WebNovel Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan Book 44 – Chapter 1 – Difficult-to-Reverse Disadvantage

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Little Longquan was not really a city, it was only a village east of Longquan with the wharf by the Bohai Sea and the shipyard as the center. Along the coast, there were seven, eight watchtowers. Traffic going in and out from and to the sea did not appear to be flourishing, even Xu Ziling, two men, only saw no more than twenty big ships, including one that was just going out to the sea, and several dozens of fishing boats. Compared to Yangzhou, such an important seaport in the Central Plains, the difference was even more prominent.

Its defensive power lay on the stone fort, which was built about half a li offsh.o.r.e, which could accommodate several hundred of soldiers, which were more than enough to deal with pirates or horse thieves. But facing the Tujue army’s or foreign enemy’s large scale invasion, they could only watch the scenery, just enough for the warm up before attacking Longquan.

Northwest of the harbor, there was a row of army tents, their strength was approximately one thousand men. For this army to resist the Tujue invasion, it was nothing more than a praying mantis spreading its arms to block a cart.

Xu Ziling and Yin Xianhe were hiding inside a jungle to the west, looking at the situation from a distance.

Every dock was active. A big ship moored at the pier had several dozen of workers loading goods…o…b..ard, a sign that it was ready to sail out to sea.

Xu Ziling remembered the Five-Colored Stone in Meiyan Furen’s hands, and suddenly he gained clear understanding of the importance of the Stone. Since the time the Five-Colored Stone fell into their hands and they brought it here, until finally it was seized by the so-called original owner, Meiyan Furen, although he has had some thoughts about the Stone, but particularly during these past few days, where he fell head over heels in love with Shi Feixuan, everything became fuzzy. Only this moment, where he was facing life and death crises, he began to become clear-headed from the state of confusion.

Now that Shi Feixuan has gone without a trace like a cloud, it was like he also woke up from a dream, his brain returned to its usual quick-witted and active state.

When Tuli saw the Five-Colored Stone, he immediately canceled his plan to pursue and attack Xieli; he even accepted Bi Xuan’s suggestion to establish friendly relations with Xieli. It was precisely because he saw the influence of the Stone on various Mohe tribes. If Bai Ziting was wearing the emperor’s crown[1] with the Five-Colored Stone embedded on it, both the Mohe tribes supporting him and his clansmen who were opposing him like Tiefuyou, no one could deny his legitimacy and status as the great monarch of various Mohe divisions. On top of that, with the neighboring country, Gaoli’s support, he would become the greatest power to challenge the Tujue.

Triggering Xu Ziling’s train of thought was the harbor before his eyes. If this seaport developed to become another big city controlling the sea, Bai Ziting’s power would increase severalfold, materials and natural resources would come. When that time came, Bai Ziting could expand his military power without the slightest scruple. The Great and Little Longquan complementing and helping each other, Bai Ziting, who had deep understanding of the Central Earth’s city war, might become the person across all the areas beyond the Great Wall most adept to exploit the circ.u.mstances.

The reason Bai Ziting was ama.s.sing wealth by hook or by crook was that under these circ.u.mstances, he had no choice. On one hand, he wanted to lower taxes, to attract people to come here to do business and to break new ground for projects. On the other hand, he wanted to rapidly develop the city’s seaport and build big ships for commercial use. All these needed money. Since he could not get these by legitimate means, he had to seek it by despicable means.

In itself, the Five-Colored Stone was, at most, a rare treasure, but its symbolic significance dominated the destiny of various tribes in the northeast.

Therefore, even if Bai Ziting had the Five-Colored Stone in his hands, he would never obediently hand it over. Under careful planning, he already made up his mind to take this big risk.

Yin Xianhe said, “Zong Xianghua is coming to meet a ship. I wonder what could be that important?”

Zong Xianghua’s group of more than a dozen people came to one of the piers without any ship docking on it. Three big ships were appearing on the distant horizon, on the currently calm sea.

On the pier, there was another group of more than twenty Mohe troops, led by another high-ranking military officer. This moment the high-ranking military officer was reporting to Zong Xianghua. Zong Xianghua was still appearing to be icy-cold; she was only listening without saying anything.

