Book 20 Chapter 4 – Ambushing Troops to Achieve Victory
Accompanied by four hundred cavalrymen, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling lay low in a forest located between the enemy’s forward and rear camps, quietly waiting for the enemy to walk right into the trap.
In their calculation, the enemies coming to help must be the cavalry only, which strength was around one thousand riders, so it should not be difficult to deal with.
They had scouts on all mountaintops nearby, as long as Yuwen Huaji’s main force, which was located three li to their left, made any move, they would know it like the back of their hand.
Suddenly on their right, about a li or so, from the enemy’s rear camp the sound of battle cry shook the heavens, followed by raging fire soaring to the sky, and the sound of hoof beats continuously growing in intensity.
Kou Zhong said, “It would be best if Yuwen Huagu thought that our whole nest came out. On one hand he would send fast riders to come to help, on the other hand reissued the command for the second round of besieging the city. Nothing could be better than that.”
The was a loud crashing noise from the rear camp; it looked like Xuan Yong’s tactic of using the battering vehicle has shown some results.
This moment, Luo Qifei rushed over as if he was flying; greatly delighted, he reported, “This time two Daye predicted the enemy like a deity again. Yuwen Huaji already exhausted his cavalry to come here to help; they will arrive in the blink of an eye.”
‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’
At the same time, the enemy sounded the drums signaling the start of the attack toward the city.
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Yuwen Huagu is also resorting to the ‘besieging Wei to rescue Zhao’ stratagem. If we can be a bit quicker, perhaps we can launch pincer attack from front and rear before the siege starts.”
Before he even finished, there was a sudden sound of hoof beats. The enemy riders appeared on the plains outside the forest, they were galloping in single file, rushing wildly toward the rear camp.
Kou Zhong waited until the head of the procession reached the sloping hill and the entire cavalry was exposed under attack before he shouted and took the lead to charge.
Each one of them already had a bow and an arrow in hands. As soon as the horses carrying the enemy entered their shooting range, the sound of arrows split the air rang out, the enemies were hit and fell in confusion.
Immediately their formation was thrown into disarray, because their middle section was being attacked, and the head and the tail of the procession were unable to help each other.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, each one leading their own team, separately attacked the front and the rear, so that the enemies were like being swept by the wind.
One side was the recently defeated troops, beaten and exhausted; the other side had enjoyed victory in succession, their morale was like a rainbow, both officers and soldiers followed their leaders willingly, indeed there was no comparison between the two sides.
Almost at the point of contact, the Yuwen Army only wanted to run away and scatter, no one dared to face and meet the attack.
After a short chase, some of the enemies turned back to Yuwen Huaji’s main force position, while some others fell into Kou Zhong and Xuan Yong’s two-prong heavy siege; being cornered, they struggled obstinately to resist the enemy.
The men in the surrounding area held their torches high, illuminating the entire arena. In the dark night, Kou Zhong’s Moon in the Well emitted bright yellow ray. Wherever the saber went, an enemy was chopped; no one was able to block.
Suddenly the Moon in the Well was blocked.
The two combatants looked at each other’s face, Kou Zhong roared in laughter, “Turns out it’s Chengdu Xiong [see Book 5 Chapter 10]; what a coincidence we came across each other in here!”
While the two men were glowering at each other, Yuwen Chengdu’s barely a dozen remaining men were chopped like melon or cut like vegetables and fell down their horses; he was the only one left sitting on his horse.
Being surrounded at the center of the siege, Yuwen Chengdu’s countenance alternated between red and white; his eyes revealed a terrified look.
Kou Zhong’s pair of tiger-eyes shone with sharp flashes; laughing coldly, he said, “That day when, using a despicable means, you plotted against Cui Dong, you ought to remember that a day like this might arrive.”
Suddenly he leaped off the horseback and soared overhead Yuwen Chengdu; like a gale the Moon in the Well rained down.
In his great shock Yuwen Chengdu did everything he could to send his strength to his sword to parry, but Kou Zhong’s wild and ferocious saber, which was unleashed with hatred in his heart, forced him to swing the sword to the left and block to the right in panic, while he himself was drenched in cold sweat.
The crowd all around them was growing by the minute. Watching Kou Zhong’s divine valor, they all cheered at the top of their lungs to boost Kou Zhong’s morale. Their voices penetrated the starry sky.
