Book 37 Chapter 4 – Dog Lovers
The aroma of roasted wolf meat attracted five, six dogs that have been abandoned by their masters; drooling with desire, they waited on the side for Xu and Kou to show pity.
When they entered this village, whose inhabitants had run away, the dogs were not friendly toward Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong at all, until they lit a bonfire in a clearing between houses and roasted the wolf, and then the pack of dogs’ attitude turned from baring-fangs-and-brandishing-claws to meekness.
The hungry wolf was also seeking its own misfortune. With other hungry wolves, unexpectedly it attacked the two boys, and was struck dead by Kou Zhong’s palm, which also dispersed the pack of wolves.
Along the way, wave after wave of refugees were rushing forth in the direction of the Yellow River. Seeing this made their heart unbearably aching, yet clearly they had neither the capability nor a way to change their miserable plight.
Using Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well, Xu Ziling cut the wolf meat and gave it to the dogs, to let them gorge themselves and eat their meal in delight.
This moment Kou Zhong came with two jars of rice wine and sat by his side. Laughing, he said, “Just like I expected, I found two jars of home-brewed rice wine; our dinner will be a lot more delightful.”
Sweping the dogs, which were resting around after eating their fill – with his eyes, Xu Ziling sighed and said, “They are also the victims of war.”
He took the rice wine that Kou Zhong handed over to him. Kou Zhong pulled the plug of the jar and took two mouthfuls. Gasping for breath, he praised, “Good wine!”
Xu Ziling said, “We will leave the wolf meat here; how long do you think they can eat it?”
Kou Zhong’s gaze fell on the quarter-part of the wolf meat that the dogs had eaten, he said, “It should last two more days? Ay! Your remark made my heart ached. We should just eat the dry rations that we carry instead! Leave the wolf meat entirely to them. This pack of dogs is just like us, two brothers, we will not fight for food; it’s really rare.”
Xu Ziling said, “If it is only one large piece of meat, they might fight for food. Let me cut the wolf meat in equal proportions to reduce the friction among them.”
Kou Zhong appeared to be deep in thought. Watching Xu Ziling moving the blade up and down to make arrangement for the dogs, a profound hard-to-describe feeling welled up in his heart. Handing the wine over to Xu Ziling, he said, “This move of yours will not be effective for people, otherwise Li Shimin would not attack Yuwen Huaji, Tujue people also need not drool over the Central Plain, this big piece of fatty meat.”
Xu Ziling drank two mouthfuls, he said, “Because people’s minds are much more complex; their desires are endless, they are never satisfied. Even respected people who are beyond this mortal world, they are no more than having another cherished dream. It does not mean that they have nothing to seek for, only that they are not doing what they want to do.”
“What about Ling Shao?” Kou Zhong asked.
Xu Ziling sat down. Smiling ruefully, he said, “Right now what I desire the most is to avoid the suffering I see before me, and do not have to think about the future fate of the dogs. Either the dogs encounter Yuwen Huagu’s defeated troops or the hungry people fleeing from calamity, they are doomed to die. However, even if I can physically avoid it, I cannot keep my heart away from it.”
Kou Zhong appeared to have something to say, but in the end he did not say it. Taking out the dry rations that Yang Gongqing prepared for them, he handed it over to Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “I am not hungry!” Suddenly his pair of eyes flashed with refined light.
Kou Zhong was alerted at the same time. His two eyebrows were rising; he spoke heavily, “Which respected person honoring us with your presence? Please show yourself to meet in person.”
A burst of long laughter rang from the forest behind the village. They heard someone said, “Indeed Kou Xiong, Xu Xiong’s names are not in vain. Xiaodi has always flaunted myself as being an expert in hiding-and-concealing technique, yet I still cannot hide from two gentlemen.”
Only at this time did the hair on the dogs’ neck rise up, while deep growl came out of their throat. Xu Ziling hurriedly shouted to tell them to stop.
A man casually came out of the woods. He gave the impression of a bold and powerful, tough and tenacious, intimidating and heroic – man; his skin was dark from exposure to the sun, his appearance sincere and honest. Were it not for the lightning-like brilliant flickers in his pair of eyes, which showed his superior power, he looked no different than a local peasant.
