Book 17 Chapter 10 – Join Forces in the Central Plains
Song Jingang welcomed Kou Zhong into the inner hall; he laughed and said, “Kou Xiong is willing to come, that means you are a trustworthy man, why should anything else need to be explained?”
Kou Zhong sat down and accepted the fragrant tea offered by Song Jingang’s subordinate. Looking out the window, he said pensively, “The rain stopped!”
Song Jingang leaned back in his chair; together with Kou Zhong he cast his eyes out the window and said, “Usually, you can see this kind of heavy rain in Luoyang during summer months. This was early!”
Kou Zhong put the cup on the small table between the two; looking extremely vigilant, he fixed his eyes at Song Jingang and asked, “Song Xiong, which side do you think Xiaodi should work with?”
But Song Jingang looked unconcerned; he said, “I think you should help Li Zitong.”
Only after finishing his remark did he turn to see the opposite side.
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, “You really didn’t want me to assassinate Du Fuwei?”
Inwardly he thought that if the answer was ‘yes’, he would flatly refuse. If he really wanted to assassinate Du Fuwei, it must be in the midst of magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, with open saber and open spear, not with some plotting and scheming in the dark. Toward Du Fuwei, he did not have the slightest bit of ill will, on the contrary, he really had a bit of admiration and respect of a son toward his father.
Song Jingang laughed calmly and said, “That is just a lowly strategy, plus it is difficult to accomplish. I was only thinking of inviting Kou Xiong to defend and stabilize Jiangdu on Li Zitong’s behalf, while the other two factions attack Jingling, to force Du Fuwei to retreat, then it will be difficult for Shen Faxing to act. At the same time, Xiao Xian will be able to act as if he was going to cross over the Great River, so that Du Fuwei will not dare to rush indiscriminately into action.”
Now Kou Zhong understood why Yun Yuzhen was willing to be Song Jingang’s go-between.
Song Jingang was certainly a person with great skill and strategy; in the middle of planning an attack to the Li Clan, he did not overlook military situation all over the world at all.
If Li Mi and Wang Shichong fought until both sides suffered, Du Fuwei was defeated as he attacked to the north, and Song Jingang was able to attack Taiyuan, then Liu Wuzhou’s power could be easily extended to the key areas north and south of the Yellow River, and would become the most powerful overlord.
Frowning, Kou Zhong asked, “But what’s in it for me?”
Song Jingang replied, “Only by protecting Li Zitong would Du Fuwei only be able to hold back and would not dare to attack the Flying Horse Ranch and the two big cities under its protection. At that time, when Kou Xiong attacks Jingling and Xiangyang, we will join forces at Luoyang. When that happens, friend of foe, or diving the world evenly, will become the matter of only two powers, then we can take our time in making the decision.”
Kou Zhong laughed involuntarily; he said, “After a long time talking it over whether one is friend or foe, this is the first time that Xiaodi heard something like this. And it seems that Song Xiong is overestimating Xiaodi too much! Li Zitong may not necessarily be willing to listen to what I have to say.”
Indifferent, Song Jingang said, “Since Kou Xiong is able to persuade Wang Shichong, that old fox, what is a trivial Li Zitong to you? Besides, all along my master’s relationship with Li Zitong hasn’t been too bad. Based only on your brilliant record of being able to defend Jingling for ten days with what can be considered only a remnant of the main army, while Li Zitong himself stood at an impasse, that will easily give him something to consider.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “Quite possibly Song Xiong is the best lobbyist after Su Qin and Zhang Yi. However, in this kind of troublesome matter, I must discuss it with my Xiongdi before I can make a decision. Can you wait a few days?”
Song Jingang said, “I am going to leave immediately, but I might leave behind a contact person. As soon as Kou Xiong gives us a nod, we will arrange everything for you.”
Kou Zhong and Song Jingang discussed the means of communication between them, as well as talking about the current situation related to Jiangdu. Only then did he take his leave.
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Inside a compact second-floor apartment built along the Tianjin Canal on Xuanfeng Lane at the west side of the city Xu Ziling sat alone in the inner hall, waiting for Kou Zhong.
It was a safe house provided by Wang Shichong for them to use, so that they could avoid people’s eyes and ears.
This moment Kou Zhong arrived; he dejectedly slumped down in the chair to Xu Ziling’s left. Quite out of character, he did not blabber like a torrent as his usual self.
“What happened?” Xu Ziling asked indifferently.
Depressed, Kou Zhong replied, “I officially broke up with Yuzhi, with no hope of restoration.”
