Book 29 Chapter 3 – Total Elimination of Old Grievance
Li Jing’s gaze flitted across Xu Ziling and Tuli before sitting down by Kou Zhong’s side. He sighed and said, “Just stop!”
“Did Li Shimin want you to tell us that?” Kou Zhong coldly asked.
Both men used their internal energy to focus their voice so that it was only sent to the other party’s ear and did not scatter; therefore, although there were other people all around them, nobody else could hear their dialogue.
Li Jing’s eyes emitted full-of-profound-emotion expression; he smiled wryly and said, “This time I am coming by defying Qin Wang’s order to warn you. Even if Qin Wang is willing to empathize with my secret trouble, I am afraid it would be quite difficult for me to return to Guanzhong.”
Kou Zhong’s tiger-body shook slightly. Although he hated Li Jing for being heartless toward Susu, he knew that Li Jing was a good man who was able to support both heaven and earth [idiom: of indomitable spirit], he would never lie just to make his point.
Currently, within the Tang Court of Chang’an, there were the Heavenly Policy Mansion headed by King of Qin Li Shimin, and the Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji’s bloc that intensely refused to concede. If Li Shimin’s subordinate secretly communicated information to the enemy, Li Jiancheng, Li Yuanji’s side naturally would make a big deal out of it in front of the Tang Emperor Li Yuan, accusing Li Shimin of wrongdoing. Therefore, if Li Jing returned to Chang’an, under formidable slanderous report, perhaps it would be very difficult for Li Shimin to protect him. Collusion with the enemy was a mortal crime punishable by beheading.
Therefore, to a man with great ambition like Li Jing, his remark would definitely ruin his future. Immediately Kou Zhong’s hatred was a bit reduced; he said, “Why don’t Li Dage immediately turn back to Chang’an, pretend that you have never seen us, and avoid all this trouble?”
Li Jing shook his head and resolutely said, “Since I have come, I do not intend to go back. Right now I just hope that you guys would listen to me, Li Jing: you must not, by any means, go to Guanzhong.”
Kou Zhong was silent without saying anything for half a day. His eyes looked at his nose, his nose looked at his heart, he calmly said, “How did you find us?”
The hull shook, the ship was starting to sail.
Li Jing spoke indifferently, “Have you heard the name Yang WenGan?”
Kou Zhong shook his head, “Which divine character is he?” he asked, “Does he have anything to do with Li Dage looking for me?”
Li Jing said, “This man is nicknamed ‘Heng Lian Shen’ [horizontal (or harsh and unreasonable) training deity], he is the Longtou Dage [big boss big brother] of the Guanzhong’s biggest gang, Jingzhao Lian [capital (of a country) alliance]. Due to his first-class mastery of ‘Heng Lian Qigong’, he is ranked as the head of ‘Guanzhong Si Ba’ [four hegemons of Guanzhong]. When Gaozhu [i.e. Tang Gaozhu, Li Yuan] entered the Pass [‘Guan’ of Guanzhong], he rendered some merits, and thus was bestowed the title Qingzhou Zongguan [chief manager]. This man’s martial skill is excellent, I don’t need to mention it. But his yiqi [spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice] is outstanding, his circle of friends is vast, all gangs and sects big and small, inside and outside the Pass, none does not give him any face. All along he has close relationship with Crown Prince Jiancheng. In order to prevent you from entering the Pass, Crown Prince Jiancheng entrusts Yang WenGan to organize intelligence network composed of gangs and societies, none was not included, outside the Pass, to closely monitor all roads and cities and towns leading to the Pass. As soon as you step into his sphere of influence, it is guaranteed that you won’t be able to cover your traces.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Good kid; indeed he has some skill. But what does it have to do with you able to find us?”
Frowning, Li Jing responded, “How could it have nothing to do? Since until now Yang WenGan still has no information of you, naturally it shows that you are still outside his heavenly-mesh-earthly-net; therefore, I concluded that you might hide in Wang Shichong’s territory first, planning on entering the Pass from the west. Fortunately I also have my ways in here. Khan’s accent is not too pure, so someone recognized you; hence the reason I knew that you are going to Luoyang by boat. Ay! If I can guess it, then naturally others can guess it too, am I right?”