Suddenly another group of men from the ship that was being loaded came toward Zong Xianghua in a hurry, the leader was surprisingly Ma Ji, who, last night, made announcement that he must leave.

Xu Ziling suddenly realized, no wonder Ma Ji was so secure in the knowledge that he had backing. Turned out he already made good arrangement for his exit, which was by boat, so that Xieli and Tuli were helpless against him. He could go to Gaoli to seek temporary shelter, or he could go anywhere to hide, waiting for the situation here to settle before making decision on his next step.

Bai Ziting, Ma Ji, Funantuo, even Han Chao’an, Shen Mohuan, Huyan Jin, Liexia, Du Xing, Xu Kaishan, and so on were all adventurers. They wanted to change the situation beyond the Great Wall, to challenge Xieli’s control over the prairie, to liberate it from the Tujue’s tyranny; naturally they must take the risk of being swept by Xieli’s army.

At its root, the cause of this crisis was because Xieli adopted Zhao Deyan and Tonyukuk’s proposal, with the intention of killing Tuli, showing that he wanted to ama.s.s and gather all power in his own hands. Therefore, although Ma Ji and Du Xing and the others were Tujue, they still, in different degrees of partic.i.p.ation, helped outsiders to resist Xieli. It goes without saying that they were attracting foreign tribes as well.

His gaze fixed on Zong Xianghua standing on the far away pier, Yin Xianhe’s pair of eyes emitted bizarre expression.

Noticing this strange look, Xu Ziling asked in astonishment, “I wonder if Yin Xiong have friendly relations with Zong Xianghua?”

Slightly shaking his head, Yin Xianhe coldly replied, “I have never spoken with her.”

Xu Ziling wanted to say something but then hesitated, because he understood Yin Xianhe’s temperament, he did not dare to get to the bottom of this matter. Changing the subject, he said, “I am sure Ma Ji knows the inside story of the wolf-bandits. If we could catch him, it would save us a lot of trouble.”

By this time Ma Ji had reached Zong Xianghua’s side. He pointed to the three big ships coming to port and spoke something. Just by looking at his demeanor, it was clear that these three ships were closely related to him.

Yin Xianhe said, “Among Ma Ji’s men, there is a martial art master called Tuoba Miefu. This man is loyal and devoted to Ma Ji. To catch Ma Ji, only this man, one obstacle, is already very difficult to pa.s.s. Based on our two men’s strength, it’s still better not to entertain this thought. Besides, Ma Ji himself is definitely not easy to deal with.”

Xu Ziling recalled inside Ma Ji’s tent that night they saw the group of men like the young swordsman, he agreed inwardly. Moreover, he felt strange, “I never thought Yin Xiong is very familiar with the affairs of the people northeast beyond the Great Wall,” he commented.

Instead of answering him, Yin Xianhe said, “This moment, where the war is imminent, to be able to make Zong Xianghua and Ma Ji this nervous waiting for the ships, the goods carried by the ships must be closely related to the survival of Longquan; if not foodstuff, then must be weapons, bows and arrows, or things like that. Longquan’s storehouses have ample grains, hence the possibility of the latter is greater.”

Xu Ziling’s pair of eyes lit up, he said with a smile, “Yin Xiong’s guess, even if it did not hit the mark, it’s not far off. I wonder if Yin Xiong could do Xiaodi a favor? Go back immediately to Longquan, find Kou Zhong and tell him what happened here.”

Stunned, Yin Xianhe asked, “What’s Xu Xiong doing staying in here?”

Xu Ziling mused that this was his only chance to catch Ma Ji, how could he miss it? But naturally he must not be rash in speaking it out and have Yin Xianhe stay with him to take this big risk. He replied, “I am staying to watch the development here. Kou Zhong will have a way to find me.”

Naturally Yin Xianhe had never thought that Xu Ziling was lying to him. He nodded in response and quietly slipped away.

The place where Bai Ziting received Kou Zhong was one side of the imperial palace, the east garden, which was as far away as possible on the opposite side of the west garden where Shang Xiufang was staying, located right in the middle of the west imperial garden, surrounded by gra.s.s, trees, small bridge, and hot spring; the scenery was quite beautiful.

