It is said that during the Qing Li reign period of the great Song dynasty the revered and venerated Emperor Renzong was nonetheless hoodwinked by the treacherous minister Xia Song into appointing mean, small men such as Wang Gongchen and Yu Zhouxun. Their words and plots gave rise to many regrettable affairs, destroying loyalty and goodwill. One by one they managed to remove six fine officials of the time: Wen Yanbo, Han Qi, Fu Bi, Fan Zhongyan and Bao Zheng. These six were all steady and experienced men, ready, willing and able to accomplish fine things on behalf of the nation. After their dismissal Xia Song received the post of Privy Councillor; he only eyed talent and ability jealously and sought to take more power and bribes.
As a result many districts and counties had greedy officials and there could be no peace in the entire land. Zhao Yuanhao led the Xixia revolt, and then came Nong Zhigao's uprising in the southern region of Guangnan. And now Wang Ze, also due to a greedy official, had risen up in Beizhou.
Of all the Beizhou officials only Judge Dong Yuanchun and Clerk Tian Jing escaped. They fled to the capital where they presented a memorial to the emperor, informing him of the revolt. As soon as Renzong heard their petition he asked members of the State Council to submit their opinions.
"This was all the result of Governor Zhang De's not dispersing cash and rice," wrote Xia Song. "The army was simply angered and it is not to be considered a regional revolt. Do not worry, your Majesty, for I am recommending an official under my wing by the name of Liu Yanwei, currently the Prefect of Yizhou. He's the son of a high ranking army officer and consummately skilled at civil and military affairs. All it will take is for this man to lead the men and horses from his headquarters over there and punish the bandits a few times, and it will all be over with no more trouble."
Renzong approved this memorial and affixed his seal to a plan ordering the Prefect of Yizhou to quickly take his headquarters cavalry over to Beizhou and deal with the rebels as conditions should warrant. When calm once again prevailed he was to report his success to the court for his reward.
Now, although Prefect Liu Yanwei was a product of the literature curriculum he had been raised in a military commanders's family and had a fine understanding of military tactics as well. With broadsword in hand he commanded ten thousand crack troops. On the very day he received the sudden notice from court he summoned the local military superintendant Ru Gang for a consultation.
"I've heard about that gang of sorcerers causing all sorts of woe in Beizhou," said Ru. "You'd better take them seriously and make a careful assessment of your strength. You can't meet them from a position of weakness."
Liu Yanwei laughed heartily. "I've read the poems too," he replied, "and as you know it has always been written that evil never triumphs over good. So I reckon that I can always rely on Heaven's help in punishing the rebels. There's absolutely no chance of our coming to grief!"
An auspicious day was then chosen and five thousand men and horses were carefully chosen from the headquarters garrison for the attack. Ru Gang was given command of the leading one thousand men and horses to spearhead the assault, while Colonel Duan Lei was to bring up the rear with another thousand. Liu himself commanded the three thousand troops and horses of the main force. Together they set out to march on Beizhou.
Now, a spy from Beizhou heard of Liu Yanwei's expedition and fairly flew on horseback to inform Wang Ze. All of the people of the district were in a panic. Wang Ze had practiced a bit of martial arts but had never seen battle, and so he too was filled with fear. He immediately summoned Zuo Chu, Zhang Ying and Pu Ji for a discussion.
Come to think of it, what has become of Bonze Dan? Recall if you will, dear reader, what caused all of this. When Bonze Dan went to Yuan Gong's dwelling in White Cloud Cave that third time to steal the secret code of Dao he swore a sacred oath to the Lord of the Polestar before the jade incense burner. He promised to follow the path of Heaven and to do no evil. Although he could not understand the script of Heaven's laws he was lucky enough to have Holy Auntie sort them out for him. He then joined her and Zuo Chu in a round of alchemy. Then Holy Auntie said that the thirty-six districts of China would properly get a new chief and would naturally support Wang Ze in destroying the greedy officials and their corrupt underlings, and that it had all been predestined. Bonze Dan had believed those words, and so he used the three thousand strings of cash from Flawless Commander Wang to help Wang Ze pay the two regiments' troops. But then when they all rushed in to kill the governor Bonze Dan stood aside and did not help.
