Book 12 Chapter 10 – Devising Battle Plan in a Tent
One after another Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling leaped onto a big tree among a towering forest. Sweeping their gaze around, they saw all around them were long lines of torches; their escape route was completely sealed.
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “If not for the spring night’s fog that makes the air wet, we could light a fire to create some chaos; perhaps we could then seize an opportunity to slip away.”
With a cold snort Ba Fenghan said, “Even if we have to fight with all our might and die, but as long as Kou Zhong and Shuni could leave safely, I have no regret.”
Severely shaken, Xu Ziling said, “If I did not hear it from Fenghan Xiong with my own ears just now, I really did not dare to believe that Fenghan Xiong is this kind of no-surrender, not-afraid-of death hero.” [Orig. honor does not allow one to glance back, viewing death as a return home.]
Smiling wryly, Ba Fenghan said, “‘Honor does not allow one to glance back’, is just inflated praise, ‘viewing death as a return home’ also still fall short. I simply never regretted the decision that I made. As long as things can go according to my wishes, I am happy. You, two kids, are so loyal and true to me, but I am not a despicable fellow with the heart of wolf and lungs of dog either. My wish right now is that in the future Zhong Shao will be able to kill Li Mi with his own hands to avenge us.”
Xu Ziling shook his head, “No!” he said, “I definitely won’t allow Li Mi to kill you. Hey! If we can change our shape in a single shake and become two of Li Mi’s men, do you think it will increase our chance of survival?”
Knitting his brows, Ba Fenghan said, “Are you thinking of grabbing two men and change into their clothes? But Wagang Army is famous for being highly organized. Under the army there’s regiment. Under regiment there’s battalion. Under battalion there are a number of smaller platoons. Each one has distinct line of command. Plus we may change clothes but we can’t replace faces. We will only provoke jeers!”
From his bosom Xu Ziling pulled out a mask. Handing it over to Ba Fenghan, he said, “This is the handicraft, a legacy of, the number one master craftsman in the world, Mister Lu Miaozi. We change our faces first, then we’ll find a way to change clothes.”
Finished speaking, he put on another mask first, and immediately turned into the scar-face hero who once battled the Four Big Bandits.
Watching that, Ba Fenghan clicked his tongue in amazement. And then with Xu Ziling’s help, he also put on the mask. Changing shape in a single shake, he incarnated into a young warrior with sunken eyes, thin lips and protruding jaw.
His spirit greatly aroused, Ba Fenghan said, “Now this is different! Come! We’ll cut some branches for secret projectiles first. Follow me!”
※ ※ ※
Carrying Dong Shuni on his back, Kou Zhong ran wildly and leaped swiftly along the mountain and fields. After rushing through a forest, as he ran up to the top of a hill, he saw the Luo River flowing across in the valley ahead, and on the opposite bank were the glittering lantern lights of a big city.
Laughing aloud, Kou Zhong said, “We are here, at last!” and he halted his steps.
Reluctantly Dong Shuni left his thick and broad and warm tiger back. She looked at Kou Zhong’s imposingly standing like a mountain, his eyes were gleaming as he gazed at the Yanshi City, standing tall and upright about five li across the plain. There was some kind of intimidating insufferably arrogant charisma around him. Her heart was trembling with enchantment, like a little bird relying on people she leaned into his arms and said in a low voice, “You must never tell anybody about us! If Da Jiujiu found out, he will definitely kill you.”
Kou Zhong looked down at this charming beauty, he could not help replaying what had just happened in his mind, while thinking that it would be perfect. Otherwise, if after having a physical relationship with him Dong Shuni forced him to ask her hand in marriage from Wang Shichong, what would happen would be greatly unpredictable.
Slightly angry, Dong Shuni said, “Why don’t you say something? Is it because you don’t like me?”
Kou Zhong felt big headache was coming; wrapping his arm around her delicate, soft, and small waist, he pulled her into his bosom, planted a deep kiss on her tender mouth and smiled and said, “What about later? Can we do what we just did later?”
Smiling enchantingly, Dong Shuni said, “It will be up to me. If I have time, I might come looking for you.”
Kou Zhong was positive that he was not her first man, because while they were doing the deed, Dong Shuni was more adept than he.
Although there was no denying that she beat Yun Yuzhen in every aspect, but just like with Yun Yuzhen, he maintained a chance-encounter mentality, and would never recklessly consider this affair as true love.
