Translated by Shiny
61. Avenging the Previous Humiliation
Cheng Qianye was reading a diplomatic letter sent by Duke Song of the State of Song.
The letter was sent along with numerous precious gifts, and earnestly expressed his desire for the two countries to have friendly relations.
Seeing the end of the letter, Cheng Qianye’s lips curled up into a smile. Glancing at the Minister of the Left, Cheng Feng, who was standing in front of the palace hall, she beckoned to him.
Cheng Feng held onto his sword and walked to her side.
Cheng Qianye pushed the diplomatic letter towards him and stretched out two fingers, tapping her fingers on a line of words: “Confiscated their family property, and demoted to commoners.”
Cheng Feng stared at the line of words and clenched his jaw.
“What do you think? If your heart is still filled with hatred, I can have him die.”
After a while, she saw the imperial bodyguard dressed in crimson clothes lightly shake his head, “No, it isn’t worth it for me to care about such a lowly villain.”1
Cheng Qianye looked at him and said, “Such being the case, let’s stop here in regards to your past. From this day forth, look only at the future.”
When Yao Tianxiang came in, she passed by Cheng Feng as she walked past the threshold.
Yao Tianxiang turned back to look at him repeatedly until the crimson figure disappeared from her sight.
“This Cheng Feng is so gorgeous.” She squeezed down beside Cheng Qianye who shifted over to make room for her. “It’s just a pity that he’s so cold, walking around with a stiff face everyday.”
“But what did you do to him just now? I don’t think his expression is right.” Yao Tianxiang glanced at Cheng Qianye. “Qiao Sheng is throwing his heart and soul into fighting for you at the frontlines, how can you find a new lover so soon?”
Cheng Qianye stretched out her fingers and flicked her forehead violently. “If you continue to spout such nonsense, I will send your Sima Tu to the frontlines tomorrow.”
Yao Tianxiang pulled Cheng Qianye’s arm and said, “I’ll stop making trouble, I’ll stop making trouble. Qianyu, shall we go to the hot spring?”
She knew Cheng Qianye’s real name, but in order to prevent blurting it out by accident, she still continued to call Cheng Qianye by her brother’s name: Cheng Qianyu.
Under the escort of the imperial guards, Cheng Qianye and Yao Tianxiang rode towards the west mountain.
When they passed through the city gate, they saw many soldiers bustling around, building the city wall.
Cheng Qianye halted the carriage and stopped to watch them for a while.
She was astonished to discover that the city walls in this era were not constructed with bricks, but with loess that was poured into formwork made of wooden planks and bamboo strips before being pounded manually until it was compact. It was somewhat like the modern method of constructing houses by making formwork with reinforced steel bars before pouring cement.
As a result, the whole construction area was teeming with bare-chested soldiers who were taking turns at beating the rammed earth with wooden clubs.
An official who was supervising the activity saw Cheng Qianye and hastily rushed through the crowd of soldiers—who were passing back and forth while carrying loess on their shoulders—and trotted over towards her.
Cheng Feng took a step forward and stopped in front of her. “Who is it? Don’t be rude in front of My Lord, hurry up and report your name.”
Realizing that he had been a little disrespectful, the man quickly patted off his official robes that were so dirty that you could barely make out its appearance before kneeling down to salute: “Bianzhou’s Junior Officer2 from the Minister of Works, Cui Youyu, pays respect to My Lord.”
Cheng Qianye recalled that she had seen this person before. When she had gone on an inspection tour at Bianhe River with Xiao Jin before, she had been impressed by the man’s serious and professional work in flood prevention.
Of course, the reason why she had noticed him within the dense crowd of Bianzhou officials was due to the beautiful lilac aura around his body.
Cheng Qianye looked at the man covered in yellow mud from head to toe who was kneeling in front of her. It was uncertain how long he had been at the construction site. She smiled and said, “Get up, I remember you. Last time I saw you, weren’t you the Minister of Works? How come you have gone lower and lower in rank? From Minister of Works to Assistant Minister of Works to Junior Officer from the Minister of Works. Within such a short period of time, you have been demoted by two levels.”
Cui Youyu climbed up to his feet and patted the dust off his knees. His face was slightly flushed as he said, “Xiaguan3 is not very good at handling affairs and has made many mistakes at work. Fortunately, Bianzhou’s newly appointed Excellency Muhong does not care about this and allows Beizhi4 to do the work that he is good at.”
Cheng Qianye recalled that this man was somewhat pedantic and inflexible, and he was not good at mixing with the officialdom.
During their last meeting, she had seen that he had offended both his colleagues and superiors without even realizing it.
It was probably due to his professionalism and rigorousness, coupled with his excellence in the fields of water conservancy and construction that he was barely able to sit in the position of a state-level official.