Instantly Kou Zhong’s countenance lost its light. Smiling ruefully, he said, “How’s Dasao [older sister-in-law]? How could she let you go look for us like this?”
Li Jing’s countenance darkened, he sighed and said, “Won’t that show you that you are my good brothers? Let’s not talk about her! As long as you are willing to listen to my advice, any consequences are worth it.”
Kou Zhong could not help feeling a bit touched. He sighed and said, “Li Dage really shouldn’t have come. You ought to know that once we made the decision, we’re not going to change.”
Not the slightest bit surprised, Li Jing said, “I certainly know your temperament and style; the fact is that the whole world has been turned upside down by you, the situation has undergone dramatic change. But the problem is that you are only showing off an ignorant person’s bravery, you might only forfeit your promising life. Currently Crown Prince Jiancheng is establishing his prestige over the world, he will definitely not spare any effort, be it manpower or physical resources, to have your two heads to be presented to his father, while also using this as a pretext to humiliate Qin Wang. You are going to Chang’an like this, even if you could really find the Duke Yang’s hidden treasure, you would only benefit Crown Prince Jiancheng; why do you even bother?”
Kou Zhong suddenly realized that Li Jing was not merely giving thought to them, two boys, but he was also giving thought to Li Shimin. Simply because Li Shimin and Li Jiancheng, two sides’ struggle was so intense, each side tried hard to recruit soldiers and buy horses, to expand their influence.
If he and Xu Ziling fell into Li Jiancheng’s hands, and Li Jiancheng succeeded in obtaining the secret of the treasure, then Li Jiancheng’s financial resources would enjoy steep increase, his fame and power would suddenly flourish.
There has always been a legend in Jianghu that whoever obtained Jade Annulus of He Clan or Duke Yang’s Hidden Treasure would be the future’s Son of Heaven ordained by the Heaven. The Jade Annulus of He Clan has long gone. As for the Duke Yang’s Hidden Treasure, not only it had substance that was useful, it also had irreplaceable symbolic significance. No wonder Li Jiancheng was dead set to deal with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, and to snatch their mission from Li Shimin’s hands; simply because the stake was too high. If he was successful, Li Shimin would be defeated.
“What kind of man is Li Jiancheng?” Kou Zhong asked.
Li Jing seriously replied, “Naturally one that is not to be trifled with. Otherwise, how could such a cruel, superfluous, untamed man like Li Yuanji was willing to abandon Qin Wang and threw his life in for him? His Chang Lin Army [lit. long forest] has martial art masters as numerous as the cloud, there is no lack of men with both intelligence and bravery, plus the martial art masters under Li Yuanji’s command had recently gained Nanhai Pai. Speaking about strength, they are definitely not under our Heavenly Policy Mansion. Ay! What can I say that will persuade you to dispel your intention to enter the Pass?”
Kou Zhong acted as if he did not hear his last remark; he said, “What kind of business is Chang Lin Army? Why did it change into such a strange name?” The tone of his voice turned cold.
Li Jing was not Xu Ziling after all; how could he guess the changes in the depth of Kou Zhong’s heart? Astounded, he cast Kou Zhong a glance, and then replied, “Crown Prince Jiancheng’s residence is the East Palace. In the Palace, there is a gate called Chang Lin Gate, Crown Prince Jiancheng built residences to the left and right of the Chang Lin Gate to house the martial art masters that he invited from all parts of the country; therefore, they were called the Chang Lin Army.”
Kou Zhong spoke in heavy voice, “What kind of men are under Li Jiancheng’s command that unexpectedly they are more formidable than your Heavenly Policy Mansion?”
