Translator: Foxs' Wuxia
Xu Ziling followed Li Jing into Luoyang’s Palace City, straight toward the inner garden of the imperial palace. Li Shimin was already waiting in his study room, seeing Xu Ziling arrived, he welcomed him in delight and took him inside to sit down. All his men, Li Jing included, withdrew from the study room.
The two men’s eyes met, they both generated the familiar feeling of treating one another with absolute sincerity.
Li Shimin said, “I just received Fuhuang’s written imperial order, summoning me back to Chang’an. How is the situation on your side?”
Xu Ziling replied, “It will take us at least two to three months to complete the deployment of infiltrating Chang’an, Shimin Xiong must buy some time.”
Knitting his brows, Li Shimin said, “There is not much time, it is quite unfavorable to us. There is less than a month before the weather warms up and the snow melts.”
Muttering to oneself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, “Due to lingxiong [your esteemed older brother] succeeded in sweeping away Liu Heita, lingzun [your esteemed father] definitely will not allow Shimin Xiong to lead the troops on military campaign. However, one day lingxiong has not solved the problem of Shimin Xiong, plus the coalition forces outside the Great Wall might go down south any moment, lingzun definitely will not dare to employ troops against Shao Shuai Army. Therefore, as long as Shaoshuai holds back his troops without moving, there will still be the deadlock of the north and the south standing opposite to each other.”
Li Shimin nodded and said, “As long as you adopt the stance of attacking Lin Shihong and Xiao Xian with all your strength, no one in Chang’an will be suspicious, plus there will be a lot of rain in the springtime, which is unfavorable for marching the army. Launching the attack to the north in the summer is reasonable and fair.”
“How long can Shimin Xiong delay?” Xu Ziling asked.
Li Shimin replied with a wry smile, “One and a half months is the limit, and that includes the return trip. This half-a-month period will be very difficult.”
Xu Ziling said. “In this half a month, Shimin Xiong must endure humiliation as part of an important mission [idiom: suffering in silence]. If necessary, we can ask Xie Hui and the Four Clans to publicly declare their surrender to us. At that time, lingzun will not dare to act blindly without thinking even more, because Guanzhong will be under direct threat, killing you will throw the troops’ heart in chaos for nothing. Therefore, he might only continuously reduce your authority, and eliminate the strategic experts and powerful generals around Shimin Xiong.”
Li Shimin said, “That is already a big headache to us. Plus when Bashu throws their lot into Shao Shuai Army, the psychological impact is greater than the real impact, because if there is a way to guard against it, the Shu Road via Hanzhong toward Guanzhong is very unfavorable to march an army; as long as we set up massive military force at important points, it is difficult for the invaders to cross the thunder pond for even half a step.”
Xu Ziling heart was moved, he said, “Good thing Shimin Xiong reminded me, Bashu’s reputation must be exploited well. First of all, Xie Hui has to state clearly that they will strictly maintain their neutrality, in order to pacify Chang’an’s heart from top to bottom. And then we pretend to raise our momentum to tightly trail your troops to Guanwai [outside the Pass, i.e. outside Guanzhong]. In this kind of circumstances, as long as Bashu announces that they surrender to Shao Shuai Army, the only way lingzun is going to deal with it is to transfer the troops stationed in Chang’an to defend the southern line. This will greatly reduce the pressure on us.”
Emotionally moved, Li Shimin said, “Ziling’s plan does not cost us a single soldier or half a pawn, it is very ingenious. But I still have another worry, which is the coalition forces outside the Great Wall, headed by Xieli and Tuli, according to our intelligence, are still gathering military strength. It is estimated that it will eventually reach 200,000 to 250,000 men. With such a strength, no one in the Central Earth, including our Li Tang and Shao Shuai Army, practically has the strength to confront it head-on.”
Recalling the elite and formidable army beyond the Great Wall, coming and going like the wind, Xu Ziling drew out a mouthful of cold air. If they let such a force storm into the Central Plains, the destruction they brought about would be unimaginable. He said, “Perhaps we are a bit more optimistic about this, but the key point still lies in Zhao Deyan; one day Shimin Xiong is not dead, he will persuade Xieli to wait patiently. And by looking at the current situation, killing Shimin Xiong has become where the water flows, a canal is formed [a matter of course], Xieli should not have lacked this little bit of patience.”
