Book 34 Chapter 2 – Sticking Willow In Unintentionally
Using the method that they agreed on to contact each other, Xu Ziling went to see Li Jing in a small house at the southern part of the city. The latter slapped his forehead and said, “Is there any other substitute of yours that I do not know of?”
Xu Ziling replied, “That was Hou Xibai in disguise; otherwise, how could we conceal it from Qin Wang? Anyway, what’s past is past, I am asking Li Dage to apologize to Qin Wang on our behalf.”
The two sat down in a deserted small hall.
Li Jing sighed and said, “Your disguise was all right, why suddenly leave a letter and run away? You implicated Qin Wang so that he had to brace himself and rush to report this matter to Huangshang. Surprisingly Huangshang did not use this matter to lay the blame on Qin Wang.”
Xu Ziling said, “Mo Wei simply had to disappear; the reason behind it is unusually complicated, plus we can get rid of one flaw that others could use against us.”
And then he brought up Yun Shuai’s request to meet Li Shimin, as well as explaining to him the whole sequence of the events.
Finished listening, Li Jing was greatly delighted. He said, “We have been trying to pull the Western Tujue into an alliance with us to suppress Xieli’s aggressive arrogance. Now that Tuli is standing on our side, if we could also form an alliance with Western Tujue, this time it would be difficult for Xieli to escape calamity!”
Taking out a scroll of map from his bosom, he spread it out on the small table between the two men and said, “Look here! This is the hunting area of the Mount Zhongnan. The day after tomorrow Huangshang, accompanied by Qin Wang and Qi Wang, will go to this mountain area to go hunting. Taizi Dianxia will stay behind in Xianyang to take care of things. We might stay there for seven, eight days.”
Xu Ziling carefully examined the map; he pointed to a place on the map and asked, “What is this place?”
Li Jing praised him, “Ziling is very perceptive. This is the famous Lu Gu [Deer Valley]. Due to the water flowing down from Mount Zhongnan over a long period of time, plus there are high mountains on all sides to block the cold wind, during the winter, animals are using this valley as their hiding place, so it is a good hunting ground. Since ancient time, beginning with Ying Zheng [Qin Shi Huang], emperors are coming to this place for winter hunting.”
Xu Ziling said, “This is also the best place to lay an ambush. If they could seal the mouth of the valley, the inside of the valley will become a completely enclosed battlefield.”
Li Jing nodded and said, “If it were in the height of the summer, as long as they could sever the connection between the inside and the outside of the valley, and then release flaming arrow into the middle of the valley, they could create forest fire. It doesn’t matter how much magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, they could only sit and wait for death. But like right now, everything is covered in deep snow, it would require special firearm to be somewhat useful; or perhaps by splashing kerosene onto the trunk of the trees to burn them. But when the snow catches fire, it will melt and extinguish the fire. Therefore, from the beginning to end, it would not be too effective.”
Xu Ziling said, “Li Dage is absolutely right. Their plan is precisely to use firearms; if they cannot burn the forest, then they could burn the tents and miscellaneous items.”
Li Jing was stunned.
Xu Ziling spoke with confidence, “Burning the forest is twice the effort for half the result, plus the number of firearms is limited, it’s hard to cause great damage. In my opinion, Yang WenGan wants to exploit the terrain inside the valley where all four sides are high mountains, using ruthless firearms that can spray poisonous smoke, poisonous fog, and the like. If there is wind from the above, the poisonous smoke will spread all over the valley; it can kill while cannot be guard against. Even though it might not necessarily be able to kill everybody in the valley, but it could shake the heart of the troops, to create panic, so that they would have a good chance of success.”
Li Jing’s countenance changed, he said, “We haven’t thought about that. This scheme is surely very sinister.”
Xu Ziling asked, “Usually, do you pitch camp inside the valley and spend the night there?”
Li Jing nodded and said, “Huangshang might stay and hunt in the Deer Valley for three consecutive days. For fear that many people would scare the prey in the valley, other than a group of civil and military cabinet ministers, he will be accompanied by only several hundred imperial bodyguards; it is indeed a good opportunity for the enemy to make their move. But we have another elite unit of about two thousand men guarding the mouth of the Deer Valley.”
