Book 52 Chapter 13 – The Great Momentum Has Already Gone
Translator: Foxs' Wuxia
The three maintained their crouching position and looked back. In the dark forest, a sweet, fair and graceful, beautiful shadow swiftly flew over, it was obvious that the other side was not aware of them yet, her speed did not decrease at all.
When she was flying up the slope, she suddenly stopped with great alarm, her flower countenance lost its color. But when she saw clearly that it was the three men, her shock turned into amazement. Pressing her hand onto her silky chest, she said, “I was urgently looking for you, how did you get here?”
The new comer was unexpectedly the Beautiful Military Advisor Shen Luoyan. Although compared to before she was wasting away, but she looked even more lovely and moving.
The three sat up from the slope. Scratching his head, Kou Zhong said, “Could it be that you did not know that Luoyang is heavily besieged by Li Yuanji? If people found out that Shen Dajie is coming to visit us, it will only be harmful to Shiji Xiong without any benefit.”
Shen Luoyan was wearing tight-fitting nightwalker outfit; having just recovered from the shock, she came over to the three and squatted down. Lowering her voice, she said, “I have neither the time nor the mood to make idle chat with you, in the Tang – Xia battle, victory or defeat has been decided, Li Shimin defeated Dou Jiande big time, Dou Jiande was captured alive, currently Li Shimin is returning his troops to Luoyang, Shiji has received order to go all-out to attack Chenliu, to cut off your Shao Shuai Army at Chenliu from all contacts and access to Luoyang. If you still want your life, you ought to immediately flee as far away as possible. Ay! You must leave immediately; fleeing toward the Great River is the only way to survive, but you have to avoid Shou’an and Yique’s city defenders.”
The three men’s countenance changed at the same time. Although they already anticipated Dou Jiande’s defeat, they never thought he would be defeated this quickly, this tragically, so that they were caught off guard and have not made any appropriate preparation.
Kou Zhong drew out a mouthful of cold air, he said, “How could Dou Jiande be that no good?”
Shen Luoyan was afraid they did not believe her and thus lost the good opportunity to escape, she hurriedly said, “Dou Jiande was lured to march into Hulao, and formed battle array there, but Qin Wang did not engage him in battle, he let Dou Jiande waiting in vain from chen hour [7-9am] to wu hour [11am-1pm, or noon]. When the Dou Army’s soldiers were weary their generals tired, Qin Wang sent Yuwen Zhiji first to lead light cavalry rushing west of Dou Jiande’s troops disposition, to disturb the soldiers’ heart, before personally leading the Dark Armored battle cavalry charging straight into the enemy ranks, soon after the main forces, covering he mountains and the plains, attacked. The two sides crossed swords in tangled battle. Qin Wang led the Dark Armored Elite Cavalry breaking the disposition of troops and entered, straight to the back of Dou’s battle formation, and then turn around to dash back into the original disposition of troops. Charging this way for several passes, the Dou Army collapsed and dispersed, the Tang Army followed up the victory and pressed home the attack for more than thirty li, beheading over three thousand men. Under the desperate protection of his high-ranking military officers and personal followers, Dou Jiande fled toward Niukouzhu, but was captured alive by the Tang Army’s Bai Shirang and Yang Wuwei. In this battle the number of the Dou Army taken prisoners reached fifty thousand men, but were released on the spot by Qin Wang, he let them return to their respective home. Dou Jiande is finished, and then it will be your turn. If you don’t leave now, what are you waiting for?”
Kou Zhong’s heart sank straight down. Such a mighty man of this era like Dou Jiande, how his might spread to eight sides in the past, yet this moment has become a lowly prisoner, his life or death was under other people’s will. He was so full of sorrow that he wanted to cry.
Li Shimin’s remark was not wrong, he asked Dou Jiande to help, it was merely harming him, expediting his defeat.
Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling were concerned about how to escape before the tunnels and the deployment were completed. They wanted to speak, but there was nothing to say.