While the echo was still lingering in the air, Kou Zhong already returned the saber into its scabbard, and with a graceful flip he somersaulted back onto his horseback. All along, his feet had never touched the ground.
Yuwen Chengdu’s face revealed a hard-to-believe expression. And then his sword dropped, a blood trace, about a cun long, appeared between his eyebrows. ‘Bang!’ he fell to the ground, raising a cloud of dust.
The crowd raised their weapons to salute, and broke into a thunderous cheer.
Kou Zhong looked at Xu Ziling, who had just rushed over; the latter’s handsome face showed mixed emotion. Evidently the avenging of Cui Dong’s blood debt has raised memories of the past.
When Yuwen Chengdu broke into Dong Ming Flagship to steal the Account Book in the past [see Book 4 Chapter 1], how could Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong ever think that they would be able to kill him with a chop of a saber on the battlefield?
Rushing over, Xuan Yong said, “The enemy camp has been broken, their army provisions have fallen entirely under our control; will the next step be storming the enemy’s base camp directly?”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “The situation has changed. Now the one to worry about food is the enemy, not us at all. Let alone his cavalry has been broken by us in total disorder. We are going to exercise a bit more patience, let him taste again the bitter outcome of defeat under Li Mi’s hands due to food shortage.”
The crowd agreed with loud shout, and marched back to the city.
※ ※ ※
“The enemy withdrew! The troops moved back!”
The soldiers and civilians on the top of the Liangdu city wall cheered in chorus, their voices reached the heavens.
Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Xuan Yong, three men, rushed to the top of the wall, and looked at the enemy ranks. They saw that although the camp remained, the enemies have moved to the bank of Tongji Canal, and using several dozen rafts tied together with thick ropes, they built crude pontoon bridges, with which they crossed to the other side as quickly as they could. More than half of their ten thousand soldiers had successfully crossed over.
Although this move was really beyond anybody’s expectation, but it should not come as a surprise.
These past three days Yuwen Huaji had suffered blow after blow that their losses were disastrous. Not only he lost Yuwen Wudi and Yuwen Chengdu, two great fierce generals and brothers, nearly half of his siege equipment were burned, most of his cavalry was annihilated, injured and deceased soldiers and generals nearly seven thousand, on top of that, his army provisions were robbed; insisting on holding on would be tantamount to suicide.
Kou Zhong had guessed that Yuwen Huaji would retreat, so he already laid out a plan to pursue quickly; but he did not expect the enemy would retreat that very same night, and had grabbed the initiative of crossing to the opposite shore first, and thus had secured their safety with the river as a barrier.
While Kou Zhong’s countenance was alternating between cloudy and clear, Xu Ziling’s hand reached over and grabbed his shoulder tightly. Although his voice carried a little bit of despair, he spoke with determination, “We cannot, because of personal grudges, bring the whole city to take a risk. Avenging Niang cannot be fought in one day or half a day. There will come a day Yuwen Huagu will pay this blood debt with his own blood.”
Like a deflated ball, Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and nodded helplessly.
The enemy retreated without chaos, plus there was Tongji Canal as the barrier, and their military strength was several times greater than their own; if they pursued hastily, even if they might achieve the final victory, they would have to pay a heavy loss.
Just consider Yuwen Huagu still had a bit of luck remaining!
※ ※ ※
By dusk that day, a drizzle was falling from the sky. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling hid in a wine shop, drowning their sorrows in wine. As for dealing with the aftermath of the battle, they let Xuan Yong and Ren Meimei and their people to deal with it.
Speaking about contending for hegemony over the world, Kou Zhong’s great undertaking has already seen the dawn, but as for when they would be able to kill Yuwen Huaji, it was still so far away that it felt like forever.
When success was in sight, the time to avenge their hatred was at hand, suddenly they found out that they failed through lack of a final effort, which was the most disappointing and frustrating kind of failure.
After drowning two bowls of wine, Kou Zhong cast a sidelong glance toward Xu Ziling and said, “Before, you did not like to drink too much, why is it that after reaching Luoyang, every time I urge you to drink, you never refuse?”
Xu Ziling was staring blankly for half a day, recalling the nasty mood when he met Li Jing again after long separation. Smiling wryly, he said, “One of the benefits of wine is to make people forget the cold, callous reality, and send us to the dreamland of drunkenness. Too bad that no matter how much wine I drink, I still cannot forget Su Jie’s misfortune. Just now I asked Ren Dajie in passing about Xiang Yushan; it would be best if I don’t repeat her answer.”