Xu Ziling asked in surprise, “How could that happen? With your, Zhong Shao’s silver tongue, white can turn to black, deer can turn into horse, what can’t possibly be redeemed?”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “You still call yourself Xiongdi? Right now I am so miserable, you are still teasing me? Ay! My problem is that this moment I really grew to love her, hence I am in no favorable position to use my silver tongue skill.”
Stunned, Xu Ziling said, “So you are not joking.”
“Joking?” Kou Zhong blurted out.
And then his expression turned bitter as with a rueful smile he looked at the pair of new boots he had just purchased, “After giving her my word that I won’t appear before her again, in anguish I walked barefooted in the wind and the rain. At that time my entire being was empty and devoid of any strength, my breathing impeded, my vision indistinct, my heart was pounding inside me as if the pounding of the blacksmith’s sledgehammer on the anvil, getting heavier and heavier, my brains was swelling like the rumbling of the rolling thunder, I nearly fire deviated.”
Incredulously Xu Ziling stared dumbly for quite a while before asking, “Have you forgotten Li Xiuning?”
In distressed, Kou Zhong said, “When I woke up this morning, I have really forgotten her, there was only Song Yuzhi in my heart. Ay! This time is more miserable than the last time I lost my love, my entire being felt like being drowned into the abyss of the sea, the pain at the pit of my stomach was so great from the pressure.”
“Do you want me to go talk to San Xiaojie?” Xu Ziling asked.
“Absolutely not!” Kou Zhong resolutely replied, “We, brothers, must let it pass. I, Kou Zhong, want to obtain the world, why must I rely on my in-laws? Humph! I wish Yuzhi will still find happiness without me.”
Smiling bitterly, Xu Ziling said, “Don’t ever think that she won’t be happy without you. This is all right, otherwise, how could we justify ourselves in front of Song Shidao?”
Kou Zhong flew into rage, “You still don’t believe that my feeling toward San Xiaojie is real?” he asked.
Xu Ziling reached out to grab his shoulders and shook him twice; he sighed and said, “If you could forget Li Xiuning, then you can also forget Song Yuzhi. Just leave a little bit of your mind for other things!”
Kou Zhong was silent for a moment. He did feel Xu Ziling’s trying to comfort and care for him; nodding his head, he said, “I have an important matter to discuss with you.”
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Finished listening, Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Xiao Xian is finally going up north!”
Kou Zhong was shaken. “Good point!” he said, “Not only that, this is a one-stone, three-bird stratagem. Xiao Xian and Xiang Yushan worthy to be called conspiracy masters.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Fancy that they thought about it. It can clearly be seen that the one Liu Wuzhou wanted to join forces with is not you, the kid without any qualifications; rather, it is Xiao Xian. By the time they join forces outside the Pass, they can capture Luoyang first, and then attack Guanzhong. Two old kids, one goes southerly, the other northerly. Only by joining forces like this will they have the opportunity to divide the world evenly.”
Actually, Kou Zhong has already been considering this issue.
It should be noted that currently Kou Zhong had no officers, no troops; the Flying Horse Ranch was not his underlings. How could Liu Wuzhou, this kind of powerful and overbearing hegemon, who had the Tujues as his supporting force, have any regard on him? At best, in his eyes Kou Zhong was a very useful chess piece. Because Xiao Xian and the others had a comparably deep understanding of him, this carefully conceived evil plan must be coming from Xiao Xian and the others.
If he fell into the trap, he would use his influence on the Flying Horse Ranch and his former subordinates at Jingling city to help him on an all-out effort to attack Jingling. When that happened, Xiao Xian would be able to enter by exploiting a weak spot, by attacking the Flying Horse Ranch and the two big cities nearby. The most formidable part of this plan was that even if Shang Xiuxun and the others were fully aware that the Baling troops were crossing the River and coming to the north, they would still mistakenly believe that it was only part of the joint military operations. By the time they became helpless, isolated troops, there would be no other choices but to surrender.
At that time Xiao Xian would acquire a wide expanse of territory north of the Great River, while Du Fuwei was deep in mire at Jiangdu, he could only sit and watch Xiao Xian nibbling away his territory in the west.
This moment Xiao Xian might be brandishing his troops going up north to Luoyang, to meet with Liu Wuzhou and together they would accomplish this beautiful dream.
“Xiao Ling,” Kou Zhong said, “Tell me, what should I do?”
Xu Ziling resolutely said, “Because Su Jie is in Xiao Xian’s hands, right now we refrain from shooting at the rat for fear of breaking the vases. Plus any military operation must have a definite target. But we can’t have a fall out with Xiao Xian openly, and yet we must preserve the Flying Horse Ranch, plus we can’t let Old Die prevail. There are so many contradictory and hard-to-reconcile-together situations tangled together, and you ask me to tell you what to do?”
