Book 50 Chapter 8 – Exchanging-heart Talk
Translator: Foxs' Wuxia
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling found Song Shidao and the others sitting on the sailing boat at a ferry crossing along the big river outside the Pass; this was five days after they parted company with Wanwan outside the city of Chang’an.
The two sides met again, naturally they were extremely happy.
After a long period of separation, the Ten-thousand-li Spots saw Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong, it skipped over its hoofs in excitement, which made Kou Zhong could not help missing his beloved colt the Thousand-li Dream; he really wished he could grow a pair of wings and fly back to Pengliang.
They abandoned the boat and took land route. They allowed the boat to carry passengers to return to Chang’an, because the big river toward Luoyang was blockaded by Li Shimin, any boats coming in and out would be intercepted and checked by the Li military’s Navy. Upon reaching a clearing in the dense forest by the river, the five of them sat down to talk.
The afternoon sun sprinkled its ray down, all around the insects were buzzing, the birds were singing, the atmosphere was so full of life.
Kou Zhong narrated everything that happened after they parted one by one; listening to the rescue of Shen Luoyan, the three were extremely gratified, but also lamented the everything-bodes-ill, no-positive-ends ending of Li Mi, an ambitious and ruthless character of the present age.
By the time they heard about the utter failure of the operation against Shi Zhixuan, that they were even nearly devoured back by him, none of the three was not overwhelmed with shaking-to-the-core horror.
Knitting his brows, Song Shidao said, “There’s something that is a bit does not make sense. Based on the ability and wisdom that Shi Zhixuan has shown so far, after he broke through the roof and shouted to deliberately attract Li Yuan’s attention, he ought to jump back into the house to entangle you, and would only leave when Li Yuan was rushing over. With Ziling and Wanwan suffered heavy injury, you certainly would not be lucky to avoid disaster; how could Shi Zhixuan have made this miscalculation? By giving you the opportunity to slip away from the secret tunnel, it seemed like he was giving you a helping hand?”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “It must be that Shi Zhixuan had the intention but not the strength. In the battle inside the meditation room, although he was able to get away, but he bore internal injury, it’s just that Xiao Zhong and the others have not seen through; therefore, he did not dare to jump back into the room, because if he got entangled by Wanwan and Xiao Zhong, he might fall into the heavy siege together with them.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said “That is a reasonable explanation. Ay! Shi Zhixuan’s astuteness is indeed beyond anybody’s expectation; he harmed us that it was nearly difficult for us to see the sun in the sky.”
Song Shidao said, “I feel like the actual situation may not necessarily be so. He seemed to be forcing you to leave via the secret tunnel, otherwise, there’s no need for him to make such a ruckus to attract Li Yuan’s attention. At that time, if Li Yuan had the chance to discover the secret tunnel inside the meditation room, he could send his man to explore the secret tunnel to go to the bottom of the matter, and then you would still be unable to escape Li Yuan’s men. Therefore, if Shi Zhixuan did not lure Li Yuan away from the meditation room, you guys would still not dare to take the risk of venturing away from the secret road, hence the reason I said that Shi Zhixuan was deliberately trying to help you. This matter is extremely puzzling.”
Xu Ziling said, “Perhaps because Shi Zhixuan had guessed that Wanwan had the ‘Tianmo Jue’ in her possession, Shi Zhixuan was unwilling to have this important secret canon of the demonic school to fall into Li Yuan’s hands, hence he displayed such a contradictory strange behavior.”
Kou Zhong cast a glance toward Xu Ziling, he wanted to say something but then hesitated; in the end he did not express the thought in his heart.
Xu Ziling rolled his eyes at him in displeasure, knowing that he was thinking about father-in-law’s tender feeling toward his son-in-law, or something like that.
Kou Zhong reached out to grab his shoulder; he smiled, but did not say anything, with a repulsive expression that said the fact will prove me right.
