This time we continue reading volume 1 of Yi Huang’s Dragon War in the Wilderness (黃易的“龍戰在野”) . We pick up the action in chapter 6 when Longying and two hundred of his men ride camels out to the Maiden Oasis, anticipating a battle with the Xueyantuo. Two men ride on each camel, and they are wrapped head to toe in a thick cloth. They also have some camels carrying grain and water. When they get to the oasis, they discover the “sunshine well,” which one of the men detected by the odor and steam. This well was known to have been around during the dynasty change, and it is located to the southwest of the oasis, flowing from the branch of an underground river. The men think surely the Xueyantuo know of such a place as this and are suspicious. They look around but don’t find any tracks nearby. They move camp to the well until it gets dark and make plans on what to do about the animals for the next 15 days as well as how to fill their water canteens. Then they discuss their plan to attack the Maiden Oasis itself, setting it for a lucky day in the morning four days hence.
The next chapter continues describing the oasis’ terrain in more detail. The men wait three days and are getting ready for battle. The oasis is in the shape of a gourd, narrow in the northwest but broadening into a southeastern plain, and a river snakes through it, forming a few lakes. After spending a few days in the area, Longying and his men see that a few thousand raiders and Turks defend the oasis. Suddenly, the Xueyantuo attack and grab some or all of their camels carrying supplies, and it Longying and his men are quite distressed. They leave the oasis area at once.
Longying meets Feng Guoting in the northwest corner of the Maiden Oasis later that night, and they have a chat about the sentries. They let the horses eat some of the grass then leave the sparse forested area of the plain where they were resting. The desert is punishing either during the day or during the night with its extreme heat and cold. They plan where to set up camp next, then Longying talks with his men and shows them his hidden folding bow. A bugle sounds, and they engage the enemy, Longying shooting four arrows out into the night.
Chapter 8 has the title “Bloody War Before Daybreak.” It starts out with a four character phrase that is very intriguing, “all things on earth fluctuate” (萬物波動). There’s also a mention of Empress Wu here, far away at the capital, connected with some book that allows for understanding supernatural wisdom. Longying has heard of it and experienced its unusual, boundless magical effects. He plans on using this knowledge in the war he is now fighting.
The story then launches into a discussion of their battle positions as well as those of their enemy. Longying seems to be entering an altered state of consciousness with talk about everything fluctuating around him, including his own body. The text then goes into the details of the bloody battle with a very large number of fighters.
Two days after the battle, Feng Guoting goes to talk with Longying, who is off by himself lost in thought, about how the camels and horses went crazy when they saw the grass and lake. Longying, however, reveals he is afraid of the changeability of the desert, the frightening weather patterns that bring sandstorms and tornadoes. He worries that, although they won the last battle, they are underestimating the Turks. They make plans to stay 7 or 8 days. Then Longying’s thoughts wander to his master, Pang Gonggong, who also had another work, “the treasury of ten thousand poisons,” but that so far hasn’t become significant to the story.
The next morning, Longting wakes up with the sense of a foggy, sinister presence, yet when he leaves the tent, he hears the sound of water and sees that the oasis is tranquil. As he has breakfast with his men, they talk about how to get firearms and how savage the Turks are.
Hmm, did they have firearms back in the Tang Dynasty? My sources suggest that they did, at least a primitive sort of weapon that used gunpowder:
I didn’t realize they went back that far, though I knew gunpowder was invented early in China. There are a number of weapons mentioned in this book, though I won’t focus on them that much. I found this site does reference a few of them and has awesome pictures and even the Chinese characters that refer to the weapons:
In this volume, the warriors use some sort of bow with arrows, maybe a firearm that the author describes vaguely, and a short lance, the ji.
