Chapter 9 - Using Battle To Raise Battle
The three slept soundly in a hidden place outside the city waiting for the dusk before climbing over the wall to enter the city. They selected a restaurant at random to have a big dinner, while discussing about their plan at the same time.
Tuli said to Xu Ziling, who had become Gong Chenchun, and Kou Zhong, who had become the ugly man with yellow face, "To verify what I told you earlier is not difficult at all. I can perform a test, and then we'll know whether Xieli and Zhao Deyan really betrayed me."
The two boys found it very interesting; hurriedly they asked him what he had in mind.
Tuli said, "To ascertain the situation in the Central Plains, we setup intelligence network in all major cities. Most of them use business as their cover. Jingling also has such person, a Han who is taking his order from Zhao Deyan. As long as I can find him and tell him to arrange my return to Guanzhong in secret, we'll see whether my whereabouts can be kept confidential. By this, we'll know whether Zhao Deyan really wanted to kill me or not."
Kou Zhong nodded his agreement. He said, "This can be considered a good method," he noted.
Xu Ziling asked, "That day, how did Khan manage to slip away from Chang'an with the gods unaware, the ghosts did not perceive?"
Tuli smiled and said, "Ziling Xiong's thinking is very thorough. I understand why you ask that question; you want to know whether there is a spy from Xieli and Zhao Deyan's side among the men who came with me to the Central Plains. Am I right?"
Slightly embarrassed, Xu Ziling said, "I did not think it was appropriate to ask you directly!"
Tuli candidly said, "Since we have agreed to cooperate sincerely, there is no need to stand on ceremony. Although I, Tuli, do not have deep knowledge of the two gentlemen, and in our first encounter we were standing on the opposite sides, but I already have the desire to be acquainted with you, confident that two gentlemen are heroes. Otherwise, I would never propose cooperation with you."
Delighted, Kou Zhong said, "In that case, I will be even more frank and blunt to you. About Khan leaving Guanzhong, how did you hide it from your old friend Li Shimin?"
Tuli replied, "I did not intend to hide it from him for a long time. I only need to conceal the time of my departure from him. Among the men who came with me, there was a certain man named Kang Qiaoli [lit. sharp scabbard]; both in terms of resourcefulness and martial art skill, he the best in his class, not inferior to Xiaodi at all [probably there is missing text here]. The entire operation was arranged by him. Were it not for him telling me that Lian Rou's natural disposition is passionate and that I might win her fragrant heart, Xiaodi would not personally come and thus fell into the trap."
It was only then did the two boys realize there were such twists and turns in this matter.
Kou Zhong asked, "How did you come in contact with Zhu Yuyan?"
Tuli replied, "Naturally it was Zhao Deyan who acted as the go-between. With Yin Gui Pai, I've only been in contact with Qian Duguan and Bian Bufu. Other things, Kang Qiaoli was the one responsible for it. He was Xieli's trusted aide, but his relationship with me was not bad either. Were it not for things like encountering Yun Shuai, I would never have doubted him. As for how he could get Yun Shuai to agree to collude with him, I still have not figured it out. Based on Yun Shuai's style, he is not someone who can be exploited by others."
Xu Ziling said, "Have Khan heard about An Long, the fat assistant who stands side by side with Zhao Deyan among the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Demonic Schools?"
Tuli slowly shook his head, his eyes expressed his desire to hear more.
After brief explanation, Xu Ziling said, "Not only An Long worked together with Lian Rou, he also has close relationship with Zhu Can, father and daughter. If An Long and Kang Qiaoli exchanged information in secret, Khan's every movement would be within Yun Shuai's grasp. And Yun Shuai would think that An Pangzi [fat] possesses great magical power; he would never know that he had fallen into Xieli and Zhao Deyan's malicious scheme of borrowing someone's knife to kill somebody."
Tuli was dumbfounded for half a day. He finally understood. Smiling wryly, he said, "If Ziling Xiong did not tell me, perhaps even if I think until my brain split I would not be able to see through this crucial point."
