Chapter 5 - Door Like The Market
Following Kou Zhong's request, Wang Shichong did not make Kou Zhong's arrival in the Eastern Capital public; he arranged a small courtyard at the Zeshan Lane on the south side of the city, right next to Bijin Canal, so their backyard opened into the river, with a small dock on it, where a small skiff was provided for the three men's use. If going on foot, in just the time to drink a cup of hot tea they would reach the Tianjin Bridge on the Heavenly Street connecting the north and south of the city; it term of traffic, the location was very convenient.
They tactfully declined Wang Shichong's offer to have someone come to wait upon them, they were hoping to be able to rest quietly, to recover their strength after the weariness of the journey.
Yang Gongqing personally brought food and drink, as well as new clothes, for them. After agreeing to meet the next day at the House of Dong Restaurant to have breakfast with Zhang Zhenzhou, he immediately took his leave.
After taking a bath and changed, they sat comfortably in the main hall to eat and drink and chat and laugh in total bliss.
After Kou Zhong recounting his conversation with Wang Shichong, father and sons, three men, Tuli sighed and said, "Frankly speaking, when you dealt big blow on Li Mi in the past, Shimin and I still thought that you, Kou Zhong relied on seventy-percent luck, and only thirty-percent real skill. After that you defeated Yuwen Huaji, disrupted Du and Shen coalition army, and then dealt Xiao Xian, Zhu Can and Cao Yinglong a crushing defeat, we believed you were using trick to succeed. Only after hearing how tonight you scared Wang Shichong about the strategy that Tang Army would use to attack Luoyang that I came to realize that you, Kou Zhong, are a real talent in military affairs. It is like you received Heaven's instruction, able to casually spit out strategy, which others would not be able to come up even if they think until their brains split. If Wang Shichong is willing to give the full control of the military to you, when you and Shimin Xiong are in a face off, to whom the deer falls [i.e. the victor] will remain to be seen."
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong responded, "He does not even trust his own loyal and devoted great generals, much less me?"
Xu Ziling asked, "Have you talked with him about Khan's situation?"
Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong replied, "Really strange, unexpectedly he was the one taking the initiative to bring the subject up; moreover, he was showing an unusually positive outlook. But when I proposed to have Yang Gongqing escorting Khan back to Mobei, he said that he had made other arrangement. I wonder what crooked idea this old fox is playing."
Tuli cast an admiring glance toward Xu Ziling; he then explained Xu Ziling's analysis to Kou Zhong.
Slapping his thigh, Kou Zhong said, "No matter what, Ling Shao's heart is a clear water; I had never thought that far. Wang Shichong arranged for you to leave tomorrow night. What should we do about it?"
And then he added, "No wonder he denied flatly any association with Liu Wuzhou, Song JinGang; it was precisely because he is afraid that I might grow suspicious."
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, "One time you told Wang Shichong to form an alliance with Dou Jiande, what did that old fox say about it?"
Gnashing his teeth, Kou Zhong said, "I did make insinuations and asked him, but he would not say anything. Ha! He ought to be very busy tonight! I really want to go to Rong Mansion to see how he is punishing him."
Shaking his head, Tuli said, "In Luoyang, Rong Fengxiang's power has sturdy stem and deep roots; although he still needs to rely on Wang Shichong, this moment Wang Shichong is keyed up, so how could he support him now? My guess is that Wang Shichong must be suppressing his anger temporarily; later on he will settle the account with Rong Fengxiang."
This time it was Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling's turn to have their countenance changed.
The reason Kou Zhong wanted to sow dissension in front of Wang Shichong was simply because of Rong Fengxiang, father and daughter's dubious position; not only they seemed to be Yin Gui Pai's allies, they were linked in countless ways with Yang Xuyan as well.
If Rong Fengxiang could maintain his power in Luoyang, it would only bring harm without any benefit for the two boys. Supposing he could draw Shi Zhixuan or Zhu Yuyan, these two great demonic schools' top-notch martial art masters to come to deal with them, it would be greatly disadvantageous to the two boys. They would be lying if they said that they were not afraid.
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "Khan's analysis is not without any reason. In my opinion, Wang Xuanying's infatuation toward Rong Yaonu runs deep; perhaps even this moment he is inside her fragrant and warm blanket, confiding with Rong Yaonu all our secrets."
Tuli laughed aloud and said, "Speaking about blanket and women, I am having high interest right now. I wonder if this is called 'when your belly is full, your body warm, you are think about [sexual] desire'?"
Xu Ziling raised his cup to toast him and said with a laugh, "I have no problem with drinking, but if Khan is proposing a visit to the [low-grade] brothel, please forgive Xiaodi for not able to keep you company. You may plead Shao Shuai, this brave man, who since his youth has always had big pleasure-house dream - to accompany you."
