Chapter 39

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Laying on the couch, Ah Luo read about the cultures of the five empires. The book said, “On the 21st solar term, the Han River was misty. From west to east, the surface of the river was covered with a swirling white fog like surging dragons from the heavens, dissipating about ten metres away from the river. All the empires along the river lined up boats to offer sacrifices.”

She frowned and looked at the colour of the sky outside. It was snowing heavily. Her heart skipped a beat and she walked over the window, marvelling at the begonias in full bloom all over the courtyard. Brilliant red specks scattered amongst the white snow dazzled the eyes. Did begonias bloom during December here?

The maid saw Ah Luo looking at the begonias in the courtyard and could not help saying quickly, “Two months ago, the general ordered them to be covered up with cotton paper and for braziers to be put underneath, burning day and night to urge them to bloom. Look Miss, the brazier under the tree is still there.”

“Is today the 21st solar term?” Ah Luo looked at the begonias, a slight gentle smile appearing on her face unconsciously.

“Yes. Miss, did you know that from midnight, a thick fog up to several tens of metres would form on the Han River. Tomorrow, if you go to Heavenly Dragon Mountain ten li away from the city and look down, the whole river looks like a white dragon swirling around in the snow and it is very beautiful. At this time every year, carriages and sedan chairs would come and go from Heavenly Dragon Mountain and it is very lively.”

“Now that the Chen Empire is attacking and the city gates are closed, will there still be anyone who goes to Heavenly Dragon Mountain?”

“No one can cross the river on that day. As soon as you enter the river, you cannot see more than three feet away. It would be impossible for the Chen Empire to attack.”

Ah Luo thought to herself that the Chen Empire may take advantage of the fog and come up with a way to cross the river. When the soldiers reached the city gates, it would be a violent battle. With a dense fog on the river, how could this be defended? She asked casually, “Will the Han River freeze?”

“The Han River will not freeze, but a thin ice will form on the shore and in this weather, it is incredibly cold.”

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“Stick thick cotton paper onto a small box and bring it over here.” Ah Luo instructed.

After a while, the maid brought over the small box pasted with cotton paper. Ah Luo looked at it and said, “Help me cut a begonia flower.”

She poured the still warm water from the teapot into the box, then tied the flower with a cotton thread and put it inside. She said, “Help me put this outside in the courtyard and find someone to watch it. Call me when it has frozen.”

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Ah Luo was a little tired from reading. Seeing the zither on the small table, she smiled unconsciously. She had not played in a long time and she wondered if she was out of practice. Lightly touching the zither strings, she played a song leisurely and hummed softly, “The bird touched the foot of the river and the jade dragon lay in the middle of the mountainside, the universe was full of precious jade. Thinking of the begonias adorned with a little red makeup, drunk on the thoughts of a person.” After humming, there was a wide smile on her face. The joy in her heart was revealed clearly. She rolled her eyes, then pushed away the zither and stood up, walking up to the dresser. Even her eyes were smiling. She slowly loosened her hair and said, “Help me put my hair up, I have not combed my hair well for a long time.”

The maid smiled and said, “I wonder how beautiful Miss will be after dressing up.”

Ah Luo looked at herself in the mirror and said, “No need to make it too complicated, just don’t leave any hair on my forehead.”

The maid responded in acknowledgement and carefully tucked away the loose hair on Ah Luo’s forehead, setting it in place with a little flower oil. Then she combed a cloud bun, fixing it with a hairpin. Ah Luo’s clean and bright forehead was fully revealed. She looked at herself and became happier the more she looked. She smiled and said, “If I keep looking, I really will become narcissistic.”

The maid was excited by Ah Luo’s bright face and her eyes were entranced like Xiao Yu’s, “Miss, don’t laugh, even just like this, no one can move their eyes away.”

Ah Luo felt like playing a trick and her eyes darted to the side, smiling slightly. The maid was stunned and froze for a moment. Ah Luo said softly, “Let’s go for a walk in the courtyard.” The maid nodded foolishly.

Ah Luo suppressed her laughter and pulled open the door, then she glanced at the two members of the black-clothed force standing by the door and the two of them were also stunned. Ah Luo took two steps outside before they returned to their senses and greeted her, saying, “Miss, please return to your room. The Lord has ordered that Miss must not leave the room!”

