Book 30 Chapter 8 – Counterattack
Xu Ziling, Chen Liang, and Liang Juzhong, three men followed behind the Seventh Young Master Bu Ting and Tian Santang to the deck. The fleet has grown from six to nine cargo ships. The newly added three ships were under Bu Ting’s command, which had just arrived. The whole fleet was brightly lit, with guards densely covered the decks; apparently they were afraid the enemy would launch sneak attack.
This shipment was a matter of great importance, involving the rise and fall of Xing Chang Long.
The addition of Xu Ziling has prompted Tian Santang to decide to have all the cargo ships together, so that the stockpile of salt could be transported to Chang’an at the same time. If the entire fleet was wiped out, the blow that Xing Chang Long suffer would be extremely grave.
Bu Ting’s eyes were fixed on the flickering lights from Xiancheng [county] that was hidden beyond the forest, he spoke heavily, “Although I invited Da Shixiong [first martial (older) brother], in the end, the negotiation with Jingzhao Lian failed. Yang WenGan publicly announced that he wouldn’t let our fleet enter the Pass safely.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling was shaken; only then did he understand that Guang Sheng Xing’s backing was unexpectedly the biggest gang in Guanzhong, the Jingzhao Lian; no wonder they did not have any regard on Guanzhong Jian Pai.
Behind all these must be the struggle between Li Jiancheng’s Crown Prince faction and Li Shimin’s King of Qin faction, which continued to expand to so many different levels.
And Xing Chang Long was obviously at a disadvantage.
“It’s really strange!” Tian Santang said, “If they wanted to make their move, tonight will be their only chance. But according to report, there’s no unusual activity in Xiancheng. I wonder what Jingzhao Lian’s plan is.”
Bu Ting nodded his agreement, because tomorrow the fleet might reach the Pass. Once they were in Guanzhong, even if Jingzhao Lian did not have any scruples in running amuck, they would not dare to openly attack the fleet that was honored by the House of Tang to supply salt for them; otherwise, the King of Qin Mansion would definitely get involved to investigate. If that happened, even the Crown Prince Li Jiancheng would be helpless to protect Yang WenGan.
Chen Liang said, “Jingzhao Lian’s Er Longtou [second big boss] Li Xiong is proficient in naval warfare; could he be intercepting us on the river?”
Tian Santang replied heavily, “We are hoping that they would do just that. Because we have adequate preparation, plus the river is wide, so that even in desperate battle, our loss would not be that much.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling agreed. He had quite an understanding of naval warfare. Not only this fleet of Xing Chang Long had good performance, they had adequate protection against fire, plus their offensive and defensive equipment was faultless. The most important thing was that all the ships had old hands with ample experience at the helms. But it was precisely because of this that Xing Chang Long’s strength was incurring Li Jiancheng’s side’s jealousy.
Bu Ting resolutely said, “The enemy will certainly not miss tonight’s opportunity. We have to be prepared for a hard battle ahead.”
Suddenly Xu Ziling’s heart was moved; he cast a glance toward Liang Juzhong, who, just like him, was listening silently without saying anything. He caught a grim smile escaping from the corner of the latter’s mouth, which quickly disappeared and he returned to his wooden expression.
Tian Santang suddenly asked, “Liang Laoshi [teacher] and Mo Laoxiong, what do you think?”
Liang Juzhong replied in heavy voice, “Qi Shaoye [Seventh Young Master] and Tian Ye, please don’t worry. If anybody dares to assault the fleet, my brothers and I will definitely make them able to come but unable to leave.”
Bu Ting said, “We must never be overconfident; dare I ask Mo Laoshi what you think?”
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, “If we remain in passive situation just like right now, tonight we will definitely end up in total defeat of an army [idiom: complete wipeout].”
Hearing that, everybody was stunned.
With voice brimming with ridicule, Liang Juzhong said, “Before grasping the entire situation, Mo Xiong must never speak frightening words to scare people and rattle the men’s hearts [idiom].”
