Book 4 Chapter 1 – Aspiration Higher Than The Sky
Translated by Foxs
When Xu Ziling woke up, the sky was barely brightened; he saw for the first time ever Kou Zhong was already out of bed before he did. He was standing by the cabin window, staring blankly at the darkness outside.
They were in a cabin, which the Li guy arranged for them. In the next room over was precisely the Li Clan’s beauty Li Xiuning, the Li guy’s captivating younger sister.
Xu Ziling walked over to where Kou Zhong was standing. Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Xiao Ling! I found a sweetheart!”
‘What?” Xu Ziling’s voice broke.
“Don’t you think Li guy’s little sister is very beautiful?” Kou Zhong whispered, “She is easy-mannered and gentle, those eyes are pretty and charming, her breasts are exquisite floating protrusions, her legs, ay! They could lead men to their death. Her cheeks rosy, I am sure those are the cutest cheeks on earth. Her skin soft and smooth like satin brocade, white and pink. Heavens! If I can embrace her naked body every night to bed, I won’t think of anything else; because what on earth could be more satisfying than that? When she speaks, her voice and her facial expression make me drunk, and when she occasionally smiles sweetly, and casting your Niang a sidelong glance, Xiao Ling! I am going to die of love.”
Xu Ziling grabbed his shoulder and laughed until he was out of breath. “Do you call that ‘love’?” he asked, “You, this muddled-egg, are just lusting over her.” And then he wondered aloud, “Didn’t you say that the more women we have the better? Why is it this time only she one person is enough?”
Kou Zhong said in distress, “Can you not dig up my old scores? When I said those things, I did not even have half a girlfriend, hence I said all those heroic things to console myself. But now I have her, naturally I have to concentrate only on one aspiration. Do you understand?”
Xu Ziling changed into wrapping his arm around Kou Zhong’s broad shoulders and said in amazement, “Looks like you are serious.”
“Of course I am serious,” Kou Zhong indignantly said, “Right now Li guy is rushing to Taiyuan to force his old man to revolt. Based on Li Clan’s prestige, with Taiyuan as their base of operation, plus with elite soldiers and ample provisions, there is a good chance that he will become the emperor. Since we are going to join a militia anyway, why not rely on that Li guy? Since we have rendered great merit to him, the official position that Li guy is going to bestow us must not be too low.”
Xu Ziling stared blankly for half a day, and then he said in low voice, “Is your heart not dead toward his mother’s militia? It would be better for us to concentrate on salt-trafficking business and make money while the world is in chaos. If we have money we can help the people; wouldn’t it be better than fighting for life and death for other people?”
Kou Zhong smiled apologetically and said, “Times have changed too. Hey! Just look at that Li guy’s righteous manners; how can you compare him to Du Fuwei, Li Mi, those half man half ghost fellows?”
With a bitter laugh Xu Ziling said, “Let’s not talk about this right now. At the end of the day, you only want to get close to Li Xiuning. Don’t blame me for pouring iced water on your keen interest. Although on the surface this noble family’s girl treats us politely, I always feel that she kind of turn us down from a thousand li away. A girl who was born from this kind of respected family like her will always look down on little marketplace ruffians like the two of us.”
This time Kou Zhong wrapped his arm around Xu Ziling’s shoulders and said with a giggle, “The first time people meet, of course they are strangers to each other; are you saying that she needs to keep you within a chi of her? There is nothing impossible in this world. To pursue a girl we only need a bit of creativity and smoothness. Later, when that Li guy invites us, two very useful fellows, to join his campaign, remember to leave everything to me.”
Xu Ziling frowned and asked, “So who’s going to save Susu Jiejie?”
Evidently Kou Zhong has not thought about this point; he was stunned speechless.
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “You go pursue Miss Xiuning whom you yearn for even in your dreams! Let me take care of Susu Jiejie. But I definitely don’t want to join anybody’s campaign. Only I need to take that account book back, so that I can avenge Niang.”
While Kou Zhong was as dumb as a wooden chicken, there was a knock on their door.
The two boys followed a maid toward the hall on the upper deck; Li Shimin had arranged a banquet to entertain them. Accompanying them were a handsome young man and a forty-something scholar, tall, thin, natural and unrestrained.
Li Shimin stood up to welcome them, “Kou Xiong, Xu Xiong, please sit down. We are all family.”
