Book 37 Chapter 2 – The Way To Live Or Die
Wang Shichong shouted, “Wang’er [king son], don’t talk nonsense.”
Wang Xuanying stood up suddenly. Glowering at Kou Zhong on the other side, he pointed his fingers at him and said, “A real man dares to admit what he dares to do. Kou Zhong, when you were in Chang’an, did you, with Li Jing threading the needle, already surrender to Li Shimin?”
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong still acted leisurely and comfortable; he smiled and said, “There’s no need for Taizi [crown prince] to get this angry. A rumor of such great importance, this is the first time that Xiaodi hears it; I wonder if the information originates from the report of our Luoyang great beauty Rong Jiaojiao’s spy?”
Apparently Kou Zhong had hit the nail on the head; Wang Xuanying’s in-the-right-and-self-confidence momentum immediately took a beating. But showing strength while weak inside, he still pushed on, “Where the information came from, no need for you to care; do you dare to answer my question?”
In the palace hall, the crow and peacock made no sound.
Kou Zhong was still taking things less seriously; he laughed heartily and said, “What kind of man I, Kou Zhong, am? Any public opinion in the world, if others don’t understand, it’s pointless for me to waste my breath.”
Zhang Zhenzhou spoke heavily, “I am afraid Taizi misunderstood. Shaoshuai is definitely not that kind of person.”
Seeing Wang Shichong did not say anything, Wang Xuanying’s guts grew; he angrily said, “If it were real misunderstanding, why did he advocate strongly that we shouldn’t use troops against Li Shimin?”
Kou Zhong mused inwardly that probably it was not a good idea to argue and push Wang Xuanying too hard; seizing this opportunity to let him step down, he slapped his forehead and said, “Turns out Taizi misunderstood Xiaodi because of that. Taizi, please sit down, listen to Xiaodi’s explanation.”
Wang Shichong nodded to Wang Xuanying. Although Wang Xuanying was deeply dissatisfied, he did not have any choice but to sit down to listen to what Kou Zhong had to say.
Everybody’s eyes were fixed on Kou Zhong. Kou Zhong spoke seriously, “I am the kind of person who loves to place myself in how others would think. If I were Li Shimin, under current circumstances, I would definitely not want to start an all-around war against Shengshang, because I must preserve some of my strength to deal with Song JinGang, whose momentum is pressing.”
Astounded, Wang Shichong said, “Since that’s the case, why did Li Shimin station his troops outside the Pass? Could it be only to control us, to make us unable to be involved in Li Shiji’s operation?”
Kou Zhong said, “That is one of the reasons. The other reason is to sound out Shengshang’s intention. If I am guessing correctly, Li Yuan absolutely does not want to use force against Luoyang at the moment; he is hoping to delay this matter for at least ten months.”
Everybody was stunned. They did not understand how he could determine the ten-month time limit. Even Yang Gongqing could not help asking, “How did Shaoshuai come to this conclusion?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “The reason is very simple; all because Dong Guifei is pregnant with Li Yuan’s flesh and blood. If the Tang and the Zheng start a war, Dong Guifei might be frightened and panic, and hurt the fetus. Based on Li Yuan’s character, he certainly would not want this to happen.”
The crowd suddenly understood, but they still felt it was hard to believe.
Still puzzled, Wang Honglie asked, “Didn’t Shaoshuai say that the Tang Army is coming to attack Luoyang? But now you said this; aren’t you contradicting yourself?”
“The attack on Luoyang is imperative,” Kou Zhong replied, “But there are differences in the order, which one is first, which one is second. Just by looking at how the Tang Army is divided into two prongs, one to resist Song JinGang, one to attack Yuwen Huaji, while Li Shimin stays behind to take care of things, it is evident that Li Shimin’s strategy is to consolidate the northern bank of the Yellow River first, and only then will he conspire for the official road of the Luo Pass. If the official road fell into Li Shimin’s hands, the Tang Army would be able to arrive secretly via the water and the land, two routes. They would nibble away at the cities surrounding Luoyang first, and then only after they succeeded in cutting off the route of foodstuff supply, they would besiege Luoyang directly.”
Wang Xuanying argued with the courage of his convictions, “Since that’s the case, are you saying we’d still sit and wait for death, letting Li Shimin baring his fangs and brandishing his claws, showing off his military strength?”
