Chapter 35: You’re Afraid it’ll Embarrass Me
Changping, located in the Shanxi region, began to cool beginning in October of every year. By the year’s end, the weather was frigidly cold.
When Gu Nan arrived, the weather was under a bout of heavy snow. The prepared furs were taken out and worn for some additional comfort. However, besides the snow and low temperatures, the winds were especially strong in this hilly area. When a strong gust blew, what followed was a biting cold.
The Qin camp was situated atop a hill. The entire army encampment housed about half a million soldiers; counting Bai Qi and the newly-arrived army, it totaled at least six hundred thousand troops.
To make flat ground large enough for a huge encampment in the mountains, as well as the outer wall, tens of meters high, It’s hard to fathom the sheer manpower spent to accomplish this.
“The Zhao army can’t stand up forever.”
Bai Qi said with assured confidence. He wore a large animal fur and was looking down at the bamboo slips in his hands.
Inside the large tent was a warm fire lit within a charcoal stove.
“Yes, the Zhao army cannot stand forever. However, that Zhao Kuo has not changed from using Lian Po’s tactics. By keeping a solid defense, I cannot guess what his plans are. The Zhao army may have a food shortage, yet their morale has been quite high recently. Their increased skirmishes have also caused sizeable damage to the camp.”
Sitting facing Bai Qi was an old general, although a bit younger than Bai Qi.
His eyes were long and narrow, giving off a rather unfriendly feeling. But when he spoke, his voice was with all seriousness.
“Old He, it’s now well into winter, how is our river supply line faring?” Bai Qi folded the bamboo slips and asked faintly.
This old general was Bai Qi’s deputy general, Wang He, tasked with overseeing the status of the camp.
When he heard the question, his brows furrowed and smiled bitterly. “The river freezes occasionally during the winter, even more frequently now that it’s in the middle of the season. We send soldiers out every day to break the ice and dredge the river. As of right now, our grass and grain are still being supplied adequately.”
Besides the two senior generals, Gu Nan was also there. Originally it was meant as a routine lecture on military strategy, but unexpectedly, Wang He suddenly arrived to make a report on the camp. Even more strangely, she wasn’t dismissed and left to spectate.
“Zhao’s supply lines are frequently disrupted by our troops. Their food reserves should be on the verge of collapsing. I think that if we continue, they should run out very soon.”
After listening to the report, Bai Qi started to nod.
But the situation at Changping has escalated for too long, almost the full strength of both nations has amassed itself just a brisk march away from the other. If it drags on for several more months, it won’t be good news for Qin.
To achieve victory, great losses must be incurred.
Bai Qi turned his head towards Gu Nan who was sitting reclusively in the corner.
“Nan’er, if you were that Zhao Kuo, what would you do?”
With that, Gu Nan’s plan to get by without being noticed failed, and she could only look up helplessly at the failure of her scheme.
Seeing the two veterans lock eyes on her, she had to seriously think for an answer. “If Zhao had planted grain and fields, their shortage could have been lessened. However, it is too late to do that now. With low supplies, it undermines morale and can throw the army into turmoil.”
“Zhao fields excellent mounted archers and cavalry, but Changping is mountainous, and this terrain is disadvantageous for them.”
“But with two years of stalemate at Changping, the State of Zhao’s military power been drained, and it’s impossible for them to continue to wait patiently. The Zhao King wants to end this battle quickly, so that’s why Zhao Kuo was appointed. But, they have made a mistake.”
Shaking her head, she continued, “They have neither terrain nor time. Therefore, they are doomed to fail. Even a newly-born god would be powerless to win, much less Zhao Kuo.”
“Master, the fact that you’re concerned about this is embarrassing me.”Gu Nan looked at Bai Qi with a frown. “Zhao has no chance of winning. We can just wait and we’ll be victorious.”
Wang He sat nearby, his eyes focused intently on Bai Qi’s disciple, scrutinizing this girl who had remained quiet until now.
When he first heard that his old friend took in a girl as a disciple, he was ready to tease him over it. But now that this girl spoke so well, he didn’t dare look down on her anymore.
To observe the strategic situation so thoroughly after only half a month, it’s an impossible feat for even him.
But can’t show it.
Bai Qi had already plotted for Gu Nan to unknowingly deliver a slap to Wang He’s face, while at the same time give himself plenty of face for having such a prodigious disciple.
Gu Nan really said everything on her mind.
He comfortably touched his beard. Feigning solemnity, he glanced at Wang He but could almost not control his roaring laughter.
Forcibly suppressing the triumph in his heart, he continued to pretend to be indifferent.
“Hm, not bad, but it is still short-sighted in some aspects.”
What’s this old man talking about?
Understanding that Bai Qi was sincerely showing off, his mouth twitched and he snorted angrily.
“Also.” The corners of Bai Qi’s mouth were raised and even his voice held a trace of delight. “In your opinion, if my army fights, what is the most beautiful path to victory?”
Gu Nan’s eyebrows perked up with some surprise, but she was still unable to think of any good strategies after a period of thought. Luckily, she still knows a bit about the historical account of the Battle of Changping.
“Master, I can’t really think of anything. But if I had to say, it would be to sever the supply lines, then sever the roads of retreat, and then surround and kill.”
The statement was perhaps purposefully vague, and it offered no explanation on how to implement it.
Sever the grain, cut the roads, trap the enemy.
None of the three were easy tasks, each requiring several layers of planning. Therefore, even Gu Nan was somewhat reluctant to recommend this method.
“Not bad.” Bai Qi said as he put down another of his bamboo slips. He was honestly quite surprised at her strategic insight and her plan was surprisingly reasonable as well.