Perhaps it was because of his leisurely attitude, or perhaps because Xu Ziling’s shout was effective, the dogs stopped growling. They stopped moving, but were in a full-alert state. Two of the dogs ran forward to sniff at him. The incoming man revealed a smile, he reached out to lightly stroke their heads, and then spoke cheerfully, “All are obedient and tame dogs. It’s too bad that they were abandoned in here!”
Both his expression and his speech appeared to have come from his sincere heart, so that the two boys had a good impression on him.
“Xiongtai, please sit down and talk,” Kou Zhong said.
The man sat down on the other side of the bonfire; he said, “Xiaodi Zhang Jinshu, a low-level infantryman under Yan Wang [King of Yan] Gao Kaidao.” [Interesting fact: Zhang Jinshu literally mean ‘spread out golden tree’, while Gao Kaidao means ‘high open road’.]
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling did not expect to meet a Gao Kaidao’s man in here; they were both very surprised. Furthermore, from this man’s style of conversation and elegant demeanor, they were sure that this gentleman was not a low-level soldier, but a general or a minister with authority.
Gao Kaidao was from Yangxin, Cangzhou. In the northern territory, he was equally famous with ‘Ying Yang Shuang Jiang’ [lit. fluttering eagle twin generals] Liu Wuzhou and Liang Shidou. His martial art skill strong, at the end of Sui he mustered his men in an uprising, attacked and captured Beiping, Yuyang, and other counties one after another, declaring himself as King of Yan, and establishing Yuyang as his capital.
Due to his connection with the Tujue in the north, although Dou Jiande’s prestige far surpassed his, he still did not dare speak lightly and use troops against him.
Zhang Jinshu took the rice wine Kou Zhong offered to him. ‘Glug! Glug! Glug!’ he took several big mouthfuls. Putting down the wine jar, he sighed and said, “I don’t know if it is because this wine is Shaoshuai’s treat, drinking it is especially satisfying.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Good wine is a good wine.” Seeing him still did not forget to pet the dog sitting by his side, he nodded and said, “Seems like Zhang Xiong is a dog lover!”
Keeping his eyes on the dog, Zhang Jinshu showed tender expression on his face; he said, “From young age Xiaodi always have deep love toward domesticated animals, I like to make friends with them. Therefore, seeing how two gentlemen took great pains to think about the dogs, my heart is moved, I could not help coming out to talk with two gentlemen.”
Xu Ziling said, “Zhang Xiong is indeed a brilliant figure in hiding and concealing your track.”
But Kou Zhong asked, “Listening to the tone of Zhang Xiong’s voice, it seems that originally you did not wish to meet and talk with us, I wonder why?”
Zhang Jinshu said, “Currently I am staying at Wuyang. When I got wind, I just wanted to get a glimpse of two gentlemen’s outstanding elegant manner. Originally I did not intend to be involved in the dispute between two gentlemen with the Yuwen Family. But seeing two gentlemen’s benevolence in attending upon the dogs, I knew that I have encountered kindred spirits, so how could I have any misgivings?”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Come! Let’s drink!”
The three took turns drinking from the jar; they were exceptionally carefree.
Zhang Jinshu raised his sleeve to wipe off the wine stain on his shoulder. His eyes flashing with incessant blaze, he said, “This time two gentlemen inadvertently doing Yuwen Shiji a great favor.”
Kou Zhong hurriedly asked for explanation.
Zhang Jinshu said, “Yuwen Shiji is racking his brains to see how he could surrender with dignity to the House of Tang, and two gentlemen are honoring us with your presence at this crucial point. Naturally it is something that Yuwen Shiji seeks but fail to get.”
Listening to that, Xu Ziling was amused. He laughed and asked, “What do you mean surrender with dignity?”
Zhang Jinshu replied, “The dignity in favoring one and discriminating against the other; the high or low official title after the surrender is determined.”
The two boys understood, but it still felt unclear. Kou Zhong frowned and said, “I can’t imagine Yuwen Shiji would betray his family! In that case, the Wei State’s western defensive line would be completely lost; the only path Yuwen Huaji could take would be returning to Xucheng, waiting for death.”
Lowering his voice, Zhang Jinshu said, “Yuwen Shiji not only did not betray his family, he also made the best choice for the sake of his family.”
