Book 29 Chapter 4 – Enemies Meet
Two warships were coming from behind; they pushed on to sail side-by-side with the passenger ship on the Yi River. By the time Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Tuli flew outside the cabin, unexpectedly Li Jing has disappeared without any trace.
The warships sandwiching the passenger boat in the middle did not show any sign of with-swords-drawn-and-bows-bent tense situation, they were merely forcing the passenger ship to reduce its speed. The sailors kept quiet out of fear; they only did as ordered.
The gang leader in charge of the passenger ship came behind the three men and said with a low voice, “That is Yang Shuai’s [Commander] personal ship.”
While the three were casting their glance toward the banner flying on the mast, Yang Gongqing strode out of the cabin and chuckled, “Three gentlemen are passing through my humble territory, how could you not let Ol’ Yang do the honor as a host?”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong replied, “Yang Gong [Duke, of simply ‘honorable gentleman’], I trust you have been well since we last met.”
Raising his qi, he flew toward Yang Gongqing’s ship. Xu Ziling and Tuli had no choice but to follow closely behind.
The warships increased their speed, in the blink of an eye they left the passenger ship far behind.
After exchanging some pleasantries, Yang Gongqing laughed and said, “Zhushang [master/lord] heard that gentlemen came to the south, you don’t know how anxious he is waiting for you.”
Kou Zhong casually responded, “Is he anxious that we are not dead yet?”
Smiling wryly, Yang Gongqing replied, “Shao Shuai must not misunderstand; let’s go inside the cabin to continue our discussion.”
As soon as they stepped into the cabin, Yang Gongqing immediately dismissed his attendants. After seated properly, Yang Gongqing held back his smiling expression, and said with a cold snort, “Wang Shichong is useless in utilizing people, he only bestowed title to his relatives, employing them for personal reasons. He fails to live up to expectation and is unworthy to receive Shao Shuai’s help in obtaining superior advantage. Nowadays the Li Family might attack to the east at any moment, it’s only natural that only now he remembers all kinds of benefit from having Shao Shuai under his service.”
Kou Zhong did not expect Yang Gongqing to be this affectionate and true toward them and candidly told them this matter. Raising his cup to toast, he said, “Let this kid salute Yang Gong one cup.”
Tuli also offered a toast, “Yang Gongqing is indeed a good man. Wang Shichong has Yang Gong, yet he does not know how to treat you well, he is bound not to end well.”
The four men loudly toasted each other, each one with his own thoughts and feelings.
Tuli said, “If the Tang Army attacked immediately, what does Yang Gong think about your chances of winning or losing?”
Yang Gongqing flatly replied, “Unless it’s Li Shimin himself in command, in which case they still have a chance of success, otherwise the Tang Army would retreat without launching any attack.”
The three were emotionally moved. Frowning, Kou Zhong said, “Isn’t Yang Gong contradicting yourself? Just now you said because Wang Shichong does not know how to utilize people, he would eat his own bitter fruit, but now you seem to elevate his weight [i.e. importance].”
Yang Gongqing said, “I was referring to Wang Shichong’s sitting and wasting a good opportunity. If he were willing to entrust the heavy responsibility to Shao Shuai, taking advantage of the very moment he acquired large quantities of soldiers, generals, provision, armor, and horses from the Wagang Army, taking advantage of Xue Ju, father and son, attacking the Tang Army and threatening their back – to charge straight toward Guanzhong, so that the Li Clan was facing the enemies from front and back, then perhaps he would be able to seize the opportunity to capture Chang’an. Too bad his jealousy toward people of talent was too strong, so he only knew how to consolidate the outcome of the battle. By the time Xue Ju, father and son, were defeated by Li Shimin, it was already too late for regret. How could Old Zhang and I not be disheartened?”
Old Zhang was another great general under Wang Shichong’s command, Zhang Zhenzhou, with whom Kou Zhong was quite familiar.
Listening to Yang Gongqing directly calling Wang Shichong’s name without showing any respect, they knew that the relationship between Wang Shichong and him has turned nasty and reached the point where it was difficult to mend.
Xu Ziling asked in bewilderment, “Now the Li Clan’s momentum is flourishing greatly, plus they have no threat from the west, why is Yang Gong still confident that Wang Shichong has the strength to resist the Tang?”
