Book 8 Chapter 4 – Earthly Saber Song Zhi
Kou Zhong looked at the sailboat coming fast at them from the upper reaches of the River. Stopping Xu Ziling, he said, “Don’t you think that boat look a lot like the ship that flew Song Clan’s banner last night? But now the flag has been taken down.”
“Isn’t it very easy if you really want to know?” Xu Ziling replied indifferently. Suddenly he leaped onto a big rock by the beach. Applying his qi, he called out, “May I ask if Miss Song is onboard?” His voice was carried by the wind toward the approaching sailboat.
Kou Zhong was stunned. He looked up at Xu Ziling, who was perched high on the rock, in disbelief. Completely at a loss, he asked, “Aren’t you in strong opposition of me getting close to Song Yuzhi? Why today you are completely changed from your normal self? This kind of proactive action is really shocking.”
Xu Ziling let out a sincere and touching smile; he slyly said, “Basically you already knew that it was the same boat as last night, yet you put an act by asking me. No matter what I say, you will always find a way to make me do what you want me to do. So I might as well help you accomplish your aim. Aren’t I a good enough brother for you?”
Kou Zhong roared in laughter, “You are funny enough for sure, you got me there. Ha! You’ll make me die of laughing!”
One after another the two boys leaped onto the deck. Song Yuzhi looked at them coldly, without showing any emotion she said, “Turn around, return to port!”
Song Shuang, who was standing behind her, quickly transmitted the order. The sailors got busy immediately.
Kou Zhong bowed to salute and said, “Miss Song is going back and forth on the Great River, I wonder if it was for us, two brothers?”
Song Yuzhi stared at him coldly for quite a while. Suddenly she shook her head and sighed, “How did you do it?” she asked.
Xu Ziling replied nonchalantly, “Miss’ news is really fast and abundant.”
Upset, Song Yuzhi said, “Only the deaf and the blind would not know about it. Ren Shaoming’s death has turned the entire Jiujiang region into chaos, nobody is able to put it under control. Tieqi Hui is expressing their rage toward the Wulin characters inside the city, a lot of people have died. I heard that Chu Army is also in conflict with Tieqi Hui.”
Listening to her, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in dismay, thinking in their heart that they had implicated a lot of people.
Noticing that her boat has successfully turned around and was now sailing against the stream, Song Yuzhi softened. “How about two Gongzi giving me a face by coming inside for some refreshment, and food and drink?”
The two boys entered a small cabin at the end of a narrow gangway where a round table with more than a dozen chairs arranged around it. Immediately they were stunned.
Seven or eight people were crammed along the wall opposite the cabin door. Only one of them sat, steady and stable; obviously he was the one with the highest status.
The man looked to be around forty years of age, slim and tall, his skin was as white as snow, on his thin and narrow face was a pair of enigmatic, yet intelligent eyes. Along with a passionate and sensitive mouth with long, five-strand beard, and his scholarly attire, he was a picture of an elegant and handsome man, like Zhuge Wuhou descended to the world of the immortals.
Seeing the two boys entered, his entire body rose, and he said with a smile, “Zaixia Song Zhi, welcoming two Gongzi’s honorable selves who grace us wih your presence. Please sit down!”
Unexpectedly he was the second-in-command of the Song Clan, the ‘Earthly Saber’ Song Zhi!
After regaining his composure, Kou Zhong saluted and said with a laugh, “Turns out Song Er Ye [second master] has come.”
Song Zhi cheerfully said, “Sit down first, we’ll chat later.”
Only after Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were seated properly did Song Zhi also sat down. The other martial art masters of the Song Clan stood behind Song Zhi’s chair. Only Song Yuzhi and Song Shuang stood on the two boys’ side.
Xu Ziling felt awkward, “Why don’t Miss Song and the others sit down?” he asked.
Calmly Song Zhi laughed and said, “Just let Laofu [old man, referring to self] sit on their behalf! This time the two Gongzi were able to strike and kill Ren Shaoming under the heavy siege of Tieqi Hui’s as-numerous-as-the-cloud martial art masters, skillfully executed brilliant scheme, in battle of wits and battle of strength, inevitably the news about this battle exploded all over the world. However, with increasing fame comes increasing trouble. I was wondering what plan do the two Gongzi have for the future?”
Noticing that Song Zhi was well-aware of the situation as if he had personally witnessed it, the two boys’ heart shivered in fear, knowing that he must have an informant planted within the Tieqi Hui.