Turning around to face Xu Ziling, Bu Ting said, “What is the reason behind Mo Laoshi’s judgement?”
Xu Ziling calmly said, “If I were Jingzhao Lian’s Yang WenGan, tonight I will launch all-out attack to the fleet from the water and land, two routes, with the battle outcome of completely killing the people, seizing the goods, and snatching the ships in one move. Naturally it would far surpass only using naval battle, which would end up in hard-to-avoid damage on both sides.”
Emotionally moved, Tian Santang said, “Mo Laoxiong is indeed insightful. But I wonder how we are going to flip the passive situation into active?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “First of all, we must catch the spy within us, so that the enemy will lose the advantage of coordinating outside and inside offensives.”
Bu Ting and Tian Santang looked at each other in shock. But Liang Juzhong revealed an uneasy look.
Exhaling a mouthful of cold air, Chen Liang said, “What’s the basis of Mo Xiong’s conjecture that we have the enemy’s spy within our rank?”
Xu Ziling calmly gave his analysis, “Simply because it’s natural. Jingzhao Lian is the biggest gang in Guanzhong, plus they have the Crown Prince faction’s support behind their back. Guang Sheng Xing is just like our Xing Chang Long, rich, powerful, and have great influence. Three sides added together, the result is both terrifying and tempting. On top of that, it is human nature to look up; shameless and forgetting-justice disciples would surely unable to resist threats and promises. It will be a marvel indeed if they don’t grow different heart [i.e. disloyalty].”
Finally Liang Juzhong lost his temper; he angrily said, “Mo Wei, you must have ulterior motive; in this critical moment you still want to destroy our unity?”
Xu Ziling snickered inwardly; compared to his adversaries such as Yang Xuyan or Wanwan, this Liang Juzhong was indeed too far below. Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, he laughed and said, “If this is called having an ulterior motive, how about Liang Xiong just now inciting Hu Hai to grasp my foundation? Aren’t you afraid you might destroy our unity?”
The other three men’s gaze fell on Liang Juzhong.
His countenance changed, Liang Juzhong said, “I am not a spy.”
Chen Liang has always been resentful of Liang Juzhong’s imperious and cliquey style; letting out a ‘hey, hey’ laugh, he said, “Mo Xiong did not say that you are a spy; he simply asked why you wanted to grasp his foundation!”
Like a thief lacking in confidence, Liang Juzhong retreated one step back, and spoke sternly, “Chen Liang, is it because you want my position that you join hands with a newcomer to slander me?”
When he turned to look at Xu Ziling, he saw that Xu Ziling was looking at him with lightning in his eyes; immediately he took another step back, moving closer to the ship railing.
Bu Ting said, “Liang Laoshi, please don’t get angry; if you are looking into your heart and find no shame, why don’t you just answer that simple question?”
Liang Juzhong fiercely said, “Now even Qi Shaoye doesn’t trust me; why would I, Liang Juzhong, want to stay here? From this moment on, I sever all relationship with Xing Chang Long.”
When speaking the last sentence, he rose up to leap.
“Stop him!” Tian Santang shouted.
Bu Ting had just pulled his sword out of its sheathe, like lightning Xu Ziling already rushed forward. Starting later but arriving earlier, he left the ship and caught up with Liang Juzhong, who was soaring up into the air.
The two used speed to defeat speed in the air.
Liang Juzhong could not be considered weak either. He successively blocked Xu Ziling’s one punch and three finger stabs before Xu Ziling sealed the vital acupoint on his flank with the tip of his foot. Grabbing his belt, Xu Ziling leaped back from the shore onto the ship deck. Tossing Liang Juzhong in front of the cabin door, he said, “If we could force the names of his accomplices and the enemy’s plan from his mouth, we will seize total victory tonight.”
With the sound of gong, all the lights were suddenly extinguished. Nine ships raised their sail and turned their rudder to speed along; instead of going against the stream to the west, unexpectedly they sailed with the stream to the east.