Yang Gongqing said, “Although the Tang Army is flourishing, Wang Shichong recently acquired more than a hundred thousand Wagang Army’s generals and soldiers. The surrendering generals include Shan Xiongxin, Qin Shubao, Cheng Zhijie, and the others; all are hard-to-come-by military talents. The most important thing is that the city of Luoyang is a world-class stronghold; it is easy to defend. Moreover, it has flying stone, divine cannon, and powerful crossbow that can shoot up to five hundred paces. The city defense is entirely under the command of Wang Shichong’s relatives; how could as soon as they wanted to attack, the Tang Army easily attack?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “In my opinion, that is not the case. Ay! Does Wang Shichong really want to see me? Will he setup another ambush to kill me?”
Yang Gongqing said, “Probably not. Right now he is most anxious about the Tang Army coming to the east. He has given me and Old Zhang his personal guarantee that he won’t harm Shao Shuai, otherwise, how could I, Yang Gongqing, be willing to be his accomplice in such a despicable, shameless, shady business?”
Full of confidence, Kou Zhong said, “As long as he is willing to listen to me, I guarantee that he won’t dare to touch half a hair on my body.”
“Where is Qin Shubao now?” Xu Ziling asked.
“He ought to be in Luoyang,” Yang Gongqing replied.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Finally we are going to meet old friends.” And then he reached out to wrap his arm around Tuli’s shoulders, winked, and said with laugh, “Perhaps I could arrange an eight-man sedan chair with men striking the gongs and beating the drums to send Khan off to his old home. Ha!”
The two warships docked by the pier outside the city of Luoyang. Yang Gongqing dispatch his men on fast horse to notify Wang Shichong, asking him to get out of the city to meet them.
This was the course of action that Yang Gongqing and Kou Zhong, three men, decided after some deliberation. Otherwise, if Wang Shichong ate his own words and accused them of ‘mistakenly entering the city’, it would be difficult for them to escape.
While Xu Ziling and Tuli went up to the deck to enjoy the magnificent city scenery of the Eastern Capital under the setting sun, Kou Zhong could not help asking Yang Gongqing about Li Xiuning.
Naturally Yang Gongqing did not know Kou Zhong’s relationship with Li Xiuning; he thought that Kou Zhong wanted to know the situation inside and outside the Pass. Sighing, he said, “That was the reason I said that you have arrived in time; otherwise I am afraid Wang Shichong is still unwilling to bow and admit his errors to you. Li Xiuning is obviously coming on behalf of the Li Clan to – for the last time – persuade us to surrender. If we refuse to give in, the Tang Army will invade our territory in large-scale military expedition. Because of the urgency of this situation, Wang Shichong has no choice but to draw support from you guys. Otherwise, while Tang Army is pressing toward Luoyang, and your Shao Shuai Army also seizing the opportunity to attack, Luoyang will be in grave danger.”
Because another problem came to his mind, Kou Zhong temporarily set Li Xiuning aside; he asked, “Wasn’t Dong Shuni given to Li Yuan as his imperial concubine? If the two armies were at war, what would she do?”
Yang Gongqing replied, “Married woman follows her husband; situation like Shuni’s has been around since ancient times, what’s so big deal about it? I hear Li Yuan loves and dotes on Shuni, no less than the other two beloved imperial concubines Zhang Jieshu and Yin Defei, plus she receives Li Jiancheng’s support in secret. In the Tang Palace, if she wants wind, she’ll get wind, if she wants rain, she’ll get rain, so why would she care whether Lao Tian [God/Heavens] is about to collapse or not?”
From Dong Shuni, Kou Zhong recalled Rong Jiaojiao; from Rong Jiaojiao, he remembered Rong Fengxiang’s Pi Chen yaodao [demonic Taoist]. He asked, “Has Rong Fengxiang returned to Luoyang? How’s his current relationship with Wang Shichong? Did Yang Gong tell Wang Shichong that Rong Fengxiang is Lao Jun Guan’s Pi Chen old demon in disguise?”
In the past, Pi Chen sent Priest Ke Feng as his spy to help Li Mi and Dugu Clan assassinating Wang Shichong; their mission nearly succeeded.
Yang Gongqing angrily said, “I don’t know what trick Rong Fengxiang is playing, he made Crown Prince Xuanying mediating for him strongly, resulting in Rong Fengxiang compensating him with large quantities of property, but he still maintains good relationship with Wang Shichong. Only three days ago he, father and daughter, returned from the south. When you see Wang Shichong, it would be best not to mention this matter. Otherwise, not only it would be difficult for Wang Shichong to get off the hook, Crown Prince Xuanying might be greatly displeased.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “No wonder they, father and son, greatly lost the heart of the people!”
Standing on the bow, Xu Ziling and Tuli were looking into the distance at the towering Luoyang City in front of them. Thinking about the perilous journey they took to get in here, there was some kind of joy after passing through a heavily dangerous place.
