Book 15 Chapter 05 – Mysterious Attackers
By the time the hunters returned from their night hunt, Xiang Shaolong has left with Ji Yanran, Zhao Zhi and the Eighteen Guardians. They rushed toward the Qin / Chu border to liaise with Teng Yi.
Since the death of Zhao Qian and the four maids, this is the first time he is enjoying true happiness.
Mo Ao is gone; Xiao Pan has the full support of the Qin military and even impressed the people of Qin in a successful battle.
Because of Lao Ai, Zhu Ji will be less supportive of Lu Buwei.
With these turn of events, he should finally enjoy some days of peace.
However, there is still a scar left in his mind.
When he left with Zhao Qian and the other ladies on the last mission, he did not antic.i.p.ate any danger to befall him. Out of a sudden, his nightmare began. It was only tonight when he defeated Lu Buwei soundly can he finally catch his breath.
Still, he was fearful of the uncertain future.
Following the travelling path he had decided earlier with Teng Yi, they travelled as quickly as they can for seven days and seven nights. They crossed the Eastern Ridge and the terrain has become flatter. On this night, they set up camp and lit a campfire beside a small river.
Somehow, Xiang Shaolong is feeling very restless. He did not have any appet.i.te for the food hunted by Wu Yan Zhu, Jing Shan and the other Guardians.
Ji Yanran was surprised: “Is something bothering Hubby?”
Zhao Zhi smiled: “Are you thinking about Sister Fang and Bao’er?”
Xiang Shaolong eyed the cackling fire suspiciously and replied in a deep voice: “No. I am feeling very uneasy recently. In fact, this feeling came about when we left Xianyang City. Tonight, this feeling is even stronger than before.”
Ji Yanran’s face lost some colour and she warned: “Hubby is not an ordinary man. If you have this feeling, then something must be amiss.” She turned to the Guardians who are cooking some wild animals over the fire and asked: “Did you guys hear what he said?”
Jing Shan stood up: “Let’s spy on our surroundings.”
The Guardians respected Xiang Shaolong as if he is a deity. When they heard his words, everyone raised their self-awareness and left accordingly.
After the Guardians have left, Zhao Zhi remarked: “Logically speaking, there should not be anyone following us, especially Lu Buwei’s men. Little Jun and the Palace Guards should be watching them closely and it is almost impossible for them to slip away and attack us. This is a complicated issue.”
Ji Yanran gently asked: “Is it possible that Hubby’s restlessness is due to other reasons? From the way it looks, it doesn’t seem like anyone is following us!”
Xiang Shaolong bitterly smiled: “I am not a superhuman who can detect things that are happening far away from me. But after so many years of living in a dangerous environment, I am extra sensitive to ambushes or stalkers. We will have our answer soon enough. Jing Shan’s nose is better than a hunting dog’s nose.”
Zhao Zhi weakly leaned into his bosom, whispering: “I am scared!”
Xiang Shaolong understands that she is thinking about that terrible night when Zhao Qian was killed. Hugging her shoulder to calm her fears down, he a.s.sured: “With me around, no one can harm you.”
Ji Yanran looked up to the dark sky and softly commented: “If there is really somebody following us, then it is a valid reason for Hubby to feel extra restless tonight. After all, this area is generally flat and…”
A tragic cry shattered the tranquillity of the wilderness, proving that Xiang Shaolong’s worries are not unfounded.
Zhao Zhi’s countenance changed: “Isn’t that Wu Da’s voice?”
Wu Da is one of the Guardians. He is known for his nimble limbs and his quick-wittedness. If he was ambushed just like this; either the enemy is very highly-skilled or the trap is very well-laid.
Xiang Shaolong and the two ladies jumped up on their feet. They proceeded to arm themselves and disengaged the horses from one another.
They dared not put out the fire or they will lose touch with the rest of the Guardians.
The burning fire serves to remind them about the impending danger because they are now the targets of some mysterious attackers.
Until now, they have no information about the enemies.