This was the marvelous tactic of ‘sudden change’. Immediately the four enemy’s warships lying in ambush on the shore and on the upper reaches were thrown into confusion and momentarily were unable to respond.
Under heavy torture, Liang Juzhong not only supplied the names of his three accomplices, which included Hu Hai, he also revealed Jingzhao Lian and Guang Sheng Xing’s joint-attack grand plan. From this intelligence, Xu Ziling drafted a counterattack plan accordingly.
“They are coming!” Chen Liang called out.
Xu Ziling remained cool-headed. He calmly monitored the four enemy warships pursuing them from behind, while none of the other men did not show tensed expression.
Just by looking at the speed of the enemy’s ships, they knew that the opponent did not carry any load; the hull was riding high above the water, they would be able to catch up very quickly.
Bu Ting said, “That one on the outside gap to the left ought to be Jingzhao Lian’s Fu Lianzhu [vice alliance master] Li Xiong’s personal ship. This man is most pompous, whether riding a carriage or a boat, he always hangs his big distinguishing banner with a picture of spirited tortoise on it.”
Remaining calm and collected, Xu Ziling said, “It’s time!”
Tian Santang issued his order. Nine sailboats separated into three groups; two groups only had two ships each, sailing close to the shore, while the remaining five ships maintained their original course of sailing toward the lower reaches of the river.
The opponent’s warships immediately sounded the bugle horn. They could faintly see the enemy rushing about all over the deck in frenzy. Xu Ziling mused that if the situation were reversed, he would not know how to deal with this sudden change either.
Speaking about the art of war, Li Xiong basically should not be chasing after them. His mistake was that he underestimated Xing Chang Long; moreover, he still thought that he had someone on the inside providing him support, to such an extent that he thought the enemy was falling into the currently passive situation.
However, the fact was that it was his ships that could not even turn around and withdraw. By this time the large number of Jingzhao Lian and Guang Sheng Xing’s coalition forces attacking from the land had already been thrown off far behind, so that they were like in an empty arrangement; their navy, consisting of the remaining four warships, on the rapid stream and being blown by the northern winter wind, would enter the heavy siege in an instant. Their comparatively higher speed became the reason of their defeat instead.
The gong on Xing Chang Long’s ship was struck again; the four ships sailing close to the shore released flaming arrows and shooting rocks toward the side of two enemy ships on the outside gap, while the five ships speeding forward also started their assault. They shot arrows and launched rocks from the stern. The counterattack toward the enemy was carried out mercilessly.
The enemy’s four ships were under Li Xiong’s personal command; the trebuchets were setup in such a way that their firing direction was toward the target in front of the ship, so that momentarily they were unable to respond to the attack from the side. On top of that, on Xing Chang Long’s side, two ships were focusing on assaulting one enemy ship, so that this side was diminishing, the other side was growing; as a result, he was stuck in the receiving-the-beating-without-able-to-retaliate situation.
Flaming arrows and shooting rocks were coming toward the ships like rain; immediately hundreds of holes and thousands of cuts appeared on the hull. Wood splinters were splashing in all directions, tongues of flame were rising up everywhere, completely paralyzing their ability to fight back.
In great delight, Bu Ting cried out, “After them!”
Battle drums shook the heavens; from sailing close to the shore, the Xing Chang Long’s four ships changed course toward the middle of the river. This moment they have changed from being downstream of the enemy’s ships to upstream, so that they were in position to attack the enemy’s tail, catching the enemy in the inferior position of being under attack from the front and back.
The fiery arrows were the first to display their might, particularly the arrows being shot from the two ships starting out of the north bank, where they had the advantage of the tail wind; as the arrows were flying toward the enemy, the flaming arrows drew streaks of beautiful yellow arc throwing itself onto the enemy’s ship. In the blink of an eye, all four enemy ships were completely engulfed in flames without the slightest ability to strike back.
