4-2 Even after returning to the room, Kyoshi couldn’t shake that feeling of melancholy. They were doing everything in their power to keep Tai alive. There must be others like them out there. But they could do only so much in the towns and cities. At a fundamental level, there was no saving the people without first reforming the central government.
The air in the room was cold. The season had arrived when a fire in the hearth was in order. Would they greet the winter simply idling away the days like this? How many of their fellow citizens would survive until the spring?
Staring out the window at the darkness, Kyoshi asked no one in particular, “Is Asen really all that powerful?”
No one answered. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Houto shrug while Kouryou maintained a stubborn silence.
“More powerful than any of us could hope to oppose, right?” Kyoshi asked again.
This time, Kouryou answered with a sullen nod. “Asen currently controls all nine provinces. In all but name, Asen is the emperor. It goes without saying that the power of the emperor is absolute.”
“He’s got political power and the power of the military,” Houto grumbled in agreement.
“That’s what it always comes down to.”
“Is his military power that overwhelming? After so many in the Imperial Army deserted?”
“Without a doubt,” Kouryou answered. “Six divisions of the Imperial Army are normally stationed in Kouki. All of them Black Divisions.”
“Black Divisions?” Kyoshi queried.
“That’s full fighting strength, or 12,500 soldiers. Three divisions of the Palace Guard and three divisions of the Sui Provincial Guard. All of them Black Divisions. Of course, that is optimal troop strength in normal times. It’s unlikely that Asen could muster those kinds of numbers. I couldn’t say how many soldiers he actually has on hand.”
Kouryou paused at that point and Houto broke in to say, “Two Black Divisions and four Yellow Divisions.”
“Hoh,” Kouryou exclaimed in admiration. “That’s the shin’nou for you. You guys know everything.”
“Oh, nothing of the sort,” Houto said, waving his hand in front of his face. “I couldn’t spell out the particulars. Those happen to be the number made public.”
Kyoshi was still impressed. “What is a Yellow Division?”
“Usually three regiments or 7500 soldiers. The commander can change the mix of the troops as needed but not the 7500 number. Generally speaking, the troop level a kingdom needs to maintain the peace. In tranquil times with no war and no natural disasters, a division strength of 7500 is considered optimum. They say that’s why the name is derived from the color of a kirin’s mane.”
Actual conditions differed according to the times and circumstances, but as a rule, this was the model the kingdoms used.
“Two armies of 12,500 and four of 7500,” said Kyoshi, doing the math in his head. “That adds up to a whole lot of soldiers.”
“Making assessments on numbers alone is difficult. We’re talking about a field army with a default troop strength of 75,000. You could say that puts 55,000 on the small side. Then again, gathering people together and giving them weapons doesn’t make them an army. Soldiers are specialists in war. The Imperial Army once had six full divisions. Four of those divisions have deserted and dispersed. Essentially, 50,000 soldiers disappeared. If you scraped together 30,000 civilians and armed them, you wouldn’t call them soldiers and you wouldn’t call all 30,000 of them an army. Think about it and even four Yellow Divisions adds up to a big number.”
So that’s what it comes down to, Kyoshi thought to himself.
“Asen has his intact division and Ganchou’s division on standby in Kouki. Even if subsequent pacification campaigns whittle down their numbers, they have plenty of reinforcements to fill in the gaps. That is the hard truth of having two Black Divisions on hand. Unfortunately, of our four divisions that deserted, a fair number remained loyal to Asen. I can imagine them making up a good portion of those four Yellow Divisions.”
Kouryou furrowed his brows and added, “Though not nearly enough. They must be getting those extra reserves from somewhere.”
“From the other provinces, I believe.” Houto raised his voice again. “His Highness’s birthplace, I Province, and Jou Province, which Risai-sama has strong ties to, have the usual three divisions. The others, practically speaking, only have two. I heard Asen is incorporating them into the Imperial Army.”
“And there’s the somewhere.”
Of the nine provinces of Tai, Zui Province was the domain of the Saiho. The Zui Provincial Guard was part of the Imperial Army. From the remaining eight provinces, excepting I Province and Jou Province, Asen was enlisting a division from each. That was likely what made up the difference.
“Wouldn’t that add up to six divisions?” Kyoshi asked, “Asen’s army reportedly added four.”