Kou Zhong picked up the wine pot, ‘Glug! Glug!’ he drank more than ten mouthfuls at one go, letting the wine splattered and wet the lapel of his robe. And then, breathing heavily, he said, “I made up my mind to toss everything else aside. I am going to rush to Baling to rescue Su Jie. Anybody trying to stop me will have to deal with my saber!”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “That would be our last resort; didn’t you often say that you wanted to raise troops? The best thing we can do in the circumstances is I will go alone to pick up Su Jie, while you are pretending to have sincere collaboration with Xiao Xian, so that he wouldn’t dare not to be courteous to me, thinking that his evil schemes would come to fruition soon.”
A gust of wind, carrying the rain, blew into the wine shop, making the lanterns flickered, so that the more than a dozen empty tables also flickered between light and dark, multiplying the lonely, somber and cold feeling in their hearts.
Although the streets were filled with gaiety and songs, the residents of the city celebrating their victory that day, it seemed like the streets and the wine shop were in two isolated worlds.
Kou Zhong was staring blankly for half a day; finally he mumbled as if he was talking to himself, “What do I do now?”
Noticing Kou Zhong had his eyes fixed on the lively scene outside the door, yet his eyes were empty, Xu Ziling leaned over slightly and said heavily, “The most important business you must attend right now is to evaluate merits and bestow rewards, stabilize and pacify the heart Liangdu’s citizens. Taking advantage while Li Zitong, Xu Yuanlang and the others are too busy to pay any attention to you, and Yuwen Huagu is returning north in defeat, you build a good foundation. As for how to resolve the danger facing the Flying Horse Ranch, without Xiaodi telling you, Kou Shuai [Commander Kou] ought to know what to do.”
Kou Zhong was shaken, but then his eyes recovered their spirited expression. Reaching out across the table to grab Xu Ziling’s hands, he spoke in heavy voice, “You must promise me to bring Su Jie, mother and son, to the Flying Horse Ranch. We have already lost Niang, we can’t lose Su Jie as well.”
Xu Ziling nodded with confidence and said, “I will not disappoint you.”
“When are you going to leave?” Kou Zhong asked.
“As soon as I finish this cup of wine,” Xu Ziling replied.
Kou Zhong let go of his hands, and leaned back into his chair with his eyes emitting profound emotion. It was quite a while later that he finally nodded his head and said, “If Xiao Xian and Xiang Yushan dare to harm you and Su Jie, I swear I will raze his mother’s Great Liang Empire or what have you to the ground, kill him so that not a single chicken or dog remains. If I violate this oath, may I never be reincarnated, and be a domesticated animal forever.”
Xu Ziling laughed calmly and said, “Don’t worry! I, Xu Ziling, am not General Lu Meng of the Wu State of the past at all; if they want to kill me, it won’t be that easy.”
Kou Zhong looked out the door, and muttered to himself irresolutely, “I am still a little worried about female demon Wan; in fact, I still don’t understand why she is willing to cease hostility against us. Could it be that whatever it is in the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’ that they wanted is really so important to them?”
“I have pondered over that question as well,” Xu Ziling replied, “My guess is that their change of heart was because you have never suffered defeat under Li Mi’s hands, so they believe you are the only one worthy to be Li Shimin’s opponent. And since Li Shimin is the Son of Heaven ordained by heaven chosen by Shi Feixuan, female demon Wan wanted to support you.”
Kou Zhong was stunned, “Supporting me?” he asked, “If that’s the case, why did female demon Wan join hands with Bian Bufu to deal with you?”
Xu Ziling replied, “The one she wants to deal with is precisely me and not you. I had this thought because supposing she was able to capture me alive, she would occupy the upper hand, and would not have to worry that you are not going to agree to their demand and conditions. That night at Liangdu, although she was taking advantage of our precarious position, the condition she proposed was absolutely acceptable. She was also very clear that by helping us, Ku Ge’s group of horse-mounted bandits would lose their guts. Therefore, ultimately Yin Gui Pai is holding you in high regard.”
Letting out a cold humph, Kou Zhong said, “That is their own stupidity; sooner or later I will have their Sect wiped out and their people perish.”
