoulder was pierced by an arrow.
Ten odd enemies are rushing over from both sides.
Xiang Shaolong pulled out his flying needles and shot them out in succession. Before they knew what happened seven men were strike dead. The remaining men scrambled to safety.
Suddenly, the fiery torches dimmed.
The snowy slope is extremely slippery. Several of the torch-bearers slipped and fell into the snow, extinguishing the flames.
Teng Yi reached behind him and held onto the arrow. Pulling the arrow out with some of his flesh and blood, he struck the arrowhead into the throat of another attacker.
With his armour protecting him, the arrow only entered his flesh by a few inches and his organs are unharmed. Otherwise, he may lose his life.
Taking advantage of the low visibility, they charged into a group of enemies and break out of the encirclement. Once freed, they sped towards the river.
Behind them, three groups of men carrying torches were trailing closely and battle cries filled their ears.
In an instance, they reached the river sh.o.r.e, Jing Jun leapt over and happily cried: “Let’s go!”
Leading them, he ran along the river.
The first raft carrying Ji Yanran and the rest had just left. The other raft is waiting for them.
Jumping of the raft, they rowed towards the opposite sh.o.r.e.
As they reached the centre of the river, the pursuers came to the river bank. Taking out their bows, they rained arrows on Xiang Shaolong and company.
The twelve elite Wu Family Warriors formed a human wall and used their swords to deflect the incoming arrows.
Tragic calls were heard.
One man was. .h.i.t and he fell onto Xiang Shaolong.
Grieved, Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi yelled at the same time: “Get down!”
Another three men were hit by arrows.
The rafts finally left the firing range of the arrows and arrived at the opposite sh.o.r.e.
The enemies were cursing helpless. To think they let them escape even in such a disadvantageous situation.
Xiang Shaolong had just leapt onto sh.o.r.e when Wu Tingfang heartbreakingly leapt into his blood-stained embrace.
Jing Jun suddenly cry out: “Third Princess!”
Xiang Shaolong trembled uncontrollably as he looked over. Zhao Qian was in Ji Yanran’s arms with an arrow protruding from her chest and she has breathed her last.
Although his wounds have been bandaged, Xiang Shaolong’s heart is still bleeding. When he is fully confident about protecting his loved ones, they were killed right before his eyes. In these catastrophic times, the majority of women were dependent on men for their survival. If their men happened to be killed, they will be handed over to their conquerors. There, they will face abuses such as prost.i.tution. Su Nu, Su’er, Zhao Ni and Ting Fangshi died first and Xiang Shaolong was informed later. He may be heart-broken but it is still better than personally witnessing Zhao Qian and the four maids dying while he stared helplessly. Recalling their usual happy demeanour, he could feel an intense hatred surging in his heart. If he had not insisted on bringing them along, they will not suffer such a terrible ending.
Lady luck has always been on his side. From the first time he came to Handan City, the trip to Daliang to steal the Lu Gong Manual, the Wu Family escape to Qin, the capture of Zhao Mu, he has always managed to gain the upper hand in all the dangerous situations. The death of the five girls has shattered his beautiful dream. This time, he did not lose to inferior battle strategies, he lost to luck.
Witnessing the fresh graves, he cannot help but think of the exposed corpse of the four maids, the four elite Wu Family warriors who were shot dead on the raft and the three hundred faithful warriors of the Lu Buwei. For the first time ever, Xiang Shaolong was filled with the most intense murderous hatred and revenge! He will not show any mercy to Lord Yangquan or Yan. Only blood can wash away this debt of blood! Wu Tingfang is wailing loudly in the arms of the sobbing Ji Yanran, adding to his pain.
Xiao Yuetan approached Xiang Shaolong and swore in a low voice: “Grand Tutor Xiang must take it easy. When we get back to Xianyang, I will get Premier to seek revenge for us.”