Besides, there were so many urgent and more important matters waiting for him.
As he ran all the way to this place, his mind was, for the most part, occupied by thought about Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan’s safety, while the rest was dedicated to thinking about how to exploit Wang Shichong to deal with Li Mi. Not once he thought about the moving, tender body on his back, let alone thinking about whether he would have a future with her together.
Dong Shuni yanked his hand and said, “Let’s go!”
The two rushed down the hill toward Luo River.
※ ※ ※
Li Mi was standing on top of a sloping hill. His brows were in deep frown as he looked at his subordinates setting up a vast net around their target, a two-li jungle, so tight that not even one drop could trickle through, also at the several dozen martial art masters under Fu Zhen and Fu Yan, two brothers’ leadership combing the area. Yet more than half a sichen has passed, and there was still no movement.
Wang Bodang, standing to his left, ferociously said, “This is impossible. How could that baby girl’s scent suddenly disappear?”
There were about a dozen high-ranking generals standing behind Li Mi; no one could answer this question.
Standing to Li Mi’s right, the distressed Shen Luoyan spoke softly, “I have a feeling that something is amiss. Logically speaking, they can’t fly even if they grew wings.”
Li Mi sighed and said, “There is no such thing as logically or illogically speaking. Kou and Xu, those two little thieves should have been dead dozens of times, but they are always able to run away from critical circumstances; it’s really mind-boggling.”
Wang Bodang spoke heavily, “Supposing they really succeeded in bringing Dong Shuni into Yanshi, what should we do?”
Li Mi’s eyes lit up with cold rays; he spoke slowly, word-by-word, “The best way is to attack Yanshi immediately, take Wang Shichong under control, make it difficult for him to return to Luoyang to oppose Dugu Clan and the King of Yue. But it will wreck our entire plan, plus during the battle with Yuwen Huaji we had suffered heavy casualties, our strength has not recovered. Therefore, it would be more appropriate for us to focus on defense and not on offense, hence we have to find another way.”
And then, turning to Shen Luoyan he said, “Luoyan has any suggestion?”
Shen Luoyan said, “Another countermeasure would be secretly sending martial art masters to infiltrate Luoyang, to instigate Dugu Feng to sweep away Wang Shichong’s influence in Luoyang, so that Wang Shichong will be isolated, his support will be cut off. At that time, to take the head on Wang Shichong’s neck will be as easy as feeling it in our pocket and take it out.”
Frowning, Wang Bodang said, “Wang Shichong’s influence in Luoyang is deep-rooted; I am afraid it would not be easy to uproot it completely. There must be a proper arrangement.”
Li Mi said resolutely, “Whether this scheme will succeed or fail, it will only bring benefit to us without any disadvantages. The more chaotic Luoyang is, the better it will be for us. It would be best if Dugu Clan and the King fight each other until both sides suffer. That would be ideal.”
Turning to Shen Luoyan, he said, “We are racing against time. If we let Wang Shichong make the first move, his losses would be minimal. Does Luoyan understand the serious consequences?”
Shen Luoyan nodded and said, “Mi Gong may set your heart at ease. Leave this matter to Luoyan! I will not fail Mi Gong’s trust.”
Chapter 10 - Part 2
Li Mi issued his order, “I give Luoyan full authority in this matter, with Bodang as your deputy. I would also like to ask Nanhai Xian Weng [immortal elderly man of the South Sea] holy self to strengthen our force. The rest of you will be assigned accordingly, do as you see fit!”
As everybody heard the name Nanhai Xian Weng, they all revealed both respect and fear expression.
Turned out Nanhai Xian Weng Huang Gongcuo was a martial art master of Ning Daoqi caliber, an important figure of great-scholar-respected-for-learning-and-integrity level. The present day Sect Leader of the Nanhai Pai of Zhuya County [historic name for Hainan (south sea) Island] Mei Xun could only be considered his disciple or descendant.
It was rumored that one time Ning Daoqi and Huang Gongcuo was having a decisive battle at Leizhou Peninsula, and only after a hundred moves that Huang Gongcuo was defeated under Ning Daoqi’s ‘bottom-of-the-chest’ consummate skill, the ‘San Shou Ba Pu’ [scattered hand eight attacks]. It could be said that although he was defeated, it was a glorious defeat. From this, it could be seen that Nanhai Xian Weng Huang Gongcuo had a sterling reputation.
