Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan - Book 52 Chapter 11 – The Path Exhausted, The End of The Road

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Book 52 Chapter 11 – The Path Exhausted, The End of The Road


Translator: Foxs' Wuxia


That very night, Kou Zhong mobilized his troops, he personally led three-thousand-man cavalry to travel all through the night, to take advantage of the Tang Army’s battle formation has not steadied their footing yet, and their main force has not arrived, to launch surprise attack on Li Shiji’s vanguard troops. He adopted the Tujue people’s battle tactics in the wilderness, coming like a whirlwind, attacking the enemy from four sides, eight directions, to make the Tang Army face up the attack and meet it in a hurry; with the injuries and deaths disastrous, they would be forced to pull back.


At the same time, Chen Laomou, in company with two hundred construction battalion soldiers, under escort of the troops under Chen Changlin’s command, rushed to Luoyang in secret.


The next morning, Li Shiji’s main force army started to arrive via water and land, two routes. Kou Zhong raised his whole army to meet them; he split his troops to launch frontal assault toward Li Shiji’s army both on land and water. The fierce battle went on all day long, both sides suffered injuries and deaths. While neither side yielded, Bai Wenyuan, with approximately five-thousand-man cavalry rushed over from Donghai and promptly entered the battle. In the end, Li Shiji was unable to withstand, so he pulled back his army and regrouped his disposition of troops on a hilltop about twenty li away from Chenliu. Kou Zhong did not have any spare energy left to seize the opportunity to pursue and attack either; he pulled his army back into the city, momentarily the danger on Chenliu was resolved.


By the time Kou Zhong and his men were evaluating the battle just now, Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling led their cavalry to go out to attack from the Changxia Gate again, to mount a sneak attack to the besieging-the-city army trying to rebuild the camp on the highland.


Although this time Li Yuanji came prepared, it was still testing-the-water in nature, to see how the city-defenders army would react. Since the last defeat was still fresh in their mind, the Tang Army’s morale was quite low. Even though the besieging-the-city army’s military strength was more than double that of the defending-the-city army, because they were afraid that they might lose other camp position to the enemy, after engaging Ba and Xu’s cavalry in battle for half a sichen, Li Yuanji pulled back his troops.


Ba and Xu did not dare to pursue and attack, afraid that the left and right, two camps might send their troops to strike, hence they were unable to expand the outcome of the battle. Actually, they had their ambitions elsewhere; their objective was to receive Chen Laomou and his two hundred construction battalion soldiers from Chen Changlin’s hands, and escorted them into the city. Upon successful completion of his mission, Chen Changlin withdrew and rushed back to Chenliu.


After entering the city, Yang Gongqing, Ma Chang, Chen Laomou, Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling gathered at a house in the south of the city to have secret discussion, while their people made arrangement to settle the two hundred construction battalion soldiers into their temporary residence.


Everybody sat around the table. Finished hearing Chen Laomou explaining the grand plan to dig the tunnel, Yang Gongqing said with a frown, “Should we inform Wang Shichong on this matter?”


“Absolutely not,” Chen Laomou replied, “The tunnel is purely for our use to get away in time of crisis. Wang Shichong, this man has shown over and over that he is paranoid. If we let him know about this plan, the consequences would be hard to fathom.”


Ba Fenghan nodded and said, “Not only we must not let the people on Wang Shichong’s side know about this, we must also conceal it from our troops, so as not to affect the soldiers’ heart, knowing that we don’t see Dou Jiande as having good prospects.”


Ma Chang spoke in heavy voice, “Wang Shichong set up listening wells everything around the city, surely the sound of us digging the tunnel cannot be hidden from him.”


Tunnel warfare was one of the methods to besiege a city; it could both destroy the enemy’s city wall, and could let the soldiers pass through to enter the city and mount a sneak attack. The method that the city defenders used to deal with it was by digging wells in key positions around the city and install pottery amplifier inside to act as listening device, to monitor the underground activity. In Chang’an that year, when Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling entered the Duke Yang’s Treasure-trove, they were detected by Li Yuanji using this kind of listening method that they nearly ruined the enterprise for the sake of one basketful.


Xu Ziling said, “Currently the south of the city is under our control, I wonder if we could take over the ground monitoring operation, so that we won’t have to worry that Wang Shichong would discover it?”


