Translator: Foxs' Wuxia
In the inner hall of the Shao Shuai Mansion, Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, Hou Xibai, and Yin Xianhe sat around the table to talk, there were also Xu Xingzhi and Xuan Yong accompanying them.
After clarifying the situation on Xu Ziling’s side, Kou Zhong spoke in great delight, “How can there be such a coincidence? I am about to leave for Chang’an. However, I have to meet Ol’ Die first.”
Turning to Yin Xianhe, he said, “You, LaoGe, set your heart at ease. About public announcement to look for your esteemed younger sister, leave it to us. Xingzhi will broaden our scope as much as possible.”
Xu Xingzhi cheerfully said, “Shuxia will manage it properly and safely.”
Yin Xianhe said, “It’s just ...”
Kou Zhong laughed to cut him off and said, “We all are brothers, I have silver taels, that means you have silver taels; what is there to argue about?”
Puzzled, Xuan Yong asked, “Why does Shaoshuai need to go to Chang’an?”
Kou Zhong told them about Song Que’s proposal, he suddenly realized Xu Ziling’s expression was peculiar, “Ling Shao has a problem?” he asked in astonishment.
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “I’ll tell you about it later!”
Kou Zhong said, “There is no problem that can’t be solved. It would be better if you guys accompany me to Liyang to meet Ol’ Die, and then we go together to Guanzhong. We can even see our Meiren’er Changzhu on the way to speak a few private words. This is now, that was then. Shang Xiuxun should be happy to see us.”
Knitting his brows, Xu Xingzhi said, “About drawing a detailed map of Chang’an, I wonder if Hou Gongzi could do it for you?”
Hou Xibai’s wonderful brush was famous throughout the world, in drawing and making a small cup, naturally he was more adept than Kou Zhong.
Hou Xibai cheerfully said, “Leave this matter to me then.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Xingzhi, no need to worry. After I left, the Song Clan held a big elbow from the top [not sure]. As long as I can persuade Ol’ Die to spread the word across the land under heaven, Shen Faxing, Xiao Xian, Lin Shihong and the others’ remnants will have enough trouble. Due to the road is blocked by heavy snow, Li kid will not be able to go down south. After the waterway is sealed off, he has no choice but to stay on the wind and snow’s border in the north. Our urgent business now is not to send punitive expedition to the south and send armed forces to suppress the north, but to train a unit of elite troops who are good at close combat and bloody battles to capture Chang’an in one fell swoop. At that time, the world will be the object in our bag, it will be Luoyang’s turn to become an isolated city. For the military training, I want Xuan Yong to be in charge.”
Xuan Yong accepted the order and gave his promise.
“When are you leaving?” Yin Xianhe asked.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Originally I wanted to wait until tonight before setting off to give you a chance to meet Song Fazhu. But now seeing Yin Xiong like this, I know that it will be hard for you, Laoge to stay much longer. How about this? In about a sichen, we will board the ship and start moving.”
Turning to Xu Ziling, he said, “What’s the matter? How about we talk on the boat?”
Xu Ziling wanted to speak but then hesitated, he had no choice but to agree.
The next one sichen Kou Zhong was so busy that the sky turned hazy, the earth turned dark, he had to talk to various generals one by one, both to instruct them face to face, and even more, to listen to their opinions. He also had to review various commissions and files prepared by Xu Xingzhi, to sign the documents and was busy to his heart’s delight. He tasted all the various distress of being an emperor for the first time.
Xu Xingzhi said, “The use of a pair of dragons as the flag emblem was proposed by Zhandao and Fengyi. We unanimously agree. Unless Shaoshuai has other ideas, Xingzhi believes this is it.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “If everybody comes to an agreement, how could I oppose it? Ha! I never thought that Ziling and I, the twin worms of Yangzhou, unexpectedly could morph into dragons. Until this moment I still feel unreal.”
Xu Xingzhi said, “After Song Fazhu arrives, how should we cooperate with him?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Xingzhi seems a little afraid of him, am I right?”