Considering the time spent, she has only studied strategy for a few months. With this short of a span, she went from the most basic of books to this level. To have so much insight, it makes him feel gratified as a teacher.
It’s important to remember that when she started studying, she could barely even read. It’s very rare to have this level of talent.
Bai Qi reminisced about this, but all that came was that image of Gu Nan lazying around creeping through his mind.
“Alright, I have something to say to your Uncle Wang. You should go rest. I will consider you to have passed today’s lesson.” Bai Qi smiled faintly and waved his hand to dismiss her.
“Yes!” Gu Nan sighed in relief and fled out the tent.
“This girl, she’s really doesn’t act like one.” With her quick escape, Bai Qi shook his head and sighed.
Wang He’s eyes twitched slightly. “Old man, what’s really the point of meaninglessly showing off in front of me, hmm?”
“Oh? Haha, it does have some meaning.”
Gu Nan arrived at Changping at the end of December, and now more than a month has passed.
The temperature has not warmed within this span either. Based on her estimates, it should be almost negative twenty Celsius. [TL: -4ºF]
The fierce winds blow snow into drifts. A thin layer of frost covered the outside and touching anything resulted in a frozen feeling.
Tonight was better, the snow was minimal.
Stepping out of the tent, she tightened the furs on her shoulders once again, feeling just a bit warmer. She was going to the stables and taking Blackie out.
The horses were strictly maintained in the camp. When she visited Blackie a few days ago, she was showered with a multitude of cries. He complained about the bad food and the crowded stables. Therefore, she thought that since it wasn’t too cold, she would take him out for a stroll.
Although she can’t communicate with Blackie, she always seems to understand his intentions, and Blackie can understand her as well.
This horse is so troublesome.
She sighed out a breath of mist and warmed her hands by rubbing them together.
When she arrived at the stables, the soldiers let her in without much hassle since she was a common visitor.
Blackie stood in the middle of a line of horses. Hearing a person’s footsteps, he raised his head and saw Gu Nan coming.
“I’m here, I’m here.”Gu Nan smiled and walked forward, rubbing his forehead as she untied the reins. “Should such a soft and delicate horse be living in the army?”
“Neigh!” Blackie snorted and ran out of the stable.
Sighing, Gu Nan fastened the bronze sword tied to her waist. Since she was venturing out of the camp, even if she wasn’t going far, she still needed to bring some form of self-defense. If it was something like wolves, she has no reason to fear.
With her improved skills, she has a bit more room to act daringly.
The wind and snow weren’t blowing too excessively. She took Blackie and showed her pass to the gate guards, and the two successfully exited out of the camp.
She had already notified Bai Qi about it, and although it was awkward, he still gave her his approval.
She wasn’t traveling far. She was leading Blackie to a hill a few miles away. Although it was covered with thick layers of snow, for whatever reason, the grass tucked below was still a fresh green.
For Blackie who has grown tired of the constant hay, he’d probably be happy going there.
The strong wind fluttered the cloak and fur on her shoulders.
Without paying much attention, she ventured about a half-hour stroll from the Qin camp, about seven li. [TL:3.5km] In the night, she went to sit down on a stone hillside. With her good vision, she could even make out the Zhao camp in the far distance.
However, going any further wasn’t possible. Another seven, eight li and it would be getting dangerously close to the Zhao positions.
Both camps were towering and brightly lit, each visible from the distance. The Dan River acted as the divider of the camps, flowing quietly between. The waters carried large chunks of ice floating on the surface, reflecting the moonlight overhead.
She let go of Blackie’s reins, allowing him to sprint to the side. Shoving aside the snow, he dug until the green grass was revealed below.
“This horse is always looking for food.” Looking helplessly, sighing, she untied the water bag and took a sip.
“Ta ta ta.”
The sound of a horseshoe crunching the snow sounded in the night.
She frowned as she looked into the darkness, her gaze hardened. Putting away the water bag, her hand grazed the side of her sword’s hilt.
The Zhao camp is quite close, and it’s already considered the center of the two armies. It’s not good to hear unfamiliar hooves in this place.
Blackie had also raised his head, looking blankly into the distance.
As the sound got closer, the outline of a person leading a horse appeared before her.
It was a young man, his face slightly weathered by the wind and cold, but it did not detract from his noble-like air. His hair was groomed neatly, and he had sharp, sword-like eyebrows.
The horse being pulled behind him wasn’t ordinary either. At least, it was a warhorse, a tier above ordinary cavalry.
But those were not that important. Rather, the new figure wore the robes of Zhao and one hand gripped the sword at his waist.
The two stood quietly, observing the other.
The scene was tense and it was as if the wind and snow froze the air around them.
After a long silence, the younger man spoke first. “Who are you?”
Although he asked, both sides knew the identity of the other. One from Qin and another from Zhao. The enemy.
Gu Nan squinted and said with a lowered voice, “I crossed the road and arrived at this place, and put my horse over there.” After speaking, she looked at Blackie who was some distance away.
The two didn’t talk much.
It continued until the young man spoke up again.
“I was also crossing this road and stopped here to rest my horse. Were we just two passersby?”
Gu Nan took a note at the other side’s superior clothing, he cannot be a simple soldier, at least, nobility will not be degraded to the foot soldiery. Perhaps he’s a skilled martial artist. Measuring the situation, she released her hand from the sword.
She contently replied. “We are just two passersby.”
The young man nodded silently, and slowly released his right hand from the hilt. He found a flat stone and sat down a few meters away.
Letting of his horse’s reins, his horse walked over to where Blackie was and similarly began to dig through the snow.
Blackie snorted, but lowered his head again and continued eating.