Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling escorted Zhai Jiao as they stood to her left and right on lookout tower of the northern city wall, looking into the distance where the enemy camp stretched more than one li north of the city, with their back against Mount Mang.
Zhai Jiao has changed a lot. Although she still had fiery temper, impatient, rude and impetuous, clearly she was much better in speaking reasons and willing to listen to others, compared to previously, when she was still the 'thousand-catty of gold' [(honorific) daughter] Big Miss.
Because of her relationship with Susu, the two boys were especially respectful to her, even cherished her.
Zhai Jiao suddenly sighed and said, "If my Die's spirit in heaven knew that the Wagang Army, which he founded single-handedly, was unexpectedly destroyed by his own daughter, I wonder if his feeling would be hurt and it would be hard for him to take."
Understanding the contradiction in her heart, in which she worried about personal gains and losses, Kou Zhong tactfully explained, "Supposing Buddhist's concept of reincarnation is true, right now Da Longtou might be a little white and plump, adorable baby; of course he would forget everything from his previous life, be happy and forget all worries. But then again, supposing death is like extinguished lantern, it would be like eternal sleep without waking up again, the four elements are vanity [idiom: this world is an illusion], then nothing to be worried anymore. Therefore, Da Xiaojie does not need to be anxious on Da Longtou's spirit in heaven's behalf. Right now the only thing you must think about is the deep pleasure after you put that thief Li Mi to the blade!"
Zhai Jiao's pair of huge eyes lit up; she spoke with conviction, "If Die is allowed to be reincarnated as a healthy little treasure, and if I could find that little treasure, wouldn't it mean that I will be together with Die? You, two kids, must find a way for me to do that!"
Hearing that, the two boys were grieving inside.
Up to this moment, Zhai Jiao still could not accept the brutal truth that when Zhai Rang died, he would never come back, hence she made that kind of opening-the-heaven request.
Under repeated urges from her, Kou Zhong grabbed his head and said, "The only way if we could find a medium who is able to communicate with spirits to inquire, to see if Da Longtou can personally furnish information for us."
Zhai Jiao's huge palm slapped heavily on the back of Kou Zhong's shoulder; the pain made his teeth ached and his mouth split. She spoke in great delight, "This kid really know how to use your brains; in Jianghu, those who are experts in communicating with spirits, none can surpass one from a sect in Sichuan province, the Tong Tianzhen Mu [lit. old woman who communicate with deities], Xia Miaoying. After killing Li Mi, you guys will accompany me to look for her."
Kou Zhong blurted out, "What kind of heretical sect is that?"
Zhai Jiao angrily said, "As long as we can find Die, why do you care whether she is from heretical or orthodox sect? Are you going to accompany me or not?"
Xu Ziling feebly said, "However, we want to look for Su Jie first."
Zhai Jiao was severely shaken, "Susu is still alive?"
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, "Who said Su Jie … hey!"
Hot tears were starting to form on Zhai Jiao's eyes; her voice trembled as she said, "Where is Susu?"
To this Big Miss, the two people closest to her in this world were Zhai Rang, and next in line was the beloved maid who grew up with her. This moment, hearing that Susu was still alive, she was overwhelmed with emotion.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt a stab of pain in their heart at the same time; they were overwhelmed with intense remorse that they felt they had no face to see Zhai Jiao.
Xu Ziling spoke in low voice, "Su Jie is in Baling right now, she … ay! She is married and bore a son."
Zhai Jiao suddenly reached out to grab Xu Ziling's arm; she shouted, "After killing Li Mi, we will look for Susu first, and then we'll go to Sichuan. What kind of guy did Susu marry?"
Kou Zhong felt so helpless that he replied with a voice so low that it was barely audible, "That guy is called Xiang Yushan, a great general under the self-proclaimed Emperor Liang, Xiao Xian. Ay! This guy …"
With teardrops hanging on her face, Zhai Jiao revealed a sincere smile; she was not even aware that there were more to what the two boys were saying. Letting go of Xu Ziling's arm, she said in happiness, "Susu did not die, that's good enough!"
In fear and trepidation, Kou Zhong tried to feel her out, "We still need to get one or two things ready before we could look for Su Jie."
Contrary to the two boys' expectation, Zhai Jiao nodded and said, "I also have something else I need to do; let's see if we could agree on a time and a place, then we'll go together to Baling!"
Naturally the two boys did not dare to refuse; they could only groaned inwardly, sad and dejected.
The joy of victory was completely replaced by deep guilt.
※ ※ ※
After escorting Zhai Jiao back to her quarter at the Commander Mansion, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling went to the rear circular pavilion and sat down face to face, with worried look on their faces.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "It would be best if after Da Xiaojie sees that Su Jie did not marry the right person, in her anger she would kill us, and then we can be reincarnated, all worries of the previous life would be forgotten, once the main problem is solved, all troubles are solved."