Shen Luoyan anxiously said, “Why are you guys suddenly become a mute? I really am not chatting and laughing with you. Li Yuan already issued imperial edict, ordering Qin Wang to bring Kou Zhong’s head back to see him. This is what Shiji personally told me!”
Kou Zhong fought hard to rouse his spirit, he smiled bitterly and said, “Meiren’er Junshi, please don’t worry, Li Shimin wants to chop my head, he will have to ask the Moon in the Well in Xiaodi’s hand first.”
Casting him a glance, Shen Luoyan said, “Your rigid character does not change.” And then she hung her head down and spoke softly, “About Chang’an, I have not had the chance to thank you guys.”
“We all are old friends!” Kou Zhong responded.
Obviously, Shen Luoyan was thinking about Li Mi’s death by violence, her pair of eyes emitted sad expression, she hung her head down and remained silent.
Xu Ziling did not want her to recall the sad load on her mind, he asked, “How long ago was Dou Gong defeated?”
Remembering the purpose of the trip, Shen Luoyan hurriedly said, “It was three days ago. The next day, Li Shimin led the army to march. I am guessing his vanguard troops should arrive here within five days at the latest, you must leave this place immediately.”
And then her jet-black eyebrows slightly knitted, she asked, “How can you come in and out to this place freely?”
Even though Kou Zhong trusted Shen Luoyan, but because of the importance of the matter, he still did not dare to reveal the truth, yet he could not bear to lie to her. Leaning over to her sparkling and translucent and penetrating small ear, he spoke in low voice, “This is relying on the benefit of coming in low and leaving on high.”
Ba Fenghan was afraid the more Kou Zhong talk, the more explicit he was; he said, “Li Furen’s [Mrs. Li] esteemed friendship and profound love, three of us brothers are extremely grateful. This is a dangerous place, it’s not suitable for Li Furen to stay for a long time, we are also going back to the city to prepare our withdrawal.”
He intentionally called her Li Furen to remind Shen Luoyan of her own situation, which could easily implicate Li Shiji.
Sure enough, hearing that, Shen Luoyan’s tender body slightly shook, she repeatedly cast glances toward Xu Ziling, wanted to say something but then hesitated, in the end her small cicada head lightly nodded and said, “You guys take care of yourselves, you must never, ever, flaunt the bravado of ignorant person.”
Finished speaking, she turned around and left swiftly via her original path.
The three watched her back as she disappeared into the mountain forest, they sat on the slope with blank expression near the top of the hill. It was quite a while later that Kou Zhong spoke, “Our nightmare seems to have just begun. What do we do?”
Ba Fenghan said, “The matter of vital importance is to split manpower. First, to dig the tunnels that can break the other side’s trench positions. On the other hand, build more toad carts to fill the trenches, do everything we can to work day and night to complete everything within a day or two. Dou Jiande being captured must only be known by the top layer high-ranking military officers; it must not be leaked to the army. We have to race against time, as long as we can break the siege and leave before Li Shimin arrived, outside, the ocean is wide, the sky is high, we will soar, there will always be the day we sweep up the earth again.”
Kou Zhong said, “I am most afraid that Li Yuanji will be one step ahead sending letter by flying arrow to notify Wang Shichong. This repeatedly faithless lowly man will surely betray us.”
Ba Fenghan said, “Hence we must let Ba Yegang and the others know about this, so that they can make all measure to guard against that. If Wang Shichong shows any unusual change, we will kill his Niang’s that not a single armor remains.”
After figuring out the situation of the mountains and streams far and near the exit, the three returned to the city via the tunnel. They called for an emergency meeting at the South City Guard Building, to inform Yang Gongqing, Ma Chang, Chen Laomou, Ba Yegang, Shan Xiongxin, Guo Shancai and the others about the bad news pertaining Dou Jiande suffered defeat and met the misfortune of being captured. Finally Kou Zhong said, “Luoyang’s great momentum has gone, the only way we can take is to withdraw to the south, however, even though we are retreating, it must be a pretty and glorious retreat.”
And then he explained the grand plan of retreat.
