Chapter 5 – Military Intelligence is The Number One Priority
Wang Shichong sat on the bed, apparently his spirit was a bit better than earlier this morning, but his expression was still depressed. After looking at everybody standing in front of his bed, he said, “This time going into battle, it will really affect our success or failure. Laofu cannot participate personally, this will be the biggest regret of my life.”
“Daren please don’t worry,” Yang Gongping hastily said, “Chenxia [minister/official, referring to self] obtains Xuanshu Gongzi and Kou Xiongdi as my left and right lieutenants, we will definitely not let Daren down, while at the same time we will inflict Li Mi a crushing defeat, so that he will never recover. After Daren is recovered, you will again lead Chenxia to war on all sides, to unify the world.”
Wang Shichong mused, “Although we and Li Yuan, one in Guanxi, the other in Guandong, but our situations are similar. We are being impeded by Li Mi that we are unable to advance to the west; he has to constantly dealing with Xue Ju, father and son, of Longyou. Therefore, right now both sides must race against time, whoever can be one step ahead in consolidating his power and pacify the misfortune at hand, will have the opportunity to accomplish the great undertaking.”
It was the first time that Kou Zhong heard Wang Shichong discussing his own situation. He knew in his heart that this moment Wang Shichong could not afford not to rely on him, hence the reason he let Kou Zhong listening to this kind of secret matter.
This moment, standing by the couch, other than him there were Wang Xuanying, Wang Xuanshu, Yang Gongqing, Lang Feng, and Song Mengqiu, five men; therefore, it was clear that this was not an ordinary meeting.
Wang Shichong sighed and said, “This man Xue Ju was born of a family with riches and honor; he always love making friends, and squander money like dirt. This kind of (exaggerated dressing) [not sure, 衣夸] disciples, other than always following the wind and going with the flow, if they encountered any setback, it would be hard for them to press on. Once they surrendered, Li Yuan’s strength might increase considerably. Therefore, we must press forward to attack Guanzhong before this happens. Thus in the battle against Li Mi, we must employ a blitzkrieg strategy; otherwise, even if we won, it would be the same as if we lost.”
Kou Zhong could not help having a whole new level of respect for Wang Shichong, because just from this analysis, it was clear that he was very proficient in the art of war, he was a man who stand tall and see far.
Wang Xuanying said, “But Xue Ju’s son Xue Ren is brave and good at fighting; he does not look like someone who will surrender easily.”
Wang Shichong’s breathing became rapid and heavy. After Kou Zhong transferred some true qi into his body, his spirit revived and he spoke in heavy voice, “Too bad is opponent is Li Shimin, who is both brave and intelligent. Unless Li Shimin died, they, father and son, eventually cannot escape from the misfortune of defeat and will have to surrender.”
Yang Gongqing nodded and said, “Xue Ju was able to raise his troops, he was merely at the right place and the right time, a case of where water flows, a canal is formed [idiom, when conditions are right, success will follow naturally]. Unlike Daren or Li Yuan, who are originally great generals; before the uprising, you have already fought in one place after another all over the world. Or perhaps like Li Mi, Du Fuwei, Dou Jiande, and the others, who won their territory by fighting for it. In the past, due to his family’s wealth, he hired petty officers at Jincheng to be his military generals. After thirteen years of great undertaking, Longyou’s bandits rose up, from Jincheng he ordered Hao Yuan to recruit several thousand soldiers, which he put under his command to suppress the rebellion. Who would have thought that from this event his army started to grow, he opened the granary on account of poor people, and proclaimed himself a King? On top of that, his territory is at the western border, there is no rival nearby. If the place he rose up was either Guandong or Guanxi, I am afraid he would have been annexed by other people early on. Therefore, Daren was absolutely right.”