The atmosphere inside the palace was not much different than before; obviously everybody was already prepared mentally that sooner or later the Tujue main forces would come to invade their territory, hence they did not appear panic-stricken or losing their mind.

Kou Zhong was well aware that his relationship with Bai Ziting has reached the stage that it was already on the verge of formally breaking off. Any moment one word could go wrong, and then they would stake it all in you die, I live battle, because Bai Ziting was not afraid of even Xieli or Tuli, not to mention a mere insignificant Kou Zhong, a lone palm [orig. it’s hard to clap with only one hand (idiom)]; what could he possibly do?

Coming in front of the white stone steps of the east garden, Kesubie politely said, “Da w.a.n.g is waiting respectfully for Shaoshuai inside the Fantian [Nirvana/Lord Brahma] Pavilion. Shaoshuai, please!”

Kou Zhong smiled and said, “The tale that mister storyteller in Yangzhou of the Central Earth loves to tell the most was outside the corridor, there were five hundred saber and axe wielders lying in ambush on both sides. I hope your honorable king will not imitate even the plot of the story, otherwise Xiaodi would rather stay here to soak in the hot spring!”

Kesubie responded awkwardly, “Shaoshuai really loves to crack jokes. Da w.a.n.g said clearly that he is going to see Shaoshuai alone.”

Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “The lord will not say any joking matter. In that case, Xiaodi feels rea.s.sured.” And then he scanned the surroundings with his eyes and said, “This imperial garden’s perimeter wall is particularly thick and particularly tall, not suitable for ambushing saber and axe wielders, but it’s not bad for a hundred or so divine archers, in which case, even if I were a bird, I still could not fly out.”

Kesubie still did not get angry; laughing involuntarily, he said, “Shaoshuai reminds me of Da w.a.n.g a lot. Wherever Da w.a.n.g goes, he would carefully examine the situation and put out some comments in accordance with the art of war.”

Kou Zhong shivered inwardly. Bai Ziting definitely spent a lot of effort studying the art of war; at least he was a hard-working military expert, so if he ran into him in the battlefield, he must be very careful.

This Kesubie was a brilliant figure as well, the way he spoke was neither haughty nor humble, but was just right to defuse Kou Zhong’s verbal offense.

Kou Zhong laughed aloud; he set foot on the stone steps and walked toward the entrance, without forgetting to look back and wave, and said with a laugh, “I wonder if later on Ke Daren will also escort me out of the city?”

Kesubie was angry, but he lacked the words to parry.

Kou Zhong stepped across the threshold into the hall.

Both sides were prismatic windows, the sunshine and the garden scenery appeared before his eyes. There was a Buddha statue in the large garden; the hall and the garden were no longer divided.

Like Qin Shihuang coming back to life, Bai Ziting was standing proud at the other end, opposite to the main entrance. He laughed aloud and said, “Shaoshuai is indeed brave without any fear. You robbed my, Bai Ziting’s bows and arrows, yet you have the guts to come alone [orig. lone rider] to see me?”

With a smile on his face, Kou Zhong walked over toward him and spoke indifferently, “You robbed me, I robbed you, the same thing happens even between countries. I dare to come, it’s not the question of whether I have the guts or not, but to see if there is any possibility of peaceful solution to this problem?”

Bai Ziting waited until Kou Zhong stopped about a zhang away from him, he smiled and said, “Shaoshuai returns my bows and arrows, I’ll send a small gift to Shaoshuai.”

‘Bad!’ Kou Zhong cried inwardly. What information that can be used against him could possibly fall into Bai Ziting’s hands, which made him acting like I am not worried you won’t disobey? Immediately he remembered Yuekepeng and his brothers.

Smiling wryly, he said, “Da w.a.n.g is indeed formidable, Xiaodi steps down gracefully. What exactly is the gift that is this valuable?”

With his hands behind his back, Bai Ziting stepped over straight toward the prismatic window on the west side; gazing at the garden outside, he sighed and said, “Why is it that Shaoshuai is not my friend but my enemy? Shaoshuai is indeed an extraordinary man.”

