Book 6 Chapter 1 – Duke of Pushan’s Decree
There was a knock on the door. Xu Ziling, who was sitting in meditation on the bed, opened his eyes and called out, “Who is it?”
Kou Zhong pushed the door with hand and foot, and slipped inside. After closing the door, he still put his ear on the door to listen intently for quite a while before breathed a sigh of relief and walked over to sit on the bed. “I have just scouted the situation in the enemy camp,” he said proudly.
Xu Ziling was bewildered, “What enemy?” he asked.
Xu Ziling nearly burst out laughing. Painstakingly keeping a straight face, he said, “You either took the wrong medicine, or have gone insane. You were simply eavesdropping other people talking and already so excited that you talk without rhyme or reason.”
Kou Zhong giggled mysteriously and said, “I heard the sound of a female enemy panting.”
Xu Ziling scratched his head, “Female enemy panting?” he asked, “Is it Yun Yuzhen or Xiao Dajie? Those two appear to be the kind of women who love to pant.”
Kou Zhong slapped a thigh and cheered, but it was Xu Ziling’s thigh. Roaring in laughter he swayed back and forth and said, “Women who love to pant, that’s a good one. Only a lecher who’s disguised as an upright gentleman like you could come out with that, making those who hear it could not refrain from having a ‘fleeting cloud, pouring rain’ kind of reverie.”
Xu Ziling knitted his scimitar-shaped eyebrows as he rubbed the sore thigh Kou Zhong slapped. “This time this kid has really gone mad,” he muttered under his breath.
Kou Zhong scooted over that they were now sitting side by side. Wrapping his arm around Xu Ziling’s shoulder, he said, “Just now I touched Beautiful Shifu.”
Xu Ziling was visibly shaken, “What did you touch?” he asked.
Kou Zhong boldly said, “Her slender lily-white hand.”
Xu Ziling scoffed, “And I thought it was someplace important. When she taught us the Bird-Crossing Technique, didn’t she also touch my hand? Earlier she was letting you to kiss her, why did you run away in panic?”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “This is called now is now, then is then. This time it was this Shaoye who made the move, so it’s a different matter altogether. After I touched her, she acted as if nothing had happened and went into hiding in her room, but when I focused my power to my ears, immediately I was able to hear that this female enemy unexpectedly was leaning against the door and panting. Obviously my sex appeal to her is just too strong.”
Xu Ziling was angry, “Sex appeal your granny!” he cursed, “Could this woman be a good person? The lesson you learned from Li Xiuning is not enough? Right now we are going to avenge Niang …”
Smiling mischievously Kou Zhong slapped his back and said, “No need to get angry. This Shaoye won’t blame you for being shortsighted, because you didn’t know that moving troops with chat and laughter is the highest realm of the military tactic. What’s not good about bad woman? At least she has ample experience in that kind of thing that she will be able to give guidance to the upstart boys. That was the reason why I gave her the nickname Beautiful Shifu, so you see, I already had the foresight.”
But then he sighed and went on, “Actually, I was not happy because of her reaction, but I was happy for us, two brothers. Thinking about the first time we came across her, we were still frustrated and feeling inferior, but now not only I can touch her without getting scolded, I can also make her feel that I am a man qualified to touch her. Hence it is clear that we have earned our place in Jianghu.”
Xu Ziling muttered irresolutely, “You remind me of an immeasurably self-satisfied newly rich, or perhaps a snob who seeks governmental position and riches by hook or by crook.”
Kou Zhong forcefully slapped Xu Ziling’s shoulder; he was in complete agreement, “This four-character saying ‘by hook or by crook’ [Translator’s note: most Chinese sayings/idiom have four characters] is very true. If not ‘by hook or by crook’, if it was ‘with hands and feet tied’, then there won’t be enough people fighting. Because Li Mi understood ‘by hook or by crook’, he became the Big Boss of the Wagang Army. Of course! My ‘by hook or by crook’ is only directed toward the enemy.”
Xu Ziling sneered. “I am sorry,” he said, “My understanding of this four-character mantra is a bit different from Zhong Shao’s. If we are talking about a friend, there won’t be any ‘by hook or by crook’! Not only Zhai Rang was Li Mi’s superior, he was his comrade-in-arms and benefactor. Now that’s what I call by ‘hook or by crook’.”