After a short pause, he sighed and said, “It doesn’t matter what one is doing, in the end one must clearly distinguish one’s objective and ideals. Even common people also pursue livelihood, to have enough food and warm clothes, to raise a family, to live in peace and work happily. Or perhaps pursuing wealth and power. Even kings and emperors pursue immortal exploits. But I never understand, what is that female demon Wan pursuing? It seems like they only wish for the whole world to be in chaos, always stirring up the wind and the rain.”
“This is called one mountain cannot have two tigers,” Xu Ziling replied, “The feuds between Ci Hang Jing Zhai and Yin Gui Pai have been going on for nearly a thousand years. And now, because of Zhu Yuyan and female demon Wan, Yin Gui Pai appears to enjoy resurgence, so the time has come for the two Sects to distinguish victory or defeat. The struggle for the Emperor’s throne is just one of the many battlefields! And we are able to perceive it, because we have been drawn into this vortex.”
Greatly astonished, Kou Zhong said, “Your insight is very thorough.”
Xu Ziling replied, “This is called the person on the spot is baffled, the onlooker sees clear.”
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, “If you are an onlooker, which one is the insider then?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Concerning Su Jie’s affair, Yuwen Huagu’s enmity, I am an insider. But in other matters, I am only an onlooker. Zhong Shao, do you understand?”
Finished speaking, he rose up to his full height.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud; picking up the wine cup, he said, “Here’s wishing Ling Shao a pleasant journey, the horse arrives, the work accomplished.”
Xu Ziling gladly picked up his wine cup. ‘Ding!’ he clinked it against Kou Zhong, downed the wine, and floated away.
Kou Zhong watched until he disappeared among the crowd on the street, in spite of the wind and the rain, before raising his wine cup and pouring the wine into his throat.
※ ※ ※
Inside the West Hall, Zongguan Mansion, at the heart of the city of Liangdu, Kou Zhong held his first important meeting with important high-ranking military officers under his command.
The attendees included Xuan Yong, Ren Meimei, Luo Qifei, Chen Jiafeng, Xie Jue, and Wagang Army’s old generals who came with Xuan Yong, Gao Ziming and Zhan Gongxian. In the last battle, the latter two have shown outstanding performance, hence they were bestowed the reward of being promoted to Left and Right Vanguard Generals under Xuan Yong, the new Liangdu Zongguan [lit. chief manager].
First of all, Kou Zhong tactfully declined the proposal, which had repeatedly been brought up in recent days, to have him declare himself king. He said, “The reason we are able to establish Liangdu as our base of operations is purely fortuitous coincidence, because being able to survive in the narrow crack among big powers is simply a miracle; therefore, the more we don’t attract attention the better. Presently the proposal to declare kingship will bring more harm than benefit.”
Ren Meimei spoke solemnly, “But under current circumstances, no matter how low-key you are, Liangdu has always had a tight grip on the throat of the Tongji Canal; other people will never be willing to leave Liangdu alone. It would be better to stake it out, publicly proclaim ourselves hegemon. Relying on Kou Ye’s prestige, towering figures near and far will come to place themselves into our hands, it will greatly strengthen our momentum.”
Kou Zhong calmly laughed and said, “What Ren Dajie said is of course very reasonable, but it can only be implemented after further expansion of our power. The top priority right now is to take advantage while Xu Yuanlang, Yuwen Huagu and Dou Jiande in the north are in endless entanglement, Wang Shichong is busy with consolidating Li Mi’s territory, to turn toward Li Zitong, who is too busy to pay us any attention, to extract a little bit of profit from him, to consolidate and expand our territory.”
His eyes shining with excitement, Chen Jiafeng said, “Are we going to single out Li Zitong’s city as the point of attack?”
Noticing Xuan Yong has been smiling without saying anything, Kou Zhong asked, “Does Xuan Zongguan have any good proposal?”
Xuan Yong calmly said, “Defending a city is easy, besieging a city is difficult. Were it not for Li Zitong transferring his troops to Jiangdu, based on our current strength, practically we can’t do anything. But now we have a bit chance of success.”
And then he took a map and spread it out on the table. “Presently we have three important matters that must be dealt with simultaneously,” he went on, “In the first place is consolidating the city, establishing our foundation. Secondly, we must rebuild Pengcheng, and make Liangdu – Pengcheng, two cities as the centers, integrating the more than a dozen cities and towns and a hundred something villages within several hundred li of these two cities into our territory. Finally, we select one of the two big cities, Donghai and Zhongli, as our military target, and formulate strategies to forge ahead.”