She sighed, it turned out that this smile only lasted for two steps. It was written in novels that when people saw beautiful women, weapons would fall to the ground in disarray. She did not know what kind of beauty it would take for everyone to be dumbfounded. She could not help but pout. Then she heard one of the black-clothed men say softly, “When the Lord returns, Miss can ask him to lift the ban.”

Smiling, Ah Luo went back inside the room. At this moment, a servant brought over the box, “Miss, it has frozen solid.”

She took it and peeled off the paper, then lifted it up by the thread. A red begonia was frozen inside a piece of crystal clear ice and it was very beautiful. The maid said without thinking, “What a beautiful ice accessory!”

Ah Luo smiled and said, “Will you deliver this to your general? Just say that I thought it was fun and made it to send to him. It was created in two hours. Send it now, don’t delay.”

The servant took the ice accessory with a smile of joy and carried it out the door like it was a precious treasure.

Liu Jue, Gu Tian Xiang, and the other commanders were currently discussing the military situation. It was around 5-7pm. If Ah Luo had heard it correctly, the Chen Empire would definitely cross the river when the fog began to arise, though it was unknown how they would do so. Gu Tian Xiang said in a deep voice, “If the Chen Army successfully crosses the river, they most certainly will send one group of soldiers to seal off the water village and two other groups will be scattered to attack the city.”

“General Tian Xiang is right. At the moment, there are only 40,000 troops in the city. It will take at least three days for dispatched troops from surrounding states to arrive at Lin Nan City and the nearest Yan City has only 10,000 cavalry. It would take a few more days for the further cities to send troops. Moreover, the Chen Empire’s offensive attack must be a nationwide effort. When the war began yesterday, a letter was quickly sent by horse to Feng City and they would only receive this military information ten days later. The fog on the river is dense and even if our navy is deployed in the middle of the river and a formation set, the Chen Army must have countermeasures in place if they are unafraid of crossing the river in the fog. Our navy would only be defeated in the fog. Does anyone have any opinions on this situation?” Liu Jue briefly explained the situation.

All the commanders in the barracks looked at each other. The Chen Army’s sudden attack was already unexpected and it was unbelievable that they would cross the river through the fog tonight. Even if the navy warships were deployed on the river, it was possible that the Chen Army’s ships would pass by unnoticed. The Chen Empire was small and their military strength was far from that of the Ning Empire’s. However, if they came prepared, they could easily send an army of two to three hundred thousand troops. As a result, should the soldiers reach the city, their strength would surpass that of Lin Nan City by several fold. They wondered if they could hold out for even three days.

After pondering for a long while, Gu Tian Xiang replied, “I will bring the navy out of the stronghold and before the fog arises, we will hide and wait on the river. If the Chen Army crosses the river before the fog clears, the safety of the city can only depend on General Ping Nan and all you commanders.”

“This is the only way. The South Navy will make arrangements to attack after the fog has dispersed. The army will defend the city and no matter what, we must hold out until the fog clears at midnight tomorrow.” Liu Jue and Gu Tian Xiang quickly divided up the work. Gu Tian Xiang left the barracks and hurried to dispatch the navy. When he was leaving, he could not help but look back at Liu Jue. Their eyes met. Both showed their concern. Liu Jue could not help saying, “The Chen Army dares to cross the river in the fog. Tian Xiang must act carefully.”

Gu Tiang did not reply, his eyes revealing a steadfast confidence as he looked at Liu Jue, then turned around and strode away quickly.

Liu Jue cursed silently, why was it always him who could not restrain himself from talking every time while he acted cool? Clearing away his thoughts, he asked, “Does anyone have a good strategy for defending the city?”

One of the commanders replied, “Lin Nan was built on the mountainside and it is strong. With the navy’s assistance, it would not be easy for the Chen Army to reach the city. Now that the navy is unable to oppose the enemy on the river and for the Chen Army to be numerous in number, it is likely that they will breach the city.”

Another commander followed up by saying, “All the arrows in the city have already been gathered, along with the stone projectiles and wooden logs. There are 20,000 young and strong people in the city. As the general is aware, Lin Nan is a city of trade and there are not many local citizens. Besides, we need to prevent enemy spies from entering as merchants and taking advantage of the situation to attack.”