Letting out a cold snort, Xu Ziling said, “Turns out Yang WenGan wants to kill even Li Yuan. If his strength is in the vicinity of ten thousand men, plus they launch the attack when least expected, and don’t forget that there is a spy by Qin Wang’s side, when the time comes, in the confusion he could use special technique to tell Yang WenGan about Qin Wang’s position, even in the dark of the night, the enemy would know the location of their target.”
Li Jing was puzzled, “Jingzhao Lian’s men and horses have always been under our strict supervision, if they are mobilizing a large number of men, how could they hide it from us?” he asked.
“Have you forgotten Xiang Yushan?” Xu Ziling asked, “The biggest role this man is playing is that the whole nation is full of pleasure houses and casinos that are opened and operated by their Xiang Family. They could secretly transmit order and make arrangement to mobilize a large number of people. Since you guys do not pay him any attention, so much so that previously you did not even know he existed, with his experience and craftiness, surely he could make arrangement in term of manpower, hiding them outside of Chang’an, waiting for the commencement of this operation. It could be considered that they are plotting actively.”
Li Jing slowly exhaled a mouthful of air. Agreeing, he said, “Ziling’s thinking is very thorough. Firearms that can spray poisonous fog not only could attack the troops inside and outside the valley, it could also attack the defenders of the Dong Gong [Winter Palace]. If they launch the attack at night, the formidable power will be even more enormous, so that the entire division of the winter hunting army will be paralyzed, head and tail difficult to attend to. But now that we already know about it in advance, they are doomed to end up suffering a crushing defeat.”
Xu Ziling cautioned him, “This is a rare opportunity, you must by all means not miss it.”
Li Jing said, “Qin Wang thought so too.”
He paused, sighed lightly, and then continued, “You know very well that you two are showing off too much of your ability; to those who have high aims of the throne, people like you guys, if they cannot use you, then they must kill you, or else you would become big misfortune to them in the future.”
Xu Ziling understood Li Jing’s earnest and well-meaning advice, his good intention, but he still felt dissatisfied. Smiling wryly, he said, “Li Dage already warned us!”
Li Jing sadly said, “But I cannot help telling you one more time. Last night Qin Wang returned to the Mansion after the evening feast, he especially summoned Zhangsun Wuji, Yuchi Jingde, and Du Ruhui, three men to meet with him, but he did not include me. You probably can guess what it was about.”
Xu Ziling remembered that after they broke off relations with Li Shimin in Luoyang, Li Shimin colluded with Wang Shichong to put the two of them to death. Nodding his head, he said, “I understand. I just hope that he could stick to his promise to wait until we leave Chang’an before making his move.”
“In this, you may set your heart at ease,” Li Jing guaranteed, “Qin Wang has always been a man whose promise worth a thousand in gold, especially toward the two of you. But because he has deep misgivings toward you, once he is making his move, he will strike with ten-thousand-jun-thunderbolt momentum, so that you guys will never recover. Furthermore, if he wants to kill Xiao Zhong, this is one in a thousand years golden opportunity.”
An incomparably complex emotion welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart. Of course he understood the meaning behind Li Jing’s words.
First of all, after Kou Zhong obtained the treasure, he and Kou Zhong would split up, no longer participate in his great undertaking of striving over the world. Without Xu Ziling, it would be like Kou Zhong losing one arm; his power would be substantially reduced.
Secondly, if Kou Zhong transported the treasure and returned, large quantities of weapons, money and valuables were unlike salt shipment that could be abandoned randomly; it would become the clear target of the enemy’s – those who would do anything to ensure that Kou Zhong would perish together with the treasure – attack.
Thirdly, Guanzhong was Li Shimin’s territory, plus he could guess beforehand the escape route Kou Zhong was going to take, so that no matter what great magical power he had, it would be difficult for him to fly even if he grew wings.
What should Xu Ziling do? Should he change his mind and wait until Kou Zhong was back to Pengcheng before he left?
But after defeating Yang WenGan, Li Shimin might immediately ascend to the Crown Prince throne. At that time he would certainly move his troops on a large-scale attack to the east, and Kou Zhong would become his primary target. Should he remain by this good brother’s side and fight side by side with him?
Thinking to this point, Xu Ziling wanted to speak but he was at a loss for words.
Li Jing spoke in low voice, “Please advise Kou Zhong well! The place that Shao Shuai Army is occupying right now, on the surface it appears prosperous and flourishing, and is having the benefits of river, stream, lake and sea, but it is actually weak and cannot be defended. Once Luoyang falls, Shao Shuai Army will collapse accordingly, definitely without any chance of recovery.”