The two men also stood up politely and cupped their fists, making the two boys quite flattered.
Li Shimin introduced the middle-aged scholar first, “This is Mr. Pei Ji, his skill ‘wang xing shan’ [forgetting-shape fan] can exhaust the world’s heroes. He is the deputy supervisor of Jinyang Palace, and my father’s chess [qi] mate.”
Pei Ji looked at the two boys indifferently, and said modestly, “Nephew Shimin praises me too much; it’s just a lame-hand duck-feet skill, how can it be something worth considering? Not to mention exhausting the world’s heroes.”
And then he turned toward the handsome young man and said with a laugh, “Speaking about martial art skill, we must move aside for nephew Chai Shao’s brilliance and prestige.”
The one called Chai Shao promptly declined modestly.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling noticed Chai Shao’s splendid sword and beautiful clothes, his imposing manner and elegance, which was only slightly inferior to Li Shimin’s bold poise and some kind of hard-to-describe great general’s air. But since they already had favorable impression toward him, the two boys hurriedly expressed some courteous words.
However, all along Chai Shao carried a bit of haughtiness toward the two boys, unlike the Li guy who treated them warmly.
Pei Ji was treating them only as younger generation juniors who happened to render a great merit. After they sat down, he only chatted with Li and Chai, two people, and no longer paid any attention to the two boys.
The two boys were accustomed to be looked down like that, so they did not care much, but focusing their attention to dealing with the delicacies and gourmet foods on the table.
In Li Shimin’s mind, naturally Pei Ji and Chai Shao were more important than Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, but he did not neglect hospitality; he personally picked two pieces of deep-fried dough cake and gave it to the two boys, while saying with a laugh, “This is called Steamed Hu Cake [hu is generic term for non-Han people], it has lamb and scallion stuffing, salted fermented beans sauce and sesame seed, simmered in salt; very delicious.”
The two boys had never tasted any Hu cake, which was popular in the north; they ate with relish.
This moment Chai Shao said, “This time Uncle has no choice but to raise arms. And if he does, he will have to take Guanzhong first. My only concern is the two elite troops of Qu Tutong at Puguan and Song Laosheng’s guarding Huoyi. It seems that Uncle is not without apprehension.”
Pei Ji said, “Qu Tutong and Song Laosheng are indeed worrisome, but the one I am worried about is Tujue people; their power is stronger day by day. On the east Khitan, Shiwei, on the west Tuyuhun, Gaochang, and other countries are submitting themselves to them. Moreover, those who raise army in the north like Liu Wuzhou, Guo Zihe, Liang Shidou and the others, none does not rely on the Tujue for their existence. When we march toward Guanzhong, what we fear the most is sustaining the Tujue, Liu Wuzhou and the others mounting a sneak attack from behind.”
Li Shimin was already prepared a plan, “That is not a problem,” he said, “If we don’t have enough power, we can use strategy. The one thing I am most worried right now is that Die will still be indecisive; I am afraid we will just sit and waste a good opportunity.”
Pei Ji patted his chest to vow, “Leave this matter to me, Pei Ji. As long as Wenjing and I persuade him a little more, and seeing the critical situation in front of our eyes, how can your Die have any other choice?”
Li Shimin nodded his head delightedly. Turning toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling he said, “This time it is all due to the two gentlemen. Were it not for the account book got stolen, I am afraid it will still be difficult to create this kind of situation. The most wonderful thing is that that incapable ruler happens to go to Jiangdu to deal with Du Fuwei. This is a one in a million chance.”
The two boys looked at each other; it was only then did they know that the emperor guy finally visited their native place of Jiangdu, Yangzhou.
Right this moment there was the tinkling of girdle ornaments; without turning their heads, the two boys already captured Li Xiuning’s beautiful image in their minds, momentarily they could only stare blankly.
She was wearing a Hu hat [see my note above on ‘hu’] that was as round as a bowl, with silkscreen hanging down all around its edge, the top of the hat was garnished with pearl and green jade. It was a unique style; not only it was gorgeous, it was also brimming with faintly discernible mysterious beauty.
The clothes she wore was totally different from the Central Plains and the southern style with its broad overlap and big sleeves, hers had big turndown collar and narrow sleeves, which was similar to the clothes those Hu women, which they saw at Pengcheng, wore; only the material was finer.