Kou Zhong, who had been deep in thought, suddenly acted like he had just awakened. "I wonder if Khan knows your contact in here?" he asked, "How does he exchange information with Kang Qiaoli, who was far away in Guanzhong?"
Tuli replied, "Using sparrow hawks that were bred in our humble country and underwent a long training; they can fly a number of li in a day, and can transmit information quickly. We are not afraid they would be killed by other predator birds, and they can't be shot down. Moreover, they can recognize people from high altitude. They are our best helper in the battlefield."
Emotionally moved, Kou Zhong said, "Unexpectedly there is such formidable flat-haired beast. Can it get lost along the way?"
Tuli seriously replied, "There's a special technique to train the sparrow hawks, nobody has more expertise than we do. If they cannot even identify mountains, plains, and rivers, how could they be worthy of the praise that they could communicate with us? It's a pity that we carry our ancestors' admonition not to impart the secret of training the hawks to anybody else; otherwise, I could reveal one or two things to Shao Shuai."
Kou Zhong's thoughts wandering far away, he said, "Khan ought to consider whether you should go against your ancestor's admonition."
Tuli laughed, but did not say anything.
Displeased, Xu Ziling said, "Wasn't Shao Shuai's original intention to study the hawk's capability?"
Kou Zhong cleared his throat. Pointing to his noggin, he said, "This natural cognitive ability is just too rich; it could very easily wander 108,000 li away."
And then, putting on a deadly earnest expression, he said, "Even if a sparrow hawk could fly a thousand li in a day, going back and forth, it will need at least two days and two nights! If Kang Qiaoli determined to kill Khan, this method is neither practical nor feasible. Because by the time An Long found out that Khan is in Jingling, Khan would have already been two days away. Am I right?"
Tuli nodded, "It should be so," he said.
Full of confidence, Kou Zhong analyzed, "Didn't Khan say that Zhao Deyan might have sneaked into the Central Plains? If their only target is to kill Khan, then there is a good chance that Khan might be the fisherman luring the fish out with bait, the guest acts as host, and have him killed. But to do this, there will be prerequisite, which is you have to solve the problem of Yun Shuai and Zhu Can's joint-army pursuing troops first, so that we won't fall into the inferior position where we have to face the enemy in two fronts."
Knitting his brows, Tuli said, "I absolutely agree with the first half of Shao Shuai's analysis. Because in the event that Zhao Deyan and Kang Qiaoli are lurking somewhere nearby, they would want to make sure that I meet with calamity before they would feel at ease. We will have a very good chance of luring him out, for example by closely monitoring the spy's activities, to see who he is communicating with, et cetera, to track them down one by one, until we find them all. But why do you want a new branch growing out of a knot by provoking the men from Yun Shuai's side?"
Kou Zhong smiled and said, "The reason is very simple; nobody knows better than you do about Zhao Deyan's style and strength. How much does Khan think our chance of killing Zhao Deyan is?"
Tuly smiled wryly and said, "Not even half a percent. Even within our humble nation's borders, Zhao Deyan always has four Han martial art masters by his side waiting on him. All four are his Shidi [martial (younger) brother] of the same school; they are inseparable as form and shadow. Although I, the 'Tornado', am conceited, but upon self-examination, I know that I won't be able to withstand any two of them joining hands. If we add Kang Qiaoli into the equation, we will be extremely lucky if we could engage them in desperate battle until both sides suffer, not to mention he ought to have other martial art masters accompanying him. Furthermore, there is a fatal flaw in this plan, which practically will not work."
Remaining tranquil and calm, Xu Ziling said, "Is it the problem with the hawks?"
Amazed, Tuli said, "How did Ziling Xiong get it in only one guess?"
Xu Ziling said, "Didn't Khan just say that sparrow hawks can recognize people from high altitude? If Zhao Deyan uses hawks in place of dogs to guard the door, we will never be able to use assassination method to deal with Zhao Deyan. It was because Zhong Shao had thought about this point that he proposed to beat them at their own game: first we dispose of Yun Shuai, then turn around to stake it all against Zhao Deyan."
