Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan

Book 63: Chapter 12: White Horse Oath

Book 63: Chapter 12: White Horse Oath

For five consecutive days, the navy ships carried the joint forces the Central Earth to the frontline battlefield on the north bank of the Wei River west of Wugong City. By the time Li Shiji transported the Eight-Bow-and-Crossbow machines and the big-stone-turning-to-the-flying-stone over, the overall situation was settled, the lone-fighting-army Xieli already lacked the power to upend heaven and earth.

When Xu Ziling returned to the front line, Kou Zhong, together with Li Shiji, Ma Chang, Xuan Yong, Bai Wenyuan, Bu Tianzhi, Yuchi Jingde, Zhangsun Wuji and the others, a group of great generals – were discussing the military situation in the main tent. Seeing Xu Ziling arrived, Kou Zhong ended the meeting, together they rode side by side out of the fortress, coming to a hill where they could gaze into the distance at the enemy camp, and told each other what happened after they parted.

Wuming was circling slowly high in the sky, soaring under the rose-tinted clouds before the sunset.

Kou Zhong said, “Lao Ba and Xiao Hou have just returned to Chang’an, did you run into them?”

Shaking his head, Xu Ziling replied, “The warships on the Wei River come and go frequently, I must have let a great opportunity slip. How is the situation on Xieli’s side? I heard that he is still holding back his troops without moving, how could he be that obedient? Be careful, he might have other plans.”

Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Xieli lost the chance to rectify the defeat. The three cities behind him are greatly increasing their military strength, and there are Xue Wanche and Feng Liben leading an elite force of 30,000 troops, stationed outside Qishan City. Supposing Xieli dares to divide his troops to attack westward, I guarantee that he will have to pack his bag and leave before finish eating.”

Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “Xue Wanche and Feng Liben?”

Kou Zhong said, “Isn’t this move awesome enough? No words or actions can better show our trust in the hostile factions of the past than entrusting them with important tasks. Not only it could reassure the hearts of those who defect, it could also stabilize the hearts of the army and the people. Currently, Tuli and all the brothers have safely withdrawn. Even if Lao Xue and Lao Feng were stupid enough to surrender to Xieli, would the officers and soldiers under their command follow them? Xieli would not dare to accept them even more for fear it would incur our attack. Now the foot of Xieli’s disposition of troops is in chaos, their morale is in decline, with no room to advance or to retreat, what he is seeking is a chance to step down with dignity.”

Then he asked, “Did Shi Zhixuan appear?”

Xu Ziling narrated the affair, he sighed and said, “He, the Senior, only has one flaw, and it was precisely this flaw that finally made him to comprehend the right path [Buddhism concept], to abandon suffering and obtain happiness. Qingxuan also forgave him because of this.”

Kou Zhong sighed incessantly with him. Looking up at the clear sky, Shang Xiufang’s jade countenance and tender disposition floated into appearance in his heart, he spoke gently, “I still remember when we were in Luoyang, we sneaked into the imperial palace, listening from the side to Xiufang performing her music for Wang Shichong and Shimin Xiong. At that time, I had a strange feeling, Xiufang, although the person was there, using her musical art to turn all living beings upside down, I seem to see her packing up her luggage, ready to start another journey to wander the Jianghu. Ay! She does not belong to any place, does not belong to a certain person, she belongs to folk musical theater and the way of the songs. The pursuit of art keeps her searching for a certain goal deep in her heart.”

Stunned, Xu Ziling said, “Is she not willing to marry you?”

Kou Zhong said, “You could say that. That night at the Wugong Bie Guan [Annex], while listening to the sound of fleet after fleet of navy warships breaking the waves as they sailed along the Wei River, I enjoyed her wholehearted devotion and tenderness, the beautiful woman’s special favor [used to refer to the favor from a ruler/the Emperor] that is most difficult to bear in my life. In my heart, I am both sad and happy, definitely I will not forget for the rest of my life. When she left me early in the morning, I deliberately pretended to be asleep, but I did not miss every dot, every drip of sound of her getting out of bed and dressing and grooming herself. Ay, my Niang! At that time, I was really afraid that I could not help weeping bitter tears like a child, begging her not to leave me.”

Xu Ziling felt a burst of melancholy in his heart for his sake, a sigh of sorrow, which was hard to express, welled up in his heart. Thinking about Shi Feixuan, who was far away in Ci Hang Jing Zhai, he said, “One day, when she is tired, she will naturally return to your side.”