Wang Shichong said, “To night you are heading east to Yanshi, by all means you must not make ostentatious display out of it. Gongqing, you are in charge. You have full power and will carry the tiger tally [a two-piece object made in the shape of a tiger, used in ancient China as proof of authority. One half of a tally could be issued to a military officer and this would be matched with the other half when verification was required] as the Commander-in-Chief of the entire army, with Xuanshu as your Fushi [deputy] and Xiao Zhong as your Junshi [military advisor]. The three of you must work together honestly. By exploiting Li Mi’s contemptuous heart toward us, deliver a frontal assault on him; if you can achieve victory, you must pursue the retreating enemy. If you could obtain Luokou and Hulao, two towns, Li Mi will lose his momentum, the remainder will only have to ways to take: either die in the battlefield or surrender, and then the world will be in my, Wang Shichong’s bag.”
The more he spoke, the more excited he was; in the end he coughed incessantly.
Lang Feng urged him, “Daren’s instructions, we will definitely carry out earnestly. It would be best if Daren take a rest before talking further!”
Wang Shichong spoke strenuously, “The matter of Shuni marrying into Guanxi, you may proceed according to original plan. Xiao Zhong, do you have any objection?”
Noticing that everybody was looking at him, Kou Zhong was greatly embarrassed; he hastily said, “Let everything be as Wanggong instructed.”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong returned to the main hall. Xu Ziling and Chen Changlin were chatting. Seeing Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling cheerfully said, “I just found out that Chen Xiong is actually from Nanhai Jun [South Sea County]; his family has always been in maritime trade. Listening to him is better than taking a journey of ten thousand li, there are a lot of local strange and exotic customs, which I guarantee you have never heard of.”
Kou Zhong felt ashamed inwardly; his conversation with Chen Changlin put together was perhaps less than ten sentences. He quickly made a joke to cover his embarrassment, “Chen Xiong must be related to Old Huang, you are both Nanhai people!”
Apparently Chen Changlin was not a casual talker and joker; he replied, “Kou Xiong misunderstood! Nanhai refers to the ocean south of our country, the coastal area has more than a dozen counties. Our Nanhai Jun and the Zhuya Jun where Hainan Pai is located are separated by more than twenty days of sea journey.”
Kou Zhong sat down on Chen Changlin’s other side; he said, “So what’s beyond the ocean? When we were in Yangzhou, we often saw foreign merchant ships coming along; those people’s appearance and clothing are very strange.”
Chen Changlin said, “My family is in food business with the Persians.”
Kou Zhong could not help asking, “Why didn’t Chen Xiong stay at Nanhai Jun to make money with the foreigners, but crossing ten thousand crags and torrents to come here instead?”
Chen Changlin’s eyes emitted flames of hatred as he spoke heavily, “Were it not for having no alternative, who wants to leave his village and depart from his well? This matter is hard to explain in a few words, Kou Xiong please forgive me.”
Kou Zhong’s heart was moved; he said, “Does it have something to do with Shen Faxing?”
Chen Changlin was visibly shaken; he said, “Kou Xiong is indeed formidable; one guess and you nailed it. Although not directly related, but Shen Lun is his son; he really cannot escape the blame.”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong exchanged glances. Lowering his voice, he said, “What outrageous act [orig. offending Heaven and reason] did Shen Lun do to Chen Xiong?”
Chen Changlin heaved a deep sigh and said, “Shen Lun harmed me that my family bankrupt and the people dead; if I don’t avenge this enmity, how could I discharge the hatred in my heart?”
Kou Zhong was about to speak, the bodyguard came to report, “Everything is ready; two Daye may start.”
※ ※ ※
Twelve warships left the City of Louyang in single file, sailing along the Luo River toward Yanshi, following the current due east, hence they were sailing very fast, in just a short while they had already covered several li.
On the river course from Luoyang to Yanshi, there were outposts built at high elevation on both sides of the river to supervise the river traffic, hence in term of security, there shouldn’t be any problem.
Besides Yang Gongqing and Wang Xuanshu, traveling with them was Linglong Jiao; her main task was to gather intelligence about the enemy.
As soon as this Qiuci beauty came on board the ship, she immediately escaped into her cabin; even her dinner had to be delivered to her room.