The sun was setting behind the mountain ranges on their left, red clouds scattered around the sky, enhancing the remarkable atmosphere of this grand city, which other cities could not supersede.
Xu Ziling suddenly asked, “Aren’t Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang merely Xieli’s lackeys?”
Revealing a disdainful expression, Tuli replied, “You can say that. This man Liu Wuzhou is known to be unstable; in the old days, he was a military officer at the Ying Yang Fu [lit. raising eagle mansion] of Ma Yi. Ma Yi’s Taishou Wang [king/prince governor (of a province)] Ren Gong valued him highly, and had personally promoted him. Who would have thought that not only he had sexual affairs with Ren Gong’s concubine; during famine, he slandered Ren Gong, saying he was unwilling to release the grain to the aid of the hungry. After arousing public outrage, he colluded with Ying Yang Pai disciple to attack and kill Ren Gong. His conduct was disgraceful and violated justice. To us, it would be best if this kind of person stays in the Central Plains and stirs up trouble here. Hey! Why did you ask about him?”
Xu Ziling said, “I just wanted to know their relationship with Xieli; furthermore, I wanted to know if Wang Shichong and Liu Wuzhou have formed an alliance. Otherwise, Khan would only get out of a dangerous situation to enter another dangerous situation.”
Obtaining sudden understanding, Tuli said, “Ziling’s thought is indeed thorough. In order to curry Liu Wuzhou’s favor, Wang Shichong, this despicable lowly man – might betray me, or secretly tell Liu Wuzhou to kill me along the way. This way, Wang Shichong could push the blame and clean himself of any guilt.”
Xu Ziling said, “Listening to the tone of Yang Gongqing’s words, we could safely say that Wang Shichong still feel secure in the knowledge that he has backing. It may be assumed that that backing is precisely Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang. One more day they are still watching from the side like a tiger watching its prey, one more day the Tang Army would not dare to get out of Guanzhong to come here. Therefore, Wang Shichong can’t possibly offend Liu and Song, two men for Kou Zhong’s sake, while Liu and Song would not dare to go against their big backer, Xieli’s wishes.”
Tuli asked in heavy voice, “Does Ziling want to point out that this situation before our eyes is just a trap that Wang Shichong is setting up against me?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Wang Shichong would never dare to make his move to deal with you in the Eastern Capital. Because such a stupid operation is just not worth it, since it might provoke retaliation from Khan’s relatives, but also would make me and Kou Zhong his mortal enemy, while also give rise to resentment in the hearts of the great generals in his own headquarters like Yang Gongqing, Zhang Zhenzhou, and the others. To him, it has a hundred harms without a single benefit. The best thing he can do in the circumstances is still like what Khan just said, secretly notifying Liu Wuzhou, let them ambush and kill you en route, carrying out the trick of injuring himself to gain the enemy’s confidence again, letting his own side lose a few men, then nobody would be suspicious of him!”
Tuli sighed and said, “Ziling’s brain is truly formidable. I’ll say your speculation is eighty-, ninety-percent, if not nearly a hundred-percent accurate. Hence the reason this traitor Wang Shichong would bow and bend his knee to come and asking for help. This way it actually is advantageous to us; we could beat him at his own game, we could calmly deal with him. Ay! Thinking about the trials and tribulations we went through, and then suddenly I have to leave, it really makes me hate to do it.”
Casting his gaze on the last trace of the glorious light disappearing behind the western hill, Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “Day and month pass, human affairs shift and change, as long as Kou Zhong and I are not dead, there will come a day we will meet again. I hope it won’t be we are facing each other on the battlefield!”
As the lanterns were lit, a ship came out of the Eastern Capital, sailing with the current toward them.
Finally Wang Shichong received the news and arrived.
Accompanied by his two sons Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu, this old fox Wang Shichong deliberately wore casual clothes. He climbed aboard to meet Kou Zhong, three men. Among his attendants, they did not detect any martial art masters lying in ambush.
When he met Kou Zhong, he put on a guilty expression on his face, blaming himself for being confused by lowly men, and momentarily lost his reason, so that he acted in nearly a forgetting-favors-and-violating-justice manner, but in the end he pushed all the blame to Li Shimin.
Naturally the three did not uncover him; after some feigned civility, Kou Zhong expressed his desire to have private talk with the three of them, father and sons.
Upon entering the cabin and after sitting properly in host/guest position, Kou Zhong said with a laugh, “Just by looking at Shengshang’s expression, I know that Shengshang already have a card up you sleeve concerning the Tang Army marching out of Guanzhong. I wonder if Kou Zhong is wrong?”
