Book 20 Chapter 1 – Besieging A City Is A Must In War
All Liangdu residents, men, women, young and old, were mobilized in their struggle to defend their hometown.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were now world famous heroes; not only they had glorious military successes, they were also ‘invincible’, and because they came from the marketplace, they won the heart of the people, even more so than those Sui dynasty’s old minister or veteran generals who came from honorable school or big clans, or ambitious and ruthless characters who started out by relying on the dark road. Therefore, one after another wulin characters and ambitious able-bodied men from the surrounding area came to realign their allegiance to the two boys.
Albeit unintentionally, in his road to contend for hegemony, this was the first time that Kou Zhong publicly amassed volunteers for the uprising, just like it suddenly happened in this place.
In any other cases, Xu Ziling could not possibly be drawn directly into Kou Zhong’s ‘private business’ to conquer the world. But this time, because of his benevolence in bemoaning the state of the universe and pitying the fate of the citizens of this city, plus it was for the sake of dealing with Yuwen Huaji, unexpectedly he had spun a cocoon around himself [idiom: enmeshed in a trap of his own devising]; in the end he had no choice but to take the heavy responsibility of training and organizing the troops into squads of five soldiers upon himself.
On one hand, Kou Zhong’s skill was derived from the heavenly book passed down from Lu Miaozi. On the other hand, he imitated the administrative structure of Liangdu’s entire governance; he tried to stretch the limited resources available to him as far as possible, to make the best possible use of whatever he currently had.
Yuwen Huaji’s force from the south was about twenty thousand men strong, but it was moving so slowly, because along the way they had to loot army provisions and recruited able-bodied men by force; it was just like a plague of locusts turning cities into disaster areas, forcing the people along their route to flee toward Liangdu, making Kou Zhong’s burden more than a hundred catties heavier.
This day, after much difficulty, the two boys were finally able to meet at a side hall of Fusheng Restaurant, located on the north and south main street connecting the north and south city gates, well into the afternoon, to discuss attack and defense military matters.
The other guests of the restaurant were all used to see these two boys, since they both were amiable and approachable, they did not like to hide inside the Zongguan Mansion, but loved to enjoy big bowl of wine and big piece of meat together with the locals, sprinkling their speech with one or two vulgar language such as ‘his mother’ and the like.
Kou Zhong spoke in low voice, “Currently fourteen cities and towns, more than two hundred villages in the vicinity of Liangdu have all surrendered to us, and it has enabled us to obtain some extra rations and fodder, and relax the hardship of lack of food supplies somewhat.”
Knitted his brows, Xu Ziling said, “Previously, where did Liangdu’s provisions come from?”
Kou Zhong replied, “It was from these township and villages. It’s just that those hateful Khitan dog thieves killed and burned everywhere, driving the farmlands to be abandoned, and could not supply provisions as they always did. Do you want to buy provisions? Upstream Wang Shichong is waging war against Li Mi, downstream Ol’ Die, in company with Shen Faxing, is staking it all in fiery confrontation against Li Zitong; water transportation is cut off. Ay! My Ling Shao, who would have thought that we will be in the situation we are in today, unexpectedly we have to worry about firewood and rice for the entire city of nearly a hundred thousand people! Previously you advised me not to contend over the world, you indeed have the foresight.”
Xu Ziling did not have the mood to even laugh; he asked, “So with the current provision level, how many days are we able to last?”
Kou Zhong said, “According to that fellow, Chen Jiafeng’s estimate, if that lowly creature Yuwen Huagu is traveling at his current speed, in three days they will arrive to besiege the city and sever all water and land transport. Even if we tighten our belts, we could only last for less than ten days.”
Xu Ziling’s countenance changed, he said, “Wouldn’t it be terrible? With his jackal and wolf nature, Yuwen Huagu will definitely seize the opportunity to loot everywhere he goes, so that he won’t have to worry about lack of food supplies, while we are trapped in a besieged city, starving to death.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “Currently we seem to have several thousands of people, but those who can really be sent out to deal with others are no more than twenty, those able to provide their own leather-armor, horse and weapons are only about a thousand; the number of warhorses is even more pathetic, even including old, weary, thin and weak, the total is only about a hundred. People say that elite troops are honored but the dishonorable are many, yet I am afraid those that can be really called elite troops only remain you and I, these two big idiots. This time it’s not only bad, this is thoroughly bad.”