Suddenly, the Guardians returned in a state of panic and their faces are filled with grief. Wu Yan Zhu is carrying Wu Da on his back. Wu Da was heavily injured with one arrow through his back and another arrow through the side of his body. He was breathing laboriously and his clothes are soaked with blood.
An emotional Zhao Zhi began to cry after seeing the usually energetic Wu Da so badly injured.
Wu Shu is about to put out the fire when Xiang Shaolong stopped him. He instructed: “Yanran, please stop the bleeding first. Break the arrow but do not touch the arrow head.”
Before he finished speaking, Yanran is already trying her best to save Wu Da.
Wu Yan Zhu and the other Guardians are close to Wu Da and their relationships are like real brothers. Their eyes turned red and they spat at the fire which betrayed their location.
Xiang Shaolong knew that this is a matter of life and death. He cannot afford to be careless. He calmly asked: “Who are they and how did they attacked you?”
Everyone’s attention focused on Wu Yan Zhu. Apparently, he and Wu Da are a team and they ran into the enemies together while the others did not run into any enemies.
Wu Yan Zhu took a deep breath and suppressed his grief, explaining: “Wu Da and I headed to the east. Just when we wanted to climb a cliff and look down from there, the arrows were fired at us.”
Xiang Shaolong was alarmed. The road to the east is the direction to Chu. In this case, the mysterious attackers may have surrounded them completely.
But it is pitch black now. He is certain that the enemy will not dare to attack them before the sun comes up tomorrow.
When the sun comes up tomorrow, they will all be killed.
Zhao Zhi suddenly cried out even harder. Everyone was shaken and looked down at Wu Da. True enough, Wu Da has stopped breathing.
Xiang Shaolong had a brainwave and prevented the Guardians from hugging Wu Da’s corpse in grief. He hollered: “Let me do something first!”
He thought hard about emergency resuscitation in the 21st century.
Wu Da has always been strong and fit. Moreover, the arrow did not penetrate any of his organs. He has stopped breathing because he has lost too much blood and the heart has temporarily stopped pumping. It may be still possible to resuscitate him.
First, he laid Wu Da on a piece of flat ground and strongly pressed down on the area where his heart is. After several pushes, Wu Da’s body shook once and he resumed breathing and his heart resumed pumping. In the end, Xiang Shaolong did not have to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Ji Yanran and everybody else were completely blown away. Exchanging glances at one another, no one can believe what they just witnessed. They even forgot to cheer at Wu Da’s recovery.
Xiang Shaolong took out a dagger and warned Wu Da: “You mustn’t fall asleep. If you do, you’ll be dead.”
Hardening his heart, he dug the arrowheads out with his dagger. Ji Yanran quickly applied some medicine to stop the bleeding.
Xiang Shaolong stood up and instructed his men to cut a few young trees to construct a stretcher. The Guardians saw that he can even bring a dead man back to life and can feel their confidence soaring. They viewed Xiang Shaolong like an immortal from heaven and their fighting spirit increased dramatically.
After Ji Yanran and Zhao Zhi bandaged Wu Da’s wounds, they came to Xiang Shaolong’s side. Zhao Zhi was full of admiration: “Hubby is full of miracles. You can even bring a dead man back to life!”
Ji Yanran smiled: “I have seen so many of his outrageous methods that this is nothing new.”
Her eyes scanning the pitch black surroundings, she whispered: “We have neglected somebody! Can Hubby guess who it is?”
Xiang Shaolong was pondering how to escape this impending attack. Hearing her words, he guessed: “Du Bi!”
Zhao Zhi exclaimed: “Ah!”
Ji Yanran deduced: “It must be him. Lord Gaoling’s men and horses can reach such a short distance away from Xianyang City without any detection. It must be Du Bi supporting him.”
Xiang Shaolong was. .h.i.t by realization: “Now I understand. All along, he is watching from the sidelines. If Lord Gaoling is successful, he will try to reap some side benefits. Now, he thought that we are really out to look for rebels working with Lord Gaoling. He took this opportunity to trail us and tried to find a chance to kill us.”
Ji Yanran softly sighed: “Since we never considered about this possibility, we have been too careless and ended up in the present situation. But I am certain that there are not too many men on our trail but they are all expert fighters.”