Sitting down, Liu Jue could not help but tap his finger on the table lightly. Last night, the Chen Army had sent a team of elites to sneak in and the leader was definitely no ordinary man. This group had been thoroughly familiar with the topography of the West Mountain and there must have been a scout in the city who had drawn them a topographic map. Lin Nan was built on the mountainside and the city wall was strong, yet it was also wide open in the front. They would have to disperse the troops to defend the city. Although natural barriers could be relied on, from another perspective, it had become a problem for the city’s defence.

At this moment, Liu Ying had received the ice accessory from the servant that Ah Luo had sent and was slightly bewildered. The army camp was currently discussing serious military affairs, yet she had sent a childish toy. If it were a different time, the Lord would definitely have been happy and appreciative, but how could he send it in now? Pacing around outside the tent, he was in a dilemma after hearing Ah Luo’s message from the servant.

After thinking about it for a long time, he finally decided to bring it in. The atmosphere inside the generals’ tent was tense. There had been no fighting for decades and the commanders could not make up their minds. Apart from defending the city with their lives, they could not think of a better idea for a while.

Seeing Liu Ying rushing in, Liu Jue’s eyes flashed. Why was he coming in at this time? When it came to the South Army, the black-clothed force was nothing more than his personal guard. During discussions regarding military affairs, the black-clothed force never participated. Should Liu Ying come in now without any important matters related to the army, he would have to suffer forty strikes. All the commanders looked at Liu Jue with dissatisfaction.

Having entered the generals’ tent, Liu Ying braced himself and said, “Someone is offering a plan. General, please come outside so that I may elaborate.”

The commanders showed a trace of hope. Without a word, Liu Jue walked out of the tent, then said with a cold smile, “What matter made you use such an excuse? If there is no strategy, then you have entrapped your master!”

Liu Ying broke out in a cold sweat and knelt down hurriedly, raising the ice accessory with both hands, “Third Miss rushed to send this thing and the servant relayed that the Third Miss said it must not be delayed. Liu Ying wants Master to, Master to…”

Liu Jue kicked him and said bitterly, “Do you think your master is in the mood for this?”

Liu Ying kowtowed repeatedly, “Liu Ying was reckless and will fetch the stick!” He was still holding up the ice accessory.

The ice accessory sparkled in the faint sunlight and the red begonia was extremely dazzling. Liu Jue’s heart moved, “Wait, show me.”

He picked up the ice accessory and looked at it for a moment, then asked suddenly, “What were the Third Miss’ words?”

Liu Ying replied, “Third Miss said that she thought it was fun and made it to send to him. It was created in two hours. She ordered for it to be delivered straight to the general without delay!”

A faint smile slowly crossed his face and Liu Jue’s heart felt sweet. Did she finally understand his intentions? Did she see the begonias he rushed to bloom for her? Holding the ice accessory up to the sunlight for a while, he stared at the red flower for a long time, pondering over Ah Luo’s words repeatedly. A flash of inspiration appeared in his mind and he strode towards the tent, saying coldly, “You need not endure the strikes anymore, I’ll deal with you later!”

Liu Ying watched him in bewilderment. Although his words were cold, he could not hide his smile. He wiped away his sweat and thought to himself that everyone had been turned crazy by that Third Miss.

When Liu Jue re-entered the tent, he held up the ice accessory and said, “Everyone, look carefully at this ice accessory. What comes to mind?”

All the commanders were stunned. A red flower was encased in the ice accessory in Liu Jue’s hand, seeming like a toy that a child played with on a cold day. In this weather, cold water turned into ice after a while and it froze very solid. Even when it was subject to the heat inside the generals’ tent, it showed no signs of melting.

Liu Jue laughed loudly, “Order all the soldiers in the city to go to the citizens’ homes, ask them to boil water and deliver it to the city wall. From now on, pour water down all over the city wall. You must turn Lin Nan City into an ice city.”

The commanders burst into uproar and lit up with joy. They took their orders and left.

Throwing open the three city gates, the commanders and the citizens began to pour water a hundred metres away from the city wall. The boiling hot water was sent both outside and to the top of the city wall. When it was around 7-9pm, the ice outside Lin Nan City’s wall had frozen to half a metre in thickness. It was incredibly slippery. A group of soldiers tried to step on the ground outside the city wall and they slid all over the place with a squeak, causing bursts of laughter.

Liu Jue stood on the city gate tower with a smile. With this ice wall, there would be no problem to delay them by a day.

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