I have been meaning to finish and post this chapter, but it has been very busy with midterm season… Workload has been pretty crazy, especially with everything being online. Here is the next chapter, thank you for your patience!
Chapter 116: Ambush
Continuous snowfall was suddenly interrupted on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. The skies cleared, and a sun that seemed especially golden and warm rose in the sky. However, after a night of clear skies in the capital city, it became more dry and cold, with foggy condensation following every breath taken. The piercing cold seemed as if it was about to freeze all internal organs, flowing into the body through the lungs.
Due to the bitter cold and that there were only two more days until the new year, naturally, everyone stayed at home as much as possible, enjoying the comfort of the toasty fireplace and warm drinks and meals. At this same time, those who were traveling outside out of necessity appeared to be more toilsome and lonely.
Early in the morning, the Capital Patrols followed their regular schedule and opened the four city gates promptly. The four patrols covering the first shift of the day each stood next to the entry of the gate, monitoring the people entering and leaving the city. Under Xie Yu, the Capital Patrol was already well-disciplined, and with Prince Jing setting up even stricter regulations, no one dared to neglect their duties, and the soldiers were even more attentive. After standing for only a short time, their feet began to feel as if the cold was biting into them, yet not one of them walked around or stomped their feet in an attempt to stay warm.
There are not many people out and about on winter mornings, especially near the west city gate leading to smoky, deserted territory–other than a few leaving the city, not a single one came in. Once the sun rose to be around three poles high*, it gradually became more lively, and the vendors set up their stalls near the city gates, mindlessly calling out to the sparse group of people to buy their goods. After another hour, outside the city gates, a dark group of shadows emerged faintly near the horizon, heading towards the city.
“Is that a merchant caravan?” A guard stretched his neck and looked around for a moment, continuing, “It is rare to ever see such a large caravan.”
“You’re new here, so you don’t know about it,” said the veteran soldier standing next to him, immediately answering, “That is the merchant caravan transporting medicinal herbs. Except for two or three provinces, the majority of the western region of Da Liang is either frigid plateaus, alpine regions, or smoky, deserted territory. However, it is in these types of areas that precious medicinal herbs are found. My uncle owns a pharmacy, and he said the best medicine is transported from the western regions, so there are often merchant caravans that come in through the west city gate. But the day after tomorrow will be new year’s eve, and the merchant caravan has only just now arrived. They are so hardworking…”
As the two spoke, the caravan coming from afar was slowly getting closer and closer, and the horse-drawn carriages and attire of the people gradually came into view.
“How I come I think… It doesn’t look like a merchant caravan…” The new soldier stood for a long time, and finally, couldn’t help euphemistically expressing his opinion, “ A merchant caravan, wouldn’t be escorted by city soldiers, right?”
At this time, the veteran soldier noticed the difference as well, and after some indistinct mumbling, said in a surprised tone, “It really isn’t a merchant caravan… The carriage in the middle of the group doesn’t seem to be holding medicinal herbs, it looks like… like… It’s a prisoner carriage!”
By the time he made a conclusion with certainty, the other guards had already seen it clearly as well. Coming towards the city gate on the winding path, was a prisoner convoy. What was different from usual, is that the number of guards escorting the carriage totaled to be around 300, yet there was only a single prisoner carriage.
Exactly how important of a prisoner needed to be so heavily guarded and required the mobilization of so many troops to be escorted into the capital city? As if there would be someone who dared to try and intercept the entry of the prisoner carriage?
Under the curious stares of the west city gate guards, the long convoy finally reached the city walls. Unlike the heavily armored military escorts, the man at the forefront of the convoy wore only a plain, day-to-day outfit made of soft material. He was riding a gray horse, had a slender, nimble, and well-proportioned figure and a tall, straight posture. Although his hair was gathered into a knot, a few loose wisps of hair rested down to his shoulders. On both sides, he had strands of silver hairs that were smoothed into the knot and held together by a jade ring. When looking at his smile, you could tell that he was quite handsome, and though there were a few wrinkles on his face, it was difficult to determine his age. There was a sense of feminine elegance in his masculine qualities, and his arched eyebrows and sharp eyes occasionally had an evil, chilling look.
