With great difficulty Xu Ziling composed himself; nodding, he said, "We are brothers! Go ahead!"
Gui Xiliang looked a bit embarrassed; after muttering to himself irresolutely for a moment, he said, "Why do you think Xiao Zhong want me to support me to become Bangzhu? To be honest, I am very aware of my own capacity. Becoming a Hall Master is already quite remarkable; but Bangzhu? Ay!"
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, "In your heart, do you want to become Bangzhu?"
Smiling wryly, Gui Xiliang replied, "People always look to high places, water will flow to lower places; if you ask whether I want to or not, of course I do! But if name and reality don't match, it would be the same as doing arduous and thankless job."
Xu Ziling said, "If you want it, then you can do it. What you lack right now is confidence. With Kou Zhong supporting you wholeheartedly, what are you afraid of? He can't possibly harm you. You ought to know how he conducts himself. When we were little and fought with others, he never tried to sneak away first, he always stayed to the very end."
Distressed, Gui Xiliang said, "I become Bangzhu, what benefit will it be to him? Even if I become Bangzhu, there is no way I would be able to order old men like Shao Lingzhou and Shen Beichang around. Mai Yunfei will definitely set himself against me. Something that has a name but no reality like this, why would I want to become Bangzhu?"
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, "Then why didn't you tell Xiao Zhong frankly like you told me just now? If you did, you wouldn't have to be distressed over this matter!"
Gui Xiliang sighed and said, "Xiao Zhong thinks so highly of me like this, how could I disappoint him? Not to mention Shao Lingzhou already cut off my way back; I don't have any choice but to continue in spite of adversity. Ay! Am I contradicting myself?"
Xu Ziling spoke softly, "Achieving and preserving power and position has never been an easy thing. Xiao Zhong now is no longer Xiao Zhong of the past. He has a way to help you become Zhuhua Bang's Bangzhu whose name and reality match, so much so that he can put several capable people inside the Gang to help you; in turn, you support him in his great undertaking to contend for supremacy over the world. Just think! Aren't even old fox like Li Zitong and Shao Lingzhou like toys that he plays with in the palm of his hand? You may listen to Xiao Rong's opinion more; his cool-headedness and wisdom is enough to make up for your deficiency."
And then he pulled his shoulders in an embrace and said, "It's late! Take an early rest, after reaching Jiangdu tomorrow, we might encounter a lot of unexpectedly things, which will require a lot of effort on our part to deal with it."
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong hurriedly came to the main gate to welcome Liu Heita; he laughed and said, "I did not know how I was going to get in touch with Liu Dage, unexpectedly honored guest already graced us by your presence."
Liu Heita laughed aloud, he pulled Kou Zhong's arm as they stepped into the main hall, and amiably said, "It's not that you are looking for me, but I am looking for you. Currently, who in the world did not hear Kou Zhong's name and be filled with admiration?"
After being sat properly and had everybody else leave the hall, Liu Heita said, "Xia Wang [King of Xia] originally wanted to send someone else as an envoy to you, but I insisted on personally take this trip to avoid becoming estranged with my good brother. If we meet in the battlefield later on, it will be bad thing indeed!"
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, "Liu Dage need not worry, brother is brother, how could we exchange good wine and good food with soldiers and sabers to treat each other? Come! Let's drink a cup first, to wish our brotherly love to endure forever."
After the toast, Kou Zhong asked, "How's the war situation in the north? Has Li Mi surrendered to Li Shimin?"
His countenance changed, Liu Heita asked, "Is there such matter?"
After Kou Zhong gave his analysis, Liu Heita's countenance turned grave; he mused, "Li Shimin is indeed a man with far-reaching foresight. Under Li Mi's command, battle-hardened generals are like the cloud, strategic experts as thick as rain. Just this group of talents is enough to give current Li Clan's power a dramatic increase, so that they will be even more difficult to deal with."
Kou Zhong said, "Perhaps Li Mi would rather die than surrender. Ay! But Li Mi did indeed have rendered exceptional merit, perhaps he really could not bear it anymore and surrender to Li Shimin, to avoid being destroyed altogether. This possibility is not small."