Due to Li Mi’s father, Li Kuan has done a big favor to Nanhai Pai, after Li Mi rose up in rebellion, time and again he sent envoys to ask Huang Gongcuo to leave the mountain [i.e. to take a leading position], but only after Emperor Yang was assassinated by Yuwen Huaji did Huang Gongcuo agree to give him a nod. He even promised that Nanhai Pai would support Li Mi to obtain the world with all their strength. Naturally it included the harsh situation they were currently in.
Wang Bodang and Shen Luoyan accepted the order in unison.
At that point, the torches guarding the south side of the forest were extinguished one by one, followed by continuous shouts of surprise.
Instead of getting angry, Li Mi was delighted. Leading his subordinates, he rushed down the hill toward the commotion.
※ ※ ※
Under the escort of officers and soldiers guarding the city, Kou Zhong and Dong Shuni galloped toward Wang Shichong’s Zheng Guo Gong [Duke of State Zheng] Mansion inside the city of Yanshi.
It was as if Dong Shuni had turned into a completely different person; she was collected and was smiling, her demeanor became solemn, like an inviolable pure and holy leader of a Sect.
They had just entered the Mansion’s gate, Wangshichong, who already received news, was walking out the gate, under the escort of a dozen personal guards, to welcome them.
Dong Shuni flew off of the horseback, and threw herself into Wang Shichong’s bosom, crying.
Wang Shichong’s vigor was still like before, but the hair on his temples started to mottle with a few more gray hairs.
He lovingly held Dong Shuni in his embrace, while repeatedly cooing, “Xiao Ni, don’t cry! Da Jiujiu is here. What happened?”
While doing that, he also cast a glance toward Kou Zhong, and his eyes immediately became incomparably penetrating.
Kou Zhong dismounted, saluted, and said with a smile, “Whether we will succeed or fail, it will all depend on what Shangshu Daren [basically it means ‘government minister’] will do.”
Wang Shichong was stunned, “If you are thinking of using frightening words to scare people, don’t blame me …” he started to speak in obvious displeasure.
“Da Jiujiu!” Dong Shuni cut him off with a slight edge on her voice, “He is a good man; without him, Xiao Ni would have met disaster too horrible to contemplate.”
Extremely deferential, Kou Zhong spoke, “Is it possible for Wang Shangshu to grant me audience to have a word with you? We have to make prompt decision in this matter, otherwise, even if Suntzu was still alive, Wu Hou is reincarnated, they would not be able to reverse the losing battle this city will experience.”
“Kou Zhong!” Wang Shichong sternly called.
Kou Zhong bowed and responded, “Kou Zhong’s here!”
After glowering at him for quite a while, Wang Shichong said with a cold snort, “Come with me! But don’t even think of playing tricks on me.”
※ ※ ※
Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling ran for more than fifty li at a stretch, until they reached the Great River downstream from Luoyang. The two could not take it anymore; one after another they crouched by the shore, just ahead of the billowing waves of the Yellow River.
In the distance, they could see the lantern lights from the city of Luoyang brightened the horizon.
After going through much exhausting effort, they finally broke away from the danger zone. Ba Fenghan laughed heartily and said, “Good kid! You are really quite something! Wang Bodang was face-to-face with us, and he did not know who we are. He even shouted an order for us to quit. Fortunately I was able to hold my laughter; I was choking hard and was quite in pain.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said with a sigh, “Li Mi deployed such a large force, but he could not even touch the tail of our garments. If this goes out, I guarantee he would be the laughingstock of the whole world.”
Ba Fenghan managed to get up; he said, “While we still have time before daybreak, it would be best if we could preserve and nurture our spirit, before swaggering into the city with our fake faces to drink some hot tea. I have several old acquaintances in Luoyang, I guarantee they will take a good care of us.”
Xu Ziling had to struggle hard to sit up straight, “I wonder if Kou Zhong was able to move Wang Shichong’s heart?” he mused.
Ba Fenghan took a deep breath to restore his composure; smiling, he said, “Wang Shichong is a tiger dressed as a man, while Kou Zhong is a man dressed as a tiger. Victory or defeat is already abundantly clear, Ziling why worry?”
※ ※ ※
Inside the secret chamber.
Dong Shuni revealed everything in one breath, concealing nothing. But Wang Shichong’s countenance changed at least a dozen times.