Xu Ziling was not in the mood to socialize with Yang Gongqing either; hence he retreated into his cabin to meditate quietly.
After dinner, Yang Gongqing spoke in consternation, “Li Mi is an expert in using deception and decoys; oftentimes it was after the battle started that we realized we have fallen into his trap. Does Kou Xiong have any brilliant scheme on how to deal with him?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “This time we’ll have to see whose deception is a bit more brilliant. Right now the first order of business is to find the exact location Li Mi’s main force is stationed, only then will we be able to easily make a plan. I have already arranged to meet Zhai Jiao’s man at Yanshi. By that time we will have a clear grasp of Li Mi’s actual situation. Li Mi’s demise will actually be in Zhai Rang’s daughter’s hands.”
Wang Xuanshu was puzzled, “Since demon priest Ke Feng already knew about Zhai Jiao, naturally he would call this matter to Li Mi’s attention. Once things don’t look good, we might fall into his evil scheme instead,” he said.
Yang Gongqing nodded his agreement.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “The problem is that even Laozi [old man, referring to self] does not even know who among the old generals of the Wagang Army under Li Mi’s command live in Cao camp but have their hearts in Han camp [idiom from Three Kingdoms]. It would be best if Li Mi is suspicious of every old general and thus put everybody in danger. If that’s the case, then once Li Mi suffers defeat, I guarantee that the troops’ morale will immediately drop. Once the Wagang Army is all split up and in pieces, Li Mi won’t have enough capital to regroup and come back even stronger [orig. to return in a swirl of dust].”
After a short pause, he continued resolutely, word by word, “Therefore, we only need to win one battle, then Li Mi would never have any chance to recover.”
With an almost worshipful adoration expression in his eyes, Wang Xuanshu said, “Kou Dage always have a brilliant way of looking at anything.”
But Yang Gongqing was not completely convinced yet; he said, “Our strength is only twenty thousand men in total; although all of them are elite troops from the old Sui dynasty and have undergone long battle exposure, compared to Li Mi’s main force of several hundred thousand, regardless of how much damage and brokenness from the battle against Yuwen Huaji at Tong Hill they suffered, when all is said and done, they are still much stronger than we are. Perhaps he cannot afford to lose this battle, but compared to him, we can’t afford to lose this battle even more. Therefore, we must make him unable to use deceit; only by fighting fair and square would we have a chance of success.”
Remaining calm in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong said, “On this, Great General can be absolutely rest assured. Under Zhai Jiao’s command, there is someone called Xuan Yong; this man is proficient in the art of war, plus since he had been with Zhai Rang for a long time, he still has contact with Wagang Army’s generals who are still loyal to Zhai Rang, and he knows Wagang Army’s activity like the back of his hands. I guarantee no matter how Li Mi is swaying his butts, moving left or moving right, he can’t hide it from us. Hee! These past couple of days we have been terribly busy; we’d better return to our room and rest earlier tonight. I am afraid by the time we get to Yanshi, there won’t be any time to sleep!”
Chapter 5 - Part 2
Ysabel, Jaya, Lao Qianbei, you are welcome. Chua, not yet. Xiaohu, you'll have to wait and see ...
Kou Zhong pushed the door and entered. Dejectedly he lay down on the bed, supporting himself with one arm, and his feet were still touching the ground, next to Xu Ziling, who was sitting in meditation, breathing out a sigh, and said, “Didn’t you always lie down to cultivate your power? Why do you sit cross-legged like other people now? Is it more comfortable than lying down?”
Xu Ziling opened his eyes a slit and said, “Has someone wronged you? Why do you look like you are storing a bellyful of grievances?”
Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and said, “Grievances, that I don’t have, just a lot of worry! It was only now that I know that although in the battle of Tong Hill Li Mi suffered substantial damage, his strength is still well above ours. It’s possible that this battle would be a repeat of the battle of Jingling against the Ol’ Die! Yet I have to think of every possible way to maintain highly optimistic attitude that we are going to win, to comfort others; being Junshi is not easy.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Didn’t the military strategy book mention that honorable troops are refined, but dishonorable are many? After the fierce battle, a lot of valiant generals and acute soldiers under Li Mi’s command died and injured, their spirit must be low. Yet our army is staking all in one throw, our aspiration is to fight to the death. Their spirit is disappearing ours is growing; as long as we employ proper tactics, avoiding the heavy and striking the light, victory will be in our grasp.”
Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, “That is precisely the thing that I am most worried about. Last time, when dealing with the assassins, I was so confident of success; who would have thought that in the end we were still one move behind, and Li Mi was able to exploit it? The tactic of showing our weakness to the enemy has become we are weak against the enemy. Were it not for Xu Xingzhi’s brilliant scheme, we would not even have to fight this battle.”
Xu Ziling suddenly opened his eyes wide; his eyes gleaming brightly with strange light, he spoke heavily, “We are going to win this battle. Because Li Mi thinks Wang Shichong’s injury is heavy and it is difficult to recover, our troops’ morale is in chaos, our warriors are without the will to fight, hence his heart will be contemptuous. Under current circumstances, Du Fuwei and Shen Faxing’s coalition army may attack Jiangdu any moment, along Yuwen Huagu’s old route going up north, while Dou Jiande’s intention is to go south. In the meantime, the Li Clan has to deal with Xue Ju, father and son’s main forces from the west. Whether Li Mi can capture Luoyang in time or not, it will be the crucial point in the fight over the world. Therefore, Li Mi’s anxiety to obtain Luoyang is more unbearable than that of the ants on the cauldron. This is the ‘Escaping One’; do you understand?”
Kou Zhong sat up suddenly, and spoke with a huff, “Well said! But supposing Li Mi cut off our return route to the Eastern Capital, while at the same time sending his elite troops moving west along the river to pressure the Eastern Capital, what should we do?”
Tranquil and calm, Xu Ziling said, “How could Li Mi have such patience? If that happens, we only need to defend Yanshi steadily, while holding on to Li Mi’s hind leg and cut his supply line, combined with the fact that Luoyang is a strong city, well-known throughout the world as easily guarded, hard to attack, under prolonged battle, his tragic victory will only force his army to lose their zeal to continue fighting. Hence the reason I am quite certain that unless he did not come, this battle will establish our prowess and raise our spirit, and then we’ll seize the opportunity to capture the Eastern Capital in one fell swoop.”
“Insightful!” Kou Zhong exclaimed while slapping the bed.
Sitting up straight, he mused, “I hope Zhai Jiao will not disappoint me; let Li Mi’s wonder troops become ordinary troops, and then we can avoid the important and dwell on the trivial, and beat the triumphing-in-every-battle Wagang Army.”
Vigorously patting Xu Ziling’s broad shoulders, he praised, “Xiongdi! You are quite all right!”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “You just did not have free time, hence you missed the obvious.”
Kou Zhong was staring blankly for half a day; finally he nodded and said, “Your statement is a stern warning. Do you remember at the top of the Jingling city wall the other day, when we were facing Ol’ Die’s main forces besieging the city, I gained an understanding of a xinfa [I still have not found a good English equivalent on this; any idea?] that was transcending life and death, success or failure, and simply regarded the entire battlefield as a chessboard? If a chess player wanted to win, he must plan first and move later, leading the opponent by the nose. Right now Li Mi appears to have the first move, but the situation is actually under our control; we only need to see how he is going to enter the playing field.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Shen Luoyan is an expert in snooping military intelligence. Don’t forget we stole that roster book from her house; she has eyes and ears everywhere.”
Kou Zhong’s countenance changed, “What do we do then?” he asked.
Word by word Xu Ziling replied slowly, “If you want to use your wonder troops to deal with Li Mi’s wonder troops, you must not use even one lowly soldier from Wang Shichong’s troops. Only Zhai Jiao and the talents under her command can become wonder troops.”
