The assassination three days had severely dampened the morale of the troops. Thankfully, the arrival of Zhang Sun had caused this depressive pall to fade away.
Zhang Sun wasn’t like any old Empress –she was the daughter of a military marquis. As such, she wasn’t particularly frightened by the battlefield. After a short rest, she promptly summoned the sole remaining great general.
This army originally had three great generals assigned to it. However, with the assassination of two of them, there was only one left. Furthermore, due to his advanced age, he main role in the army was mostly to stabilize the morale of the troops.
After entering, the old general immediately kneeled, eyes watering and filled with guilt.
“Please rise, Elder General Ling.”
Zhang Sun hurriedly helped the old general to his feet. Having faithfully served the Zhang Sun clan for over 30 years without question, such a show of respect wasn’t something she could accept even though she was the Empress.
“He’s the father of that Officer Ling you know from the palace.” Qing Ning whispered.
Hearing that, he was quietly astonished after which he immediately understood something. No wonder that officer Ling was so well taken care of! Not only did he not get punished after letting him escape, he actually received a promotion.
Honestly, that officer wasn’t a bad guy either. His temperament suited Ning Chen’s taste and after being apart for so long, he even started to miss him.
After helping the old general to his feet, Zhang Sun turned to the teen in order to introduce him to the senior. Yet after seeing him in a daze, she immediately became irritated and gave him a resounding smack on the back of his head.
“Why haven’t you greeted Elder General Ling yet?”
Having been brought back to reality by that smack, Ning Chen promptly saluted the senior. “Greetings Elder General Ling.”
“This is?” Asked the general with a slightly confused look.
“Ning Chen, Sir General should be familiar with his name.”
“Oh? The young man who blew up Zhenqi Palace? No wonder they say that heroes come from the young.” As the old general said that, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of astonishment. Looking at her Majesty’s actions just now, she obviously didn’t see this teen as a servant, instead, her actions were that of a senior chiding her nephew.
Hearing that, Ning Chen awkwardly smiled in embarrassment. Of all the things he had to mention, why did it have to be that, Ning Chen grimaced. He still had a mountain of positive achievements such as bravely dipping his hand into that cauldron of oil, and, and…fine, he admitted, that was all he could think of.
Seeing that smile, Qing Ning promptly “patted” him on his shoulders; whenever they saw his smile, Zhang Sun and Qing Ning always felt extremely uneasy as if they were allergic to it.
Having been “gently” patted on the shoulders, Ning Chen grimaced once more.
However, that was enough idle chatter for now. A worried look immediately crossed her face as Zhang Sun asked the general, “Elder General, how’s situation at the battlefield?”
“Reporting, Your Majesty, the Mongol’s grand army of 300 000 are stationed 200 li (100km) away from the camp and are poised and ready to attack.” Answered the Elder General in a solemn voice.
200 li. Hearing that, Ning Chen’s heart lurched. Throwing all propriety to the winds, he anxiously asked, “When was this reported?”
“Noon time, another scout had just confirmed this intelligence as well.”
As the old general said that, his voice sounded a little unsure as if he wasn’t sure if he had said something wrong or not.
“What’s the matter!?” Knowing Ning Chen’s personality, such impropriety wasn’t like the boy, thus she raised her voice to hurry the teen.
“There might be a sneak attack on the camp tonight!” Ning Chen answered in a grave voice.
“Impossible.” The old general immediately refuted his claim. “200 li will take an army two hours to traverse even with the speediest of horses, within those two hours, my spies would’ve already brought back news of their attack.”
“What if the spies don’t know?”
“How is that even possible, an army 300 000 men strong is too conspicuous, only an idiot…” Just as he was about to continue, he abruptly paused. His face rapidly paled and his body began to unknowingly tremble slightly.
Without a doubt, 300 000 was an obvious target that you couldn’t miss even if you wanted to. However, on the flip side, if a few thousand men were to disappear from this giant army, no one would even notice them. As long as the main army continued acting as the bait, a division could easily sneak past the spies undetected.
It was a simple tactic however with the military marquis so severely injured and with the two other generals dead, that left only the old general to handle all the matters in the camp. Maintaining the morale in such bleak circumstances was already pushing it, expecting him to divert his attention to such matters simply wasn’t possible.
Almost. By a mere hair’s breadth, he had almost turned into a sinner in the eyes of Grand Xia.
“This general will send out the orders immediately to bolster our defenses against such an ambush!”
“Hold it.” Ning Chen immediately stopped the old general, eyebrows knitted together as he did so.
The old general halted his steps and asked in a polite voice, “Does little brother have any other advice to share?”
“Just call him Ning Chen, he’s merely guessing and has no right to be addressed so politely by one such as Elder General.”
“Haha.” Ning Chen rubbed his nose before continuing, “What I wanted to say was, even if they really raided us at night, their numbers wouldn’t be that many so there’s no need to make a big deal of it and raise tensions even more.”
Hearing that, Zhang Sun nodded her head in agreement. “He’s right. Now that camp’s morale has recovered after so much effort, it isn’t wise to cause a stir.”
The old general nodded his head to show that he understood what she meant before promptly leaving the tent to make the appropriate arrangements.
“Your Majesty, the Elder General is simply too old now, he isn’t really suited to leading the troops or being a commander.” Whispered Ning Chen after ensuring that the old general had left.
He had already endured this farce for half a day now. The old general simply wasn’t cut out to be a battlefield commander. Getting him to provide support in the backlines was still alright but expecting him to fight a war was folly. All he would do is hurt himself and others.
Zhang Sun naturally understood what he was trying to say but even so…
Sighing lightly, she said, “Elder General Ling has followed the Zhang Sun clan for over thirty years, even if he has no meritorious work to speak of, his hard work can’t be denied. This Empress will arrange for an appropriate retirement for him.”