“Ah…” All the veteran soldiers had already recognized the face, and lowered their heads, bowing in reverence. The new guards did not know what was happening, but understood that anyone who could lead such a large convoy of soldiers, was definitely one of high rank and status, and thus followed to bow down as well.
In the center of the convoy, was the prisoner carriage, and although the size and style were pretty much the same as an ordinary prisoner carriage, a closer look revealed that the bars on the carriage were made out of wrought iron, with each bar was half a palm wide, welded extremely stably to the carriage. The prisoner inside was curled up in a corner, heavily chained, and his dark, messy hair covered his face, unable to make out his facial features. From his posture and the position he was sitting in, as well as the blood-soaked bandages, it was evident that he had a rather major injury on his upper left leg. Many speculated whether or not it was from combat with the soldiers before being captured and arrested.
The city walls of Jinling were heavily built and sturdy, and naturally, the entry path into the city was very wide too. Yet when the man at the head of the convoy slowly rode into the shadow of the walls, he pulled back on the reins of his horse, and stopped suddenly. The Capital Patrols guarding the city gates didn’t dare to go and ask what the problem was, and only blankly stared at him instead. After a moment, the man laughed coldly, and suddenly raised his voice, yelling, “We are about to enter the city. Once we enter the capital city, there will be no more opportunities. Don’t you want to try once?”
His words felt as if they came out of nowhere, and everyone nearby was utterly bewildered. However, they weren’t left confused for long–after only a few moments of silence, violence broke out, and around fifty or so strong men, each bearing long swords, swiftly charged out from the woods to the west of the gate, straight towards the prisoner carriage. Simultaneously, the small street vendors on the side of the main road also sharply drew out their swords and quickly moved into a formation. There were three to four of them who were seemingly in charge of the strategic offense, with the rest taking a detour, cutting into the space in between the man at the head of the convoy and the rest of the convoy, as if they first wanted to hold him off. Immediately, that man narrowed his eyes, raised his hand, and within a second, his own sword was unsheathed. Unexpectedly, he pulled out a sword with a curved blade, and with a simple wave of the sword, its reflection and strength shone into the eyes of the attackers approaching him, and no matter what angle they were coming from, they felt as if the blade was swinging directly towards them, and were forced to stop their footsteps in self-preservation. There was only one attacker, dressed in crimson red, who was completely unfazed, and made no change in direction as he continued, and as soon as he was about to close in on the man, with a flash and within the blink of an eye, he appeared in a different direction.
The man at the head of the convoy let out a perplexed, “hmm,” as if it were completely unanticipated, and the confused look on his face froze for a second. He did not dare to be careless in the slightest, and adapted nimbly, moving to attack and defend himself with his sword, exchanging multiple moves with the oncoming attacker within mere moments.
There was another man who had moved to attack along with the one dressed in crimson red who seemed to be the commander of the ambush. Seeing that the one dressed in crimson red was successfully holding off the head of the convoy without being at any disadvantage at all, he immediately whistled, leading a new group of attackers within the city to converge with the group from outside, surrounding the prisoner carriage as they closed in on the soldiers.
Though the 300 or so soldiers in the convoy greatly outnumbered the attackers, they were all only regular soldiers, and evidently could not match the combat abilities of the martial artists from the Jianghu. Once chaos broke out, they became disorganized, and other than the ten or so elite soldiers positioned nearby the prisoner carriage who continued to retaliate, the others had been separated by the oncoming attackers. Thus their advantage in numbers was not evident at all, and it did not take long for the attackers to reach the prisoner carriage. Unfortunately, the cage was too sturdy, and though they tried hard to cut through the bars, the sword became dented without even a scratch on the carriage, and thus they could only attempt to drive the entire prisoner carriage away instead.