Before Wang Shichong responded, Wang Xuanying proudly said, “Speaking about momentum, Tang Army is still far below the Wagang Army of the past. Although they can establish a kingdom and proclaim themselves hegemon in Guanzhong, how could they show off in here? In the past, Li Jiancheng, Li Shimin came to attack Luoyang, didn’t they end up returning with head and face filthy with grime?”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong could only stare blankly at him with eyes opened wide. Wang Xuanying seemed to have completely forgotten whom they were relying on when they defeated Li Mi that day; he spoke with rising blaze as if all the merit was his.
Obviously Wang Shichong was a bit embarrassed; he cast a rebuking glance toward Wang Xuanying before saying, “Naturally we do not dare to underestimate the enemy. But due to their battle against Xue Ju, father and son, the Li Family’s strength has suffered greatly. For the time being, they don’t have enough power to invade our territory. However, we are currently making preparation with all our strength, tightening our formation to wait.”
In the past, Wang Xuanshu had been with Kou Zhong during the decisive battle against Li Mi at Yanshi, he knew Kou Zhong’s brilliant exploit more than anybody else. His tender face blushing slightly, he showed an ashamed look as he hung his head down.
Wang Xuanying still had not fully expressed himself; he went on, “Although the Li Clan no longer has any threat from the west, breaking our Eastern Capital is just an idiot’s dream.”
Were it not for Kou Zhong would never allow Luoyang to fall into Li Shimin’s hands, this moment he would have stormed off in a huff. Too bad Eastern Capital Luoyang’s significance was simply too great, its implication reached Bashu, the key to attacking the south, and the control of the strategic strongholds along the upper reaches of the Great River. Because of that, he had no choice but to suppress his temper and just sat there, listening to the father and son thoroughly laying out the pros and cons.
While he was still thinking, Wang Shichong said, “I already knew that Kou Xiongdi is not just a fish in the moat, but I never expected that in such a short period of time Kou Xiongdi is able to establish the Shao Shuai Army in Pengliang, which name shook the heavens, and was able to break Du Fuwei and Shen Faxing’s coalition army at Jiangdu first, and then broke Xiao Xian, Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong’s allied armies at the Ju River [sic, in Book 22 Chapter 12 it was Zhang River]. Such military success, Li Shimin would find it difficult to match. As long as Shao Shuai is willing to relinquish former hatred and no longer bother about the silly thing that I, Wang Shichong did, we could form an alliance, and then why should we be afraid of insignificant Tang Army?”
Kou Zhong was well aware that his own Shao Shuai Army was still very lacking, it was not worth Wang Shichong’s consideration. What he was looking for was Kou Zhong’s ability and wisdom and prestige. That day Wang Shichong intended to kill him but failed, his reputation suffered a big blow, plus it made his subordinates to see through his natural instincts of being envious toward talents. If he could restore good relationship with Kou Zhong, naturally it would be greatly beneficial to his declining reputation. Moreover, he would not have to station massive military force to defend the eastern front, which would bring him a hundred benefits without a single harm.
After all, nobody, Li Shimin included, would want to have formidable opponent as terrifying as Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling.
Smiling slightly, Kou Zhong said, “On the surface it appears that the Great Zheng would make our elite troops even more solid. But if Li Shimin personally led the attack, the situation might not be as optimistic as Crown Prince Xuanying imagined.”
An angry look flitted across Wang Xuanying’s face, but he quickly suppressed his displeasure; controlling his temper, he asked in heavy voice, “Why did Shao Shuai utter this remark?”
Wang Shichong had deep knowledge of Kou Zhong’s outstanding intelligence, he revealed a waiting-with-full-attention expression.
Kou Zhong calmly said, “If I were Li Shimin, I would lead my main forces from Guanzhong straight toward Henan. Using force against force, I would subdue the major strongholds on the Eastern Capital’s western front, simply to force your honorable side to retreat and defend Luoyang. Afterwards I would carryout divisive tactic, by hook or by crook, by making threats and promises, to recruit the defending generals of the Eastern Capital’s surrounding cities, big and small, to surrender to me. Crown Prince Xuanying, how much chance do you think you still have to hold Luoyang?”
Wang Shichong and Wang Xuanshu’s countenance immediately changed.
It should be noted that because Wang Shichong appointed his relatives for important positions, it caused heavy internal friction within his political power; not only he lost the popular support, it also escalated or started internal struggle among different factions.
On the other hand, Li Shimin’s reputation has always been stellar. Merely his ability to handle Li Mi has earned him the world’s admiration. On top of that, he enjoyed the Buddhists and Taoists, the two schools supporting his back, so he really had great opportunity to win over large quantities of Wang Shichong’s soldiers and generals who were at odds with him, without even need to spend one soldier, a single pawn.
