Chapter 7 – Learning The Art of Taking Refuge

Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan Huang Yi 2022/9/21 8:56:05

Book 4 Chapter 7 – Learning The Art of Taking Refuge

The big boss’ mansion was situated in the center of Xingyang’s inner city. Previously it was the official residence of the governor in charge of the city. After it fell into Zhai Rang’s hands, he built extension to the building. The originally magnificent mansion house now became even more spectacular.

Xingyang was located south of the stream crossing the Grand Canal, along the canal connecting the land west of the Yellow River, passing Hulao [lit. Tiger Cage] and Yanshi, two cities, and continued on to the Eastern Capital Luoyang, comprising of several major water ways; therefore, Wagang Army was able to grow their roots and establish their foundation here, posing a significant threat to the Sui dynasty.

If the Eastern Capital fell, not only it would cut off the waterway link between the west side of the Capital and the East, psychologically the victor would also be able to leap to the throne over the numerous militias and overlords all over the world [tian xia, i.e. China].

Due to its strategic geographical position, Xingyang has become the transit center of Yellow River’s Grand Canal and other rivers, also an unavoidable fast horse relay station of past dynasties; for this reason, ever since Spring and Autumn, the Warring States period, it has been exceptionally thriving. In term of east-west waterborne transport center, its importance was second only to Luoyang.

Even in this chaotic time of war, Xingyang remained unusually prosperous. Along the street section from the southern gate to the Big Boss Mansion, grain retailers, oil mill, grocery stores and restaurants stood in great numbers, their doors were interlinking with each other.

The streets were exceptionally wide and could accommodate ten horses running side by side; the exact ambience of big town, big city.

Xingyang and the nearby Xingze along the Grand Canal, one was primary, the other one secondary; these two cities were practically one.

If Xingze’s pier were of the same scale as Xingyang, it would also become the shipping and distribution center, plus Xingyang was transit center for southern ships and northern horses, as well as the goods shipped between the River Wei and the Grand Canal.

Both places were located along a major route, in between was a very long official road, the houses and stores on either side of the road were linked together, became a major feature of this city.

From time to time, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling saw towering temples and pagodas, tall buildings and big houses. They mused that no wonder Wagang Army wanted to seize this big city to be their base of operation.

After they arrived at the big boss mansion, Susu led them to have a bath and change their clothes; she also repeatedly urged them to abide by the rules before taking them to the hall of Zhai Jiao’s lady chamber to see this arrogant Miss.

The two boys saw the reverent and respectful expression on Susu’s face, as she bowed humbly and complied fully with the courtesy, and stood with both hands hung down in front of the big miss of the Zhai family who was sitting on the host seat on a raised pedestal; just like a prisoner under interrogation.

After barking her order to the servant girls and old servants on her left and right to withdraw, which included even Susu, Zhao Jiao stared coldly at the two boys for quite a while, without any intention of asking them to sit down at all.

While the two boys were cursing her in their heart, Zhao Jiao said, “Tell me again.”

Kou Zhong sighed inwardly and took a deep breath, and then he vividly narrated what happened that day to her. Afterwards he asked, “I wonder where Miss was at that time?”

Zhai Jiao barked with her hoarse voice, “Right now I am asking you, or are you asking me?”

Kou Zhong was speechless; he did not know how to respond.

Xu Ziling was angry too. “May I ask Miss, is Da Longtou in?” he asked.

Zhai Jiao slapped the small table by her side, she roared, “What a brazen slave material! Are you deaf? Always speaking unnecessary words; perhaps you want me to give you a beating before you are willing to behave yourselves.”

[Translator’s note: slave material 奴材 nu cai, nu – slave, cai – material. During Deer and Cauldron project, the word was奴才 nu cai – slave. I don’t know whether the text is incorrect or Huang Yi intentionally used奴材 instead of奴才. Unless somebody could verify for me, I will use the literal translation: slave material.]

Kou and Xu, two boys looked at each other in astonishment. They brought this important and very useful information, who would have thought that they were considered slave material this and slave material that, and each time she opened her mouth she was shouting about beating and killing?

