Book 8 Chapter 11 – I, your servant, Wanwan
Urging his horse, Kou Zhong caught on to Xu Ziling’s side, who was riding ahead of him; he said, “She is not awake yet. If she continues without water, in a few days this jade woman will perish.”
Xu Ziling turned his head around to cast a quick glance on the mule cart, which was specially equipped with a canopy to shield her from the sun, suddenly his face showed a little smile as he spoke indifferently, “Zhong Shao, have you noticed that both in terms of breathing and pulse, the frequency and amplitude are unswerving from start to finish. In my opinion, this is some kind of first-class, very exquisite Gui Xi Gong [lit. turtle breathing skill]. I dare to say that she must be the Yin Gui Pai ambassador sent out to deal with Shi Feixuan.”
Deeply vexed, Kou Zhong gloomily said, “Last night, if we were willing to let the hungry wolves ate her, we would have found the truth. But I was afraid we might make one mistake and regret it for all eternity by harming other people’s little live due to our overly suspicious thought of some demonic character.”
Although all around them the wilderness was full of rustic charms, with floating mist, luxuriant forest, a truly poetic and picturesque beauty, but with this load of worry in their mind, the two boys were not in the mood to enjoy the scenery.
Kou Zhong went on, “Supposing she is really a Yin Gui Pai siren, she could simply join hands with Qu Ao to give us bad luck; why would she go to a lot of trouble ‘dressing up as God, playing the devil’ on us?”
Xu Ziling replied seriously, “It seems to me that her beauty has gradually conquered you; otherwise, why would keep speaking in defense of her? Don’t you forget that things of the world often come as a surprise; for example, she might want to lure us to unseal her acupoints, and then uses some evil method to absorb our power; or perhaps she wanted to break the secret of our fantastic power cultivation, so that she could use it to increase her own power to defeat Shi Feixuan. Who would dare to ascertain that these possibilities are invalid?”
Grumbling to himself, Kou Zhong said, “How could I be conquered or confused that easily by her? But after seeing her, Duan Yucheng those four guys have become dazed; this is what worries me!”
Xu Ziling spoke resolutely, “Since she has come to our door, she will not be able to escape. We have no choice but to deal with her to the end, I want to see, other than pretending to be in a coma, what magic trick she could play.”
Kou Zhong asked in surprised, “You seemed to be convinced that she is a female demon. If later on we can confirm that she is a pitiful woman who had her acupoints sealed by Qu Ao using some bizarre technique, won’t it be a big joke?”
Revealing a confident smile, Xu Ziling replied in a laid-back manner, “This battle is about patience and confidence; as long as we can drive her to show her true character, we win. Do you understand?”
Kou Zhong nodded, “Your feeling can’t be wrong,” he said, “We’ll simply go along with her to the end! I don’t believe she can pretend to be asleep forever. Ay! I would rather face Qu Ao than falling into this thorny problem.”
By dusk that day, they have already covered a distance of approximately ten li, while studying the surrounding for a good place to set their camp that night.
At this time they were only about six or seven li from Baizhang Gorge, but in order to avoid the battlefield the previous night, they had to make a detour, and thus had to travel seven, eight li extra distance. Besides, they would not be able to reach Baizhang Gorge tonight anyway, plus it was really not a good idea to journey through the Gorge at night.
The route they were taking was all out-of-the-way mountain and fields, desolate terrain, where weeds grew and spread, without any sign of human habitation.
Finally they decided to stop for the night at a flat, open space.
After taking the woman in yellow into the tent, Duan Yucheng and Bao Zhifu walked out in silence as if they were in daze.
Shi Jie and Ma Gui found an excuse to look at her. As a result the four guys looked as if they were bewitched. Seeing this, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were inwardly very anxious.
Although the two boys have repeatedly warned those four guys, but not only they did not believe, they practically did not even listen to them.