Hearing, Ning Chen chose not to press this issue any further. “Your Majesty, are there any qualified officers in Sir Marquis’ army worthy of being promoted, if there aren’t any, transferring some over will works as well, no matter what, this situation isn’t tenable.”
“It’s already too late for that, plus such a sudden change of command is a major taboo. This Empress will take command for now. We can pick a new commander once the battle is over.”
“Can you even handle that.” Ning Chen quietly whispered to himself. Clearly, he was extremely doubtful of her claim.
*slap* At the side, Qing Ning mercilessly smacked the teen on the back of his head. This brat just gets more audacious by the second!
“When Her Majesty followed Old Master Marquis in his conquest of the east and west, you weren’t even born.” Qing Ning snapped at the teen.
His head stung from the smack but he didn’t dare to raise any protest. He deserved to be smacked for that sassy mouth of his. Given that Qing Ning was a diehard fan of Zhang Sun, saying anything more would only earn him another smack and he definitely wasn’t itching to get slapped again.
“Ning Chen, this Empress knows that your talents eclipse the ordinary folk, that’s why this Empress requires your aid in this war.”
As she said that, she rose to her feet and solemnly bowed.
Seeing that, Ning Chen almost fell off his wheelchair in fright. He hurried wheeled away from Zhang Sun and avoided her bow.
“Your Majesty, in my hometown, your lifespan will be shortened if you accept such a bow from a senior. Don’t curse me like that!” Ning Chen wryly smiled as he said that. Was this some new tactic to scare him? Please no, he was a timid boy and couldn’t take such surprises.
Beside him, Qing Ning was just as shocked by what she did. Following up on what he said, “Your Majesty, there’s no need to be polite with this kid.”
In the face of their anxious reactions, whatever emotions she had when she did that had already disappeared. Straightening her back, Zhang Sun flatly said, “Either way, what has to be said had been said already. What has to done had been done by this Empress already. If this Empress ever discovers that you were holding back on your efforts, you’d better watch out for your life then.”
That’s more like it. Hearing that, Ning Chen and Qing Ning couldn’t help but breathe a simultaneous sigh of relief. Her actions just now had truly shocked the both of them.
Suddenly, Ning Chen couldn’t help but feel that he was a borderline masochist — friendly words made him uneasy and only a beating made him comfortable.
The main reason was that Zhang Sun’s overbearingness had left a deep impression on him. Such a change was just too sudden for his body to accept.
“The jade pendant this Empress gave to you, is it still with you?”
“It’s here.” Ning Chen took out the pendant as he said that. All this while, he kept the pendant close by his side in case he lost it and ended up in trouble with Zhang Sun again.
“Make sure you keep it safe.” Nodding her head, she said nothing more.
That pendant was her token. At the same time, it represented the Zhang Sun clan as well. In dire situations, it might just come in handy for the boy.
“Alright, you two can go have a rest now, there’s still a tough battle to fight tonight.”
“Understood.” The pair respectfully bowed before leaving.
“Sister Qing Ning, what was up with Her Majesty just now, that scared the living daylights out of me.” As he said that, there were still traces of lingering fear in his voice.
Hearing that, Qing Ning sighed and said, “With the Emperor’s condition in a state of limbo, there couldn’t be a worse time for Grand Xia to be beset on all four sides. If you add in the matter of Marquis Taiping’s severe injuries, the pressure on Her Majesty’s shoulders couldn’t be any heavier. She’s just too focused on winning this war.”
Having said that, Qing Ning turned around and with an unimaginably solemn look on her face, said, “Ning Chen, you must help Her Majesty win this war!”
“I’ll do my best.” He promised in the sincerest tone he could muster.
As for why it was only a promise and not a guarantee, that’s because that Lady Strategist in the Mongol camp 200 li away was just that terrifying. There was no guarantee that he could win against her even if he was a transmigrator.
Transmigrators weren’t omnipotent after all but that Lady Strategist seemed to be so. One could reasonably say that the situation Grand Xia found itself in was singlehandedly caused by that girl, Fan Lingyue.
Grand Xia had been at peace for too long, been dominant for too long. It had grown complacent till this girl broke that status quo. With her astonishing appearance, she forcefully lifted the national strength of the Mongols up to the level where it could fight against the empire of Grand Xia.
In all likelihood, the multitude of internal issues Grand Xia was facing right now had a trace of her shadow within them. Why else would the Cult make their move the moment the Mongols decide to dispatch an army. Even the various internal rebellions seem to coincidentally fall in line with that timing.
In his opinion, the best solution was to snuff out that woman as soon as possible otherwise this war was just too hard to win.
It was said that the times forged a hero but this saying didn’t seem that appropriate for that Lady Strategist. That was because she was so formidable that she herself forged an era.
Against such an opponent, Ning Chen didn’t have the slightest bit of confidence in winning against her.
As night fell, the moonlight washed over the land. Dressed in layers after layers of clothing, Ning Chen sat atop a vantage point in front of the camp, quietly surveying the distant fields while coughing from time to time.
Right beside him, he had Qing Ning to accompany him. Watching the boy cough, her heart would ache each time it did so. She knew very well that his injuries were far from recovered otherwise a martial practitioner like him wouldn’t require so many layers of clothing at night to keep him warm.
Slowly, his eyes began to close. By now, his cultivation had already dropped to the point where it hovered between the fourth and fifth grade. Not only that, it fluctuated wildly. At times it peaked and at times it waned. Yet this bit of cultivation was preserved only because of his unparalleled cultivation base.
His current self right now could only fire a single arrow. That’s why, this arrow had to land true…