Seeing the two boys finally kept quiet out of fear, Zhai Jiao started to feel satisfied. Pointing to Xu Ziling, she said, “You look a bit honest, you tell me.”

Suppressing his anger, Xu Ziling said in low voice, “Please inquire, Miss.”

Zhai Jiao’s expression relaxed slightly; she nodded and said, “How did you climb up the beam? Based on Die’s martial art skill, how could he not know that you were hiding there? Moreover, based on Die’s martial art skill, even if someone was hiding in the chest wanting to mount a sneak attack on him, it is unlikely that he would succeed. I’ll say Die did not look like he received any injury at all; that man covered in Buddhist monk’s robe mustn’t be my Die.”

Kou Zhong was stunned. “This matter is very easy to confirm,” he said, “As long as Miss asks Da Longtou, won’t everything be clear?”

Zhai Jiao roared, “Shut up! Who allowed you to talk?”

Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, “I was just going to say the same thing. Find Da Longtou, one question, and the whole truth will be revealed.

Zhai Jiao’s plump, but not exquisitely shaped huge breasts, which looked like inflated protrusion on her chest, heaved violently up and down several times; her big eyes glowered at them as she said, “I will deal properly with this matter; you stay here, wait for Die to be back.”

Xu Ziling knitted his eyebrows and said, “How long must we wait?”

Zhao Jiao was a bit gentler toward Xu Ziling; unexpectedly she was willing to answer, “Ten days, eight days, nobody can tell. What can you do? I cannot feed you for free.”

Hearing that, Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong looked at each other. This Big Miss of the Zhai family, whom Susu said that her temper was not good, but her character was very good, did indeed treat them as slave materials who came to seek shelter to her.

Kou Zhong tested her, “Excuse me, Miss, may I talk now?”

Zhai Jiao seemed to particularly loathe Kou Zhong; she impatiently said, “Speak quickly.”

Kou Zhong pressed on, “Is it possible for us to rest for several days, and we’ll decide on what kind of work we do after Da Longtou returns?”

Zhai Jiao replied crossly, “I wish I had known earlier that you are a lazy guy. Was the rest last night not enough? Whenever the kitchen lacks manpower, you go there to help. Remember, you are not allowed to tell anybody about this matter; otherwise I will chop your head.”

Kou and Xu, two boys did not know whether they should cry or laugh. Right there and then they decided that they must persuade Susu to leave with them.

At the kitchen, the two boys moving and lifting, chopping melon and slicing meat, washing the dishes and plates, and were very busy in general until late at night before they could return to rest in the small room for the workers.

While they sighing in despair, Susu came. Apologetically she said, “I don’t understand either, why Miss treats you this bad. But my two good brothers [didi, younger brother], please bear with it for a while. When Da Longtou returns, everything will be different.”

Kou Zhong tried to analyze the situation, “I think she is annoyed that we unmasked the fact that she was abducted. She is the kind of person who puts emphasis on saving her face; naturally she is not happy.”

Susu was displeased, “Can you not talk abut her like that?” she said.

Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders and said, “Now your Miss is clear about the whole thing, Jiejie has also fulfilled your obligation, it would be better if we leave immediately, go to Luoyang to find Li Dage.”

Susu’s pretty face changed slightly; she shook her head helplessly.

Kou Zhong was confused, “Could it be that Susu Jie does not miss Li Dage?”

Biting her lip, Susu said in small voice, “Even if I do, what’s the use?”

Susu looked at the two boys distressingly for a moment, and then she said with a hollow laugh, “Your Li Dage’s ambition is higher than the sky, he does not have any care about boy-girl feeling; I plead you from now on not to put he and I together, is that alright? Besides, I basically am unworthy of him.”

The two boys were left speechless, they both felt sorry for her, although they did not understand why she thought that she was unworthy.

Susu changed the subject; she smiled and said, “You have not had the opportunity to tell Jiejie your encounters after we parted; why don’t you let Jiejie listen?”