Pulling Xu Ziling aside, Kou Zhong said, “And now we are really stuck between a rock and a hard place. If this woman is indeed a treasure that worth those two sides fighting over, then at least one side will prepare an ambush at Baizhang Gorge. In which case we can declare the end of our salt trading endeavor, and Yucheng and the others, those four guys’ life will be difficult to protect.”
After a short pause, he continued, “If we go Baizhang Gorge tonight to scout, if someone’s coming to steal her, not only we’ll lose her, Yucheng and the others will also lose their lives in vain. What should we do?”
“Moving is not as good as staying still,” Xu Ziling replied, “We are staying here to guard tonight, tomorrow we’ll go to the front of the Gorge and make plans there. Ay! Other than Baizhang Gorge, is there any other route we can take?”
“Of course there is,” Kou Zhong replied, “But it will take ten days longer. Perhaps by that time the ‘Jade Annulus of He Clan’ will already be snatched by someone else.”
Xu Ziling was upset, “You already have ‘Duke Yang Treasure’, yet you still dwell on ‘Jade Annulus of He Clan’; since when did you become so greedy?” he asked.
Kou Zhong laughed apologetically and said, “Ling Shao, please calm down. I was just making a real-life analogy! Can’t I even joke with you?”
Before Xu Ziling could answer, a faint sound of hoof beats was coming from a distance, gradually getting louder. Could it be that ‘speaking of Cao Cao, Cao Cao thus appears’? If Qu Ao personally came, how should they deal with him?
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling stood side-by-side, calmly waiting for the enemy’s arrival. Duan Yucheng, four guys immediately got busy buckling up their mules, as well as taking the woman in yellow out of the tent and into the mule cart especially fitted to transport her.[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Under the light of the crescent-moon above, they saw thirteen riders galloping toward them along the route they took earlier; apparently they were following the tracks left by the mule carts.
Obviously the newcomers had seen them, because they slowed down their horses.
The leader was a big and tall middle-aged man, clad in black warrior attire, with a red cloak on the outside, and a thick black moustache above his lips.
One of his features that left the deepest impression on the two boys was his face; the skin was full of holes and protrusions like rough lemon skin, but the pair of eyes embedded on that pockmarked face was shiny like a pair of small lanterns, making his entire person gives off some kind of both terrifying and powerful charisma like a wild beast.
All the men behind him were also dressed in black; all came in various shapes and sizes: tall, short, lean and stout, but none did not reveal some kind or heroic air.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “I am afraid the Village Master of Duba Village is here.”
Xu Ziling nodded, “Speaking about which, last night he and us were comrade-in-arms, so if we can avoid fighting, let’s not fight.”
Meanwhile the Duba Village men reined their horses to stop about ten zhang away from the two boys, and then they flew down together; their movement was orderly, fast and nimble.
The leader stepped out of the formation, walked over toward the two boys, and then cupping his fist, he said, “Zaixia Duba Village’s Zhuangzhu [Village Master] Fang Zetao; I wonder if the two gentlemen are Kou Xiongdi and Xu Xiongdi, whose name shook the land under the heavens recently.”
Seeing his polite manner, good impression grew in the two boys’ heart.
Kou Zhong returned the propriety and replied, “Fang Zhuangzhu praised us too much; the two of us are merely fugitives driven to the east and chased to the west by other people.”
Fang Zetao laughed aloud and said, “Success without arrogance is the sign of true heroes. How could we call those who were able to kill Ren Shaoming in the midst of magnificent army with thousands of men and horses, and were still able to get away easily, as mere fugitives?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Fang Zhuangzhu needs not praise us. You are gracing us with your presence this time, is it for the sake of that lady in yellow whom we rescued last night?”
Fang Zetao’s eyes shone with a warm and concerned look; modestly and politely he asked, “Gentlemen’s kindness in rendering assistance to us last night, I, Fang Zetao, will never forget. May I ask where Miss Wanwan is now?”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Kou Zhong said, “So she is called Wanwan. May I ask what is her relationship to Fang Zhuangzhu?”