Kou Zhong moved to the table in the middle of the hall. He plopped his b.u.t.t down and spoke indifferently, “Frankly speaking, I also extremely admire Da w.a.n.g’s standing-tall-and-seeing-far att.i.tude. I wonder if because you are on the prairie that you are able to see things a bit farther away, and capable of seeing today things that is going to happen several years or even several decades in the future, but I wonder if consequently you fail to see the situation before your eyes?”

Bai Ziting proudly said, “Shaoshuai need not be worry about that. Only by seizing today will we be able to plan for tomorrow. Shaoshuai, please move your honorable self over here to see the small gift that this king has prepared for you.”

Kou Zhong cried inwardly that the opponent was using this action to taunt him, to tell him to his face the cruel reality before his eyes! Helplessly he moved over to Bai Ziting’s side and looked out.

Song Shidao, his whole body trussed up [orig. to bind a person’s upper body, with arms tied behind the back and rope looped round the neck], under escort of two valiant martial art masters imperial guards, appeared in the small alley by the wall about twenty zhang away, under the thick shade of the beautiful garden resplendent with blooming spring flowers. By his side there was also the Mad Monk of Tianzhu Funantuo, who was staring at Kou Zhong without showing any emotion on his face.

Song Shidao had a number of bloodstains on his body, his expression dreary, obviously it was after going through a fierce battle that he was captured. He suffered internal and external injuries, but his att.i.tude was still haughty and unyielding as he showed a bitter smile toward Kou Zhong.

Anger welled up in Kou Zhong’s heart. Bai Ziting’s means was indeed despicable! From this, he could deduce that last night Funantuo making his move to deal with the two of them, he must have received Bai Ziting’s approval. Furthermore, they must have taken advantage while Song Shidao was on his way to attend the banquet in the palace to set an ambush and captured him. If he could kill Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, they would execute Song Shidao along, to catch everything in one net, neat and clean. But now, because the two succeeded in breaking the siege, while also seizing away the bows and arrows, they produced this bargaining chip in their hands to make a deal with Kou Zhong.

After suffering untold hardships, they finally obtained the bows and arrows, yet he had to send it back to Bai Ziting for nothing! However, in order to save Song Shidao, this was the only way Kou Zhong could take.

Bai Ziting laughed aloud and said, “It has to be like this, offense must be made, Song Gongzi, please understand.”

A hint of disdain appeared on the corner of Song Shidao’s mouth, his eyes turned toward Funantuo, he shook his head slightly and then closed his eyes again.

Kou Zhong understood what he was trying to say; it was Funantuo who personally made his move to subdue him. He also stated that Funantuo was extremely brilliant; he reminded Kou Zhong not to be presumptuous and trying to be brave.

Recovering his calm, Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, “When I have a chance I surely want to experience Guoshi’s [teacher of the state] Tianzhu secret skill. Perhaps even tonight, or maybe tomorrow morning. Ha! Thinking about it, I am excited already.”

Funantuo did not respond at all, he merely raised one palm to return the greeting, appearing like a holy monk who had attained the Way. This man was profoundly shrewd, he could not possibly be provoked by anybody’s comment.

Until this moment, Kou Zhong was still unclear about the real relationship between Bai Ziting and Funantuo.

Bai Ziting turned to Kou Zhong and said with a smile, “Whether Song Gongzi is alive or dead, Shaoshuai can decide with one word.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “Da w.a.n.g seems to forget who Song Gongzi’s father is? If anybody dares to murder his son, even ten thousand li away, or even Tianw.a.n.g Laozi [old man the king of heaven] himself, the final outcome will only be losing his life under his Heavenly Saber!”

It was not an empty threat at all. If the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que disregarded his own life and death and with his heart and soul wanted to a.s.sa.s.sinate someone, there was a very high chance that he would succeed.

Bai Ziting blurted out laughing and said, “Just now Shaoshuai reminded this king not to just look to the future and ignore the present, but now there is this warning to attach importance to the future; aren’t before and after contradictory to each other? Losing that batch of bows and arrows, my Longquan Upper Capital’s destruction is imminent, how could I have the leisure to consider the vast, with no clear boundary, unfathomable future? Besides, Song Gongzi’s life or death is not in my grasp at all, but it’s Shaoshuai’s responsibility to decide.”