It was just like the two boys have just met the only family they had in this whole wide world; chatting and laughing they narrated their experience this past year or so.

Susu’s pretty face blushed slightly as she said, “Two Didi are so bad; all day long the only thing in your mind is visiting brothels.”

Xu Ziling did not expect that after telling her about all kinds of exciting and dangerous adventures, the only thing Susu noticed was this aspect. Feeling terribly wronged, he said, “It was Kou Zhong’s idea, I was only forced to follow him.”

Embarrassed, Kou Zhong laughed awkwardly, “You, this guy, only know how to put the blame on me; you yourself don’t have that desire?”

Susu’s pretty face turned even redder; she irately said, “Stop it! All men are like that.”

The two boys looked at her in astonishment.

Susu lowered her pretty face, suddenly she spoke in mosquito-like voice, “Do you want Jiejie to serve you?”

Xu Ziling was greatly shaken, “Susu Jie!” he gasped.

Susu distressingly said, “Jiejie already accompanied other men, and you are not my flesh and blood Didi, so what’s the problem?”

Kou Zhong’s countenance changed, “How could Jiejie be good with other men? Li Dage … hey …”

Big drops of tears rolled down from Susu’s elegant eyes; hanging her head low she said, “Jiejie is only a servant, master’s order, I must obey; how can I make decision for myself?”

Jaya, Anh, Ysabel, HPC, Xanius, you are welcome. George, thanks. Sky, what Shirak and Drax said ... Apu, poor Susu because the plot thickens? Chapter 7 is rather long, I'll try to post the rest Friday.

The two boys suddenly understood; righteous indignation immediately filled their breasts!

Kou Zhong stood up suddenly, he cursed, “I’ll go staking my life against that b1tch.”

Horrified, Susu pulled him back and cried out in grief, “It has nothing to do with Miss!”

With eyes shooting flames Xu Ziling said, “Then who did it?”

Susu forced Kou Zhong back into his chair first before speaking with a sob, “That time Miss has not returned yet, Laoye was entertaining his subordinates in the mansion, Duke Mi also came. That night I came out to serve, someone asked for me from Laoye. Laoye agreed …”

Speaking to this point, her sob turned into silent tears.

The two boys were seething in anger, but when they asked that man’s name and surname, Susu was unwilling to tell them.

Quite a while later, the three people’s emotion cooled down a little bit.

“Must be Li Mi, that son of a b1tch,” Kou Zhong angrily said, “Let us go and stake our lives against him.”

Susu’s countenance changed, “It wasn’t him!” she said.

Xu Ziling probed her, “If you don’t tell us, we’ll just assume it was him. Old fellow Zhai is not a good man either.”

Susu anxiously said, “Laoye had no choice either; since the great victory over Xingyang, everybody said the greatest meritorious service belonged to Duke Mi, the fame of Duke of Pushan soared even higher. Ay, I am not supposed to tell you.”

Gnashing his teeth in anger Kou Zhong said, “If we had known, Susu Jie shouldn’t come back here.”

Susu wiped the tears using the corner of her sleeve, she forced a faint pained smile as she said in low voice, “Now you know why Jiejie didn’t want to see Li Dage again. Besides, he regarded me as his little sister. After that matter happened, Jiejie did not wish to live anymore, but I always felt that you are always lucky and under Heaven’s care, so I bore humiliation, hoping that there would come a day when I see you again. And now my wish is fulfilled.”

Xu Ziling seriously said, “Susu Jie must never have any thought of suicide. We are leaving tonight. As long as we can find some kind of hook and rope, we can bring Jiejie out. Afterwards we sister and brothers will not part anymore.”

Susu simply shook her head.

Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Why is Jiejie still reluctant to leave? Is it … hey …”

“Don’t make random guess,” Susu firmly said, “I really wish to tear that traitor into ten thousand pieces, but I am thinking of Miss’ kindness. Ay, how about this? After Laoye is back, and everything is made clear, Jiejie will entirely listen to your thought.”