Slapping his chest, Chen Laomou guaranteed, “As long as I double the number of men, I can complete the project by dusk the day after tomorrow.”
Ma Chang said, “Please hand over the responsibility to build the toad carts to Shuxia.”
Kou Zhong made the decision, “In that case, the operation to withdraw the troops will commence on the evening the day after tomorrow. During this time, we must not make any mistake, every action must be aimed at safe withdrawal. I want our men to keep the whole city under tight control, do not to let any news leak out of the city, and any letters that are shot in from outside the city must be sent to me, not to Wang Shichong’s hand.”
Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling exchanged glances, both were able to see the thought in the other’s heart – facing life and death crisis, Kou Zhong finally recovered from frustration and anxiety, and has changed back into the unequalled commander-in-chief who look at war as a game, becoming ruthless, sharp like a blade.
Knitting his brows, Ba Yegang said, “Should we put Wang Shichong in order first then?”
Ba Fenghan raised his thumb toward Ba Yegang and praised, “Yegang Xiong is ruthless enough.”
Kou Zhong smiled calmly and said, “Lao Ba, there is no need to remind Xiaodi.”
Turning to Chen Laomou and Ma Chang, he said, “Chen Gong and Ma Jiangjun, no need to waste your time here, do your best to stir up the work we already decided, leave the rest to us.”
Chen Laomou and Ma Chang cheerfully accepted the order and left.
Turning to Yang Gongqing to ask for advice, Kou Zhong said, “Yang Gong, please give directions.”
Stroking his beard, Yang Gongqing smiled and said, “I am the kind of person who is too old [as in old age], and too old [as in ‘old’ vs. ‘new’]! I will listen to Shaoshuai in everything. Real man is to be buried in a horse hide [idiom: to give one’s life on the battlefield], life or death merely like an idle matter.”
An ominous feeling gushed out in Kou Zhong’s heart. In the past, he had repeatedly gone through fire and water with Yang Gongqing, it was only this time that he directly spoke about death.
This moment he had no time to think too much, he slightly shook his head to disperse the disturbing thought from his mind. His eyes met with Ba Fenghan’s, he smiled and said, “All along I have been avoiding street fight with Wang Shichong, it was to conserve strength, therefore, I must seal off the news about Dou Jiande being captured. If I am guessing correctly, Li Yuanji ought to find out about this matter later than we did.”
Xu Ziling agreed, he said, “Li Shimin might hide this matter from Li Yuanji. Because he wanted Wang Shichong to surrender to him and not to Li Yuanji.”
The crowd sat around the round table. The flickering lantern lights shone on the City Guard Building’s main hall that it was sometime bright, sometime dark. Xu Ziling suddenly remembered Shi Feixuan, he recalled the touching scene of his first encounter with her. Everything happened in Luoyang, nevertheless, the mood at that time and the mood now was as different as the Heaven from the Earth.
Shrugging his shoulders, Ba Fenghan said, “Everything will be done according to what you guys decided. I am, after all, only a swordsman who is coming and going alone, what I have in mind is either to kill or be killed. Plus Shaoshuai, you are the supreme leader of the entire army, you give thought to the general situation in everything, your thought is on the final victory.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Those who know me, other than Ziling, I have to count you, Ba Fenghan.”
And then his pair of eyes shot divine light, he cast his gaze to Ba Yegang, and spoke in heavy voice, “Therefore, for the time being, no need to take the trouble and expend a great deal of effort to displace Wang Shichong. Now we have nearly thirty thousand men against six thousand imperial guards, it’s not his turn to speak up and be of importance.”
Submitting cheerfully, Ba Yegang saluted and said, “Order received!”
Kou Zhong went on, “From this moment onwards, I want to have a great general-level man taking turn on duty at the eastern wall, to pay close attention to the movement of the enemy forces outside the city on the east side, any slightly different movement must be reported immediately.”
Guo Shancai responded, “Let Shuxia be in charge of that.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “I will leave everything to you. To tell you the truth, I have been in even more nasty situation; as long as everything goes according to the plan, we will definitely be able to cross this obstacle safely.”