Lei Jiuzhi said, “For the time being, your Taihang Shuang Jie identity is not at risk of being discovered, because the high-ranking military officer guarding the Pass personally went aboard the ship to pay an official call to our Furong Ye, telling us the news of their death.”
Astonished, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling asked for more details.
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Lei Jiuzhi said, “Taihang Bang happened to have frequent clashes with their old rival Huanghe Bang [Yellow River Gang]. The Huanghe Bang mobilized over a thousand men in night raid toward Taihang Bang’s headquarters on the river. Huang An was no match for the enemy, he died on the spot, the injuries and deaths among the gang members were disastrous, those who did not die fled all over the place. Taihang Bang, both in name and reality, is dead. Now is not the time for Situ Furong and the Taihang Shuang Jie to return from the area beyond the Great Wall, or else our identity will be exposed. We could still go back to Chang’an to mingle there, but naturally it will only work with Shi Zhixuan’s cooperation.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Li Yuan was right when he said career in gangs and societies does not have so much of a good end. Big gangs will have big fights, small gangs will have small fights, even nations are contending against nations over the world, and gangs are fighting against gangs over territory; human nature is just like that. If everybody is like Ziling and Song ErGe, I am sure the world will be at peace.”
Deeply concerned, Xu Ziling asked, “Where will Song ErGe go?”
It was obvious that Song Shidao already made firm decision; without even thinking, he replied, “I will go to Junchuo’s little valley and build a house to stay there, to pass a period of time.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling both felt that they had nothing to say. Fortunately, he only said ‘to pass a period of time’, instead of to spend his last years in there, so more or less, there was a little progress.
Ren Jun muttered in low voice, “If we are disguising ourselves as Situ Furong and return to Chang’an, could Song Er Ye ... oh! I am sorry, it’s practically not suitable for us to return.”
Kou Zhong patted his shoulder. He said, “Xiao Jun, let’s step aside and talk.”
Ren Jun’s face turned beet red; hanging his head down, he followed Kou Zhong.
Pulling his gaze back from following the two men, Xu Ziling turned to Lei Jiuzhi and said, “Before Wanwan parted company with us, she revealed two secrets pertaining to the demonic school. First, the Da Ming Zun Jiao’s leader is indeed Xu Kaishan, which fit very well with our guess. Wanwan also said that he already mastered the martial art xinfa of the ‘Yu Jin Wan Fa Gen Yuan Zhi Jing’; his accomplishment is above Shan Mu Sha Fang’s.”
“What is the other information?” Song Shidao asked.
Xu Ziling replied, “Wanwan said that the Xiang Family’s business is an important financial resource for the demonic school, and that the real master is not Xiang Gui, but Yin Zuwen.”
Shaken, Lei Jiuzhi said, “Unexpectedly there is such thing?”
Xu Ziling said, “Therefore, to destroy the Xiang Family and their offending-Heaven-and-reason shady business, we must set our hand to Yin Zuwen.”
Lei Jiuzhi spoke heavily, “This information is very useful. I will have to readjust and recalculate the path to follow. I am going to meet with a few people with aspirations, and then I am coming back to Chang’an.”
This moment, pulling Ren Jun along, Kou Zhong came back; laughing and shouting, he said, “The time for us to go our own way has arrived! I hope we can go back to Chang’an really soon, and no need to dress up as a ghost or dress up as a horse, to conceal things left and right; we will also accompany Li Yuan playing polo.”
Since suffering defeat at Cijian, Wang Shichong did not accept Kou Zhong’s proposal to defend Ci Jian to the death, he withdrew his troops in panic, and Kou Zhong left in anger. Thereupon Li Shimin proceeded with his grand plan of advancing his troops, which he already publicized beforehand, to surround and cutoff access to Wang Shichong’s Eastern Capital.
