Book 19 Chapter 7 – Confused by The Enemy
The small boat slid across under the bridge, and reached the east end of the Tianjin Bridge on Luo River before it slowly stopped.
Kou Zhong rose up to his full height and shouted, “Where’s Wang Shichong?”
Dressed in civilian clothes, Wang Shichong appeared on the bridge. With him were Rong Fengxiang, Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu and six or seven that the boys knew as martial art masters among the personal guards; but they did not see anybody from Li Shimin’s side.
Kou Zhong dramatically smiled and said, “Wanggong is finally able to stand and walk on your own dog legs, it is worthy of celebration.”
Wang Shichong did not get angry at all; he spoke heavily, “Kou Zhong, this is not the first day you are roaming the Jianghu; you should understand the logic of talking bullshit less. The man is here, how do you want to swap?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Well said! Since Wanggong is so sensible, naturally you already have a way that will satisfy rival demands, both to guarantee we can leave safely, and to exchange the hostage. Why don’t you lay it out and we see if it is feasible?”
“Isn’t it so simple?” Wang Shichong said, “We swap people on the bridge, afterwards I guarantee to let the three of you leave the city, absolutely won’t stop you. Rong Gong [honorable gentleman] can vouch for me.”
Narrowing his eyes, Kou Zhong looked at Wang Shichong, who stood on the arch of the bridge; shaking his head, he said with a laugh, “Wanggong is joking, right? Your guarantee is not worth half a penny. How can Rong Laoban [boss] act as your guarantor?”
Rong Fengxiang spoke heavily, “Cut the crap, tell us what you want.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “It’s extremely simple. You hand the man to me, after I verify his identity, you open the water gate, let us leave the city, and then after we are out of town, we’ll let your man go.”
Wang Shichong angrily said, “Contrary to my expectation, you are actually counting your chicken before they are hatched. Absolutely not! Who could guarantee that after you leave the city you are still going to deliver the goods?”
Calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong said, “When did I, Kou Zhong, ever go back on my word? Besides, you have no choice in this matter. As soon as something is out of question, I will kill your treasured son. I would rather see how many more people we’ll have to kill in order to escape than letting you have your son back, and then having you order your men to deal with us.”
Rong Fengxiang interjected, “Can Kou Xiongdi listen to Laofu? The problem now is that the swapping occurs inside the city. If it were outside the city, Kou Xiongdi will have nothing to worry about!”
Kou Zhong turned toward Xu Ziling, who was sitting by his side. After exchanging glances, he shook his head and said, “Rong Laoban does not seem to know that there is such thing as chasing and intercepting in the art of war. If we do it your way, our whereabouts and where we are going will be entirely under your control. If by that time we started to regret, wouldn’t it be too late? No need to be wordy; you want to swap, you have to do it my way, I won’t take no as an answer.”
A murderous intent flashed through Rong Fengxiang’s eyes, but quickly died down. He pulled Wang Shichong aside to the part of the bridge where Kou Zhong could not see them, supposedly for some discussion.
Kou Zhong leaned over to Xu Ziling and whispered, “Any movement in the water?”
Xu Ziling shook his head, “No!” he said, “But I always feel something is not right, although I cannot pinpoint where the problem is.”
Kou Zhong mused, “Is it because we cannot see Li kid and his men?”
Xu Ziling nodded, “That is perhaps one of the reasons,” he said, “But more importantly is that if Wang Shichong sincerely wanted to swap hostages, he shouldn’t involve Rong Fengxiang.”
Kou Zhong shook, “Make sense!” he said.
This moment, Wang Shichong, Rong Fengxiang and the others reappeared on the arch of the bridge.
Kou Zhong let out a cold laugh and said, “Laozi is getting impatient!”
Wang Shichong calmly said, “For the time being we believe you. But you must publicly swear an oath, guaranteeing that you will fulfill your obligation. If you don’t agree, I, Wang Shichong, have no choice but to make every effort to avenge my son. Xu Xingzhi will have to suffer all kinds of abuse; he cannot seek life, and won’t be able to find death. You will also pray to the Heaven that you will not fall into my hands.”
