Book 30 Chapter 4 – Free Walk in the Snow
Covered in snow from head to toes, Kou Zhong crossed over the doorstep to return to the main hall. The four monks were standing still as if they had become four additional statues to the Buddha Maitreya and the four heavenly kings statues already in the Hall.
Deeply concerned, Kou Zhong cast a glance toward Xu Ziling. Returning the saber into its scabbard, he spoke confidently and at ease, “Only one of us could successfully take advantage of all Dashi’s good intention to leave the Hall. How would we treat or talk about this battle? Ha! How do we settle this correctly?”
Jiaxiang’s withered and slender countenance revealed a completely-unconcerned-over-success-and-failure, over-the-gains-and-losses smile. He kindly put his palms together and said, “Shanzai! Shanzai! How could those who have left home haggle over every ounce? Remaining here is Buddha, leaving this place is also Buddha. When suitable condition arises, one stays, when the condition is gone, one leaves.”
Daoxin Dashi laughed aloud and said, “Illusion is empty flower, why take the trouble to capture it? Gains and losses, right and wrong, in a short while will have to be let go and will decline. Two Shizhu please take a good care of yourselves!”
The snow was falling bigger and denser. Carried by the wind, snowflakes like big lumps of cotton gracefully floating down, transforming the world into a pure, beautiful, blurry, touching-the-chord-of-human’s-heart – bizarre and marvelous heaven and earth.
When the two boys stepped out of the Virtuous Temple, the monks inside the Hall of Great Strength were still chanting the sutras. Their voices came through like tidal wave in cadence.
Almost undistinguishable who went first, they both spurted a mouthful of blood, spraying the thick snow so that two red splatters appeared on the ground.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other and laughed. There was a relieved, relaxed, delighted feeling that made them nearly bursting out in a song.
Wiping the bloodstain from the corner of his mouth, Kou Zhong said, while continued walking, “Ling Shao is really good, your timing was more accurate than his granny’s. Otherwise, right now we would be like to defeated roosters who scurried away with head hung low. Victory and defeat were only one thin line apart.”
Xu Ziling said, “What we learned today was more than the last dozen or so days combined. Buddhist school’s consummate art is certainly wide-ranging and profound. Fortunately, from our battle against Zhu Yaofu, Wan Yaonu the other day in Nanyang, we made great progress. Otherwise, merely Jiaxiang Dashi’s mother’s ‘One Finger Zen’ would be enough to beat us that we stumbled and unable to get up.”
Going in and out of streets and alleys the two boys walked in the direction of River Luo and the Tianjin Bridge. The excitement of the first snow has already disappeared, the number of people walking along the streets has been greatly diminished. Luoyang residents who did not have any business to be outside have already returned home to huddle around the stove in order to drive the cold away.
Looking up to the sky, Kou Zhong exhaled a long, long breath, saying, “While the Buddhist and Taoist top martial art masters are assembled in Luoyang, no matter how conceited he is, Shi Zhixuan would not dare to act blindly without thinking. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to go up north immediately. Xiaodi will go see Wang Shichong to make the arrangement, Ling Shao, you go find Khan and Wangzi to tell them the good news, and then I’ll come to meet up with you.”
Naturally Xu Ziling did not have any desire to stay in Luoyang either. After agreeing on the details, the two split up to do their separate tasks. The former went straight to the south bank of River Luo. Amidst the drizzle of snow, ships and boats were still sailing endlessly on the River, braving the snow, sailing slowly. Only they seemed to belong to another dimension.
The weeping willow and the ancient trees along the shore were clothed in new garments of white snow. In this world of vast expanse of whiteness, matchless hidden mystery was already blooming. In that instant, Xu Ziling could only stare blankly, wishing that he did not have to leave so suddenly.
Shi Feixuan’s gentle and soft voice suddenly spoke by his side, “The battle of Virtuous Temple will make Ziling’s name shake the world; I wonder henceforth which course you are going to follow?”
Turning his head to look, Xu Ziling saw in the pure white snowflake scenery, Shi Feixuan, dressed in men’s clothing, looked even more like a fairy, who did not eat the food of common mortals – descending into the mortal world. And due to her sudden immortal appearance, the entire heaven and earth was transformed into fairyland.