Zhao Zhi’s face turned pale and she bit her lip: “It will be daylight in another four hours. What shall we do?”
Wu Yan Zhu and Jing Shan have constructed a stretcher and are using it to carrying Wu Da while waiting for Xiang Shaolong’s instructions.
Xiang Shaolong leaned over and kissed Ji Yanran’s face. He gladly commented: “Yanran’s words have saved all of us.”
He faced everyone and announced: “When the enemy tried to kill Wu Da with arrows, it is because they lacked manpower and cannot surround the forest to ambush us. They wanted to scare us into staying here.”
Everyone’s spirits lifted after hearing his words but were perplexed at the same time. It is pitch-dark everywhere. It is impossible for the enemy to attack them but it is equally impossible for them to escape because no one can see what is ahead of them.
Xiang Shaolong state in a deep voice: “If the enemy wishes to ambush us with limited soldiers, they will be based in high positions. We will slip away by walking in the river. Firstly, we will not lose our way and secondly, the high mud banks on both sides of the river can protect us from the enemies’ arrows.”
He then smiled: “Without any lights, what can they hit by shooting blindly into the darkness?”
With their horses, everyone walked down the river slowly. The river water is about waist deep.
In this kind of rigorous conditions, it has shown that their years of strict training have not gone to waste.
To prevent others from learning about the Wu Family Elite Army, eighty percent of their training is conducted during the night. Walking through the water in the dark is nothing to them.
It is even more challenging to have their horses following them obediently without a single sound.
Leading the way is Wu Shu and Jing Shan. They are holding onto a shield each in case of an attack and Jing Shan is the best wilderness navigator. He is the best person to spy on the situation ahead of them.
Another two Guardians are in charge of ferrying the wounded Wu Da while another Guardian is leading the horses. Everyone else including Ji Yanran and Zhao Zhi are holding their crossbows in their arms. In case of any confrontation, they will fire their arrows mercilessly.
After travelling for ten over miles without any interruption, everyone knows that the most crucial moment has come and raised their alertness.
Coincidently, the river has flowed to some uneven ground and the water level rises and falls accordingly. The sounds of gushing water are able to cover the sounds of their wading.
They were surrounded by dense forests in all four directions. Although stars can be seen beyond the canopy of the trees, the river area is still pitch black. The air is filled with the stench of mud and rotting leaves.
With his animal-like instincts, Jing Shan continued to lead everyone forward.
After walking for another ten odd steps, the river bed sinks even lower and the mud banks are even higher as a result.
The trees here are even thicker than before and the stars are hidden from sight. Like a bunch of blind men, everyone is moving forward based on their intuition and sense of touch.
Right at this moment, strong coughing sounds can be heard on the left bank.
Everyone was shocked and immediately stopped moving and increased their guard.
Although they have antic.i.p.ated that they will encounter some enemies, they did not expect it to be so sudden and without any warning at all.
They are stuck below in the river. If the enemies fire their arrows down at them, no one will be able to stay alive.
All it takes is for one of the horses to whinny and everyone will be dead.
Luckily, they cannot see the enemy and the enemy cannot see them too.
From the right bank, a voice scolded: “Are you trying to scare me to death? All the spirits and ghosts would have been frightened off by your coughing.”
On the left bank, someone softly laughed: “All of you are intimidated by Xiang Shaolong and are so easily agitated. After we have shot his men, I am sure that he will not dare to wander around recklessly. Moreover, we have laid horse-tripping ropes in all the strategic locations, including the river.”
Still standing motionlessly in the river, everyone was feeling extremely nervous but was relieved at the same time.
While the enemies were talking and distracted, Jing Shan used a dagger and felt his way under the water. He cut three horse-tripping ropes in succession and cleared the obstacles away.
Just as they were about to continue moving, footsteps can be heard from the forests on the left side.
In a short while, an enemy messenger arrived and announced: “Orders from Master Bai. Tomorrow morning, we will attack them according to plan. Whoever killed Xiang Shaolong will be rewarded with five hundred taels of gold and whoever can catch Talented Lady Ji alive will be rewarded with one thousand taels of gold. Everybody clear?”
