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Book 15 Chapter 6 – Love and Hate, Pa.s.sion and Enmity
Kou Zhong barely stepped out of the carriage, a burly man in tight-fitting warrior outfit came out to meet him; he saluted and said, “Vanguard General under Ding Yang Khan’s command, Song Jingang pays his respect to Kou Xiong.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong was confused. This man did not look like a Tujue. Although he spoke with heavy northern accent, yet with a very articulate p.r.o.nunciation and vocalizing; clearly he was a local, Central Earth man. Moreover, the four heroic-looking men accompanying him also did not look like Tujue people at all. Yet he called his master his mother’s Khan something. Astonished, Kou Zhong asked, “I have heard Shibi Khan, Chuluo Khan, Xielie Khan, even Tuli Khan who had just arrived in Luoyang; but I have never heard of Ding Yang Khan. Song Xiong did not change these Tujue people’s name into Han name, did you?”
He could speak without any trace of politeness, because he thought that he had fallen into Yun Yuzhen’s deception, or entered into the Tujue people’s carefully-laid trap.
Who would have thought that Song Jingang was not offended at all? He simply smiled and said, “Kou Xiong misunderstood! My humble master Liu Wuzhou was granted the t.i.tle Khan from Tujue people, but he is not a Tujue.”
Kou Zhong thought, ‘Yet he has become Tujue people’s hunting dog’. Yet at the same time he was greatly astonished.
Based on Yun Yuzhen’s speculation just now, even if he met Li Zitong here, he would not be surprised. Yet the one he met now was a character that he had nothing to do with, which made him unable to make any sense of it.
One after another Yun Yuzhen and Bu Tianzhi came to his side; the former said, “It’s raining here. We’d better go inside to chat!”
Song Jingang respectfully stepped aside to let him pa.s.s. Kou Zhong’s curiosity was greatly piqued, plus he felt that the other party did not have any evil intention; hence he gladly walked toward the door.
※ ※ ※
Ba Dai’er has grown up; she now had the mature charm that she did not have before, but she also lost the sincere, innocence characteristic that she had before.
Hearing that Ba Dai’er wanted to kill him, Ba Fenghan’s face was as calm as a rock, without the slightest sign of emotion. “Dai’er, please go home!” he spoke indifferently, “This is not a place for you. Ba Dai’er belongs to the prairie with its snowcapped peaks.”
Ba Dai’er spoke softly, “The day I have your head inside my luggage will be the day I go back.”
After staring at her for a moment, Ba Fenghan suddenly shouted, “Tuli, you don’t dare to show yourself?”
A cold snort came from the depth of the bamboo forest on the left. And then a man, wearing Han attire, around thirty years old, with well-built physique, strolled leisurely out of the forest, and stopped about twenty paces to Ba Fenghan’s left. He put the short-handled lance in his hand back onto his back, the head of the lance protruded at an angle from behind his left shoulder. He looked extremely powerful; his elegant att.i.tude gave out the impression that he was a flawless man.
Without even looking, Ba Fenghan knew that the handle of his lance was made of cast metal in the shape of a condor, the craftsmanship of a Persian master artisan. The entire lance weighed about sixty catties, and the body was made of refined steel. In Tujue, this lance has become a symbol of his martial prowess, the ‘Crouching Eagle Spear’, his family unique skill, which was pa.s.sed on from generation to generation. When the enemy heard the name, they would lose their guts.
In the past, when Ba Fenghan was overtaken by him in the desert, he suffered quite a bit from this Crouching Eagle Spear. Luckily a sandstorm reversed the entire situation, which made Ba Fenghan not only Tuli’s mortal enemy, but earned him a status as a rival in love as well.
If Ba Dai’er was not Chuluo Khan’s relative, plus she was Zhao Deyan’s beloved disciple, considering how deep Tuli’s loss was, perhaps Ba Dai’er would have been executed early on to wipe out this most unbearable shame and humiliation a Tujue man could suffer.
The two men’s gaze met. It was like two lightning clashed against each other in the sky, neither side was willing to yield.
Just like Ba Fenghan, Tuli was a typical thick-and-strong Tujue man. Although he could not be compared to Ba Fenghan in the looks department, his outline was tough, his hair looked like iron wire, yet he had some kind or robust, powerful masculine charisma.