After pondering for half a day, Wang Shichong said heavily, “Shuni go take a rest for a while, Da Jiujiu needs to make decision.”
Dong Shuni was thinking of acting like a spoiled brat and refusing to leave, but looking at Wang Shichong’s solemn expression, where his face seemed to be covered in thick cloud, she did not dare to create a scene. Therefore, after casting a quick glance toward Kou Zhong, who was sitting opposite of Wang Shichong, she obediently left.
The door was closed.
Such a spacious private room, there were only Wang Shichong and Kou Zhong, two men.
Kou Zhong was unusually silent.
Since entering the room, he has not said a single word.
Chapter 10 - Part 3
Wang Shichong was deep in thought for half a day. Finally he spoke in low voice, “You guys were willing to brave death to save Xiao Ni, I, Wang Shichong, is eternally grateful. Say your request now!”
Kou Zhong knew Wang Shichong did not trust him; he laughed indifferently and said, “My request is the demise of Li Mi.”
Wang Shichong was stunned. He stared at Kou Zhong for half a day before frowning and said, “Right now I have internal trouble and external aggression, I am facing enemies in front and behind me. I am afraid I cannot help you accomplishing this wish.”
With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, “Wang Shangshu is wrong. The fact is that there has never been a better time like right now, where your side have the opportunity to crush Wagang Army.”
Displeased, Wang Shichong said, “In all my life, the kind of people I hated the most are those who use favor to threaten. What have I, Wang Shichong, never seen? How could I listen to anybody who wanted to manipulate me?”
Kou Zhong calmly said, “This time Wang Shangshu sent your troops to Yanshi, I wonder what is your intention?”
Wang Shichong’s eyes flickered with sharp lights; he said coldly, “Now is now, then is then. Right now my top priority is returning to Luoyang to clean up a clique of traitors.”
Kou Zhong smiled and asked, “And then what?”
Wang Shichong proudly replied, “Once the inside is pacified, naturally going out to fight foreign aggression. Li Mi and I cannot exist together.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “This time Wang Shangshu sent your troops, is to observe and confirm that after defeating Yuwen Huaji, Li Mi’s strength took a big blow; therefore, you wanted to seize the opportunity to thoroughly and swiftly cut him down. But now you want to pacify the inside first and let the opportunity slip away for nothing, giving Li Mi the opportunity to recover. Won’t it be a grave miscalculation?”
In daze, Wang Shichong stared at him for a long time, as if he had never seen Kou Zhong before. And then he said seriously, “So Kou Xiao Xiong believes that I ought to put Li Mi in order first, and then return to base to deal with Yang Dong and Dugu Feng?”
Kou Zhong shook his head, “Not quite,” he said, “Even if there was no problem in the Eastern Capital, if this time Shangshu rashly attack Li Mi, I have no doubt you will still be defeated.”
At first Wang Shichong wanted to probe whether Kou Zhong had an ulterior motive, i.e. wanted to exploit Wang Shichong to deal with his archenemy Li Mi. But now, after hearing him said so, he was taken aback, and asked modestly instead, “I’d like to hear the details.”
Thereupon Kou Zhong told Wang Shichong how Li Mi was going to deal with him, but naturally he said it as if it was his own speculation.
Wang Shichong’s countenance changed slightly; for quite a long while he did not say anything, evidently Kou Zhong had hit the target.
Half a day later, Wang Shichong sighed and said, “I am originally from the Western Region. Because of my admiration of the Celestial Empire’s [tributary title conferred on imperial China] civilization, I followed my father to the Sui Dynasty. Since childhood I love to read history books, I love to study the art of war. Finally I arose to become the assistant minister of the Ministry of War, and quite obtained Yang Guang, that muddleheaded ruler’s high regard. After the battle against Meng Rang, my name shook the land under heaven. I thought that nobody in the world surpassed me, Wang Shichong, in the art of war. Who could have thought that I came across that Li thief, to whom I am inferior in every aspect? Were it not for Kou Xiao Xiong warning me, this battle will only result in defeat with no chance of victory. So you think I ought to immediately return to the Eastern Capital?”
Kou Zhong knew that Wang Shichong’s mind was in turmoil; he smiled and said, “Like I said just now, to destroy the Wagang Army, this is a chance one in a thousand years. There are two reasons: one, currently Li Mi’s strength is greatly wounded, his troops weary his generals tired. Two, Li Mi is still in euphoria after defeating Yuwen Huaji recently; inevitably he will have condescending thought toward you and will be underestimating you.”