Everybody knew that with the ‘more nasty situation’ he was talking about, he was referring to the Battle of Helian Fort, which was entirely the fact. Immediately Ba Yegang, three generals’ confidence was greatly boosted. They took their leave to handle their respective duty.
Only Yang Gongqing, Kou Zhong, Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling, four men remained. The lantern light swayed gently in the big hall, while on the outside, there was some kind of cold and cheerless, bleak atmosphere before the big battle.
Yang Gongqing said, “If Li Shimin came back by boat via the Great River and entered Luo [River], sailing with the current, he won’t need four days to reach Luoyang.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and the others felt the chill in their heart. Dou Jiande was defeated and was captured three days ago. If Li Shimin divided his troops into two routes, separately marching to Luoyang via both land and water, the troops taking the waterway might arrive any moment now.
“Fortunately,” Ba Fenghan said, “According to our reliable intelligence, Li Shimin abandoned the waterway and took the land route.” And then he asked in astonishment, “How come the two of you, your countenance becomes so unsightly?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “If the opponent is not Li Shimin, Yang Gong’s remark definitely won’t shake my confidence.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Shaoshuai’s concern is not without any reason.”
Shocked, Ba Fenghan knitted his brows and said, “Are you guys saying that Li Shimin already has misgivings that Shen Luoyan might disclose the information to us, hence in the troop deployment aspect he did not tell Li Shiji the truth?”
Hearing that, Yang Gongqing was confused. “Unexpectedly the information came from Shen Luoyan. So what’s the matter?” he asked in bewilderment.
After explaining to him clearly, Kou Zhong said, “The more I thought about it, the more I feel suspicious. Li Shiji clearly knows Shen Luoyan’s relationship with us, surely he ought to conceal this matter from his wife, why should he personally tell her?”
Yang Gongqing said, “This is not unusual. I hear that Li Shiji, this person, quite attaches importance to comradeship, perhaps because you guys showed kindness to his wife, hence he intentionally gave his wife a chance to repay your kindness.”
Kou Zhong was about to speak, Ba Yegang, flustered and exasperated, rushed into the main hall like a whirlwind, shouting loudly, “A large number of Tang Army’s navy ships is starting to arrive from the Luo River.”
Hearing that, the four men felt their ears were like the plain suddenly being scorched by a thunder, the explosion made everyone saw stars, their scalp went numb.
The thing that they were most afraid of was finally happening.
Kou Zhong’s palm slapped the table, he shouted, “Good kid, you have played me in your palm again.”
Ba Fenghan rose up to his full height, his countenance became incomparably grim, he spoke in cold voice, “Counter soldiers with arms, counter water with an earth weir, just let me see whether Li Shimin really have three heads and six arms.”
Subsequently, Yang Gongqing also stood up and said, “Let’s go to the top of the city wall to take a look.”
Xu Ziling looked down at his pair of sparkling and translucent, penetrating, slender, clean and beautiful hands, there was no more surprise in his heart, suddenly he deeply understood the nature of war, which was to do whatever it takes to win the final victory, to fight with the enemy; compassion and mercy definitely had no place to stand.
Only those ruthless enough could survive.
And until this moment, Kou Zhong was still not ruthless enough. He himself, naturally, was even some distance inferior.
He slowly stood up.
Four pair of eyes were all focused on Kou Zhong, who was still sitting in his chair.
Taking a deep breath, Kou Zhong spoke slowly, “Li Shimin wants to kill me, Kou Zhong, this is his only chance. If he misses Luoyang, he will forever be unable to accomplish it.”
Standing up suddenly, upright and unafraid he strode forward toward the exit of the main hall, every step he took was so sure and powerful, matched with his dragon-gait, tiger-step posture, bold and powerful without comparison image, his footsteps produced fantastic rhythm, revealing an advancing-bravely formidable confidence.
Like whirlwind, Ba Fenghan and the others, under his leadership, stepped out of the main gate, and headed for the battlefield.