Just like Xu Ziling predicted, Xing Chang Long seized total victory.
Compared to Xu Ziling’s guts, intelligence, and combat experience, naturally Li Xiong was far behind; from beginning to the end, he was practically being led by the nose by Xu Ziling.
Seeing the enemy jumping into the river to save their lives, the morale of the men from Xing Chang Long’s side soared like the rainbow; their arrows changed direction toward the river, shooting the enemies who were bobbing up and down on the water. The surface of the water, which was already dyed red by the light of the flame, was turning even darker red from the blood.
Ahead, all the five ships turned around to join the pursue-and-attack operation already in progress. Although they also suffered damage, but it was fairly insignificant.
Standing on the bow, Xu Ziling secretly pondered about him showing off his ability to help Xing Chang Long to defeat Jingzhao Lian and Guang Sheng Xing’s coalition forces; what would be the consequences that he brought for himself?
With the Old Madame’s personal maid Bao’er leading the way, Kou Zhong came to the Old Master Sha’s cabin to administer the second round of treatment.
Other than the Old Madame and Bao’er, there was also Sha Zhijing inside the cabin. This noble woman handed over a rectangular case made of copper; on the exterior the lines were simple and unadorned. She said, “This box contains various kinds of moxibustion needles that Mister requested.”
Receiving the copper case, Kou Zhong sat on the chair that was especially set up for him next to the couch. Seeing the Old Master has returned to his previously declining-vitality, listless, sickly countenance, inwardly he was apprehensive.
The Old Madame anxiously asked, “When I woke up this morning, Laoye’s spirit seems to be a lot worse; what happened?”
Under Sha Zhijing’s beautiful eyes’ luminous gaze, how could Kou Zhong dare to discuss the patient’s condition? He said, “Lao Furen, please don’t worry. My One Finger Zen only treated the symptom; it did not have the power to get to the root. But my Jinzhen Dafa [great method of golden needle] will definitely eradicate Da Laoye’s stubborn disease. I just have one request.”
The Old Madame said, “Mo Daifu [doctor/physician], please speak up. I don’t care how much, we will definitely pay you.”
Kou Zhong secretly mused that if he failed to find the Duke Yang’s Treasure, he might change profession to become a divine doctor to help the world, simply because it was a lot more lucrative than opening up a restaurant.
However, his mouth responded, “Furen misunderstood! Biren only wishes to be alone in this room, because my Jinzhen Dafa absolutely must not commit the slightest mistake; therefore, the biggest taboo is to have other people nearby disturbing my concentration. Hey! Wu Xiaojie ought to understand it best?”
The Old Madame nodded, indicating that she understood. Pulling the absolutely-unwilling Sha Zhijing, she and Bao’er went to wait in the outer hall, which was separated from the inner hall only by a hanging curtain.
Kou Zhong heaved a sigh of relief. Opening up the copper case that he laid across his knees, he saw nine kinds of moxibustion needles arranged in a row. There were some with big head and sharp tip, there were some with egg-shaped tip; all kinds of shapes, none lacking, all were available. Using the martial art principle, he quickly determined that if he transmitted the true qi by means of golden needle, combined with different depth and position, he ought to obtain different efficacy.
Rejoicing secretly, he thought that relying on his healing sacred qi plus these nine divine needles, he would be like a tiger that has grown wings. Immediately his confidence doubled.
After thinking hard all night long last night, he already drawn up a strategy to treat this senior’s illness. Immediately he started working and was busy endlessly.
One sichen for Kou Zhong was like a snap of the fingers. But for the Old Madame and Sha Zhijing, it felt like a long year. Therefore, when Kou Zhong called them to enter the room, the two women anxiously scrambled in. They saw Kou Zhong, immensely proud of himself – was standing upright and unafraid by the couch.
Lying on the bed, not only Old Master Sha’s countenance looked much better, he was sleeping soundly, while continuously snoring evenly. Anyone who was not blind could see that he has had great improvement.