Song Zhi went on, “There is one thing that I am not sure two gentlemen are aware of. Ren Shaoming was actually Tiele’s ‘Big Bandit’ Qu Ao’s son. This man is going on the rampage along western frontier, no one is able to put him under control. Speaking about prestige, he is second only to Wuzun [martial art venerable] Bi Xuan. But in terms of cruelty and killing skill, Bi Xuan lags far behind him.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly astonished.
Qu Ao’s name, they overheard it when they eavesdropped Song Yuzhi and Shen Luoyan’s dialog the other day. Song Yuzhi was emphasizing to Shen Luoyan that Qu Ao was colluding with Du Fuwei to deal with Li Mi. Unexpectedly he and Ren Shaoming had a father and son relationship.
However, they were not afraid at all.
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “A plan, we do not have any. But it is quite possible that Song Er Ye has never heard that we, two brothers, are planning to haul a batch of salt to the salt-deficient Guanzhong, hoping to earn his mother’s large profit.”
Hearing Kou Zhong spoke vulgar words, although on the surface Song Yuzhi was frowning deeply, a feeling of intimacy and hard to describe thrill welled up in her fragrant heart.
Song Zhi was silent for half a day. Suddenly he threw his head back and let out a long laughter. Looking out the window, he stared at the riverbank resplendent under the bright sunlight. He was quiet for quite a while with just a smile on his face. Finally his gaze returned to the two boys as he said with a hoarse laughter, “Am I right in saying that two Gongzi do not consider me as a friend?”
Song Yuzhi, who was standing behind Kou Zhong, said in disdain, “I already said that this man does not speak half a word of truth!”
Rather surprised, Song Zhi cast a glance toward his niece before turning to the two boys and spoke in earnestness, “If that is indeed the two Gongzi’s only aspiration, you would not have killed Ren Shaoming, and would not have asked us to support Gui Xiliang to be the Bangzhu as the condition to our business deal. Is Laofu wrong?”
As if nothing had happened, Kou Zhong calmly said, “How could Song Er Ye be wrong? But I was telling you the truth.”
Xu Ziling added, “This time we are transporting salt to Guanzhong is indeed our, two brothers’ cherish desire to temper ourselves.”
A mysterious smile appeared on Song Zhi’s face. “The ‘Duke Yang Treasure’ is in Guanzhong, isn’t it?” he said lightly.
The two boys’ heart shivered even more. This Song Zhi’s reputation as the Song Clan’s ‘wisdom sack’ was indeed well deserved; unexpectedly he managed to deduce the fact with seventy, eighty-percent accuracy. Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Song Er Ye is indeed formidable!”
Song Zhi said indifferently, “Why not do a bit bigger business? Might as well do it.”
Kou Zhong was puzzled, “How can we do a bit bigger business?”
Song Zhi smiled and said, “No matter how much salt the two Gongzi want, we can supply it.”
After exchanging glances with Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “One thing we, two brothers, are most afraid of is precisely falling into someone else’s control.”
“It’s not that two gentlemen are afraid to fall into someone else’s control,” Song Zhi cut him off, “Rather, you are unwilling to bow down to anybody. If I, Song Zhi, cannot see this point, I would not have spoken these words today.”
Song Yuzhi joined in, “Er Shu [second uncle]! Yuzhi already said that they don’t know the immensity of heaven and earth!”
Song Zhi laughed and said, “Yuzhi should not say anything emotional; anybody who could kill Ren Shaoming is qualified to speak like Kou Xiaoxiong and Xu Xiaoxiong.”
After fixing his eyes on Kou Zhong for quite some time, he stroked his beard and said with a smile, “Currently, with the death of Ren Shaoming, the situation in the south is reversed. Looking at all the warlords vying for supremacy, only Lin Shihong and Xiao Xian are more or less able to vie with our Song Family. If the two gentlemen have the aspiration to obtain the world, why not talk about the possibility of cooperation with each other?”
A fantastic feeling rose up in Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s heart, realizing that they were highly regarded after killing Ren Shaoming. Otherwise, how could they stand on equal footing with this second-in-command of the Song Clan? Let alone having high-level talk about cooperation with him.
After short contemplation, Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Only under one condition will we be able to really work together with a common purpose: your precious Clan’s Clan Master must be willing to betroth Miss Yuzhi to me, Kou Zhong.”
All the martial art masters of the Song Clan, who all long stayed silent, were stunned. Song Yuzhi even exclaimed, “Ah!” with her tender voice. Red clouds appeared on her jade cheeks, whether from happiness or anger, it was hard to distinguish.