Kouryou said, “Those six divisions on paper probably work out to four in fact. Among the six divisions there must have been units that didn’t want to be used by Asen and deserted. Then there are the losses from natural disasters and the pacification campaigns. In particular, the serious proliferation of youma in the south. But the poverty and privation has been going on since the closing days of Emperor Kyou’s reign. Though the Imperial Army consists of six Black Divisions, the provinces are incapable of supporting large scale armies. During normal times and when the purse strings are tight, maintaining three Yellow Divisions is the standard. I’ve heard that many provinces are chiseling away at those minimums.”
Kyoshi nodded. “Makes sense.”
Thinking it over, indeed, youma were multiplying in the south. Rumors abounded of cities simply disappearing under the youma assault. If so, wouldn’t southern provinces like Sui and Gai need those three divisions? Even if cut to two divisions, troop strength in Kouki, I Province, and Jou Province could not be pared back. That was the fate shouldered by the evil presence known as the pretender. At the same time, those were the hardships thrust upon the subjects of a kingdom ruled by the pretender.
The 55,000 troops mustered to defend Kouki.
“Does that mean we would need 55,000 soldiers to overthrow Asen?”
The people of Ten Shire committed themselves to the protection of a little over a hundred Taoists. Altogether, their population did not exceed two thousand. A small number, to be sure, and when it came to saving Tai, practically insignificant.
Both startled and intrigued, Kouryou flashed a look at Kyoshi. “Overthrow Asen?”
Kyoshi retuned the look with an equally surprised expression. “You don’t intend to?”
A wry smile rose to Kouryou’s face. Kyoshi couldn’t help feeling abashed. He didn’t exactly now why, except he had uttered something imprudent.
“No,” Kouryou said with a shake of his head. “I don’t mean to make fun. What you said is perfectly logical. It just caught me off balance. Hence my reaction.”
His countenance took on a grimmer cast. For a long moment he seemed to be turning an idea over in his head. At length, he said in quite sober tones, “Of course, Asen must be overthrown.”
Kyoshi reacted with a slight bob of his head.
“However, that will be no simple feat, not something that can be pulled off overnight. First of all are those 55,000 soldiers defending Kouki. Moreover, Kouki is a walled city with rugged ramparts and supported by the massive Ryou’un Mountain. The rule of thumb when assaulting a castle is to have three times as many on offense as they have on defense.
“In other words, 165,000 soldiers. As I stated before, you can’t calculate troop strength from the number of people armed with weapons. Consider yourself as a case in point. There’d be no making a soldier out of you without first putting you through the necessary amount of training.”
For a long time, Kyoshi had fought with his staff to defend Touka. Yet he knew full well he didn’t possess the skills to call himself a soldier. The frustrating reality of the matter was, Kouryou and Risai alone could take on the entire village without breaking a sweat.
“Even without training all 160,000 to that level, it would still take time to get them working together toward the same objectives. From the start of training until the end of the conflict, that many mouths have to be fed. Simply arming and feeding them would require enormous amounts of funds.”
That is indeed the case, Kyoshi thought again, embarrassed all over again. He was about to apologize for speaking out of turn when Kouryou continued.
“However, it is not impossible.”
“Not impossible. Meaning it is possible? Possible to assemble that many people and accumulate that much capital?”
“Yes. Providing His Highness is present.”
Kyoshi caught his breath.
“His Highness stands forth, the Taiho at his side, and calls out Asen as a pretender. Which one of them is the rightful emperor will become perfectly clear to everyone. An army of 160,000 soldiers would by no means be impossible to achieve.”
“The question is whether Asen would fail to take note of such things happening under his nose.”
“Ah.” Seated next to Kyoshi, Houto groaned.
Kouryou nodded. “In order to stand forth, His Highness would have to make his presence known and let the public hear his voice. As soon as that happened, Asen would surely attack before His Highness could summon any soldiers to his side. So when His Highness stands forth, he must be prepared to take on whatever Asen throws at him.”
“What scale of activities are we talking about?”
“Depends on the situation. In Kouki, it’s said that two divisions at the bare minimum are required to defend the capital and the Imperial Palace. The highly mobile Air Cavalry of the Imperial Army is also well represented. The soldiers are superbly trained and morale is strong. Nevertheless, two Black Divisions are deemed absolutely necessary. If His Highness stands forth, Asen will dispatch soldiers to confront him. Doing so won’t leave Kouki empty. Those two Black Divisions will stay behind. That means deploying Four Yellow Divisions in such an attack. Matching their troop strength wouldn’t be enough. You’d need at least twice that many.”