Remaining calm, Kou Zhong said, “If we sent troops to attack Tang at this time, we would be only doing Li Shimin a big favor for nothing; he would simply ignore Li Yuan’s decree, and Li Yuan would also have to explain to Shuni Xiaojie. When the time comes, Li Shimin only need to move his main forces across the Yellow River; would Taizi dare to cross the River to pursue and attack?”
Wang Xuanying was at a loss for words.
Although they have gained several strongholds on the north bank of the Yellow River, but all were located north or Luoyang, plus Li Shiji’s army was pinning them down that they were unable to budge. If they transferred their main force to attack Chousang, potentially it would be difficult for the head and the tail to look after each other; perhaps the strongholds on the north bank would be lost as well, while the other side would only pounce on empty air. Of course it was definitely not a good idea.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Wang Shichong said, “So Shaoshuai think we ought to hold back our troops without moving, quietly watch for the changes?”
Kou Zhong said, “In the Zheng-Tang war, Shengshang actually holds the utmost advantage of occupying the favorable location. If you could unify the people, so that from top to bottom everybody is of one heart, when Li Shimin is weary from the long war, very likely he would repeat Li Mi’s mistake. It is also advisable for Shengshang to form alliance with Dou Jiande; together you fight the Tang Army. This way it will even be more foolproof.”
This could be considered Kou Zhong’s last meaningful and heartfelt words toward Wang Shichong, warning him and reminding him, pointing out his biggest weak point.
Zhang Zhenzhou and the other high-ranking military officers with other surnames, none did not praise inwardly, but they did not dare to reveal it outwardly.
Wang Shichong nodded and said, “The alliance with Dou Jiande is absolutely necessary. One time he personally came to Luoyang to have discussion with Zhen [I, imperial use] for one night, but because of some differences in interest, from beginning to end we did not reach any agreement.”
Astonished, Kou Zhong asked, “Disagreement?”
A bit embarrassed, Wang Shichong cleared his throat and said, “From the time Xu Yuanlang surrendered to Dou Jiande, the Xia Army’s power reaches Tongji, so that we have had several conflicts with Xu Shiji and Dou Jiande, west of Yingyang, which was very unpleasant.”
Even though he mentioned it without elaborating, Kou Zhong faintly guessed that perhaps this matter had something to do with him, because from Tongji Canal going down south was precisely Liangdu, which was Kou Zhong’s territory.
Due to his relationship with Liu Heita, Dou Jiande had already regarded Kou Zhong to be on the same side. Perhaps Wang Shichong was conspiring against his Shao Shuai Army, but Dou Jiande opposed him, hence the Xia-Zheng alliance talk could not reach any agreement. But naturally he could not uncover this point.
He proposed, “Leave this matter to me. As long as Shengshang agrees, I can go to Leshou to talk with Dou Jiande, to layout the pros and cons to him; I guarantee he will be willing to fight the Tang Army together with you.”
This proposal squarely hit the content of Wang Shichong’s heart.
It should be noted that after Kou Zhong dealt the big blow to Li Mi, he already established sublime prestige and status within the Zheng Army; therefore, when later on Wang Shichong joined hands with Li Shimin to deal with him and Xu Ziling, he incited intense discontent within the army.
With Wang Shichong’s everything-for-self-and-selfish-profit character, it was only natural for him to be afraid that Kou Zhong might join hands with the high-ranking military officers of other surnames to usurp him. Therefore, Kou Zhong willing to leave Luoyang was really something that Wang Shichong sought, but failed to get. Laughing aloud, he said, “As long as Shaoshuai can persuade Dou Jiande, why should we fear the Tang Army?”
Kou Zhong accompanied him in laughter, but inwardly he thought that before either Li Shiji or Dou Jiande transformed Yuwen Huaji’s bones [huagu, play on words, remember the boys used to call Yuwen Huaji Yuwen Huagu], he and Xu Ziling must grab the opportunity to take revenge for their Niang.
※ ※ ※
Under Yang Gongqing’s arrangement, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling met at Chenliu. Coming with Xu Ziling were Xu Xingzhi, Xuanyong, and Bu Tianzhi, three men. They held a meeting on board the ship moored at the dock.
After explaining the situation of the north, Kou Zhong asked, “How’s the situation on the south?”
Xu Xingzhi said, “On the surface, Li Zitong’s prestige appears to be rising; not only he inflicted heavy losses on Shen Lun, Du Fuwei also momentarily withdrew his troops. Li Zitong even led his army crossing the river to attack Shen Faxing, and advancing to occupy Jingkou. Shen Faxing dispatched his troops to Jiangzhi to meet the enemy head-on, but he was beaten on the spot by Li Zitong, and was forced to abandon Piling, while he himself fled to Wujun. Even Danyang also fell into Li Zitong’s hands.”