What else could Xu Ziling say?
Li Jing went on, “As long as we can find out where that batch of firearms is located, we could gain the initiative by striking first, while completely grasp the enemy’s troop disposition at the same time. At that time we could report it to Huangshang, the situation could be completely changed.”
Xu Ziling’s heart was extremely troubled; standing up to say goodbye, he said, “I still have something important to do, we can contact each other any time. About Yun Shuai, I am asking Dage to make the arrangement.”
Li Jing understood what was in his mind; he sent Xu Ziling off the door, and followed him with his eyes until he disappeared into the happy spring snow before he himself rushed back to the Heavenly Policy Mansion.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong slipped back into his room. While he was hesitating whether he ought to find an excuse to go out, Chang He, full of joy, came.
Kou Zhong was an expert in looking at people’s brows, eyes, and forehead; he laughed and said, “Looks like Chang Daren has spring breeze across your whole face, this year good luck will certainly come right at you, with great luck, great profit.”
With a smile on his face, Chang He remained silent. It was quite half a day later that he said, “How could I match your luck at walking straight into the peach blossom [fig. love affair]. The first day of the beginning of Spring, from the main room, you enter the inner chamber [idiom: attaining a higher level] by going to see Shang Dajia [great expert].”
Kou Zhong’s heart was move; he deliberately asked, “What do you mean from the main room, entering the inner chamber? Don’t tell me Shang Xiufang personally told you.”
Chang He laughed and said, “This is called if you don’t want people to know, then don’t do it. The information came from Qi Wang Mansion; they also said that you, Laoxiong, are the first man ever to enter Xiufang Dajia’s fragrant chamber; everybody is extremely jealous of you.”
Kou Zhong asked in surprise, “How come Chang Daren’s mood is this good? You even tease Xiaodi. Besides, unless Qi Wang sent his men to Shang Lin Yuan, how did they find out about this matter?”
Astonished, Chang He said, “Listening to the tone of your voice, it looks like it is true! I thought those men only caught the shadow and captured the sound, and deliberately exaggerate it.”
And then he revealed a suddenly-understanding expression.
Seeing this, Kou Zhong had a faint understanding of what was going on. Toward him, this fake Divine Doctor, Li Yuanji had never been able to dispel his doubts. Thereupon after the affair at the Persian Temple, he sent his men to look for his whereabouts. Fortunately after parting with Yun Shuai, he immediately rushed over to see Shang Xiufang; therefore, he did not expose any flaw. Besides, just at the time of the auspicious day of the beginning of Spring, the previous night everybody was partying until dawn; waking up in the morning, everybody was still in a daze, so that on what time he went and what time he left, there should be nobody paying attention. So the Qi Wang Mansion spies only knew that he went to Shang Lin Yuan, and immediately reported back the completion of their mission. Otherwise, Li Yuanji might come earlier to give him back luck.
Chang He was afraid Kou Zhong might pursue this matter over, he changed the subject by saying, “I really am being promoted!”
Delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Congratulations! Congratulations!”
Fully content with his achievements, Chang He said, “This morning Huangshang announced a series of job promotion and transfer. Xiaodi’s name is on the list. Starting this day, Xiaodi is one of four chief commanders of the Capital. I am becoming a high-ranking military officer close to Huangshang is entirely due to Laoxiong’s favor.”
Declining modestly, Kou Zhong said, “I was just pushing the boat with the current; if Chang Daren were not doted on and trusted by Huangshang already, how could you take this position today?”
Chang He was about to speak, the Second Young Master Sha Chenggong hurriedly rushed over and said, “Mo Xiansheng, it was so hard for me to find you! You are not going out again, are you?”
Kou Zhong hastily said, “I was just going to look for Shaoye, but happened to run into Chang Daren, who is coming to talk to me. I wonder what urgent matter Er Shaoye has?”
Sha Chenggong spoke to Chang He, “Bai Daren of the Ministry of War just arrived; isn’t Jiefu [older sister’s husband] going to greet Bai Daren?”
Chang He was fully aware that Sha Chenggong was trying to get rid of him, yet he was unable to do anything about it, hence he had no choice but to beg for forgiveness and left.
Sha Chenggong sat down and said, “This time Mo Xiansheng simply must do me a favor.”
