Edited and Proofread by KitKat
On the battlefield outside Yanzhou’s city gate, Hu Yan Xun was fighting against the Yanzhou army when a messenger eagle swooped down to deliver the news of the King’s and Crown Prince’s death. A smile spread across his face. He was about to order a retreat and head back to the Beidi Imperial City when he saw Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi marching towards him.
Coming closer, Hu Yan Xun saw that there were civilians and women mixed in the group. He grimaced and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Xiao Zhige broke into the Palace and killed both our father and brother!” Hu Yan Ah Te replied, “But he has doomed himself by entering Mt.Er Gui. I have brought our whole family here and we will fight to conquer Yanzhou!”
Hu Yan Xun’s eyes brightened. He patted Hu Yan Ah Te and announced, “Xiao Zhige is dead! Take down Yanzhou to avenge the King!”
The Beidi soldiers shouted in unison as they raised Xiao Zhige’s black flag and marched forward.
Yanzhou soldiers guarding the city looked at each other in shock.
The lieutenants were also informed of the news from outside the city gates.
Qi Wei gritted his teeth and said, “That’s impossible! How could anything happen to the General!”
Xie Ling was pale with doubt, “But we failed to stop Hu Yan Ah Te.”
Back when Hu Yan Ah Te was leading his troops back to the Beidi Imperial City, Xie Ling had tried to intercept but did not make it in time. Their plan had been discovered earlier than expected, causing Hu Yan Ah Te to depart before they could overturn the situation.
If Xiao Zhige had fought with Hu Yan Ah Te’s troops, the odds were against them.
“Those bastards are just spouting nonsense!” Tie Hu pounded the table, “Can the General be defeated this easily? Even if he had died in their hands, do you think that they would only parade his flag and not his corpse?”
Tie Hu’s loud words effectively raised the mood in the war room. The lieutenants looked at each other and regained their faith, “That’s right! The General has never been defeated before! We cannot be the one to ruin our troops’ morale!”
After speaking, the group went on to lead their soldiers to defend the city.
The words proclaiming Xiao Zhige’s death would certainly reach the people of Yanzhou. In the beginning, many had laughed it off as they had absolute confidence that Xiao Zhige was invincible.
But as time passed…
One day, two days, three days… ten days.
The Beidi army remained on the offensive and continued to gain momentum but Xiao Zhige still did not show up. Eventually, the news of Xiao Zhige’s flag being broken was leaked, shaking the citizens’ firm belief. Afraid, shops that usually stayed open throughout the day had their doors shut tight and no one left their houses unnecessarily.
Even the militia were affected to some extent. While Beidi’s troops were invigorated, Yanzhou’s battalion was starting to get worn-out. When it rains, it pours. At the same time, the army’s food supply was also diminishing fast. If this battle dragged on, Yanzhou would have to face the possibility of a food shortage again.
Qi Wei and the other lieutenants were equally anxious. Scouts were sent out without delay but Xiao Zhige with his army of 5000 were nowhere to be found.
An Chang Qing only found out about this news on the fifth day as Zhou He Lan had given strict orders to keep it from him. Because An Chang Qing had stayed in the manor this whole time, it was quite easy to do so.
However, when his mood had finally lifted and he had wanted to go for a walk outside the manor, Chen Su had tried his best to stop him.
An Chang Qing was utterly puzzled at his adamant behavior so despite Chen Su’s opposition, he opened the gate and left. To his dismay, what greeted him was an empty street, scarce of people. It took a while before he managed to spot a woman passing by. She looked at him with sympathy in her eyes and tried to comfort him with words.
The sense of dread swept over An Chang Qing and he immediately headed for the military camp.
The soldiers guarding the war room saw his arrival and dared not obstruct him. Rushing in, An Chang Qing saw that Qi Wei was in the middle of admonishing two soldiers, “Give them thirty strokes each! See if you dare to disclose military information again!”
After giving out the punishment, Qi Wei looked over and saw An Chang Qing. His expression changed from being shocked to troubled. Just as he was figuring out what to say, he heard An Chang Qing’s calm voice, “What happened to Wangye?”
Qi Wei was at a loss for words and dared not answer .
An Chang Qing pushed him aside and walked in, “Where’s Tie Hu? Tell him to come see me.”
Tie Hu and the other lieutenants saw him come in but none dared to speak. In the end, Tie Hu stepped up and said, “The Beidi soldiers hung up the General’s battle flag and claimed that he was dead. But Tie Hu refuses to believe it! Wangfei, you shouldn’t either!”
An Chang Qing pressed on and eventually understood the situation.
He bit his lips but remembering Xiao Zhige’s words promising that he would return, An Chang Qing calmed himself and said, “Unless I see his corpse, I refuse to believe it. Since Wangye said that he will come back then he will definitely come back!”
“You all have been with him longer than I had, you should be very clear that Wangye will not be defeated so easily!”
The lieutenants were all rattled. After many days hearing their enemies shouting out Xiao Zhige’s demise coupled with the lack of news, their confidence had begun to falter. However, An Chang Qing’s words just now had brought back the unwavering faith they had in the indomitable Northern Warlord.
“We must do all we can to defend Yanzhou and wait for Wangye’s return!”
Tie Hu slammed his fist and yelled, “That’s right! We have to defend Yanzhou with our lives! If Yanzhou is lost while the General is away, we will not be able to face him even in death!”
