“Achoo!” Song Ou irritably wiped his nose using a handkerchief.
Owing to the hasty pace, cold weather and prolonged exposure to the elements, a large number of soldiers fell ill. Song Ou was fortunate enough to only sneeze.
Song Ou was upset, and a heavy downpour appeared imminent. Out in the open, they felt sticky, didn’t eat or sleep well for two weeks. Song Ou detested having to bathe together with the soldiers in a large bath hall.
Song Ou eventually lost his patience: “Deputy General, where are you?!”
“Where are we?”
“We are already next to Taihu. We will reach a small town called Canhu Town if we continue south along this course for another half a day. We should arrive before nine at night.”
“We still have half a day to go?!” exclaimed Song Ou, frowning. “Look. It’s cloudy, and the rain has been brewing all afternoon. If it rains, it’ll rain all night, at the very least. How long would we have to travel in the rain for to reach the town? Aren’t we neglecting the men’s lives and wellbeing? Where’s my explanation?”
The deputy general scratched his head: “If we do not arrive tonight, though, w-“
Song Ou pulled his eyebrows together: “So what if we don’t? There are five days to go. We only need to make one last delivery to Huzhou. We accomplished our goal ages ago. For what reason do we need to rush today? How many soldiers have fallen ill as a result of marching through the rain? Look at their morale. They’re barely able to move their feet. You do realise we’re representing the imperial court, don’t you? What do you think people would say if we arrived and presented ourselves in an unbecoming state? Are we just going to neglect the imperial court’s reputation? Furthermore, we need to be considerate of our men’s feelings. I see an estate over there. Let’s sojourn there for the night and continue after the rain stops.”
“Umm… about resting…”
“Men. You, go and ask the estate if they will allow us to stay the night. Hurry on.”
“Who said we’re taking a break?” asked Shen Yiren, riding over to join the conversation.
Shen Yiren’s voice was calm and nonchalant, but Song Ou felt a chill down his spine. His words stopped on their way up to his mouth, and he swallowed the fire he intended to spit.
Shen Yiren was dressed in a blue and white martial arts robe; it looked refreshing on her. Her cleavage stretched the front of her robe so much it wasn’t a stretch to say one could almost see the white globes. That said, the hostility and stern look in her eyes was just as prominent as her arresting beauty. Her contradicting appearance and demeanour was sure to leave a deep first impression.
Song Ou was intimidated, but he fronted: “I said it. I think we should stop for a break.”
“Look at the sky. It’s dark; it’s painfully clear there will be heavy downpour. If we don’t find shelter in time, we will have to march through the heavy rain. That is preposterous. Look at the estate over th-.”
“Heavy rain is looming. We must make haste,” interjected Shen Yiren, not even bothering to think for more than a second. She looked over her shoulder to the deputy general: “Let everyone know I have given the order to pick up the pace. We must reach Canhu Town tonight.”
Shen Yiren’s voice wasn’t loud; it was firm, nonetheless. Most notably, her voice was able to calm a frantic army. The deputy general immediately rode off to pass on her orders. Song Ou, on the other hand, didn’t expect her to give a command without even providing him with an explanation.
Song Ou questioned, “Why are you in such a rush? We’ve been travelling at top speed for three days now. We only arrived in Suzhou yesterday. As soon as we visited Cold Mountain Temple, you immediately had us march toward Huzhou. Huzhou is our last stop. We have plenty of time; what are we rushing for?”
“It will rain today.”
“That’s why I said we need to find shelter!”
Shen Yiren looked at Song Ou as if he was incorrigible. The two were close in age, but their accumulated experience was reversed. Song Ou grew up as a jaded man, while Shen Yiren went through hell and back over and over.
Marching through the rain was practically self-inflicted torture; however, there were upsides to using it as a strategy in war. When fighting in groups, weather, timing, terrain and combatants were all equally important, especially when the weather abruptly changed, because it affected the latter components more than vice versa.
For example, wet or snowy seasons would be suitable for defensive battles but an atrocious time to go on the offensive. In the context of close-quarters combat, the rain would slow down movement in addition to hampering combat abilities. Absolutely, it impacted both sides, but the defenders wouldn’t need to dreadfully run through the rain and throw their own formations into disarray. So accordingly, the defensive side was impacted to a smaller degree.
Marching through the rain went against human nature and normal psychology. It was unlikely anyone could predict the imperial court’s army would opt to march through the rain in the wilderness instead of taking the main paths and resting in luxurious places. Shen Yiren deliberately had them march through the rain on numerous occasions. Thanks to her strategic and cautious approach, they didn’t run into any trouble thus far.
Shen Yiren heaved a pent up breath: “It’s going to rain all day and night. If we allow it to delay us, we will be in the most perilous situation possible on this entire journey. I don’t want to take the risk.”
“What risk could there possibly be?! Oh, are you in a hurry to return to the capital?”
Shen Yiren had a feeling Song Ou’s tone was odd, but she nodded: “So what if I am? I’ve left for a long time. What’s so strange about being eager to return and check on things?”
Song Ou felt more livid than ever. He sternly demanded, “Stop! Stop marching! We’ll resume the march tomorrow.”
Shen Yiren glared daggers at Song Ou: “What are you up to now?”
“Vice-Captain Shen, don’t forget that His Majesty named me the commander and you my deputy for this job. I am now deeming your decision to be wrong. I am overruling your command.”
“You’re threatening me with His Majesty?” asked Shen Yiren, tone wrathful. She rarely ever changed her decisions: “Try me…”
Shen Yiren reached for her sword as she spoke. If he dared to cancel her order, she had no qualms with puncturing several big holes in him.
Tense, Song Ou thundered, “Have you forgotten what you promised my parents in Yang Zhou?”
Shen Yiren froze.
“I still remember the promise you made. There’s no going back on your word!”
Shen Yiren mulled over it for a while before slowly raising a hand: “Go and ask the estate owner if we can spend the night there. If not, we shall set up camp here and continue our march once the rain subsides. Have fifty cavalry split up into two routes and scout the area within twenty-five kilometres of the estate. Have two different others conduct searches. Do not neglect any signs of enemies.”
The deputy general soon returned to report that the estate belonged to a landlord at Canhu Town. It wasn’t particularly large. The good news was it could fit the entire escort. The owner said it was an honour to provide imperial court vassals hospitality, so he welcomed them.
Song Ou raised his chin smugly. Shen Yiren narrowed her eyes. Nobody but her knew what was going through her mind. She conceded, “Let us stay there for the night, then.”
Song Ou, smug, boasted, “Exactly. I told y(ou)-.”
Thud! Song Ou had no time to dodge the lightning-fast snap kick straight up his midline. He grabbed his crotch and keeled over, shrivelling up as if he was a prawn left out to dry.
Ruthlessly, Shen Yiren warned, “The next time you try that with me, I promise you’ll be working in the garden with Eunuch Sui in your next life.”
Shen Yiren then snorted and led the escort to the estate.