Full of disdain, Kou Zhong said, “You, Wang Shichong, how much weight do you carry? You are the one who forgets favor and repays kindness with evil. What else do you want to say?”
“Bring him up!” Wang Shichong shouted.
Xu Ziling looked up; Xu Xingzhi’s upper body appeared over the bridge railings; his hair disheveled, his face covered in bloodstain and bruises, his body was tightly tied with thick hemp rope, his eyes were closed, he appeared to be unconscious. Xu Ziling could only vaguely recognize his silhouette.
Kou Zhong grew very suspicious; he shouted, “Wake him up and have him say something!”
Wang Shichong coldly shouted, “I’ll hand him over to you, you check him out yourself and then we’ll talk! Toss him down!”
Two warriors lifted Xu Xingzhi up and threw him over toward the small boat.
With his upper body securely tied, Xu Xingzhi was spinning continuously in the air; looking at his momentum, it seemed like he needed about a zhang or so to land on the boar.
Xu Ziling raised the oar to meet him.
Kou Zhong focused his full attention on the situation all around.
‘Whoop!’ Xu Xingzhi bounced back upward. Now it appeared that he would roll toward the boat.
Right this moment, strange change happened.
The thick rope on Xu Xingzhi’s body suddenly disintegrated into pieces. Both of his hands raised, bursts of powerful finger wind swiftly attacked the two boys.
At the same time, the boat shook with a loud rumble and turned into wooden chips.
The two boys had already waited in tight formation, but they still did not expect the enemy might paint by holding two brushes at the same time [i.e. to attack one problem from two angles at the same time], and completely reversed the situation.
All of a sudden they no longer stood on the small boat, but were sinking into the river.
All around there were sharp whistling as from both banks of the river more than a dozen powerful arrows were shooting at them, while countless enemies flew down from the bridge, pouncing on them.
While dodging the enemies’ finger wind and arrows, the two boys knew in their hearts that the only way to reverse their losing battle was to keep Wang Xuanying under their control.
The two suddenly increased their speed diving into the water, but immediately their whole body broke out in cold sweats.
They saw some unrecognizable thing wrapped itself around Wang Xuanying’s body, and lifted it up at an angle. By the time they remembered Yuchi Jingde’s Gui Zang Whip, it was already too late.
The two boys were so upset that they felt like crying in the water to vent the resentment and remorse in their heart. But this moment there was no time to think; from both sides appeared countless enemies in wetsuits, wielding crossbow, closing in on them.
They knew that trying to evade these exceptionally strong and long-ranged assault weapon under water would be a vain attempt.
By this time firelight started to appear on both banks, casting their light into the river.
The two boys continued sinking straight toward the pitch-black bottom of the river; if the enemy archers ever caught their shadow under water, they could forget about escaping alive. This kind of helplessness and uselessness feeling was as unbearable as a huge rock pressing against the pit of their stomachs.
If they did not choose River Luo to carry out the transaction, even if they grew wings, it would still be difficult for them to fly away.
Xu Ziling was the first to reach the bottom of the river. As soon as he touched the mud on the riverbed, his heart was moved; quickly he applied his spiraling energy onto both palms, which he then repeated pushed out all around. The spiraling force raised up the mud and spun it around. A short moment later the river water became unbearably muddy.
Kou Zhong cheered inwardly and followed Xu Ziling’s example. Sticking close to the bottom of the river, they moved forward together and quickly left the area.
The two boys crawl up the bank under a bridge on the Yi River at the south side of the city; they could only look at each other with bitter smile.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “The enemy is really crafty. That fake Xu Xingzhi made me feel like a rotten pig head; with his disheveled hair, his body trussed up like that [orig. upper body bound with arms tied behind the back and rope looped around the neck], made me temporarily unable to identify him, otherwise we would not be underwater with the enemy taking advantage of us.”