Kou Zhong looked into the distance at the enemy’s stronghold, he said, “What did Zhizhi have to say?”

Xu Ziling said, “Before I came, Chuchu, Little Lingzhong and Lu Shu [Uncle] had just arrived in Chang’an, Huangshang personally went to the wharf to welcome Lu Shu. Zhizhi implored me to tell you that she will quiet her heart, waiting for her big hero returning in triumph, returning home with honor. Lei Dage’s bank has found the ideal shop at the Vermillion Bird Boulevard, this moment they are carrying out a large-scale construction project, rushing to open it for business in a few days. He told you to roll back to participate in the grand opening ceremony presided by Huangshang himself.”

Kou Zhong laughed hoarsely and said, “He, LaoGe finally found pleasure outside the gambling table. In your opinion, does Qingqing Jie [older sister] really have interest in him?”

“Without a doubt,” Xu Ziling replied, “You can rest assured. If you can see how when Lei Dage sees Qingqing Jie, he is like a mouse seeing a cat, being held down to the ground, but being obedient with as-sweet-as-syrup facial expression, I guarantee you will split your side from laughing.”

Kou Zhong stretched his waist and said, “Bitterness finishes, sweetness begins [idiom: the hard times are over, the good times just beginning], we finally arrive at the auspicious days. Li Shimin is indeed our good brother, he fully accepts Xingzhi’s proposal, so everyone on our side, each in the correct place [idiom: each is provided for]. Xingzhi’s plan to open a college at Zhongli is also settled. He is definitely a hundred times better than Bai Lao Fuzi [see Book 1, Chapter 1], and he definitely won’t be bothered by government officials, because the one in charge of the city is Zhi Shu [uncle]. Ha!”

Xu Ziling’s heart grew warm, he said, “I am very tired of war. Should we take the initiative to talk to Xieli, to completely resolve the stalemate situation? Otherwise, letting Xieli wander back north of the border might cause serious destruction.”

Kou Zhong laughed aloud, he said, “Carefully setting an auspicious date does not beat seizing an opportunity [idiom: carpe diem]. We’ll settle the matter today, and we’ll return to Chang’an tomorrow, lest Lei LaoGe blames us for being absent from the grand ceremony.”

The two boys shouted together, and spurred their horses to gallop towards the enemy stronghold.

“Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling are asking an audience with the Great Khan!”

Kou Zhong shouted over from a distance, immediately a burst of commotion arose inside the enemy fort, and then the sound of hoofbeat was heard, obviously someone immediately flew to report to Xieli.

Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Xieli must have been puzzled by the fact that we knew that the Khan’s tent was behind this hill, he must be at a loss; he thought that we see through the profound mystery purely based on the camp formation and stronghold rampart arrangement, not knowing that we rely on the falcon’s returning flight position to find the place where he, the Senior is hiding. Merely this move has completely achieved the gaining-the-upper-hand-by-a-show-of-strength effectiveness.”

Xu Ziling looked up at the starry sky, the camp was blazing with the light from the torches, reflected in the just-turning-dark sky like a blazing red curtain. In the high altitude where the flame could not reach, Wuming was spiraling continuously, to show off its mighty power.

Kou Zhong sighed and said, “There has never been a moment like this when I feel like holding the pearl of wisdom even more, I can almost foresee the situation of Xieli’s surrender, so much so how he will react and what he will say; I can guess with eighty-, ninety-percent confidence. Ha, this fellow is going to act tough and vicious, assuming the air of rather being a shattered jade than being an intact roof tile, but at the bottom of his heart he knows that he is following the tracks of overturned cart [idiom: repeating the same mistakes] of Liu Wuzhou defeat at Baibi. He is afraid of Li Shimin’s usual style of taking advantage of the enemy’s lack of food supply to pursue and attack, but also more afraid that the one chasing him is me, Kou Zhong. Therefore, as long as we give him a chance to step down the stage, he will immediately call Xiong [older brother] and say Di [younger brother], pretending to be a hero knowing another hero, and accepting the condition of withdrawal.”

Xu Ziling smiled and said, “I am most afraid that your estimates will fall through, so we will have to waste and exhaust our strength to charge out of the enemy camp.”