Xu Ziling did not have any mood to stay; he resolutely said, “As soon as Zhai Rang hear it, he will immediately know whether this matter is true or bogus, there is no point in us staying here. If Jiejie is determined to follow us, tomorrow we will slip out of the mansion to procure the tools to escape. We’ll leave in the dark.”

“The most critical thing is that we must avoid Shen woman’s eyes and ears,” Kou Zhong added.

Under the two boys’ expectant eyes, finally Susu nodded her head.

Zhai family’s maids, servants, odd-job workers, guards, etc. numbered as much as around three hundred. Zhai Rang only had one daughter. His first wife died about two years ago. In Zhai Rang’s absence, Zhai Jiao was in charge.

Zhai Rang had three concubines, but none of them dared to provoke Zhai Jiao, this female overlord; thereupon Zhai Jiao, one person, ended up monopolizing the affairs within the Mansion.

In Zhai Mansion, because Susu was Zhai Jiao’s personal maid, although she did not like to stick her head in the mansion’s affairs, but most people were more or less looking at her face and thus treated Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling well.

As a matter of fact, by this time the two boys were even taller, robust and magnificent compared to those mansion guards. Their eyes lively and showed their quick-witted, no servants in the mansion dared to provoke them.

But because Zhai Jiao was deliberately tormenting them, the two boys’ job was heavy work of cleaning and other low-grade work in the kitchen. Naturally nobody dared to change this arrangement.

Since before dawn the two boys had been called to work and continued on until the kitchen finished preparing and serving breakfast. After being busy for two sichen [i.e. 4 hours] the two boys finally found the opportunity to slip out of the kitchen.

Kou Zhong laughed and said, “While washing the dishes, I did my best to practice. I never knew it could be so relaxing.”

Xu Ziling was also very pleased of himself; he said, “These past few days whenever I circulated the true qi within my body, more and more I was able to hear random things. Try it, send your true qi to the acupoint on your eardrums, we can even hear very clearly people far away gossiping about us in low voices.”

Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, “I will definitely try as soon as we go back, right now shopping is more important, this Da Longwan Fu [big dragon stupid mansion] is lifeless, it’s not suitable for us to stay for a long time.”

Xu Ziling wrapped his arm around Kou Zhong’s shoulder as they strode toward the front courtyard. He sighed and said, “When I think about our Big Miss, everything came to a halt, I just want to leave quickly.”

The two boys were wearing servant attire in which they worked, not only their clothes were stained with grease and patches of splashing water, their heads, hairs, hands and faces were not spared either. In fact, they did not look any better than when they were still in Yangzhou.

Kou Zhong proudly said, “That so-called ‘uncle manager’ or ‘big kitchen manager’ or what have you, I saw his technique in cooking dishes and seasoning; coming and going, he only uses several tricks, so I knew that the dishes he is preparing will all taste the same. If we brothers are in charge of his mother’s cooking, I guarantee that those Madame and Miss’ saliva will run over.”

By the time he finished talking, they have not crossed the wall surrounding the mansion yet, suddenly a cold snort coming from the front. At this point they were still walking along the corridor by the mansion, heading toward the large square in front of the mansion. Three mansion guards appeared from nowhere and blocked their way. The leader was one named Zhang Li, Susu has introduced them to him, hence they recognized him. This time he was confronting them arrogantly.

The two boys halted their steps and asked in surprise, “What’s the matter?”

Zhang Li stood with his hands akimbo; casting a sidelong glance toward the two boys, he said, “Didn’t anybody tell you? Inner mansion’s servants are not allowed to go to the front mansion. Not abiding by the rules so soon, are we?”

Kou Zhong tried his luck; he laughed and said, “We are not going to the front mansion at all, we are going to the street.”

The other mansion guard said, “Who sent you to go outside?”

Kou Zhong’s finger rubbed his own nose; he said, “Me.”

Zhang Li snapped, “Go back quickly. Without her order, you are not allowed to leave the mansion’s door even for half a step.”

Xu Ziling laughed aloud and said, “This is the greatest joke. We are not prisoners, at most we only skip work. We insist on leaving.”