Xu Xingzhi sighed and said, “Song Que came from illustrious family background, his fame for fighting prowess is flourishing, only Ning Daoqi can compare with him. Even more so, he is well-known to be a proud person. Who in the world does not fear and venerate him?”
“Don’t worry!” Kou Zhong said, “Xingzhi should know that in the matter of declaring that I will be the emperor and Yuzhi be the empress, it was Song Que who took the initiative to propose it. He also wanted me to declare to our men that the Song Family Army is the Shao Shuai Army, and that the two armies will become one, to be of one mind from top to bottom. In terms of knowledge and experience in this regard, compared to him, the Senior, I can only gaze at the dust and turn around. Our top priority right now is, first of all, to recover our vitality and to exhaust or strength in consolidating our territory before attacking Guanzhong. Pacify the inside and then resist outside aggression. Toward deploying the troops against various enemies on the south, we will leave everything in his, the Senior’s hands to deal with, we will become his backup. Goods will be sent endlessly from Lingnan to Pengliang, and then the expeditionary army will be supported via the waterways. The moment the Great River is completely in our grasp, that will be the crucial moment where we will enter Shu, capture Hanzhong and launch surprise attack on Chang’an. Yang Gong and the others sacrificing their lives will never be in vain, we will demand payment for every drop of blood debt.”
Breathed a sigh of relief, Xu Xingzhi said, “Shaoshuai explained clearly, I start to put down the big rock in my heart. But I still don’t understand that at this kind of time, when in our country everything is waiting, Shaoshuai still, with complete devotion, want to go to Chang’an in person?”
Leaning back into his chair, Kou Zhong let out a long, long breath out, he stared blankly for half a day, and then his eyes met Xu Xingzhi’s inquiring gaze, he said with a wry smile, “If I want to speak in a high-sounding manner, I would say that I want to master what is true and what is false of every single place in Chang’an, in order to plan for the fierce battle in the alleys inside the city in the future. If I want to speak frankly, I just want to momentarily get away from the battlefield, so I can relax a little bit. But if someone asks you, it would be best for Xingzhi to offer the high-sounding answer.”
What else could Xu Xingzhi say? He had no choice but to agree.
Kou Zhong suddenly became excited again, he said, “Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans. Actually, I am not being lazy. If I can win over Ol’ Die and Shang Meiren to stand on our side, it will be more effective than winning several battles in a row on the battlefield. Besides, I am going to Chang’an this time is just a short visit; quickest will be half a month, longest will be one month, and I will immediately return to Chenliu, that way, we still have two months safe period of ice-covered winter.”
Xu Xingzhi pondered silently for half a day, finally he revealed a cheerful expression. He nodded and said, “Xiashu understands! Shaoshuai, go in peace!”
Kou Zhong was about to talk about other things when Chen Changlin rushed in like a whirlwind, went straight to Kou Zhong’s commander seat, dropped down on both knees, and said, “Shaoshuai, please give Changlin justice!”
Kou Zhong was shocked; he left his seat to help him up and said, “Changlin Xiong, don’t be like this, we are all brothers, your business is my business, I will do my best to help.”
Hot tears gushing out of Chen Changlin’s pair of eyes, he spoke in grief, “Shaoshuai, please allocate an army and let me attack Kunling.”
Stunned, Kou Zhong and Xu Xingzhi looked at each other, they felt even bigger headache. Chen Changlin had enmity against Shen Faxing, father and son, for destroying his entire family, therefore, when he thought that the fortunate timing has arrived, he no longer had the patience to wait. But the current situation was complicated, Kou Zhong should not, for some personal issues, influence Song Que’s overall battle plan, because presently, the most important strategic goal was to capture the capital Chang’an, the heart and the vital part of the Great Tang Army, other things must be temporarily set aside. But how could Kou Zhong have the heart to refuse Chen Changlin and make him lose hope?
