Book 18 Chapter 12 – Bearing The Price to Pay
When everybody heard Kou Zhong’s cry of alarm, they all looked at him first, before copying him looking at the sky.
They saw Shen Luoyan’s scouting bird continuously circling in the air, following a strange flight path.
Immediately Yang Gongqing, Linglong Jiao, Xu Ziling, Zhai Jiao, and the others’, who knew what’s going on, countenance changed. This bird’s strange flight path was telling its master that there were hidden troops inside the forest.
In order to hide from the eyes and ears of enemy spies, they have spent a lot of effort to lay the ambush.
First, there was another team of cavalry attracting the enemy’s attention, to act as if they were guarding against Shan Xiongxin’s troops from attacking while the military supply wagons were crossing the river.
And then there were lookout posts on higher elevation to watch for any activity before the cavalry left in the dark of the night by leading their horses along through the woods, before lying in wait at the present location. Naturally they wrapped their horses’ hooves with cloth and silk to avoid creating unnecessary noise.
But after a thousand planning ten thousand calculating, they still did not expect this psychic strange bird to make its appearance.
‘Quack! Quack! Quack!’
The strange bird flew in the northeast direction, which was the direction from which Li Mi’s cavalry was coming. This moment they already heard the faint noise of horses neighing and their hooves.
“Left and Right Wings move first!” Yang Gongqing barked his order.
The bugle horn was sounded.
The ambushing troops’ two wings’ left and right vanguard, each one three thousand riders strong, rushed out of the jungle first, along a curvaceous path, toward the enemy’s flank.
And then the center army swarmed out of the forest, galloping in neat formation along the grassy plain, straight toward the enemies galloping out of the sparse forest area ahead.
Horsewhip went down, the warhorses let out long neigh, brimming with urgency and desperate circumstances.
Warriors on fine steeds like a tide of violent waves drowned the prairie. Morning light reflected by the battle helmets, body armor, and soldiers’ weapon created brilliant, dazzling flickers of light.
Mother earth quickly fell back.
In just a few tens of xi the center army’s eight thousand cavalry already entered the sparse forest region, forcing them to reduce their speed as they meet the enemy.
Because the enemy was estimated at eight thousand, they did not have any misgivings about taking advantage of their superior number, and simply charged at the opponent.
Now their only hope was to fight speed with speed; it would be best if the enemy did not have any time to retreat, or perhaps consolidate their battle array, so that they would be able to cut the enemy’s tail and kill Li Mi until he was utterly defeated.
Kou Zhong, Linglong Jiao, Zhai Jiao, Xu Ziling, and the others were the first to gallop up a hill. They saw on the forest about half a li ahead dust was rolling up to the sky, along with rapid hoof beats, but the hoof beats were fading away.
Zhai Jiao shouted, “Chase after them!”
Kou Zhong shouted even louder, “Don’t chase!”
Zhai Jiao was furious, “Why not? Li Mi is running away!”
This moment Yang Gongqing arrived and rode alongside Kou Zhong.
Kou Zhong asked Linglong Jiao, “Can that rolling dust be considered rising in columns, or scattered in disorderly manner?”
Linglong Jiao reined her horse that it snorted a blast of air from its nostrils; she called out, “Wagang enemy troops are still in strict formation, not scattering randomly.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Just as I suspected. Shen Luoyan already guessed the ambushing troops, hence she deployed the strange bird to tell us to run after it. I dare say that they are setting up an ambush in the forest ahead. When we enter the trap, Li Mi would turn his troops around and attack.”
“Good point!” Yang Gongqing shouted. Immediately he ordered the bugle horn to be sounded to halt the advance, instructing the two wings’ vanguard team to stop where they were.
Finally Zhai Jiao saw the light and clear-headed, but her mood was still surging up and down, her eyes were full of resentment.
Xu Ziling paid close attention to Kou Zhong; he saw his eyes were as calm as still water, while exuding his intelligence and callousness.
It was the first time that he saw this kind of expression in Kou Zhong’s eyes, and could not help shivering inwardly, recalling what Kou Zhong said on the wall of Jingling city, when they were standing face to face against Du Fuwei’s magnificent army with thousands of men and horses besieging the city.
He was disregarding the life and death, and simply regarded the entire battlefield as a chessboard, while both sides were the chess pieces striving for victory on the chessboard.
After undergoing this battlefield experience, Kou Zhong has grown from a kid who had no idea how to do battle to an outstanding strategist, a commander who was able to anticipate the enemy’s movement like a deity.
Yang Gongqing open-mindedly asked for guidance, “What do we do now?”
Kou Zhong resolutely said, “We only have to leave several thousand men to lay out a defense in here, so that Li Mi cannot make a cun of progress. The train of military supply wagons must continue crossing the river. Furthermore, we must send separate rapid cavalry force to go straight to Luokou; attack the city so that he won’t have time to deal with it.”