He was not too old, yet his face had rough, dark skin and a long scar on his left cheek, a sign that he had already undergone arduous years and dangerous blades and arrowheads. His eyes were sharp and ice-cold, yet there was no hatred seeping through; evidently it was the result of hidden-deep-without-revealing, and martial-skill’s self-cultivation.
After staring at each other for half a day, Tuli revealed a hint of deep, cold smile, as he spoke indifferently, “Unexpectedly a mere little horse thief is able to make us toil-our-master and mobilize-our-crowd. Ba Fenghan, you should be proud of yourself.”
He was speaking in Tujue language, but Ba Fenghan replied in Chinese, with a smile, “The reason we became little horse thieves was actually to salute your, a bunch of big horse thieves’ charity. The strong will be the King; this is the unchanging truth throughout all ages. And now let the Ol’ Ba to experience your Crouching Eagle Spear technique, so we can conclude our unfinished battle last time.”
Tuli laughed aloud. He changed to using Chinese when he spoke heavily, “Death is near at hand, still dares to speak conceited nonsense.”
Turning to Ba Dai’er, he said, “Dai’er, didn’t you endure may years of waiting in heartache for this day? I am going to deploy my troops for you today, so that you …”
Ba Dai’er coldly cut him off, “You promised me that you would not come.”
For the first time anger flashed through Tuli’s eyes, but it disappeared just as quickly. He spoke gently, which was in stark contrast with his temperament, “I care about you.”
Ba Dai’er replied hatefully, “With you present, I am not going to fight.”
Without even casting half a glance toward the two men, she turned around and left.
The two men were taken aback by this sudden change. First, they looked at each other, and then they both remembered that the other party was his sworn enemy.
Ba Fenghan’s Beheading Mystery Sword left its sheath. Tuli’s Crouching Eagle Spear also returned to the front of his chest. Holding the spear with one hand, he pointed the weapon to Ba Fenghan, while his left hand went behind his back. His stance was relaxed and beautiful to behold.
Ba Fenghan took a step forward, the sword moved to his left hand, a stream of biting cold sword qi suddenly blew toward Tuli like a storm.
Tuli threw his head back and let out a long laugh. The Crouching Eagle Spear in his hand vibrated continuously, generating a ‘Chi! Chi!’ noise of spear power, which clashed against Ba Fenghan’s sword qi, deflecting it sideways in wild-flowing stream.
The drizzling rain collided with the two streams of qi power, which turned it into gusts of mist spreading in all directions, enveloping the two men in the middle, creating a marvelous spectacle.
Ba Fenghan’s sword returned to his right hand. Taking the initiative, he launched the first attack.
※ ※ ※
It was only after Kou Zhong, Yun Yuzhen, Bu Tianzhi and Song Jingang were seated in the hall that Kou Zhong had the opportunity to look closely at this great general serving under Liu Wuzhou.
Although Song Jingang’s physique was valiant and stalwart, his face was slender and delicate, so that sitting on top his broad shoulders, it looked comparatively small, yet at the same time it was enough to emphasis his extraordinary build.
On his face were a pair of intelligent and alert, but slightly sullen, eyes and an affectionate and sentimental-looking mouth.
Presently his expression looked relaxed and well-composed, giving the impression that he was a man who guarded his mouth like a closed bottle, and would not easily divulge inside information, a scholar that was both wise and courageous. Kou Zhong could not help having a favorable impression toward him.
Song Jingang signaled with his hand, ordering his subordinates serving tea to immediately leave, so that no one remained, and left only the four of them in the hall, which had a ‘temporary’ feel around it.
The atmosphere turned solemn.
Even the always-smiling and pa.s.sionate Yun Yuzhen also refrained from smiling.
After staring fixatedly on Kou Zhong for quite a while, Song Jingang laughed aloud and said, “Kou Xiong is worthy to be called a hero of the present age. With just a few tricks, the situation in the north suddenly changed. Now I know that the words of praise of Kou Xiong in Jianghu are not exaggeration.”
Smiling, Kou Zhong replied, “I was just at the right place at the right time. Does Song Xiong have an important matter you’d like to discuss? Why don’t you speak forthrightly?”
Revealing an amiable smile, Bu Tianzhi praised him, “Kou Ye’s eloquence grows more and more formidable!”
Kou Zhong was emotionally moved, recalling Bu Tianzhi used to think that he and Xu Ziling were just two dumb kids that they could exploit, and now he kept calling him Kou Ye this and Kou Ye that [reminder: ‘ye’ means ‘master’ as in ‘master-servant’ relation], giving him a bit of surreal feeling.