With a wry smile Kou Zhong said, “The main reason you are mad at me is because I am colluding with the female enemy. Ay! One lifetime two brothers, I’ll do whatever you think is good! Worst-case scenario Xiaodi [I, little brother] will have to find another Beautiful Shifu inside the women apartment at the Tian Xiang Lou [heavenly fragrance building], Miss Yu Ling. I hope my foresight is a bit keener this time.”
Xu Ziling punched Kou Zhong’s thigh; he laughed and said, “You just want to make me laugh.”
Kou Zhong sighed; he said, “In this world, there is nothing that I, Kou Zhong, fear. The only thing I am afraid of is seeing Ling Shaoye get angry and refuse to laugh. Hey! I have always wanted to ask you this: do you think Li Dage can be considered our brother?”
Xu Ziling was taken aback, “I have never thought about it,” he said, “Why do you ask?”
Kou Zhong replied in a heavy voice, “We knew Su Jie at least one or two sichen [1 sichen = 2 hours] earlier than we knew Li Dage, hence we ought to be a bit closer to Su Jie. Given that Su Jie is such a good woman yet Li Jing did not know how to cherish and take a good care of her, I felt very uncomfortable.”
Xu Ziling was about to reply when Big Sister Xiao, whose looseness penetrated the bones, called them out, “Come to the main cabin, there’s an important think we need to tell you!”
In the main cabin, everybody was sitting around the table. Other than Big Sister Xiao, Xiang Yushan and Susu, Yun Yuzhen also joined for the first time.
Xiang Yushan and Susu sat together; from time to time four eyes met in such an intimate manner.
Big Sister Xiao spoke up seriously, “Just received the latest news: Li Mi claimed that you killed his trusted lieutenant the ‘Flying Feather’ Zheng Rong, as a result, he issued the ‘Duke of Pushan’s Decree’, vowing to cut off your heads. Whoever can capture you alive will not only receive a thousand taels of gold, but will also become his Junshi [military counselor, just like Shen Luoyan]. Whoever can present your heads to him will not only receive reward, but will also be promoted to be his great general.”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong looked at each other in dismay. Zheng Rong was killed by Liu Heita, yet the blame was put on their heads; in the end, it was just an excuse to kill them.
The person Susu feared the most was Li Mi; her countenance changed. “What should we do?” she asked.
With a cold laugh Kou Zhong said, “I am not afraid of him! He did not know how lucky he is I did not come to settle the debt with him, now he is taking advantage of us by putting the blame on us, two brothers.”
“Kou Xiong, please do not get angry,” Xiang Yushan hastily said, “Right now Li Mi’s fame and power covers the world, drawing the hearts of millions of people. Since he blatantly issued a decree to kill you, it is clear that he will spare no effort to deal with you. After Yangzhou mission is completed, Xiaodi can make arrangement to have two Dage to lie low until the fuss dies down; you must never let your emotion affect your decision.”
Big Sister Xiao added, “Right now Li Mi has the greatest chance to become the Emperor, plus he knows to buy the hearts of the people; hence all the heroes of the world are looking up to him for leadership. Since he is offering heavy rewards, there must be a lot of people who will blindly follow him and give you trouble. Only an outstanding talent can recognize current trends; you hide for a while, nobody will dare to say that you are cowards.”
Looking at their hard-to-appease anger, Yun Yuzhen, who was rather familiar with their character, said, “Li Mi issuing the ‘Duke of Pushan’s Decree’ is really unwise, because you are alive and well a day longer, he could not get out of it a day longer too. The further it drags along, the heavier the damage to his reputation will be. It would be best if the two of you make appearances here and there from time to time; he will be like riding a tiger and cannot get off.”
Her remark was very effective. Kou Zhong immediately nodded and said, “All right! He wants to drive us away, we swear to fight him to the end, so that he will find it hard to sleep, and he will eat without tasting the food.”
Xiang Yushan laughed and said, “And plus two Dage’s reputation will be flourishing even more. Even now there are people who place you on par with people like Ba Fenghan, Yang Xuyan, the ‘Passionate Prince’ Hou Xibai and the others. They believe that outside the Four Powerful Clans, you are the most prominent rising stars.”
Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, “Where did Xiang Xiaoge [little big brother] hear it from?” he asked, “Did you disembark and listen to other people’s talk?”
“Xiao Zhong!” Susu scolded him, “Can you watch your mouth?”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “This kid is too excited today.”