Holding his temper in check, Kou Zhong said, “Is it about Xi’er?”
“It’s not because of her,” Sha Chenggong replied, “Ay! How should I say it? Ke Dazhi is the Tujue ghost whose stinky name in toying with women has spread far and wide in Chang’an; I heard a woman has committed suicide after being abandoned by him, but Xi’er acted like she did not know anything about it.”
Kou Zhong asked in surprise, “Since there is such thing, Er Shao can tell Xi’er directly, there is no need to ask for my help.”
Sha Chenggong said, “Just now I went to look for Xi’er, she and Qingqing Furen went to the Fo Guang Si [Buddha’s Halo Temple] outside the city to worship, and I must go on a journey immediately, so I have no choice but to ask Xiansheng to warn Xi’er on my behalf.”
Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, “What day is today? Where are you going?”
Sha Chenggong replied, “Die’s order, what can I do? There’s a shipment of goods arriving from Luoyang, I must go to check and receive it.”
“Must be a large quantity of superior quality weaponry; am I right?” Kou Zhong guessed.
Absent-minded, Sha Chenggong replied, “If weaponry, there is no need to transport it separately. Xiansheng must promise me that you will tell Xi’er about Ke Dazhi’s behavior. She respects you so much, she ought to be willing to listen to you.”
Kou Zhong’s heart was moved; he said, “About Xi’er, leave it to me. But what exactly is it that must be transported separately?”
Seeing that he agreed to help, Sha Chenggong was immediately happy, naturally he did not dare to make him, this benefactor, dissatisfied; without concealing anything he said, “Does Xiansheng know that Die is not only an expert in developing weaponry, he is also the most well-known firearm maker in the north. This batch of goods was originally ordered by Wang Shichong, containing bows to shoot fire-pomegranate-arrows, thunderbolt-smoke-balls and divine-fire-flying-crows, three types of formidable firearms. If these weapons are being used to attack the enemy’s camp, more often than not they would have the previously unimagined divine efficacy.”
Kou Zhong’s spirit greatly aroused, he pretended to be highly interested and asked, “These thunderbolt-smoke-balls and divine-fire-flying-raven names certainly sound like astonishing formidable power. What kind of formidable thing are those?”
This time it was Sha Chenggong’s turn to hold his temper in check to satisfy Kou Zhong; he explained, “Thunderbolt-smoke-balls use potassium nitrate, sulfur, wolf poison, arsenic trioxide, and so on, more than a dozen different kinds of chemicals mashed and mixed together and shaped into spheroids. When facing the enemy, we only need to use wood charcoal or branding iron that is already burning red to ignite it, and throw it to the enemy. It will emit a great amount of nitric acid that will burn the enemy’s mouth and nose. Although it will not kill, but to break the city defense or perhaps under the attacking-from-high-looking-down situation, it will bring about a great usefulness.”
After a short pause, he went on, “As for the divine-fire-flying-raven, it is firearm made of bamboo tubes. The outside is firmly wrapped in cotton paper, filled with gunpowder. The front and back, secured onto the head and tail, the paper is shaped into wings like a raven gliding in the air. Slanting on the underneath of the raven’s body are four takeoff rockets. When the rockets are ignited the fiery raven can fly more than a hundred zhang, and when it reaches the target the gunpowder inside the raven explodes. This is the optimum firearm to attack the enemy’s camp, and it is not easy to defend against.”
Kou Zhong praised, “Turns out Er Shao is an expert in firearm trade. Such a formidable stuff, is it to be given to Jiancheng Taizi?”
Sha Chenggong said, “Whether it will be sold or given, Die has not made up his mind. This matter must not be revealed to anybody else. It is because you are my best friend that I am telling you this. Our Sha Family have a strict security method regarding transporting and storing weaponry that cannot be divulged to outsiders. But Xiansheng naturally cannot be considered an outsider.”
Kou Zhong was very pleased with this unexpected gain; patting his shoulder, he said, “Er Shao, don’t worry; if you can’t trust me, who can you trust?”