Why was this, you ask? Well for one thing there was the matter of his origins in a Buddhist temple and his having been raised by the abbot himself, achieving the third level of mercy and largess. Another reason lay in his own clever and complex heart and soul. He had sworn that oath and those four words "the path of Heaven" were still in his heart. He had indeed troubled Grand Dragon Bao but only because the official sought to arrest him groundlessly. And although he believed that prophecy of Holy Auntie's and wanted to help the activities, he didn't dare involve himself in an undertaking of such grave consequence. And so as Wang Ze ruled Beizhou City our Bonze Dan cloistered himself in the Spring of Sweetness Temple outside of the city. That left only Zuo Chu and the three to do everything from morning till night, and Wang Ze had now summoned him and the others to this meeting.
"Have you been able to find out how many men and horses he's got?" asked Master Que.
"Five thousand," replied Wang Ze.
"It wouldn't make any difference if he had fifty thousand!" answered Zuo Chu. "There are six thousand men altogether in these two regiments. Keep half of them inside to hold the fort and send the other half outside to meet the enemy, and just leave the rest to me!"
Wang Ze then went to the drill ground to select the troops. The newly appointed commanders Zhang Cheng and Dou Wenyu kowtowed and reported to him.
"Marshall!" they proclaimed. "The two regiments are completely satisfied with your generosity. Five thousand five hundred men are ready for action outside the wall, with the remainder on town security duty. Our men will wipe out the enemy with their dauntless courage and make sure they never again dare to set eyes on our beloved Beizhou!"
Wang Ze was delighted and went on to select three thousand troops, each of them receiving a set of battle dress and a horse. When he was finished with the presentations he ordered the men to move out on the morrow and to pay careful attention.
The night passed. Next day the two commanders appeared in full battle dress, the city gates opened and out to do battle rode the two columns of Beizhou cavalry. Master Que was impressed by their fearsome splendor and thought it a good time to go scout ahead and get a true picture of the enemy force, though he did not wish to impeed them.
Now, Zhang Cheng had just led his one thousand five hundred mounted troops to a place called Fujiatuan about thirty li outside of town when he suddenly met with Ru Gang's cavalry, the spearhead of the Yizhou forces. Just as he was marshalling his men and preparing for battle Dou Wenyu arrived with his column as well.
Now, those thousand men of Ru Gang's had not even caught their breath when suddenly they met the full three thousand fresh troops of the two branches of Beizhou cavalry. Outnumbered, tired and surprised, they couldn't hold their ground and scattered in every direction. Ru Gang managed to lop off a few heads but to no avail. Zhang Cheng and Dou Wenyu watched the enemy retreat and pressed their horses on in hot pursuit of Ru, who despite fighting at least twenty bouts at close quarters had just been dealt an enormous defeat. Casting a glance back at his remaining few mounted men he had no more heart for battle and beat a hasty path out of there. Generals Zhang and Dou chased him to within ten li of the main Yizhou force; not daring to go any farther they quickly regrouped and returned to Beizhou. The men pitched camp outside the city gate while their two commanders entered and met with Wang Ze.
"We have met and heavily defeated the leading element of Yizhou's forces!" they reported triumphantly. "We chased them all the way back to Prefect Liu's main force. All we could do then was reassemble and return, and we are now encamped outside the city awaiting your next orders, marshall!"
"I've heard this fellow Liu Yanwei's tricks are really superb and powerful," said Wang Ze. "With the defeat of that forward force his dominance has been destroyed. You two can consider that your first success. Now let's take advantage of our high morale and set up positions in front of the city to repulse their next attack. In tomorrow's battle you two are to cooperate closely."
And so the generals had their orders and set up camp on two big walls about ten li from town. Each column occupied one of them and they could cooperate in repelling the enemy.
Now after recovering the remnants of his decimated army Ru Gang went to acknowledge his fault to Prefect Liu, who was furious.
"Anybody who goes into battle must get intelligence on the situation ahead!" he thundered. "Once he gets a whiff of the enemy he knows to prepare. There's no regulation in existance to cover someone as totally careless as you, getting fine government troops mauled so badly by a gang of bandits! I ought to lop off your head, seeing how I honestly feel that you'd be useless in battle!"
Instead Liu ordered him to receive a hundred lashes and to be put in charge of the feed supply unit at the rear, while rear guard commander Duan Lei was placed in charged of the leading spearhead. His scouts soon reached the two forts at Fujiatuan and reported that Zhang Cheng and Dou Wenyu had already encamped on the walls.