Kou Zhong shot a sidelong glance toward Yun Yuzhen; he said with a chuckle, “Beautiful Shifu is very good to us, naturally her disciples are particularly happy.”
Yun Yuzhen’s pretty face blush a little; she glowered at him in return.
Big Sister Xiao said, “While we have time, let’s eat dinner first, and then we can discuss how we are going to deal with that muddleheaded ruler!”
Changing the topic, Kou Zhong asked, “What kind of person is Hou Xibai anyway? How come his nickname is so weird?”
Xiang Yushan laughed, “If you want to know clearly, you ought to ask Yun Bangzhu,” he said, “She has met Hou Xibai.”
A complicated look flitted across Yun Yuzhen elegant eyes; she said softly, “I don’t want to talk about this person.”
Big Sister Xiao let out a cold snort, “What ‘passionate’?” she said, “Just being lenient everywhere, that’s all! Funny thing is that he loves to seduce women. In fact, no one has ever heard him having a good relationship with women. This man’s background is more mysterious than Yang Xuyan and Ba Fenghan.”
Going back to the topic at hand, she turned to Kou Zhong with slight edge on her voice, “Can we talk about proper business now?”
Xu Ziling answered for him, “Xiao Dajie, please speak.”
Big Sister Xiao cast Kou Zhong a sidelong glance; smiling mischievously, she said, “To convince Yang Guang, first of all, you have to fit his fancy; report only the good news, not the bad news.”
Xiang Yushan joined in, “Yang Guang’s mood is extremely unstable, from time to time he wakes up from a dream, shouting and screaming about ghosts who died of injustice demanding his life. Even when he is laughing and looks so happy, he must not be provoked at all. If his underlings said something untoward and he happened to hear it, light punishment will be flogging, heavy punishment will be beheading. Therefore, everybody has to follow his tone and likes and dislikes in their talk.”
Susu asked, “How’s his martial art skill? Is he formidable?”
Yun Yuzhen laughed and said, “His martial art came from Yang Jian, naturally he has some real skill. However, after wine and women nibbled away at his body and mind for so many years, how much weight left is kind of hard to say.”
Big Sister Xiao also coached the two boys on the court etiquette, and how to curry favor with Yang Guang. She stopped only when the maids came in bringing meat dishes for their dinner.
The overwhelmed Kou Zhong said, “This muddleheaded ruler is really difficult to serve.”
Susu reminded him, “Helping people must be through the end, later you must remember to do your best in treating Xiang Gongzi of his former ailment.”
Kou Zhong was actually unwilling, but he was helpless to refuse.
On the other hand, Xu Ziling readily agreed.
Xiang Yushan expressed ten thousand thanks for a thousand kindnesses.
When the two boys finally took a walk on the cabin deck, Kou Zhong blamed Xu Ziling, “How could you agree so readily? I was thinking of dragging this matter with that Xiang kid as long as possible, to teach him a lesson that he should not carelessly take any rash action.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “I only do that for Su Jie.”
Kou Zhong was still resentful about it, “Can’t you see that that kid deliberately courting Su Jie only because he wants us to heal his injury?”
Xu Ziling reached out the bow of the ship, he grabbed the railing’s horizontal pole and breathed deeply of the ice-cold air of the river breeze. He said in heavy voice, “If in the future Xiang Yushan dare to turn his back on Su Jie, I, Xu Ziling will be the first not to let him off.”
Seeing how resolute and decisive [orig. chop the nail and slice the iron] Xu Ziling was, Kou Zhong knew that there was no room for discussion in this matter. Changing the subject, he said, “How do you think we should deal with that dog thief Li Mi?”
Xu Ziling said, “Unless you have a magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, what can you do? Just Wang Bodang that lowly man we are already unable to deal with him, much less Li Mi?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “What you said is in deep agreement with my thinking; right now he is forcing us to our head, therefore, we must establish our own troops, must make a supreme effort to recruit soldiers and buy horses. Just like everything else, without money nothing can be done. I am thinking that before we get the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’, we need to borrow money from the Xiang kid. After we get money, naturally doing things will be easier.”
Xu Ziling was shocked. “It is for Niang’s sake that we are doing this; how could we want other people’s money?”
Kou Zhong felt snubbed big time; with a wry smile he said, “Ay! How come nowadays every time I came up with any plan you always disagree?”