Kou Zhong said, “That situation will not happen. The whole situation is under our control. Xieli has to give thought to his guys, to give thought to the future, to give thought to the Golden Wolf Tujue tribe, to give thought to whether he could roll the dust and start again. With so many reasons, other than surrendering, what option does he have? Even if his defeated army, injured generals could return to the prairie, they would be powerless to contend for supremacy against Tuli. Ay! I really hope that he can be forced to hand over Lao [Old] Zhao.”

Xu Ziling said, “No need to bully intolerably, after this battle, Xieli will no longer trust Zhao Deyan, so what if you let him go now?”

Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes narrowed, refined light flashed like lightning, he said, “They are here!”

The rapid sound of hoofbeats came forth from inside the enemy camp, a group of several dozens of riders dashed out from the open-wide stronghold gate, the leader was Kang Qiaoli, they went straight toward the two boys and reined their horses about a zhang away in front of them.

The warhorse reared on its hindlegs, Kang Qiaoli shouted, “The Great Khan ordered me to ask two gentlemen, visiting the enemy camp at night, what is the reason?”

Kou Zhong spoke in loud and clear voice, “We are here to talk freely and sincerely with the Great Khan, definitely without the slightest bit of malice.”

Kang Qiaoli’s countenance softened slightly, he nodded and said, “Shaoshuai’s courage is extraordinary, Kang Qiaoli is full of admiration, two gentlemen, please raise your good-selves.” Turning around, he led the way.

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glances, they urged their horses to follow closely behind him. At least half of Kou Zhong’s guess came true, Xieli really had the intention to shake hands and make peace.

In the open space outside the Khan tent, there was an open fire where a lamb was being roasted, four bare-chested Tujue warriors were basting and roasting the lamb skewered on a rotating iron stick. Amidst the aroma permeating the whole place, the mutton was cut and presented to the host and the guests, both sides, to sample.

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sat on Xieli’s left and right sides, respectively, with Tonyukuk, Kang Qiaoli, and eight major tribal chiefs, sitting on the ground, around the fire, Zhao Deyan was the only one not seen. Only Xieli, Kou, and Xu, three men had sheepskin cushions under them. A leather bag containing goat’s milk was passed around from person to person, after two sips, it was immediately passed on to the next person on the right. The warriors were standing guard on four directions, the atmosphere carried a harmony-within-tension flavor.

Contrary to Kou Zhong’s guess, Xieli did not carry an air of a vicious hegemon who wanted to choose someone to devour, he was actually cautious and polite.

After drinking two mouthfuls of goat milk, Xieli handed it over to Kou Zhong, who was full of praise of the tender and savory mutton leg he was holding in his hand. Shifting back to the topic, he said, “Aside from our respective opposing position, Shaoshuai is indeed one of just a very few figures in the Central Earth qualified to face off against me on the battlefield, the other is Song Que. I heard that Song Que has some kind of extraordinary charm, which can make every single one of his men willing to die for him. I thought the rumors were exaggerated, but after coming across Shaoshuai, I began to know for sure that there really are indeed such charismatic commander-in-chief in the world as Song Que and Shaoshuai. I am not trying to fawn on you, but I want you to understand that tonight we can sit here side by side and share goat milk, is because I realized that there is practically no way to refuse to see you, and not because I want to seek peace with you. In my, Xieli’s military career, I have confidence that the final victory will belong to me.”

Kou Zhong felt the touching feeling that he was making history in his heart. As he expected, Xieli indeed was showing strength while weak inside [idiom], he was starting to have the heart to shrink back. Although the negotiation process was definitely not easy, due to in this regard, Xieli was a seasoned veteran, but everything was under his control, whether to have peace or war, it was entirely in his mind.

Kou Zhong cast his gaze to the starry sky. That one night, the crisp and clear night with continuous rain [I know it does not make sense, but that’s what it says], appeared in the ocean of his brain. Shang Xiufang was looking down the window and naively asked, “Ah, Shaoshuai! Another fleet of warships is passing by! So many men are heading to the front line, will there really be no conflict?”

Kou Zhong’s arm snaked around her small waist, and pressed it on her scorching lower abdomen where she had no excess fat – not one part too fat, not one part too thin, and bent his head to stick it to her fragrant, tender cheek. Her complete ignorance [orig. does not even enter a single aperture of her head] of military matter made him feel that the fire of war was far away even more, thereupon he said to her, “The more men go to the front line, the lower the chance of war. Now, just like you, I feel thoroughly weary of bloodshed, I won’t let any war to happen because of me.”