Xu Ziling said with determination in his voice, “Defending the city is a road that leads to dead end, we might as well make a gamble by ambushing Yuwen Huagu on his way here; it’s certainly better than waiting for death here.”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “The reason Yuwen Huagu is marching this slow, and also abandoning the fast water route but embracing the land route, is precisely to guard against us ambushing him along the way. Therefore, this plan is absolutely won’t work. Tell me, if you have several thousand men marching to battle in grandiose, do you think we can conceal it from Yuwen Clan’s martial art masters who are acting as intelligence gatherers? Right now all we can do is to see what Li Zitong will do.”
This moment, Xie Jue, who had the honor of being promoted to be the captain of Kou Zhong’s personal guards, came to report, “A gentleman who says his name is Xuan Yong is asking to have an audience with two Daye.”
The two boys were greatly delighted; they quickly asked Xie Jue to show him in.
A moment later Xuan Yong, who was covered in windblown dust from head to toe, came in. The three of them met, naturally they chatted freely about what had happened after they parted.
“Your arrival is so timely,” Kou Zhong said.
Xuan Yong cheerfully said, “You guys using a ghost town and several troubled troops inflicting defeat on Khitan’s group of horse-mounted bandits, this news has spread widely over several cities in the north.”
Xu Ziling asked in astonishment, “It was only seven, eight days ago; how could the news spread so quickly?”
Xuan Yong said, “Anything that happens in the neighboring area north and south of the waterway will be particularly easy to spread, due to the flourishing water traffic. As soon as I heard that Yuwen Huaji is sending his troops toward Liangdu, I knew the situation can’t be good; hence I immediately traveled at double speed to here.”
Kou Zhong suddenly rose up to his full height, cupped his fist toward all the restaurant guests and said, “Gentlemen, fellow countrymen, brothers, Xiaodi has an important matter to discuss; I was wondering if everyone, Dage Dashu [big brothers, big uncles] can finish eating a bit faster and leave?”
Hearing this, everybody willingly and gladly left. By the time Kou Zhong sat down, only the three of them remained in the restaurant, even the proprietor and the waiters all made themselves scarce by going to the kitchen.
Xu Ziling asked, “Does Xuan Xiong know how bad our situation is?”
Xuan Yong calmly said, “One: lack of food supplies, two: no troops to be used, three: isolated and without help. Did I say it wrong?”
Greatly astonished, Kou Zhong said, “Looking at your appearance, it seems that you can resolve these three problems for us. Come on, don’t tease me.”
Xuan Yong said, “Foodstuff is in short supply everywhere, nobody can do anything about it. But these three problems are all because Yuwen Huaji is coming. If we can make him rushing back to his old home, all problems can be easily solved [orig. bamboo splits when it meets the knife’s edge].”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Xuan Zongguan’s remark is very insightful, it makes me immediately think that ultimately, Yuwen Huagu is the only problem.”
Xuan Yong was stunned, “What Xuan Zongguan?” [Reminder: zongguan literally means chief manager] he asked.
Xu Ziling burst out laughing.
Kou Zhong said, “Naturally the Liangdu, Pengcheng, two cities’ Da Zongguan. Even if we get rid of Yuwen Huagu, an organization this scale needs someone like Xuan Da Zongguan, with experience to unify the army and defending a city, a figure overflowing with talent, to govern it. Taking advantage while Li Zitong is powerless to go up north, Lin Shihong, Li Mi and the others are too busy to care, I am relying on you to establish a strong, unbreakable garrison here, to sever the north to south route of Central Plains’ strategic pass. Ha! This is an arrangement bestowed by heaven.”
Xuan Yong stared blankly for half a day. Finally he said, “We must ask Miss’ instructions on this matter.”
Kou Zhong patted his chest and said, “Leave it to me to deal with Da Xiaojie’s side. Why didn’t she come here?”
Xuan Yong said, “We have already received a group of Wagang’s officers and soldiers back, their number is over two thousand men. But we lack a place to settle. Miss heard that you took over Liangdu, hence she ordered me to lead them here to take shelter. Presently they are stationed in a forest thirty li north of the city.
Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, “This time we are really saved.”
※ ※ ※
While Yuwen Huaji’s main force continued their approach, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were busy to no end, making good preparation to defend the city.
This day, first thing in the morning, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, only the two of them, urged their horses out of town, patrolling the fortification built outside the city, and went up the top of a hill overlooking the plain to the north.
On their left, Tongji Canal was surging on, but there was no boat in sight.
Kou Zhong spoke as if he was reciting, “besieging a city is a must in war, because not only a city concerns the overall situation or perhaps being a strategic point of any region, plus it exercise control over the transportation and economic function of a wide expanse of a region. It is the supporting point and the lifeline of the entire war; it is really … hey … wait a moment.”
Xu Ziling looked at him in surprise, only to see Kou Zhong, with lightning speed technique took out Lu Miaozi’s heavenly book from his pocket, turned to a specific page, and continued reciting, “Hey! A city is thus a place that must be fought over in the School of the Military. A strategic town like Liangdu, anybody who gains control over it will also gain control over the Tongji Canal. Ha! Do I have the style to make a speech like that?”
Xu Ziling laughed involuntarily, “You don’t need to convince me, I will definitely making an all-out effort to fight Yuwen Huagu to the end.”
In all seriousness, Kou Zhong said, “I was using you for practice; to win over people, you must first substantiate yourself. Reading this section of Lu Miaozi’s ‘Besieging A City Is A Must In War’, for some reason I am always thinking of another city, which might very well be the crucial point whether I will be able to establish stable footing for my troops. Can you guess which city I am thinking about?”
Xu Ziling cast his gaze toward the sun rising on the eastern horizon; he spoke indifferently, “Is it Xiangyang?”
Kou Zhong was visibly shaken, “How did you guess?” he asked.
“What’s so difficult to guess?” Xu Ziling replied, “If you want to advance toward Luoyang and Guanzhong, on the east there are Jiangdu, Liangdu, on the west there are Jingling, Xiangyang. Of the latter two, Xiangyang has the more strategic importance; otherwise Li Mi would not have to personally take the trouble to go see Qian Duguan.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Well said. There is a chapter in Lu Miaozi’s ‘Terrain Study’ dealing specifically with the places that will have to be conquered by the School of Military of the world; Xiangyang is high on the list.”
“What did Mr. Lu say?” Xu Ziling asked.
As if he was very familiar with the subject [orig. as if enumerating his family valuables], Kou Zhong recited, “Xiangyang connects to Bashu [old name for Sichuan] to the west, controls Xiangchu [old name for Hunan and Hubei] to the south, cherishes River Luo to the north; hence every war would inevitably raised their fire beacon, banner and rampart toward this city. During the Three Kingdoms period [220-280 AD], Wei, Shu and Wu, all three sides were working hard for this city, even Guan Yu was injured and died in this place. After that, the Western Jin [265-316 AD] cut down Wu, the Eastern Jin’s [317-420 AD] Huan Wen [312-373 AD] went on northern military campaign; all of these used Xiangyang as their base of operations. Therefore, Mr. Lu’s conclusion was ‘the reason Six Dynasties [220-589 AD] were able to defend the left of the River was that they really depended on strong soldiers, powerful garrisons between Huainan and Jingxiang.’”
Xu Ziling could not help thinking Zhu Yuyan’s praise on Lu Miaozi, ‘his talent able to move unhindered’. His treatise on Xiangyang was definitely outstanding and insightful.
Xiangyang, although not a big city like Luoyang or any capital cities, but because it was located in the middle stretches of the Han River, which was the road hub connecting Hubei, Henan, Sichuan and Shaanxi, four provinces. If one is thinking of going down south from the Central Plains, or perhaps from Guanzhong entering the Jianghan plains, one cannot but take Xiangyang first.
Kou Zhong’s ambition to get Xiangyang was actually his deepest intention to pursue the deer [fig. to vie for supremacy] in the decisive battle against Li Shimin in the future. Even if Li Shimin wanted to attack Luoyang, he still had to pass through this crucial point, Xiangyang.
Both Xiangyang and Liangdu were not a political or economic center, but it concerned the success or failure of the overall strategy.