Smiling slightly, he said, “We prevailed only by using crafty ruse; what makes us proud of? Looking at Miss’s happy mood, it looks like Miss takes delight in us getting away by a fluke; isn’t that kind of strange?”
Lightly shrugging her fragrant shoulders, Shi Feixuan’s demeanor and expression were so touching, as she rolled her eyes at him and said, “Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong have never been the enemy in Feixuan’s heart; fighting hand to hand with you was just like a game, why would I be concerned over the gains and losses of a game? As early as when Feixuan asked the four Seniors to leave the mountain, I already told them that everything will have to follow karma. Moreover, the situation in Guanzhong is changing very fast, it is greatly unfavorable to Qin Wang. This time the two of you are entering the Pass to stir up trouble, perhaps you would create another situation. Cause and effect are difficult to guess.”
“So that’s how it is!” Xu Ziling said, “But supposing we really are able to transport Duke Yang’s Treasure away, would Miss still have your hands inside your sleeves and not paying attention?”
Shi Feixuan lightly sighed and said, “Feixuan really do not wish to think about anything that far ahead; does Ziling understand my feeling?”
Xu Ziling’s heart trembled slightly. Just a few words coming out from Shi Feixuan’s mouth were already enough to show that she was not without any friendly regard toward him, hence the rhetorical question in the last sentence.
Shi Feixuan’s beautiful eyes gazing deeply at him, she said, “Presently Li Jiancheng’s Crown Prince influence is growing by the day, plus he obtained Xieli’s support, while Shi Zhixuan is playing ghost in the dark, and Li Yuan is leaning toward him. The situation is extremely complex. You guys still persist in crashing into Guanzhong, this is really unwise.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Thank you very much for Miss’s concern, but as long as Miss does not personally make your move to deal with us, or perhaps ask Ning Daoqi or Liao Kong Dashi, two Seniors to deploy their troops to stop us, we are already very grateful.”
Shi Feixuan revealed a hint of helpless and pained smile, but did not answer him.
Xu Ziling faintly grasped the subtle contradiction in her heart; changing the subject, he said, “Xiaodi has a favor to ask.”
Shi Feixuan smiled and said, “Unexpectedly Xu Ziling can open his mouth to ask for a favor; shouldn’t Feixuan be pleased beyond my expectations?”
Xu Ziling blurted out laughing; he could not help teasing her, “You are a Xianzi, I am a mortal. Mortal has a cherished desire that he is unable to accomplish, shouldn’t he pray to Xianzi asking for help?”
Amused, Shi Feixuan smiled and said, “It’s rare to see Xu Ziling in such a good mood, unexpectedly you can also copy Kou Zhong’s sweet mouth to poke fun at Feixuan. Be careful, Feixuan might brush my sleeve and refuse to listen.”
Xu Ziling was greatly relieved, feeling that he had closed a considerable distance from this beauty. Calmly he said, “I only want to ask Miss to think of an idea so that Tuli Khan can safely return to this Khanate Court!”
Casting him a glance, Shi Feixuan pursed her lips and said with a laugh, “Ah! Turns out you guys want to carryout the ‘repairing the plank road by day while secretly crossing the Wei River at Chencang’ stratagem, to use it to steal into Chang’an.”
Delighted, Xu Ziling submitted to her; he sighed and said, “Miss’s intelligence is astonishing; just from Xiaodi’s request, you already see us through.”
Smiling sweetly, Shi Feixuan spoke in tranquil, gentle tone, “Whether Khan can safely return to the Khanate Court concerns rise and fall, flourish and demise of both Tujue and the Central Earth; no wonder Ziling is opening your mouth to ask for help for the first time. From this, it is clear to me that Ziling’s concern for the common people of the world is actually not below Feixuan’s. Don’t worry! Feixuan especially asked San Ren, the Senior, to come out is precisely to deal with Shi Zhixuan. In all the world, I am afraid only he, the Senior, and four Dashi can make Shi Zhixuan having some misgivings. But you must be careful as well, Shi Zhixuan will definitely not want to miss the Sheng Di Sheli [holy emperor’s relic] of the hidden treasure.”