Shang Xiufang’s tender body turned weak, she leaned into his bosom, her starry eyes were half-closed, she was panting and said, “When I leave tomorrow morning, Shaoshuai must close your eyes and pretend to be asleep, because Xiufang is afraid not to be able to bear the pain of parting, so let the charm and the sadness of leaving become the matter of the past, do you understand? Big bad egg [scoundrel, bastard].”

Xieli’s voice entered his ear at this moment, “What is Shaoshuai thinking?”

Kou Zhong was recalling fondly the emotional storm caused by Shang Xiufang’s ‘Big bad egg’; hearing the question, he replied, “I’m thinking of the prairie beyond the Great Wall, with its thousand beauties and ten thousand appearances terrain, the vast mother earth covered by meadow prairie, forest grassland and dry prairie, the arid great desert that makes people feel intimidated, the rolling hills overgrown with bushes extending continuously, as well as the lakes on the grasslands, with tents erected on the lakeshores, flocks of cattle and sheep, and endless open country extending forever to the end of the world. It is the natural pasture that Heaven above gives to the brothers beyond the Great Wall to let them gallop its length and breadth unhindered. Whether the white clouds filling the sky, or the stars filling the space, the prairie will always be that fascinating.”

They have been talking in Tujue language, so that everybody present could hear and understand clearly. Perhaps because he was thinking of Shang Xiufang, his voice was brimming with rich emotions. Listening to him telling about his longing to gallop on the copious water supply, the fertile soil, the luxuriant pasture and beautiful prairie, his vision for the future, even the Tujue warriors serving them had their movements slowing down, the feeling of homesickness grew in their hearts. Tonyukuk, Kang Qiaoli, and the group of tribal chiefs were silent, with nothing to say.

Xieli nodded and said, “Turns out Shaoshuai has such a profound perception toward the prairie.”

After the first time in joyous intimacy, Shang Xiufang cried in his arms. As he continuously wiped her tears and comforted her, but to no avail, Shang Xiufang bit his ear and said, “Xiufang is not crying because of tomorrow’s parting, but …”

Kou Zhong returned to reality once again, still feeling tender, he said softly, “The Great Khan in my, Kou Zhong’s heart, is the overlord on the prairie that no one can ever knock down. The prairie belongs to the Great Khan, just like the Central Earth belongs to us. Only by coexisting peacefully with each other, we can enjoy the gift of Heaven to the fullest. As long as the Great Khan nods, we will fulfill our previous promise and let the Great Khan to return from a rewarding journey. No matter what, being brothers is better than being enemies, otherwise it will become both sides suffer situation. It will both affect Great Khan’s prestige on the steppe that no one dares to challenge, and also delayed our Central Earth’s great cause of unification.”

These remarks were both tactful and thoroughly laying out the pros and cons, giving Xieli enough face, fully displaying Kou Zhong’s unique diplomatic style. Hearing it, Xu Ziling applauded in secret.

Xieli muttered to himself for half a day, while everyone held their breath and calmed their qi, the only noise was the hissing of the burning fat, and occasionally the crackling sound of the sauce dripping from the mutton into the fire.

After quite a while, Xieli nodded and said, “Shaoshuai can be considered quite a friend, if I, Xieli still refuse, I fail to appreciate your kindness. It’s just that there is a clear dividing line between the Tang Kingdom and the prairie, if you won’t interfere in any affairs of the prairie in the future, we could end this matter amiably.”

Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “Great Khan, please note clearly, if you were me, Kou Zhong, when Tuli, Gunatai brothers and Pusa, have just looked at my sentiment and face and withdraw from this weapon of war, and then I turned my head and guarantee to you that whatever happens in the prairie, no matter how big or small, I will not interfere, even if they face the distress of life and death, I will still sit and watch, but remain indifferent, what kind of brotherhood is that?”

The vicious light in Xieli’s pair of eyes immediately flaring greatly, he spoke heavily, “If Shaoshuai thinks that I, Xieli have no choice but to accept your any conditions, Shaoshuai is gravely mistaken.”

The atmosphere suddenly became tense, the negotiation seemed to be on the verge of breaking down. Not one single throat uttered a single breath, only the dialog between the two men reverberated inside the camp.

Xu Ziling also felt headache for Kou Zhong. The differences between the two were diametrically opposite, practically there was no room for compromise.