“However, that number can be significantly reduced when defending a castle. Facing off against four Yellow Divisions, a force of only 10,000 in a strong castle position could repel at attack by Asen. Ideally the castle of a province lord. But a district or prefecture castle on a similar scale would suffice. Except I can’t imagine Asen idly standing by while His Highness took over a castle and recruited 10,000 soldiers.”
“Ah,” said Kyoshi, raising his voice.
Kouryou said with a pensive nod, “In fact, we’d have no problem gathering the men and materiel right now. Because of the Taiho. If the Taiho made a stand in Touka, publicly took Asen to task and commanded that we rescue His Highness, all the resources would be there. But the moment he raised his voice, Asen would come at us like a lightning bolt. And just like he’s been doing all along, that beast would sink his fangs into Touka and Ten Shire. Asen has to be kept in the dark about any opposition out there. Up until the moment the castle is in our hands and we have the power to strike at him on our terms, we absolutely cannot give Asen any reason to suspect we exist. Except how likely is it that we could stay hidden from Asen’s eyes while assembling a force large enough to seize a castle?”
Kyoshi’s voice trembled. The thought alone of Asen’s attention falling on a backwater county like Ten Shire terrified him—a mere hundred or so Taoists amidst a few thousand local inhabitants. But it was naive to believe they were so insignificant that they would always escape attention.
“I would not claim that even Ten Shire is safe. And I doubt there is a single castle that would fall to whatever forces Ten Shire could muster.” When Kouryou didn’t disagree, Kyoshi asked, “So is what we’re talking about still impossible?”
Amass the numbers needed and Asen would march against them. A force small enough to stay out of sight would present no threat to Asen. In short, there was no overthrowing Asen and the suffering and turmoil enveloping Tai would never end.
“There are stories of a small force prevailing again a great army, of ten thousand soldiers taking a castle defended by fifty thousand. Most are more fiction than fact, though some are grounded in actual historical incidents. However, such incidents are so rare they have taken on the aura of legend and fable. For all practical purposes, it doesn’t happen.”
“You mean storming a castle takes three times the troops defending it?”
“At a bare minimum. The right equipment can be a force multiplier but it can’t reverse those ratios. Stone cold reality always holds sway on the battlefield. On level ground, a mounted soldier is worth many times a foot soldier. The air cavalry all the more so. The troop strength of a regiment fighting with a castle to its rear must be increased accordingly. The results of all these detailed calculations is that the stronger force prevails.”
Kyoshi hung his head.
“Granted, there are those battles where nothing goes as planned. In such cases, troop strength on both sides was likely miscalculated because the variables weren’t correctly taken into account.”
“A mountain of them, such as the weather, meddling third parties, troop morale. But none of them alone can overcome a basic difference in troop strength. The larger number wins. When the numbers match, the better weaponry wins.”
“That’s the cold hard truth, eh?” Houto said with a sigh. “We do like to say how the enemy was defeated by our superior spirit.”
“We don’t,” Kouryou said with a smile. “Spirit doesn’t have much to do with battles fought by a professional soldier. A superior spirit can intimidate a foe in a one-on-one contest. But if your opponent scampers away, that’s the end to that fight. This idea that a strong resolve can help you prevail against overwhelming odds is nonsense. While you’re recklessly running around, a hail of arrows from afar will make short work of you. Sure, with luck on his side, a quick-footed fellow can dodge a single arrow, but not two or three. Two at the minimum will do the job in most cases.”
“Then is troop spirit worth anything at all?”
“Stronger is better, because you can better size up the enemy and the battlefield. Take the positioning of troops and weaponry. If the enemy esposes holes in its battle line, it takes guts to rush into the breach. That strength of spirit is necessary.” Kouryou coolly added, “What it comes down to in the end is not leaving yourself open to attack.”
“That stands to reason.”
“No matter how strong your spirit and resolve, if the attack strikes home, you lose. You feel the blow. And the pain wrecks your concentration.”
“The reality of the matter is much worse than that. When you get hit, your body recoils. You can’t stand your ground or hold your position. When you do focus your attention, it’s not uncommon to simply not feel the pain. But if you took a hit in the arm, that’s where you’re going to lose speed and strength. Your muscles grow numb. You can’t hold your own weapon. Moreover, when you take that hit to the arm, your whole body responds to the shock. One small part affects the whole. Get wounded in a limb and it’s not only that limb that feels the pain. For whatever reason, it’s directly connected to your feet too.”
Kouryou smiled. “In fact, your feet feel like pair of boulders. You get caught up in that thought and take a closer look and that’s when an arrow catches you in the shoulder.”