"Now I know the bandits will be powerless!" laughed Prefect Liu heartily. "Fujiatuan is a strategic point guarding the approach to Beizhou. If the bandits are there they can can control the road to town, or so they think. But I reckon they'd need at least a hundred thousand troops to do that. They've got hold of it now and are encamped there, but I'll surely destroy them!" He then gave his instructions to Duan Lei.
"Fly the battle flag with my surname on and approach the rebel fort at dawn to draw them into battle. It's a sure thing. Lead them on all the way down the road to Fujiatuan and I'll have a trap waiting for them."
Duan Lei left with his orders. Two mid ranking officers were also to be sent out, each leading three hundred foot soldiers. They were to lie in ambush in various locations near the forts in wait for the Beizhou forces to come out and fight and to then set fire to their encampments. Ru Gang was ordered to provide smokescreen apparatus, assault rockets and launching racks.
Now, as it happened the former martial arts instructors Zhang Cheng and Dou Wenyu were eminently skilled with spear and cudgel but did not know much of military strategy. They had merely blundered into victory on their first outing and it had gone to their heads, making them boastful and complacent. The next morning word spread fast when the government army appeared in front of the fort with Commander Liu's battle flag, spoiling for a fight.
Zhang Cheng and Dou Wenyu decided to mount an attack. They sent their men out to battle on their warhorses carrying fine iron spears and appearing awesome in their martial bearing. The government troops had earlier been deployed in plain view, all gathered round their flag. They wore iron helmets and fancy decorative armor, and held clearing broad-axes.
"Who else could it be but Liu Yanwei?" went the rebel leaders as they extended their spears and went after the enemy, who raised their axes at the ready. But the enemy deliberately disengaged after only thirty rounds of combat. Shouting "Retreat!" they turned their horses around and fled. Generals Zhang and Dou pressed their cavalry in an all-out pursuit to the death. Alternately fighting and chasing they had gone about ten li, unable to secure a victory and still on the move when the govenment army released steel drum rollers on the ground in front of pursuing rebels, sending them tumbling wildly. Suddenly a mounted messenger came rushing up from behind.
"General, stop chasing them!" he shouted. "Both our forts at the rear are in flames!" Zhang Cheng and Dou Wenyu knew at once that they'd fallen into a trap and ordered a speedy retreat and turned right around but things fell apart fast and the soldiers began fleeing in disorder. They then heard the sound of strings of fircrackers and from the corner of their eyes caught sight of an army meeting up with them, the supreme general at its head. He was on horseback, wielding a broadsword.
"Halt, rebel thieves!" he thundered. "I, Liu Yanwei have been awaiting you here for a long time!"
The two Beizhou generals had never seen such awesome bearing in a man. Their hearts raced but it was too late to do anything about it. Liu Yanwei raised his sword and brought it down, first beheading Dou Wenyu beside his horse. Zhang Cheng considered escaping but was cornered and could only put up a dying struggle with his spear. Before three rounds were over Liu Yanwei flashed his eyes and shouted victoriously as Zhang collapsed with a dying gasp, spear motionless in hand.
Quickly caught and surrounded by Liu's government cavalry the rebel army dropped their reigns and dismounted to give up their lives fighting on foot. At a signal from Liu Yanwei they were attacked and most of the three thousand all killed. This poem bears witness:
When Wang Ze got word that his boys had been slaughtered outside the wall he immediately summoned Zuo Chu and company to help him hold the city. Outside he saw only the dazed remnants of the defeated army straggling back.
"Our leaders Zhang and Dou have been killed!" they shouted up frantically. "Prefect Liu's troops are right behind us! Quick, open the gate and let us in!"
Wang Ze ordered the gatekeepers to admit them. He was horrified to hear in detail what had happened first hand and turned to Zuo Chu.
"Liu Yanwei's fame as a hero is no empty myth!" he gasped. "Have you gentlemen got some way of repulsing him?"
"I've already thought up a plan," replied Zuo. "Let the survivors of the battle hold the city and select another fifteen hundred men to go out. Zhang Ying, Pu Ji and I will take five hundred each. We'll take it on ourselves to render his armor useless and kill all of his troops."
"Everyone will think that five hundred men are too few!" said Wang.
"We'll have Heaven's own spirit soldiers with us," replied Zuo Chu. "Those five hundred will be just helping us for show, that's all!"
"We'll all be counting on you three, and you'll be rewarded equally with wealth and rank!" said Wang Ze. he then issued orders to send out the fifteen hundred elite troops, divided into three companies. But before they could be completely assembled a series of great cries went up from outside the wall, for the government troops had already arrived.
