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Book 47 Chapter 12 – The Last Hope
The lights suddenly went out.
The Seven Young Masters of Chang’an’s all kinds of weapons either hacked the chair or chopped the table, while Xu Ziling himself already disappeared without any trace.
Ji Qian and the others were still groping about in panic inside the restaurant, which had turned into complete darkness, while Xu Ziling stealthily slipped out from the back door.
This was the best way to deal with the situation that he could think of, and only he could put out all eight palace lanterns around the restaurants in the blink of an eye, and then the moment the light suddenly turned dark, he seized the opportunity to easily slip out of the siege, the Seven Young Masters of Chang’an could not even touch the corner of his garment.
Since they were so useless, naturally the pretentious Seven Young Masters of Chang’an could not possibly broadcast it; they might even brag to be the hero that scared Xu Ziling’s ‘Yong Qin’ that he fled in defeat, hence it was unlikely that they would alarm other people.
As for the deterioration of his relationship with Ji Qian, he was helpless to do anything about it, hence he had no choice but to temporarily ignore it with the intention of clearing up the misunderstanding when he had the fortunate timing in the future.
When he turned into a side alley, he immediately flew up to the roof of a building on the side of the alley. Shaking his body, he transformed himself into the vicious-shaped-evil-appearance-and-ghost-like-face ‘Duan Ming’ Cao San, and then he rushed at full speed in the direction of Chi Shengchun’s magnificent mansion.
※ ※ ※
Before his meeting, Kou Zhong already stated that he would pa.s.s on everything that Li Shimin said without missing a word to w.a.n.g Shichong. However, when he was about to do so, Kou Zhong began to realize that it was not possible. Not only he had to carefully select suitable things to say to w.a.n.g Shichong, he also had to change the tone of Li Shimin’s original voice and remove all insulting words altogether.
Inside the inner hall of Cijian’s Zongguan Mansion, w.a.n.g Shichong dismissed all his attendants, and he listened to Kou Zhong’s report with all his attention.
Kou Zhong finally said, “This time Li Shimin wanted to see me to talk, the main reason was to make me sounding out the difficulties and retreating to avoid defeat [idiom]. But Shengshang please rest a.s.sured that I am now more confident than ever that I will be able to defend Cijian steadily. If Li Shimin really goes around to attack Luoyang, we will raze the camp he left behind to the ground, and then we launch pincer attack to his troops attacking Luoyang. Such a strong big city like Luoyang, how could he capture it in a year or a half?”
He did not mention even for half a sentence Li Shimin’s proposal, as well as that he did not dare to accept his bet. He did not mention anything about Zhang Zhenzhou either, because quite possibly it was only a scheme to drive a wedge between them anyway. Naturally, it was also possible that it might be true. As for Li Shimin’s strategy, he reported it truthfully.
w.a.n.g Shichong’s face was cloudy, he spoke in heavy voice, “If we cannot conquer his city stronghold for a long time, won’t that mean our thirty thousand troops will be pinned down by his mere ten thousand men in here? If Li Shimin can capture Huiluo, or even control the North Mang Mountain, he could easily cut off the grain transport route from Luoyang to Cijian. Moreover, because he gains control over the Yellow River, plus he obtains the support of Guanzhong via the waterway, in term of the foodstuff supply, he does not have any problem at all. This side is declining, that side is growing, it is going to be greatly disadvantageous to us.”
Kou Zhong was shocked; he hastily said, “Shengshang must never give up Cijian. If Cijian is lost, Shou’an and Yique will be without protection, the blow to our morale will be heavy and difficult to estimate. The sea on the northern side already fell into Li Shimin’s hands, if we let the Tang Army sweeps various cities in the south and cuts off connection with Xiangyang, we will barely only have Yanshi and Hulao on the eastern front, we will be caught in a completely pa.s.sive position.”
Letting out a cold snort, w.a.n.g Shichong said, “I am not as pessimistic as Shaoshuai; Hulao and Luokou, Xingyang, Guanzhou, Zhengyang, Bianzhou and Yanshi, each city corresponds to the other. All these cities on the frontline are guarded by great generals who are completely loyal and devoted to me, w.a.n.g Shichong. Li Shimin wanted to break my eastern side, how could it be easy? If Li Shiji dares to attack Hulao, it will be akin to digging his own grave. As long as I concentrate the military strength in Luoyang, any problem on the east, I will simply transfer troops from Luoyang to help, how long will Li Shimin be able to endure? By the time of Great Snow in the winter, he will have to return to Guanzhong, at that time, the world will become my, w.a.n.g Shichong’s world.”
Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, “But have Shengshang ever thought that our success or failure is linked to Hulao? Isn’t this called staking all on one throw, that everyday we could only ask G.o.d and worship Buddha, hoping that Hulao will not fall?”
w.a.n.g Shichong shook his head and said, “Zhen’s mind is made up. Starting tomorrow, we will withdraw our troops in stages to return to Luoyang. Huiluo is one of our two big granaries, its impact on Luoyang’s success or failure is greater than Cijian.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong was enraged. He stood up abruptly and spoke heavily, “There will come a day where Shengshang will regret this decision. Troops in defeat like a landslide [idiom], although retreating army does not mean losing a war, but the lost of Cijian will affect all officers and soldiers’ confidence in Shengshang, as well as affect their loyalty to Shengshang. I wonder if Shengshang could give me ten thousand men, let me, Kou Zhong, be in charge of defending Cijian to the death for Shengshang?”
w.a.n.g Shichong looked at him coldly for half a day. Finally he slowly shook his head and said, “Zhen must preserve the military strength to defend Luoyang.”
Kou Zhong heaved a deep sigh and made a helpless expression; and just like that, he walked over toward the exit.
w.a.n.g Shichong shouted angrily, “Where are you going?”
Without looking back, Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “Going back to Pengliang, naturally. I want to see if there is any chance for me to s.n.a.t.c.h Jiangdu away from Li Zitong’s hands. Jiangdu is another Luoyang. If it falls into my hands, the boundless ocean will allow me, Kou Zhong, to go on the rampage. If Li Shimin is coming to attack Pengliang, I will have the bargaining chips to contend with him.”
w.a.n.g Shichong softened down. He sighed and said, “Zhen have my own difficulties, why don’t you sit down, we can discuss a strategy to satisfy rival demands. Shaoshuai has consideration for Cijian, I am giving thought to Luoyang. For example, we could build two stone forts on either side of the road between Cijian and Luoyang; it will both reinforce the defensive power west of Luoyang, also we need not worry to painstakingly defend Cijian as if it is too far to be able to help [orig. the whip cannot reach (idiom)].”
Kou Zhong knew that Zhang Zhi raised his and Yang Gongqing’s earlier ideas to w.a.n.g Shichong, yet in the end because w.a.n.g Shichong was still afraid, he decided to give up defending Cijian. Shaking his head, he said, “Only if Cijian still stand will this kind of stone fort can play an active role. Ay! I really do not wish to leave Shengshang, it’s only because I have no other choice; I do not want to be slaughtered by Li Shimin that easily!”
w.a.n.g Shichong rose up and left his seat, he went straight to Kou Zhong’s behind, and spoke in displeasure, “What does Shaoshuai want that you will be willing to stay to help Zhen? Other than Cijian, which is difficult for Zhen to give you a nod, in other things we still have room for discussion.”
Kou Zhong spun around like a whirlwind and spoke resolutely, “Very well! As long as Shengshang agrees to let me have the full authority to take the heavy responsibility to defend Hulao, I, Kou Zhong will live or die with Shengshang, I will absolutely not abandon you midway.”
※ ※ ※
In an easy drive on a familiar path, Xu Ziling sneaked into Chi Mansion. He evaded the patrolling dog protecting the courtyard and entered the inner residence. Furthermore, he roused all his twelve consciousness [i.e. 120% alert (Courtesy of Akolaw)], all because he might meet a demonic school martial art master at any moment.
Of the three sections of the inner courtyard, only the front hall was brightly lit, from which he also heard voices. The middle and rear sections were dark without any light.
Xu Ziling cried inwardly, ‘Heaven helps me’, following the familiar path he peeked into Chi Shengchun’s bedroom. Bai Qing’er was not there, the bed was empty, the beddings were folded neatly, evidently Chi Shengchun has not yet gone to bed. He mused inwardly whether Bai Qing’er already succeeded in mastering that Chanu Xinfa or whatever [see Book 46 Chapter 10], and thus she went out to harm people.
He swiftly entered the bedroom. Using his professional insight and skill, in less than half a quarter hour he already discovered the entrance to the underground room to be inside one of the cabinets leaning against the wall, concealed behind clothing and other personal items, plus it did not require any special mechanism to open. Grabbing the handle and lifted it up, he saw wooden stairs extending at an angle into the underground room. ‘It’s so easy,’ he mused. After making sure that there was n.o.body around, he lighted the paper fire, and slipped into the underground room.
The underground room was approximately a zhang square, and was absolutely empty. On one side, there were three wooden cabinets, on the other side were three st.u.r.dy sandalwood chests. Xu Ziling opened the cabinets one by one. Stored inside were weapons, medicaments and all kinds of gambling equipment. The wooden chests were entirely filled with gold ingots. Three boxes full of gold ingots, the total amount ought to surpa.s.s ten thousand gold ingots, enough to buy the entire Ming Tang Wo, a.s.suming the ‘Great Immortal’ Hu Fo was willing to give his nod of approval.