Song Jingang calmly said, “Before discussing the important matter, please allow Zaixia to clarify one thing: what relation does Kou Xiong have with w.a.n.g Shichong? Please forgive Zaixia for speaking forthrightly.”
Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong said, “You are indeed very forthcoming. I don’t even know what kind of relationship I have with w.a.n.g Shichong? Perhaps the correct answer would be ‘mutual exploitation’; nothing more than that.”
Yun Yuzhen’s jet-black eyebrows slightly knitted; she said, “w.a.n.g Shichong is an old fox. You, this little fox, must be careful, or else you will get eaten by him.”
Song Jingang laughed and said, “Talking with Kou Xiong is truly a delight. I do not wish to beat around the bush either. Speaking about the warlords vying for supremacy over the world today, in term of fame and power, the one triumph in every battle, Li Mi is the leader. Yet in term of strength, Dou Jiande and Du Fuwei are equally matched. I wonder if Kou Xiong agrees with my misconception.”
Yun Yuzhen was astonished. “Li Mi had just scored big victory over Yuwen Huaji’s hundred-thousand elite troops, how come in term of strength he fall behind Dou Jiande and Du Fuwei?”
Casting a glance toward Kou Zhong, Song Jingang smiled and said, “Looking at Kou Xiong’s expression, I know that he is quite clear of this situation. I’d better let Kou Xiong explain it!”
More and more Kou Zhong felt that Song Jingang was not a simple man, because he obviously had not been in Luoyang for long, yet he was able to accurately grasp Li Mi’s military situation, and from this he was able to deduce other things.
“The reason is very simple,” Kou Zhong replied indifferently, “From the fact that w.a.n.g Shichong dared to establish his presence in Yanshi with only twenty-thousand troops, and deployed his force to flank Hulao’s high alt.i.tude, we can infer that although Li Mi defeated Yuwen Huaji, it was a tragic victory where his strength is greatly weakened. But when he attacked Jingling, Old Du also suffered damaged troops and broken generals; how could you compare him with Dou Jiande on equal terms?”
Song Jingang replied, “The difference between Li Mi and Du Fuwei is that one bought the people’s heart, while the other seeks victory by fair means or foul. Hence the former adopted mercenary system to recruit soldiers, while from the start the latter forced ordinary people to enlist in the army. As a result, Du Fuwei is always able to bring up his military force to full strength in a short period of time, as long as his supply of weaponry, grains, and horses can keep up with it. The disadvantage of this method is that his soldiers are mixed and not refined, their morale is undisciplined. However, under Du Fuwei’s harsh repression, under normal circ.u.mstances, nothing can go wrong.”
Every word he said penetrated deep into the bottom of Kou Zhong’s heart. It was precisely because Du Fuwei’s men were forcing the inhabitants of a rural village to enlist in their army that he came across Susu and Li Jing.
Song Jingang then added, “Although Du Fuwei’s momentum is flourishing, all I can see is that he is a man with no ambition.”
Hearing that, while Kou Zhong’s heart was shivering in fear, Bu Tianzhi asked in astonishment, “Why did General Song have such a view?”
With a cold snort, Song Jingang replied, “If he was a man with ambition, how come his vision is so narrow and shallow, that he is solely preoccupied with present benefit?”
Yun Yuzhen joined in, “In that case, Li Mi can be considered a man with ambition; just by looking at how he bought the heart of the people, we can tell one or two things about him.”
Song Jingang laughed aloud and said, “Li Mi is certainly a man with magnificent aspiration in his heart, it’s just that he is too narrow-minded: just one Zhai Rang, he could not tolerate; he issued the Duke of Pushan Decree to hunt and kill Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong. In the end, ‘failing to capture the stealing chicken, he has his rice [grain] nibbled instead’, his prestige suffered considerable damage, his biggest shortcoming is that he gained two formidable opponents instead.”
Kou Zhong promptly declined modestly; in his heart his appraisal of Song Jingang’s exquisite insight and judgment grew even higher. He could not help asking casually, “In that case, your honorable master, hey! Something Khan must be the man with the highest aspiration! But why did he take refuge in Tujue? How could that be a long-term solution?”
Song Jingang sighed and said, “Even though Li Yuan occupies Guanzhong, he still calls himself a va.s.sal to Tujue, let alone have the Tujue as our neighbor. This is a quick fix. There is no other way.”
