Kou Zhong and Wang Xuanshu rode side by side out of the imperial palace and stepped into Luoyang’s Heavenly Street; how could he not sigh with sorrow?
An arrogant army is bound to lose. Translated by foxs
Wang Shichong’s current momentum was entering its peak period, the main reason was that he just defeated Li Mi’s Wagang Army, plus he was occupying the central strategic position in the contention for hegemony over the Central Plains, the eastern capital Luoyang. The second reason was that in the struggle within the little imperial court of the eastern capital, he won; he drove the Dugu Clan away, and now he even forced Yang Dong to abdicate his imperial throne to him. External calamity and internal worries, all of a sudden everything was resolved.
But his self-proclamation as the emperor was not strategically smart, because it might generate antipathy on Dou Jiande’s side, which would potentially overturn the covenant of joint efforts. However, it was indeed the general mood, the current trend; one after another, Lin Shihong, Liu Wuzhou, Liang Shidou, Li Yuan, Xiao Xian, and the others, various overlords of various localities, proclaimed themselves the emperor. If he, Wang Shichong, raised the ‘Yang Sui’ banner again, it would be difficult for him to have the power to rally supporters. Since he had just defeated Wagang Army, his fame and power was like the sun at noonday, plus Wang Xuanying and the others instigated him; his heart was unbearably itching, he embarked on this wrong path. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
At this time, the area south of the Yellow River has entirely become his Great Zheng’s territory. If he was able to beat back the Li’s Tang Army on the punitive expedition to the east, he would potentially dominate the Central Plains. No wonder his ambition clouded his reason, even Kou Zhong, who single-handedly facilitated his current prestige – was not considered worthy in his eyes.
But Kou Zhong was convinced that in the decisive battle between Wang Shichong and Li Shimin, the ultimate loser would definitely be Wang Shichong.
The reason for the defeat was Wang Shichong’s own character; on the surface, although this man’s words were pleasant to hear, the fact was that he was deceitful over and over again, narrow-minded and unable to tolerate people. He was not in the mood to give any consideration to anybody other than to the people of Wang family name and his fellow clansmen. Such a person, how could he achieve great undertaking? With such character dominating him, he was practically unable to treat people with sincerity; it would be even more difficult to make other people willing to die for him. Encountering an open-minded, magnanimous, an expert at appointing people according to their abilities [idiom] like Li Shimin, the end result could easily be imagined. Otherwise, if his people were willing to fall over each other in their eagerness to throw their lot to him, to whom the deer falls would still be unknown.
Failing to fairly evaluating the merit of his subordinates and bestowing rewards accordingly, not to mention difficult to look outside to be on the lookout for people who might want to realign their allegiance to him, even worse, forcing his subordinates to throw their lot into the enemy camp, all these were Wang Shichong’s biggest miscalculations.
Men and horses galloped up the Tianjin Bridge. Translated by foxs
Wang Xuanshu cleared his throat, pulling Kou Zhong from his contemplation back to the reality before his eyes. “Shaoshuai, what are you thinking?” he asked.
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong replied, “I’m wondering whether I have come in vain.”
Wang Xuanshu was shocked, “Shaoshuai must never think like that,” he said, “Didn’t Fuhuang just say that he admires you very much?”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “I also admire Li Shimin very much, so what? Ay, let’s not talk about these frustrating matters. I wonder if I could stay at the same place as last time? That house is not bad at all, I particularly love the peace and quiet of that place.”
What he wanted to ask the most was actually Yang Gongqing’s current situation. But even to Wang Xuanshu, to whom he had quite a good impression, he knew that it was unsuitable to ask in haste, otherwise, if this matter came back to Wang Shichong’s ears, it would be strange indeed if he did not grow suspicious of the two men’s relationship.
“That’s not a problem,” Wang Xuanshu readily agreed.
“I don’t need anybody to wait upon me,” Kou Zhong hastily added, “Ah, right! How are my old comrade-in-arms in here?”
Wang Xuanshu cheerfully replied, “This moment, both Yang Lao and Zhang Lao, two great generals are in Luoyang. After helping Shaoshuai settling down, I’ll send someone to notify them. I’m sure they will be very happy to meet and reminisce about former days with Shaoshuai.” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Kou Zhong was relieved; he thought that as long as he could see Yang Gongqing, then he could fully grasp the situation on Wang Shichong’s side, and then he would be able to see how he could turn things around [orig. to upend heaven and earth], to let Wang Shichong obtaining ‘tragic victory’ in this hard battle, which would determine the fate of the world.