Liu Yanwei ordered Duan Lei and Ru Gang to prepare for an attack on the city while he himself mounted a horse as swift as the wind and rode right up to the city gate. He stood there and brandished his sword and shouting to the inhabitants. "Beizhou would do well to hand over Wang Ze, bound up under arrest," he proclaimed. "He will be presented to the court and you will avoid being all killed!"
Wang Ze was stunned to see his awesome military bearing and didn't dare utter a peep. Zuo Chu, wearing a gown and wielding a sword led the five hundred men of his command out the gate and pointed the tip of the weapon at Liu Yanwei. "You would do well to command those men and horses to return quickly to Yizhou," he shouted. "If you hang around here, you and all your men will die at my hands!"
"You punk!" replied Liu. "You're just one of Wang Ze's traitors' party. I see you've come out to slay me with neither armor nor horses. It's a pity that such a cripple has to die by my sword."
"I'm not here to argue with you!" shouted Zuo Chu. "You'll just have to see what I can do, that's all!"
Liu Yanwei stood there in front of the men brandishing his weapon to intimidate Zuo Chu, who merely pointed his sword and shouted "Live!". A whirlwind could suddenly be seen rising and whirling toward the govenment troops, blowing sand in their faces until the entire army couldn't open their eyes. "Enough of this!" shouted Liu Yanwei, but as soon as he turned his horse around to flee he was attacked by Zuo Chu's men. They slaughtered many of the govenment soldiers and then left.
Liu Yanwei fled for more than twenty li before the storm subsided. He counted his men and horses and found that one in three had been lost. Duan Lei and Ru Gang arrived with their forces a shortwhile later.
"We were each about to attack," they reported, "when a squall arose with all of this flying sand and bits of rock. We reckoned it was their sorcery and we got out of there before anything else could happen."
"I didn't know about the bandits' powers and they ruined my scheme. Let's take three days' rest at Fujiatuan. My original plans are useless." He then ordered all the men to prepare facemasks for use on command, to protect their eyes from the sand and flying stones.
At five in the morning of the fourth day breakfast was prepared and the men assembled at seven. Only five hundred fine horses and javelin throwers were selected, each with the facemasks hanging by their sides to protect them against windblown sand. On meeting the rebel forces they would just continued on for better or worse and attack using their long spears to slay the enemy. Duan Lei and Ru Gang leading the left and right flanks were to wait until the main force force engaged the rebels and then join in to trap them up. They were to be annihilated; not one of the enemy was to escape.
Now, of course Wang Ze felt more secure after Zuo Chu's first victory. Day after day the army scouts spotted no sign of activity but the defenders of the city didn't dare slack off in their vigilance. On the fourth day the return of the government forces was reported.
"Master Que led the attack the other day," proclaimed Zhang Ying, "but this time it's my turn!"
"Why not let your disciple have a go at it for you!" pleaded Pu Ji. And so he lead the five hundred men on a fast march out of the city. And how did Pu Ji appear?
Liu Yanwei thought only that this was still Master Que's army and had no idea whatsoever of what secret magic this change held in store for him. Without waiting for his opponent's first move he ordered his men forward in a direct frontal attack. Pu Ji could be seen mumbling a few words and then shouting "Live!" as he thrust forward his arms and the sleeves of his gown. Out of them leapt hundreds of thousands of beasts such as hungry wolves, fierce tigers and sleek leopards, all baring their fangs and claws while bearing down on the government troops. Liu Yanwei's own horse reared in terror at the sight, tossing him to the ground. Just as Pu Ji strode forward he was caught up between the left and right government flanks dashing to the rescue. When the govenment forces caught sight of all those strange beasts they threw down their weapons and drums and fled for thir lives. Pu Ji pursued them ruthlessly, capturing over two hundred fine horses and an inestimable supply of weaponry.
Liu Yanwei had suffered yet another defeat, this time with a tremendous number of casualties, and turned back to take refuge again at Fujiatuan. Liu had never in his entire life seen or heard of such sorcerers, he thought, and he was not really so fond of the idea of recovering his force and returning to do battle with them. He really had no idea how to cope with the situation. Moreover he'd lost half of his five thousand men. How could he bear the snickers and sneers if he were to lose yet again? He procrastinated continuously and restricted his men to the fort, not daring to undertake any reckless action. A day passed and an official document arrived from Yizhou.
