Chapter 52: Surrendering like a Tiger to Return Victorious
The sunlight felt great, but the air remained its consistent frigidness.
The Qin army has besieged the Zhao army for forty-five days.
A snowy field, which remained until now, was slowly thinning, marking the beginning of spring. In more than a month, no one knows just how many bodies were hidden below this pristine layer of snow.
Forty days of crossed swords.
The Qin army lost two hundred thousand soldiers, more than four hundred thousand remaining. The Zhao army lost two hundred thousand soldiers, more than one hundred thousand wounded remaining.
Out of food and without reinforcements, besieged in the inner mountains, in theory, an army should have surrendered in five days. However, the Zhao army remained for the last forty days.
They began eating the corpses off the battlefield and eventually their own horses. Some men began eating the flesh off their palms.
Through all of this, the morale had not yet been eliminated. Even more frightening is that they have successfully dragged two hundred thousand Qin soldiers to their graves along with them. And yet, in this condition, they are still capable of dragging even more down.
This kind of suicidal battle made Bai Qi’s hairs stand up on end. The strength of the Zhao army far exceeded his estimations.
Bai Qi sighed wearily from within his tent. His old hand picked up the brush on the table.
In the early morning, a single rider rode out of the Qin camp and towards the Zhao army gate.
The interior of the commander’s tent could be considered warm, but Zhao Kuo, sitting in the main seat, coughed weakly several times.
He already looks nothing like his former self. He had a haggard appearance, worsened by his severe loss in weight. The bloodstains had dried onto his hair, and his dignified armor was shredded through in many places by numerous swords slashes. It presented an unsightly image for a noble general.
His bodyguard held a steaming meat soup as he carefully walked in. “General, your meal.”
As he slid the bowl in front of Zhao Kuo, he hesitated slightly and softly said, “It’s horse meat.”
In the entire Zhao army, Zhao Kuo was the only one that could still eat horse meat. The others were forced to scavenge off the battlefield.
“Reporting!” A soldier with a withered expression and skinny frame walked, carefully holding a piece of wood. “General, the Qin army sent a messenger to deliver this message.”
Zhao Kuo frowned and replied with a strained voice, “Then bring it forward.”
The soldier stepped forward and laid the piece of wood on the table.
This message, in fact, was only a few characters written on a slab of bark.
“Those who surrender won’t be killed.”
Zhao Kuo stared blankly for a while at the piece of cracked bark. Only after a long time did he close his eyes. His fists were closed until white and trembling, but it soon relaxed under the feeling of deep powerlessness.
In a few moments, it felt like he aged several years.
With his exhausted voice, he turned to his bodyguard and asked, “How many days has it been?”
The bodyguard replied with a gloomy expression. “Forty-five. Today is the forty-sixth day.”
“How many of the enemy have we killed?”
“…more than two hundred thousand.”
“So, it’s like that.” Zhao Kuo nodded. His face remained like a withered wood as he blankly watched the snow outside.
“‘Those who surrender won’t be killed,’ acceptable perhaps…”
In the end, Zhao Kuo is rather soft-hearted. He truly didn’t dare to condone the remaining two hundred thousand or so of his men to death.
He already personally filled this bottomless pit of a battlefield with two hundred thousand of his men. Now, he can’t bear to continue fighting.
Loyal to the King, service to the nation…
Zhao Kuo’s eyes were wet with tears.
“I order, the entire army, surrender!”
The bodyguard stared in shock at Zhao Kuo, but the man already stood up.
His previously-lifeless body sprung up with vigor as he grabbed his cavalry spear.
Some snow remained, fluttering in the sky outside.
He patted his horse fondly. “I’m going to battle. Will you follow?”
“Nhn.” The dark horse neighed and rubbed again Zhao Kuo’s robes.
“Hahaha, good!” He pulled himself up.
Along the way, countless people looked at Zhao Kuo.
It’s possible to see one person and one horse slowly walking out of the Zhao camp.
His long spear scattered the snow with a cold light. His horse paced nimbly across the deep snowfield.
The blood-stained general rode into the snow towards the Qin camp. His spear was lifted and poised.
Zhao Kuo halted and turned his head back, using his greatest strength to shout.
“All my soldiers, listen here!
“That day, when we decided to fight the Qin army until it was powerless to invade north, we already decided to never turn our back on Zhao, to our wives and children.
“The Qin army has sworn that by dropping your weapons, your lives will be spared. After I die, you must surrender so that you may continue to protect your families.
“I, Zhao Kuo, owes every one of you my life. Even in my next life, I will continue to pay back this debt. This is my last order as general. There cannot be any defiance.
“Military decree is as a mountain!”
“We are men of Zhao. Our swords are straight; we campaign in all lands under heaven; we are loyal to king and state; why not die!”
A single, mighty voice shouted upwards, disturbing the snowfall and seeming to penetrate the skies.
Another shout came from him, one which echoed through the mountains of Changping.
“I am a general of Zhao, Zhao Kuo! Who will come and duel with me!”
A single rider faced the line of ten thousand Qin cavalry.
Bai Qi stood in the distance, indifferently watching as Zhao Kuo approached. After he sent the message, he could already guess what Zhao Kuo’s choice would be.
If Zhao Kuo didn’t surrender, Bai Qi would ultimately force the army to surrender.
Behind Bai Qi, Gu Nan stood in her black armor. Assembled nearby was a formation of crossbowmen. Their cold arrow bolts were nocked and pulled back.
Bai Qi’s hand raised up and gently fell back down. “Release.”
Like a rush of rain, the wave of arrows was fired.
A few breaths passed.
The dark wave submerged the single rider. The horse galloped forward a few more steps, until finally, it collapsed into the snow, dyeing it red.
Zhao Kuo remained seated, counting the arrows sticking out. His vision was filled by the lines of blood flowing down. He looked at the snow-filled sky, and his pupils became lax and blurred.
The person’s body rolled off the corpse of his horse, painting the snow scarlet, and no more sound came from him.
Zhao Kuo’s vision gradually blurred. Looking at the glimmer of the horizon, he seemed to see something. The corner of his mouth struggled out a smile.
The world is calm.
Miss Gu, that world you spoke of, I yearn to see it…
In the Zhao camp, a voice trembled as it shouted, “Receive General’s order!”
The soldier bearing the commander’s last command rode through the camp, throwing snow across the ground.
He repeated the order several times, echoing over the camp.
The soldiers listened to this order, but their faces were flushed in conflict, not uttering a word. Their hands were clenched until white. Their eyes were filled with wrath, which seemed to like it could swallow men whole.
Only after a long time did they feel their exhaustion overtake them. Their hands shook as they allowed their weapons to drop against the ground.
Repeated shouts echoed over them, signaling the end.
“Receive General’s order, drop!”