Picking up his cup, Kou Zhong feigned hurt as he said, "Does Ling Shao want to harm me? You ought to know that you and I have the same pleasure-house luck. Not a single visit to the pleasure house yields a good result, including the last time where Zhu Yaofu's trap nearly succeeded."
Amidst the laughter, the three clinked their cups and drank their fill, thinking about from the Han River to this place their journey was riddled in dangers yet they arrived here alive, which made them feel that moments like this were precious.
'Bang! Bang! Bang!'
Someone banged the outer courtyard gate, creating earth-shattering noise, especially since whoever it was banged on the door directly without using the knocker at all, so that it was extremely startling.
The three looked at each other; they could not think of anybody who would be that brazen.
A straightforward voice called out from the outside, "Qin Ye [master] Shubao is here! Why haven't you opened the door?"
And then Qin Shubao's voice said, "Old Cheng, can't you be a bit quieter? Who'd like to listen to your broken-gong-like voice?"
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly delighted. They had just opened the door, from far away Qin Shubao and another big man already leaped over the wall; their body emitted the smell of wine, and they were indescribably excited.
Rushing over the stone steps, Qin Shubao opened his arms wide like a giant roc spreading its wings and pulled the two boys tightly into his embrace, while laughing aloud and said, "Who would have thought that the two clear-headed kids without a penny to their name whom I met long time ago in the wilderness unexpectedly become the men of the moment who are able to move unhindered around the world? You, these two kids, really don't have any yiqi [spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice]; you managed to escape every day, yet you let me fell into that poniang, Shen Luoyan's hands, to be captured alive and had to work like an ox, to work like a horse for her?"
Seeing this brave man, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling's blood were boiling as well; they also hugged him back and slapped his shoulders, as if only by hugging each other like that would they be able to express the fire in their hearts. The former said with a laugh, "We have the desire but lack the power to proceed. But we already pulled your boss down, isn't that the same as letting you escape from the abyss of suffering?"
The man who came with Qin Shubao impatiently grumbled, "Laozi came with you here instead of sleeping with a woman in my arms, but you are engrossed in talking about former times instead of introducing me; his granny, you are not a good friend."
Letting the two boys go, Qin Shubao frowned and said, "I told you I wanted to come alone, but you insisted on coming with me. Xiao Zhong, Xiao Ling, this is Cheng Yaojin who defeated ten thousand enemies with five hundred troops."
The two boys had heard his name many times; they had profound impression toward him. First of all, his name was strange, so that it was easy to remember, secondly, he was a famous fierce general, so they already knew him by his reputation.
Focusing their attention on him, they saw this man was sturdy and muscular, his physique was like an iron tower, his upper arms wide, his waist round, his face was rather ugly, but it exuded a deep sincerity and straightforwardness, so that his overall appearance was quite pleasant.
Dissatisfied, Cheng Yaojin said, "I have changed my name to Cheng Zhijie, no longer Cheng Yaojin; watch out or I'll beat your stinky mouth."
While Qin Shubao was roaring in laughter, Cheng Yaojin stretched out his thick and solid palm to shake hands with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, while cheerfully said, "I love to make friends with heroes and towering figures the most. Old Qin has repeatedly told me about how he met you; today finally we can meet each other! Come! Let's go for a drink!"
Tuli appeared from the main door; he said with a laugh, "If you want to drink, why don't you come inside?"
Three rounds of wine later, the atmosphere was blazing even hotter. Five men felt familiarity at first sight; enhanced by a few cups of yellow soup going down their belly, there were not enough words to be said to each other, all misgivings were thrown out the window.
Cheng Yaojin laughed and said to Tuli, "I actually don't like you guys, Tujue Dazi, but seeing how you spit words easily, plus you are Xiao Ling and Xiao Zhong's brother, while also remembering that Dazi are just like us, Han people, where there are good and bad people, there are gentlemen and vile characters, I am willing to sit down and drink with you. Who would have thought that the more I look at you, the more pleasing to the eye you are? Let me toast you, LaoGe one cup."
Tuli did not know whether he ought to laugh or to cry. Smiling wryly, he accepted his toast. Fortunately Tuli was also most appreciative toward this kind of straightforward, tough guy who did not mince his words; hence he did not take offense.
Qin Shubao served the meat and vegetable dishes into everybody's bowl, and said with a laugh, "Just now this fellow Old Cheng and I went to the [low-grade] brothel for some fun, but when each of us had a girl tightly in our arms, Yang Gongqing's messenger came to notify us that the three of you had just arrived. Since I have enough yiqi, I immediately retreat bravely from the torrent to come here to see you guys."
Sneering, Cheng Yaojin said, "I clearly heard you from the neighboring room, in less than three rounds you already lay down the flag and still the drums; what horn are you tooting?"
