Book 37 Chapter 3 – Flying Dragon in the Sky
Without any trouble Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling arrived at Yingyang and went to the former Duke of Mi Mansion to look for Yang Gongqing. Revisiting old haunts, they remembered the past where together with Susu, they went through difficult time as they escaped out of Da Longtou Mansion, as well as many other past events when they escaped out of Yingyang.
The situation has changed; Susu was gone, Li Mi was like a tiger that fell into a plain, Shen Luoyan was married and became a wife. They could not help sighing.
Yang Gongqing did not expect the two would come together. Greatly delighted, he said, “It was such a headache looking for you.”
“What’s the matter?” Kou Zhong asked in surprise.
A man was walking in large strides from the inner hall; laughing aloud, he said, “It’s a small world. I never imagined that you, two Laoxiong unexpectedly would drop in; it saves Xiaodi the hardship of searching for you.”
The incoming person was elegant, distinguished and accomplished; it was precisely the Passionate Prince Hou Xibai.
Suddenly seeing an old friend, the two boys were pleased beyond belief. Kou Zhong laughed heartily and said, “I thought you were hiding deep in the mountains and desolate valleys somewhere, who would have thought that you are running around all over the place?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Hiding deep in the city, how could Hou Xiong be willing to remain lonely? Without a close female friend keeping you company, how could you pass your days?”
Hou Xibai said, “Ziling must be joking! These days Xiaodi broke off all relations with red-mansion-clear-establishments; I constantly have you in my heart, I miss you really bad.”
“(Gasp!)” Kou Zhong cried out in surprise theatrically, “Both Ling Shao and I are no good in such matters.”
Hou Xibai blurted out laughing and said, “Shaoshuai is teasing me. Xiaodi was just exaggerating a bit; otherwise, how could I express the gratitude in my heart?”
Kou Zhong deliberately spoke with straight face, “But your handsome and graceful gentleman style might make people suspicious!”
Three men’s six eyes looked at each other, they all roared in laughter.
Their banter provoked Yang Gongqing to laughter as well; he deeply felt the absence of hypocrisy among the three, that they were full of sincere friendship. Both in the officialdom and in Jianghu, it was rare and precious. “Let’s sit down first before we continue talking,” he hastily said.
The four sat down around a table. Yang Gongqing personally poured tea for everyone.
“How did Hou Xiong know that you could find us via Yang Gong?” Xu Ziling asked.
Hou Xibai replied, “After leaving Chang’an, I went to Luoyang first, stayed there for more than ten days before leaving for Yingyang. In this region Xiaodi could be considered having a bit of face, but it was not until Shaoshuai left Luoyang that I got wind. I knew that Yang Gong and Shaoshuai have a rather close relationship, thereupon I took the liberty of asking Yang Da Jiangjun for help.”
The two boys recalled how during Rong Fengxiang’s birthday feast, Hou Xibai was one of the guests of honor, which was enough proof that he was quite popular in Luoyang. In this kind of cultural big city, merely by relying on his painting skill, the Passionate Prince would definitely enjoy widespread popularity, not to mention his skill was not limited to that.
Kou Zhong said, “Yang Gong is one of us, there is nothing to hide; how’s Hou Xiong’s Bu Si Yin Fa’s training?”
Yang Gongqing has never heard about Immortal Image Method, hence he did not show any reaction.
Hou Xibai laughed cheerfully and said, “Failing to reach the speed I wanted, I just leave everything to fate. I can say that I have small success by now; thank you for Shaoshuai’s concern.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “I cannot but be concerned about you, because the Relics has already fallen into your honorable master’s hands. He declared that he would live in seclusion to train for one year. After one year he might show up any moment to test your kungfu.”
Hou Xibai’s handsome face changed slightly, he said with a wry smile, “This news will encourage Xiaodi to put more effort.”
Finally Yang Gongqing could not bear not to ask, “What Relics? Who is Hou Gongzi’s zhizun [revered master]?”
After listening to Kou Zhong’s brief explanation, Yang Gongqing began to realize that the real treasure had fallen into the two boys’ hand; he was extremely moved and wanted to give his bare heart into his keeping even more.