Zhang Li and the others, three men, immediately appeared angry. One of them thundered, “How dare you? Are you tired of living?”

Kou Zhong giggled and said, “This brother of mine is bad-tempered, three Dashu [great uncles] Daren [title of respect toward superiors] are Daliang [magnanimous], please forgive us this time.”

Pulling Xu Ziling along he turned around and left. He spoke in low voice, “Hero will not suffer loss frontally. If the entire Zhai mansion guards surround us, we, the two newly emerged martial art masters, will immediately fall from glory.”

And then he added, “Just now I tried the skill you told me about, focusing my energy on the ears, instantly I was able to hear soft even breathing, as if it was not there, from inside the main hall. This person is a lot more formidable than Zhang Li and those abysmal characters. Evidently he is the real martial art master in the mansion.”

Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Ol’ Zhai is afraid his beloved daughter will be abducted again, naturally he dispatched martial art experts to protect her. Are we going back to our room to sleep now?”

With an air of complacency Kou Zhong said, “If the front door is impassable, we’ll take the back door, and we’ll leave immediately. People like Zhang Li and those lowly figures, it would be strange indeed if they don’t sow discord by telling that female overlord. Therefore, after we buy our stuffs, we must hide it well inside the mansion, so that that evil woman will not snatch it to become her own ‘mother monkey climbing the tree’ training tool. Ha!”

The two boys walked over the gravel path connecting the front and rear courtyards. A pack of five, six good-looking maids were walking directly toward them. Seeing the two boys, their eyes lit up. The bold ones even raised their eyebrows and made eyes with them, with a hint of smile at the corner of their mouth.

Although these maids were only slightly good-looking, they have given a big boost to the two boys’ confidence of their own sex appeal, making the two boys felt like they were walking on air.

Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Too bad we are going to slip away tonight. Otherwise we may not need to go to the pleasure house to shed this ‘litter-of-the-nest, green-head’ status.”

Xu Ziling admonished him, “Those are daughters of decent families, if we spoil them, we may not be able to feed them far and wide, and then we will be bored to death.”

Kou Zhong was shaken. “I have not thought about that aspect,” he said, “Looks like going to the pleasure house is more direct and efficient. Ay, but after this there will be Susu Jie watching on the side. On a lot of things we must be a bit more careful.”

In the meantime they have reached the big flower garden at the back of the mansion. Water was flowing in the little creek, the landscape was in good taste. Two good-looking maids were pruning the flowers and plants. Seeing the two boys coming, they whispered to each other and their pretty eyes stole a glance at them, a glance heavy with desire. However, the two boys could only avert their eyes as they walked straight pass them.

When the back door was in sight, they saw a middle age man wearing grey clothes was sitting quietly on a stone bench in the little pavilion on their left. The man was smoking pipe leisurely, swallowing clouds and blowing out fog, seemingly oblivious of these two boys.

The two boys did not give him any thought either; but as they were about to push the door and go out, the man in grey suddenly called out, “Two Xiao Xiongdi, please come here and speak a few words with me.”

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance; they knew something was not right, yet they did not have any idea how to deal with it, hence they could only brace themselves and walk over to the pavilion.

Laoren, actually, you and Apu are right, poor Susu … HPC, Jaya, Ysabel, Sky, Drax, Ari, Komeng, Critical, you are welcome. DongBin, LOL. One, I still have my lunch break, two, I still have to take my kids to swim class, three, it is not as hectic as the last couple of weeks. Funny as it is, I have more time translating during the week than in the weekends. Bocah, not yet …

The man in grey looked ordinary, but his bones and joints looked thick and solid, his complexion carried a strange red-purple aura, his eyes looked lively but also looked dull at the same time. He was indeed a profound mystery.

The two boys remembered seeing him in the mansion from a distance, and the other people were very respectful toward him, but they did not know his status.

With his pipe he pointed to the two stone blocks across the stone table from where he sat, and said, “Please have a seat.”

The two boys had no choice but to sit facing him.