Meeting Chen Changlin’s gaze, Kou Zhong smiled and said, “I said earlier that your, Laoge’s business is my business. Go find Xuan Yong and talk to him, training the troops is to be expedited, use Kunling as the target of attack first, just consider it as his Niang’s warm-up battle before the attack on Chang’an. No one is more familiar with the situation in Jiangnan than Changlin Xiong. It is best to use our current momentum to send people to infiltrate Kunling to bribe and split apart the high-ranking military officers under Shen Faxing’s command. All ordinary people love benefit, greedy for life, afraid of death. Anybody would know that Shen Faxing is not my match, therefore, he will definitely rush to realign his allegiance to us. His granny’s bear! Then we can avoid siege battle and only fight alleys battle. Ha! One move, two gains, unexpectedly there is such a convenience in the world!”
Xu Ziling asked, “How come I don’t see Wuming? Unexpectedly you are willing not to have her by your side.”
Kou Zhong asked in return, “Then why don’t I see Ling Shao bring Ling Sao [sister-in-law] to let me see her Lushan [Mount Lu] true identity? Ziling is willing to leave her?”
Xu Ziling spoke in displeasure, “Your mood is very good, but after you finish hearing what I have to say to you, it will spoil your mood.”
Aghast, Kou Zhong said, “Don’t scare me, I can’t bear another bad news.”
River breeze was blowing, the cold air was pressing.
The two boys were talking at the stern, learning against the railing. The ship was Shao Shuai Army’s fast battleship, sailing downstream to the south along the canal, straight toward the Great River. The boat that carried Xu Ziling to Chenliu remained outside the city, the boatmen were taken care of by the Shao Shuai Army, and were given some rewards.
Yin Xianhe and Hou Xibai knew that they, two brothers had important matters to discuss, so they tactfully withdrew into the cabin.
The dense clouds in the sky were thick and hanging low, the temperature was dropping rapidly, it appeared that heavy snow was coming.
Xu Ziling spoke dejectedly, “Feixuan knows the secret of Duke Yang’s Treasure House.”
“What?” Kou Zhong blurted out.
Xu Ziling explained in detail how he had told Shi Feixuan that there was a difference between the real and the fake treasure houses.
Obtaining sudden understanding, Kou Zhong said, “No wonder you said it would ruin my mood. However, my mood is still very good, because I am confident that Shi Feixuan is not that kind of a person. She can’t possibly be directly intervening in the war and causing even more killings.”
Smiling bitterly, Xu Ziling said, “But Shi Zhixuan said that when the struggle under the heaven turns into a struggle between you and Li Shimin, Shi Feixuan has no other choice and will definitely intervene. If she reveals the secrets of the treasure house, Li Shimin will guess our overall deployment, and will try to fight back.”
Kou Zhong said, “His Niang’s! So what even if he knows? At most, we all will fight with open saber, open spear, relying on brute force. But I still have a ninety-percent confidence that Feixuan is not that kind of person. Ling Shao is confused because you are anxious. When the time comes, we only need to enter the treasure house and take a look, and the truth will become clear.”
After telling Kou Zhong the facts, the guilty conscience in Xu Ziling’s heart was greatly reduced.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Let me answer your previous question. Now I have a special person to wait upon Wuming and to take care of her properly. I can’t bring her into Guanzhong anyway, so I leave her with the army. Hee ...! You should know that we now have an adorable Xiao Meizi, Xuanshu is also quite taken by her.”
Astonished, Xu Ziling said, “Little sister?”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “It’s little sister who dressed up as a man. This matter is complicated and not easy to express succinctly, full of strange karmic relationships. I will give you a detailed account a bit later. I have answered your question, now it’s your turn to tell me about Shi Qingxuan.”
Only then did Xu Ziling understand that he was ‘harboring malicious intentions’, he replied indifferently, “Between Shi Qingxuan and me, there seem to be a little sign of positive outcome. She promised to come to me after paying her respects to her Niang in Jingzhai.”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Congratulations, Ling Shao, finally there’s settlement!” But then he sighed and said, “I have a very distressing problem, and I need you, Laoge to help me using your brains to solve it.”