Only Song Zhi remained as calm and cool-headed as ever. After staring at Kou Zhong for quite a while, he laughed involuntarily and said, “Kou Xiaoxiong’s ambition is indeed not low, but you are simply counting your chicken before they are hatched.”
Xu Ziling remained unruffled. Nobody was able to see his innermost thoughts.
Kou Zhong felt no qualms; maintaining a straight face he said craftily, “The dowry is the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’.”
Song Yuzhi almost wanted to pinch Kou Zhong dead on the spot. “No!” she screamed, “I am not going to marry him!”
Song Shuang, who doted on Song Yuzhi the most, could not refrain from saying, “Yuzhi is already engaged!”
Song Zhi raised his hand to stop the two from speaking further. He looked at Kou Zhong, and then he looked at the ever-enigmatic Xu Ziling. Finally he nodded and said, “Kou Xiaoxiong is definitely a worthy candidate to vie other the world. If our Song Clan missed this opportunity, my humble [elder] brother will definitely blame me.”
Severely shaken, Song Yuzhi exclaimed, “Er Shu!”
Song Zhi smiled at her and said, “The ‘Duke Yang Treasure’ is still an exceedingly remote possibility. Besides, this matter will not happen unless we receive your father’s nods. Yuzhi, why panic?”
Kou Zhong was delighted, “Miss Song, please set your mind at ease,” he said, “If when the day comes you say ‘No’, how could I, Kou Zhong, shamelessly force you?”
Everybody nodded their heads in approval; they all admired Kou Zhong’s broad-mindedness and elegance.
Only Song Yuzhi tightly pursed her lips, but she did not speak a single word of opposition either.
Song Zhi laughed and said, “This matter has thus been more or less decided. Would two Xiaoxiong require our assistance?”
Kou Zhong shook his head to decline. Lowering his voice, he said, “Er Ye ought to give forming an alliance with Xiao Xian a careful thought. That Lin Shihong is being pressed by the enemy front and back; it’s hard for him to accomplish anything.”
None of the people from Song Clan’s side was not emotionally moved.
 Zhuge Wuhou – Marquis of Wu, is the nobility title of Zhuge Liang, a famous character from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Song Zhi’s eyes were gleaming with lightning flashes. It was quite a moment later that he said, “All along we and Baling Bang are like river water that does not interfere with well water, yet there is no friendly relationship either, so …”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Leave it to us, two brothers, to act as a go-between [orig. to thread a needle]. And now let us return to Baling. Whatever Xiao Dangjia thinks, we will let Er Ye know.”
Song Zhi chuckled and said, “Talking with two Xiaoxiong, you act quick and you talk quick, it is indeed very stirring. We’d better have Yuzhi come with you to take a look what Xiao Dangjia has in mind.”
“Er Shu!” Song Yuzhi protested.
Song Zhi smiled and said, “This is an important matter, Yuzhi is the most suitable candidate, it will also show our Song Family’s sincerity.”
Song Yuzhi gave Kou Zhong a hard stare for a moment before she finally sighed and said, “Yuzhi accept the order!”
The three people disembarked the ship and hurried toward the appointed place where Xiang Yushan’s ship has dropped anchor.
Song Yuzhi deliberately fell behind, she did not want to walk alongside the two boys.
Half a sichen later, the two Jukun Bang ships appeared on the hillside below. Kou Zhong stopped abruptly, so that Song Yuzhi nearly bumped onto his broad back. However, Xu Ziling did not stop at all, he continued rushing down.
Behind Kou Zhong, Song Yuzhi knitted her brows. “Why are you stopping?” she asked.
Kou Zhong kept his gaze downward; he replied in heavy voice, “Do you see that red and white flag hanging on the mast? That means there are enemies onboard, but the people on the ship are still all right.”
Song Yuzhi looked down below and saw the masts with the fluttering red and white flag towering over the wooded area by the riverbank. Her countenance changed, “Then why did you let Xu Ziling brave the danger alone?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “First of all, Xiao Ling is highly capable of dealing with any danger, alone. Secondly, people on our side still have the freedom to move freely, hence it can clearly be seen that the situation is not completely dire.”
Annoyed, Song Yuzhi said, “But we are dilly-dallying here, aren’t we wasting our time?”
Without turning around, Kou Zhong giggled and said, “As long as Miss Song is here with me, there is no problem of wasting time.”