In this moment, Jing Jun swiftly came to the gravesite and hissed in a frantic tone: “Enemies are sighted on the south-eastern direction. I detected Lord Yangquan’s men and Han soldiers. They numbered five hundred and are equipped with hunting dogs. We better leave as soon as possible.”
Filled with grief, Xiang Shaolong wondered aloud: “Where can we go?”
Teng Yi reasoned: “The road to Mount Yangchang is flat ground and rivers. We do not have any war horses and will not escape their pursuit. The best way is to go through the mountains to Jing Jun’s hometown, Jing village. There, we can obtain provisions and horses. We can even recruit some top hunters and add to our fighting strength. Jing Jun and I are familiar with the roads and can evade enemies’ on our trail.”
Xiang Shaolong forced himself to brighten up. Glancing at his two lovely wives Ji Yanran and Wu Tingfang as well as the Meng brothers, Xiao Yuetan, Li Si, Jing Jun, Teng Yi and the remaining eight elite Wu Family warriors, he decided: “Great! Let’s go. As long as I, Xiang Shaolong, am alive, Lord Yangquan and his allies will not get away with this.”
They travelled day and night.
Twenty five days later, after enduring several hardships and hunger, they came to Jing village.
Hunting for food during winter in extremely tough. Fortunately, Teng Yi and Jing Jun are the best in this field. It is due to these two men that Xiang Shaolong and the rest did not die of hunger in the mountains.
On a few occasions, the pursuers nearly caught up to them. It was also due to Teng Yi and Jing Jun’s familiarity of the mountains that they managed to slip away each time.
By the time they got to Jing village, even strong men like Xiang Shaolong and Teng Yi were on the verge of collapse, not mentioning normal people and girls like Xiao Yuetan, Li Si and Wu Tingfang. Luckily, they have achieved some fitness by practising swordplay or they will not be able to hold out. However, their zombie-like appearance is still heart-rending.
Jing village comprises of ten odd cl.u.s.ters of huts situated all over the mountains. Teng Yi has always been the most respected hunter in the eyes of the villagers. Every kid in this village has benefitted from his horse-riding or archery lessons. Viewing his return, everyone was excited with happiness. They did their best to see to the needs of Xiang Shaolong’s group and helped them to spy around for enemy activities.
After three days of rest and recuperation, everyone is fully rejuvenated and fresh. They have regained their confidence and fighting spirit.
Time can dilute everything, including burying all the unhappy events deep into the hearts.
Everyone is having lunch in the big hut of the village leader when Teng Yi brought Xiang Shaolong to the open area outside the house. Thirty eight young hunters were chatting excitedly with Jing Jun. Seeing the appearance of the two men; they stood at attention and seemed to be waiting to be selected to join them.
Xiang Shaolong asked in a low voice: “Second brother can decide for me.”
Teng Yi answered: “Isn’t it better for them to feel that they were selected by you the world-renowned hero?”
He continued: “None of them were originally surnamed Jing. The entire Jing village inhabitants are originally nomads from the north. They live a carefree life and do whatever they want. Due to Zhao’s expansion and the Xiong Nu’s hara.s.sment, they were forced to come south. After living here for hundreds of years, they were despised by the Han and were forced to change their names. Therefore, they have a great dislike for Zhao and Han.”
Anger can be seen on the faces of the young hunters.
Jing Jun added: “Everyone here practises martial arts to fight raiders from the Han soldiers, horse thieves and invaders from other villages.”
Teng Yi concluded: “These hunters were specially selected from a thousand hunters. They are the best. With additional training, I guarantee they will not be inferior to our elite Wu Family warriors.”
Xiang Shaolong asked: “Is everyone willing to throw in their lot with me Xiang Shaolong?”
The hunters agreed in unison.
Xiang Shaolong swore: “From today onwards, we will share wealth and woe.”
Everyone cheered wildly.
Back in the house, Teng Yi reminded: “We will set out for Huang Lung Ling tomorrow. We have lost all our precious cargo in the red pine forest. It seems inappropriate to continue our mission without any valuables.”
Xiang Shaolong replied: “Those are secondary.”