Sitting dejectedly on the stone bench, Xu Ziling shook his head and said, "That is a coward's way of thinking. After we get to Baling, we must get Su Jie, mother and son, out of there, no matter what. Anybody dares to oppose us, we kill them."
Kou Zhong bitterly said, "If it was Su Jie who wanted to oppose us, are you saying you would kill her too? Besides, even if we tell her that Xiang Yushan is a hundred percent crook, with Li Jing already hurt her heart deeply, how could she take another big blow?"
Burying his face in his hands, Xu Ziling groaned, "Oh Laotianye! Please tell us what to do."
Frowning deeply, Kou Zhong mused, "Perhaps Bu Tianzhi will be able to help us in this matter. At least he could go back to Baling and sound Su Jie out, and then based on his information, we can work something out."
Xu Ziling looked up and said, "That is in no way the only thing we can do in this matter. It would be best if we could grab Xiang Yushan's biggest weakness, and then force him to voluntarily let go."
Kou Zhong reached out to put his hand on Xu Ziling's shoulder; lowering his voice, he said, "After our business in Jiangdu is finished, you and I will go back to Baling together; momentarily we are going to set aside all those 'Duke Yang Treasure' or what have you, what could be more important than Su Jie?"
Stunned, Xu Ziling said, "That won't work! Unless you don't want to contend for the world anymore. This is a matter where every moment counts."
Kou Zhong sat down and with rueful smile he said, "Su Jie is now our only family in the world; if she has any mishap, I'll never be happy, and then why would I even want to contend over the world?"
Xu Ziling nodded and said, "From Jiangdu taking the boat to Baling in the west will only take us ten days. I am only afraid that Xiao Xian will not let us take Su Jie away; this must be considered in details. It's late! Let's go back and have some rest!"
※ ※ ※
The next day the city of Yanshi was still buzzing with the after-the-big-victory excitement; the army officers went around on horseback to encourage the soldiers, in preparation for the next major battle. The siege equipment was already on the main street leading to the southern gate, ready to be transported out of the city and toward the opposite bank any moment, giving out the impression that they were going to attack Luokou.
Because the waterway was sealed by the enemy's fortification, the land route to attack Luokou was the only feasible alternative.
By wu hour [11am - 1pm] two warships from the Eastern Capital began to dock, another great general, Zhang Zhenzhou, received Wang Shichong's order to come, bringing rewards for the three armies on the big victory, as well as bringing one thousand reinforcements.
Zhang Zhenzhou and Yang Gongqing had a closed meeting in a private room. It was a full sichen later that they finally summoned Kou Zhong in, while completely disregarded Wang Xuanshu.
The two generals' expression looked strangely grave.
After sitting down, Kou Zhong asked in astonishment, "What could possibly happen? Could it be that Yang Dong and Dugu Feng have gained the upper hand?"
Zhang Zhenzhou let out a cold humph and said, "After Dugu Feng learned about Li Mi's big defeat, he immediately fled the Eastern Capital. We forced our way into the Imperial Palace, and had Yuan Wendu and Lu Da executed on the spot. Concerning Yang Dong, the Eastern Capital has completely fallen into our hands."
Kou Zhong was at a loss, "Then why is the two Great Generals' countenance so unsightly?" he asked.
Yang Gongqing spoke in heavy voice, "Right now Shangshu Daren is just about to force Yang Dong to abdicate, ready to proclaim himself the Emperor."
Zhang Zhenzhou joined in, "Zheng Guogong [Duke of State] wanted to use 'Zheng' as the official dynastic name, and bestowed his family and relatives big titles; as far as I know: he is going to set up Xuanying as the crown prince, Xuanshu as Han Wang [king], Wang Honglie as Wei Wang, Wang Xingben as Jing Wang, Wang Taizhen as Song Wang, Wang Shiyun as Qi Wang, Wang Daoxun as Lu Wang. And then the two of us plus Lang Feng, Song Mengqiu will become Four Subduing Generals, to be stationed in four principal big cities outside the Eastern Capital."
Kou Zhong suddenly saw the light.
Wang Shichong was not a capable person who could get things done; once in power, he impatiently bestowed big titles to his family and relatives. By doing this, how could he make the high-ranking military officers who have gone through fire and water with him accept wholeheartedly?
This kind of nepotism was precisely the fatal cause of Wang Shichong's future defeat.