“Junior Officer Cui, let me ask you, is this wall made of rammed earth strong? Will it collapse easily?”
“No, no, there is no possibility that the city wall built under Xiaguan’s supervision will collapse.” Probably because they had touched upon his area of expertise, Cui Youyu refuted with his face flushed red as he suddenly changed from his shy and reserved appearance to a clever and eloquent one.
Pulling out a stack of messy blueprints from his sleeve, he fluently began to gush about details regarding the construction of the city base, to the enclosure of the city walls, and the requirements for the firmness of the rammed earth.
And he also took Cheng Qianye and the others to a section of the city wall that had been rebuilt and dried out.
Cheng Feng pulled out his sword and swung hard, slashing the wall made of rammed earth. They only heard the muffled sound of metal colliding against earth, leaving only a shallow scratch on the wall.
“It really is strong.” Cheng Qianye stroked the wall which felt akin to the surface of a rock, marveling at the architectural wisdom of the ancients. “If the wall is built completely like this, would the enemy be unable to break through the wall even if they were to use trebuchets?”5
Having obtained the approval of his superior, Cui Youyu’s heart was filled with joy: “Responding to My Lord, if all of Bianzhou’s city walls are built according to this standard, Chen can guarantee that, whether the enemy throws boulders or knives or axes, it will be impossible to break the city wall from the outside. Unless…”
“Unless what?” Cheng Qianye asked.
“Unless there is a flood and fire.” Cui Youyu bowed and replied. “The two of these are the most fearsome elements for a wall built with rammed earth. Regardless of how solid and thick the city wall may be, if the city is submerged in water for half a month, the foundation will loosen and collapse.”
“A flood…” Cheng Qianye stood in front of the city wall and gazed into the distance, towards the north.
At that moment, in Qi County, north of Bianzhou.
On top of the strong and thick city walls.
Gan Yanshou, the garrison general of Qi County, stood on top of the city wall. His bushy eyebrows were furrowed as he looked down at the city below him that was flooded with water.
Behind him, the soldiers crouched on top of the city wall, barely appeasing their hunger with the half-cooked millet in the hanging pot.
The city was filled with a pool of water; although they had sufficient grain, they were unable to light a fire to cook the food.
All of the wooden furniture—even the beams of the roofs—had been dismantled for cooking. The common people in the city even had to hang up earthen pots and lift up the firewood, forcefully heating up the porridge in the pot and eating the half-cooked food prepared in this way.
Meanwhile, due to the long-term flooding, they were left with several dead livestock, horses and men with no place to bury them. As a result, a plague gradually broke out within the city and the situation had already gone out of control.
Gan Yanshou cast his gaze on the dry land more than 20 li away from the city.
The area was densely packed with numerous black shacks.
A fence composed of thick and bulky tree trunks enclosed the Jin Army’s temporary base, and the outer area of the encampment was crisscrossed with antler fortifications. There were banners flying high inside the base, with cavalrymen running in and out, along with foot soldiers walking around in uniform.
Mo Qiao Sheng, the Commander-in-Chief of the Jin Army, had already led his troops to encircle Hua County for more than half a month, but they had never launched a direct attack.
Several months ago, when Gan Yanshou heard that the Nation of Jin had sent troops to capture Qi County, he was not at all panicked.
Although Qi County wasn’t big, he had been defending the city for several years now, with elite soldiers and ample provisions; the city was strong and the hearts of the people were united.
They had Weihui below them, and Hua County on top, like protective wings that could come to their aid.
No matter which side the Jin Army’s general—Mo Qiao Sheng—attacked them from, the other two countries could respond at any time, creating a situation of them being flanked from both sides.
If the enemy army crumbled, they would pursue and attack them, which was likely to cause them to drown in the Yellow River.
If the enemy army advanced, they would just stay in the city and defend their positions; they had enough food in the city to last the whole army for half a year.
He had arranged earlier on to strengthen the defense and clear the fields,6 waiting for the enemy to run out of food and provisions. He had believed that they would have no choice but to retreat without a fight.
However, who would have thought that this Mo Qiao Sheng would rapidly capture the inconspicuous Weihui with the momentum of a sudden peal of thunder that didn’t leave one with any time to cover the ears.7
Soon afterwards, the army arrived at Qi County.
However, they only encircled them without attacking.
Every day, he saw several soldiers going in and out while pushing carts and carrying hoes on their shoulders.
It was then that Gan Yanshou realized what Mo Qiao Sheng wanted to do, and it was also the thing that he was most afraid of.
He knew that the Jin Army had divided their soldiers and sent troops to attack Hua County in the upper reaches of Qi County.