Qin Shubao responded with a straight face, "Turns out you were only listening without doing anything. No wonder when knocking on the door your temper was boiling."
While everybody was laughing their head off, Qin Shubao sighed and said, "Tonight we must enjoy his mother's fun, because by dusk tomorrow, Old Cheng and I received order to escort somebody going to Bei Jiang [North of Xinjiang]. It is very unfortunate."
Kou Zhong sobered up immediately. He exchanged a glance with Xu Ziling and Tuli.
"Don't you know whom you are going to escort?" Tuli asked in heavy voice.
Seeing the unusual expression on the three men's face, Cheng Yaojin said in astonishment, "Wang Shichong said that just before we set off, he will tell us the route up north we must take, and whom we are going to escort. What's wrong?"
Qin Shubao added, "We received the imperial order from the Crown Prince Xuanying this evening, telling us to report to the headquarters tomorrow to await orders and set off. Thinking about the lonely journey, we decided to take advantage of the time we have tonight to have some fun."
"What is your impression on Wang Shichong?" Xu Ziling asked.
Cheng Yaojin replied in disdain, "He is worse than Li Mi, that kid Wang Xuanying is not like a human being even more. Thinking about him made me angry."
"Has anybody come to persuade you to abandon Wang Shichong lately?" Kou Zhong asked.
Stunned, Qin Shubao said, "How did you know? Shen Luoyan did come to Luoyang, lobbying us to rejoin Li Mi, but we declined. This matter ought to be confidential."
Xu Ziling sighed and said, "Of course you would not speak up, but Shen Luoyan deliberately leaked it out to force you to rebel. This is called driving-wedge-between-allies scheme."
Cheng Yaojin was furious, "Shen Luoyan is really despicable," he roared.
Kou Zhong said, "Wang Shichong is an even bigger [email protected], because he wanted to kill you guys."
Cheng Yaojin and Qin Shubao were stunned.
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Tuli said, "The person Wang Shichong wanted you to escort is precisely the insignificant Zaixia. This is called lending somebody a knife to kill someone, the knife happens to belong to Liu Wuzhou and Song JinGang."
Kou Zhong was about to explain, when a woman's voice came from the dock behind the rear courtyard, "Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, get the hell out here for me."
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "Ling Shao, you slowly explain to two LaoGe, I need to console Li Dage's good wife for him; just consider I have enough yiqi!"
Hong Funu looked a bit thinner, but she still looked bright. Standing at the top of the stone steps extending toward the river, she stared at Kou Zhong with a gaze that was as cold as frost and snow. "Where is Li Jing?" she asked heavily.
Inwardly Kou Zhong was speechless; knowing her fiery temper, if he was not careful, they might end up fighting, while he knew clearly that he must not injure her. Facing her whisk, in which her mastery that has reached perfection, was definitely very difficult. [Reminder: Hong Funu literally means red brush/whisk lady] Thereupon he hastily smiled apologetically and said, "Dasao's [big sister-in-law] information is indeed fast and abundant. We had just arrived here, our butts have not even warmed the chairs yet, you already knew and came here to look for us. Pity we still think that our whereabouts is a secret."
Sneering, Hong Funu said, "Don't call me Dasao; if you are really Li Jing's brother, you can't possibly implicate him so that he would not obey Qin Wang's order and cross a thousand mountains and ten thousand rivers to look for you, these two fellows who believe yourselves infallible."
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, "Who believes oneself infallible? Hey! I didn't say that you, Dasao …"
Hong Funu cut him off, "Less nonsense. Where actually is Li Jing?" she asked.
Kou Zhong hastily explained his encounter with Li Jing.
Hong Funu was clearly relieved; her gaze softened a little. She stared fixedly at him, sizing him up and down a couple of time. An amazed look flashed through her eyes; using a milder tone she said, "You knew that cooperating with Wang Shichong is like conspiring with a tiger to get its skin. Wasn't it enough to learn your lesson like last time?"
Kou Zhong humbly nodded his head and said, "Dasao's lesson is right; we will be careful!"
Hong Funu's voice turned gentle, she spoke sincerely and earnestly, "In present situation, your desire to enter Chang'an secretly is more difficult than ascending into the Heaven. Taking out a large quantity of articles and weaponry under Crown Prince Jiancheng's all-out guarding against you is even more difficult above difficult. Ay! What should I say so that you would be willing to dispel this idea? Qin Wang has always been regarding you as intimate close friend, and it hasn't changed even until now, yet you put him in a spot where he has no room to advance or to retreat, and you make your Dage cannot sleep peacefully at night."