After a short pause, he continued seriously, “Forgive my bluntness, but speaking about military strength, your side is not Li Mi’s match, plus your repeated defeat has made Li Mi’s despises you even more. Therefore, if Wang Shangshu is showing your weak front, and we fabricate ingenious circumstances, luring Li Mi’s entire nest to come out, with our meticulous planning and setting up traps, I guarantee that Li Mi will fall headlong and take serious tumble that henceforth he will be powerless to press toward the Eastern Capital.”
Hearing that, Wang Shichong’s heart was pounding with eagerness, his doubt toward Kou Zhong diminished significantly, while his trust soared. “How can we show a weak front?” he asked.
Kou Zhong asked in return, “May I know how many men Wang Shangshu has in your disposal right now?”
Wang Shichong hesitated for a moment before making up his mind; he replied, “This time I only brought twenty thousand men, but not a single one is not a trained elite troop.”
Kou Zhong slapped the table and said, “That will do. Sun Tzu said: troops are valued by their quality, not quantity. Because we have fewer soldiers, Li Mi would look down on us even more. Now if he also mistakenly thinks that we do not have enough provision, I don’t believe the recently-victorious Li Mi could bear not to lead his army to indulge in another war.”
Shaking his head, Wang Shichong said, “He can always wait until we are really short on provision before attacking. This ruse may deceive others, but definitely not Li Mi, who has rigorous schemes and deep foresight.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “That’s why I said we need to fabricate ingenious circumstances to force Li Mi so that he won’t have any choice but to fight.”
Wang Shichong was astonished, “What circumstances?” he asked.
Kou Zhong said, “This operation can be carried out in two phases. First, we create a fake situation of supply shortage; for example, send your men everywhere to rake in army provisions, also broadcast a rumor that you are returning to the Eastern Capital soon. It would be strange indeed if Li Mi does not come to intercept.”
And then he leaned forward and lowered his voice, “For the next phase, we mend fences with northern forces whose power is not under Li Mi’s: Dou Jiande; ask him to send troops to attack Li Mi. Naturally we leak this information to Li Mi. I won’t have to worry that he won’t take the initiative to attack first.”
Although Wang Shichong was a conceited and talented field commander, he could not help slapping the table and exclaimed in praise, “That is indeed a brilliant plan! But there are a lot of details that still need to be considered.”
Soon after his eyes shot sharp rays; fixing his gaze on Kou Zhong, he said, “Everybody knows that Kou Zhong is ambitious; you managed to turn the south upside down. And now you help me like this, what’s in it for you?”
Kou Zhong calmly met his eyes, “Because,” he slowly said, “If I don’t kill Li Mi, he would kill me. I don’t care who will become the Emperor, as long as it’s not Li Mi. Is Wang Shangshu satisfied with my answer?”
Wang Shichong spoke in heavy voice, “You are indeed a rare talent. If you are willing to throw your lot with me, I, Wang Shichong, definitely won’t treat you meagerly.”
Kou Zhong cheerfully replied, “Thank you for Wang Shangshu’s guidance. But in everything I still want to wait until Wagang Army is destroyed before making any decision. Although dealing against Li Mi is important, but the Eastern Capital must be grasped firmly in our hands. As long as we can hold out against Li Mi’s forces, we can attack the King of Yue’s imperial palace, pulling all who oppose you by the root. At that time Wang Shangshu may think that the King of Yue’s throne will be more desirable. Besides, you have at least half of the people in the world already in your pocket!”
This speech went straight to the bottom of Wang Shichong’s heart, making him forget that Kou Zhong did not immediately declare his allegiance to him. Greatly delighted, he said, “Dugu Feng’s forces in Luoyang cannot be ignored. If I am not in Luoyang, I am afraid it would be difficult to have control over the general situation.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “That is precisely one crucial point in the show-your-weakness phase. Wang Shangshu may want to select several elite troops to ride with you back to Luoyang to settle the situation in Luoyang, and then play it by ear. As soon as Li Mi makes unusual move, Shangshu immediately slip back here to take charge of the general situation. Won’t that work?”
Wang Shichong was staring blankly for half a day. Finally he heaved a deep sigh, shook his head, and said with a smile, “Other than that, do I have a better choice?” 5 Best Chinese Romance Books of 2018 So Far