Under Li Shimin’s careful planning in moving an army and sending a general, he deployed the Xing Jun Zongguan [lit. manager of the marching army] Shi Wanbao from Yiyang to go up north, to occupy Yijian’s Longmen [dragon gate], and cut Wang Shichong’s southern route; the Great General Liu Dewei from Taixing to go down east, to attack Henei, and cut Wang Shichong’s northern route; the Shang Gu Gong [Duke of Upper Valley] Wang Junkuo’s troops to threaten Luokou, cutting the eastern route, while also threaten the food supply to the Eastern Capital; Zongguan Huang Junhan from Heyin to go up west to attack and capture Huiluo city, to cut off Wang Shichong’s northeast route. Li Shimin himself led the main army, from Cijian straight to capture the cities on the northern outskirts, he even built army camp to station his troops north of the Eastern Capital Luoyang.
Wang Shichong retreated to Luoyang, he made the heart of the troops of the Zheng Army slackening, until they heard that Wen Luoxin and Zhang Zhenzhou, in close succession, surrendered to the Tang. The latter was, together with Yang Gongqing, one of the two main pillars of the Zheng Army. The impact of this surrender was monumental, plus Li Shimin’s fame and power was more flourishing by the day, the surrounding cities and counties surrendered to the enemy without even fighting by the bulk. Wang Shichong’s fame and power, which he established after defeating Li Mi, was like a river flowing out swiftly; once it gets started there’s no stopping it.
The battle to attack the cities surrounding Luoyang was opened by Huang Junhan, the day before the Mid-autumn festival [15th of the 8th lunar month] of the third year of Wude; he deployed his troops crossing the river from Huaizhou, capturing more than twenty fortresses, and posing a threat to the Huiluo city.
Exactly like Kou Zhong anticipated, Wang Shichong dispatched Yang Gongqing in a great rush, in company with the Crown Prince Wang Xuanying, to face Huang Junhan’s attack, hoping to regain this important lifeline to Luoyang from his hands, nevertheless, the big momentum has already gone, they retreated without performing any meritorious service, and could only build semicircular defensive enclosure west of the city of Huiluo to resist the Tang Army.
Huiluo was broken, Li Shimin continued to make efforts, he sent Liu Dewei to attack Huaizhou, Shi Wanbao to attack Ganchang, Wang Junkuo to attack Huanjiao, their troops pressed in to control the city.
Under such formidable military offensive threat of the Tang Army, Wang Shichong’s Chief Governor of Cangzhou, Zhang Gongli, the Provincial Governor of Weizhou, Shi Dequ surrendered in succession. The latter brought Fei, Xia, Chen, Sui, Xu, Ying, and Wei, seven prefectures entirely into Li Shimin’s hands. The other various gentries of Henan saw the situation, one after another they surrendered to the Tang for self-preservation.
His momentum exhausted his power gone, Wang Shichong took the initiative to attack; he took the risk to launch a surprise attack against Li Shimin. The great general under Li Shimin’s command Qu Tutong promptly rushed over, and ruthlessly oppressed the Wang Army. Wang Shichong escaped and returned to Luoyang, his champion great general Chen Zhixiu was captured alive, more than a thousand Wang Army troops were beheaded. Since then, Wang Shichong only dared to hide behind Luoyang’s high wall, he no longer dared to take risks.
It was precisely under this kind of situation that Xu Ziling urged his Ten-thousand-Li Spots to Li Shimin’s camp, built on the highland south of Mount Beilang, north of Luoyang, where he asked for an audience to see Li Shimin.
The Tang soldiers knew that the visitor was Xu Ziling, whose name intimidated the world, naturally they did not dare to be negligence, promptly they flew to report to Li Shimin, who was inside the commander-in-chief tent in the middle of the camp.
Li Shimin was in a meeting with his generals to discuss the grand plan to attack Luoyang. Hearing the report, accompanied by Yuchi Jingde and Zhangsun Wuji, his two trusted aides, beloved generals, he flew onto his horse to meet him. When both sides saw each other, all sorts of feelings welled up in their heart.