As someone who has personally experienced it, Li Shimin shook his head and said, “Although Xieli and Tuli are the driving force behind the assembly of the allied forces beyond the Great Wall, the coalition army might, in turn, control and dominate them, making them have no choice but to attach most importance to the interests, morale, and aspiration of the whole entity. Even if they are unable to put me to death, the invasion is bound to happen, no one can change this kind of situation. Therefore, even if I get lucky to sit on the emperor’s seat, this hard, staking-it-all battle with the outside tribes’ allied forces is still cannot be avoided. We must be ready at the earliest possible time, otherwise the chaos of the world will continue.”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “In Shimin Xiong’s opinion how long should Xieli’s waiting period be?”
Li Shimin said, “It shouldn’t be more than half a year. To assemble, train, store up supplies to support the deployment along the route, it will take approximately three to four months. During this period, Xieli might go out using Liang Shidu’s face. First, they would capture several key cities in the border area to open up a path for their coalition forces. This time they will learn the lessons of the past and will no longer attack each city one by one, since it is time-consuming and uses up manpower and provisions, but will go straight to Chang’an from Taiyuan, and concentrate their power to attack the city of Chang’an. As long as Chang’an falls, the entire Guanzhong’s defensive power will be rattled. At that time, they could easily besiege the city and plunder the land from four directions, and consolidate the results of the war.”
Xu Ziling felt the chill along his entire spine, he said, “If by this time you guys were still the two cannot exist together with us, Xieli indeed had a very good chance to succeed. Because you must deploy massive military force in Luoyang, Hulao, and Xiangyang, the three important strongholds, while attending to one thing and lose sight of another [idiom], the other side has Zhao Deyan, an expert in besieging the city, Chang’an merely has several tens of thousands of men, it would be really hard to withstand the 250,000 elite troops of the outside tribes’ coalition forces’ incessant onslaught day and night. Fortunately, that is not the case. If Shimin Xiong can seize the power before their soldiers are at the city walls, combined the army from four sides, eight directions coming to help from all parts of the country, it may be possible to smash Xieli’s ambition to invade the Central Plains in one fell swoop. At that time, Shimin Xiong can follow the prescribed order [idiom: to keep to the working routine] by pushing those who are dissatisfied and cut them off, those who surrendered will be loved, implementing the universal love as one policy of dealing with the outside tribes.”
Li Shimin nodded and said, “That is exactly the gist of Feixuan’s discussion with me. She pointed out that this is our last chance. If we missed it, Huaxia [China] would fall into consigned-to-eternal-damnation situation.”
Remembering Shi Feixuan, a hard to describe subtle feeling welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart. When he talked to Shi Feixuan earlier, because his mind was completely attracted by her immortal appearance, he was in a bit of daze. This moment, however, far away from her, the fuzzy scene suddenly became clear.
Shi Feixuan’s immortal heart was really moved by him and she had the courage to speak bluntly, so that their spiritual love could really continue to the end of eternity, assuming that eternity did not have an end.
This would forever be the secret between he and Shi Feixuan, even those who were close to him like Shi Qingxuan or Kou Zhong, he would never reveal the truth to them, not that his love for Shi Qingxuan was reduced the least bit, just like the brotherly love between he and Kou Zhong would not be harmed at all. He would be even more wholehearted, without any worry throwing himself in the spiritual desires of falling head over heels in love with Shi Qingxuan. Life has come to this, what else did he want?
He smiled and said, “At that time, she still didn’t know that I would persuade Kou Zhong, Shimin Xiong must have thought this was impossible.”
Li Shimin looked at him, his pair of eyes exuding sharp rays of light, he spoke indifferently, “At that time, naturally I thought no one could persuade Kou Zhong, not to mention it was after Song Que and Ning Daoqi’s battle where both sides suffer. But Feixuan believed that she could not possibly misjudge you, she could not possibly misjudge Kou Zhong. At that time, I had a very strange feeling, she seemed to have some kind of a blind trust toward Ziling, although now it turns out that her insight is completely verified.”