Xuan Yong said, “If Li Mi turns his force around to defend Luokou, do we still want to attack?”
Kou Zhong said, “Li Mi would not withdraw willingly; he still has hope in Shan Xiongxin. When Shan Xiongxin take the opportunity to withdraw as we are advancing to Luokou, even when he realizes his mistake, it would be difficult for him to turn back; his only way out is fleeing toward Hulao.”
In the forest ahead, the dust subsided; obviously Li Mi also halted his troops, realizing that his scheme did not work.
This action has increased Kou Zhong’s persuasive power and his reputation a lot more than any lengthy discourse.
Kou Zhong went on, “Rapid cavalry effectiveness is that they will be able to reach Luokou one step ahead, to guard against Li Mi crossing the river and returning to the city. As a result Luokou’s Bing Yuanzhen will only have two choices: either abandon the city or surrender.”
Yang Gongqing let out a long laugh and said, “Let’s do it!”
※ ※ ※
After seven days, Li Mi’s, an ambitious and ruthless character of this age, fate was decided.
Bing Yuanzhen, who was defending Luokou, surrendered to Yang Gongqing’s soldiers at the city wall. During this critical moment, Li Mi’s other great general Shan Xiongxin mustered his troops to defend the city, but Tu Shufang persuaded him to surrender.
Li Mi knew his big momentum has passed; he had no choice but to lead his men escape to Hulao, while Wang Bodang retreated to Heyang.
Kou Zhong and Yang Gongqing consolidated their men and horses, ready to follow up the victory and press home the attack, and then captured Hulao.
Who would have thought that Li Mi fled at hearing the news, and escaped to Heyang to join forces with Wang Bodang?
He originally wanted use the Yellow River as a barrier, while defending Taihang in the north, linking with Liyang on the east, in an attempt to rehabilitate from losing the battle.
However, after the major defeat, the morale of his troops slackened.
Furthermore, there was the factor of Wagang Army split into different factions due to Zhai Rang’s early demise. One after another old generals refused to follow order, so that although Li Mi had the power, he could not exercise it, he had the military force but no territory.
Also, because Wang Shichong’s army had just acquired many cities and wide expanse of territory, he must rest to reorganize his forces; momentarily he was unable to cross the river to attack Heyang. Therefore, his strength was used up to pacify the Henan region, and temporarily the situation became standing opposite each other with the river as the barrier.
That evening, in a side hall at Hulao’s temporary government building’s rear court, Tu Shufang invited Zhai Jiao to talk to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. He said, “I have already revealed everything concerning the situation in the south, as well as Susu’s affair, to Xiaojie, because I think being forthright is better.”
Zhai Jiao stared viciously at the two boys and said, “Such an important matter you dared to conceal it from me; see if I am not going to kill you two along with that Xiang Yushan.”
The two boys mumbled meekly; they did not dare to talk back.
Zhai Jiao said, “How could I be an unreasonable person? This time Li Mi has suffered enough trouble, without any hope of ever recover. Although I have not been able to put my blade on that treacherous bandit, at least I am finally able to vent Die’s anger. I don’t want to continue exerting myself for somebody like Wang Shichong either; what do you have in mind?”
Kou Zhong replied, “We’d like to go back to Luoyang first, and then immediately go down south, helping the Flying Horse Ranch to fight against adversity and ensure their safety, and then see how we can take Su Jie, mother and son, away, and then come to join Xiaojie.”
Zhai Jiao resolutely said, “I am going with you!”
Kou Zhong was shocked, “Xiaojie definitely must not come with us,” he hastily said.
“Why not?” Zhai Jiao angrily said.
Tu Shufang reached out to show his loyalty, “What Xiao Zhong mean is that he is hoping Xiaojie would stay in the north, to help him contacting Wagang Army’s talents that he could use, so that in the future we can start great undertaking together.”
Xu Ziling also said, “If Xiaojie stays in the north, you can monitor Li Mi tightly, so that you might be able to take his dog life at any time.”
This remark was more effective than anything to move Zhai Jiao’s heart.
After pondering silently for half a day, she nodded and said, “Very well! I will stay in the north. But I don’t want to hang around that man, Wang Shichong. When are you going to leave?”
“This matter should not be delayed,” Kou Zhong replied, “We are going to leave tomorrow morning.”
After expressing his desire to go back to Luoyang to Yang Gongqing, before Kou Zhong even explained the reason, Yang Gongqing already spoke heavily, “Does Zhong Xiao Xiong wish to clear out at this point?”
Kou Zhong awkwardly replied, “Da Jiangjun is really astute.”
Yang Gongqing reached out and put his hand on Kou Zhong’s shoulder; his eyes flickering brightly, he said, “Among the talented commanders that Ol’ Yang met in all my life, you are the one with most talent. If you gain more experience over time, it will be difficult to find your match in the world. What’s in your mind?”