Wang Shichong wanted to renew old cordial relations with Kou Zhong, it was precisely to use this as a pretext to stabilize his troops’ morale. Therefore, Kou Zhong’s analysis really hit Wang Shichong’s vital part.
But how could Wang Xuanying be willing to concede? Forging ahead vigorously, he said, “The longer Li Shimin fails to take the Eastern Capital, the greater the possibility that he will not win this battle. By the time his troops and generals are tired and weary, the casualties are disastrous, we could deploy sudden counterattack to make him easy to come, difficult to leave.”
After a short pause, he continued, “This is, of course, assuming that he is able to force us to retreat and defend Luoyang; otherwise, everything will be a moot point.”
Wang Xuanshu could not help saying, “Li Shimin is an expert in cavalry battle; there is no battle that he did not prevail. If we put our main force outside the city to contend against him, we will be in the situation where we will grow weak while the enemy will grow strong.”
Wang Shichong nodded his head in agreement; he said, “Xuanshu is right.” And then, turning to Kou Zhong, he said, “However, even if the Tang Army were ten times stronger than ours, to break through Luoyang is not an easy matter at all. Shao Shuai, what do you think about it?”
Kou Zhong cast a praising look toward Wang Xuanshu; he said, “Only a fool would try to shake Luoyang by force. By the time your honorable side retreat and defend Luoyang, if I were Li Shimin, I would take Yique in the south, surround Henei in the north, and then separately attack Luowei and Huiluo, these two major strategic towns. I would have my main army stationed on Mount Qiu in the north, and thus completing the encirclement around the Eastern Capital, severing all supply routes, so that your honorable side would be caught in isolated, could-only-take-a-beating predicament.”
When he was dealing with Li Mi in the past, he spent painstaking effort in studying the terrain around Luoyang and its vicinity; together with Yang Gongqing and the others, he researched it over and over, so that he knew what is true and what is false, as well as the strength and the weakness – of the city of Luoyang like the back of his hand, and was able to express it eloquently, so that even if Wang Xuanying wanted to debate him, he was left speechless.
Wang Shichong’s countenance changed again, but he quickly recovered, and then he calmly laughed and said, “Based on the Li Family’s current military strength, I am afraid it would still be difficult for them to achieve what Shao Shuai has just described.”
The strategy that Kou Zhong used to deal with Wang Shichong could be summed up in one move, ‘intimidation’. Just like last time, he must make him believe that disaster was pressing in on his eyelashes; only then would he be able to use Wang Shichong as a useful chess piece in his hand to deal with Li Shimin. Otherwise, if the Eastern Capital fell, his Shao Shuai Army would lose their barrier on the northwest. And then, before he had the opportunity to regroup, the Great Tang would wipe them out like a hot knife through butter.
Kou Zhong casually remarked, “Does Shengshang think that Li Shimin’s power is not enough to deal with your and Liu Wuzhou’s allied armies, hence you feel secure in the knowledge that you have backing?”
A shocked expression flitted through Wang Shichong’s face but it faded just as quickly. With a smile to conceal the horror in his heart, he spoke calmly and indifferently, “My Great Zheng has no diplomatic relation with his established Yang Khanate; we are enemies without friendly relation. Why did Shao Shuai think that I would join hands with Liu Wuzhou to fight the Tang?”
Seeing Wang Shichong’s expression, Kou Zhong was even more convinced that last time Song JinGang came to Luoyang, it was to strike secret agreement with Wang Shichong. Shrugging his shoulders, he said, “Even if you, both sides, do not have a contract of alliance, when the martial art masters of the Li Clan’s native place stabbed and injured Li Shimin, Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang sent their troops to attack the Tang. Too bad he was defeated too quickly. This time, if Li Shimin attacked Luoyang, Liu and Song would definitely not sit and watch idly, in order to avoid missing another opportunity; who would have thought that they would do exactly what Li kid has expected all along?”
As the three men, father and sons, who were listening respectfully, heard the last sentence, they could not help revealing shocked expression.
Without giving them time to ponder over, Kou Zhong suddenly, seemingly nonchalantly, asked, “When Rong Fengxiang, accompanied by his daughter, returned from the south after failing the general assembly of trade and commerce organizations, did he ever tell Shengshang that Du Fuwei has already surrendered to the Li Family?”
Finally Wang Shichong lost his cool-headedness. “What?” he blurted out.
Inwardly Kou Zhong heaved a sigh of relief, knowing that after some exhaustive arguments, combined with tactics to attack the heart, he was finally able to move this top hypocritical, despicable old fox’s heart.