Listening to this, the two boys were confused. But then they understood. Zhang Jinshu indeed had an out of the ordinary insight; under the overturned nest, there is still an intact egg!
Nowadays Yuwen Huaji’s Wei State was surrounded by the enemy on all sides, there was absolutely no luck. Rather than the entire family perish together with the fall of the Wei dynasty, it would be better if one of them, Yuwen Shiji whose status was special, to surrender to the House of Tang. And then the Yuwen Clan could continue to be well regarded. In the immediate situation, Yuwen Shiji certainly could negotiate generous conditions for his surrender.
First of all, he was the Emperor Yang’s son-in-law, hence he had family relationship with the Li Family. Secondly, the House of Tang was eager to attack and seize the We territory before Dou Jiande’s main forces going down south, and Yuwen Shiji offered Wuyang, the most important big city on the western front – with both hands, naturally it would be welcomed. Finally, with the addition of Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, another big gift, it was like a pretty [or cunning] woman met a womanizer [orig. color/beauty ghost]; one contact and they clicked together.
As for Yuwen Huaji, he was doomed to die in battle, simply because he bore the guilt of murdering his superior, the Emperor Yang, and seizing his throne. He would never tolerate Li Yuan, who raised his troops and attacked while he was the Sui dynasty’s great general, guarding and defending the House of Sui. Moreover, the Li Family and the Yuwen Clan have always fought openly and maneuvered covertly. The animosity between them was very deep.
Only because Yuwen Shiji was a Fuma-ye [emperor’s son-in-law] that he was not involved; his surrender was comparatively easier for the Li Family to accept. Yuwen Shiji’s surrender to the Tang should have received Yuwen Shang and Yuwen Huaji’s approval in secret.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Kou Zhong said, “Please forgive Xiaodi for being presumptuous [orig. talking intimately while being comparative strangers (idiom)]. Zhang Xiong came to Wuyang under order, are you in any particular mission?”
Zhang Jinshu looked affectionately at the dog by his side, which seemed to be intoxicated by his light stroking; he spoke indifferently, “Xiaodi received Yan Wang’s order to take a look at the Tang Army’s situation.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong nearly scratched his head again, because he simply could not figure out the meaning behind that answer. However, because this affair involved Gao Kaidao’s strategy, he had no choice but to suppress his curiosity and did not pursue further.
Xu Ziling remembered something; he asked casually, “How’s the situation beyond the Great Wall? I heard that Xieli and Tuli are undertaking weapons of war on a large scale. Zhang Xiong ought to know better than anyone else.”
Zhang Jinshu replied, “Both sides did fight a few hard battles. Tuli is occupying a slight upper hand, but the initiative is still in Xieli’s hands, because all along Tuli’s strength is still inferior to Xieli by a large chunk; he is powerless to broaden the scope of the battle. If the present situation continues, Xieli might invite Bi Xuan to preside over this matter, to settle the internal division. Ay! We are just being caught in the middle; deeply aware of what is called left and right, but difficult to conduct ourselves.”
Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong said, “Could it be that Yan Wang did not know that toward us, the Tujue are having tiger and wolf-heart?”
Zhang Jinshu sighed, “So what if he does?” he said, “On the frontier fortress, all four sides are the enemy’s troops. Whether it is Liu Wuzhou, Guo Zihe, Liang Shidou, or our Yan Army, our first and foremost task is to stay alive. If we offend the Tujue, they might launch large-scale invasion into our territory. Trampled down by the iron hoof of the Tujue elite cavalry, the cities will become ruins, the villages will turn into wasteland. Who’d dare to take this risk?”
“Tujue Army is that formidable?” Kou Zhong asked.
Zhang Jinshu replied, “Tujue people grew up on horseback; their bravery and expertise in fighting are inherent, far more than our Han people combined. When they join hands and fight together, it is like they are being helped by the gods, coming and going like the wind, an army of one thousand troops is enough to resist our Han army of ten thousand men. Were it not for the high mountain and the Great Wall blocking our northern border, I am afraid the Central Plains would not have half a cun of land with peace and happiness.”
Xu Ziling said, “Just now Zhang Xiong said that if Xieli could not withstand Tuli, he might ask Bi Xuan to persuade Tuli so that both parties will be reconciled. Does Zhang Xiong believe that Tuli would accept?”