In the river, everyone was stunned. Ji Yanran’s body is actually worth twice as much as Xiang Shaolong’s life.
It is meaningless to debate with the enemy over the reward amount. With Jing Shan leading the way, they left the enemies further and further behind.
At daybreak, they were only two miles away from the danger zone.
They climbed up a little hill and observed the enemy from afar.
Wu Da’s condition has stabilized and everyone’s spirits rose.
The Guardians stood guard in all four corners while Jing Shan climbed up a tree and a.n.a.lyzed the surroundings.
Below the hill is a vast expanse of gra.s.slands and there are trees all over. Once in a while, the river can be seen flowing among the gra.s.slands and flocks of birds are flying across the orange sky, forming a colourful and vibrant panorama.
Xiang Shaolong and his two pretty wives were leaning against a large rock, sighing that the scenery is indeed beautiful but they are not in the mood to enjoy it. Ji Yanran whispered to Xiang Shaolong: “Last night, the enemies mentioned that their leader is surnamed Bai. Among Du Bi’s family warriors, there is a man named Bai Fei. He is well-known in Qin for his tracking and ambushing skills. Originally, he was a horse thief in the northlands but offended the King of the Xiong Nu so he escaped south and started working for Du Bi. If this is the man who is ambushing us, then we are in deep trouble.”
Xiang Shaolong was amazed: “Why is Yanran so familiar with Du Bi’s men?”
Ji Yanran kissed him lightly and gently replied: “I am concerned for you! I am helping you to do these things that you are too busy to do. Don’t simply dismiss Sister Qin as a simple woman. She is actually very well-informed about everything happening inside and outside Qin. This information about Du Bi is from her sources.”
Xiang Shaolong glanced at their campsite last night and decided: “If this is the case, we now have a chance to ambush Bai Fei. He will be the man that is leading the group chasing towards us sooner or later. We must present him with a shower of arrows and this will take care of all our worries.”
As the morning sun is showing more and more of itself from the east, sounds of human talking and horses neighing can be heard from afar. A group of roughly five hundred men are riding through the dense woods towards them.
The men are split into five groups and the leading group is the smallest one with about fifty men and their speed is incredibly fast.
What is even more startling is that they only spent a short amount of time and managed to determine that they have travelled down the river and are now chasing in their direction.
But this is something they antic.i.p.ated as Bai Fei is an expert horse thief.
Ji Yanran is using a special bow that needs to be supported with her leg. The shooting range is one thousand feet but as they are shooting down from a higher ground, the range is even further.
Since Bai Fei will lead the chase and be the first rider, they will know who exactly to shoot.
As they enemies approached them, everyone’s heart is thumping wildly and they are having difficulty breathing.
If they cannot kill Bai Fei who is the tracking expert, coupled with their superior numbers and highly-skilled fighters, it will be extremely precarious situation for them. Additionally, they have the burden of Wu Da who is injured.
Over the two mile chase, Bai Fei only stopped three times briefly before they entered their firing range. Because of the thick vegetation, they did not have the chance to get a clear firing target.
Bai Fei is indeed an extraordinary man. He weaved in and out of the forests, making it hard for anyone to shoot him.
Bai Fei the professional horse thief c.u.m a.s.sa.s.sin must have some true abilities to be able to survive until today.
Right now, Bai Fei happened to stop in a forest clearing. Without hesitation, Ji Yanran fired her arrow. The moment the bow sounded, Bai Fei evaded to one side and the arrow brushed past the horse and hit the gra.s.s below.
The shooting mechanisms rang out continuously.
Wu Yan Zhu and his fellow Guardians sent their arrows flying non-stop at Bai Fei. Bai Fei’s horse may have been struck down but the man himself has disappeared among the trees.
Bai Fei must have a keen sense of sight, smell and hearing.
The enemies are thrown into disarray. They quickly dismounted from their horses and hid among the trees and bushes.
Xiang Shaolong secretly sighed.
He will now have to play a challenging cat-and-mouse game with them in this wilderness.
If he let his guard down, this will be his final resting place.