Song Yuzhi’s pretty face blushed slightly. “Kou Zhong,” she said fiercely, “Just remember that even if Die and Er Shu say yes, I, Song Yuzhi, will never marry you. You, this guy, basically don’t have the least bit of sincerity.”
Kou Zhong replied indifferently, “Supposing I do have sincerity, would Miss change your mind?”
Song Yuzhi kept a straight expression on her pretty face, as if she did not see him at all. Putting an air of a free spirit, she spoke casually, “Expecting you to have sincerity is like expecting the sun to rise in the west!”
This moment Kou Zhong heard Xu Ziling issuing three birdcalls in succession. “Come!” he said, “Miss Song is destined to always follow me, the Ol’ Kou.”
Without waiting for her response, he dashed downhill.
On the deck of the ship, Xiang Yushan, Yun Yuzhen, Bu Tianzhi, Chen Laomou and the others were standing on one side, whereas on the other side stood the most outstanding martial art master of Tujue’s younger generation, Ba Fenghan, and the newly appointed master of Dongming Pai, the Dongming Princess Shan Wanjing.
Looking at both sides’ demeanor, apparently they had not fought yet.
Although Ba and Shan, two people’s martial art skill surpassed those of Xiang Yushan and the others, but they were heavily outnumbered by Xiang Yushan’s side, so that achieving victory would not be easy.
Leading Song Yuzhi along, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling leaped onto the deck and joined Xiang Yushan’s side. Immediately Ba Fenghan and Shan Wanjing were put into the weaker side, yet the two did not show the least bit of disturbed look.
When he saw the unique charm of Song Yuzhi, Ba Fenghan’s eye lit up. He said with a laugh, “This Miss is …”
Shan Wanjing cut him off, “Turns out Song Family’s Miss Yuzhi. I wonder why you came back with these two little thieves.”
Obviously Song Yuzhi was acquainted with Shan Wanjing; she replied indifferently, “If Princess wants to fight with these two little … hey! Two little kids, please don’t involve Yuzhi. Our Song family is not going to meddle in your affairs.”
Xiang Yushan, Yun Yuzhen, and the others were greatly perplexed, they could not figure out Song Yuzhi’s relation with the two boys.
It was unclear whether she was driven by jealousy, but Yun Yuzhen deliberately came close to Kou Zhong, affectionately put her mouth by his ear and said, “Unexpectedly you guys really killed Ren Shaoming; a lot of people can’t believe it! This illicit couple came here half a sichen earlier than you did, they insist on waiting for you here.”
Kou Zhong nodded. He turned to Ba Fenghan and laughed aloud, “How’s Ba Xiong’s martial art skill compared to Ren Shaoming?” he asked.
Letting out an indifferent laugh, Ba Fenghan replied, “We have not fought each other, how would I know who’s superior who’s inferior? This time I came here to wait respectfully for the two gentlemen’s honored selves, it is precisely to get the answer to the question of who’s superior who’s inferior.”
It was only now did Song Yuzhi find out that that man was Ba Fenghan; she could not help looking at him with interest, sizing him up. She felt that both in terms of outward appearance and poise, he was not inferior to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. Not only his sharp features were not obnoxious, it even added an unusually appealing charm.
Xu Ziling knitted his brows and said, “Ba Xiong and us have never had any real enmity, why would you readily want to fight a life and death battle? But we are not afraid of Ba Xiong, not at all. We merely have deep respect out of believe that people of talent appreciate one another!”
Ba Fenghan did not expect Xu Ziling to speak so appropriately. He was stunned for half a day before finally spoke with a wry smile, “Although I do not have any personal enmity against Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong, it’s a pity that two of Ol’ Ba’s close female friends are determined to kill two gentlemen. How could Ol’ Ba simply watch with folded arms?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “If Ba Xiong can really watch with folded arms, the problem will be easily solved [orig. the bamboo splits as soon as it meets the knife’s edge]. You don’t believe me? Ha! Let me conduct an experiment and have you see it. Xiao Ling! Get out and stand over here, let the Princess kill you! By no means, do not hit back!”
Shan Wanjing, who all along has been silent, suddenly became agitated. “Kou Zhong,” she angrily shouted, “Get out and roll over here to die first, let’s see if I dare to kill you or not.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, did you see that? If Princess can really make her move to kill Xiao Ling, why would she want me, Zhong Shao, to take his place?”
Shan Wanjing drew her sword, took two steps forward, and then with face as cold as ice she pointed the tip of the sword toward the two boys and said, “Get out, both of you. To kill you, two little thieves, I do not need any help.”