Xu Ziling said in astonishment, “Your good mood turned out to be fake. It seems to be related to a beauty as well?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “Don’t change the subject, my problem has nothing to do with the beauties, rather, I don’t want to be the emperor.”
Staring blankly, Xu Ziling said, “You are not joking, are you? After reaching such an extent this day and age, you unexpectedly say you don’t want to be the emperor. How are you going to answer Song Que? How are you going to answer the brothers who go through the fire and water with you?”
Without the least bit of shame Kou Zhong said, “Hence the reason I want to trouble your agile little brains to think of a good plan for me. After seeing Li Yuan’s miserable plight as the emperor, can I still be awake? Being the emperor is akin to sit in the emperor’s prison, the imperial palace is an open-style prison. If I really become the emperor, I could forget about squatting with Ling Shao on the street with a big bowl of wine and big pieces of meat, talking in vulgar language. How can this kind of life be lived? My ideals are the same as those of Ling Shao, which is only to seek for the common people’s stability and that I live a happy life for myself. Even if I take a wife and have children in the future, I want to be neighbor with you, Ling Shao. Otherwise, tell me, how am I going to pass the days without you?”
Laughing involuntarily, Xu Ziling said, “I am afraid nobody can help you with this matter, because you have no other choice. Now you can only abandon self for others [idiom from Analects], with heart and soul plan for all the people under the heavens instead of planning only for yourself. Frankly speaking, in my heart, except for Li Shimin, the person most suitable to be the emperor is you, this kid, because I know that you will spare no effort to seek happiness for all the people. Moreover, because they are afraid of you, the outer tribes won’t dare to invade.”
Kou Zhong dejectedly remained silent.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, “The biggest problem is still Song Que. You become the emperor and his daughter becomes the empress, of course, everything is fine. But if you shrink back as the time for battle approaches [idiom: getting cold feet], no one can predict his reaction.”
Kou Zhong said, “Other than this, we still have two things that need to be resolved urgently.”
Stunned, Xu Ziling looked at him.
Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “The first difficult problem is Li Dage. No matter how we are dissatisfied because he did not marry Su Jie but married other woman, he is, after all, our brother, and he is right in Chang’an. If we attack Chang’an, one wrong move and we will get rid of him by mistake; in the future, we can forget about having good heart and obtaining peace.”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “Are you thinking that after we get to Chang’an you want to find an opportunity to see him?”
Spreading his arms, Kou Zhong said, “Of course I have such a plan, and the best way is to thoroughly lay out the pros and cons to him face to face, and persuade him to leave the Li Family immediately.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “He won’t listen. What kind of person Li Jing is, you and I should understand clearly.”
Kou Zhong said, “Another way is before besieging the city, to have him and Hongfu Nu captured alive to protect him, husband and wife’s lives. This requires you, Ling Shao’s help to make it work, plus Ba kid, Hou kid, and Yin kid, three big kids; it shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “That is a way within no way, and it is a bit safer. This time we are going to Chang’an, it’s not suitable to disturb him, to avoid putting him in an awkward position, because today is different from the past, we have become mortal enemies of the Li family; with Li Shimin we are the two cannot coexist together even more. What is the other problem?”
Kou Zhong revealed a delighted expression; leaning close to his ears, he spoke softly, “Since we are visiting Meiren’er Changzhu anyway, why not propose marriage on Song ErGe’s behalf to Shang Meiren?”
“Are you joking?” Xu Ziling blurted out.
Kou Zhong responded with serious expression, “How can I joke in this kind of matter? Now the time is changing, the momentum is different. Shang Meiren can’t possibly regard us as severe floods and fierce beasts [idiom: extremely dangerous or threatening things] anymore, she would be happy to have close relationship with us. Since Shang Meiren and Song ErGe love each other [orig. qie yi lang qing, qie – reference for young women, yi – wish/desire/intention, lang – reference for young men, qing – feeling/emotion/passion], we only need to give the red thread a pull, this matter will be where water flows, a canal is formed [idiom: when conditions are right, success will follow naturally]! Ha! Is there a marriage that is more perfect than this? It is both the young man [lang] has the love, the young woman [qie] has the desire, even more so, it is a pairing of family influential for generations with another family influential for generations, a couple of grand and noble people. Song Que will definitely not object.”