Xu Ziling stepped into the courtyard of the Passionate Nest. For the first time he regretted his decision to choose the Passionate Nest as a place to stay, because since Hou Xibai became a celebrity, the Passionate Nest no longer had any secret to speak of. It was precisely because of the Passionate Nest that one after another Wanwan and Shi Zhixuan found out that he had come to Chang’an. Hereafter, whether disaster or happiness, the situation would be even more difficult to foresee.
A faint residue of the scent of a woman still lingered in the air. The image emerging in Xu Ziling’s mind was the enchanting scenery of going boating along the river with Shen Luoyan. Heaving a sigh, he tore off his mask, pushed the door, and stepped into the front hall.
Shen Luoyan’s touching back greeted his eyes; she was leaning against the window, looking out. “My heart is very troubled,” she spoke softly, “I want company to relieve my melancholy.”
Xu Ziling knew she mistook him for Hou Xibai; he slowly walked over and stopped around five chi behind him, and spoke indifferently, “Shen Junshi [military adviser], what troubles your heart?” Translated by foxs
Shen Luoyan’s tender body was severely shaken; turning around abruptly, she cried tenderly in disbelief, “Ah! Ziling.”
She did not try to cover the pleasantly surprised expression appearing on her delicate-and-pretty, bright-and-beautiful-as-in-former-times jade countenance.
Xu Ziling had thought about turning around and leaving, but in the end he could not bear to be so heartless toward this close female friend, who was married and become a wife.
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “It is Xiaodi. Is Shen Junshi troubled because of Liyang? Ay, I am having a hard time as well.”
Shen Luoyan revealed a thousand-words-ten-thousand-speeches-but-do-not-know-where-to-start expression, the unusual light in the pupil of her eyes was rippling, she was touching to the extreme point; it appeared as if she wanted to throw herself into Xu Ziling’s bosom, but also seemed like she fought hard to restrain herself. Suddenly dropping down her cicada head, she spoke softly, “Ziling guessed incorrectly! At Liyang city, Shiji managed to break the siege and escape, Xiuning and Li Shentong were taken prisoner but under Kou Zhong’s mediation they were released by Dou Jiande, you can temporarily set your mind at rest.”
‘Temporarily set your mind at rest’, these four characters [zan shi an xin] were remarkable, showing that this beautiful woman, who was good at understanding others, accurately grasped Xu Ziling’s frame of mind.
Hearing that Li Xiuning was safe and sound, immediately Xu Ziling felt as if a weight was off his mind. Knitting his brows, he said, “In that case, what makes Junshi’s heart troubled?” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Shen Luoyan turned her fragrant body around, once again her gaze was on the beautiful scenery of the rear garden outside the window, she spoke gently, “I haven’t been a Junshi for a long time! Why do you still call me Junshi? Could it be that calling me Luoyan is a problem for you?”
Laughing calmly, Xu Ziling said, “In our hearts, Luoyan will always be that Meiren’er [beautiful woman] Junshi.”
Still facing away from him, ‘Pfft!’ Shen Luoyan broke into a giggle and said, “Meiren’er Junshi, only you can say such thing; this honorary title reminded me of Kou Zhong. I did not misjudge him; he is probably the only one who can make Li Shimin suffer defeat.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “But that definitely won’t happen in the battle of Luoyang. Kou Zhong himself knows this fact better than anybody else, because we understand what kind of a person Wang Shichong is.”
Shen Luoyan spoke in disdain, “Narrow-minded and deceitful, paranoid, contentious and fake [pian xia jue zha, duo yi jiao wei]; it’s difficult for him to accomplish great things.”
Emotionally moved, Xu Ziling said, “Shen Junshi’s eight-character description is extremely fitting.” Translated by foxs
Shen Luoyan turned around again. She recovered her usual distinguished and accomplished, charming tender disposition and beautiful attitude; she spoke blissfully, “Seeing Ziling, all troubles disappear without any trace. You really don’t care about Kou Zhong?”
“I don’t know,” Xu Ziling replied dejectedly, “My biggest wish right now is that Kou Zhong can withdraw from this war against the eastern capital in time; otherwise, after Luoyang fell, the next in line would be him and his Shao Shuai Army.”