Xu Ziling understood his intentions, laughing involuntarily, he said, “It’s the first time Xiaodi feel that Qin Wang is jealous, but really there is no reason to be jealous, because her trust in you is more blind than her trust in us. At least she has never wavered, while toward us, she still dispatched Ning Daoqi, right?”
Li Shimin reached out to put his hand on Xu Ziling’s shoulder, he sighed and said, “I am about to lose two brothers, but I will gain you and Kou Zhong, it is my good fortune, hence I do not need to hide my jealousy from you. Because we all are brothers, plus fellow-sufferers-empathize-with-each-other good brothers, why don’t we drink a couple of cups? there is no battle to fight for the time being anyway.”
Xu Ziling was puzzled, “What do you mean fellow sufferers empathize with each other?”
Li Shimin replied, “Feixuan is like the bright moon in the sky. We can take advantage while she passes the night sky to get a glimpse or two more from afar, yet she will always belong to herself, men who adore her can only bury their intention at the bottom of their hearts. In the future, no matter what great undertaking of eternal immortality, what the great cause we achieve, this life’s regret will always accompany us; thinking about it, it makes people sad and depressed.”
Xu Ziling finally understood what he meant; furthermore, he understood that he was not suffering from the same illness as him. Naturally it was inconvenient to reveal anything, hence he could only sigh vaguely to accompany him; changing the subject, he said, “I want to rush to Bashu immediately and sneak into Chang’an with Kou Zhong, I hope we can resolve Shi Zhixuan problem.”
Li Shimin stared blankly at him for half a day, he said dejectedly, “Could Ziling stay with me for a while longer? I suddenly feel very painful, Ziling please wait a moment.”
Finished speaking, he went out the door, summoned Li Jing, and returned to the study room after whispering some instructions. Sitting down by Xu Ziling’s side, he heaved a sigh.
Xu Ziling thought he was still in regret and feeling a sense of loss because he would never get Shi Feixuan; encouraging him, he said, “If Shimin Xiong could unify the world and bring peace, it would be the best gift to Feixuan.”
Li Shimin shook his head and said, “Since Fuhuang entered Chang’an and ascended the throne, over the years, I have been used to hiding my thoughts so that no one can see the true feelings in my heart. But just now talking with Ziling, unexpectedly I felt I could speak frankly; it was an extreme delight. However, it also evoked childhood memories; I was born of the same mother as Jiancheng Taizi [crown prince] and Qi Wang. When we were young, our relationship was close, just like with Ziling now, we were unbridled without any scruple. I never thought that today we could be you hoodwink me and I cheat you, fighting for life, fighting to the death; how could I not sigh with sorrow?”
Xu Ziling understood. Smiling ruefully, he said, “Isn’t there a saying when the boat reaches the bridge, it will pass underneath without trouble [proverb: everything will be all right]? There are some things that you shouldn’t think too much, you can only do your best with all your strength.”
With the sound of footsteps, Li Jing came in, and presented a square brocade case with both hands.
After Li Jing withdrew, Li Shimin opened the brocade case on his lap, took out something that looked like a neatly folded document, put the brocade case on the small table on the side, rose up to his full height and said, “Ziling, please look over.”
His curiosity was piqued, Xu Ziling followed him over to the desk, and watched him unfolding the document. Surprisingly, it was a complete map of the city of Chang’an, extremely exquisite and very detailed, densely packed with small characters the size of a fly’s head, written in fine cinnabar pen, annotating clearly the garrison and defensive situation of the various buildings for military purposes.
This was precisely one of the three important tasks that Song Que entrusted to Kou Zhong, and it was now unfolding before Xu Ziling’s eyes.
Greatly astonished, Xu Ziling said, “Turns out Shimin Xiong is already prepared.”
Li Shimin laughed calmly and said, “Ziling, please don’t misunderstand. When creating this city map, I never thought it would be used against my own family. In fact, this is my habit, I have my men draw a detailed map of all important cities, otherwise how are you going to know clearly the strength and weakness of the city we are going to attack or defend?”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “This is called heroes usually agree [idiom: great minds think alike]. Song Que knew that we could launch street fighting inside the city of Chang’an via the Duke Yang’s Treasure-house, so the first thing he wanted was to send Kou Zhong to sneak into Chang’an and draw such a map of the Chang’an City.”