In order to persuade Kou Zhong, Li Jing took the pain to explain, “In literature [or civil], there is Feng Deyi, a man whom Shengshang [minister’s form of address for the current Emperor] dotes on and trusts. His knowledge and scheme surpass others; he is the one responsible for helping Crown Prince Jiancheng with thousand ways, a hundred plans, to split apart and weaken Heavenly Policy Mansion’s power. In martial art [or military], there is the so-called ‘Chang Lin Wu Jiang’ [Five Generals of Chang Lin]; they are, respectively, Er Wenhuan, Qiao Gongshan, Xue Wanche, Xie Shufang, and Feng Li. Each of these five men has an official position within the Chang Lin Army, personally appointed by Crown Prince Jiancheng himself. Before they joined the Chang Lin Army, they were martial art masters whose name shook their respective region; absolutely must not be underestimated.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Why didn’t you mention Li Shentong and Yang Xuyan?”
Knitting his brows, Li Jing said, “All along these two men remain neutral. But if the one they are dealing with is an outsider, naturally they would stand on Crown Prince Jiancheng’s side.”
And then he sighed and said, “But the most disturbing thing is Crown Prince Jiancheng’s newest recruit, a young Tujue martial art master Ke Dazhi. Within the Eastern Tujue, this man is equally famous with your good friend, Ba Fenghan. He single-handedly created the ‘Kuang Sha Dao Fa’ [wild sand saber technique], which shook the Mobei [north of the (Gobi) Desert], hailed by Bi Xuan as the number one within the ranks of younger generation martial art masters. He is simply rubbing his fists and wiping his palms [idiom: eager to get into action] toward the two of you, hoping to render outstanding military service by being able to kill you. Fortunately there are ten thousand men with such prestige in the Central Plains.”
Immediately Kou Zhong’s eyes brightened up; with overflowing excitement he said, “Unexpectedly a fellow who knows how to use saber; very interesting.”
Shivering in fear, Li Jing said, “I have said so many words, yet your only response is ‘very interesting’?”
Kou Zhong’s eyes emitted penetrating divine light. Fixing his gaze on Li Jing, he said, “Li Dage, please don’t conceal it from me: this time you came to see us, was it Qin Wang’s idea?”
Li Jing’s countenance changed into displeasure, he said, “What kind of man am I, Li Jing? How could I deceive my own brother?”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said with a sigh, “Li Dage, please don’t blame me, simply because Li Jing now is not the same as Li Jing then; rather, he is a great general under Li Shimin’s command. I am afraid there are some things that you don’t have freedom to act independently. Just consider me wrongly judging you! But I also have a piece of advice for Li Dage.”
Smiling wryly, Li Jing said, “Please don’t tell me. Xiao Zhong, can I ask you one more question?”
Hearing Li Jing calling him Xiao Zhong, Kou Zhong remembered the time when he had just made his debut; his heart softened, he said, “Go ahead!”
Li Jing cast his gaze toward the ceiling of the cabin, his eyes were brimming with rich, emotional expression; he spoke gently, “If there were no Susu’s affair, would the two of you listen to my advice and dispel your idea of going into Guanzhong?”
Distressed, Kou Zhong replied, “Why should you mention Su Jie? People die, lanterns go out, life is just like a fleeting dream. How could we still have the heart to blame Li Dage?”
Severely shaken, Li Jing blurted out, “What?”
Xu Ziling has been focusing his power to listen to the two men’s dialogue, this moment he joined in, “Li Dage! Would it be all right to continue this conversation outside?”
Cold wind blew, the Yi River was surging.
Li Jing’s sincere and honest countenance looked like a stone statue, his face was emotionless, as if he was completely detached from the matter that Xu Ziling recounted. But Xu Ziling could feel that his originally stable and powerful hands were trembling.
The two men were standing on the stern. Black clouds covered the sky, increasing the cold, desolate, and lonely feeling in their hearts.
Finished listening to the past events, Li Jing heaved a deep, long sigh, seemingly to vent the anger and resentments buried deep within his heart. He appeared to be calming down, but then hot tears started to gush out of his tiger-eyes; severely shaken, he said, “I have turned my back on her!”