Listening to that, Hou Xibai was dumbstruck as well. Sighing, he said, “I never thought you could really transport the treasure out of Chang’an, while also make the world think that your treasure hunt has failed.”
Xu Ziling said, “There was a very high degree of luck in our success.”
“Are you going to look for Yuwen Huaji to settle old account?” Hou Xibai asked.
Greatly astonished, Kou Zhong asked, “How do you know that?”
Hou Xibai replied with a sneer, “Anybody who knows your background would also know that between you and Yuwen Huaji, there is an enmity as deep as the ocean. Now that Yuwen Huaji’s fall is imminent, based on two Dage’s usual style, you can’t possibly borrow anybody else’s hand to resolve your blood debt!”
Kou Zhong vigorously patted his shoulders and said, “You got that right! Let me toast you a cup of tea.”
In high spirits, the four raised their cup of tea to salute each other.
After taking a sip of tea, Hou Xibai smiled and said, “We could also fight side by side as well!”
Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, “What enmity do you have against Yuwen Huaji?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Hou Xibai replied, “He has an enmity against you, it’s the same as he has an enmity against me, Hou Xibai. A few days ago Yuwen Huaji’s top confidant, who is also my former acquaintance Zhang Shihe, came to Luoyang to look for me, pleading me to paint a portrait of Yuwen Huaji’s beloved concubine Wei Furen [Madame Wei]; the compensation was a scroll of Ju Ran’s authentic landscape painting.”
Yang Gongqing asked in surprise, “Soldiers at the city walls [idiom: at a critical juncture], the country ruined and the people starving may happen any moment, Yuwen Huaji still have the mood for such idle enjoyment.”
A strange feeling welled up in Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s hearts; the Yuwen Huaji in their mind has always been a cold-hearted, one without so much humanity. Who would have thought that unexpectedly he also had this warm, affectionate side?
Kou Zhong asked, “What kind of fellow is Ju Ran?”
Hou Xibai swayed his head as if he was reciting, “Jing Guan Dong Ju, they were the Four Great Masters [orig. Da Shi Ju Jiang (great master great master – in arts)] of the previous generation, pioneers of landscape paintings. Ju Ran himself was a senior monk who had attained the Way, his painting style was lofty, rustic, elegant, and leisurely. It’s a pity that not many of his works are preserved. Frankly speaking, this reward indeed moves Xiaodi’s heart.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Where do they want you to be?”
“Naturally the capital of the Wei State, Xucheng!” Hou Xibai replied.
Kou Zhong asked Yang Gongqing, “How’s Yuwen Huaji’s current situation?”
Yang Gongqing replied, “He is able to hold off until the first month of the new year, it can be considered quite remarkable. Based on Li Shiji’s usual style, if he defeated Weixian, he would follow up the victory by an all-out pursue and attack, and would not give Yuwen Huaji any opportunity to catch his breath.”
“Any movement from Dou Jiande’s side?” Xu Ziling asked.
Yang Gongqing replied, “He could be described as glaring like a tiger watching its prey. Currently Dou Jiande is approaching several cities bordering the Wei, amassing massive military force, he could deploy his troops to invade the Wei any moment.”
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, “Such a headache. But in my opinion, Yuwen Huaji would not be that easy to kill; even if he was defeated, he would simply return to Xucheng, right?”
“How did Hou Xiong respond to Zhang Shihe’s request?” he asked.
Hou Xibai smiled and said, “Old friends’ affair is my, Hou Xibai’s affair. Naturally Xiaodi is willing to agree.”
Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, “That will do!”
“One more thing,” Yang Gongqing said, “According to the latest information we received, turns out Xieli was originally prepared to personally lead the main forces, in company with Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang – to invade Taiyuan together. But in the end, due to Tuli’s return to his country, which made Xieli unable to spare time on his war effort. Without any choice, he had to continue his current way of sending his men and horses to strengthen Song JinGang’s military power.”
“In that case,” Hou Xibai said, “Shaoshuai and Ziling were doing Li Shimin a huge favor.”