Li Shimin nodded and said, “Honestly, speaking about contending for hegemony over the world, if the opponent is just Kou Zhong, and I can hold power over the military, I have full confidence that he and I both can share the limelight, we’ll only see whose luck is a bit better. But if there is Song Que joining hands with him, I do not have even half a confidence. Fortunately, now I don’t have to worry about it.”
“Is there any change in the situation of Chang’an City?” Xu Ziling asked.
Li Shimin replied with confidence, “How could it be easy to change? This is the city of Chang’an’s effective defensive deployment, some details can be changed, but the overall layout must remain the same. We are continuing and reinforcing Yang Guang’s original deployment. Because of Yang Guang’s focusing on the calamity in his armpit [idiom: trouble in one’s own backyard] mentality, among the strong capital cities in the world, the city of Chang’an has the best condition to fight street and alley battle. I conceived an idea once, which is when Chang’an is under siege, we could deliberately open the city gates to allow the enemy to march straight in unchallenged, and then exploit the city defense to wipe out the enemies entering the city in one move. From this, you can see the city of Chang’an’s defensive ability.”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling drew out a mouthful of cold air, he said, “In that case, if our men charge out of the Duke Yang’s Treasure-house, they could easily meet the destruction-of-the-entire-army disaster.”
Li Shimin nodded and said, “Relying only on military force, this will be an inevitable outcome, but the factor that really determines control over Chang’an depends on how many of the city defenders and the imperial guards of Chang’an City are on our side. The most critical factor is who can control the Xuanwu Gate, the Imperial Guard headquarters, which is the only fortress that can contain and control both the imperial palace and the outer city at the same time.”
“I wonder if Shimin Xiong have friendly relations with various high-ranking military officers of the Imperial Guard?” Xu Ziling asked.
Smiling wryly, Li Shimin said, “The four commanders of the Imperial Guard are all direct subordinate of Fuhuang, they don’t answer to anybody. What’s even more troublesome is that most of them belong to Huangxiong and Huangdi’s [emperor older and younger brother, respectively] system, they must obtain their strong recommendation and get the various imperial concubines’ approval before they can ascend onto this important position. If something happens, they will never stand on our side.”
“In that case, there is only one way to go: violent attack,” Xu Ziling said.
“That seems to be the case,” Li Shimin replied.
And then he folded the city map nicely and handed it over to Xu Ziling’s hand, saying, “Ziling, please give this map to Shaoshuai, in looking at the map and thinking over the tactics, he should be more unscrupulous and realistic and effective than me. Honestly, on the battlefield I have never met someone who is more adept at using soldiers, more audacious and able to create infinite wonders than Kou Zhong, he will surely be able to devise the best strategy.”
Xu Ziling was emotionally touched. Forget about Li Shimin’s absolute trust in them, merely from Li Shimin’s good aspect in his willingness to admit that Kou Zhong was an unequalled commander on the battlefield that was superior to him, it could be seen that Li Shimin had the know-the-enemy-and-know-oneself [idiom from Suntzu’s the Art of War] vision and know-how-to-appoint-people-according-to-their-ability [idiom] excellent measure of countenance, and this was precisely the most important prerequisite for Li Shimin to be a good emperor.
Xu Ziling hid this most precious city map that can determine to whom would the world belong to and the happiness of all people - well, he couldn’t help but ask, “How much confidence does Shimin have in the battle of Chang’an?”
Li Shimin muttered to himself irresolutely for half a day, he smiled wryly and said, “If looking at the current situation, I do not have the slightest confidence, but most of my confidence is based on our cooperation. Since your debut, you and Kou Zhong have always been able to create close-to-a-miracle possibility within the impossible. The Jade Annulus of He Clan was like that, the Duke Yang’s Treasure was like that, similarly, the Battle of He Lian Fort and the Longquan’s woes. At present, we are working together with one heart, coordinating outside and inside offensives, using wonder to control victory, perhaps we could create another miracle; who’d dare to say that it is impossible?”