Xu Ziling reached out to wrap his arm around Kou Zhong’s shoulder; he said, “If we want to earn money, we have to earn it using our pair of hands. Since temporarily we need to go into hiding, we might as well hide at the ‘training beach’, take that batch of salt out, transport it to the northwest and gain great wealth. After we have the money, we can buy a large house to be our base of operations. At that time, you could shut the gate, declare yourself a king or proclaim yourself a hegemon or whatever you want.”
Kou Zhong’s eyes lit up immediately; he excitedly said, “We’d better do it sooner rather than later. Taking advantage while the Ol’ Die is cutting off the Song Clan’s livelihood and the price of salt is skyrocketing, we will make a good fortune. Ha! This time we will succeed!”
Footsteps were heard from behind, Susu was coming. Squeezing herself between the two boys, she wrapped her arms around the boys’ waists, and said in a low voice, “Are you angry at Jiejie?”
Kou Zhong was puzzled, “Angry at Jiejie for what?” he asked.
Susu hung her head low and said, “Angry at Jiejie for forcing you to treat Xiang Gongzi’s illness. Ay! His character is not as bad as you think. He even told me about cricket fight he used to do when he was young. I did not know cricket has intelligence!”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong exchanged a glance; the former seized this opportunity to ask, “Does Jiejie like him?”
Susu was blushing so deep that even her ears were red; greatly displeased and annoyed, she said, “I only get along well with him! Jiejie has already said I won’t marry!”
Suddenly Kou Zhong was severely shaken, “Disaster!” he exclaimed.
Xu Ziling and Susu followed his gaze and saw under the moonlight, on the river ahead, two big ships sailed speedily like torrential rush, from the tributary, blocking their way.
Alarm sounded on their ship, Xiang Yushan, Yun Yuzhen, Big Sister Xiao, and about a dozen Baling Bang martial art masters rushed out. When they got to the three people’s side, they looked suspiciously to the two big ships, which were gradually getting closer.
Frowning, Xiang Yushan said, “They are Li Zitong’s ships. If this time he is personally coming, we will be in big trouble.”
Kou Zhong sneered and said, “Isn’t Xiang Gongzi getting on very well with people from both the black and white ways?”
“Xiao Zhong!” Susu scolded him, “At this moment you still say such thing?”
Xiang Yushan smiled wryly and said, “Whenever it involves the struggle over the world, there is no favor between sons and fathers, to say nothing of our Baling Bang has had no dealings with Li Zitong before.”
Xu Ziling said, “We have also heard about this man, but we don’t know enough details.”
Yun Yuzhen said, “Li Zitong is a hegemon of the Eastern Sea, a vicious and merciless man. At first he was the leader of the uprising at Changbai Mountain; after crossing the Huai River, he supported Du Fuwei as the leader. Later on for some unknown reason he had a fall out with Du Fuwei; leading his own troops he occupied Haling and called himself the Commander-in-Chief, his fame and power is extremely flourishing.”
Big Sister Xiao added, “His ‘bamboo joint copper whip’ is shaped like a long stick, it ranks among the ‘amazing skill incredible art’, it can be flexible it can be stiff, its specialty is to break the inner power and true qi of the opponent; very formidable.”
And then she continued softly, “Two Gongzi and Miss Susu better avoid it in the cabin, let us deal with them.”
Kou Zhong swept his gaze around; seeing all of the Baling Bang masters on the ship were waiting in tight formation, his heroic spirit was aroused at once. “So much avoidance already,” he said, “Can I borrow a saber or something? Xiao Ling will be in charge of protecting Su Jie.”
One of Xiang Yushan’s subordinate respectfully asked, “What kind of weapon does Xu Ye want?”
Xu Ziling shook his head, “I don’t need weapon,” he said.
The man was startled, and then he simply left.
Yun Yuzhen asked in astonishment, “Xiao Ling don’t use weapon?”
Xu Ziling did not have the least bit of good opinion on her, he coldly said, “My hands are my weapon.”
Meanwhile the incoming ships were only about ten zhang away from them. The opposite party flashed them a signal, requesting them to lower the sail and stop the ship.
They saw the two ships’ deck, as well as the viewing platform, were densely packed with people; it was indeed an impressive show of force that intimidated the people’s heart.
Their ship was actually half size bigger than the opposite party’s, but it was design mostly to ferry goods. In battle, not only it would not win against the nimble enemy’s warships, it would also become a prominent target for fiery arrows and sling stones attack, because the bigger the ship, the more difficult it was to protect.