A reverence expression rose up in Tuli's eyes; he solemnly said, "No wonder two Laoxiong are able to move unhindered across the world without falling down, absolutely with intelligence and capability, without the stupidity with which Tuli is capable of conceiving."
But then he wondered aloud, "Please forgive Xiaodi for speaking bluntly; two gentlemen are taking this odd risk for Xiaodi's sake, but as long as Xiaodi can flee back to Guanzhong, there will be a way to save my life."
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, "If Khan reacted like this by shrinking your head back, the enemy would become more aggressive, so it is not going to be a long-term solution to your problem. In my opinion, you are fleeing back to Guanzhong is not a way out at all; instead, you must return to the support of your clansmen, and then Xieli will be unable to deal with you."
Tuli sighed and said, "I am not afraid of the head, terrified of the tail at all. Rather, I am fully aware that two gentlemen's situation is a hundred, a thousand times more perilous than Tuli's. If your track is exposed, you will attract heavy siege and interception from Guanzhong's martial art masters under Li Yuanji's command; how could Tuli go that easily? Have you ever heard the phrase 'see the light and die' [see previous chapter]?"
This was greatly beyond Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling's expectation; it had never occurred to them that this Tujue royalty, who on the surface seemed to be utilitarian and unscrupulous, could be this affectionate and true, and had consideration for other people.
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Actually, we have been thinking about all kinds of method to enter Guanzhong. Openly will not work, secretly also hard to pass. Therefore, we thought about a clever opening-the-heaven way, called 'using battle to raise battle'."
Surprised, Tuli asked, "What is 'using battle to raise battle'?"
But Kou Zhong slapped the table and said with a sigh, "Worthy to be my good xiongdi indeed; no need for me to say it out, you already see through what's in my mind completely, plus creating a wonderful, ultimate trick in the art of war that the world chases after. Ha! 'Using battle to raise battle'. Based on these four-character [yi zhan yang zhan] true statement, we will have a chance to sneak into Guanzhong."
Although toward this 'using battle to raise battle', Tuli seemed to understand, yet not exactly understand, he deeply felt the tacit understanding and trust between the two, which, to him who grew up in the middle of power struggle and internal conflict environment, was extremely touching and shocking at the same time.
Looking at Tuli, Xu Ziling said, "Currently, the men and horses who want to deal with both Khan and us can be counted as four groups of people with enough weight. Khan already knows about Zhao Deyan, Yun Shuai, and Li Yuanji, three groups. Any one of them have enough power to wipe us out. But if they meet each other, due to these three sides do not get along with each other, so much so that they are suspicious and jealous of each other, we can create all kinds of subtle circumstances, exploit their contradictory views to create conflict. This is more or less the strategy behind 'using battle to raise battle', to use clever tactic to preserve our heart and soul."
Kou Zhong reached out and put his hand on Tuli's shoulder; acting mysterious, he leaned forward and said, "The so-called 'the more the troops go into battle, the braver they will be' is the fundamental spirit of 'using battle to raise battle', i.e. we are going to borrow these large quantities of opponent dropping by our door to help us cultivating our skill in the martial art way. Nothing in the world is more convenient than this; am I right?"
Tuli could feel Kou Zhong's cordial support to him. The blood coursing through his body was originally that of the brave and fierce blood of the tribes beyond the Great Wall; hearing the arousing ten-thousand zhang heroic sentiment in Kou Zhong's words, his spirit arose, he said, "Very well! Only this moment I, Tuli, understand what is called outstanding hero. Even if I have to go through the mountain of sabers and a cauldron of oil with two gentlemen, I, Tuli, will be honored to accompany you to the end."
And then he asked Xu Ziling, "Which group is the other one?"
Kou Zhong answered on his behalf, "It's Shi Feixuan Xianzi [fairy] and the Four Baldheads representing the strongest of the strong within the Buddhist schools! Sorry! It ought to be the Four Great Holy Monks."
Tuli blew out a mouthful of cold air, his heroic spirit immediately went down one notch. Emotionally moved, he said, "Are they the Four Great Holy Monks, who, in the past, beat Shi Zhixuan that he ran away to the wilderness?"