Li Shimin ordered his two generals and personal bodyguards to follow from a distance, while he and Xu Ziling galloped side by side to the summit of a hill south of the camp from which they could gaze into the distance at Luoyang. He spoke heavily, “Has Kou Zhong returned to Pengliang?”
Noticing that his eyelids were full of windblown dust, he looked tired, Xu Ziling knew that the attack of Luoyang has consumed all his heart and his strength; nodding his head, he replied, “He is a man who will never admit defeat, not to mention he thinks he is the one who really give thought to the world, naturally he will exhaust every ounce of strength to survive.”
Li Shimin gazed at the touching rose-tinted clouds’ splendor of the setting sun in the northwest radiating its light over half of the sky, he sighed and said, “Is the situation really that bad? Fuhuang has just sent Yuwen Shiji with an imperial edict, which says, ‘The day you capture Luoyang, stop using the troops, the days of the subdued city to take advantage of the imperial law and material things, planning, registry, and equipment, personal interest should wait; these are entrusted to thee. As for the rest of the sons and daughters, jade and silk, distribute them to reward the officers and soldiers.’ This is akin to bestowing Luoyang to me.”
And then he roused his spirit and said, “Ziling’s trip to Chang’an this time, what did you accomplish? Ay! I should thank Ziling and Shaoshuai first for your kindness in helping Luoyan; otherwise, if Shiji is implicated, it might negate the entire meritorious deed of us capturing Luoyang. Currently Wang Shichong is barely able to defend Hulao’s front line, and only Li Shiji has a way to conquer Hulao. The moment Hulao falls into my, Li Shimin’s hands is the moment I attack Luoyang.”
Xu Ziling knew that Li Jing, through their communication channel, has already informed Li Shimin in advance on what has been happening in Chang’an, so it saved him not a few of lips and tongue. Thereupon he told in details everything else that Li Jing did not know. Finally he said, “The imperial edict that Lingzun [your esteemed father] dispatched to you, I am afraid it is only to pacify your mind, so that you could attack and seize Luoyang with all your strength without any apprehensions. The fact is that he has the intention against you. I hear he is going to send Li Yuanji to the east to help you; on the surface it is pleasant to listen to, but it is not without the intention to keep a close watch over Shimin Xiong. I am coming to see you this time, on one hand it is to express my regret for the matter you entrusted to me, I still failed to get rid of Yin Zuwen and Yang WenGan. On the other hand, I wish to know Shimin Xiong’s intention and your plan for the future.”
Revealing a hint of pained smiling expression, Li Shimin said, “What plan can I have? Ay! Not concealing anything from Ziling, currently my mind is completely on three men, which are Wang Shichong, Dou Jiande, and your brother Kou Zhong. Only after all of them are no longer a threat to our Great Tang will I begin to have time to think about my own problem. The worst situation is that I must have an open and sincere talk with Fuhuang. If he agrees to treat the various generals of my Tian Ce Fu well, I, Li Shimin can give up everything, the high position and the military power, and I am willing to be just an ordinary person.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “I hope Shimin Xiong just said those words in a moment of anger. The demonic school is nibbling away at your Li Family, Shimin Xiong may be able to withdraw and save your life, but Lingxiong and Lingdi [your esteemed older and younger brother, respectively] will once again fight over the throne of the emperor. On top of that, the Tujue people are glaring like a tiger watching its prey; who can be virtuous alone?”