He finally guessed that the person that Yang WenGan’s woman, Madame Hong was asking Xu Ziling to deal with was precisely the First Young Master Sha Chengjiu. But there was still one thing he did not understand, because even if the Sha Family lose big on the gambling table, based on the Sha Family’s financial ability, they were always able to pay, there was no need to compensate with firearms. Not only that, other than being good on the gambling table, Sha Chengjiu was known to be stable and self-sustaining. Logically he ought to know that entrusting such a batch of firearm to gangs and societies figure might result in serious consequences. If he owed money, he ought to pay with money; there was no reason to pay his debt with firearms.
But supposing Madame Hong had this scheme in mind, she must have had her own wishful thinking.
Sha Chenggong’s voice entered his ears, “Ke Dazhi’s bad deeds, I have already investigated clearly. Now I am going to tell Xiansheng some of those, so that Xiansheng could pass it on to Xi’er.”
Kou Zhong’s mind already flew someplace else, Sha Chenggong’s words became the wind past his ears; he let it blew and considered it done.
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling’s Yong Qin was outside Ming Tang Wo. The line of people waiting to enter the casino was finally gone, but people were still coming and going through the main gate, which was bustling with noise and excitement like the village market.
Entering the gambling hall, he saw the clamor of the impenetrable crowd surrounding the gambling tables was still shaking the heavens; some were shouting in jubilation, some were sighing in remorse. All kinds of human emotions were represented here.
In this place where the prosperous people gathered, Xu Ziling suddenly felt some kind of false sense of security.
As he bade farewell to Li Jing a moment ago, along the way to Bei Li [northern neighborhood/district], he ran into a lot of Wulin characters. Although they did not particularly pay him any attention, but he had some lacking-in-confidence feeling, something absolutely unpleasant.
Today, because the number of people walking on the streets was several times more than usual, as well as there were a lot of out-of-towners coming into the city to enjoy the festivities, he was not too conspicuous. After these festive days were over, it would be strange indeed if walking along the street, he did not attract suspicions. Therefore, if within these next two, three days they still could not find the Duke Yang’s Treasure, he had no choice but to advise Kou Zhong to give up and leave.
As soon as he stepped into the Tian Huang Hall, a man, who looked like he belonged to a gang or a society, came up to meet him, “Yong Ye, please come this way. Xiaoren is called Li Zhen.”
Xu Ziling followed him out of the Tian Huang Hall. He thought they were going to another VIP hall, who would have thought that Li Zhen actually took him toward the main gate.
Xu Ziling asked in surprise, “Li Xiong, where are you taking Xiaodi?”
Li Zhen replied, “Today the casino has many people and various ears. Hong Furen instructed Xiaoren to take Yong Ye to see her. Yong Ye, please don’t worry.”
An ominous feeling welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart.
Based on Madame Hong’s face, if she was afraid of many people and various ears, she could have seen him inside one of the VIP lounges of the Daxian Hall; why did she take this much trouble?
What should he do? If he adamantly refused, it really did not make any sense, unless he himself was harboring ulterior motives. And then it would increase the suspicions of the people on Yang WenGan’s side, which, in turn, would drive them to try to investigate his real identity by all means, and then it would be even more difficult for him to hide and mingle.
Conversely, if he could really pass this hurdle, as Yong Qin he would no longer need to be very scared and on edge, afraid that his identity would be uncovered.
According to reason, Yang WenGan’s side only had slight suspicions on him, because everybody’s guess was that to him and Kou Zhong, gambling had never entered a single aperture on their heads.
However, because he and Kou Zhong helped Hou Xibai stealing the other half of ‘Immortal Image Scroll’ from Yang Xuyan, and then also this morning Kou Zhong has had confrontation with Ke Dazhi and his men, Yang WenGan became overly fearful [orig. seeing a bow reflected in a cup as a snake], and thus wanted to verify the real identity of every ‘suspect’. Thinking to this point, he began to relax.
Li Zhen took Xu Ziling to a carriage waiting in the public square at the front courtyard, and respectfully said, “Yong Ye, please board the carriage.”
Xu Ziling steeled his heart and boarded the carriage.
The man driving the carriage waited until Li Zhen boarded the carriage with him before lashing out his whip to get the carriage out of the main gate.
The crack of the whip, together with the sound of children cheering on the street, as if they were cheering for the carriage to start its journey, reminded Xu Ziling that today was the day of great happiness, the Beginning of Spring Holiday.
Xu Ziling looked out the window at the clamorous crowd on the street, inwardly he mused that he and Kou Zhong have made a great sacrifice for Hou Xibai, but the sacrifice was totally worth it.