Ma Chang nodded and said, “Our position is stronger than Wang Shichong. If Yang Gong insists, Wang Shichong could only concede, but inevitably it would provoke his suspicions.”


Ba Fenghan said, “Although the south of the city is the only place where the tunnel can be excavated, we still must be careful in undertaking the task, because since we can monitor the underground activity, the enemy can also monitor us in return.”


Yang Gongqing nodded and said, “During the Battle of Guandu in the Three Kingdoms period [c. 199 AD, the battle that established Cao Cao’s domination over north China], Yuan Shao dug a tunnel to attack Cao Cao, but Cao Cao discovered it, he excavated a horizontal, long trench inside the city to strike back.”


Chen Laomou cheerfully said, “Gentlemen can rest assured that my tunnel method came from Lu Miaozi’s authentic teaching. He designed the excavation tool using drilling style to extract mud, so that the monitor within three zhang distance are totally unaware. That was how the Duke Yang’s Treasure-trove was excavated.”


Everybody was greatly delighted. They discussed the details on how to carry out this operation properly. Because the south of the city was under the full control of the Shao Shuai Army, the process of digging out the soil and so on should not be a problem.


Finally, Yang Gongqing asked, “When does Chen Gong expect the tunnel to be completed?”


Chen Laomou replied, “I intend to dig three parallel long tunnels leading to about half li away from the destroyed high camp within a month. The exit will be in the sparse forest. In time of emergency, we could use it to quickly withdraw.”


So that was what they decided.


Over the next ten days or so, there were frequent battles on both the Luoyang and Chenliu battlefronts.


On Luoyang’s side, the city-defenders army constantly went out to attack from various gates, so that the Tang Army outside the city were terribly busy and panicked at the slightest move. Several times Li Yuanji attempted to rebuild the high camp outside the city, all ended up in failure, so that he could only rely on the power of the deep trenches and solid camps to resist the city-defenders army.


Acting as the commanding officer of Chenliu, Kou Zhong had confrontation against Li Shiji many times, they both had victory and defeat, and were in a stalemate situation.


On Hulao’s side, the information about the battle between Dou Jiande and Li Shimin was flying in like snowflakes, and Kou Zhong’s worries were also growing with each passing day.


One day at dusk, he climbed onto the battlement on the city wall, accompanied by Xu Xingzhi and Xuan Yong, looking into the distance at the enemy camp outside the city. Heaving a deep, deep sigh, he said, “If the situation were different, I would be very grateful to Li Shiji, he is indeed a rare opponent, who gives our army valuable real combat experience against a strong hand. But now he is pressing down on us that we are unable to move a single step; we are full of grand plan for nothing, since we are unable to implement it.”


Xuan Yong and Xu Xingzhi had similar feeling.


This moment, Luo Qifei came to Kou Zhong’s side, his expression grave. After saluting, he said, “Just received the news, Li Shimin sent Wang Junkuo to lead more than a thousand-man light cavalry to attack the rear of the Dou Army, and rendered big blow to Dou Jiande’s grain-transporting troops; they even captured Dou Jiande’s subordinate Great General Zhang Qingte.”


“What?” Kou Zhong cried out involuntarily.


Luo Qifei repeated his report, none of the listeners did not have his countenance changed.


After several confrontations and suffering defeats Dou Jiande was blocked by Li Shimin at Hulao, the troops guarding the grain at Banzhu did not dare to come out to fight, both sides only had small-scale confrontations without any decisive big battle. However, because Dou Jiande suffered many defeats, the officers and soldiers were already thinking of surrendering, the heart of the troops was unsteady. And now their provisions were seized, the panic within the troops spread, the situation was deteriorating really fast.


Kou Zhong’s scalp went numb, he said, “This time it is extremely bad. If Dou Jiande lacks rations and fodder, one, he might immediately withdraw the troops, two, he might take risks to come out and attack. But whatever the situation, it will only bring benefit to Li Shimin.”


Xu Xingzhi said, “For the sake of the current plan, we must immediately pull our troops from Luoyang, to concentrate our military strength on the northern border of our country, to resist the Great Tang Army, which had defeated the Dou Army, while waiting for the Song Clan’s main forces to come to our rescue.”


Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, “That will only accelerate Luoyang’s fall and Dou Jiande’s defeat. Although Dou Jiande does not trust me, but I must not turn my back and abandon friendship with him. I must rush to Luoyang tonight, because after defeating the Dou Army, Li Shimin will certainly turn his army to Luoyang. I will lure him to attack, while we seize the opportunity to go down south to seize Xiangyang, and then go to Zhongli via the waterway. As long as you guys can hold Li Shiji at bay, we are definitely not without any chance to hold out until the warm spring and flowers blooming next year.”


Xuan Yong spoke resolutely, “Shaoshuai may go in peace! With Xu Junshi working out a strategy and applying policy for Shuxia [subordinate], we won’t fail Shaoshuai’s trust.”


Kou Zhong fought hard to arouse his fighting spirit; he said, “From now until the spring next year will be the most difficult days for our army. The proverb says troops in defeat like a landslide; no matter how nasty the situation, we must persevere, otherwise, if we let Li Shiji’s navy succeed in breaking through the blockade and they go down south along the canal, our Shao Shuai State will fall apart. Therefore, neither you and I can lose.”


The three men gave their promise in loud voice.


Kou Zhong cast his gaze toward the flourishing army appearance of the enemy camp outside the city, he felt as if there was a thousand-jin heavy burden on his shoulders, pressing down on him that he seemed unable to straighten up his tiger-body. He has embarked on a journey in which there was no turning back, the only thing he could do was to move forward and charge forcefully, to do his best to listen to the Mandate of Heaven, to see whether Laotianye was still in favor of him.


Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan were standing on the battlement on the city wall, looking into the distance at the enemy’s activity south of the city.


Yesterday, an army of ten thousand men started to arrive via the waterway from Chang’an, to reinforce Li Yuanji’s besieging-the-city army. From then on, the defending-the-city army was on high alert, quietly waiting for Li Yuanji’s operation to strike back.


Since the afternoon, Li Yuanji’s army began to maneuver, they set up a command center at the original site of the high camp. They also set up disposition of troops in front and behind the highland, assembling nearly 30,000 troops. They also transported materials to rebuild the high camp behind the highland, ready to carry out large-scale construction, to reestablish the high camp.


Exasperated, Ba Fenghan said, “Finally Li Yuanji’s disposition of troops is standing firm; it will be difficult for us to stop him from rebuilding the high camp.”


In the afterglow of the setting sun, Li Yuanji’s mainly-infantry troops slowly pushed forward amidst the beating of the battle drums, straight to the edge of the second layer of the trenches, which had been refilled flat. The construction battalion troops quickly began to clean up the highlands.


Noticing that Xu Ziling did not answer, Ba Fenghan reached out and put his hand on his shoulder; he asked, “What is Ziling thinking?”


Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling replied, “I am imagining the situation outside the city on this side tomorrow, everything might return to its original condition, the great effort in over more than ten days, the injuries and deaths of the warriors, it’s just a nightmare that happened once but does not have the slightest effect on the reality. Is war really cannot be avoided? People massacring each other, must it continue forever? Since the dawn of history, all kinds of war, big and small, in different form, different nature – continue on without a break.”


Shrugging his shoulders, Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, “It’s a matter of interest. Starting from our devouring-raw-meat-and-fowl ancestors, we must fight both for our survival and against the nature, not only to withstand the wind and frost, rain and snow, but also to fill the stomach, or to cope with the invasion of the ferocious beast. From the very beginning, this world is a the-weak-are-prey-to-the-strong kind of heaven and earth. As our community and country organization become increasingly complex, the reason for war also becomes even more complicated [orig. five flowers, eight gates]. There are inter-ethnic wars, there are wars between those who defend unity and those striving for division, there are wars as a result of internal conflicts within the ruling class, the wars between the aggressors and those who resist the invasion; as long as human heart is never satisfied, wars will never end either.”


Xu Ziling said, “I suddenly wondered, the problem should lie in the escaping one, hence the turmoil is growing as a thicket, human heart is inadequate. If we could find the escaping one back, everybody in the world will live in peaceful coexistence. Ay! But I’m afraid this situation will never appear.”


Ba Fenghan nodded and said, “Although your view is mysterious, I can more or less grasp what you mean. In the end, this is a question of the heart; if everyone has the same view as Ziling, the whole world will be at peace. It is a pity that there is only one Xu Ziling in the world. You and I already are very different, from the without-aversion-to-war feeling, since childhood I am accustomed to going-through-fire-and-water way of life.”


Xu Ziling smiled wryly, but did not say anything.