Xiang Yushan spoke up respectfully, “Princess, please think thrice. Once someone shed blood, the enmity that ensues will be difficult to resolve, resulting in endless entanglement.”
Shan Wanjing replied coldly, “This is a matter between me and these two; it would be best if outsiders not interfere.”
Laughing tenderly, Yun Yuzhen said, “Is Ba Fenghan considered an outsider?”
Resolute and decisive [orig. chop the nail and slice the iron], Shan Wanjing said, “He can’t interfere either.”
Ba Fenghan sat casually on the ship’s railings; unruffled, he said, “I have something I’d like to say: if it is a fair, one-on-one fight, the Ol’ Ba will not interfere.”
With a forced laughter Kou Zhong said, “Princess is fully aware that we are unwilling to harm you; this is extremely unfair! Xiao Ling! You go first!”
Xu Ziling strode forward. He stopped about half a zhang in front of Shan Wanjing, and calmly said, “Princess, please bestow instructions!”
Shan Wanjing’s beautiful eyes exuded an incomparably complicated expression as she stared at Xu Ziling for a moment. And then, as if she finally made up her mind, suddenly her lily-white hand started to move; in an instant it turned into millions of light and shadow, sword qi permeated the air, blanketing Xu Xiling completely in the inside.
Everybody already knew that her swordsmanship was superb, but no one had ever expected that it would be this astonishing.
Xu Ziling watched as the tip of her sword turned into a dot of cold star and shot into his chest, yet unexpectedly he did not respond at all.
Kou Zhong raised his eyebrows; his eyes glinted sharply. He did not look at Xu Ziling at all; rather, he was staring viciously at Shan Wanjing’s serene yet terrifying eyes.
He was the only one who understood that Xu Ziling was using his life as a gambling stake in an attempt to resolve this hopelessly muddled enmity.
Ba Fenghan also revealed an astonished look on his face. His hand pressed on the saber’s hilt; but it was unclear whether he was thinking of preventing this matter from happening, or he wanted to stop Kou Zhong and the other spectators from interfering.
Xiang Yushan, Yun Yuzhen, Bu Tianzhi, Song Yuzhi and the others had their countenances changed at the same time, but it all happened so fast that they did not even have time to scream. The tip of Shan Wanjing’s sword was already only a cun away from the pit of Xu Ziling’s stomach.
Kou Zhong leaned forward slightly, his eyes shone with lightning flashes. As soon as Shan Wanjing’s sword penetrated Xu Ziling’s chest for real, he would disregard everything to charge toward Shan Wanjing.
Ba Fenghan’s eyes were also focused on Kou Zhong, he was also prepared to make his move.
Right this instant between life and death, Shan Wanjing’s eyes finally appeared to change. It was a subtle expression of distress mixed with anger. Sword qi suddenly subsided, the sword tip skewed three cun upward. The blade stabbed Xu Ziling’s flank.
Xu Ziling clearly felt the sword blade reached his bone. But then Shan Wanjing swiftly pulled her sword and retreated.
Blood spurted out wildly, but Xu Ziling was still as steady as the mountain, he was not swayed at all.
Up to this point nobody made any noise yet, the more than a hundred people onboard two ships appeared to have turned into mutes.
Kou Zhong breathed a sigh of relief. Ba Fenghan’s gaze returned to Xu Ziling. An admiring glance flashed through his eyes, followed vicious murderous aura, but it also quickly disappeared.
Shan Wanjing retreated almost to the end of the bow. She looked down on her sword stained with Xu Ziling’s blood, her face turned ashen as she spoke with a trembling voice, “Xu Ziling! Why didn’t you fight back?”
Taking a deep breath, Xu Ziling transmitted his qi to stop the blood flow from his wound. He spoke gently, “Has Princess’ anger subsided somewhat?”
Shan Wanjing’s breasts went up and down rapidly. Looking up, she met Xu Ziling’s eyes as she shook her head slowly and said, “My anger will never subside, but the matter of stolen account book can be dropped at this point.”
Soaring high into the air, she made a somersault and disappeared into the forest by the riverbank. The most surprising thing was that she did not call Ba Fenghan to go together with her.
Now everybody turned their eyes toward a little awkward Ba Fenghan.
Having just recovered from the shock, Yun Yuzhen called out with her tender voice, “Princess is gone, aren’t Ba Gongzi going to leave as well?”
Ba Fenghan shook his head with a wry smile. “What good is it to chase a woman who has had a change of heart?” he said.
His body flashed, he left as if he suddenly disappeared into thin air.