Yang Gongqing said, “It could be said that you are doing the people of the Central Plains a huge favor. Tujue people are used to stealing horses; killing and burning, raping and looting are common occurrence. If we let them go directly to storm the Central Plains, they may bring about extremely grave destruction.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “In light of the latest development, there may come a day when the Tujue are coming from the northern border to attack us.”
Changing the subject, Kou Zhong asked Hou Xibai, “Hou Gongzi! May I ask how are we going to sneak into Xucheng?”
‘Clack!’ Hou Xibai opened the Fan of Beauty; he shook it leisurely and gently, and then he smiled and said, “Do you know how lions and leopards hunt for their food?”
Stunned, Kou Zhong reply, “I have never even seen lions and leopards; how do I know how they hunt for food?”
“This was what Shi Shi told me when he was training me,” Hou Xibai said, “And it has left deep impression in me.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew he was referring to Shi Zhixuan, so both paid very close attention, because the more they were able to grasp Shi Zhixuan’s foundation, the higher their future chance of survival would be.
Currently, even with his flaw, Shi Zhixuan was still that formidable; after a year, how exceptional the Shi Zhixuan who was coming out of the mountain would be even more difficult to imagine.
Greatly interested, Yang Gongqing said, “I’ve seen a man who was injured by a leopard; the wound was extremely terrifying.”
Hou Xibai said, “Unless it’s an old lion or a hungry leopard, vey rarely would they attack people. They all have a fixed target, and they understand the prey’s habit and reaction very well; only then will their chance of success in attack increase.”
Revealing a thoughtful look, Kou Zhong said, “This is in line with the objective of the School of Military; it is called know yourself and know your enemy, and you will never be defeated [idiom from Sunzi’s ‘The Art of War’].”
Hou Xibai spoke heavily, “Lions and leopards are experts in hunting. A pack of lions moving together is like unrivalled mighty army on the grassland. Leopards are like apparition in the wilderness; they come and go alone, much like a solitary bandit in the night.”
“Your esteemed master must be a bit more like leopards,” Xu Ziling commented, “Hou Xiong is also coming and going alone.”
Yang Gongqing said, “In that case Shaoshuai and Ziling must be like a male lion with two heads!”
Nodding his head, Hou Xibai said, “They are two dragons. Not only dragons can change unpredictably, they can roam the abyss and the oceans in secret, and also soar above the ninth heaven. Alone, they are free and unfettered, but now unexpectedly forming an alliance, they can move across the world unhindered, no one can attack their acute point.”
Xu Ziling was most afraid of receiving praise in front of his face; embarrassed, he said, “Hou Xiong praises too much! How about going back to lions and leopards?”
Hou Xibai said, “When a pack of lions makes their move, they all preserve and nurture their spirit, and will be in their peak condition. They never act recklessly; instead, they have accurate strategic deployment. Coping with different situation, they would use different strategy. The first was to watch the enemy; the pack is divided into two or three groups, lying in ambush around the place where their prey are, and they are able to wait for several sichen at a time.”
Kou Zhong was speechless. “Awesome!” he exclaimed, “It would be strange indeed if those oxen and horses, sheep and deer are not scared by them that their hearts racing their spirit petrified.”
Hou Xibai said, “After they see accurately what is true and what is false of the prey, then two or three lions pounce forward, driving the prey scattering and isolated. And then when the prey sinks into their death trap, the lions might come out of the flock, taking turn in pursuing and intercepting the prey, confusing the enemy, throwing them into disorder, ambushing, and all kinds of trick, turning the prey, which is actually faster than the lions, into culinary delicacy to fill their bellies.”
Sucking in a mouthful of cold air, Yang Gongqing said, “Really terrifying. Merely listening to it makes my hair stands on its end.”
Xu Ziling remembered the frightful scene of bloodstained snow when a pack of wolves attacked a wild deer along the way as they were escaping out of Chang’an. “What about the leopard?” he asked.