Kou Zhong said, “His prestige is surely flourishing greatly; why did Xingzhi say on the surface it appears to be rising?”
Xu Xingzhi analyzed, “Li Zitong did not have any choice but to take the risk to attack Shen Faxing, because north of his old nest, the East China Sea has been occupied by us, to the west there is Du Fuwei’s crisscrossing-unrivalled Jianghuai elite squad. Therefore, the only expansion target is Jiangnan’s old enemy Shen Faxing.”
Astonished, Xu Ziling said, “Compared to Shen Faxing, Shao Shuai Army clearly has small army, scant generals; why did Li Zitong choose the strong and abandon the weak, instead of retrieving lost ground he attempted to take Jiangnan?”
Xu Xingzhi replied, “Abandoning the weak and choosing the strong is one of the crucial points. Li Zitong knew that we are powerless to invade Jiangdu; therefore, he went all-out to take care of Shen Faxing first, which, to him was more of a threat.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Due to the grave disagreement between the two big shots of Jianghuai Army, Du Fuwei and Fu Gongyou, momentarily they have no time to pay attention to Li Zitong; no wonder he is so reckless.”
Xuan Yong asked, “How long does Shaoshuai think Luoyang can survive?”
Kou Zhong replied, “Wang Shichong’s appointing his relatives is not without one good point either. He himself is also a commander-in-chief, a veteran of a hundred battles; furthermore, now they are staking everything to amass rations and fodder in the city. Even if Luoyang became a lone city, at least they would be able to hold on for a year or a half.”
Xu Xingzhi sighed and said, “In that case, it is very likely that Li Shimin will suffer defeat. Not only he will have to overcome Song JinGang’s army with Tujue elite troops mixed within in, he also has to deal with Dou Jiande’s mighty army. On top of that, over a long war, Guanzhong’s fighters will feel homesick for their relatives; in their attack to Luoyang, the casualties must be disastrous. The situation is very bad for him.”
Bu Tianzhi said, “Most probably after defeating Song JinGang, Li Shimin would change from offense to defense, to consolidate and recapture the lost land.”
Xuan Yong said, “That is the next policy. Once Yuwen Huaji is destroyed, Dou Jiande’s main forces will be like the tide running over the dike, sweeping everything along the northern bank of the Great River. If Li Shimin cannot capture Luoyang before this situation occurs, he will completely lose the superiority of his painstaking operation outside the Pass, and will be forced to retreat and defend Guanzhong. And then he could only sit and watch Dou Jiande become powerful hegemon outside the Pass.”
Kou Zhong said, “Precisely because Li kid is well aware of this key point that he carried out the strategy to confuse people. But I don’t care if Li Shimin is Wuhou [Duke Wu] came back alive, or Sun Wu reincarnated [referring to Zhuge Liang and Sun Tzu, respectively], capturing Luoyang is still a year or a half matter; plus it does not matter who win who lose, unless we are willing to surrender, the head of the fire will continue to burn toward us. Xingzhi, what wonderful method do you have in mind to deal with this matter?”
Xu Xingzhi laughed and said, “Shaoshuai already has a card up your sleeve, why should Xingzhi put my disgrace on display?”
“Attack Jiangdu?” Xuan Yong spoke heavily.
Kou Zhong said, “Only by obtaining Jiangdu will we have a hope to resist the north and scheme against the south. Now that we have the entire gold from the treasure house, we are not afraid of financial shortage. Taking advantage before Luoyang falls, we go all-out to expand our army to prepare for war; but this is by no means a blind expansion, since that will not only damage the local production and aggravate the storehouse’s load, it might also cause Shao Shuai Army’s quality to decline.”
Slapping his chest, Xuan Yong guaranteed, “Leave this matter to us. All substandard soldiers will be eliminated; we will definitely not accept new recruit indiscriminately.”
Bu Tianzhi said, “Externally, we can claim to receive a large quantity of gold from Cao Yinglong, so that even when we have cash in abundance, it won’t provoke outsiders’ suspicion.”
Xu Xingzhi smiled and said, “Pengliang’s development is unusually ideal. Shaoshuai, you may deal with Yuwen Huaji with peace of mind.”