While admittedly Old Madame was overwhelmed with thousands grace and ten thousand gratitude, Sha Zhijing was amazed as well. Her pair of beautiful eyes grew big, she was pleased beyond expectation.
Kou Zhong returned the copper case to the beauty’s hands; he smiled and said, “Next time I need it, I will borrow it from Wu Xiaojie again!”
Finished speaking, he lifted up the curtain and walked out; his voice came from the outside, “I want to go back to my room to sleep; wake me up only for dinner!”
The fleet sailed upstream to the west, heading straight toward Guanzhong.
The euphoria of victory was still shrouding the entire fleet. Although they did not sleep all night, everybody was in high spirit; they were still talking about the battle last night.
Bu Ting invited Xu Ziling, this minister who rendered great merit – into his room. He spoke a few grateful words first before turning to the point, “In last night’s battle, both Jingzhao Lian and Guang Sheng Xing suffered disastrous damage. In the short term, I don’t think they can recover their vitality to give us trouble again.”
Xu Ziling said, “But this will incur Yang WenGan’s jealousy even more. For the sake of Jingzhao Lian’s face, he might retaliate.”
Letting out a cold humph, Bu Ting said, “He wants to shake us? It’s not going to be that easy. His Jingzhao Lian is not to be trifled with, but could it be that our Guanzhong Jian Pai is easy to deal with? My Da Shixiong Duan Zhixuan is even a Heavenly Policy Mansion’s fierce general. For the past many years he went through fire and water together with Qin Wang; the relationship between them is deep. Speaking about those outside the Pass, who would not look at Qin Wang’s face? Who does he, Li Jiancheng, think he is? I am not afraid of him.”
And then he cheerfully said, “Besides, we now have Mo Xiong joining our ranks, we won’t be afraid to have frontal confrontation against Guang Zheng Xing even more. I have just discussed it with San Jiefu [third older sister’s husband], we decided to give Mo Xiong fifty taels of gold first, and then each month we pay you five taels of gold. When we close the account at the end of the year, if we are doing good, there will be bonus. If Mo Xiong is still unsatisfied, please feel free to tell us your terms, we definitely will not take offense.”
Naturally Xu Ziling did not dare to decline in order to avoid revealing the truth that he was not looking for wealth; acting grateful, he repeatedly expressed his thanks.
Bu Ting said, “Since Liang Juzhong is gone, his Chief of Warriors position can be taken over by Mo Xiong.”
Xu Ziling sincerely said, “We must never do that. Speaking about seniority and prestige, Chen Liang Xiong should fill the vacancy. Mo Wei will certainly make an all-out effort to help him doing his job. Qi Shaoye, please consider carefully.”
Amazed, Bu Ting said, “It’s rare that Mo Xiong declines modestly like this; rendering merit yet not arrogant. What you said is not without reason. For the time being, let’s do it according to your suggestion!”
Xu Ziling had a brainwave; he said, “If I am guessing correctly, our struggle against Jingzhao Lian already shifted from outside the Pass into Guanzhong; this is also representative of Qin Wang Mansion and Crown Prince faction’s fighting openly and maneuvering covertly. If Qi Shaoye does not have any objection, I wish to stay in Guanzhong to look after our Xing Chang Long’s business, also to deal with the enemy.”
Bu Ting was emotionally moved; he said, “Mo Xiong indeed has penetrating insight. San Jiefu and I also have similar worry. Fortunately our business is wholesale. As long as we can maintain our Chang’an head office and several large warehouses, we can operate business as usual. San Jiefu and I might also stay in Chang’an for a period of time, even if Mo Xiong did not want to accompany us, you simply have to.”
Xu Ziling heaved a sigh of relief inwardly. This cover was not only important, it could also secretly help Li Shimin, who, in the end, could be considered a friend, so what more could he ask?
Outside the window, the river was surging, but his mind already flew into Chang’an city.