“Hoh,” said Houto, his eyes wide with surprise. “Something you have personal experience with?”
“Every time before, the point of the sword never reached you. As soon as that thought crosses your mind, you realize it did and you didn’t realize it.”
“You didn’t feel the impact?”
“I knew something struck me from behind and pitched me forward. In the midst of the melee, I thought maybe I’d taken a punch. And then the arrow.”
Kouryou responded with a wry smile. “Bad luck without a doubt. When I pulled it out and checked, the arrowhead was one of ours. Friendly fire.”
“All the more awful.”
Houto and Kouryou both laughed. Kyoshi stood off to the side and looked on listlessly. His limbs felt strangely heavy as other thoughts filled his head—the bloodless mechanics of the battlefield.
If numbers ruled the day, then they didn’t stand a chance. Didn’t that mean there was no saving Tai?
Houto asked, “If the side with greater spirit had the advantage in each individual contest, then taken all together, the battle fought by any army of equally spirited comrades should also prevail. Isn’t that what the story comes down to?”
“Now we’re talking about morale. All things being equal, high morale wins against low morale. But it can’t reverse differences in troop strength.” Kouryou then added, “The smaller force will not defeat the larger one. A familiar scene in the theatre has one swordsman going against dozens. But in real combat, that does not happen.”
“But—” Kyoshi raised his voice. “What about you and the people of Touka?”
“Because you hesitated,” Kouryou said with a smile. “Definitely a small force pitted against a much larger one. But you had no familiarity with war. When wielding your staff, you worried as much about hitting the man next to you as the man in front of you. You constantly checked your swing and never followed through.”
“Ah. I see.”
“When you’ve got numbers on your side, you must still overpower your opponent. That is absolutely fundamental. Unlike the theater, when you face off against one rival, all your other enemies won’t sit around waiting for the outcome. While you’re locked in one duel, you’re going to get attacked from the side and the back too. Superior talent may pull you through in the short term. Long term, the law of numbers is inviolable.”
Houto wondered aloud, “And with a familiarity with war, would a favorable outcome be in the offing?”
“It comes down to experience. The more experience you gain, the better accustomed your eyes become. You learn to read the lay of the land and predict your enemy’s movements. That is why there is such a thing as a professional soldier. Training included, the experience a soldier gains is unique.”
Kyoshi found himself bobbing his head in agreement. In short, soldiers were necessary. Overthrowing Asen would demand a commensurate number of troops with a commensurate amount of training. Except the Imperial Guard had scattered to the four winds. Gyousou or Taiki would have to stand forth and publicly summon them, something they definitely must not do. The soldiers instead should—
Turning these thoughts over in his mind, Kyoshi blurted out, “If we only had the cooperation of the province lords—”
Kouryou nodded. “That is a reasonable way to approach the problem. If we had the cooperation of the province lords, the castles and the soldiers would move to our side of their own accord. Even more than the Taiho alone, that was always the more plausible route. If the Taiho made the entreaties, any province lord with a heart would respond. Usually when a pretender arises, even when the province lords voice their allegiance, they rarely all support the pretender down the line. Some may resist out of sheer righteous indignation. It’s only natural to expect others to use their influence to twist true intentions into demonstrations of loyalty to the pretender. If the Taiho is present, then in those cases he could weigh in on behalf of the truth. But we have this strange disease in the kingdom.”
“We can’t expect any support for the Taiho from these stricken province lords,” Houto responded. “Moreover, if a province lord stepped forward to support the Taiho, he would no doubt fall ill too.”
“And so we are left without a strategy.” Kyoshi raised his voice. “What this all comes down to, is there any way to save Tai?”
Kouryou did not answer one way or the other.
“A long way off—” Kyoshi gripped his knees through the thick fabric of his robes. The end of this road was so far off he could not see it. How was that different than being without hope, what with winter soon being upon them?
“The end is a long way off but I will not give up,” Kouryou stated crisply. Kyoshi turned to face him. “The Taiho and Risai-sama are not giving up either. I believe finding His Highness is deeply tied to the salvation of Tai.”
“No matter how far away,” Houto said to Kyoshi in a bright tone of voice, “with every step we draw a step closer. Look at the way Taiho and Risai-sama have been moving forward all this time. There must be something in their hearts giving them such confidence.”
His optimistic and almost carefree attitude made Kyoshi catch his breath. Indeed, nothing good could come of despair. His first necessary task was not to lose hope. Repeating that counsel in his head, Kyoshi nodded.