Luo Qifei said, “Both Donghai and Zhongli are highly strategic cities. The former can enable us to gain control over the road leading to the sea, while giving us the opportunity to do business with the cities along the coastal area. The latter is located right next to River Huai, which will provide us with a foothold to advance toward the southwest region. In terms of importance, each one has its own merits. However, under current circumstances, it is advisable to take Donghai first, because psychologically, it will deal the greatest blow to Li Zitong.”
After a short pause, he went on, “But I am in favor of Ren Dajie’s proposal earlier for Kou Ye to declare yourself king. It’s called ‘words do not justify unfavorable name’. Of the dozen or so cities nearby, most are under control of local power. The reason they are not willing to throw their lot to either Li Zitong or Xu Yuanlang is simply because these two are not capable person with great chance of success. But with Kou Ye’s reputation, as soon as you raise your hand and issue a rousing call, the wind will definitely be blowing your way. Kou Ye must reconsider this proposal.”
Gao Ziming and Zhan Gongxian also echoed this proposal, pointing to Zhai Rang raising up the Wagang Militia Army as an example to illustrate the importance of declaring oneself king.
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “I have an idea, let’s compromise: how about not declaring myself king, but commander? That appellation is surely justified, while also giving a brand-new impression to those who want me to be the king. Not in such a way as to easily oppose various powers with equal harshness, in the two-cannot-exist-together kind of manner. It will also enable us to do things a hundred times more flexible.”
One after another the crowd expressed their approval.
Xie Jue proposed, “It would be better to call Longtou Da Shuai [lit. big boss great commander]. This name is very awe-inspiring!”
Kou Zhong burst out laughing and said, “That name is not awe-inspiring, but too bossy, also carries a bit of underworld gang [orig. black thief] boss impression. Just call me Shao Shuai [lit. young/junior commander]! You will be called Shao Shuai Army, so it will feel a bit more harmonious, easy and amiable.”
Noticing that he spoke about such a proper name so casually, they all knew that he had already had firm view about this, so they all voiced their praise.
Kou Zhong said, “Xuan Zongguan’s suggestion of those three urgent matters are very insightful. Let’s leave the consolidation of the city to Ren Dajie. Within Peng and Liang area, who did not know Pengliang Hui’s beautiful and alluring Er Dangjia?”
Everybody laughed heartily. Ren Meimei cast him a sideways glance and said, “Still loves to blather?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “I am the kind of person who will not change. As far as I’m concerned, power, fame and position are just as fleeting as a reflection of the moon on splashing water. In this struggle for hegemony over the world, the only thing that I am concerned about is how to make common people pass their days in peace, security and happiness. Toward the arduous process of the struggle itself, other than passing my days in ignorance, it does not make any sense to me.”
Listening to that, everybody felt deep veneration for him.
Turning to Chen Jiafeng, Kou Zhong said, “The task of rebuilding Pengcheng, Chen Jiafeng will be in charge, with Xie Jue as his deputy. If there is any problem, our Ren Dajie will allocate any resources as necessary.”
Xie Jue said, “There is no candidate more suitable than Er Dangjia; previously, Ren Dangjia was our treasurer [orig. storehouse manager].”
Ren Meimei said, “Don’t call me Er Dangjia anymore. Hereafter Pengliang Hui no longer exists, there is only Shao Shuai Army.”
Kou Zhong said, “Between Donghai and Zhongli, two counties, we are going to take Donghai first. I appoint Xuan Yong as the Commander in Chief, with Qifei as his deputy. Ziming and Gongxian are in charge of recruiting and training the army. Build the siege equipment according to the blueprint I gave you. You have three months to prepare everything. I appoint Xuan Yong to direct the overall situation.”
Xuan Yong was stunned, “Shao Shuai, how about you? What are you doing?”
Tranquil and calm, Kou Zhong said, “I am going to the Flying Horse Ranch to borrow men and horses, to establish an unequalled-throughout-the-world cavalry troops. The moment I come back will be the moment we attack Donghai.”
 General Lü Meng (呂蒙) of the southern state of Wu, a model of self-improvement
by diligent study (see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%BC_Meng).