Yet he was trapped inside the city, helpless in the face of the crisis.
Hua County was located at the upper reaches of Qi County, by the confluence between the Yellow River and Wei River.
Mo Qiao Sheng captured the weakly defended Hua County and dug a canal and bore through the river embankment.
And he, Gan Yanshou had no choice but to stand on top of the wall day after day as they were trapped within the city walls.
Watching helplessly as the soldiers dug a canal under the city wall.
And watching helplessly as the water from the Yellow River surged in, flooding the whole city.
There were only two choices waiting for him; death, or surrendering without a fight.
Without giving up a single soldier, the Jin Army was going to conquer the city that he had painstakingly taken care of for so many years.
Gan Yanshou heaved a big sigh. He did not know why their Lord had provoked such a powerful opponent, without any cause.
His family had been vassals of the Han family for several generations, and they were completely loyal to the lord of Hanyang. But in fact, deep down in his heart, he really despised the current lord, Han Quanlin, to a great degree.
He was a debauched and tyrannical man who only knew to be infatuated with sensual pleasures.
Gan Yanshou recalled a rumour he had heard.
The Lord had taken a fancy to Mo Qiao Sheng’s charm; when he was unable to disgrace him forcibly, he was actually so preposterous that he had wanted to offer Qi County in exchange for him.
Exchanging such a superb man who directed soldiers like a god,8 solely for the purpose of taking him into his harem and regarding him as a mere pleasurable bedtime affair.
The lord of the Jin Nation, Marquis Jin Yue, was a man of virtue. Hence, he was naturally enraged.
The first thing he did after repelling the Quanrong was to appoint Mo Qiao Sheng as a general and send ten thousand troops to seize Qi County.
Wasn’t it just for the purpose of allowing the valiant general under his command to personally avenge the previous humiliation?
Gan Yanshou closed his eyes and called his adjutant: “Raise the white flag, open up the city and tell them we wish to surrender.”
The floodwaters receded.
Above the city walls of Qi County, the Nation of Jin’s military flag was raised.
Mo Qiao Sheng rode his horse and trod through the mud before standing beneath the city gate.
He raised his head and looked up at the old, majestic city and the two large words above the city gate—Qi County.
On that dark and desperate rainy night.
Han Quanlin’s repulsive face had swayed before his eyes and the disgusting man had raised up this tremendous city, almost thoroughly forcing him to bend his spine.
He hadn’t dared to believe that he had such value, that he could make the Lord choose his lowly and insignificant self.
He had even wanted to compromise from the shame.
If not for the Lord who had stopped him, whose heart was like dead ashes.
At that time, why had the Lord firmly declared that he was more valuable than this city in front of everyone else?
Confronted with so many questions and slander, even the Lord was under immense pressure.
Today, I finally did it. With blades unstained by blood,9 hardly costing My Lord of his soldiers, I conquered Qi County.
Not only will there be one city.
In the future, there will be ten of them, there will be a hundred of them.
I want the whole world to know that I, Mo Qiao Sheng, am incomparable to this insignificant city.
My Lord, I will let you have dignity.
I will let you stand at the tallest heights and look down at those who vilified you before.
1. (小人 – Xiaoren) – This Humble man/Ordinary man/Villain, Base person [A humble way to refer to someone or oneself/Used by a person of low social status when speaking to his betters, or to speak of a person with humble status] Pretty ironic since he was always going around calling Cheng Feng a lowly and humble person among other things.↩
2. (啬夫 – sè fū) Originally meaning miser/farmer, it’s an official position of a lower rank.↩
3. (下官 – xiàguān) I [used by an official before his superior]↩
4. (卑职 – Beizhi) – Your humble subordinate, I. [Used by subordinate officials when speaking to their superiors.]↩
5. A trebuchet is a specific version of the catapult that uses a counterweight to create the force to fling an object from a sling at the end of a pole. Furthermore, the design of a trebuchet allows it to launch projectiles of greater weights and further distances than that of a traditional catapult.↩
6. (坚壁清野 – jiān bì qīng yě) “Strengthening the defenses and clearing the fields” refers to sticking to the city walls so that the enemy will be unable to attack the position; clearing the grain houses in the countryside so that the enemy will be unable to fight for a long time due to lack of food and no shelter.↩
7. (迅雷不及掩耳 – xùn léi bù jí yǎn ěr) A metaphor for an action or an event that comes so quickly and suddenly, that it catches one off guard.↩
8. (用兵如神 – yòng bīng rú shén) To use soldiers like a god; idiom describing someone who is good at leading military operations; a superb military commander.↩
9. (兵不血刃 – bīng bù xuè rèn) With blades unstained by blood. A metaphor for winning easily without fighting.↩