Liu read that it had been unanimously decided to send Prime Minister Xia's own private force of one thousand volunteers under the command of Tao Bixian to support him in battle. This was an unbelievable honour, thought Liu. He was truly overjoyed. "Heaven has now assured my success!" he said gratefully. He then dashed off a missive to Tao Bixian saying that his new unit would be warmly welcomed to provide mutual assistance in the field. Next he ordered his unit artisans to construct three hundred wooden-framed lions to be covered with fabric and decorated just like the real beasts, and to report the completion of their labors within ten days. Tao Bixian's fresh troops would attack as the leading spearhead, their horses all wearing the lion floats. Should the rebels try another round of sorcery and call forth wolves, tigers, leopards they would be greeted with the sight of three hundred men and horses decked out as lions, advancing to the beating of gongs. Now, the lion is the king of beasts, feared by all animals, and the gongs sound like a lion's roar, so, he reasoned, those creatures would simply all have to retreat. He would then lead the main force directly up from behind while Duan Lei and Ru Gang lie in ambush on the left and right, each with three hundred crack archers. He need only wait for the rebel army to come pouring out of the city and rushing forth only to be caught in a svage crossfire of arrows from behind. Any blowing sand, tigers or leopards would be directed forwards, not to the rear. Liu Yanwei then pronounced the plan all set, styling it his "Policy for a Great Victory".
Now, Wang Ze was just in the midst of a discussion with Zuo Chu and the others when army scouts reported the arrival of govenment forces.
"It's my turn now!" shouted Zhang Ying eagerly. And so he led his five hundred men out of the city to face the enemy, this time as mounted cavalry.
This guy Liu Yanwei never gives up!" observed Pu Ji slyly. "He must have something up his sleeve, coming again like this after so many failed attempts. I ought to follow my old master out there just to see what happens."
"That's the spirit!" shouted Zuo Chu, leaping up. "Let's all just go and help wipe him out today. Then we won't have to hear to our dying days how we weren't there!"
"Try your best, fellows!" shouted Wang Ze. "Beizhou's victory or defeat will all be decided today!"
Zuo and Pu both led out their armies while Wang Ze personally mounted the wall and beat the drum to encourage them in battle.
Now as it happened Tao Bixian arrived with his troops and , nerves trembling, raised a gauntlet to challenge the rebels to battle. Out over the mote suspension bridge flew a company of dashing cavalry, led by a Daoist wearing an iron wizard's crown and a dark red robe, face red as blood and eyes gleaming like stars. He held a tortoise shell fan and carried an old sword encased in pine bark on his back. Tao Bixian thought it strange that his opponent was not carrying a weapon in hand. Surely he intended to rely on sorcery! Well, he had prepared for this; why should he worry? He loudly ordered his lion-suited men and horses forward in a frontal attack.
On the opposing side Zhang Ying just mumbled some words, waved his fan and shouted "Live!", and right out of the plain bare earth arose a frigid blast of wind. Instantly it froze mens' hair and chilled their bones as it it were winter. A black cloud then filled the portion of the sky above the government army and great balls of hail lashed down wildly, smashing in their heads and scrambling their brains. The horses were all terrified and couldn't be kept from fleeing. Just at this time Liu Yanwei's forces arrived, but with such a disruption in progress a hasty retreat was sounded. When safety was reached and the roll called, Tao Bixian was missing; he had been confused and ran right into the arms of the rebel force, taken prisoner and tied up along with many of his men.
As for Duan Lei and Ru Gang lying in ambush with their troops, they had each heard the frenzied sound of killing and thought it the timely moment to join the fray. And so they led their forces dashing out to kill, clearly seeing Zuo Chu and Pu Ji before their eyes. But as they raised their swords and bows in pursuit the sky above blackened and others became invisible in the darkness. The two government armies only managed to collide head on. each mistaking the other for the rebel force. Altogether six hundred archers released their arrows at once, all shooting at their own side. A moment later the sky was again bright and only a hundred or so of the men remained alive. This was all the result of Zuo Chu and Pu Ji's power.
Duan Lei had quickly concealed himself in a foxhole and was unhurt; casting aside his helmet and armor he mixed in with the survivors and fled. Ru Gang lay immobilized on the ground with five or six arrows in his body. Seeing the rebel forces coming for him he took the sword at his side and ended his own life. Later people have written this poem about it:
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