Kou Zhong’s eyes lit up; he said, “We must soldier on. As long as we can defend Jiangdu, and not causing the Old Die too much damage, and Shang beauty can put an act, pretending to attack Jingling, we can secretly deal with Xiao Xian, and resolve the immediate crisis at the same time.”
But then he turned dejected again and said, “But how can we preserve Jiangdu without causing Old Die too much damage? This is simply not possible.”
“We’ll find a way,” Xu Ziling said, “But we must go to Jiangdu to have a good grasp of the situation first, only then will we be able to change according to the situation. And now, we’d better think about tonight first.”
Kou Zhong was silent for half a day. Finally he looked at Xu Ziling’s scarred face, and said with a laugh, “The carriage has been waiting for a long time, may I ask Scarface General if we could set out now?”
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When Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, along with Wang Shichong and the others, arrived at the Rong Mansion’s main gate, they were greatly surprised at the lively atmosphere.
Rong Fengxiang’s, the richest individual in Luoyang, mansion was built atop a knoll at the northeast side of the city, occupying a vast land; the scale was really grand. At the first glance, the buildings were scattered about the forest like stars in the sky; a spectacular scene.
Right in the middle of the square outside the main gate, there was a huge mythological sea turtle mountain [鳌山]. The high fence was festooned wonderful, skillfully-crafted, colored lanterns – their estimate was that there were no less than ten thousand lanterns, glorious and dazzling, illuminating the surrounding area, inside and outside, as bright as daylight.
There was a steady stream of well-wishers’ carriages and horses; everywhere they looked, the area was packed with ladies in silk embroidered dress. With the continuous ear-splitting firecrackers, their smoke filled the air, the hubbub of people’s laughing and jesting, the atmosphere surpassed New Year’s celebration.
Inside, the Mansion was decorated with lanterns and colored banners, maids and servants moving everywhere, greeting and ushering the guests.
Wang Shichong’s group was at its peak condition as well, with close to a hundred carefully chosen bodyguards, protecting eight horse-drawn carriage, slowly entering the Rong Mansion.
Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong and Ouyang Xiyi shared a carriage. Seeing the two boys curiously looking at the crowd outside, the latter smiled and said, “When Laofu was young, I was just like you, loved to join in the fun. But now I avoid crowded places like an ominous place.”
Xu Ziling had changed into another mask, he was now an ordinary-looking man, nothing out of the ordinary. Hearing Ouyang Xiyi, his heart was moved; he asked, “Has Qianbei [senior] ever heard of the ‘Overbearing Saber’ Yue Shan?”
Kou Zhong asked in surprise, “Just by hearing his name, I get the impression that this man is extremely overbearing; where did you meet him?”
Ouyang Xiyi was the only one, outside Wang Shichong, who was privy of Xu Ziling’s real identity, in order to conceal his presence as much as possible. Hearing the question, a nervous expression appeared on his face; he said, “Did Xu Xiaodi really meet him?”
 Su Qin (340-284 BC) and Zhang Yi (-309 BC) are both political strategists of the School of Diplomacy during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).
Xu Ziling replied, “Wanbei [junior] only heard someone mentioning his name, so I was very curious!”
Ouyang Xiyi breathed an obvious sigh of relief, “So that’s what happened,” he said, “Yue Shan was a heretical sect’s martial art master of our generation who ran amuck for some time in the past; vicious and merciless, he killed people like scything flax. At that time his reputation was even above Zhu Yuyan’s. Later on he was defeated by the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que, and then he disappeared. At that time Song Que was only in his twenties. This was the battle that actually established his reputation as the number one saber master in the world.”
Meanwhile the carriage stopped. Obviously Ouyang Xiyi did not want to talk about this man much longer; he urged the two boys to get off the carriage.
Kou Zhong had just stepped off the carriage, a whiff of fragrance assaulted his nostrils immediately, followed by Cui’er, dressed like the lovely scene of blossoming flower swaying in the breeze, stepping forward to greet him, “Welcome, welcome. Kou Gongzi honors us by your presence; this is indeed to the Rong Mansion’s glory.”
Kou Zhong was stunned, “So Man Qing Yuan is not doing any business today?” he asked, “How come you, Cui’er, are here as a greeter?”
Cui’er affectionately came closer to pull his arm away; with an enchanting smile she said, “Rong Da Laoban’s [big boss] order; can’t we take a day off? Besides, all guests are coming here, we, Man Qing Yuan’s ladies have no choice but to come here as well! Such a simple logic, yet the intelligent Kou Gongzi still has to ask nujia?”