And then, changing the subject, he said, “As far as I know, Li Shimin’s top strategy is the modification of Sui Dynasty’s old system. The new policy is a tax system to be known as land tax reconciliation method; roughly two dan [dry volume, approx. 100 liters] for every ding of land, two ya of silk, three tael of cotton, twenty days of military service, for non-military service, three chi of silk for every day; simple and easy to be executed [Translator’s note: not sure about this part], to get rid of the previous dynasty’s fraudulent government. This is called far-reaching aspiration, not having his eyes only at the present time.”
Kou Zhong was in high alert.
Building the correct political system was his biggest weakness. It seemed like he needed to copy that Li kid in establishing some his mother’s seat of government, setting up the political law, or at least give the people ‘far-reaching aspiration’ impression.
No wonder Shi Feixuan chose the Li kid. His resentment was that he was too late to start, and his knowledge and experience was somewhat lacking.
If Song Jingang’s martial art skill was as brilliant as his insight, he must be a first cla.s.s martial art master.
At the same time, he was puzzled as to why did Song Jingang use Yun Yuzhen to make contact with him? He could not help frowning as he asked, “Song Xiong still has not explained why you are looking for me, Kou Zhong. What exactly is going on?”
Song Jingang calmly replied his question with a question, “Does Kou Xiong wish to regain Jingling?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong replied, “Of course I want it so badly. But on one hand, there are several other more pressing things to do, plus the situation does not permit me to do so. I have no choice but to wait for some other his mother’s day to think about it.”
Song Jingang spoke heavily, “Military battles demand immediate action; how could you wait for long? Right now the situation is clear, Li Mi and w.a.n.g Shichong’s decisive battle is imminent, no matter who win who lose, inevitably it will ruin their strength. In this case, if Du Fuwei defeated Li Zitong and acquired Jiangdu, he would be able to follow Yuwen Huaji’s old route of going up north along the ca.n.a.l. The only difference is that since Du Fuwei has the entire Jianghuai as his backup, he need not worry about the provision would not reach him. At that time, who in the world will be strong enough to contend against Jianghuai’s elite troops?”
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, “You seem to be divulging the affair between the Li Family of Guanzhong and the King of Xia Dou Jiande!”
As if he was holding the pearl of wisdom in his hand, Song Jingang calmly said, “Last time the New Qin’s Overlord Xue Ju was defeated by Li Shimin, he was seriously considering to rebel, and secretly struck the gong and beat the drums in preparation of a large scale counterattack, but Li Yuan had no time to care about him, he did not even have time to care about what’s going on outside the pa.s.s, so he had no other choice but to sit and watch Du Fuwei showing off his military strength. As for Dou Jiande, one day he cannot defeat Yuwen Huaji and Xu Yuanlang, one more day he does not dare to recklessly go down south, so he would not lead his troops to attack the Eastern Capital any time soon.”
Hearing Yuwen Huaji’s name, Kou Zhong’s eyes flashed with deep, cold murderous intent. Snorted coldly, he said, “If Xue Ju attacked Chang’an, what would Song Xiong do?”
Song Jingang’s eyes flashed with mysterious light; he smiled and said, “Naturally we are going to storm Li Yuan’s old nest, to break him at his foundation.”
“Taiyuan!” Yun Yuzhen and Bu Tianzhi blurted out at the same time.
Kou Zhong was shaken inwardly; he completely understood Song Jingang’s strategy, and gained even more understanding on Song Jingang’s out-of-the-ordinary tactics.
This time that Li kid would be in trouble.
※ ※ ※
The sword and the spear collided, ‘Qiang!’ a sharp and clear noise rang out; the two men suddenly separated.
The rain did not show any sign that it would stop; fine droplets of water floated down continuously above the bamboo forest reaching high to the sky.
Although it appeared that Ba Fenghan was making an all-out effort, the fact was that it was purely to test the water.
Both men were secretly shocked.
Originally, Tuli had confidence that he would be able to beat this rival in love easily, simply because previously he was a notch above Ba Fenghan, plus in recent years he had received quite a bit of pointers from both Bi Xuan and Zhao Deyan, and time and again he made some breakthrough, while he himself never slacked off in his training, so much so that he was even disinterested in women. But when they clashed just now, unexpectedly he was unable to launch a follow-up attack; in just one move, he knew that Ba Fenghan had already completely overtaken him.