It was unknown whether it was because there were people trying to rescue him or another reason, but the prisoner in the carriage suddenly became very agitated. He tried to drag his body and metal chains forward, shook the bars on the metal carriage, and made indistinguishable noises, as it seemed that something had been stuffed in his mouth. Due to his agitated state being very abnormal, the commander of the ambush immediately called our, “Retreat! Everyone retreat!”
As soon as the words left his mouth, the head of the convoy smiled coldly. As his sneer seemed to freeze the air around him, simultaneously, at the top of the city walls, emerged around a hundred bowmen who brought forth a looming feeling of death. The prisoner carriage had stopped a little bit outside the city gates, and other than a few of the attackers who were hidden under the entryway of the wall, everyone else was in the direct range of the bowmen up on the city walls. Although after receiving the order to retreat, everyone immediately ended the attack and retreated, how could traveling on foot be nearly as fast as the feathers flying through the air like shooting stars? Within an instant, the sounds of arrows cutting through the sky and cries of pain echoed together, and the capital city seemed to have turned into a war zone. Even though those escaping were martial artists of the Jianghu, unless they were martial art masters, they would become living targets for the mass of arrows, and it was only a matter of how long they could withstand it for, or how far they could escape.
After several rounds of arrows were released, only about half of the attackers escaped with the help of the cover of their companions, fleeing into the woods outside the city. There were bodies scattered in the snow, some pierced by so many arrows to the point that they looked like porcupines, with their dark blood staining the white snow black. Seeing such a tragic sight, the commander of the ambush’s eyes visibly turned red. However, he was evidently a tenacious person and took control of his distressed emotions within an instant. He ordered everyone to charge into the city, and fled with the dozen or so people who were fortunate enough to have been hidden under the entryway before the mass arrow shooting. Yet their opponents were by no means ordinary people–if there were hidden soldiers on the city walls, how could there not be any in the city? In the blink of an eye, hundreds of soldiers emerged from the alleyways and formed a large circle that surrounded them. From the look of their uniform swords, gray leather armor, and attire, it was clear that they were the elite soldiers of the Xuanjing Bureau, waiting for orders from their Head Officer like wolves and tigers eyeing their prey.
But right at this critical moment, the head of the convoy didn’t say a single thing, which was quite surprising.
From the beginning up to the present, no matter how the battle situation had diverted, there was one person who was not in the slightest affected by the sharp change in the surroundings–the one dressed in crimson red, engaging in combat with the head of the convoy. He just continued to engage with great concentration and seriousness, and it seemed that the martial art skills of the head of the convoy greatly satisfied him. Along with a stiff look on his face, his cold, dark eyes shone with the desire to win, and his strikes showed no mercy. At the moment, they were in the heat of the battle, forcing the head of the convoy to resist with all his energy, and in order to keep his breathing steady, he couldn’t open his mouth and say a single word.
If the person dressed in crimson could capture the head of the convoy and hold him hostage, there would, of course, be a drastic turn of events. However, the commander of the ambush could clearly see that in order for this to be achieved, it would still take quite another lengthy period of combat. The soldiers of the Xuanjing Bureau weren’t foolish either, and although the head of the convoy did not speak, they wouldn’t just stand by and stare blankly, and it didn’t take them long to react to the situation and initiate combat. In a split second of thought and consideration, the commander of the ambush shouted, “Good boy, we must leave now, come tear a path for us!”
Hearing that it was time to leave, the person in crimson put on an unhappy expression, but in the end, followed the directions given to him. He turned around and leaped into the air, changing targets quickly and quietly, as if he were a ghost. As a matter of fact, the head of the convoy had already prepared for this as soon as he heard the commander’s words, and put 120% of his energy into combat. Yet it was completely unexpected that his opponent still effortlessly broke away from their combat, as if he just turned around and walked away with no difficulty at all. Given that he did not expect there to be any martial artists of such elite abilities, and that he hoped to capture a few of the attackers alive, there were no bowmen within the city. Even though the soldiers were more powerful than ordinary ones, even the head of the convoy was no match against the person dressed in crimson, and thus when the one dressed in crimson arrived, he was unstoppable against the charging soldiers. The rest of the dozen or so attackers who were also surrounded by the soldiers fought back with blood red eyes in desperation, and naturally put in all their effort, trying to save their own lives. It didn’t take much time for them to tear out a path in the circle that had surrounded them, allowing many to escape.