Pulling himself to the foot of the bridge, Xu Ziling spoke in heavy voice, “The one disguising himself as Xu Xingzhi must be Zhangsun Wuji. As soon as he made his move, I recognized his shenfa and his body shape.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Kou Zhong said, “In my opinion, Xu Xingzhi must be either harmed by them, or he already knew what happened and escaped first. Otherwise, Wang Shichong can’t possibly let his son risk the danger of being killed. Because the plan is not without flaws. If at that time I was cruel enough and was willing to receive a bit of injury, there was still enough time to take Wang Xuanying’s little life.”
Xu Ziling nodded in agreement and said, “That’s what I thought too. Should we try to leave town after daybreak then?”
Gnashing his teeth, Kou Zhong said, “I can’t swallow this hatred. But with multitude of enemies and few friends, using brute force will only lead us to our own disgrace. Do you have any good ideas?”
“For a nobleman to take revenge, ten years is not too long,” Xu Ziling said, “We really have to temporarily endure this hatred. Don’t forget that there is still Zhu Yuyan glaring like a tiger watching its prey on the side. She may be more frightening than Wang Shichong and Li Shimin combined.”
Kou Zhong dejectedly said, “Must we simply slip away like this?”
Xu Ziling said, “One day we didn’t day, Wang Shichong would not have a day of peaceful sleep. Let’s find out clearly about Mr. Xu, and then we’ll talk!”
Thinking out loud, Kou Zhong said, “If Xu Xingzhi already knew the scheme and slipped away, he ought to try to find us. We’d better go back across the weir to find out.”
Xu Ziling said, “Didn’t you say you were going to get in touch with Song Jingang’s men to have them making arrangement for us to go to Jiangdu?”
Kou Zhong replied, “Right now, other than you, I trust no one else. What if it is another trap waiting for us to fall into? Now I want to change plans: we’ll go on our own to Jiangdu, see Li Zitong, and then we’ll change according to the situation, to see the opportunity and act accordingly.”
Xu Ziling rose up to his full height and said, “While it is not dawn yet, we’d better steal two sets of clean clothes, so that when we escape later, we could do so in awe-inspiring style.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Let Xiaodi show the way! Me and the boss of Luoyang’s biggest silk and satin dealer are old friends!”
※ ※ ※
Thick clouds hanging overhead. It seemed like heavy rain may come down any moment.
Xu Ziling was squatting by a steamed bun street vendor in the market, eating his breakfast. Thinking about Sister-in-law Zhen, whose whereabouts was unknown, although all around him people were coming and going, the clamor shook the heavens, he was overwhelmed with feeling of loneliness.
Life changes constantly, nobody is able to control it.
A few days ago they were the honored guests whom Wang Shichong relied on to help him, but now they have become his personal enemies.
Li Shimin was originally a good friend, but presently they became archenemy like water and fire do not mix together.
This moment Kou Zhong came; he laughed and said, “Scarface Xiong, how are you? How’s the steamed buns here compared to Yangzhou’s?”
Xu Ziling stuffed a meat and vegetable bun into his mouth and replied with a sigh, “When you don’t have money to buy steamed buns, that kind of buns is the most delicious. Did you find Song Jingang’s men?”
Kou Zhong also stuffed a meat and vegetable bun into his mouth before mumbling his answer, “Change of plan. I already persuaded Song Jingang’s men to loan us a small cargo boat for us, including all the necessary passes to get out of town plus four boatmen. Sailing on a boat is better than walking on foot, right?”
Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever you say!”
In deadly earnest, Kou Zhong said, “Are you serious?”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “What kind of ghost idea are you thinking this time?”
Kou Zhong reached out to hold Xu Ziling shoulder; he said, “We are leaving tomorrow morning.”
Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, “You just wouldn’t give up.”
Making a show of being very much in earnest, Kou Zhong said, “This time I really didn’t want to show of my bravado, but there has been new development.”
Skeptical, Xu Ziling asked, “What new development?”