Photo by China Whisper
Longying uses a folded bow, but I don’t know if that means some sort of primitive compound bow or a crossbow, but here is one possibility from China Whisper, too:
This old painting shows a fire lance in action:
Longying leaves the Maiden Oasis before dusk, though more than 1,000 of his men stay behind one more day to work on their defenses. When night falls, a cold wind blows, and they think back to when it was snowy. One detail that came up this time that has confused things for me is that Longying’s horse is named Xue’r, or Snow, and the horse is mentioned in the same sections where there are descriptions of snowy weather, so I’m having quite a time trying to unravel all of that. The weather grows more severe, but that is actually beneficial for their plan.
They leave the oasis and enter a hilly region where the Turkish army has 20,000 soldiers split into 5 battalions. Longying smells oily fire projectiles , which he uses in his attack on the Turks. The fire projectile must be different from the folded bow he uses, because he takes that out separately to shoot arrows at the enemy. He and his horse Snow are riding around the area as he shoots. Drums sound, and one of his men Niaosu tells him to head to a small lake 35 li to the northeast and wait for the rest of them. There is an explosion, paper blows into the sky, and half the sky is full of flames and smoke. The Turks are in misery, their camp in confusion as if it were the end of the world.
Longying talks with Niaosu, considering him a true friend who was worrying about him, before fleeing on horseback and leaving for the plains. He reaches a pine grove where a small river flows. They rest, and Snow indulges in the water and grass. This moment offers a nice contrast to the battle sequences. Longying pauses with his horse, shaded from the sun by red and gold trees, and he listens to the sounds of birds and animals in this little grove.
But the Xueyantuo army has gone to the south, and the Huihe people are to the north. Longying is back in a forest, maybe the same one though I’m not sure, but it’s snowing hard, and Longying uses his fluctuating technique. He hears the sound of 40 to 100 people on horseback coming to attack him, and he takes out four arrows to shoot them into the trees, though he is afraid of wounding Niaosu and his men. Longying slips out of the forest as some of the enemy troops come to get him.
A few days later, Longying and Snow are traveling day and night, avoiding the inhabited areas while making use of the “all things fluctuate” technique. Along the way, he encounters martial arts master Can Shichan (note that in pinyin, can is pronounced san). In this part, Longying seems to be in that altered state again so everything is undulating. Before they attack, Longying also encounters a wolf pack and a group of deer. After Longying disperses the animals, he faces Can Shichan and his large group of 50 or so men who are waiting because of the fierce snowstorm kicking up.
Niaosu has suffered heavy internal injuries and must rest a few days before continuing in battle, but his comrades-in-arms are there with Longting. Can’s warriors dismount their horses, and Can Shichan emerges at the front of them, walking toward Longying but maintaining a safe distance. They talk a bit. I’m unclear how they know each other. It seems that Longying wants to invite Can to dine with him and rest. Can laughs and asks how they can eat meat without wine. Longying therefore opens a bottle of his most aromatic and smooth wine for Can. A few of Can’s other illustrious warriors come forward. Later that night as the snowstorm gets worse, the men chat some more about the oasis and this fluctuation technique. Apparently, this technique Longying knows is one of the highest means for knowing the enemy and is a superb method in war.
Can doesn’t retire for the night, and Longying takes out his folded bow and shoots Can Shichan, catching him off guard. One arrow strikes Can in the chest since there was no way he can avoid it. This sparks a general battle between Longying and Can and his men.
Longying chases Can into the forest, but by morning, he flees the scene of the ambush, bathed in blood, near the city of Guizi. He worries that more of Can’s men will capture and kill him, though they had run into the forest like madmen. The forest is dark with deep snow, but Longying knows they want to kill him. Can emerges again before long, obviously still alive in spite of Longying’s attack, and the men chat again before Longying resumes shooting arrows at them and using the fluctuation technique. I like some of the passages here with the description of the sound of the bowstring, and maybe next time I will have a moment to quote that passage and maybe translate it. That’s as far into the battle I’ve been able to get, though I am hopefully going to get to volume two before this series ends.
Part three of a five part series.