Li Jing revealing his true feeling immediately touched Xu Ziling; he said, “The deceased is already gone! Li Dage does not need to be excessively sad! Someday we are going to follow Su Jie’s course in life; at that time perhaps we will be together again.”
Li Jing let the tears streamed down his face. His hand gripping the hilt of his saber, he let out a cry of sadness toward the river. Murderous intent flaring out of his eyes, he spoke word-by-word, “Very well! Xiang Yushan, one day I, Li Jing, will make you, heartless man with dog’s lungs – pay for Su Mei’s life with yours!”
Noticing that Li Jing has been able to vent the grief and indignation in his heart, Xu Ziling felt a bit better. Trying to divert Li Jing’s mind, he presented the advice that Kou Zhong wanted to give Li Jing, “Our trip to Guanzhong is absolutely necessary. The most sensible act for Li Dage is to regard the past as something that has never happened. We are not brothers anymore. You need to immediately leave us, two boys who are covered all over with worries and quarrel, and return to Guanzhong. In the future, even if we meet on the battlefield, you must never be soft-hearted and lenient.”
Li Jing was silent for half a day. Taking a deep breath, he suppressed the sorrow in his heart, and spoke in heavy voice, “Ziling, tell me, how much confidence do you guys have that you will be able to enter Guanzhong, and if you are able to find the treasure can you successfully transport large quantities of articles and weapons out of Guanzhong?”
Xu Ziling secretly thought that if Li Jing knew that Shi Feixuan, joined by the Four Great Holy Monks, wanted to capture them alive, and that Yin Gui Pai wanted to capture one and kill the other, before Shi Feixuan had any chance to lay a hand on them, perhaps Li Jing would even be too angry to sound them out like this. Smiling wryly, he said, “Honestly, not even 5%.”
Stunned, Li Jing said, “Then why do you still want to go to Guanzhong?”
Xu Ziling really wanted to tell him that his reason to accompany Kou Zhong in this madness was in the hope that if Kou Zhong failed to find the treasure, he would give up his dream of contending for hegemony over the world. But in the end he could not say it.
After pondering for a moment, he calmly and indifferently said, “People always hope that they would have the luck. Or perhaps after obtaining the ‘Secret to Long Life’, our life is like an illusion; it is unreal, so that we practically do not understand what fear is. In fact, we have always been struggling for our survival under enormous pressure. The more difficult it is, the more we feel that it is a point of particular charm and interest of life. At least for Kou Zhong, that’s a fact.”
Li Jing regained his calm, cool-headed composure; he analyzed, “But this time it’s different. In Luoyang that day, although you had enemies on all four sides, inevitably there were subtle circumstances that you guys could exploit. Chang’an is an entirely different matter altogether. Once your track is discovered, forget about Duke Yang’s Treasure, even to escape with your life is just a lunatic raving; how could I have the heart to see you die?”
Xu Ziling calmly said, “Li Dage merely needs to treat the two of us as strangers coming together by chance, otherwise you would be caught in a situation where you have no room to advance or to retreat. Since we do not give much thought to our own little lives, why should Li Dage take the trouble to worry about us?”
Li Jing’s eyes emitted deep emotions; he sighed and said, “Then why do you guys keep calling me ‘Li Dage’? Some things can never be changed. Thinking about one day I might decide life and death on the battlefield with the two of you, it’s hard for me to dispel the burden in my heart. I seem to understand you two very well, but I also don’t seem to understand you at all.”
Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, “That is because Li Dage and Kou Zhong are two entirely different types of people. On the surface, there seem to be a lot of similarities between you, such as putting high value on friendship, high aspirations in your hearts, et cetera. But the differences are a lot more. Li Dage ought to know that Kou Zhong is a natural adventurer; he would pick a particularly difficult thing to do, and he would change the impossible to become possible. Only by doing that would he derive pleasure. When I explained it like this, would Li Dage understand?”