‘Not good!’ Xu Ziling cried inwardly, and then he turned his attention to the underground room’s walls, floor and ceiling, to carry out a cun-by-cun investigation. Very soon he was certain that the ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’ that Hou Xibai was dreaming of acquiring was not stored inside this secret room. Immediately he had big headache. He began to realize that becoming an elegant thief was not easy. Such a big mansion house with a continuous row of building after building, searching for a scroll of painting would be like fishing a needle from the sea.
Suddenly his heart was moved; painting was to be seen, Chi Shengchun must have had the painting hung in the hall for the eyes to see, yet like an idiot he was looking for it inside a secret room?
Thinking to this point, Xu Ziling, extremely quietly, withdrew. After putting everything back to its original state, he pa.s.sed through study room and inner hall of the middle section, and headed toward the brightly lit front hall.
※ ※ ※
Furious, Kou Zhong pa.s.sed through the city gate. The guards on duty saluted respectfully, the morale was high.
Already waiting for him, Yang Gongqing and Ma Chang came over to meet him.
Kou Zhong signaled them not to ask anything; without stopping, he said, “Li kid is really formidable. One meeting plus a few words, he already struck me, Kou Zhong down. His Niang’s! I’m sure he wanted to pay me back for the wrong he suffered the other night when I was going to kill him!”
Yang Gongqing and Ma Chang noticed his ill expression, they knew something was wrong. The former asked with a frown, “What’s the matter?”
Kou Zhong halted his steps about a dozen paces from the camp gate, he cast his gaze toward the enemy camp, resplendent in lantern lights, in the distance; he spoke dejectedly, “w.a.n.g Shichong wants to withdraw the troops to defend Huiluo and Luoyang!”
“What?” Ma Chang blurted out, “Won’t that mean we simply hand over Shou’an and Yique on a platter to other people?”
Horrified, Yang Gongqing said, “That is akin to forcing Zhang Zhenzhou to surrender and pay allegiance to the House of Tang.”
Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. He and Yang Gongqing understood Zhang Zhenzhou better than anybody else, including w.a.n.g Shichong. He was already completely disappointed at w.a.n.g Shichong; if they could a.s.sa.s.sinate w.a.n.g Shichong, he would definitely stand on Kou Zhong and Yang Gongqing’s side.
But in the case of w.a.n.g Shichong abandoning Cijian, naturally he was unwilling to sacrifice his life for w.a.n.g Shichong, this kind of despicable through and through, using people for selfish gain, lowly person. Surrendering in exchange of official position or feudal n.o.bility from the House of Tang was indeed a sensible act, no one would be able to impeach him even for half a sentence.
If Li Shimin could predict that his words could make w.a.n.g Shichong withdraw his troops and abandon Cijian, and one of the outcome of this operation was to make Zhang Zhenzhou, one of the two famous great generals of the Zheng Army, angry and surrendering to him, Li Shimin’s scheming was indeed terrifying.
Smiling wryly, he replied, “That’s the reason I said Li kid is formidable.”
And then he briefly told the two everything about the strategic deployment that Li Shimin stated in advance.
Yang Gongqing blew a mouthful of air, he said, “Li Shimin’s warning is actually very timely, because we had just received news from Luoyang, our navy suffered a crushing defeat at Mengjin, the Tang Army a.s.sembled at Heyang is making preparation to launch large scale invasion by crossing the river to attack Huiluo, and that Li Shiji’s main forces of twenty thousand men are already disembarking on the southern bank of the Great River, they captured Heyin, and are threatening Hulao, Xingyang, Guancheng, various garrisons. Li Shimin is using facts to prove that he was not making empty threat.”
“What should we do?” Ma Chang asked.
Yang Gongqing said, “Li Zitong still has some strength, enough to threaten our brothers in Pengliang.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “I must leave to Chang’an now to help my good brother dealing with Shi Zhixuan. w.a.n.g Shichong withdrawing his troops will take about ten days. After he is back in Luoyang, he will have no other choice but to send you back to help Huiluo, with w.a.n.g Xuanying, or somebody like him, to supervise you and the troops. You must seize the opportunity to go to Pengliang to join our brothers there. After my business in Chang’an is done, I will immediately rush back to Pengliang. Try to see how we can preserve our strength and to take down Jiangdu. At that time, we will still have a sliver of hope to survive.”
Ma Chang asked, “If w.a.n.g Shichong personally supervise the army to help Huiluo, what do we do?”