Kou Zhong said, “I was walking along the Luo River just now, and saw a warship sailing toward the Imperial City. I dare to bet that it came from Yanshi, because when we came back here by another ship, that ship was still anchored on the dock outside Yanshi.
“Isn’t that a normal thing?” Xu Ziling asked.
Proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, “This ship is definitely not normal. Not only the ship itself is heavily-guarded, before and after it were convoy of more than a dozen speedboats; in addition, there was also a team of cavalry speeding along the bank. Tell me, why would there be so much fuss? Naturally they were afraid someone might hijack the ship. And naturally the ones they are afraid of are us, two heroes of Yangzhou’s Twin Dragons.”
Xu Ziling was shaken, “Xu Xingzhi indeed escaped to Yanshi to look for us, but they recaptured him and brought him back.”
Kou Zhong resolutely said, “I don’t care if there is magnificent army with thousands of men and horses in the Imperial Palace, tonight we are going into the Palace to save him.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “No need to wait for tonight! We are going into the Palace to save him now. Didn’t you say there are still a lot of Yang Dong’s men in the Palace? As long as we can slip into the Palace, we can act as circumstances dictate, trying to get him out of there.”
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, “In broad daylight, two heroes climbing over the wall jumping over the rampart, isn’t that a bit too conspicuous? From the city gate onward, I am afraid some people might not welcome us with open arms.”
Xu Ziling looked up at the sky and said, “This time it really is planning is with man, accomplishing with heaven [(idiom) ‘Man proposes but God disposes’]. As long as it does rain, we will have a chance to enter the Palace and rescue him. But now we must make some preparations, and then we’ll see whether Laotianye is willing to help us.”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were hiding under a small bridge on the northern side of the city where Daoguang Lane converged with the city canal, overlooking the Imperial City’s eastern wall in the distance.
The clouds in the sky were getting thicker and darker, however, although it brought hope to them, the rain never really came.
It was only half a sichen to midday.
Thinking out loud, Xu Ziling said, “In his book about the waterways, Lu Miaozi said that all large-scale constructions of Imperial Palace class must have a system of water ways underneath it; other than to drain sewage, it is also used to supply water to the courtyard and gardens, for the laundry, irrigation, and so on. I wonder if this city canal is connected to the water ways under the Imperial Palace? If that so, we are going to rely on the most favorable method.”
His brows knitted tightly, Kou Zhong looked up to the sky; he nodded and said, “Lu Miaozi is definitely not wrong, but if we can think about it, other people also can. That day when I had discussion with Yang Gongqing and the others on how to force our entrance into the Imperial Palace, Yang Gongqing pointed out that all passages to the main canal are equipped with heavy steel gates; unless you turn into a small fish or shrimp, you may forget about passing through. Ay! We’d better pray that Laotianye would send us heavy rain.”
Suddenly there was a rumble of hoof beats, more than a thousand-men cavalry were coming near, and they were galloping toward the bridge.
Kou Zhong craned his neck to take a look, and then shrank back under the bridge and said in a low voice, “It’s the patrolling imperial guards. Do you want to borrow two sets of uniforms for our use?”
Xu Ziling was displeased, “That will only beat the grass to scare the snake,” he said, “If by wearing military uniform we can enter the Palace, then anybody would be able to come and go freely.”
Dejected, Kou Zhong remained silent.
The hoof beats thundered over the bridge, but suddenly they stopped.
The two boys’ scalp went numb; they thought that they have been discovered.
One of the imperial guard above sighed and said, “We are really out of luck today, being sent out on duty. It would be much better if we could stay inside the Palace!”
Another man laughed and said, “Who do you think you are? So what if you stayed in the Palace? Are you saying you have the qualification to hear Shang Xiufang singing?”
The other men burst out in mocking laughter.
The hoof beats started again, gradually going away.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other’s eyes, two pairs of tiger-eyes lit up at the same time.
Kou Zhong stood up abruptly and said, “As a rule, Shang Xiufang only willing to attend any banquet in the afternoon, I’ll say we need to borrow two sets of military uniforms!”