Hou Xibai said, “In a short distance race, no animal can run faster than a leopard. Its strategy is to get as close as possible to its prey; therefore, not a single leopard is not an expert in hiding and concealing its track. As soon as it reaches certain distance from the prey, pretty much every attack will hit.”
Kou Zhong’s pair of tiger-eyes was flickering brightly, he nodded and said, “No wonder your esteemed master’s word left deep impression on Xibai; it is a very big inspiration for us as well. Yuwen Huaji’s Wei Army is like a flock of sheep being watched by a pack of lions or a lone leopard; it is destined to become the food to fill the lion or the leopard’s belly. The question is whether it will be hit by the lions or attacked by the leopard.”
Hou Xibai said, “After arriving in Xucheng, we separately sneak into the city. I will be in charge of penetrating the enemy ranks to scout the situation, to see how we can separate the prey. As soon as the prey enters your two dragons’ hunting range, you can’t possibly be inferior to lions or leopard, can you?”
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong disembarked at the Yellow River ferry-crossing southeast of Wuyang, and set foot on the official road leading to Wuyang. Approximately three hundred li northwest of Wuyang was precisely Weixian, where Yuwen Huaji fought the Tang Army.
From Wuyang heading east, passing through Yuancheng, Shenxian, and Wushui, three cities, was Xucheng, the capital of Yuwen Huagu’s Wei State.
Hou Xibai’s journey was much more comfortable; he took a boat ride downstream straight to Xucheng, to be their vanguard.
Showing their true colors, the two boys swaggered along the official road, striding forward with head high. Kou Zhong laughed and said, “When Yuwen Huagu finds out that we are coming to settle an old account with him, how will he feel? Although Hou Gongzi described him as a sheep, but I always think that imagining Yuwen Huagu as a scared little lamb is very difficult.”
Xu Ziling was enjoying the beautiful snowscape along the sides of the road; he smiled and said, “We can consider this trip as one process in our cultivation, with killing Yuwen Huagu as the destination, along the way we use war to raise war, with the Yuwen Clan providing the material. In current situation, Yuwen Huagu neither has the time nor the spare energy to deal with the large scale besiege and attack that we are carrying out, and can only sit and watch our approach either as a lion or a leopard. I also want to know how he feels very much, it’s too bad we really don’t have any way of knowing.”
Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes was flashing with profound hatred, he said, “We have been waiting too long for this day to come. If we just suddenly assassinate Yuwen Huagu, we would only give him the delight in vain, how could it give vent to the hatred in our heart? Therefore, we must play a game of death with Yuwen Huagu, to see whose fist is harder.”
Laughing involuntarily, Xu Ziling said, “You ought to say who’s more die hard. This is called the centipede bug, dead yet not be vanquished. Besides, Yuwen Huagu’s Bing Xuan Qi [Mysterious Ice Energy] already reaches great heights of attainment, and behind him there is still Yuwen Shang. Therefore, we must play smarter.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Who can stop us, two brothers? Huh?”
An unusual noise came from ahead. After they listened carefully, they found out that it was the sound of wheel and footsteps, mixed with human voices.
The two boys you look at me I gaze at you, a large group of people, men and women, young and old, dressed as farmers, taking everything along, using ox carts and mule carts to carry their familial property, their wailing shook the heavens – appeared from the bend of the road ahead. None did not look to be in panic. In just one glance they could see that these people were running away from their home; they were refugees fleeing disaster.
All of a sudden the official road was crowded to bursting point with thousands of common people running away from calamity. Kou Zhong randomly grabbed one of them and asked, “What happened?”
“Weixian has fallen!” the man replied.
Finished speaking he hurriedly caught up with his group and went away.
Xu Ziling grabbed another man and asked, “Are you running away from the Tang Army?”
Seeing his righteous expression, the man calmed down somewhat. Sneering, he said, “What’s so terrifying about the Tang Army? What we are afraid of is the defeated army; wherever they go, not a chicken or a dog will be spared. Why haven’t your turned back?”
“Where are you going?” Kou Zhong asked.
Another man replied, “There is no safe place north of the Great River. Only by fleeing to Shao Shuai Army place will we be able to pass our life in good days.”