Shen Luoyan’s pair of eyes was flashing with intelligent rays of light; she said, “This is called you are so worried that you become confused; how could Kou Zhong be easily put in order? Or more accurately, I should say how could the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que be easily dealt with? Once Song Que is provoked, nobody will be able to predict the development of the situation.”
Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, “Unexpectedly Song Que might personally lead the troops into battle?”
Casting a sidelong glance toward him in displeasure, Shen Luoyan spoke in slight anger, “Why would Ziling think that he might not? All along Li Shimin has barbarian lineage, he definitely won’t let this kind of person to unify the world. To revitalize the unification of Han, this is a once-in-a-thousand-years golden opportunity. Li Family has misgivings toward Kou Zhong, but toward Song Que, they are even more fearful.” foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Xu Ziling spoke in astonishment, “I only know that in the south, the Song Family has wealth and influence, but I did not know that they also occupy such a critical position in military matters.”
Shen Luoyan said, “If we say that Kou Zhong is a natural outstanding commander-in-chief, then Song Que is an expert in military strategy with the highest vision and farthest insight in the Central Earth, with extensive understanding of ancient and modern battlefield changes. Therefore, he can hold back his troops without moving continuously, until the rise of Kou Zhong, who fit the intention of his heart, and only then will he declare his support. Song Que matches Kou Zhong; one is skillful in creating deployment strategy of the overall situation, the other is an unequalled commander-in-chief on the battlefield; what do you say the Li Family’s impression on this?”
Obtaining Shen Luoyan’s wake-up call, Xu Ziling began to look at Kou Zhong’s great undertaking from another angle, but he felt even more headache. No matter who would win or who would lose, the impact to the Central Earth would be sky-and-earth-turning-upside-down, rolling-the-south-sweeping-away-the-north, no one could stay virtuous alone.
Shen Luoyan continued, “Even with Song Que’s power, unexpectedly Xiao Xian could suppress Lin Shihong; this fact represents Song Que’s desire to conserve his strength, to quietly wait for the opportune time to contend for hegemony over the Central Plains. If Mi Gong could learn ten-, twenty-percent of his skill, he would not have to suffer defeat. Ay!”
After Li Mi’s tragic victory over Yuwen Huaji, without waiting for the recovery of his vital energy, he immediately sent his troops to deal with Wang Shichong; this was precisely the main cause of his defeat. Translated by foxs
Shen Luoyan also said, “Lingnan Army relies mainly on Li Liao [tribes], the people’s lifestyle is simple, they are hardworking and adept in battle, plus they regard Song Que like a deity. Therefore, although they are only about a hundred thousand men strong, but they are well-trained; with the Song Clan’s financial support plus Kou Zhong, this kind of talent, even Li Shimin will not dare to speak about victory lightly. Therefore, you do not need to worry about Kou Zhong.”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly but did not say anything. After muttering to himself irresolutely for half a day, he asked, “Junshi has not told me what troubles you?”
Shen Luoyan’s tender body shaking slightly, she slowly turned around to cast her gaze toward the azure, limpid sky. Sighing, she said, “What else but thinking about my former master’s situation?”
Xu Ziling was shaken inwardly, unexpectedly she was troubled because of Li Mi; what exactly was going on?
Yang Gongqing, Zhang Zhenzhou and Kou Zhong sat down around the table in the inner hall, these two most famous generals under Wang Shichong’s command had a windblown dust [vicissitudes of life] look on their faces, apparently they were tired from being constantly on the move. Due to the imminent war, they seldom took a rest.
Skipping the idle talk, Zhang Zhenzhou went straight to the point, “Does Shaoshuai know that Wang Shichong secretly formed an alliance with Zhu Can?”
“What?” Kou Zhong blurted out. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Among the various hegemons contending for supremacy, in term of notoriety, no one could surpass the ‘Garuda King’ Zhu Can. Both he and his daughter were persons with bad reputation, Zhu Can was even known as the devil king who killed people and ate their flesh. For the past few years, internally, Zhu Can’s momentum was gaining ground, but externally, he was under pressure from Xiao Xian and Du Fuwei, hence looking for a powerful backer was a matter that was as it should be by rights; the question was why did Wang Shichong accommodate him? This move was bound to lose him the people’s support.
Kou Zhong had a feeling of history repeating itself; no matter how evil Zhu Can was, the thief troops under his command amounted to several tens of thousand men, he and Wang Shichong were like the ‘Five-Saber Hegemon’ Gesuwen and the ‘Dragon King’ Bai Ziting, i.e. they could become the wonder troops that could turn the situation around. No wonder Wang Shichong could be this secure in the knowledge that he had backing.