Liu Heita remained silent.
Kou Zhong went on, "I hear Xu Yuanlang was beaten by you, Liu Dage, that everything was broken and in disorder. I wonder when are you going to penetrate his lair in Rencheng?"
"How could it be that simple?" Liu Heita calmly said, "Xu Yuanlang is fighting hard to recover his lost territory. The most hateful thing is that he asks for help from Gao Kaidao and Yuwen Huaji. Yuwen Huaji was defeated by Li Mi and then you, one after another; presently he is powerless to defend himself, so he might ignore this request. But Gao Kaidao has the Tujue people backing him up; himself was incomparably brave, his great general Zhang Jinshu is an expert in using cavalry, they are not to be underestimated."
Kou Zhong repeatedly recited the names Gao Kaidao and Zhang Jinshu, in his heart, to commit them into his memory. Suddenly he asked, "There is one thing I really don't understand: why did you guys pick this time to cross sword with Xu Yuanlang?"
Liu Heita shrugged his shoulders and said, "The reason is very simple: because Xu Yuanlang has always been attaching himself to Li Mi. Now that his supporter is down, we do not have misgivings anymore. I almost forget to thank you for this. Come! Let Liu Dage toast you a cup."
Wine cups clinked against each other, the fine wine was drowned into their belly.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Now I understand the meaning of 'pulling one hair and the whole body moves'. Much less Li Mi is certainly more than just a strand of hair."
Liu Heita said, "This Xu Yuanlang is the most spineless man. On one hand, he is asking for help from Gao Kaidao and Yuwen Huaji, on the other hand he is surreptitiously exchanging flirting glances with Wang Shichong; hence the situation is not entirely beneficial to us."
"Is there something that Xiaodi can do to help?" Kou Zhong muttered irresolutely.
Liu Heita cheerfully said, "As long as you are willing to do business, then it will be all right. As for the other matters, without me telling you, you might make an attempt to have a firm grasp on Wang Shichong or Du Fuwei. This will bring us great benefit."
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "Liu Dage is very straightforward. In the end, you and your Xia Wang basically do not need to fear that my Shao Shuai Army, which, alone, does not have much power, would play any trick on you."
Liu Heita calmly said, "Although currently you are one of the few people that I think highly of, but under present circumstances, it is still difficult for you to accomplish anything. Right now I do not have any doubt that it will be very difficult for me to persuade you to realign your allegiance to Dou Ye, but you must never be a hardheaded hero. Once the city of Jiangdu fell, or perhaps Wang Shichong is coming to the east, in your most critical moment, you must never forget that I, Liu Heita, am your brother, who have been through trials and tribulations, life and death situation together with you. You only need to send me a letter, I will definitely help you with all my strength. At that time we will crisscross the world side by side; won't that be delightful?"
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "Thinking about it is indeed delightful. Liu Dage is certainly a political adviser with extraordinary charm. But I do not know whether I ought to look forward to the coming of that kind of days. Anyway, back to the topic, what business brought Liu Dage here to see me?"
Liu Heita did not mince his word, "We give you warhorses and weapons, you supply us with produce and rice grain; benefiting both sides without bringing any harm."
Kou Zhong laughed involuntarily and said, "After all, your Dou Daye wishes that I can hold on for a few more days, right? Such a good offer, how can I, Kou Zhong, refuse?"
Liu Heita stretched out his big hand to shake Kou Zhong's. He said in low voice, "Be careful! Remember the saying: as long as the green mountain remains, no need to worry there won't be any firewood. I am off! I will send someone to contact you later."
Kou Zhong was stunned, "You are not going to spend the night to chat with me?" he asked.
Liu Heita helplessly replied, "I am actually in the situation where I could not spare myself to meet this appointment. How come I did not see Xiao Ling?'
Kou Zhong walked with him to the main gate, he said, "He went south. Come! Let me send you off outside the city."
Liu Heita's countenance went dark; he said, "Did he go to Baling to look for your virtuous sister?"
Kou Zhong felt as if his heart was pierced by an awl or steel needle; after hesitating for half a day, he nodded and simply replied, "Yes!"