Kou Zhong slapped the table and praised, “Xingzhi is like the worm in my belly; unexpectedly you understand the content of my heart.”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Just by looking at how you wanted to meet us here, I knew that you, Laoxiong, momentarily do not have any intention to return to Pengliang.”
Kou Zhong said with a bitter smile, “Ling Shao is teasing me again.”
Turning to Xu Xingzhi and the others, he said, “During the preparation for war, there are two things that we must do separately. First, we need to make contact with Gui Xiliang of Zhu Hua Bang; we can grasp the situation in Jiangdu and the south through them. The other thing is that we must try to secretly buy a batch of first-class warhorses from the Flying Horse Ranch, which Shang Xiuxun has personally promised me. The day that I, Kou Zhong, return to Pengliang will be the time to attack Jiangdu.”
The three men acknowledged in loud voice.
※ ※ ※
After taking their leave from Xu Xingzhi, three men, Kou and Xu, dressed as fishermen, took a fishing boat to go up north.
The weather suddenly turned awful; wind and snow attacked together, so that they had no choice but to dock their fishing boat on the shore to avoid the storm. Unafraid of cold weather, the two sat outside the sail to enjoy the snowscape of the Tongji Canal.
Kou Zhong said, “In another sichen we’ll reach Da’a in the north, and then turning left, going downstream to the east, in two days we will reach Yuwen Clan’s old nest Xucheng. In the past, when Emperor Yang had not returned to the west [i.e. die], I remember how Yuwen Clan’s prestige was spread into eight directions, but now their path exhausted, they reach the end of the road. Xu Yuanlang surrendered to Dou Jiande, Yuwen Huagu’s fate is doomed to defeat and disperse.”
Xu Ziling’s eyes were fixed on a burst of gale blowing the rain and the snow sideways so that it looked like a wall traversing the vast canal surface; he spoke heavily, “Ever since Yuwen Huagu attacked Liangdu and suffered destroyed-troops-broken-generals and had to go back, their allotted share is just waiting to be slaughtered. Xu Yuanlang relies on help from Dou Jiande, it will only make them trapped on all sides, without any way to escape.”
Kou Zhong said, “Now Yuwen Huagu personally leads his army to Weixian on the eastern bank of Yongji Canal to fight Li Shiji and Li Shentong’s main forces, to vie over control of the Yongji Canal. In my opinion, Yuwen Huagu won’t last for too long. We are going directly to Weixian like this, there’s great chance that we will miss him.”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling asked, “If we don’t go to Weixian, where should we go?”
Kou Zhong analyzed, “What we lack is intelligence; hence we can only sigh from the very beginning.”
“Are you thinking of asking for Liu Heita’s help?” Xu Ziling asked.
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong replied, “Sooner or later I will have to see Dou Jiande. Only because the relationship between you and me is vague and unclear, Xiaodi has to go a few circles before speaking to sound out Ling Ye’s reaction.”
Blurted out laughing, Xu Ziling said, “This is called empty evil intentions. However, looking for Liu Heita is not at all easier than looking for Yuwen Huagu. Furthermore, going back and forth will take time. If Yuwen Huaji is already killed by Li Shiji, we will regret it very much.”
Scratching his head, Kou Zhong said, “I’ve never said anything about your …”
Xu Ziling cut him off, “Because you have selfish motives, hence you can’t tell me.”
“Selfish motives?” Kou Zhong blurted, “I, Kou Zhong, have selfish motives for Niang’s sake?”
Xu Ziling laughed to his heart’s content and said, “To know somebody is really not easy; to know oneself clearly without prejudice is even more difficult. I haven’t had a chance to ask you: that Ning Daoqi barrier, how did you pass it?”
Kou Zhong hatefully said, “Good kid; you clearly don’t want to give me the opportunity to explain myself. All right, Laozi is a big man and magnanimous; I won’t argue with you.”
Xu Ziling doubled-up in laughter and said, “The one who is a big man and magnanimous, I am afraid it was Ning Daoqi and not you?”
Indeed Kou Zhong had his sore feet grasped by Xu Ziling; seizing the opportunity of ‘seeing good thing and promptly accepting it’, he nodded and said, “Ning Daoqi is indeed a super-talented figure of the immortal way, completely without any competitive thought, just like running water, no matter how it flows over water and through the forest, it is always free and leisurely, without any care or worry, receiving and releasing with ease. Honestly, if he were dealing with me by fair means or foul like we imagined earlier, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, expressing my highest reverence to him.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Are you pretending to be modest?”