And then she added, “Ay! Until this moment, even if Feixuan plotted the mission for you, I still don’t know what brilliant scheme are you going to rely on to enter Chang’an the-gods-do-not-know-the-ghosts-do-not-perceive, under Li Jiancheng’s side’s glaring-like-a-tiger-watching-its-prey?”
Casting his gaze into the depth of boundless windblown snowscape on the opposite bank, Xu Ziling said softly, “We will leave Luoyang immediately. After we part here, I wish there will be days where I will see Miss again in Guanzhong; and at that time, I wish I will still be friends with Miss, and not the enemy at all. And then I will have no regret.”
Shi Feixuan put her palms together and said, “The mind is Buddha, Buddha’s mind in all living beings, Bodhi (enlightenment) and Kelsha (destructive emotion such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression, etc.) though different in names but one in nature; great Way of three realms only present in one’s mind, like the moon in the water and the flower in the mirror, how could there be creation and destruction? If you know this, everything you look for is accomplished [Courtesy of Akolaw]. Ziling, be careful in ten thousand things, don’t force yourself. Feixuan won’t see you off!”
Xu Ziling walked along the west bank of the River, his heart was still filled with Shi Feixuan’s touching-the-heartstrings’ immortal beauty and wonderful demeanor. Each time he spoke to her, he seemed to obtain a lot of enlightenment and great comprehension. What she said not only contained mysterious principle, it also had profound philosophic theory. In the end, all kinds of joys and sorrows in this world, the happiness, anger, sorrow and joy of all living things with emotions, are nothing more than the appearance of human’s own heart. Just like the image in the mirror, the moon in the water. As long as one could see through this, what could be worth someone reluctant to leave behind?
Although this view was pessimistic, it contained irrefutable truth within.
Because the fact was just like that, only all living things obstinately persist in going about things the wrong way!
But why did she, just before they parted, say such thing? Was she trying to warn him? Also that she was on alert for him? But how could he bear to ponder these subtleties?
Xu Ziling was ashamed inwardly; because his mind was too focused on Shi Feixuan, unexpectedly he did not sense that someone was coming out of the bushes.
The incoming person came to his side. Full of delight, she said, “I finally found Xu Ye!”
Unexpectedly it was Liu Heita’s delicate, pretty and pleasant subordinate, the expert in using flying blades, Qiu Tongtong.
Astonished, Xu Ziling said, “Turns out it is Miss Tongtong; I wonder if Liu Dage is also coming?”
For some reason, Qiu Tongtong’s pretty face turned bright red; she spoke with astonishment, “Just call me Tongtong; that’s how Dashi [great master] also calls me. Dashi is not coming, but Da Wang [great king] is. He is anxious to see and have a meeting with Xu Ye and Shao Shuai.”
Xu Ziling was shocked inwardly; unexpectedly Dou Jiande personally came to Luoyang, which means he must have an important matter to discuss with Wang Shichong. Yet this old fox concealed this fact from them.
Half a moment later, Xu Ziling came to a warship docked at the pier nearby to see this hegemon, whose name shook the world.
Dou Jiande was about forty years old; his build slender, his demeanor calm, his hair and beard were thick and black. In his steady, cool-headed manner, there was some kind of poised and at ease fantastic characteristic. His eagle-like eyes seemed to hide profound insight. His bearing was intimidating.
After dismissing everybody else, the two sat in the cabin. Appearing to have deep emotional stirring, Dou Jiande sighed and said, “Heita often praises you unendingly in my presence; at that time I was still skeptical, but this moment, as I see Ziling’s every movement has some kind of unconstrained and natural, without the slightest bit of artificiality – flair in it, yet with immaculate movement and stillness posture, my heart and my mouth are convinced. I, Dou Jiande, have read countless people throughout my life, but only from ‘San Ren’ Ning Daoqi did I get the same feeling.”
Xu Ziling was most afraid of people praising and complimenting him to his face; he was quite embarrassed. But this Xia Emperor was unlike Wang Shichong at all. Opening his mouth and closing his mouth, his praises were few and his words scant; therefore, he already gained Xu Ziling’s favorable impression.
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “Da Wang must not praise me, this kid of the younger generation. I wonder if Da Wang came to Luoyang this time is to conclude the treaty between allies with Wang Shichong?”