Astonished, Kou Zhong said, "Your news is surely fast and abundant."
Tuli said, "We always pay attention to the affairs of the Central Plains, how could we miss such an important matter?"
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, "In that case, I was wondering if Khan knew Shi Zhixuan's other identity?"
Surprised, Tuli asked, "What identity?"
Kou Zhong replied, "He was the Sui Court's You Guang Lu Tai Fu [honorific title during Tang to Qing times, approx. Right Glorious Grand Master], Hu Bei Fan Junshi [Military Advisor Protector of the Foreign (non-Chinese) North] Pei Ju."
"What?" Tuli cried out.
The two boys sighed inwardly. The most formidable aspect of Shi Zhixuan was his skill to hide his secret identity. Not only this man was unrivalled in his demonic skill, his literary talent was also out of ordinary. Otherwise, how could he produce the three-volume 'Maps and Notes on the Western Regions'? Were it not for Cao Yinglong betraying him, perhaps until today nobody would have guessed that Shi Zhixuan and Pei Ju were actually one person.
Xu Ziling said, "We are increasingly suspecting that Zhao Deyan and Shi Zhixuan are colluding in secret, because An Long has always been loyal and devoted to Shi Zhixuan, without Shi Zhixuan's consent, how could An Pangzi be willing to obey Zhao Deyan's order?"
His countenance changed, Tuli said, "This is a very serious matter. Pei Ju is our mortal enemy. When I get back, I will definitely ask Wuzun [i.e. Bi Xuan], the Senior, to preside over justice for us. My father, Shibi Khan's last words were to have Pei Ju's head as a sacrificial offering for him."
Kou Zhong excitedly said, "If this time Shi Zhixuan is coming to join the fun, it will be splendid beyond compare!"
Infected by the two boys' fearing-nothing-in-Heaven-or-Earth spirit, plus he himself was a man with lofty spirit, with bravery to promote martial spirit, he immediately threw away what little hesitation remaining in his heart. Excitedly, but with a low voice, he asked, "What do we do now?"
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Good kid! There's no need to be afraid of those Xianzi and Holy Monks, right?"
All over his body, Tuli's blood was boiling; after cursing using Tujue people's cuss words, he resolutely said, "Such a delightful matter is hard to come by, difficult to encounter; if I still want to miss it, then I am an absolute idiot."
Kou Zhong whispered something to his ear. After a moment, Tuli delightedly left.
After Tuli was out of sight, the two boys you-look-at-me, I-gaze-at-you, they were overwhelmed with the excitement of at-one’s-darkest-hour, glimmer-of-hope [lit. the willow trees make the shade, the flowers give the light], a place of charm and beauty [idiom: a completely different world].
Kou Zhong poured Xu Ziling a cup of wine, and said with a laugh, "Using battle to raise battle, it's lucky that you came up with that. Our trip to Guanzhong this time has become one kind of enjoyment."
And then he added, "Do you think Tuli, this kid is reliable?"
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, "He always reminds me of Old Ba. Tujue people are braver, more aggressive and ruthless than Han people, not easy to make friends, but once we could make heart-to-heart friendship with them, they ought to be more reliable than us, Han people."
Kou Zhong nodded his agreement. After pondering for a moment, he said, "Just now when we walked pass the pier, I noticed that the ships casting anchor outside the city, not one flew the Li Clan's banner. If Li Xiuning is long gone, we miss a golden opportunity."
"It's really hard to say," Xu Ziling replied, "If your beauty wanted to keep her movement a secret, naturally they can't possibly hang their banner to attract other people's eyes. Honestly, after learning the lesson from their predecessor, even if we can catch up with her, we absolutely will not have any chance of hiding inside her ship."
Naturally, by saying 'learning the lesson from their predecessor', he was referring to Li Mi's attempt to kidnap Li Xiuning at the Flying Horse Ranch last time. Therefore, not only Li Xiuning would have to keep her itinerary confidential, she had to have a large number of martial art masters to escort and protect her. The precaution must be very heavy, so that she could do her lobbying work safely.