Xu Ziling said, “If you want to obtain Xiangyang, you must snatch Jingling first, and it may not be easy.”
Kou Zhong cheerfully said, “The most interesting aspect of this game is its high degree of difficulty.”
Displeased, Xu Ziling said, “Unexpectedly you regard killing people, filling the plains with dead bodies, miserable and ruthless battle in attacking and defending cities as a game?”
Smiling bitterly, Kou Zhong said, “Don’t talk to me with stiff face and righteous words like that. Just consider me begging you! As far as I’m concerned, life is nothing more than a game. My responsibility is to attempt to make this game more meaningful and fun. This is purely from a detached point of view. Just like Shi Feixuan thinks that everything in the world is illusory and without any eternal significance.”
After a short pause, he continued excitedly, “Ling Shao, just think: on our Central Plains’ vast territory, there are countless cities, large and small. With different geographical situation, they all have different importance and meaning, not unlike the checked pattern on the chessboard, with each person, each army as a chess piece. If you look at it like this, don’t you think battlefield is just like a game? All military campaigns therefore center on, and start in, breaking a city and defending a city.”
Xu Ziling pondered quietly for half a day; finally he nodded and said, “Your view of vying over the world is really much deeper than before.”
Kou Zhong turned his head to look at Liangdu at the distance; exhaling slowly, he said, “I have lost Jingling, I can’t afford to lose Liangdu as well! If our provision is adequate, we could fortify defenses and raze the fields, trying to hold up the enemy outside the city as long as possible, until their provision ran out and they had to withdraw the troops, and then wipe them out at a stroke. But now, of course, we cannot use this tactic; hence we can only employ a stratagem, use unusual tactic, by exploiting Yuwen Huagu’s weak point of not daring to prolong the battle, and ruthlessly frustrating him.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “Right now everybody knew about food shortage in Liangdu. Yuwen Huagu deliberately marching slowly, his objective is to drive the citizens of the area along his route toward Liangdu, to drive us into a deeper frustration of lack of food supplies. He does not even have an eight-day, ten-day patience.”
Shaken, Kou Zhong said, “You are right! Therefore, the first tactic is to use deceive. Not only we want to deceive Yuwen Huagu, we also need to deceive the troops and citizens of the entire city.”
Emotionally moved, Xu Ziling said, “Since we are going to use deceive anyway, we might as well pretend that not only Li Zitong is willing to loan provisions, he is also willing to loan his troops, and both will arrive in several days. If the news reached Yuwen Huagu’s ears, I guarantee he will speed up his advancing troops, and will do everything he can to besiege the city with the fiercest way possible, and then we will be able take advantage of this scheme.”
Clamping his legs on his horse’s belly, he whipped the horse and said, “We must send someone to intercept Ren Meimei, who could be back from the north any moment; if we want to tell lies, she must be in it too!”
※ ※ ※
By dusk that day, Ren Meimei’s boat docked at Liangdu; with the boat she brought along more than a dozen carts of army provisions. Reportedly, it was the first batch of foodstuff Li Zitong ever loaned after he formed the alliance.
Along the way to the storehouse at the Zongguan Mansion, one of the carts ‘accidentally’ overturned, spilling out its cargo of rice and wheat.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys, personally met them at the city gate, and then riding left and right, they escorted this ‘minister who has given outstanding service’ entering the city. The citizens of the city lined the street to cheer, so much so that some even knelt down and burned incense to worship, while calling out ‘long live!’ [orig. wanshui, ten thousand years].
Passing the high all of the Zongguan Mansion, Ren Meimei’s flowery smiling face immediately became wooden and cold; gnashing her teeth in anger she cursed, “That dog Li Zitong really deserves to be wiped out by Du Fuwei. Not only he refused to lend a helping hand, he also threw stones at people who fell down a well. He cut off the lower reaches of the waterway; his speech was even more unbearable. He is really infuriating!”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Ren Dajie [big/elder sister], there is no need to bicker with this kind of lowly man. Just wait until we’re done taking care of Yuwen Huaji, we’ll take a good look at him.”
Turning to Xu Ziling, he asked, “Did the show with the transporting provisions just now look real enough?”