Kou Zhong replied in low voice, “Can I not have any plan for the time being? I just feel that Wang Gong is not someone that I can work together with, hence I want to temporarily retire, so that everybody can stay as friends.”
Yang Gongqing sighed and said, “I understand what you feel. Speaking about merit and bestowing reward, how can your share be ignored? Tomorrow I’ll have one of the warships to take you back to Luoyang, with the pretext that you are going to personally report the military situation to Daren, also to discuss whether we should immediately cross the Great River to attack Heyang. However, since you already have aspiration, it is not advisable to stay in Luoyang for too long; you know what I mean?”
Touched, Kou Zhong said, “I will never forget the beautiful time fighting side by side with Da Jiangjun.”
Yang Gongqing removed his hand from Kou Zhong’s shoulder, laughed aloud, and said, “No better or worse than each other! I hope there will be other opportunities to gallop together on the battlefield, to attack the enemy and prevail over our opponents.”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong returned to the rear court. Someone called him from behind a corridor pillar, “Kou Ye!”
Kou Zhong turned to look, turned out it was the moving pretty maid Chuchu.
The beauty pulled him by the sleeve of his clothes toward a bamboo grove in the middle of the courtyard. She spoke gloomily, “I heard Xiaojie mentioned that tomorrow we are going to part ways with you! Is that right?”
Kou Zhong heart ached; he could not help reaching out to caress the cheek of her heart-shaped face, and spoke softly, “It’s the southern thing. I will definitely come back to look for you, plus you can also see Su Jie and her white and plump baby!”
“That’s great!” Chuchu replied in delight.
But then she hung her head in grief as she said, “But this maid will have to spend many days without waiting upon Kou Ye.”
Kou Zhong could not help fishing out the pendant hanging on his neck, and said with a laugh, “Look! Aren’t you always waiting upon me personally?”
Chuchu’s tender body shook severely, while her face shot a look of surprise, before throwing herself into his bosom; disregarding everything she hugged him tight, while crying tears of joy.
Kou Zhong’s heart was filled with soft jade, warm fragrance, as he smelled her seemingly unfamiliar, yet incomparably familiar, scent of her body; his mind was flooded with the intoxicating scene of the past, where death was at hand in the Big Boss Mansion. With both arms he embraced her tightly and said, “Don’t cry. As long as we can survive this chaotic time, there will come a day when we will be happy and no longer have to separate.”
This moment, either Song Yuzhi or Li Xiuning have become an out-of-reach distant memory in his heart.
Chuchu suddenly left his embrace; with faint breathing she said, “Chuchu forgot my manners!”
Unable to restrain his emotions, Kou Zhong pulled her into his bosom again; feeling her unreserved deep love for him, he said, “Just remember! I, Kou Zhong, have never regarded you as having lower status, and I never will.”
Chuchu’s entire body, from head to toe, trembled; she said, “Kou Ye, please take a good care of yourself.”
Finished speaking, she left with tears in her eyes.
Kou Zhong sighed.
For the sake of his great undertaking, must he make so much sacrifice?
If he were a simple kid without any aspiration, this moment he could pledge his undying love for her, and then they could rest and fly together [idiom: inseparable], like a pair of mandarin ducks, together, wing to wing, passing through the night.
But he has reached the where he could not extricate himself, his Shuanglong Bang [double dragons gang] men were waiting for his coming.
Flying Horse Ranch was caught in a dangerous position.
Susu was in urgent need of his rescue.
Plus he and Xu Ziling had foes everywhere, there was danger at every step.
This was the price that he had to pay.
※ ※ ※
The warship sailed west against the stream.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stood side by side at the bow, facing the river breeze, and the vast, unfathomable destiny waiting for them.
Kou Zhong said, “We will leave as soon as we can find Xu Xingzhi; even if we have to fight our way out, I still want to go.”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “Wang Shichong will not dare to oppose you openly like that; otherwise, how could he convince the masses? Besides, even if Li Mi died, he has not turned stiff yet; he would not be so dumb as to rattle the troops’ morale.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Make sense! I was thinking the same thing.”
Xu Ziling quieted down.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “It was just like a dream; until now I still cannot believe that Li Mi, whose formidable renown gives him authority over the whole country, could be defeated by us.”
Xu Ziling sighed slightly and said, “Inevitably there will be one day that you might realize that life is just a big dream, and becoming the emperor, toiling to become master of the universe is not at all real.”
Having said that, he could not refrain from thinking about Shi Feixuan, whose elegance was like an immortal.
However, Kou Zhong was thinking about Chuchu, who was hiding in his bosom, weeping with grief.
A gust of wind came, brushing the two boys’ clothes that they were rustling in the wind. The Eastern Capital Luoyang appeared ahead; majestic, towering in the distance. A spectacular scene.
Would one day this grand city also fall to the enemy?
END OF BOOK 18