Shaken, Kou Zhong blurted out, “What?”
How could the man have the time to pay him any attention? He hurriedly continued on his journey.
The two boys stood aside, waiting for the last one in line to walk past.
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Looks like Xu Xingzhi governs Pengliang very well.”
Happy and pleased, Kou Zhong said, “When we obtain the world in the future, let him be the Emperor; you and I will go beyond the Great Wall to look for Lao Ba to drink wine.”
Xu Ziling suddenly sighed. He said, “I am a bit scared to go forward.”
Kou Zhong’s countenance darkened, he nodded and said, “You are scared to see the defeated troops raping and looting again, to see the dreadful scene of people in terrible situation.”
“Let’s go!” Xu Ziling said.
Amidst the sound of hoof beats and the rolling sand, more than twenty riders galloped at full speed; they were Yuwen Huaji’s Wei troops.
The two boys stood in the middle of the official road, blocking their way. The enemy riders eventually saw the two, but they were intimidated by their imposing manner, hence they did not dare to charge forcefully, so they gradually slowed down and finally stopped about a zhang away from the two.
The horses snorted and did not stop stomping their feet. The sergeant at the front glowered at them and shouted, “Which side’s kids are you? Why haven’t you get lost for me?”
Kou Zhong threw his head back and burst into loud laughter, “This person never changed surname while walking, never changed given name while sitting [idiom: to be proud of one’s name and stand by one’s actions]; I am Kou Zhong. The one by my side is my Xiongdi Xu Ziling. If you have the ability, make me get lost.”
None of the riders did not have his countenance changed.
The names Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who in the world did not know?
The sergeant and his men exchanged some glances; they could see the fear in each other’s eyes. Clearing his throat, he said, “Turns out it’s Kou Ye and Xu Ye. Please forgive Xiaoren for our offense.”
Pulling the rein, he wanted to turn the horse around and leave.
“Hold on!” Kou Zhong shouted.
Immediately the sergeant did not dare to move. Forcing himself to calm down, he said, “Two Ye’er have any instruction for us?”
Xu Ziling said, “You rushed over in a hurry, what’s that for?”
With heart alarmed, trembling in fear the sergeant said, “We received Da Jiangjun’s order to collect grain and grass from the people.”
Furious, Kou Zhong said, “What do you mean collecting grain and grass? Clearly you are robbing common people’s grain and goods. Who’s this Da Jiangjun?”
Lowering his voice and suppressing the anger, the sergeant said, “It’s Yuwen Shiji Da Jiangjun.”
Within the Yuwen Clan, Yuwen Shu and Yuwen Shang, two brothers had the most resounding reputation. The former was an important minister of the old Sui, the latter was the Clan Master, who ranked second only to Song Que.
Yuwen Shu had three boys: Yuwen Huaji, Yuwen Shiji, and Yuwen Zhiji, respectively; Yuwen Shang had two boys: Yuwen Chengdu and Yuwen Wudi, both died in the battle of Liangdu by Kou Zhong’s hands. Furthermore, Yuwen Shiji was once the Emperor Yang of Sui’s Fuma [emperor’s son-in-law].
Xu Ziling shouted, “You get lost immediately, go back to inform Yuwen Shiji, tell him that Yuwen Huaji must take a good care of his little life, to wait for us to pluck it off. If we see you again robbing the people’s grain, we will kill you without mercy. Get lost!”
They hurriedly slipped away as if they were just granted amnesty by the Emperor’s benevolence.
Looking at the rolling dust in the distance, Kou Zhong shook his head and said with a sigh, “Yuwen Clan is really finished. I have never seen such troops without fighting spirit and only wanted to save their own life. They lack even the courage to test whether we are real or fake, to see what is true and what is false.”
Xu Ziling said, “In my opinion, this bunch must be army deserters, hence they no longer want to throw their life in for Yuwen Huagu. If like the enemy, they knew we were coming, I am afraid they would make a bit more commotion before leaving.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “In that case, we have to go to Wuyang to drink some fine wine first!”