Li Jing was stunned; he was silent for half a day, before slowly nodding his head to indicate that he understood. He gently said, “I want to stay here alone and think about it carefully.”
Xu Ziling returned to the cabin. Sitting on the seat that Li Jing vacated, Tuli was chatting with Kou Zhong in low voices.
The other guests in the cabin did not dare to look directly at Xu Ziling; obviously they already guessed that these three were not as simple as they appeared, so much so that they even guessed their true identity.
The guest sitting next to Tuli saw Xu Ziling walking toward him, without being asked he gave up his seat and sat down where Xu Ziling was originally sitting. Seeing this, Xu Ziling did not know whether he should laugh or cry; without any choice he thanked the guest and sat down by Tuli’s side.
Meeting Kou Zhong’s inquiring look, Xu Ziling nodded his head first, and then shook his head. Pointing to his own head, he said, “He wants to think about it first.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “Are we underestimating that kid Li Jiancheng?”
Xu Ziling only smiled wryly in response.
They have already underestimated Li Yuanji, and did not consider Li Jiancheng worthy to be taken seriously, thinking that within the Li Clan’s army in Chang’an, only Li Shimin, whose military merit stood at the top, occupied the superior position. But just now, from the tone of Li Jing’s voice, they started to realize that the actual situation was a completely different matter.
Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji stood hand-in-hand to fight Li Shimin, while behind them they had Li Yuan’s support. On top of that, there were Huang Gongcuo, Yang Xuyan, even martial art masters like Shi Zhixuan, helping them. Purely in term of strength, the Heavenly Policy Mansion was already at the disadvantageous position.
But to Li Shimin, the unfavorable situation was more than this; because of Li Jiancheng’s status as the Crown Prince, Li Mi and Dugu Feng, who were harboring evil intentions, might possibly be willing to be his wingmen, so that together they could uproot Li Shimin, this big trouble.
Xu Ziling asked Tuli, “Is Ke Dazhi as formidable as Li Jing said?”
Showing grave expression, Tuli said, “Ke Dazhi surrendering to Li Jiancheng must have happened after I left Guanzhong. I dare say that Xieli, or even Bi Xuan, was behind him, giving him instruction; otherwise, Ke Dazhi is a conceited man, how could he be willing to receive order from a Han? I have had friendly sparring against him, twice. Although on the surface we appeared to be evenly matched, I knew that he did not use his real skill. This man’s ‘Kuang Sha Dao Fa’ could only be described as deep and immeasurable. Xieli admires him and treats him with utmost courtesy.”
Sucking in a mouthful of cold air, Kou Zhong said, “So it seems that even in impartial decisive battle, if each faction sends a man for a martial art competition, our chance of getting defeated is greater than achieving victory, not to mention Li Jiancheng would never treat us according to Jianghu rules.”
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Xu Ziling laughed and said, “You don’t need to be distressed over this matter. Because we don’t have a chance to set foot in Chang’an even for half a step.”
A hard-to-describe, absurd and funny feeling welled up in Tuli’s heart; he blurted out laughing and said, “It would be better for you to come with me back to Mobei, to help me unifying the Tujue!”
The two smiled; naturally they knew that he was only joking, but they could also feel his sincerity.
Putting his hand on Tuli’s shoulder, Kou Zhong leaned over and whispered in his ear, “If I cannot find the treasure and I am not dead, I will definitely go to Tujue to look for you. But you must not treat me with meager hospitality; at least you must appoint me to be the Ye Hu to satisfy my craving to become the prime minister.”
“One word and it’s settled!” Tuli affirmed. But then he laughed and said, “Now I sincerely wish that you won’t find the treasure.”
Stretching out his limbs, Kou Zhong said, “It seems that our whereabouts have already been leaked. When we disembark the ship, perhaps there will be a large army waiting for us on the shore. I wonder if we ought to get off a bit earlier?”
He has not even finished speaking, all of a sudden the ship’s speed slowed down considerably.
The three you look at me I look at you, all felt that the turn of events was not too encouraging.