Xu Ziling spoke in displeasure, “Song ErGe and Shang Xiuxun have only seen each other two or three times, where did the lang qing qie yi [see above] come from?”
Kou Zhong spoke with a sneer, “Shang Meiren’s temperament, you should know it better than I do. If she had no interest toward Song ErGe, why did as soon as they got together, they chatted until the sky turned hazy, the earth turned dark, the heaven desolate, the earth old [until the end of time]? Ay! Don’t you see? This is the only good way so that ErGe does not need to spend the rest of his life alone in the little valley where Niang is buried. Do you have any other good ideas?”
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, “But I still don’t think it’s advisable to spoil things through excessive enthusiasm [idiom], otherwise, trying to be clever and ending up with egg on our face, it might ruin good things by accident.”
Full of confidence, Kou Zhong said, “Mountain man has an excellent plan. For the time being, we are not going to mention marriage proposal, but we have to set up the bridge, pagoda and the road for their bright future, and then we’ll get them together. At that time, the sky rumbling with thunder would still cannot separate them.”
Xu Ziling said, “You always have a solution to other people’s affairs, why are you unable to find solution for your own affairs?”
Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong said, “This is called the one on the field is confused, hence I ask for your advice. You mentioned Shi Zhixuan just now. Have you seen him recently?”
Xu Ziling told him about his three successive encounters with Shi Zhixuan, he finally said, “I hope my sense is wrong, Shi Zhixuan no longer has any flaws.”
Kou Zhong disagreed, he said, “At least he has not slaughter you, this kid, this is a very big flaw. Actually, no one is an exception, hence people as powerful as Shi Zhixuan and Song Que, inevitably there will be something blocking their heart.”
Xu Ziling asked in astonishment, “Song Que has a flaw?”
Kou Zhong said, “I don’t know if it could be considered Song Que’s flaw. But apparently he has a special affection toward Feixuan’s Shizun [revered master], Fan Qinghui. Hence he didn’t dare to go to Jingzhai to flip through the Sword Canon for fear of seeing her. Is this a flaw?”
Xu Ziling spoke crossly, “This is practically two quite different things from Shi Zhixuan’s flaws.”
The sun was sinking behind the distant mountain range on the west bank of the canal, it weakly radiated a little afterglow in the depth of the thick clouds.
Kou Zhong suddenly asked, “Based on your supernatural feeling, do you have the confidence to help Yin kid to find his younger sister?”
Staring blankly, Xu Ziling replied, “I am not an immortal, how do I know?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “In this matter, my spiritual perception is more formidable than yours. Because I understand Buddhism principle of karma multiplication more. Take the newly-acquired little sister as an example, do you remember that year when we accompanied Shang Meiren to Xiangyang? On the way, the little sister wanted to grab my purse. After I grabbed her, not only did I not blame her, I also gave her an ingot of gold. As a result, she came to share intelligence with me, which enabled me to avoid a catastrophe. This is precisely cause and effect [karma]. Your chance encounters with the Yin kid, it was precisely the cycle of cause and effect of the underworld. Since there is a cause, there must be an effect. Therefore, I am sure you will get the answer from Ji Meiren.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “I hope it will be as you said!”
The two boys suddenly felt it, they looked up to the sky at the same time. Snowflakes filled the sky, slowly falling down.
Kou Zhong opened his mouth wide, he swallowed an icy-cold snowflake. Cheering, he said, “The two-month period to obtain victory starts from this moment. When the winter go and the spring come, the world will no longer be the Li family’s world, but my, Kou Zhong’s world. Xu Junshi [military adviser], quickly used your brain to help me avoid the calamity of being forced to become the emperor.”