Kou Zhong was severely shaken, “Good kid! You are just amazing!” he exclaimed, “But listening to the tone of Zhai Jiao’s voice, the only ones willing to follow her right now are just Xuan Yong and his several hundred men; what can we do against Li Mi’s main forces?”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “You, this kid, are using all kinds of weird tricks to coax me to speak; I don’t believe you don’t know what to do.”
Embarrassed, Kou Zhong said, “You ought to know that I love listening to your analysis the most. In military strategy, the most critical thing is bluffing; on the battlefield, people panic, they might be too nervous to remember even their Die and Niang’s names. If it were direct confrontation, several hundred people probably can’t pull even half a hair of the opponent, but to burn their supply at the back of their camp, we may have plenty of capability. Right now everything is ready, all we need is an east wind. Oh Zhai Jiao! Whether you will be able to avenge your father this time, it depends whether you are determined enough not to fall short!”
※ ※ ※
The next day the warships arrived at the dock outside the City of Yanshi. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, the two boys donned their mask to disguise themselves as ordinary soldiers, and mingled among the crowd sneaking into the city.
Once they were inside, they took off their military uniform, exposing the ordinary traveling merchant attire underneath. Immediately they tried to find any marking left by Zhai Jiao’s men. Half a sichen later, they met with Xuan Yong at a private house on the east side of the city.
Kou Zhong asked in astonishment, “I didn’t expect Xuan Xiong would meet us personally. How’s the situation here?”
Xuan Yong welcomed them inside. After they were seated, he said, “Li Mi seems to constantly amassing military power at Jinyong; it appears that he might advance to Yanshi any moment. Kou Ye’s luring-the-enemy tactic seems to be working.”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “This time I want to make sure this old kid can come but cannot leave.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “Don’t be delighted too soon.”
Xuan Yong nodded and said, “Xu Ye is absolutely right. Li Mi is obviously aware that Miss is lying in wait for an opportunity nearby, because not only the city’s security is very tight, they don’t allow just anybody to enter the city, and set up numerous posts outside the city to prevent spies from lurking around, making the communication between us and our contact inside the city difficult. This is quite a headache.”
Frowning, Kou Zhong asked, “How’s Li Mi’s present situation?”
Xuan Yong replied, “After defeating Yuwen Huaji, Li Mi lost a lot of strong soldiers and good horses; his troops are weary and sick, in their heart they loathe to go to war. Therefore, he has to transfer far inferior soldiers from all places. As a result, although there are still around a hundred thousand men, the fact is that good and bad people intermingled; they are strong in appearance but weak in reality.”
Kou Zhong was pleased, “That being the case,” he said, “If we can take advantage while his tired army is moving south, while his track is not hidden yet, we take them by storm, and use our wonder troops to raid their rear, so that there will be enemies on Li Mi’s belly and back. In this way Li Mi will inevitably collapse in crushing defeat.”
Xuan Yong sighed and said, “The problem is that Li Mi is an expert in deceit and decoys. Without definite knowledge of his route, we might miss the main force and mistakenly take his secondary chariot. We might step into the trap he laid, and then it will be our turn to suffer a calamity.”
Xu Ziling said, “It seems that after prying the enemy’s intelligence, Xuan Xiong has not uncovered any definite answer yet!”
Xuan Yong said, “After Li Mi found out about Miss, he started to suspect all high-ranking military officers who had close relationship with Da Longtou [big boss, i.e. Zhai Rang], and did not allow them to take part in this military operation; he even transferred them to guard other places instead. Currently, Li Mi can trust only Shen Luoyan, Xu Shiji, Wei Zheng, Pei Renji, Wang Bodang, Shan Xiongzin, Cheng Zhijie, Chen Zhilue, Fan Wenzhao, those kind of people; making us not knowing where to start.”
Kou Zhong swore hatefully, “I really want to immediately kill that demon Taoist Ke Feng.”
“Is Xuan Xiong saying you don’t have any idea at all?” Xu Ziling asked.