That night, the terrible battles, the tragic cries and the intense feelings surfaced in their dreams once again.
Wu Tingfang woke up with a scream and her face is covered with tears.
Xiang Shaolong embraced her tightly and tried his best to comfort her. On the other side, Ji Yanran woke up too. She opened the window to allow more fresh air to enter the room.
After Wu Tingfang went back to sleep, Xiang Shaolong has lost all desire to sleep. He felt as if there was large boulder pressing down on his chest. “It is a beautiful night. Why don’t we take a stroll?” he suggested.
Ji Yanran replied in a pitiful tone: “Fang’er cannot sleep alone. You go ahead!”
Xiang Shaolong put on a coat and left the house. Stepping into the garden and under the bright moonlight, he noticed Xiao Yuetan looking at the sky mysteriously.
Xiang Shaolong was astonished and approached him asking: “Brother Xiao cannot sleep too?”
As if he was expecting Xiang Shaolong, Xiao Yuetan continued to stare at the black sky and sighed loudly: “I love to let my thoughts wander, especially at night. Therefore, I love to hug a beauty to sleep to prevent myself from thinking too much. My bad habit came back tonight!”
Xiang Shaolong did not feel good hearing this. He continued to ask: “What is Brother Xiao thinking of?”
Xiao Yuetan shook his head and bitterly laughed: “I am thinking about Master Lu. Ever since he became Premier, he has changed a lot. It is hard to link the present him to the previous him.”
Xiang Shaolong bitterly laughed: “Regardless of any changes, the basic character remains the same. It is only due to different environments that people suppressed their basic nature to achieve a goal. When they no longer need to hide their true intentions, the suppressed basic nature will resurface and be dominant. This is the most obvious in people who suddenly rise to the top and are given plenty of authority. They will be beyond control as they no longer need to subject themselves to the will of others.”
Xiao Yuetan was shaken and looked to him. “From your tone, Shaolong seems to be unhappy with Master Lu!” he commented in a surprise tone.
Xiang Shaolong knew he had let the cat out of the bag. He hurriedly explained: “I am just causally mentioning from personal experience. It has nothing to do with Premier Lu.”
After a quick moment of contemplation, Xiao Yuetan rea.s.sured in a soft voice: “Shaolong need not deceive me. Master Lu and you are two different breeds of human. I can totally trust you but can I totally trust Master Lu? Master Tu and I may be his confidante but we still have to watch our tongue around him. We are afraid to offend him after all.”
Pausing, he added: “Moreover, he expanded his influence too quickly. When we first arrived at Xianyang, there were only seven hundred advisor-guests. Now, we have exceeded five thousand. How can we not incur the jealousy of the Qin population? This must be why we were a.s.sa.s.sinated in the pine forest.”
Xiang Shaolong remembered those who lost their lives and kept quiet.
Xiao Yuetan knew that he has reminded Xiang Shaolong about the unhappy incident. Sighing, he advised: “After we have been through this life-and-death incident, I will be frank with you. With your character that values human relationships and love, you will soon be unable to tolerate Premier Lu’s actions. Do you understand what I am trying to say?!”
Xiang Shaolong nodded his head in silence.
For Xiao Pan, he will be Lu Buwei’s future enemy. This is his destiny!
The death of Zhao Qian and the maids has him fully convinced to help Xiao Pan unite the six states.
Only military might can eliminate military might.
Although the state of law is only seen two thousand years later, it will begin with him now.
“It is late!” he answered. “And we have to set off early tomorrow morning. Why don’t we retire to bed now?”
Xiao Yuetan invited: “You go ahead! I still want to stand here for a while longer.”
Xiang Shaolong smiled: “Then let’s use this wonderful night to chat till morning. I wish to understand Xianyang City’s position to a greater extent.”
Xiao Yuetan was delighted: “I will be glad to share with you my knowledge!”
The night pa.s.sed like this.
The next morning, the fifty odd persons rode off towards Huang Lung Ling.