Before daybreak the next day, Kou Zhong evaded the besieging-the-city army and arrived in Luoyang. By this time, Li Yuanji already successfully rebuilt the high camp, so Luoyang fell into heavy siege and was sealed off again.


Kou Zhong entered the palace first to see Wang Shichong. They held a military meeting together with Wang Shichong and his high-ranking military officers. Naturally they could not come up with anything, they only unanimously decided to defend Luoyang to the death, to quietly watch for any changes. Luoyang’s success or failure was no longer dictated by them, but it would be determined by Hulao battleground.


When Kou Zhong returned to his residence in the south of the city, he was overcome with both-mentally-and-physically-exhausted feeling.


Yang Gongqing, Ma Chang, Chen Laomou, Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling gathered in the residence, they told each other the situation after they parted.


The falcon Wuming looked excited as she stood on her master’s shoulder, whom she has not seen for a long time, from time to time she rubbed her falcon beak on Kou Zhong’s hair, while Kou Zhong lovingly stroked her feather.


After Chen Laomou reported his situation to Kou Zhong, Chen Laomou said, “Two more days of work, the first tunnel will be completed, the entrance will be in the dungeon of the city guard building next to the Changxia Gate, and the exit will be in the forest area behind the high camp. Everything is proceeding smoothly.”


Ma Chang added, “The tunnel is spacious and sturdy. From the entrance, fresh air is sent in by bellows [or ventilator], only on the second half of the tunnel there is a slight feeling of stuffiness.”


Knitting his brows, Ba Fenghan said, “Didn’t Chen Lao say that you are going to dig three parallel tunnels? Now that the construction has been under way for more than half a month and yet not even one tunnel is completed; can you still dig three tunnels within a month?”


Chen Laomou answered with serious expression, “The first tunnel required the longest time, simply because there are many unexpected factors underground, for example encountering layer of rocks, waterway, and so on. Now that I have more or less grasped the situation underground. We can expand the existing tunnel laterally, and then simultaneously excavating the other two tunnels in multiple sections, so that the three tunnels can be connected in many places, to guarantee that the entire project can be completed within 15 days.”


Yang Gongqing warned, “It would be best to have some distance between the three exits to facilitate disposition of troops formation or to meet the enemy.”


Stroking Wuming, Kou Zhong muttered to himself irresolutely, “I wonder if the tunnel can let the horse through?”


Chen Laomou frankly said, “I’m afraid there will be a problem; the horses certainly cannot endure the hot and stuffy air inside.”


Astonished, Kou Zhong said, “You guys have not thought about this problem? Without horses, even if we could slip away from the tunnel, we definitely cannot escape Li Shimin’s cavalry’s pursuit and attack. Don’t forget Kang Qiaoli’s falcon.”


Smiling bitterly, Xu Ziling said, “Until yesterday, this was completely not a problem, because south of the city, there was no solid stronghold blocking our way; we could dispatch part of the soldiers out of the city via the tunnel first, to ambush the enemy’s rear, and then the rest of the men break out of the siege and go. But now it’s naturally another matter altogether.”


Ma Chang said, “Last time we were able to break through the high camp, luck played an important role. This time Li Yuanji suffered untold hardships to rebuild the high camp, surely he would use massive military force to strongly defend his position. If we took the risk of attack, the injuries and deaths would be disastrous, plus we will work to no avail.”


Kou Zhong smiled and said, “When changes are exhausted, change will go through.”


Turning to Chen Laomou, he asked, “Can the tunnel pass through under the high camp?”


Chen Laomou slapped his thigh and exclaimed, ‘Super!’ He said, “Such a simple method, why didn’t I think about it? Leave this matter to me, I can dig upward under the high camp; I guarantee the gods do not know, the ghosts do not perceive.”


Ba Fenghan cheerfully said, “The size of the exit must be calculated accurately, preferably at the heart of the enemy camp. Let me be in charge to lead the vanguard troops.”


Chen Laomou laughed and said, “The tunnel exit is a branch of science, I will deal with it carefully. When is Shaoshuai going to attack the high camp?”


Kou Zhong replied, “I haven’t figured it out yet. It would be best to wait until all three tunnels are completed before we decide when to act. Huh! We have visitors!”


Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling also heard the gust of wind as someone jumped over the wall and came in; inwardly they were greatly astonished.