Then he spoke heavily, “What brilliant plan do you have to deal with Shi Zhixuan?”
“There is only one way,” Xu Ziling replied, “which is to use self as a bait [orig. using self to assault danger], to lure him out. Because Shi Zhixuan is the number one big danger in our belly. If within these few months while our deployment is not completed, yet we allow him to sit on the sidelines [orig. the cool eye of a bystander] in secret and to think for himself and act accordingly, then our success or failure would not be determined by our strength or strategy, but by whether his mood is good or bad.”
Frowning, Li Shimin asked, “How are you going to use yourselves as a bait to lure him out?”
Xu Ziling replied, “We intend to use Situ Furong’s identity again. Of course, Kou Zhong and I will transform ourselves into Cai Yuanyong and Kuang Wentong, then only Shi Zhixuan will know our true identity.”
Li Shimin worriedly asked, “Aren’t you afraid Shi Zhixuan will expose you?”
Xu Ziling replied, “Hence the reason I said using self to assault danger; however, there is one little thing that we are certain. Based on Shi Zhixuan’s conduct, if he is not clear of our intention, he shouldn’t expose us just like that. Now Shi Zhixuan is being rejected by the people of various demonic schools acting together, Yang Xuyan betrayed him even more, making his position very dubious. This situation is benefiting us greatly.”
Li Shimin nodded and said, “Your stratagem has always been extremely daring, walking into marvel and walking into danger. Leave the real Situ Furong to me, my people have been closely monitoring his movements to ensure that he will not interfere with your big plans.”
Xu Ziling cheerfully said, “Shimin Xiong is indeed careful and thorough, it will save us a lot of efforts.”
Li Shimin said, “In retrospect, I have quite a feeling of demons and gods at work [idiom: unexplained event crying out for a supernatural explanation / curious coincidence] a little bit. That day, when I found out that you guys disguise yourselves as Situ Furong and went to Chang’an to deal with the Xiang Family, for some reason, I unexpectedly felt that I had to go all-out to conceal it for you, so I sent my men to find Situ Furong and a group of his subordinates outside the Great Wall, to warn him that he is not allowed to return to the Central Earth without my instructions. Now as a safety measure, I will put them under house arrest until his identity can no longer be used.”
After a short pause, he said, “I still have one worry. After Yang WenGan rebelled and was defeated, Fuhuang ordered Liu Zhengdao to build the Hongyi Palace in the west side of the city of Chang’an, it was finally completed last month. I’m afraid that when I return to Chang’an, Fuhuang might force me to move to this new palace.”
Inwardly Xu Ziling was shocked. The Tian Ce Fu where Li Shimin has always lived was in the inner court of the imperial palace, located to the west of the Taiji Palace of the Central Palace. Anyone attacking Tian Ce Fu was tantamount to attacking the imperial palace. However, if they moved to the stand-alone new palace west of the Palace, the whole situation might change. Attacking the enemy, they did not need to consider Li Yuan nearby and refrained from shooting the rat for fear of breaking the vases [idiom], which would be even more detrimental to Li Shimin; so how could they delay even more?
“Can Shimin Xiong refuse to move?” Xu Ziling asked.
Li Shimin sighed and said, “If Fuhuang uses the pretext of presenting this special gift to reward my military merits, how can I refuse?”
Xu Ziling said, “Therefore, the days after Shimin Xiong returns to Chang’an will be filled with danger at every step, extremely arduous and thrilling. We have no choice but to counter soldiers with arms, water with an earth weir [idiom], and be flexible to meet a contingency.”
Li Shimin put his hand on his shoulder, he laughed and said, “I have no choice but to do so. After talking with you, my mood is so much better! To be able to fight side-by-side with you is indeed the greatest joy in my life. Before, when stealing Dongming Furen’s account books, I already have this feeling. Dealing with Yang WenGan’s chaos was also a joy in hardship. This time, we don’t have any secret worry between us anymore, let us join hands and exchange hearts to create a better future together. Those who can do big things, how could they haggle over every ounce about personal likes and dislikes, hardship and joy? Ziling, go back with peace of mind and tell Kou Zhong, we’ll see each other in Chang’an City.”