Fully satisfied, Xu Ziling said, “Were it not for I knew the inside story, I would have been deceived.”
The three sat down in the main hall.
Ren Meimei’s anger has not dissipated, she cursed, “That dog not only showed excessive arrogance, he forced me to wait for three days for nothing, and in the end he only sent a court eunuch to tell me that he did not have time to see me, unless I waited ten more days. Tell me, how irritating is that?”
Kou Zhong asked in surprise, “Didn’t Ren Dajie say that his speech was unbearable? If you didn’t even see him, how could you hear what he said?”
Puffing out her sweet cheeks, Ren Meimei said, “Although I did not see him, but the eunuch passed his message to me, telling me that if I wanted to rest a little bit, he might summon me within five days into the palace to accompany him.”
Murderous aura flashed through Kou Zhong’s eyes, but his expression was surprisingly calm; he nodded and spoke slowly, “Li Zitong is deliberately humiliating us. Very well! Since he wants to throw stones at ones who fell down a well, don’t blame me for not showing any mercy to him.”
Xu Ziling was silent.
And then Ren Meimei reported Jiangdu’s situation, “Currently Du Fuwei is stationing his troops east of Danyang, only about twenty li from Jiangdu, in accord with Shen Faxing’s son, Shen Lun’s main force, which is stationed north of the adjoining hill. They have launched three ferocious attacks in succession against Jiangdu city walls, both sides suffered heavy casualties, with Li Zitong’s side slightly losing. The adjoining hill originally belonged to Li Zitong, and was taken by Shen Lun only in the last month or so, so that Li Zitong lost control over all counties south of Jiangdu.”
Kou Zhong asked, “So what bargaining chip is left for Li Zitong? How could he dare to look down on us like that?”
Ren Meimei replied, “Nothing more than a dozen or so county towns due north of Jiangdu. Among these, the most important are Donghai County overlooking the East China Sea on the northeast, and Zhongli County on the Huai River. The former is that dog’s native place and rear defense base, the latter is the pivot point of his route inland. Any one of these two fell, it would be a fatal blow to him.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “I thought he had no loophole we could exploit, impervious to sword and spear? Turns out there are so many flaws and weak points; a bit later, I will look for him to settle the account. This time I have troubled Ren Dajie! Please go inside and take a good rest.”
After Ren Meimei left, with a deep frown of his brows, Kou Zhong said, “Isn’t it a bit strange? I thought because of our relationship with Song Jingang, plus we are helping him to deal with Yuwen Huaji, that fellow Li Zitong would weep grateful tears, who would have thought that he could treat our envoy like that?”
Xu Ziling said, “What else would give him more benefit than Yuwen Huagu and us fight each other until both sides suffer? If that happens, he would only need to send several thousand officers and soldiers, and Liangdu will fall into his hands.”
Kou Zhong appeared to be deep in thought. It was quite a while later that he said, “In my opinion, the situation is not that simple. Right now his most pressing business is to break Jiangdu’s siege; therefore, any military operation will have that military objective. Just think, supposing after a hard battle Yuwen Huagu finally win over Liangdu, what would be the benefit for him?”
Xu Ziling was visibly moved; he said, “I get it. He wanted to move the troops that are originally stationed in various cities north of Jiangdu to Jiangdu, and use them to deal with Ol’ Die and Shen Lun’s coalition forces; but because of Dou Jiande and Yuwen Huagu’s threat, he is practically powerless to expand his territory. At that time, as long as he could beat back Ol’ Die and Shen Lun’s army, he then could go up north along the River, and snatch Liangdu from Yuwen Huagu’s hands.”
Revealing a smile, Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Must be so; hence he is hoping that Yuwen Huagu and us will fight until both sides suffer; the worse our condition the better it is for him! Isn’t this called ‘poor but with great ambitions’? Or perhaps ‘before the poor heart is exhausted, the greedy heart arises’?”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Are you not like that?”
Kou Zhong suddenly stood up; upright and unafraid, he said, “How could I be like that? Victory has come into my hands. Right now what I need is to sharpen the Moon in the Well, to chop Yuwen Huagu’s dog head, and offer it as a sacrifice in front of Niang’s grave. All these years, aren’t we waiting for precisely this day?”