Kou Zhong shook his head firmly. Patting Ma Chang’s shoulder, he laughed and said, “Don’t worry! If Li Shimin could let w.a.n.g Shichong to have spare time to save Huiluo, then he is not the Li Shimin that I know. w.a.n.g Shichong withdrawing his troops in orderly manner, Li Shimin definitely will not take the risk to pursue and attack. He would split his troops in two ways, one way toward Shou’an and Yique, to rendezvous with Shi Wanbao, to cut off the link between Xiangyang and Luoyang; the other way will follow Li Shimin advancing to the east, to have his back against North Mang Mountain and press down against Luoyang. Do you think for w.a.n.g Shichong, Luoyang is more important, or Huiluo is more important?”
Yang Gongqing said, “Fortunately, our army’s home is in Yanshi. The defending general of Yanshi is also one of my men. From there escaping away to Pengliang is very convenient, as long we have enough time to prepare.”
Kou Zhong spoke in astonishment, “That might be one big flaw in w.a.n.g Shichong’s control over the generals and soldiers under his command. If he let his troops’ entire family members to stay in Luoyang, to betray him would involve a lot more apprehensions.”
Yang Gongqing replied, “But the implementation will be greatly difficult, plus it is harmful to the economy. In Luoyang, there are thirty thousand households, the population reaches seven hundred thousand people, plus the army. It already reaches the saturation point. If we add the officers and soldiers’ wife and children, in food supply aspect, certainly they cannot cope. Therefore, the wives and children are settled near the officers and soldiers’ encampment. This is also a way to pacify the troops’ heart. Otherwise, to make arrangement to furlough the officers and soldiers to go home and visit their family is already a big headache.”
“Do Shaoshuai absolutely have to leave?” Ma Chang asked, “Perhaps you could wait until tomorrow to contend against w.a.n.g Shichong on strong grounds? Can’t say for sure, but he might change his mind. If Shaoshuai leave just like this, it’s too much of a pity!”
Yang Gongqing also said, “I could lobby the other great generals who understand the art of war and strategy, tomorrow morning we could thoroughly lay out the pros and cons to this idiot, to make him no longer obstinately clinging to his course and court disaster.”
Kou Zhong responded with a sigh, “I know this person w.a.n.g Shichong too well. He only believes in himself, which is also the characteristic of the demonic school people. My last request was to defend Hulao to the death for him, but he perfunctorily responded by saying that he needed some time to think it over. His Niang’s! I don’t want to waste my time for this kind of man. My only chance now is, before Li Shimin captures Luoyang, I must capture Jiangdu first, and then I’d ask my future father-in-law to provide a.s.sistance via the sea. At that time I will be able to put on a good show for Li kid to watch.”
Finished speaking, he stepped toward the camp gate.
Yang Gongqing and Ma Chang blindly followed behind him; they wanted to say something, but did not know what to say.
Toward Kou Zhong’s resourcefulness and intelligence, the two already submitted cheerfully, his decision must be the best choice.
Kou Zhong suddenly halted his steps and said, “My other brother Ba Fenghan might come to look for me in Luoyang these next few days. He knows our relationship very well, if he cannot find me, he will naturally look for Yang Gong.”
Ma Chang said, “I will have my men to pay attention. Currently Luoyang’s city defense is extremely tensed, I am afraid it will be very difficult for him to enter the city without making any noise.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “This kid is even more resourceful than me. You’d better not leak out any rumor, because he also ranks as one of the big enemies that the demonic school wants to catch. Don’t worry! He will have a way to get inside the city.”
“Shaoshuai may set your heart at ease,” Yang Gongqing said, “Shall we invite him to come to Pengliang to inquire after Shaoshuai?”
“That way we only waste his talent!” Kou Zhong replied, “I am asking Yang Gong to tell him on my behalf, ask him to personally protect Yang Gong until you arrive in Pengliang. With his Stealing the Heaven Sword nearby, even if you are trapped in magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, you will still have a chance to break the siege and leave.”
Yang Gongqing was shaken, he said, “Thank you very much Shaoshuai!”
Kou Zhong said, “We simply must guard against other people’s heart. If Zhang Zhenzhou surrendered to the Tang, w.a.n.g Shichong’s suspicion toward Yang Gong will increase greatly, therefore, in any case, you must guard against his hands. Under current situation, preserving our strength is the only feasible thing, as well as the only thing that we can do,”
And grabbing Ma Chang’s shoulders, he said, “Yang Gong is one of the Seniors that I, Kou Zhong respect and love the most. Ma Chang, you must rouse your consciousness for me, take a good care of Yang Gong, I am sure in the future we will be able to move unhindered across the world, to wipe out the disgrace that Li Shimin impacted on us tonight.”
Tears rushing forth from Ma Chang’s two eyes, hanging his head down, he responded resolutely, “Even if I have to go trough water and tread on fire, I will definitely give Da Jiangjun the opportunity to see Shaoshuai again.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and walked toward the camp gate.
Looking at his back going farther and farther away, both of them felt that he was taking away their last hope of defending Luoyang.
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