Fang Zetao looked back to his men and said, “Spread out and be on the lookout, be sure to be on your guard.”
After his men acknowledged his order and spread out to all directions, Fang Zetao said amiably, “May we talk while walking?”
The two boys felt a little ridiculous for their previous paranoia. Nodding their heads, they led him toward the mule cart where Wanwan was.
Fang Zetao said, “Wanwan’s lot in life was extremely pitiful. When Ol’ Fang met her, her family’s carriage and horses were robbed by thieves, not one of her family members was spared. Those lowly thieves had voracious desire for her loveliness, and were about to carry out their beastly desire when I encountered them by chance. So I killed the bunch of them and rescued her back to the Village.”
Kou Zhong said, “Please forgive this kid for being short-sighted, but seeing your respected Village’s troop arrangement last night, I know that you are definitely not nameless entity of Jianghu world, yet why have we never heard about your Village’s distinguished name?”
“Perhaps it is because the days of our Village’s existence is still short,” Fang Zetao answered, “I was originally a Sui general. After the muddleheaded ruler was assassinated by Yuwen Huaji, I went to set my foot at Jingling, but I did not have any thought of proclaiming myself king like other people; therefore, together with many brothers who have accompanied me for many years we established Duba Village. On one hand it is to guard against robbers, on the other hand we want to wait for a wise master to appear, so that we can pledge our allegiance to him, and hence avoid Jingling from disaster and misfortune.”
The two boys nodded for this sudden enlightenment.
“However,” Xu Ziling said, “These two characters ‘Duba’ seem to be extremely overbearing. Zhuangzhu’s not afraid others might have misunderstanding?”
Fang Zetao laughed and said, “Without a domineering name, how could we suppress the thieves from everywhere? Presently marauders are forming alliances and building their powers, there are hundreds of such groups. They loot all over the place and enlist ruffians and runaway criminals. Included among these, Xiang, Fang, Mao and Cao, four major bandits are the most vicious as well as the most famous. Oh! Wanwan!”
By this time the three of them had reached the mule cart. As soon as Fang Zetao saw the peerless beauty Wanwan, who was lying on makeshift bed of straw, he disregarded everything and rushed desperately toward the cart; overwhelmed with emotion, his voice trembled, “How is she doing?”
This moment the two boys no longer had even half a shred of suspicion. Kou Zhong explained her condition. Seriously and with utmost care Fang Zetao reached out and pressed his fingers on her wrist. Soon afterwards bean-sized beads of sweats appeared on his forehead. Disappointed, he said, “What kind of acupoint sealing technique is this? Her meridian is empty and fluttering; it is not blocked, but it can’t converge the qi and breathing either, as if she is weak from an incurable illness.”
Judging from what he said, the two boys were able to infer that Fang Zetao was an expert in internal, qigong skill, a first-class martial art master of the Wulin. No wonder he was able to proclaim himself hegemon in Jingling.
Xu Ziling had quite good impression on him, he said, “Is Fang Zhuangzhu familiar with Qu Ao’s acupoint sealing technique? Such a strange technique, which we have never seen before, must be Qu Ao personally put his hand to it?”
Until now, they were still unclear on how the battle started the previous night.
Fang Zetao shook his head and said, “Definitely not Qu Ao personally, because he has never set his foot on the Central Plains. The ones who came were his three disciples, Chang Shumou, Hua Lingzi and Genggehu’er. Most probably it was Chang Shumou’s handiwork. This man reportedly has acquired eighty percent of Qu Ao’s skill. Qu Ao’s three major consummate skills with which his name shook the outer regions, only he is able to link up all three together.”
After committing the name ‘Chang Shumou’ into his memory, Kou Zhong’s tiger-eyes shone coldly as he said, “How did Miss Wanwan get tied on that post?”