Ba Fenghan was also shivering inwardly.
He thought that without the help of the Jade Annulus of He Clan, today he could in no way achieve the desired outcome.
However, right now victory or defeat was still unknown.
Facing the wind, the Beheading Mystery Sword quivered. A strong confidence to press forward welled up in Ba Fenghan’s heart; immediately a swift and fierce sword qi pervaded the air of the forest within ten zhang of him.
But the tip of Tuli’s Crouching Eagle Spear swayed, indistinctly sealing off all of his attack route, so that momentarily he did not dare to cross Tuli’s defense line even for half a step.
Tuli was a rare martial art talent within the Tujue imperial family. He learned the Crouching Eagle Spear Technique after he had mastered the military strategy and tactics, where he developed some kind of extraordinary concept of yin and yang, what is true and what is false, real and imaginary, as well as the mixing and blending of nature and reason.
During the battle in the desert in the past, because Ba Fenghan failed to grasp his spear path, he was stabbed by his spear three times and fell into a blood-soaked and hard-fought-struggle situation.
Tuli showed a faint smile br.i.m.m.i.n.g with disdain and mockingly said, “Are you scared yet?”
Ba Fenghan was unable to conceal his imposing manner as he sneered and said, “You, Tuli, have come across then thousand crags and torrents to come to this place, is it just to brandish your spear and play your stick from a distance like that? It’s so hilarious that you might kill people from laughing.”
Naturally Tuli would not impetuously attack just because of this kind of talk. He laughed coldly and said, “Ba Fenghan, you are not an amateur, yet you spoke such an amateurish talk; now who’d being hilarious?”
The drizzle floated on their faces and their hands, soaking them cold. Ba Fenghan put away his fear and forced himself to step forward; his feet created splotching noise, carrying a strong momentum pressing down toward Tuli.
Tuli roused his qi and slightly moved to the left half a step, the Crouching Eagle Spear in his hands turned into a stream of bright light; fast as lightning he stabbed at an angle. The angle was so ingenious that his stab was one step ahead of Ba Fenghan’s attack path.
The Crouching Eagle Spear carried a roll of raindrops, increasing his momentum several folds.
Even with Ba Fenghan’s ability, he was stull unable to antic.i.p.ate the changes in Tuli’s move, where he attacked precisely at the moment where he was supposed to defend, and his counterattack was this swift and severe, the spear’s momentum resembled the nature itself.
Ba Fenghan was forced to adopt a defensive position; he sidestepped and swung his sword to hack on the spear’s head.
Tuli let out a long laughter, while unleashing his spear’s momentum. In the blink of an eye his spear struck three times in rapid succession, each spear strike was in response to Ba Fenghan’s attack as well as the changes of his attack path; it was violent without equal.
Ba Fenghan did not yield even for a single step. ‘Qiang! Qiang! Qiang!’ he successively took the spear strikes head-on, and then the Beheading Mystery Sword turned into a net of light, taking advantage of the precise moment when Tuli’s hiding-the-sky-and-covering-the-earth violent attack had just pa.s.sed by.
For a moment the sword light and spear shadow shrouded the two combatants.
The falling rain was aroused by the qi power that water droplets splashed everywhere like a fountain.
The tip of the spear struck the blade of the sword.
Both men were unable to continue with their next move; they suddenly separated.
Suddenly there was a clapping.
The two were still staring at the opponent; they did not dare to be distracted.
A man appeared in the pavilion, sitting on the pavilion’s railing. With a free and leisure laugh he said, “Khan’s breaking-sword spear technique is indeed outstanding, victory is definitely within your grasp. However, in order to save time, why not let me, Li Shentong, join the party? After taking care of this little thief, we can drink together. Wouldn’t it be more fun?”
Ba Fenghan shivered inwardly.
Li Shentong was Li Yuan’s younger brother, but in Jianghu, his prestige surpa.s.sed that of his elder brother. He was an expert in using the three-p.r.o.nged halberd, with its myriad of hook, peck, chop, and stab, changes; his name shook the north.
If he ignored Jianghu rules and joined hands with Tuli, Ba Fenghan’s only way out was to break the siege and run away.
Tuli threw his head backwards and let out a long laugh, “To drink together, it’s not that easy; not today!”
Ba Fenghan and Li Shentong were both stunned.
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