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Chapter Sixty-One: Ding Ning on the Road
The highest commander of an army would have a decisive role in the outcome of a war. This was not just about cultivation or courage, but temperament. Sometimes, slight hesitation could affect key battles. Increasing morale and having an army willing to fight to the death was dependent on the confidence the general gave his soldiers, and his own personal charisma.
Even in the Chu Dynasty, many people did not have confidence in Tang Mei who had been in retirement for many years now.
The Qin Dynasty armies had been famed for their bravery many years ago, especially during the time when the generals of the Ba Mountain Sword Field led them. The Qin Dynasty had not been as strong as now, nor had such vast lands and abundant supplies. Their population had been much less. That had shown in the military. Even though they used all their power to feed the army, they were much less than the Han, Zhao and Wei dynasties, even in ordnance.
So, in the multiple battles of the Ba Mountain’s rise, the Qin armies mostly relied on powerful cultivators, and they usually were at a disadvantage in terms of numbers. The classic example of thousands winning against tens of thousands had occurred many times.
Now, in the thirteenth year of Yuanwu, Ba Mountain Sword Field had been gone for many years, but the number of powerful cultivators in the Qin Dynasty far surpassed other dynasties. Changling seemed to have the fate of heaven, and possessed countless talented cultivators.
People in the world could not imagine, when the ratio of powerful cultivators was higher than before, when the Qin army was of the same number as the enemy, how the Qin armies would perform. At least, in the battles against the Wuzhi, even though the Wuzhi started with a mad initial attack that took the Qin armies off guard and won a great victory, when large numbers of Changling cultivators arrived in later battles, the Wuzhi armies quickly could not hold on, and used the cold to retreat deep into the tundra.
Not many had good outlooks on the Chu Dynasty. The direct reaction was on the long Chu-Qin border. There were many border cities and inspection points on the Qin side. There were also some small towns that armies and carriages could not reach and were only known to horse bandits on secret paths. Each day, they received many caravans returning from the Chu.
There were only a few caravans returning from the Qin Dynasty to the Chu. This meant that in the view of these caravans and some of the border residents, when the war started, the fires of war would spread inside the Chu borders. The Chu Dynasty armies would not be able to withstand the invasion of the Qin army, so it was safer to move their home to the side of the Qin Dynasty. Otherwise, where the two armies fought, there likely would be nothing growing there.
The mountain town of Hongyan was one of the northernmost by the Yan Mountain. This town was named for its red salt. Ordinary carriages could not reach this place. Only the horse bandits moving along secret paths created on the steep cliffs could come here.
This mountain town had no fields to farm and had inconvenient transport. They were connected to the outside world through climbing the mountain on foot, or walking the goat path created on the steep slopes. The reason they became a settlement was due to the underground red brine.
The red brine could be used to make salt. Salt was extremely important for people and animals. Within hundreds of miles, there were no other places that could produce salt. So Hongyan Town relied on the women pumping and carrying salt and creating salt fields to dry salt. The work had continued for thousands of years.
The herders and farmers transported meat and grain here through the horse bandits, and traded for large amounts of red salt. Hongyan Town was a very secret trading post. Even though it was hard to reach, but because there were no better places within hundreds of miles, so many of the horse bandits may rest here and get some supplies, even if they did not trade here. If they had enough space, they would even carry some red salt. Once the red salt was carried out, they would be worth at least double.
The war was about to start. Most herders had driven their animals to the high plateaus of Yin Mountain and so few horse bandit caravans were passing by. Ding Ning, Zhangsun Qianxue, and the old monk who came here from the Donghu border seemed very unusual.
But in this northernmost area of Chu, because it was a poor area, traded with Donghu and Wuzhi so the customs were similar. In the eyes of the ordinary people, most ascetic monks had extraordinary power due to their cultivation. These ascetic monks, during their travels, would use valuable energy to heal the people if they were asked. So the ascetic monks were respected in the eyes of the border people. Some people would use their best things to support these ascetic monks.
The older the monk, and the more extraordinary the air they had, they seemed to have higher merit in the eyes of these people. So when the old monk guided Ding Ning and Zhangsun Qianxue here, they received the highest treatment.
The people of Hongyan Town did not just give them snow salt — a very pure salt crystal formed on the top wooden slats of the salt wells. The snow salt had some of the primal energies of the universe, and in Changling, would sell for an astounding price. Hearing the old monk was just passing by, these people also gave many of their best horses, and enough food and drinking water.
The old monk refused the guide for he himself was the best guide. In his earliest years of cultivation, he had walked over many places of Yin Mountain, entering Chu or Qin from this place.
These devout people chose horses that were used to the little paths on the steep inclines and walked steadily. It was very dangerous at many places, just inches away from hundreds of meters of empty space with stones or white water near the bottom.
Ding Ning’s body moved up and down with the horse, but his hands were steady as he opened a large silver box filled with snow salt. His right index and middle fingers went into the salt, then he took out a piece of paper and read it.
Hongyan Town was a place he had to pass through. One was because this was the shortcut to reach Chu the fastest. Also, this was an intelligence center of the Wuzhi. There were Wuzhi people among the horse bandits that passed through here, and would bring some military intelligence here. To make the best judgements about the situation, one needed as much information as possible, and to calculate the possible changes that would occur during the time the information reached them.
Ding Ning carefully read the packed characters on the paper, and then handed it to Zhangsun Qianxue.
Zhangsun Qianxue read it quickly and nodded at his back. “The higher the status, the more they know, the worse their outlook on the Chu Dynasty. In a few short days, there have been several rebellions in the Yan and Chu. While the previous rebellion and these minor rebellions are just ones that Zheng Xiu was purposefully showing the people, this lets everyone know that she also had preparations in the Yan and Qi. While Chu, Yan and Qi have an agreement to move together, Yan and Qi would be wary. Even if they sent large numbers of cultivators, the Yan and Qi emperors will keep the most powerful ones by their sides.”
“Zheng Xiu is very skilled at assassinations, but this is not the key to such a situation forming.” Ding Ning turned to look at her and said, “I think the Yan and Qi will not send strong reinforcements because the Chu Dynasty is also strong. In their view, the Chu Dynasty cannot win this, but due to the power of both sides, no one will be able to consume the other. So they feel in the end, both sides will suffer heavy losses in their armies. The Chu Dynasty will not be able to last, and will give up land for peace. Giving up a few commanderies will harm the Chu Dynasty, but the Qin will also be harmed. This is the chance for Yan and Chu to rise.”
Zhangsun Qianxue frowned and said directly, “If everyone proceeds according to your expectations, even if the Golden Dagger Axe Army arrives on time, it will be dangerous because the Qin has put in much more than you had imagined.”
Ding Ning knew that she was saying that even if he did all he could, he could not help the Chu win this war. But he did not think so.
He shook his head and said, “The four marquises look like they have the upper hand against a retired old general like Tang Mei, but in my view, we have a chance like this.”
Translator Ramblings: I absolutely hate it when the author uses approximate numbers sometimes. Could you not come up with a concrete number like 120,000?