While his hand was busy touching and squeezing her silky breasts, Kou Zhong’s eyes were scanning the surrounding area for any movement.
The parking of the carriage has obviously been arranged beforehand, because he did not see any other carriage.
One after another Wang Shichong and the others got off their carriages, and were greeted personally by Rong Fengxiang.
As soon as Ouyang Xiyi and Xu Ziling were out of their carriage, they positioned themselves close to Wang Shichong, along with the other martial art masters, including the mole Ke Feng, and the officers and soldiers responsible to protect their master.
Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu and Yang Gongqing, three men, did not attend this event. The first two were responsible for city defense and keeping a close watch over Yang Dong’s camp’s movement, while Yang Gongqing was in charge of the main force stationed within the Imperial City.
As for Dong Shuni, because of her relationship with Rong Jiaojiao, had been inside the Rong Mansion since before noon to join in the fun.
This moment, as Rong Fengxiang and Wang Shichong were exchanging greetings, wishing each other peace and good fortune, Cui’er leaned toward Kou Zhong’s ear and pouted, “Gongzi made nujia miserable! How are you going to compensate me?”
Several guests accidentally walked this way, but Wang Shichong’s bodyguards kindly and courteously asked them to turn around and take another way.
Kou Zhong saw Ke Feng was walking over to Xu Ziling; apparently he wanted to get a feel for this stranger’s, who had appeared suddenly, foundation. He responded without thinking, “What did I do to make Cui’er so miserable?”
Cui’er was practically nibbling on his ear; she said, “Last night you clearly promised to have Qing Ju, Qing Lian and Qing Ping to accompany you, but you slipped away without telling us; they blamed to nujia to the death.”
Cui’er’s soft, nagging voice, firecrackers and clamorous noise all around, splendid and dazzling lanterns, Wang Shichong and Rong Fengxiang’s chitchat, Ke Feng’s inquiry on Xu Ziling, the bodyguards who acted like they were about to fight their archenemy, which reminded him that they were in the face of the imminent assassination attempt, all these things were flowing like myriads of small streams converging into a big river into Kou Zhong’s consciousness, giving him an extremely strange feeling.
It was like he was in the middle of a dream, from which he would forever never awake, the noise dissolved into the background so that he could see all the movement, but did not hear any sound. Perhaps because he had been anticipating this moment for several days that everything before his eyes seemed to be a very strange experience, which made all the hair on his body stood on its end.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion. By the time he saw Ke Feng was near Xu Ziling, while he, consistent with his amiable, elderly attitude, opened his mouth to talk, Kou Zhong seemed to know exactly the moment the lips started to move, the buzz of the voice seemed to cause a subtle change to the muscle on his body.
And then he saw Ouyang Xiyi came over to rescue Xu Ziling from the trouble, followed by Wang Shichong and Rong Fengxiang, under the throng of maids, servants and bodyguards’ escort, walked side by side toward the main gate, while the other guests had to move aside to make way for them.
Cui’er’s voice seemed to come from far away place through ten thousand crags and torrents, and lingered on inside his ears.
“Tell me! How are you going to compensate me?”
The Qiuci beauty Linglong Jiao, who was walking by his side, shot him a fierce look; she was rebuking him with her eyes.
Kou Zhong suddenly came to his senses; he gave her a cursory response, “In two days Xiaodi will set aside some time to come to the Man Qing Yuan to compensate you well.”
But inwardly he was quite shaken.
After going through hard battles for many days in succession, he finally made a breakthrough in the martial art study, stepping into the realm one step higher.
And then he gently freed himself away from Cui’er’s passionate, fiery entanglement, and caught up with Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu, following behind the two men into the main lobby, where the sound of drums and joyous music shook the heavens.
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Rong Fengxiang was worthy to be the richest man in Luoyang; the luxurious three-section main residential building clearly displayed the level of his riches and honor.
The front hall was not only spacious with high ceiling, the decoration was gorgeous; in term of grandeur, it surpassed the halls of the Imperial Palace. In the middle there were six main pillars decorated with carved golden dragons towering toward the roof, the ceiling was engraved with magnificent pattern, with the ceiling of the center atrium decorated with three-dimensional relief sculpture of two dragons fighting over a pearl. The other furnishing, the hanging ornaments, everything was extremely exquisite.
This moment approximately twenty banquet tables were set up in the main hall, with more than a hundred guests congregating around them, but it did not feel crowded at all.
Only eight people followed Wang Shichong inside, the rest stayed outside. Even so, with Kou Zhong and the others, this party still showed massive strength.
One was the politician who wields power in Luoyang; the other was the richest man in Luoyang who was celebrating his birthday, naturally there would be unending sound of people congratulating them.