Under this kind of situation, thinking about hitching a ride on her ship was like lunatic ravings.
Kou Zhong lightly shrugged his shoulders, while assuming a don't-care attitude. His eyes swept the thinly spread customers in the restaurant, with a rather far-away expression on his face, he said, "People are indeed highly mobile. I remember the time Jingling city was broken, this big city was like a ghost domain. Although the prosperity nowadays cannot surpass the past, but people are coming and going, which is more like it."
Xu Ziling said, "Jingling is, after all, an important major city; it holds a dominant position in controlling the water and land transportation, plus the natural resources are rich and fertile. To the common people, as long as they can find life here, they don't care who rule over it."
Kou Zhong raised his cup and said with a laugh, "Well said! Let Xiaodi toast Gong Ye a cup."
Xu Ziling did not raise his cup. Looking down at the clear, pure wine inside the cup, he said, "What worries me the most is still the men from Shi Feixuan's side. She gives me the feeling that they are going to use some kind of deceit, which, in itself, is an immoral conduct."
"I certainly understand," Kou Zhong said, "Otherwise, after stealing something that day, you did not need to bring a bramble and ask for punishment [idiom: to offer a humble apology] by showing yourself and apologize to her. But this time she is coming to deal with us, we are merely unwilling to submit and acting in self-defense!"
Without any choice, Xu Ziling said, "Right now we can only take one step at a time. But I have a feeling that before Li Yuanji's troops bump against the nail, Shi Feixuan can't possibly make her move rashly. Because the person she chose is not Li Jiancheng, but Li Shimin. She wanted to borrow our hands to frustrate Li Jiancheng's prestige. To her, it would be the best thing she can do in the circumstances."
Kou Zhong said, "The fairy has her own fairy strategy, how could we, mere mortals, imagine it? The contradiction in her heart can't possibly less than ours, simply because the initiative is in her hands. Hey! Can I ask you a question?"
Wary, Xu Ziling said, "If it has anything to do with feelings between two persons, we'd better just drink our wine!" And he raised his cup.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Escape is definitely not a panacea. It shows that you don't dare to face yourself. Come! Let's dry this cup first."
The cups were dried in one gulp by the two boys.
By this time, most of the restaurant guests have had their stomach filled and have already left, intoxicated, leaving only the two and the guests around another table, so it was a bit of desolate feeling.
Xu Ziling sighed and said, "Other than that doghouse in Yangzhou that gave us a bit of 'home' feeling, we have never had a home."
Surprised, Kou Zhong said, "Are you thinking of getting married? But compared to me, you don't seem to have that kind of desire."
Xu Ziling replied, "It's not that I long for a safe and happy nest with a tender wife and lovely children like everybody else, I just wish that when I am tired of wandering I have a safe and quiet place where I can hide."
His thoughts wandering far away, Kou Zhong said, "A tender wife is not bad either. No matter how bad the torrential rain and the harsh wind on the outside, her warm, sweet-smelling and clean quilt will always be the best refuge. Ay!"
Noticing the gentle and soft expression in Kou Zhong's eyes, Xu Ziling asked in low voice, "Are you thinking of your Miss Yuzhi?"
Kou Zhong woke up with a start. His eyes resumed his penetrating gaze, he asked in heavy voice, "Supposing both Shi Qingxuan and Shi Feixuan are willing to live in harmony with you, Ling Shao, how are you going to choose?"
Trembling slightly, Xu Ziling said, "Finally you still cannot help raising this question. Let me be frank with you! I will never want to make that choice."
Kou Zhong nodded his understanding. Rising to his full height, he said, "Let's go! Starting tomorrow, we will be very busy!"
 Best in class, orig. 上上之选 during that time, officers were listed as candidate by local government and appointed by the court; famous candidates were rank as high, middle, low, 3 types, and each type also have high, middle, low, 3 grades, so there was a total of nine grades. 上上之选 means choice of high (grade) in high (type), or in modern term, AA. (Courtesy of Akolaw)