Li Shimin sighed and said, “It’s not that I haven’t thought about standing on my own feet outside the Pass. Furthermore, after obtaining Luoyang, it will be my only chance to proclaim independence. But my wife and children, my imperial concubines, as well as all various generals of the Tian Ce Fu’s family and relatives are all in Chang’an. I have no choice but to give thought to them. Moreover, in the punitive expedition to the east this time, nearly half of the army’s officers and soldiers are loyal to Fu Huang. Coupled with the government’s military system, even if I disregard everything and proclaim my independence in the Eastern Capital, there will still be layer upon layer of obstacles. If my Li Family split up in a civil war, the world will fall into a numerous and disorderly situation again. Supposing Xieli seizes the opportunity to invade our territory, what kind of situation will it be? This is the content of my heart, which I have never revealed to anybody, and now only Ziling knows.”
Xu Ziling said, “It is precisely because Kou Zhong is able to see through the difficulties in Shimin Xiong’s heart that he is unwilling to give up his intention of contending for hegemony over the world, because he does not want the world to fall into the demonic school or Xieli’s hands. Ay! What am I supposed to say? Under current circumstances, persuading Kou Zhong to change his mind is impossible. As it turns out, persuading Shimin Xiong is also not easy. That’s all I have to say! There is one more thing I’d like to tell Shimin Xiong, after going to Bashu to see Shi Qingxuan, I will go to Pengliang to help Kou Zhong to attack and capture Jiangdu.”
Shaken, Li Shimin said, “What I am most afraid to happen finally happens! Could it be that my most caring good friend might unexpectedly become my enemy?”
Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, “Even if I become your enemy, I am still the enemy who give thought to you. One day Kou Zhong has not been removed, Lingzun will not summon you back to Chang’an. The world spits up and stand opposite to each other is still better than falling into the hands of the demonic school or Tujue people. For this reason, the contradiction in my heart is maddening, but I can’t think of a better solution. However, Shimin Xiong may set your heart at ease, I will not get involved in the conflict between the two of you. If we can’t capture Jiangdu, I will have no choice but to hide in a place where I cannot hear any news from the battlefield.”
Li Shimin sighed and said, “When your brother is in deep water and scorching fire, facing the disaster of being killed, can Ziling Xiong withdraw as soon as you say that you want to retreat?”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said with a sigh, “This is called Nature [as the mother of all things] plays with people!”
Li Shimin threw his head back in long laughter; his heroism reaching to the clouds, he said, “Very well! This is called each one is the master of his destiny; brothers can destroy each other, friends naturally can stake it all in you die, I live struggle. However, no matter how the situation will develop in the future, Xu Ziling will forever be my, Li Shimin’s best friend.”
Arousing his spirit, Xu Ziling said, “I hope that day will never come. Now I must immediately travel at double speed to hurry to Bashu. Shimin must understand the logic of to accomplish great things, one must not confine oneself to minor matter. As long as you are sure that you are acting on behalf of the world and the common people, no need to pay attention to other people’s opinion.”
Li Shimin calmly said, “Shimin will remember with reverence Ziling’s admonishment, which came from the heart, I hope Laotianye will open the net on one side [idiom: lenient treatment], so that we, two brothers won’t have to meet each other on the battlefield among the soldiers and the blades.”
Xu Ziling spoke in heavy voice, “Shimin Xiong is not blaming me for reaping the consequences of my words [idiom from Mencius: go back on one’s word]?”
Li Shimin reached out to tightly grab his shoulders; shaking his head, he said, “Not at all. The fact is that until this very moment, Ziling still extremely loves and protects me, Li Shimin. In this situation, we both have tacit mutual understanding. Ziling is acting not for me, Li Shimin, also not for Kou Zhong, but for the world and the common people. If I don’t understand this point, how can I, Li Shimin, be worthy to be Ziling’s brother? It’s only a pity that I came from an affluent clan, where a deep-rooted thought of putting our clan first, that I absolutely must not turn my head to deal with my own family – has been cultivated since my childhood. I can only slowly plan to try to change it. We part here, I don’t know whether there will be other opportunities to have a frank talk like this. Ziling, please take a good care of yourself.”
Xu Ziling responded by patting his shoulder, and then he squeezed the horse’s belly and rushed down the hill slope, heading to the south.
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