Kou Zhong sighed and said, "This is called everybody has his own aspiration. If I had a choice, how could I wish for Shimin Xiong as en enemy? But if Xiao Ling and I can really snatch the treasure and go back under Jiancheng, Yuanji's blank stare, it would only bring benefit to Qin Wang without any harm."
Hong Funu's countenance turned cold; she spoke indifferently, "Are you still so arrogant that you think you could create a miracle again? I hear that just the collection of books in the treasure is already more than a dozen carts; weapons are in tens of thousands. Even if nobody is paying attention and the city gate is wide open, I am afraid that one day is not enough to transport all that many stuffs, yet you still think that you could steal the treasure and slip away; aren't you just being carried away by your wishful thinking? Even if you could infiltrate Chang'an with the-gods-do-not-know-the-ghosts-do-not-perceive, you would eventually reveal your track, and in the end it would only lead you to your death."
Kou Zhong cheerfully said, "I know that Dasao meant well, but I am the kind of person who, the more impossible it is, the more interested I am to try; otherwise, I would not have defeated Li Mi, and until now I have not given up my little life."
Hong Funu stared at him blankly for half a day; suddenly she hung her head low and softly said, "Listening to the tone of your voice, it does not seem like you still harbor a grudge against your Li Dage?"
Remembering Susu, Kou Zhong's heart ached, he said dejectedly, "Why should I hate him? Su Jie already left this mortal life!"
Hong Funu's tender body slightly shook, "Susu is dead?" she blurted out.
Kou Zhong did not want to talk about Susu, he said, "You can ask Li Dage on the details. In my opinion, he must be in town. Dasao, please advise him to return to Chang'an! Ask him not to pay attention to us anymore."
Hong Funu wanted to say something but then hesitated; in the end she left without saying anything.
When he returned to the hall, the four men stopped talking, their eyes fell on Kou Zhong's heavy expression. Kou Zhong sat down and forced a laugh, "She has left!" he said.
"How did she know we are here?" Tuli asked.
Shaking his head, Kou Zhong replied, "She didn't say, but it looks like our so-called secret nest is actually known to everyone, the problem is that our arrival was too publicized. Hey! What bird were you talking about?"
His vulgar language made Cheng Yaojin's mood soaring high; with coarse voice and rough emotion he said, "His granny's useless; that muddled ruler Wang Shichong has the impertinence to harm Laozi, I will make him bag his food before he finished eating."
Tuli laughed and said, "I made the decision that I am not leaving."
"What?" Kou Zhong blurted out.
"Khan is just joking," Qin Shubao said, "Old Cheng and I have decided to come with Khan to his native place to take a look, to study why their riding tactics are more formidable than ours."
Feeling relieved, Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Khan is not afraid these two fellows stealing your secret and in the future use it against you?"
Tuli proudly said, "There are things that cannot be stolen."
Xu Ziling was afraid Cheng Yaojin would refuse to concede and would argue; he promptly changed the subject, "We decided to beat them at their own game; two LaoGe might seize this opportunity to leave Wang Shichong, and they won't turn back."
Qin Shubao told Kou Zhong, "Didn't you establish something like Shao Shuai Army? In my opinion, you'd better disband it. Under present situation, no matter how you, Kou Zhong, are an outstanding hero, your intelligence and courage surpasses other, you can only accompany the Crown Prince studying, you won't be able to accomplish anything. In the south, only Jiangdu could withstand for a while."
Nobody expected that Qin Shubao would suddenly launch a surprise attack and speak candidly. They all quieted down to see how Kou Zhong would react.
Qin Shubao was a famous general, proficient in strategy and the art of war; naturally his opinion carried some weight. At the same time, he also made clear that although he and Cheng Yaojin were leaving Wang Shichong, they could not possibly join Kou Zhong's Shao Shuai Army just for friendship's sake.
Kou Zhong calmly said, "Let's just wait and see!"
Cheng Yaojin forcefully slapped Kou Zhong's shoulder; he rose up to his full height and said, "Good kid, you have guts."
Qin Shubao also laughed and stood up; he said, "Due to Khan's matter, it is inappropriate for us to stay long; plus Old Cheng and I both have brothers who will live and die together with us to accompany us, so we need time to make arrangements."
Another knock came from the courtyard gate. Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, "This is called our door is like the marketplace."
Tuli got up and said, "I'll take them out from the waterway at the back, you and Ziling go see who's coming."
Everybody went their separate ways.
Kou Zhong went to the west gate alone. He had just opened the courtyard gate, a powerful burst of energy, which made Kou Zhong's breathing stopped, came from a punch assaulting his face.
Kou Zhong roared, while also sending a punch out. Two streams of punch wind collided, creating a loud bang.
 Cheng Yaojin (589-665) is a real historical character, a general of the Tang dynasty.
 Dazi, Tatar, a tribe in China, but it could be used to refer to any non-Han ethnicity.