Because the situation with Kou Zhong was different, Li Shimin made a firm resolution to destroy Wang Shichong, and he, Kou Zhong, must help Wang Shichong to defend Luoyang, to repel the Great Tang’s mighty army; he could no longer be like in Longquan, having flexibility to meet a contingency, free and unconstrained.
Shaking his head, Yang Gongqing said, “I don’t understand why Wang Shichong is repeating his errors, unexpectedly he attracted this vicious demon whom everybody gnash their teeth and detest.” Translated by foxs
Kou Zhong mused inwardly, ‘Xiaodi understands’, but it was inappropriate for him to speak up, simply because Zhang Zhenzhou was not a man he could trust, it was inadvisable for him to know too many secrets.
Looking at Zhu Can’s style, it was extremely likely that he had demonic school background; forming an alliance with Wang Shichong, who was linked in countless ways and had close relationship with the demonic school, it was like where the water flows, a canal is formed.
In fact, Wang Shichong’s character of not trusting outsiders was also the characteristic of demonic school people, they did not even trust people of their own school, much less outsiders?
Opening their mouth, Zhang Zhenzhou and Yang Gongqing talked about Wang Shichong, closing their mouth, they also talked about Wang Shichong, all without any trace of politeness, not only they did not regard him as the emperor, they did not even respect him as their master.
Lowering his voice, Zhang Zhenzhou said, “Shaoshuai’s coming this time, is it to help Wang Shichong to deal with the Li Clan’s main forces?”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “You could say that. What good plan do you, the Senior have?”
Zhang Zhenzhou responded indifferently, “What good plan? I have no choice but to go on tolling the bell as long as one is a monk [idiom: do one’s job perfunctorily].”
Both Kou Zhong and Yang Gongqing knew that he said that without meaning it, because with his shrewd, resolute and daring character, plus Wang Shichong already caused grief to him, there was no way he would be willingly throw away his life with Wang Shichong. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Zhang Zhenzhou also said, “In today’s situation, what reversing-the-rotation-of-the-sky strategy does Shaoshuai have?”
Kou Zhong was suddenly on guard, thinking that if Zhang Zhenzhou secretly surrendered to the Tang, he might coordinate outside and inside offensives with Li Shimin to topple Wang Shichong, and now he was prying for some intelligence. Shaking his head, he smiled bitterly and said, “Unless Wang Shichong is willing to hand over some of the military power to me, there’s nothing I can do.”
And then he frowned and asked, “How did you guys know that Wang Shichong is secretly in alliance with Zhu Can?”
Yang Gongqing replied, “This information was originally coming from an insider in Zhu Can’s camp, hinting that Wang Shichong is incorporating Zhu Can’s troops into his own, he even promoted Zhu Can as the Long Xiang Da Jiangjun [lit. the dragon running friskily great general]. Although Wang Shichong denied it many times, but ‘Du Zhu’ [venomous spider] Zhu Mei has come to Luoyang to see Wang Shichong, twice, is an undeniable fact; therefore, we know that Wang Shichong was lying with his eyes open wide.”
Kou Zhong said, “In that case, Zhu Can cannot become the wonder troops anymore; at most he could only be the troops to restrain Li Shimin.” Translated by foxs
Snorting coldly, Zhang Zhenzhou said, “Just by looking at how Li Shimin maneuver his troops, you can see that his strategy is to seal off all routes for providing foodstuff from the outside into Luoyang, to isolate Luoyang. The army and civilians in Luoyang number several hundred thousand people, every day we are consuming a large amount of food, even if all the granaries inside the city are full to overflowing, at most they could only be prolonged to half a year. Therefore, in term of strategy, Li Shimin is doing the right thing.”
Yang Gongqing said, “Now we are going to see whether Li Shimin has the ability to surround Luoyang that not one drop can trickle through, we will also see whether Dou Jiande will deploy his army to help. Therefore, Hulao battlefront is the most important, we must not lose it.”
Zhang Zhenzhou sighed and said, “Great Zheng’s success or failure will depend on the meeting tomorrow, on how Wang Shichong is going to assign military leadership. If he is willing to use any one of the three of us to defend Hulao, Li Shimin will most likely be going to suffer defeat.”