Kou Zhong shook his head and said with a sigh, “Until just a moment ago, I still consider you, Laoxiong as merely a trading opponent. But now you have become my, Kou Zhong’s enemy; is the cause worth the trouble? But things have not yet taken a turn for the worst, as long as you, Bai Ziting, other than releasing Song Gongzi, also returning the eighty thousand sheets of sheepskin and canceling those Pingyao merchants’ debt, we can still end everything amiably.”

This was Kou Zhong’s last effort. If the negotiation broke down, everything would be resolved by force. Even without Tuli’s support, Kou Zhong still had a certain destructive power toward Longquan.

Bai Ziting threw his head back in long laughter; he said, “I am afraid Shaoshuai is overestimating yourself too much! I, Bai Ziting, definitely won’t do any losing business. Since one life can be exchanged with the bows and arrows, I can’t possibly pay half a penny more.”

Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “All right!”

Turning to Funantuo, he shouted, “I wonder if Guoshi can answer one question from me: the Jushi diplomatic delegation, where are they?”

Funantuo calmly replied, “Now is not the time. When it’s time to let Shaoshuai know, Shaoshuai will know.”

A deep hatred and humiliation that could not be washed clean by the five lakes and four oceans toward the two welled up in Kou Zhong’s heart. “Very well!” he shouted coldly, “Today at wei hour [1-3pm] we do business in the plain twenty li north of the city. Both sides are limited only to five hundred people; one hand exchanges the person, the other hand exchanges the goods. Otherwise this transaction is voided.”

He sighed inwardly. If they could not save Yuekepeng and his men, they would be caught in a completely-pa.s.sive and only-taking-a-beating disadvantageous position.

Bai Ziting cheerfully said, “Shaoshuai’s person is fast, your tongue is also fast. It’s a deal. Shaoshuai must not play any tricks. This place is my territory; one thing goes wrong, not only Song Gongzi will pay with his life, I am afraid it will also be difficult for Shaoshuai to have the luck to escape.”

Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Thank you very much for Da w.a.n.g’s reminder. Evil people, I have seen not a few, but none seems to be able to match Da w.a.n.g! We’ll wait and see!”

Turning around, he left in big strides. Reaching the entrance, he stopped and spoke indifferently, “Forgot to tell the happy Da w.a.n.g a news. Shen Mohuan has been personally slaughtered by me.”

Bai Ziting revealed a shocked expression before recovering his calm. He spoke heavily, “In that case, I need to congratulate Shaoshuai since you won’t need to write your surname and given name backward.”

Patting the Moon in the Well hanging on his back, Kou Zhong proudly said, “Da w.a.n.g must either give up, or go through to the end; you might as well retain me, Kou Zhong here, perhaps you can exchange me for a bit more gold and silver and jewels?”

Bai Ziting sighed and said, “It’s not that I don’t want to, but I can’t. Shaoshuai came here to meet your appointment with Xiufang Dajia, how could I not give Xiufang Dajia a bit of face?”

Kou Zhong let out a long whistle to vent the anger of injustice completely out of his heart, and then he left in big strides.

Kesubie appeared ahead, leading the way.

Kou Zhong’s mind returned to be crystal clear, like the still water of the moon in the well, without any ripple.

Since his debut, he had never experienced falling into such complicated, coming-together errors, while also in an absolutely pa.s.sive, disadvantageous position, yet it aroused his fighting spirit instead, making him wanting to deal with Bai Ziting to the end, to do everything he could to retrieve the eighty thousand sheets of sheepskin and the Pingyao merchants’ debt, to save his friends and brothers from being killed, while at the same time fulfilling his promise to Shang Xiufang to protect the lives of innocent people in Longquan City.

This kind of difficult problem, how was he going to solve it?

Later on, how was he going to explain to Ou Liangcai and Luo Yi?

Time was an even more difficult problem to solve.

Once the Tujue main forces pressed down on their territory, everything ceased to exist, it could only end with one of the parties being completely annihilated.

If there was Xu Ziling by his side to talk this matter over, it would be much better!

———-

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