The situation right now was that although the opponent was strong, but to easily give in and surrender would also seem to be unwise.
Xiang Yushan muttered, “I did not expect Li Zitong’s influence would reach to this place.” And then, waving his hand, he gave his order, “Prepare to break a siege!”
Baling Bang people acknowledged the order loudly.
Suddenly a cold snort, which actually rose above the hundred or so people’s voice shouting their acknowledgement, was heard from the enemy’s ship, followed by a one hundred percent bold male voice, “Excuse me, may I ask if the Er Dangjia Xiao Xian Xiong [second master, see Book 4 Chapter 9] is on board, presiding over the current situation?”
Big Sister Xiao laughed tenderly and responded, “Turns out it is indeed Li Longtou [lit. dragon head, i.e. big boss] himself who is coming to visit; Xiao Huan pays her respect!”
When everybody heard that it was indeed Li Zitong himself, they all groaned in their hearts.
Li Zitong laughed aloud and said, “Turns out it is the ‘Coquettish Lady’ Xiao Dajie. Looking at your esteemed brother’s face, this time the Ol’ Li will act according to Jianghu rules; everybody please stay where you are.”
Xiang Yushan knew that he was going to come; hastily he ordered his men not to act.
Before he even finished speaking, a man in white already soared from the deck of the enemy ship, across about a dozen zhang of empty space between the ships, and landed steadily on the bow of their ship.
Composing themselves, they saw that this Li Zitong was about thirty-five or thirty-six years old, his appearance was rather handsome and majestic. However, the hair on his temples was frosty white. His white clothes fluttered under the caressing of the river breeze, giving a bit of impression that he was a confident and at ease, someone who was above the dust of the earth. The only defect would be his eyes, which were thin and long, so that it felt out of proportion, something that did not match the perfect outline of his face.
They did not expect Li Zitong to be this refined and graceful, so every felt a bit surprised.
Li Zitong stood with hands behind his back, his bright and glistening eyes slowly swept across everybody’s face. Finally he stopped at Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong’s faces. Acting as though there were nobody else present, he said, “I want the two of you to follow the Ol’ Li obediently! I guarantee glory, splendor, wealth and rank, as well as endless benefit for you.”
Meanwhile the enemy’s two ships turned around nimbly. One in front the other at the rear, they sandwiched the big ship in the middle.
Yun Yuzhen saluted and said, “Jukun Bang’s Yun Yuzhen pays her respect to General Li; I was wondering …”
Li Zitong cut her off offhandedly, “Turns out it is Yun Bangzhu. Unexpectedly you look this beautiful; no wonder there are so many heroes of Jianghu are infatuated with you.”
On the surface he was putting it nicely, but it was actually a very mean remark; he was implying that Yun Yuzhen was a very loose woman. Other than being extremely rude, he was also making it very clear that he did not have any regards toward Jukun Bang. Of course everybody’s countenance changed.
Yun Yuzhen’s pretty face turned cold; she was about to flare out when Xiang Yushan took a step forward in front of her and said, “Wanbei [younger generation] Xiang yushan, my humble father is Xiang Gui. May I ask what kind of task General Li has for these two brothers of mine?”
Li Zitong cast a disdained glance toward Xiang Yushan; with a mocking tone he said, “I don’t care if your father is here; would the Ol’ Li take any instruction from him?”
Kou Zhong signaled Xu Ziling with his eyes; he shouted, “I don’t care if you are Li Zitong of Li Butong [butong means ‘don’t understand/does not make sense’], if you want us to obey your orders, you will have to show us a bit of your real skill; would we, two brothers, be afraid of anybody?”
Seeing Kou Zhong playing a joke on his name, surprisingly Li Zitong did not feel it to be disrespectful at all; he laughed aloud and said, “Young upstart hero, no wonder Old Du also viewed you in a new light. Let us make a bet, as long as within a hundred moves I can beat the two of you together, both of you must obediently follow me, and listen to everything Ol’ Li orders you to do.”
Kou Zhong took the steel saber that was handed over to him; he strode out and said with a cold laugh, “What if you cannot force us? I definitely don’t want to follow you by your side like a dog!”
Li Zitong finally could not take it anymore, his eyes flashed a murderous look, he swiftly moved forward.
Kou Zhong stayed calm without showing any fear, his saber also moved swiftly to hack.
Stay tune for the big fight tomorrow. Bonus post in observance of Fourth of July ...