Laughing coldly, Yang Gongqing said, “As matters stand, if he still obstinately persists in going about things the wrong way by appointing his clansmen and relatives, it means he is digging his own grave.”
Listening to the discussion, Kou Zhong had a lot to think about, it was only then did he realize that the military meeting tomorrow was so important; whether Wang Shichong would be able to retain the hearts of the various generals of different surnames, it would be decided tomorrow morning. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Yang Gongqing said, “I have not eaten anything since I got out of bed this morning, my tummy is so hungry that it is rumbling loudly, why don’t we go to the House of Dong restaurant at the head of the Tianjin Bridge to appease our belly and satisfy our intestines, while washing the dust off Shaoshuai’s feet at the same time?”
Zhang Zhenzhou apologized, “I still have some business to do, Yang Gong, please toast Shaoshuai with a couple more cups of wine for me!”
With her back toward Xu Ziling, Shen Luoyan sighed lightly and said, “Until now I still don’t understand why Mi Gong surrendered to the Tang, from being the leader of a militia army to become a bureaucrat in the House of Tang, the twenty thousand Wagang soldiers who were coming with him into the Pass become the House of Tang’s official troops, completely degenerating the militia [or righteous] army, which once the world looked up to for suppressing the cruel Sui dynasty. And now he finally regrets it!”
And then she spun around like a whirlwind and said, “What should I, Shen Luoyan do?”
Xu Ziling understood. Upon entering the Pass, Li Mi was not proud of himself at all. He was bestowed several empty titles, but the fact was that he was left idle and was sacked; on the contrary, it was the great general under his command, Li Shiji, who was put in an important position. How could he be happy?
“What can he do?” Xu Ziling responded gently. Translated by foxs
Shen Luoyan’s fragrant lips revealed a hint of pained smile, she said, “Naturally he thought that he could return to office after living as a hermit on Mount Dong.”
After a short pause, she sighed and said, “Although in name Wang Bodang was conferred the title Left Military Guard Great General, similarly, he has no authority, hence he is having presumptuous ideas, he often said to Mi Gong that Li Shiji is occupying Liyang, he could spread his virtue to Luokou by mutually keeping watch of each other. Mi Gong’s former subordinates in the Central Plains who are still loyal to him are many men, a great force; during this Tang-Zheng war, if he left Chang’an and go out to Shandong, he could recruit his former subordinates, he would surely be able to start new situation, to once again arouse Wagang Army’s prestige. Ay! Loyal advice jars on the ears; I have gone out many times to advice Mi Gong to dispel these thoughts, but always failed to move him. Tell me, what should I do?”
Hearing Wang Bodang’s name, a hard-to-describe feeling welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart, but Su Jie already passed away, his hatred due to Wang Bodang violating Su Jie has already gone like scattering clouds and vanishing smoke. Seeing Li Mi and Wang Bodang, two men who had once stirred the wind and the clouds – fell into such plight, he no longer had the mood to bicker with them.
He asked, “In the Pass, how many of his former subordinates are willing to follow him?”
Smiling bitterly, Shen Luoyan replied, “Even I am unwilling to follow him courting disaster, how many do you think are willing to come with him?”
“Does that mean you already decided to draw clear dividing line with him?” Xu Ziling asked. foxswuxia.wordpress.com
Shen Luoyan said, “If I were really such a heartless person, right now I don’t need to worry about him.”
And then she coquettishly rolled her eyes at him and said, “I feel much better now, I shouldn’t have told you about these troubles. Right! What noble errand brings you to Chang’an? I hope it’s not because you still refuse to give up those piles of junk that they called the treasure? After getting those inconsistent-with-the-fact money and valuables, Li Yuan let those wholesale scrap weapons remain down there. Now, no one has any interest in talking about the Duke Yang’s Treasure, unless they are talking about it as a joke.”
Xu Ziling said, “I came to Chang’an is to deal with someone; later on, when things are a bit more settled, I will explain everything clearly, all right?”
He intentionally spoke vaguely, because he did not want new branch to grow out of a knot.
Shen Luoyan did not give it much thought; she said, “Able to alarm our Xu Gongzi, definitely this person is not to be trifled with. Almost forget to tell you something, your good friend Shang Xiuxun Changzhu [ranch master] may arrived in Chang’an these couple of days, Yin De Fei especially invited me to be her companion. I hear Li Jiancheng is very interested in her.”
Shaken, Xu Ziling blurted out, “What?”