Kou Zhong smiled and said, “If we can’t come to an agreement, a full-scale fierce battle will unfold immediately. Admittedly, it would be hard for us to take, but even if the Great Khan can return north of the border, you will immediately have to face the challenges of the enemies from the Central Earth and the prairie, respectively, it is really something that a sage won’t take. How about this: each of us take a step back, I, Kou Zhong vow that no matter how the situation develops in the future, Ziling and I will not intervene in anything inside or outside the border, henceforth we will withdraw from Jianghu and live in seclusion. In the future, the Great Khan will not have to worry about the two of us looking trouble all over the place. I have already stated clearly where I stand, now it only takes the Great Khan to say a word.”

Xieli looked at him, his pair of eyes flashing brightly, he said, “You are serious?”

Xu Ziling breathed a sigh of relief inwardly, Xieli finally found the opportunity to step down the stage. It should be noted that the struggle between inside and outside the border has always been a question of who is stronger and who is weaker. The failure of Xieli’s invasion to the south did not mean that he would suffer defeat forever, he only had to restrain his anger momentarily. And Xieli suffered big defeat from Kou Zhong at the Rushing Wolf Plain and the Wei River in succession, he was more afraid of Kou Zhong than Tuli or Li Shimin. If the terms of the peace talks included he and Kou Zhong washing hands on the golden tray, withdrawing from the mountain and forest, in the long run, it would only bring benefit without any harm to Xieli. In the past, Xieli was willing to be reconciled with Tuli, he was forced by the situation. Now history was repeating itself. With Xieli’s current military strength, even if he won at Weibin, he would still be powerless to expand the victory. He also had to worry about sudden changes appearing any moment in the grasslands, afraid that Tuli would seize the opportunity to expand, while he was caught in the bitter struggle in the Central Earth.

Kou Zhong asserted, “I swear in the names of Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling that if the Great Khan is willing to end peacefully and return to his hometown, the two of us will immediately withdraw from Jianghu and live in seclusion, and will never take part in any disputes inside and outside the Great Wall, otherwise, let the Heaven punish and the Earth extinguish. However, Great Khan must also draw a clear dividing line with Liang Shidu, henceforth no longer show interest in the struggle between him and us.”

Xieli stared fixedly at him, and then he threw his head back in loud laughter and said, “What kind of logic is that? You can meddle in the affairs of the prairie, but we have to abandon our brothers in the Central Earth?”

Kou Zhong said, “Let me tell you the truth, the Great Tang unifying the Central Earth, it will still take some time, and after the unification, it will take a longer period of time to recover, to restore their vitality, and straighten out the popular sentiments, practically there won’t be any strength, and there won’t be any intention, to care about the prairie’s affairs. This time the Great Khan is returning from a rewarding journey, to some extent, you are able to answer your clansmen. Even more important is to gain the most precious time to deal with the many things you are facing. Otherwise, how the situation will develop in the future, I am afraid neither the Great Khan nor I will be able to predict.”

Xieli cast his gaze toward the blazing fire, he spoke in heavy voice, “What do all of you have to say about Shaoshuai’s proposal?”

One of the tribal chiefs who was comparatively older said, “For both sides, war is not beneficial, peace is beneficial. This is my, Qilianda’s opinion, but the Great Khan will make the final decision.”

Tonyukuk said, “Shaoshuai is willing to withdraw from the fray and live in seclusion on the mountain forest, it shows the sincerity of his longing for peace. Great Khan, please consider it.”

Xieli’s gaze swept over the crowd of tribal chiefs, he said, “Any other opinions? Very well!”

Xieli stretched his hand out to Kou Zhong, he spoke decisively, “Everything will be done according to the agreement. Tomorrow morning the Tang Master and I will use the blood of the white horse as the proof of forming a peace alliance on the shore of the Wei River. Within three years, neither one must not interfere in the other’s affairs.”

Kou Zhong cried ‘Formidable!’ inwardly, Xieli was indeed a master negotiator. He proposed a non-aggression treaty within three years at this moment, it was reasonable and fair, because it followed Kou Zhong’s words, so that it would be difficult for him to refuse. Laughing aloud, he also stretched out his hand to grab Xieli’s tightly.

The crowd of tribal chiefs immediately burst into cheer and applause shaking the camp.

The storm was finally over.

Kou Zhong raised the lamb’s leg in his other hand and took a bite, saying, “Great Khan is formidable!”

Xieli laughed and said, “You and me both.”

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