“How could Tuli not accept?” Zhang Jinshu replied, “East of the Eastern Tujue there are Gaogouli [Goguryeo (37 BC-668 AD), one of the Korean Three Kingdoms] and Qidan [or Khitan, ethnic group in ancient China, a branch of the Eastern Hu people inhabiting the valley of the Xar Murun River in the upper reaches of the Liao River]. On the west there are Xue Yantuo and Huihe [pre-Tang name of ethnic group corresponding to modern Uighur], whose prestige has been greatly flourishing in recent years. If Xieli and Tuli are involved in endless bitter struggle, the first to suffer would be Tuli, whose strength is weaker than Xieli’s. Constrained by circumstances, Tuli’s only way out is to quit while he is ahead.”
Kou Zhong seized this opportunity to ask, “This time Song JinGang, in company with Tujue people, invades Taiyuan; what is Zhang Xiong’s view on the outcome of the battle?”
Zhang Jinshu flatly replied, “If they are crossing swords face to face, even Li Shimin would suffer defeat.”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong looked at each other.
Zhang Jinshu smiled and said, “Two gentlemen should not blame Xiaodi for speaking subjectively, but this is certainly sincere words. However, wars are ever changing, no one or two battles can decide the final outcome of the war. Song-Li war will be Li Shimin’s biggest test; I hope he could pass. Otherwise, the consequences will be too horrible to contemplate.”
Listening to that, the two were dumbstruck and unable to reply; moreover, they did not understand Zhang Jinshu’s inner thoughts. According to reason, he should not hope Li Shimin would prevail, but listening to the tone of his voice, it appeared that this was not so.
Lowering his voice, Zhang Jinshu said, “I don’t know whether it’s because all of us are dog lovers, toward two gentlemen, Xiaodi has a familiarity-at-first-sight feeling, hence the reason I spoke candidly. Among the various hegemons of the northern territory, aside from Liang Shidou, everybody who is being exploited by the Tujue, none is not afraid of their tyrannical abuse. Even more, they know that if Tujue main forces really go down south, the Central Earth will fall into people-in-terrible-situation, facing-imminent-catastrophe situation; no one can luckily escape. Xiaodi this time receives order to be an observer, precisely to form a judgment on the Tang Army’s strength.”
Kou Zhong shivered inwardly. He secretly estimated that Gao Kaidao had the intention to surrender to the Tang, and the key lay in whether Li Shimin could beat back the Tujue, who were borrowing Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang in indirect invasion.
This kind of mentality that Gao Kaidao was showing was actually a representative of the warlords vying for supremacy, whose power was comparatively sub-par, which was, while the Tang Army’s soldiers were at the city walls, they took advantage of while they still had their qualifications to talk about conditions of surrender one step ahead.
Puzzled, Xu Ziling said, “Why only Liang Shidou wishes for Tujue invasion? Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang unexpectedly don’t count?”
Zhang Jinshu replied, “Among the various hegemons on the northern territory, Liang Shidou has the closest relationship with the Tujue, plus Liang Shidou has blood relationship with the Tujue; early on he had already considered himself a Tujue, and not a Han.”
After a short pause, he went on, “As for Liu and Song, two men, if they had any choice, they might wait until the Tang Army attack Luoyang before launching their own offensive, so that they would receive the fisherman’s benefit.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had never thought that on the surface this matter seemed to be simple, turned out the inside was this complicated.
Xieli was hard-pressed to know that Yang WenGan was conspiring to raise arms in rebellion, hence the reason he paid no attention to Liu and Song, two men’s aspiration to move their troops to the south to attack Taiyuan. Who would have thought that Yang WenGan was pacified by Li Shimin, without much effort, like blowing out a breath, and the Li Clan did not even spend half a strand of hair. On the contrary, Li Shimin’s fame and power spread out, suppressing the aggressive arrogance of the Crown Prince and the Imperial Concubines Factions.
Xieli originally intended to personally lead the large-scale military invasion, but was curbed by Tuli that he was unable to move a single step, and was forced to send his claws and teeth to undertake the task.