Fang Zetao’s eyes softened as he looked at Wanwan tenderly, and then sighing, he said, “It could be said a sudden and unexpected disaster. Half a month ago, I suddenly received Ren Shaoming’s letter, requesting me to realign my allegiance to Tieqi Hui. Naturally I categorically declined his request, and right away strengthened the city defense, afraid that they would come to attack. These past two years not a single day passed without we are making adequate preparation. With the support of the citizens, we dare to boast that even Ren Shaoming going on an all-out attack, we can easily defend ourselves for about a year.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Naturally Ren Shaoming would not dare to provoke Du Fuwei and Fu Gongyou. If he managed to seize Jingling, he could establish a northerly-accessible military base north of the Yangtze River; that’s why he was very interested in Jingling.”
Fang Zetao was astounded, “I did not expect Kou Xiong to be so knowledgeable in this area,” he said.
Xu Ziling was puzzled, “Ren Shaoming is dead, Tieqi Hui is all split up and in pieces, Chang Shumou’s men became lone army, why did they still come to provoke you?”
Fang Zetao replied distressingly, “On this, even I cannot figure it out either. Three days ago, somebody suddenly broke into our Village. This person’s skill was very high, not only he wounded more than a dozen of my men, he even kidnapped Wanwan. Ay! To be honest with you, nowadays Wanwan has become my, this Ol’ Fang’s lifeblood. It’s not that I have never seen beautiful women, but since the first time I saw her, I have fallen deeply in love with her. I just feel that if I lose her, everything else will lose its meaning. This scheme of Chang Shumou really pinched my crucial point, so that I was losing my mind.”
Duan Yucheng, Bao Zhifu, Shi Jie and Ma Gui, who were standing around listening, all nodded their head in empathy.
It would be strange indeed if anybody who saw such a beautiful woman did not fall head over heels in love with her.
Fang Zetao continued, “Three days ago I received a letter from Chang Shumou, telling me that Wanwan has fallen into their hands, and told me to decide life and death outside Baizhang Gorge, as well as to decide Wanwan’s fate. Ay! It was the most difficult decision I have to make in my whole life. I knew very well that the opponent was using the ‘moving the tiger from the mountain’ stratagem, but inside Jingling there are thousands and tens of thousands people relying on my protection. Between that and Wanwan, how am I supposed to choose?”
Kou Zhong and co showed an understanding and sympathizing look.
Fang Zetao sighed and said, “Finally I decided to hold back my troops without moving, I stayed in Jingling. Between public and private matters, I still know what to do and what not to do.”
Kou Zhong and the others looked at each other in bewilderment; if that was the case, how come there was war last night?
Fang Zetao smiled wryly and said, “I am not surprised gentlemen are at a loss, simply because my valiant general, who was also my younger brother Fang Zeliu, against my expectation went out with his troops privately to rescue Wanwan. It was only then did I know that he was also in love with Wanwan. Last night it was unfortunate that he died in battle. When the survivors came back to report to me that two gentlemen had rescued Wanwan, I was unable to hold back anymore. Leaving the city, I went to look for gentlemen, until finally I met with you here.”
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly that she was indeed a femme fatale. “I wonder if Fang Zhuangzhu has taken Miss Wanwan as your wife?” he asked.
Fang Zetao shook his head dejectedly, “That is something that I wanted very much to ask her every time I saw her, but each time I did not dare to open my mouth, afraid that she would flatly refuse, or worse, she would simply brush her sleeve and leave,” he said, “She does not like to talk, she likes to be alone, her character is very difficult to fathom, but obviously my adoration of her is growing with each passing day.”
Looking at this exceptional beauty, which looked like she was sleeping soundly, an image of beauty speaking softly and smiling tenderly appeared in everybody’s imagination.
Right this moment, a strong force was pressing down from above. The cart covering burst open.
 Cao Cao (155-220), famous statesman and general at the end of Han, noted poet and calligrapher, later warlord, founder and first king of Cao Wei, father of Emperor Cao Pi; the main villain of novel the Romance of Three Kingdoms.