The man in grey smiled and said, “I am Tu Shufang, the Longtou Mansion’s zongguan [chief manager]; my specific responsibility is the security of the mansion. I wonder where are two Xiao Xiongdi going?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “Just want to slip away to the street to roam around! Ever since we arrived at Xingyang, we haven’t had a chance to look around, it’s too bad.”

Tu Shufang nodded, “That is only natural,” he said, “But Miss commanded that if two Xiao Xiongdi did not have any urgent matter to attend to, it would be best if you don’t leave Longtou Mansion, everything can be discussed when Longtou Laoda is back.”

Xu Ziling’s temper flared, “Won’t that mean we are prisoners here?”

Tu Shufang sighed, “We don’t have any choice in this matter either,” he said, and then continued, “May I ask what animosity two gentlemen have against Shen Luoyan?”

The two boys were shaken; they inwardly blamed themselves for being muddleheaded and have not given any thought that Shen Luoyan would surely keep her tiger-eyes on them, and that Longtou Mansion was actually the only safe place for them.

Kou Zhong did not answer, but asked a question instead, “Did Miss ever tell Zongguan why we came here?”

Tu Shufang’s eyes were gleaming with lively ray, showing his consummate profound internal energy. He fixed his gaze on Kou Zhong for half a day before speaking in heavy tone, “When Miss told the Ol’ Tu to inquire two Xiao Xiongdi’s affair, she only said I must protect you with all my strength. Naturally Ol’ Tu must follow the order.”

Xu Ziling spoke in low voice, “How long has Zongguan been with Da Longtou?”

Tu Shufang also replied in low voice, “Two gentlemen please feel free to speak up, since whenever Da Longtou has something in his mind, he won’t conceal it from me either.”

Kou Zhong was not convinced yet. He asked, “What had happened to Miss recently, is Zongguan clear about that?”

Tu Shufang’s countenance showed a trace of fear. It was quite a while later that he finally said, “Naturally I am clear, but I wonder which matter the two gentlemen were referring to?”

Xu Ziling said, “Naturally it is concerning Miss traveling outside. Miss told us not to tell anyone, will Zongguan have the guts to hear it?”

Tu Shufang threw his head back and let out a long laughter, his bearing looked heroic and imposing; he said nonchalantly, “You have guts to speak up, I will have the guts to listen.”

Seeing he did not have the slave mentality, the two boys’ impression on him improved by leaps and bounds, so why would they take Zhai Jiao’s warning to heart? Thereupon they told him first about their encounter with Susu, and then they narrated in detail what had happened in the abandoned village.

When they finished, Tu Shufang’s countenance turned extremely unsightly.

Kou Zhong knew that although he spoke politely, the bottom line was that he doubted the authenticity of their tale. He calmly replied, “That is because our internal energy departs from the usual path, it differs greatly from martial art skill in general. If you don’t believe me there is no harm in testing us.”

Tu Shufang held out his hand and said with a smile, “In that case let’s just shake hands!”

Kou Zhong gulped. Although he agreed to also reach out and shake his hand, he still said, “You must not apply a heavy hand!”

Tu Shufang smiled mischievously and said, “Of course!” while applying his strength at the same time.

At first Kou Zhong felt that the opponent’s hand suddenly turned into an iron hoop, which was continuously tightening up; when his finger bones were about to crack, the true qi inside his body automatically flowed through his wrist. Although he still felt severe pain, he was able to endure it.

Tu Shufang was shocked. “Xiao Xiongdi’s internal strength is indeed unusually strange; it seems to exist but not there either. It is deep and unmeasurable.”

For the first time the two boys received an assessment from a martial art master; they were greatly delighted.

Tu Shufang consecutively sent his strength to break the opponent’s true qi, but each time it was neutralized by Kou Zhong. Finally he let go and said, “Ol’ Tu believes.”

But then he frowned and asked, “Based on your skill, why are you willing to stay in the kitchen and receive such maltreatment?”

Xu Ziling said with a bitter laugh, “What can we do? It’s Miss’ order.”