Zhang Jinshu sighed and said, “Being a neighbor to the Tujue is not easy at all. Xieli’s severe demand is brutal. Today it is silk cloth, thin, tough silk fabric, and silk [these are all variants of silk, different characters: 絲綢絹帛], tomorrow it will be money and beauty; who can cope?”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “The longer we cannot suppress the Tujue, the longer we can forget about passing our days in peace and happiness.”
Kou Zhong asked, “Zhang Xiong’s Yan State is neighboring Gaoli [Korea], you ought to know them better. I wonder what kind of person ‘Yijian Dashi’ Fu Cailin is?”
Knitting his brows, Zhang Jinshu said, “In the heart of the Gaoli people, Fu Cailin is already a deity, not a mortal, brimming with mysterious flavor. According to the bits and pieces of information that Xiaodi acquired, he is a man in pursuit of perfection. It was only in his later years that he accepted three female disciples; all are as lovely as a flower. His youngest disciple, Fu Junqiang is the most remarkable, also the one he most doted on.”
Hearing that, the two boys you look at me I gaze at you; they never thought that other than their Niang and Fu Junyu, there was still a little martial art sister.
Kou Zhong said, “There’s also a man called Jin Zhengzong, his martial art is outstanding; have Zhang Xiong heard about him?”
Zhang Jinshu replied, “Jin Zhengzong is the King of Gaoli’s former imperial chief of the martial art training center, with specific responsibility to train the imperial army. Listening to the tone of Shaoshuai’s voice, it appears that you have exchanged blows with him, is that right?”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Indeed I have exchanged a few moves with him, but before victory and defeat were decided, both of our boats were broken and we fell into the sea.”
Zhang Jinshu said, “In order to resist Xieli, Gaoli and Qidan formed an alliance. With no fears of trouble in the rear, Qidan people occasionally disguise themselves as horse thieves, invading and harassing the border area, bringing about serious harm and destruction to the common people on the frontier fortress. They not only want money, they also want to capture the people. Were it not for they still have misgivings toward the Tujue, I am afraid they would have launched large scale invasion early on.”
Kou Zhong already had profound understanding on this matter; he thought that if he unified the Central Plains, he would have to deploy the troops in punitive expedition to the north, to attack the Tujue and the Qidan’s old nest directly. He must strive to achieve the nation-rich-the-people-strong condition; otherwise, he would only repeat Emperor Yang’s disastrous policy.
Supposing he could subdue the Tujue and the Qidan, then he could pursue peaceful coexistence with the Gaoli; considering his Niang, he could not possibly use military force against Gaoli.
Zhang Jinshu continued, “Looking at two Laoxiong’s leisurely attitude, apparently you don’t take Yuwen Shiji colluding with Li Shimin and the others to deal with you to heart at all. I wonder if two gentlemen already have a plan to cope with this matter?”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Other things we can’t do, but escaping, we do have a bit of experience; therefore, we are not afraid anybody scheming against us. Meeting Zhang Xiong today has broadened our horizon; this is a delight in our lives. I wonder if Zhang Xiong’s next destination happen to be Taiyuan?”
Zhang Jinshu slapped his thigh and sighed in praise, “Xu Xiong indeed can see through Xiaodi.”
Rising to his full height, he looked around at the dogs, saying, “These dogs led Xiaodi to make friends with two gentlemen, I can’t bear to leave them here, fortunately Xiaodi has an idea, I can transport them via the river to my humble abode.”
The two boys were greatly delighted; hurriedly they stood up to express their thanks. Actually, they were thinking about it and were sad.
Merely from this point, from the bottom their heart the two were willing to make such a friend. During the time where the soldiers panicked and horses in chaos, Zhang Jinshu was still willing to take the trouble to care for the dogs; evidently this man had compassion.
Lowering his voice again, Zhang Jinshu said, “The news that the two gentlemen are heading to Xucheng to settle an old account with Yuwen Huaji has spread all over the world. Xiongdi hereby wish two gentlemen winning a victory on raising the flag [idiom: success in a single move], settling the load on your mind.”
Finished speaking, unexpectedly he took off his outer robe to wrap the wolf meat. After saying goodbye he casually led the dogs to leave.
Seeing this, the two boys were greatly relieved. They went the other direction to continue their journey.