The rest of the lieutenants bowed to An Chang Qing and said with conviction, “We will defend Yanzhou to the death!”
An Chang Qing cusped his hands and responded, “I will accompany you and wait for Wangye’s victorious return.”
Along the high wall of Yanzhou’s city gates, black flags were embroidered in gold with the word ‘ge’. Qi Wei, Tie Hu, and Xie Ling each stood in front of their platoons, ready to fight against the Beidi army.
An Chang Qing climbed up the city wall and faced the malefic Beidi army. He then took over the drumstick and pounded with all his might against the giant war drum. As the beat resonated on the battlefield, he shouted, “I am An Chang Qing, the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei! Soldiers of Yanzhou, listen up! Your General has left to siege the Beidi Imperial City! He has killed their king and crown prince and is on his way back to Yanzhou! Do not let the enemy trick you!”
“I will stay and defend Yanzhou with you until the General returns triumphant!”
The war drum continued to beat vigorously. The disheartened soldiers looked at Wangfei’s figure on the city wall and their fighting spirit was reignited!
“Fight for Yanzhou! The General will return to us!” Yanzhou’s soldiers shouted with might and vitality.
The city gates opened and the two sides charged forth.
Thanks to An Chang Qing, the army’s morale had heightened. An Chang Qing had also decided to throw himself in the lot with the soldiers, willing to share the same fate with them. Disregarding the danger, he would climb the city every day to initiate the battle.
And so five days more had gone by. Qi Wei was fidgeting in the war room as he reported, “There are not enough grains. We have also borrowed all we can from Liangzhou and Chenzhou.”
Xie Ling said, “What about Suzhou? Can they at least lend us some manpower?”
“Shen Tu Xu is a coward. He dares not send troops without His Majesty’s approval.” Tie Hu replied.
The report had been sent out but there was still no respond from Yejing.
An Chang Qing sat at the head seat and asked, “How much grains do we have left?”
Qi Wei replied, “Only 5000 buckets left.”
An Chang Qing contemplated and remembered something, “I once read about this method in a book. Thoroughly cook the grains in water then steam it twice before drying it in the sun. Doing so, we can get 2 buckets of dried food for one bucket of grains. It’s just that I’ve never been able to verify this.”
Qi Wei was delighted, “I’ll have someone test it out!”
The group followed him out and immediately called for a bucket of rice to be cooked according to An Chang Qing’s methods. Everyone waited in anticipation for half a day. When the grains went through the final stage of dehydration, it had indeed increased in volume. The one bucket initially used to hold the grains could now only store half the quantity.
Qi Wei was overjoyed, “Gather up and make more!”
An Chang Qing said, “Now that war is at our front door, why don’t we let the regular folks help with this?”
Everyone felt that this was reasonable. They sent out requests for volunteers and very soon, almost every citizen gathered around boiling pots that had been set up along the streets to assist with processing the grains into dried food.
This had temporarily provided enough food to sustain the army a little longer.
Qi Wei and the other lieutenants were relieved. Seeing An Chang Qing looking haggard, they tried to persuade him to get some rest back at the manor.
An Chang Qing shook his head, “As I’ve said before, I will accompany everyone till the end.”
That evening, the Beidi army launched another attack. An Chang Qing once again stood on the city wall to beat the war drum as the two armies crossed swords.
This battle dragged on for a long time. An Chang Qing was afflicted by the pain in his arms but he persisted.
Below the wall, someone suddenly yelled, “The General is back! The General is back!”
An Chang Qing was bewildered. He dropped the drumstick in his hand and rushed over to look down. A tall, familiar figure surrounded by soldiers was riding towards the city.
His eyes burned as he hurried back to beat the drum once more, “The General has returned! Yanzhou is saved!”
“Yanzhou is saved!”
The people echoed his words and took to the streets shouting happily.
Xiao Zhige instinctively cast his eyes upwards at the city wall. He then raised his spear and commanded, “Attack!”
The soldiers charged forth with bloodlust behind the black battle flag which fluttered vibrantly against the wind.
Hu Yan Xun saw Xiao Zhige’s sudden return and knew the battle was lost. He looked at the two brothers and sneered bitterly, “Didn’t you say that Xiao Zhige was dead?”
After speaking, he swung his hand and ordered for the soldiers to retreat.
Hu Yan Ah Te and Hu Yan Zhi looked at each other with dismay. Seeing that Yanzhou’s soldiers were advancing on them, they could only pull back.
Xiao Zhige waited in front of the city gate for the Beidi army to gain some distance before entering the city gates with the soldiers.
After massive gates had closed behind him, Xiao Zhige got off his horse and walked a few steps when he saw An Chang Qing coming down the stairs.
An Chang Qing was wearing ill-fitting armor and on his face was a speck of blood from somewhere. He looked at Xiao Zhige with swollen eyes and pursed lips.
Xiao Zhige stepped forward to touch him but An Chang Qing dodged his hand and turned to leave.
“Nuo Nuo,” Xiao Zhige called out and grabbed his hand. His body wobbled forward and hugged An Chang Qing from behind. Resting his head on An Chang Qing’s shoulder, he said, “Let me hold you for a while.”
An Chang Qing’s fingers were clenched but his legs stood still.