Ba Yegang’s voice was heard from the outside, “Ba Yegang, Shan Xiongxin, Guo Shancai are asking for an audience with Shaoshuai, there is an important matter to discuss.”


Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Three gentlemen, Great Generals, please come in.”


Everybody was bewildered and felt something was amiss; they stood up to welcome the visitors.


Ba Yegang, Shan Xiongxin and Guo Shancai, three men’s expression were grave, they entered the hall via the side door. After they were seated, Ba Yegang opened the door and saw the mountain [idiom: to get right to the point], saying, “Wang Shichong’s fate already reached the end, a fine bird chooses a tree to nest in [proverb]. After some discussion, the three of us decided to defect to Shaoshuai.”


Shan Xiongxin added, “We are absolutely not the kind of men who don’t speak about trust and justice [or honor, good faith], only because Wang Shichong employs people based on selfish reason, it’s hard for him to become a very capable person; worse yet, he did not listen to Shaoshuai’s sincere [or loyal] advice, which resulted in today’s outcome.”


Guo Shancai also stated, “The fact is that we are representing all high-ranking military officers with different surname in Luoyang; we are asking Shaoshuai to take Wang Shichong’s place, only then will Luoyang have the hope.”


Hearing that, Kou Zhong and the others looked at each other in dismay. Shan Xiongxin went against Wang Shichong was not surprising at all, because he was a surrendered enemy general who used to follow Li Mi and then changed direction by throwing his lot to Wang Shichong, his relationship with Wang Shichong was not deep. However, Ba Yegang and Guo Shancai have been following Wang Shichong for many years, they have always been loyal and devoted to Wang Shichong. It is thus clear that Wang Shichong has been caught in people-rebelling-and-friends-deserting situation.


Laughing aloud, Kou Zhong said, “Gentlemen think so highly of me, Kou Zhong, I am really overwhelmed by favor from superior. However, right now I am powerless to defend myself, there is a boat-capsizing-people-perishing danger at any moment. Gentlemen following me, I am afraid there won’t be good days to pass.”


Yang Gongqing asked, “What exactly happened that made the three gentlemen suddenly resent Wang Shichong like this?”


Snorting coldly, Ba Yegang said, “Starting from Cijian, when he forced Shaoshuai to leave, we were already extremely resentful toward Wang Shichong’s conduct and deeds. Last night, Li Yuanji sent his men, using arrow, to deliver a letter into the city. Although we do not know the contents of the letter, but just by looking at how Wang Shichong said nothing about this in front of Shaoshuai, we know that he is harboring unfathomable motives. This time Shaoshuai disregarding life or death to deliver food to Luoyang, even more supremely honorable and righteous is that you stay closely with us to defend the city in danger, our troops, from top to bottom, none does not feel grateful, hence Wang Shichong is disgraced by his own conducts.”


Everybody understood suddenly; certainly Li Yuanji’s letter was to advice Wang Shichong to open the city and surrender, and while doing it, to sell out Kou Zhong to them.


Shan Xiongxin spoke indignantly, “We go through fire and water for him, but Wang Shichong only cares about himself. Of course! He has Dong Shu Fei [fei – imperial concubine] to speak on his behalf in front of Li Yuan, he can still save his life to the end; perhaps there is even a part-time government official work to let him pass the second half of his life in style. But we will die without a doubt.”


Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, “How did Da Jiangjun get that idea? Hasn’t Li Shimin always been treating surrendering enemy generals well?”


Guo Shancai sighed and said, “According to the information from Chang’an, Li Yuanji came here bearing Li Yuan’s secret order; if Luoyang is broken, other than Wang Shichong’s clan, the rest of the high-ranking military officers will be put to death as a warning to the world.”


‘Bang!’


Kou Zhong heavily slapped the table, his pair of eyes emitted a fierce and severe, strange light, he spoke heavily, “If Wang Shichong is thinking of selling me, Kou Zhong, out, I am afraid he would only have that opportunity in the next life. From now on, we all are brothers; even if we have to die, we will die like a man. However, now is still not the time to discard Wang Shichong yet, unless he has the audacity to open the gate to welcome the enemy. Let’s make detailed plan, we will secretly monitor any sign of activity of the men and horses under Wang Shichong’s personal command. If he is not benevolent, I won’t be righteous. Otherwise, I will still keep my promise to help him holding fast to Luoyang until the last moment.”


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