With Wang Shichong and Rong Fengxiang leading the way, they did not remain in the front hall; instead, they went through the hall onto the corridor, and straight toward the inner hall where the most distinguished guests were usually received.
The hall was nearly as spacious as the front hall, but there were only ten banquet tables, with four tables in the middle, and the remaining six were spread evenly on both sides, highlighting the four most respectable tables in the hall.
The guests who could enter this inner hall must be either Luoyang’s most distinguished figures, or outside visitors with distinguished status like Li Shimin, Tuli, and the others. Those with not enough weigh could only sit in the other two banquet halls.
Kou Zhong scanned the room with his eyes. The first one catching his eyes was the magician-eyed Dong Shuni, dressed like a bright-colored small bird, who was sitting together with another beautiful young girl, whose good look was hard to distinguished with Dong Shuni’s, yet having a distinctive style, in a group of seven or eight exquisitely dressed young masters, who were crowded around them, talking and laughing in a very joyful setting.
This woman was, of course, Rong Jiaojiao, who shared the title ‘Luoyang Twin Beauties’ with Dong Shuni. Indeed she possessed natural beauty; good-looking and captivating. Her bright eyes seemed to be always on the move, seizing the soul and hooking the spirit, yet also affectionate and full of passion, while appeared bashful. Her demeanor was even more tender, straightforward and sharp-witted, with multifarious subtlety. Compared to Dong Shuni, she was slightly taller, more slender and elegant, with icy flesh and snowy skin, nobody would be able to stop his spirit from being snatched away.
Dong Shuni shot them a glance, and immediately puckered her lips in disdain, and no longer looked their direction. It was as if because of Kou Zhong, she was also angry at Wang Shichong.
On the contrary, Rong Jiaojiao’s eyes lingered on Kou Zhong for a few moments, before she pursed her lips and giggled tenderly, while hanging her small cicada head down. Looking at her touching appearance, Kou Zhong’s heart beat a little faster.
To the left of the main entrance, there was a group of eighteen courtesans, their hair was combed low in a spiral bun, their upper outer garment had narrow sleeves, their skirt tight on the waist, with shawl, and was standing in three rows, playing their instruments.
From konghou [Chinese harp], pipa [Chinese lute], transverse flute, waist drum, wooden block, and other musical instruments, delivering joyous, melodious tune, which reverberated over the entire hall.
More than a dozen clusters of people congregated among the tables. Kou Zhong recognized some of them, for example Tuli, Li Shimin, Wang Bo, Fu Qian, and the others, along with their trusted aides.
Song Lu was also there, chatting and laughing with Wang Bo and seven, eight other guests. But he did not see Song Yuzhi. Perhaps it was because she wanted to avoid Kou Zhong that she did not come to join the banquet.
As soon as they entered the Hall, the bodyguards spread out to the left and right, leaving only Ouyang Xiyi, Ke Feng, Chen Changlin and Xu Ziling staying by Wang Shichong’s side. Led by Rong Fengxiang, they greeted the other guests one by one.
It was unclear whether it was intentional, but Kou Zhong noticed that Wang Xuanying, two brothers, immediately headed toward the noisy group around Dong Shuni and Rong Jiaojiao, leaving Kou Zhong alone with Linglong Jiao.
Linglong Jiao’s eyes were fixed on Xu Ziling’s natural and unrestrained back; she spoke heavily, “This man is a first-class martial art master, I wonder from where did Yi Gong [referring to Ouyang Xiyi] invite him to come? How come I have never heard him mentioning anything?”
In order to put up with her tender, skillful and nimble figure, Kou Zhong stooped down and whispered in her ear, “He is my Xiongdi Xu Ziling in disguise; he is our formidable chess piece; later on Miss will understand.”
Perhaps it was because Kou Zhong’s forthcoming and did not conceal anything to her that surprisingly Linglong Jiao did not move away; on the contrary, she met his eyes and asked, “Such an important matter, why hide it from us?”
While fully enjoying her beauty in close range, Kou Zhong said, “Because we suspected that among the people close to Shangshu Daren, one is a spy; Miss understand?”
Linglong Jiao looked shaken; and then she looked down and spoke softly, “You are convinced I am not the spy?”
Kou Zhong replied tenderly, “Of course. Miss is good-looking and intelligent, broad-minded and bold; the type of person who would never commit contemptible shady business.”
Linglong Jiao’s pretty face blushed slightly, with a mosquito-like whisper she said, “I am starting to like you a little! If you could go to Man Qing Yuan less often, I would have an even better opinion on you.”
Finished speaking, she cast him a sidelong glance, before walking over toward Wang Shichong.