Kou Zhong patted his shoulders vigorously; he laughed freely and said, “You have seen me through again. But except the last sentence, the rest are the truth. When I blocked Ning Daoqi’s full-strength palm strike, I knew that I simply had to stake everything.”
“Did he use his ‘San Shou Ba Pu’ [lit. scattered hand eight pounces; reminder: his title was ‘San Ren’ (lit. scattered man)]?” Xu Ziling asked.
“No,” Kou Zhong replied, “Definitely not.”
Xu Ziling’s interest was piqued, he asked, “You, LaoGe, have never seen ‘San Shou Ba Pu’; how do you know whether he was using it or not?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “‘San Shou Ba Pu’ ought to be a complete set of martial art way’s essence, from one move to the next there ought to be coherence, including the law with which the spirit and substance are displayed, just like Xiaodi’s Jing Zhong Bafa [eight methods of the well]. (Cough!) Ha! The reason I wanted Eight Methods instead of nine or ten methods was precisely as a tribute to his Eight Pounces.”
“Another question,” Xu Ziling said, “Why didn’t Ning Daoqi use his consummate skill? I’ll say you wouldn’t be able to block his Eight Pounces either.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “Because he restricted himself to use only one hand to deal with me; how could he launch the Eight Pounces?”
Xu Ziling said, “For a man with that kind of outstanding intelligence, how could Ning Daoqi be willing to let the tiger return to its mountain? If that was the case, he practically should not agree to make his move to Shi Feixuan, and Shi Feixuan could not possibly ask him to make his move either.”
Kou Zhong appeared to be deep in thought. Muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, “That’s true. There must be some changes in this matter that we are not aware of.”
Xu Ziling’s pair of eyes was gleaming with outstanding-wisdom-as-deep-as-the-ocean brilliant rays; he spoke slowly, “We ought to understand those changes. If I am guessing correctly, this time Shi Feixuan is not absolutely optimistic about Li Shimin; therefore, she let you off. Under current circumstances, Li Shimin is still her first choice, and Kou Shaoshuai is the second choice.”
Severely shaken, Kou Zhong said, “Unexpectedly there is such thing?”
“Just think,” Xu Ziling analyzed, “Yang WenGan’s armed rebellion was such a grave matter, yet Jiancheng could still be acquitted. Evidently the Crown Prince and Imperial Concubine Faction’s combined power is very strong. Currently Li Shimin only has two paths to take: one is to raise the troops on the outside and declare independence. However, if he wanted to take this path, he must take Wang Shichong’s territory first, otherwise he would only follow the path to his own doom.”
“And the other path is to stage a coup in Chang’an,” Kou Zhong continued, “And this is even more not easy. With the support of the Tujue, Jiancheng, Yuanji’s combined power is stronger than Li Shimin’s. Not to mention Yuanji has Li Yuan’s support. Ha! Your observation about Shi Feixuan not absolutely optimistic about Li Shimin makes a lot of sense.”
Xu Ziling said, “What’s more puzzling is why, since that is the case, did Ning Daoqi still want to make his move?”
Kou Zhong replied, “I am afraid the reason was our Secret to Long Life. Ning Daoqi was using this opportunity to force me to stake it all, to go all out, so that he could get a glimpse of what is true and what is false of the Secret to Long Life.”
Xu Ziling nodded in agreement.
Slapping his forehead, Kou Zhong said, “I am so stupid; unexpectedly I forgot about Yang Gongqing. We could ask him to provide us any information pertaining to Yuwen Huagu.”
Frowning deeply, Xu Ziling said, “You want to make a detour to Luoyang?”
Kou Zhong said, “These days Yang Gongqing ought to be in Yingyang and not in Luoyang; looking for him is just as convenient as passing through.”
“Let’s do it then,” Xu Ziling said.
Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong asked, “After avenging Niang, where would Ling Shao go?”
Xu Ziling replied, “I want to visit Da Xiaojie and little Lingzhong.”
“I want to see them too,” Kou Zhong said with a sigh.
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “Unless you know how to split yourself, how could you have any spare time? Afterwards I am going to take a trip beyond the Great Wall, to see Old Ba’s prairie and the desert that Ke Dazhi loves dearly.”
Kou Zhong was silent without saying anything; he understood that Xu Ziling wanted to avoid the Central Plains in order to stay out of his business. Otherwise, if he heard the news that he, Kou Zhong, was in danger or met with mishap, how could Xu Ziling tuck his hands inside his sleeves and ignore him?