The cold light in Dou Jiande’s hawk-like eyes flashed, showing his deep and unmeasurable power. “Toward a lowly person who broke faith and abandoned justice like Wang Shichong, I, Dou Jiande, have absolutely no favorable impression,” he spoke coldly, “But Tang is strong, Zheng is weak, undoubtedly it will be unable to endure. If Zheng perished, it will be difficult for Xia to exist alone. In order to strive for the world, I have no choice but to temporarily work together with this kind of despicable, vile character, if only to get by in resisting powerful common enemy.”
This remark was akin to admitting that he has formed an alliance with Wang Shichong.
Dou Jiande seemed to be unwilling to continue talking about this matter; changing the topic, he asked, “Why didn’t Kou Shao Shuai journey together with Ziling? Can we see him? I must discuss official business with Wang Shichong tonight, and we are leaving tomorrow.”
Apologizing, Xu Ziling said, “I will speak to him. But we also must leave the city immediately to avoid powerful enemy; I am afraid it will be very difficult to find the time to come here.”
Dou Jiande nodded his understanding. He said, “I might stay on the boat all the way to this evening, Ziling just see what you can do! I heard from Heita that between you guys and Yuwen Huaji there is an enmity as deep as the ocean; I wonder whether it is true?”
Xu Ziling’s eyes were flashing with murderous aura; nodding his head, he replied in heavy voice, “That is indeed one thing that I often have in my mind.”
A grim smile appeared on the corner of Dou Jiande’s mouth; he said, “Good! Now Xu Yuanlang has already surrendered to me, Ol’ Dou; only Yuwen Huaji remains standing on the corner, turning his back and obstinately resisting me. I don’t care how Ziling and Kou Shao Shuai see me, Dou Jiande, but I always look at you as Heita’s brothers. We all are on the same side, what’s not appropriate to discuss? After your trip to Guanzhong, please come to see us; we will discuss together the grand plan to deal with Yuwen Huaji.”
‘Formidable!’ Xu Ziling cried inwardly. In term of buying the heart of the people, Dou Jiande was a hundred times more brilliant that Wang Shichong, Li Zitong, and the like. The most admirable thing was that he absolutely did not mention the Duke Yang’s Treasure, or even who acknowledge allegiance to whom.
With nothing else to say, he had no choice but to nod his head to give his assent.
Dou Jiande was not a man who like to talk nonsense; he personally sent Xu Ziling ashore. On the way out he introduced his ministers, Zhong Shu Shi Liang [lit. central document assistant minister] Liu Bin and great general Ling Jing. These two men, one civil, one military, both looked out-of-the-ordinary, a clear sign that there was no lack of able persons under Dou Jiande’s command. The two were polite and courteous toward Xu Ziling, their attitude was pleasant.
Dou Jiande reached out to grab Xu Ziling’s shoulder. Letting out a long laugh, he said, “Seeing Ziling, I could infer Kou Zhong’s imposing disposition and heroic expression. Upon entering Guanzhong, you must not, by any means, force yourselves. Do what you can do, withdraw when you can’t do. The day two gentlemen arrive in the Great Xia, Dou Jiande will personally come down to welcome you. Please take a good care of yourself!”
By the time Xu Ziling was rushing back, Kou Zhong, Fu Qian, Tuli, and Xing Mofei, four men were anxious over his safety. Seeing him back, immediately they put down the rock burdening their heart.
They set off at once; the five men climbed on board the horse drawn carriage, which has been waiting respectfully in the courtyard. With the men sent by Wang Shichong driving the carriage, they set out, braving the snow.
Kou Zhong asked why he was late. After Xu Ziling told him about the meeting with Dou Jiande, Kou Zhong spoke in distress, “Unless I know how to split myself into two, I am afraid I don’t have the karma to see him.”
And then, highly interested, he asked, “What kind of a man is he?”
Fu Qian and Tuli also revealed a highly-interested expression; they wanted to hear Xu Ziling’s response.
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “When I look at people, I usually rely purely on my feeling; I am afraid it won’t be too accurate.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “I should say that Ling Shao’s feeling has always been as accurate as the deity’s.”