However, there was still a disparity between the numbers and strength of the two sides, and although some escaped, the head of the convoy also captured three or four people, ordering his subordinates to send them to the prison. He knew that the martial art skills of the person in crimson were too high, and it would be a futile attempt to try to catch up to him, and thus simply ordered everyone to ignore him, focusing on tailing the commander of the ambush who had fled into an alleyway instead.
The roads and alleyways in the city of Jinling were not particularly complicated, and other than in the central region of the city nearby the river, most paths were straight, intersecting others in a perpendicular manner. On several occasions, by following the trail of blood, the head of the convoy could almost see the silhouette of the fugitive, yet after flipping over a wall, the trail of blood suddenly disappeared. It was likely that the opponent realized that he was bleeding, and cleaned up the wound. At this time, there were only two similar-looking paths in front of him, each leading to different neighborhoods, and after quietly taking a moment to make a judgment, the head of the convoy smiled coldly, speeding off to the left. After navigating through a small path with walls at both sides, he rushed out onto the main road. To one’s surprise, at this exact second, a carriage came flying towards him from the right, and with the speed at which they both were traveling at, almost collided together. The reaction time of the head of the convoy was extraordinarily fast, and he immediately twisted to one side, leaping onto the other side of the road while the coachman pulled back on the reins of the horse, bringing the carriage to an abrupt stop.
“What’s the matter?” The person sitting in the carriage had probably fallen over due to the sudden stop, and angrily protruded his head out from the carriage, complaining, “It’s near new year’s, who is being so rampant and reckless?” As he finished his sentence, his eyes had fallen onto the head of the convoy, and he suddenly froze, involuntarily crying out, “Xia Dong jiejie, when did you come back?”
The head of the convoy shrugged his shoulders, glancing over at him.
“Umm…” The person in the car scratched his head, scrunched his eyebrows, and carefully called out, “Xia Qiu gege?”
The glance turned into a glare, yet the one being glared let out a sigh of relief, complaining, “Why didn’t you say anything earlier? Qiu-xiong, this is such a bad problem, why do you have to dress up to look exactly like Xia Dong jiejie? It’s quite scary, don’t you know?”
“Well, I’ll say, xiao-Jin, I’m not dressing up, I just look like this, okay?” Xia Qiu walked over and smacked Yan Yujin on the shoulder, saying, “I haven’t seen you in more than a year, you’ve grown stronger.”
“It’s not wrong that you were born with this face, but what about your hair? Did you purposely dye these two strands here white?” It was evident that Yan Yujin and Xia Qiu had a close relationship, and he was not even the slightest afraid, loudly saying, “How did you get this white? I tried all sorts of dyes, and none of them worked.”
“Let’s not talk about this now,” Xia Qiu smiled sinisterly, and suddenly leaned closely in front of Yan Yujin, staring him right in the eye, saying, “Tell me, did you see someone with an injury pass you nearby just now?”
*A type of measurement in ancient China that refers to late morning, when the sun has risen to be around three poles high.
We finally get into one of my least but also most favorite parts of the novel. I won’t spoil it just in case there are readers who don’t come from watching the drama (I doubt there are any?), but this part is still oddly stressful every time I read it…
I think it is interesting how the author uses “head of the convoy,” “commander of the ambush,” and “person dressed in crimson,” to make us feel as if we don’t know who is who, making it seem more like we are a bystander watching the ambush. This is another relatively narration-heavy chapter, but the descriptions of the battle help detail a lot of the happenings that weren’t played out in the drama. For example, I didn’t realize that the majority of the group didn’t survive the ambush, even though it was briefly mentioned in the drama. This entire description makes the situation feel more desperate and saddening at the same time.
Excited to translate the action to come…