Zhang Zhenzhou spoke ferociously, "This matter has yet been carried out, but if this become reality, it will really dull other people's heart. As a matter of fact, the reason we were able to deal a big blow on Li Mi this time, achieving splendid military success, no one rendered bigger merit than Kou Junshi, yet Daren did not utter a word about this, on the contrary, he ordered me to secretly spy on Junshi."
Kou Zhong gratefully said, "It is rare that two Great Generals have absolute confidence in me [orig. to give one's bare heart into somebody else' keeping], but presently the most critical thing is the total eradication of Wagang Army; other matters can be set aside to be dealt with in the future."
Zhang Zhenzhou and Yang Gongqing also realized that they should not be distracted by power and position arrangement in current emergency situation. Therefore, after further deliberation, they went their separate ways to handle their job.
Kou Zhong returned to the rear courtyard to look for Xu Ziling. He was talking with Tu Shufang in the pavilion.
Seeing Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling said, "I already told Fang Shu [Uncle] about Su Jie, hoping that he could persuade Da Xiaojie to wait until we rescue Su Jie, mother and son, before she meet with Su Jie."
Tu Shufang sighed and said, "When Susu meet people who are not warm and virtuous, she always make us feel distressed about her. I now have more or less understood the situation. I'll take care of Xiaojie for you. Even if I told you, you would not believe me, but in order to raise funds for troops and provision, these past few years Xiaojie has been buying and selling sheepskin clothing, and the business is very good."
Kou Zhong sat down and said, "With Fang Shu and Xuan Xiong helping her, naturally her business will grow more and more!"
"That's why I said you wouldn't believe me," Tu Shufang said, "This business is run entirely by her [orig. one hand, one foot]. Although she was using the funds left by Zhai Ye as her capital, and she employed our own people, but if not for her accurately see when the buy and when to sell, she would not be able to make big money like now."
The two boys were greatly amazed; they would never have thought that Zhai Jiao had a knack for running a business.
Tu Shufang went on, "Apart from her desire to avenge Zhai Ye, her mind and spirit are all on the business. Other than having the brains to do business, we also need to see if her fists are hard enough. Therefore, Xiaojie watches her business very tightly; as long as I advise her a little bit, she will definitely agree to patiently wait for Susu to come so that they can meet."
It was only then did they understand what Zhai Jiao meant when she said she had something to do.
Tu Shufang said, "Xuan Yong is a hard-to-come-by military talent, plus he is highly intelligent. If Xiao Zhong wants to conquer the world, he could be your left and right arms to help you."
Embarrassed, Kou Zhong blamed Xu Ziling, "You even told him that?"
Displeased, Tu Shufang said, "Why would you want to conceal it from me? A real man sets up his conduct, he must stop at nothing, don't be afraid of what other people would say. Xiao Zhong has this ambition, Fang Shu can't be happier for you!"
After a short pause, his countenance turned serious as he said, "Since Li Mi's big tree has fallen, Wagang Army surely will be falling apart. Based on your relationship with Xiaojie, plus by means of your, Kou Zhong's current prestige in Jianghu, Xiao Yong and I can be on the go to campaign for you, to recruit a team of Wagang Army's elite troops. If we focus on younger generations and run a vigorous selection process, you will have a lot of power to support your great undertaking in the future. As for money for soldier's pay, you won't have any problem."
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, "Thank you for Fang Shu's support."
With a slight sigh Tu Shufang said, "That day, when together with Xiaojie we fled in panic, the thought of revenge was without prospects, but in a flash time for Li Mi to be executed is near at hand; nothing is impossible in this world. Fang Shu has very high expectations on you."
Thereupon Kou Zhong asked him, "Weren't you used to serve under Gu Yingtai of Li Ping County's banner? What happened to this person?"
Tu Shufang shook his head and said, "That man appears to be in close relationship with Dou Jiande, even though he and Li Mi cannot exist together. It will be very difficult to persuade him to throw himself into your side. Just ignore him."
The sound of footsteps came.
The three turned to look, and saw the lucid and elegantly moving young maid Chuchu, shyly walking toward the three. While stealing a glance toward Kou Zhong, her beautiful eyes could not conceal the blissful expression.
Pleasantly surprised, Kou Zhong said, "Chuchu, when did you arrive? How come I did not know it?"
Chuchu greeted them with ten thousand good fortunes and said, "Chuchu arrived here this morning to wait on Xiaojie. Kou Ye, you are very busy, how would you know it?"
And then she told Tu Shufang that Zhai Jiao wanted to see him.
Knowing the fact about Kou Zhong and Chuchu, Xu Ziling tactfully left with Tu Shufang, to give the two an opportunity to be alone for some time.
Momentarily, this pair of a man and a woman felt as if what happened to them was a lifetime ago; there were thousand words, ten thousand speeches, but neither knew where to start.