Xuan Yong smiled and said, “He has Zhang Liang’s scheme, I have the ladder to cross over the wall. Li Mi can only guard against several great generals in command of the troops who were related to Da Longtou, but it’s difficult for him to deal with all Da Longtou’s former subordinates within the military. Although they don’t have any qualifications to participate in Li Mi’s secret military conference, they are still able to see subtle movement from troop dispatch, and are able to supply us valuable intelligence.”
Xu Ziling was puzzled, “Didn’t just now Xuan Xiong say that it is difficult to communicate with the city?”
“Absolutely correct,” Huan Yong replied, “We used to use carrier pigeon or hide the letter inside a bottle which we floated along the canal out of the city, but ever since Xu Shiji dispatched his men to closely monitor the traffic, we no longer dare to use the old communication method. But since there are always people going out of town, we can hide the letter in specified location, which we will then retrieve. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to support two Masters.”
Kou Zhong praised, “Xuan Xiong must have spent a lot of mind and energy in this regard.”
Xuan Yong revealed an ‘it was nothing’ free and easy expression; he said, “In the first place, we know that Li Mi’s main force is divided into four divisions; three are stationed outside the city in three wooden forts, each division consists of roughly twenty thousand men, mostly new army recruit without enough training and elderly and weak people. Only the forty-thousand-man division inside the city is the elite troops who has been with Li Mi fighting all over the world; this division also includes Cheng Zhijie, Xu Shiji and Pei Renji’s combined army.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s spirit was greatly aroused. The former’s eyes lit up with strange light as he said, “Ha! Li Mi wants to repeat his former strategy! Those three divisions of sixty thousand men can only be a shop sign [fig. pretense], the real powerhouse to attack Yanshi is that division with forty thousand men.”
Xuan Yong nodded and said, “At the moment, the key to obtain victory is whether we can keep track of these forty thousand men’s movement. In the past, each time Li Mi went into war, he always relied on accurate intelligence, and launched surprise attack while the enemy least expected it. Or perhaps using the luring-the-enemy tactic; feigning defeat and retreating someplace else, and then his hidden troops strike back suddenly, while the pretending-to-be-defeated troops also turn around and attack. Zhang Xutuo was devoured by him like that.”
Kou Zhong solemnly said, “I must entrust this matter to Miss and Xuan Xiong, but you must by all means be careful, that poniang Shen Luoyan is deceitful in many ways, and must not be trifled with.”
Xuan Yong nodded his agreement. And then he spoke with a wry smile, “The other problem is Shen Luoyan seems to know your every move like the back of her hands, making it difficult for the two of you to use deceit. Once direct confrontation happens, the entire victory or defeat situation will be difficult to guess.”
Kou Zhong made eye contact with Xu Ziling; lowering his voice, he said, “In this, we will have to rely on Miss and Xuan Xiong; only by your men and horses’ support will we be able to face Li Mi’s hard-to-grasp wonder troops’ movement. If we can make Li Mi’s side mistakenly think that it was Wang Shichong’s other troops providing support in secret, we can shake the enemy’s confidence and will hasten their downfall.”
Staring blankly, Xuan Yong said, “But we are just a crowd of two hundred people. Oh! I understand! Two Masters are really men with guts reaching up to the heavens; Xuan Yong submit in admiration.”
Summing up, Kou Zhong said, “Right now the only way to win is by securing accurate military intelligence. We are going to quietly wait Xuan Xiong’s good news.”
Xuan Yong said, “Can Kou Ye give me the pass [i.e. special authorization through checkpoints]? This way I can go out and come in a bit more conveniently.”
Kou Zhong rose up to his full height and said, “Not only I am going to give you the pass, I will also take you to see the general in charge of city defense. If necessary, you can come to see me directly, so as not to delay any military intelligence.”
 Wonder troops, this is a literal translation of 奇兵 (qi bing). The correct definition is ‘troops appearing suddenly (in a raid or ambush)’, but in this case I want to show the contrast between ‘wonder troops’ and ‘ordinary troops’.