Tu Shufang pondered for half a day, and then he shook his head and said, “But Da Longtou did not look the least bit like he suffered internal injury. What actually happened here?”

Kou Zhong said, “Did Miss really get abducted and taken away, later on Zu Junyan pretended to rescue her and bring her back?”

“That is correct,” Tu Shufang replied, “But in the Mansion, other than the Ol’ Tu, nobody else knew about it. This is no small matter, presently I can only be regarded as not knowing. Everything has to wait for Da Longtou’s return and then let him decide.”

Seeing him this sensible, Xu Ziling let out a breath of relief, “So we can go out and roam around?” he asked.

Tu Shufang shook his head, “You can’t go out even more,” he said, “Right now Shen Luoyan stationed her men outside; the Mansion is under close surveillance. I dare not report this matter to Miss, afraid that she might create a disturbance; that’s why I hope Da Longtou would come back soon.”

Recalling Shen Luoyan’s ruthlessness, how could the two boys still dare to swagger out to buy the tools they were going to use to flee?

“Where is Da Longtou?” Kou Zhong casually asked.

Seeing that the two boys bared their soul to him, plus they were still naïve, candid and lovely, Tu Shufang felt some indescribable feeling welling up in his heart. He replied, “Da Longtou and Duke Mi are going on an all-out effort to attack Xingluo Storehouse. If we win this battle, the muddleheaded ruler’s days are numbered.”

Kou Zhong scratched his head and asked, “What kind of storehouse is Xingluo Storehouse anyway? Why is it so important?”

Tu Shufang patiently explained, “Xingluo Storehouse is located east of Luoyang, at the mouth of River Luo west of Xingyang, which is the confluence of the Canal and the Yellow River. The storehouse city wall encompasses twenty-something li, incorporating three thousand big cellars, each cellar contains eight thousand dan [dry measure of grain, approx. 100 liters/28 bushels]. If we can obtain such storehouse, our Wagang Army need not worry that we won’t have enough army provisions for the next ten years.”

Xu Ziling was puzzled. “Is the Sui Dynasty that stupid?” he asked, “Why would they set up such a clear target for others to attack?”

Tu Shufang let out a hollow laugh; he said, “When they set up the storehouse, how could they know that such a day would come? In those days, the primary objective of setting up such storehouse was to collect rice grain taxation to supply the imperial court. You should know that when Emperor Wen established Chang’an [modern day Xi’an], oftentimes the Guanzhong Plain [Shaanxi, valley of River Wei] did not produce enough crops to supply the demand of the Capital. Transporting the grains from the east one must take the dangerous and difficult path of Sanmenxia [lit. three-gate gorge], plus it was time-consuming and effort-heavy. After this big granary was built, the Capital was able to maintain the stability of grain supply.”

Kou Zhong was distressed. “In that case,” he said, “Nobody knows when Da Longtou will be coming back; won’t that mean that we will still have to continue chopping firewood, fetching water, washing the dishes and mopping the floor every day?”

Tu Shufang laughed. “That’s easy,” he said, “Let me talk it over with Miss.”

For lack of better option, the two boys helplessly agreed. Besides, on further thought they still had Susu to accompany them, plus they could take this opportunity to secretly train their martial art. After all, this Big Boss Mansion could still be considered as a cozy refuge.

Thinking to this point, they were even more relieved.

‘Beating the snake following the stick’ [see Book 3, Chapter 3], Kou Zhong said, “Apart from our internal energy, which appears a bit decent, our punching and kicking skill is only so-so. I wonder if Zongguan would mind giving us a bit of pointers.”

Tu Shufang gladly said, “Because of your honest humility, you can consider this time you found the right person. Considering I have heard the news that you upheld justice in faraway places, also you have saved Susu, I cannot be stingy. Let me pass on to you the skill that I am most proud of, the ‘Twelve-hand Qinna [grab and capture, grappling technique] Meridian-severing Technique’. Let’s see if it will be useful for you.”

In great delight the two boys immediately bowed with cupped fist to express their gratitude.

This moment, even if someone chased them away with a stick, they would definitely refuse to leave.