Revealing a thoughtful look, Xu Ziling said, “If there was no Li Shimin, plus the Li Clan lost the geographical advantage of Guanzhong, then this world would have become Dou Jiande’s world.”
None of Kou Zhong and the others was not emotionally moved.
Tuli laughed and said, “Shouldn’t Ziling say Li Shimin and Kou Zhong? Aren’t you afraid of hurting Shao Shuai’s feeling?”
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling replied, “Because I understand Kou Zhong. Due to our relationship with Liu Heita, it would be very difficult for him to face Dou Jiande as enemies.”
Fu Qian vigorously slapped Kou Zhong’s shoulder; raising his thumb, he said, “Just by listening to Ling Shao’s remark, I know that Shao Shuai is a good man who values friendship.”
Xing Mofei could not help asking, “Actually, what kind of man is Dou Jiande himself that unexpectedly he could make Ling Ye think so highly of him?”
Xu Ziling replied with serious expression, “This man has rigorous schemes and deep foresight [idiom: astute and circumspect], but he is also amiable and approachable; similar to Xiao Xian. He is open-minded and magnanimous, an expert in appointing people according to their abilities just like Li Shimin. He is matchlessly heroic and imposing, disregarding success or failure like Du Fuwei. If he mingled in Jianghu, he would certainly become a chivalrous hero who uphold justice, and would win people’s admiration.”
Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said with a sigh, “No wonder Liu Dage is willing to throw his life in for him.”
Fu Qian also sighed and said, “Currently, on the area north of the Yellow River, it’s probably right to call Dou Jiande as the number one. Meng Haigong of Caozhou and Li Wenxiang who occupies Mengjin illegally have been annihilated by him one after another. Xu Yuanlang of Chengren had also surrendered to him. Moreover, there are Yu Shinan, Ouyang Xun, Liu Bin, and the other experts on strategy establishing feudal official and building royal court for him. Under his command the soldiers are elite, the generals are good. The number of his troops reaches two hundred thousand. He really has the strength to have direct confrontation against the House of Tang. If he formed alliance with Wang Shichong, plus he received Shao Shuai and Ziling’s help, to whom the world will belong to, who could guess?”
Nodding his head, Tuli said, “Apart from Shao Shuai, the one Qin Wang is most afraid of is him, and not Wang Shichong at all.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “But nowadays Du Fuwei has already surrendered to Li kid, Shimin, which gives him the advantageous position in attacking Luoyang. Otherwise, even if Li kid had guts as high as the heaven, he would not dare to go to the west to attack the Eastern Capital Luoyang, which has the world’s most powerful defense.”
Five men, as if they agreed by chance, turned their gaze outside the window, to the blowing-snow-covering-the-sky Luoyang, each one had his own thought.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Fu Qian said, “Speaking about war and surrender, Du Fuwei’s Jianghuai elite squad is unrivalled; could it be that his surrender is just a delaying tactic?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “I also hoped that Old Du and Li kid are only playing a surrendering game, but I hate to say that the actual truth is this way. Perhaps Du Fuwei is not a benevolent person, but he is a man who finishes what he started, an ambitious and ruthless hegemon who would do what he said he would do.”
This moment the carriage reached the pier. Three warships were already waiting respectfully for the five men’s arrival. Qin Shubao and Cheng Yaojin personally opened the door to welcome the five men stepping down the horse drawn carriage. Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu, two brothers, were seeing them off on behalf of Wang Shichong. But they did not see Yang Gongqing and Zhang Zhenzhou.
After exchanging some pleasantries, they were about to climb aboard when they heard the sound of hoof beats as three riders, braving the snowstorm, were rushing over.
Everybody was focusing their attention to look. The rider in the middle was surprisingly the Great Tang Princess Li Xiuning. The two on her left and right were Li Jing and Hong Funu, husband and wife.
Kou Zhong was pleasantly surprised; he was the first to step forward to welcome them.
 Wan Yaonu, the original text is É (莪); I took the liberty of changing it to ‘Wan’; just so you, the readers, are aware that Huang Yi might have talked about different person.
 Yu Shi’nan (558-638), politician of Sui and early Tang periods, poet and calligrapher, one of Four Great Calligraphers of early Tang.
 Ouyang Xun (557-641), one of Four Great Calligraphers of early Tang.