This kind of clothes not only highlighted women’s exquisite curves, it was also much more convenient in term of mobility.
The first to stand up was Chai Shao. This guy’s eyes lit up; with fiery enthusiasm he cheerfully said, “Finally Ning Mei is here, Yuxiong [me, older brother] has been waiting till my heart nearly burned into coal.”
It was as if Li Xiuning did not see other people; she smiled sweetly at Chai Shao, and moved her tender body to Chai Shao’s side, allowing him to lightly support her fragrant shoulder and help her to sit. Only then did she greet her older brother and Pei Ji. Lastly she acknowledged Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling.
Kou Zhong felt like he had just struck by lightning, as he watched the intimacy between Chai Shao and Li Xiuning in shock; his face turned ash grey.
Chapter 1, Part 2
Sky, when I first read this part, I also have a feeling that Kou Zhong will end up with Li Xiuning, you know ... the twist and turn of fiction, something impossible happens, et cetera ... but my feeling about Xu Ziling and the Princess is stronger. We'll find out together ... Jaya, HPC, you are welcome. To the others, thanks for your response. Appreciate that. Here is the end of Chapter 1. Only one more to go ...
Although Xu Ziling felt sorry for him, there was nothing he could do.
Li Shimin noticed Kou Zhong’s abnormal expression, he leaned over and whispered, “Kou Xiong, are you not feeling well?”
Li Xiuning laughed tenderly and said, “Must be from last night when he was soaked in the lake so now he catches cold.” And then she turned to Chai Shao to explain, “When Xiuning saw them last night, I thought it was a couple of little water demons crawling up from the lake to harm people.”
Seeing her casting amorous glances at Chai Shao while revealing loving smile at the corner of her mouth, and then looking at her jade countenance inside the silkscreen was full of tender feelings as she looked at Chai Shao, Xu Ziling’s heart, which was saddened on Kou Zhong’s behalf, sank even lower.
Suddenly he came to realization that Li Xiuning only regarded them as lowly errand boys who worked for her second brother; so evidently her view of the two boys was identical to that of Pei and Chai, two people.
Kou Zhong hung down his head and said in a hoarse voice, “I am fine. It’s just that other than a water demon, I am also a hungry ghost, so I ate too much and now I am too full.”
Li Xiuning was exceptionally intelligent, hearing the displeasure in his voice, she apologized, “I was just making an analogy, Kou Xiong please don’t take offense.”
By saying that, now everybody else thought that Kou Zhong was narrow-minded. Pei Ji and Chai Shao immediately showed disdain on their faces.
Li Shimin, on the other hand, was extremely grateful to Kou and Xu, two boys, and also because he was deeply impressed by these two boys’ vast intelligence and wisdom, to be able to think of such a divine-inspired scheme to steal the account book. In order to diffuse the tensed atmosphere, he smiled and said, “Kou Xiong is joking! Hey! The one went to Dong Ming flagship and seized the account book, what kind of divine being is he actually?”
Chai Shao wanted to show off in front of a beautiful [orig. jade] person, he let out a cold snort and said, “Must not be a formidable person; otherwise how could Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong have any chance to take advantage of him?”
As soon as he said that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s countenance turned unnatural, because he was saying that the two boys could not be considered anything.
Li Xiuning’s thought process was definitely a lot more thorough than Chai Shao’s; her jet-black painted eyebrows were knitted as she said, “That person has enough guts to single-handedly charge into Dong Ming flagship, which has martial art experts as numerous as the cloud, to steal something; no matter how you say it, he must have a bit of weight.”
Chai Shao smiled and said, “Didn’t he take advantage of when Madame Dong Ming and Princess left the ship to come to our ship before he dared to make his move?”
Li Xiuning stole a glance toward Li Shimin first before giving him an ambiguous answer, “If Wanjing Jie was not eager to see Er Ge, and remained on the ship, that thief’s sneak attack would not have been successful, and Shang Gong would not have been injured!”
A look of regret flitted across Li Shimin’s eyes, “Xiuning must not forget that I am married,” he rebuked her, “But on the other hand, were it not for Shang Gong is injured by that man, we could forget about getting this crucial letter from Madame.”
Pei Ji said in deep voice, “Shao Xianzhi [virtuous nephew] must not belittle this man, just the fact that he was able to beat Shang Gong without he was able to resist, it is clear that although the account book was snatched away by two Xiao Xiongdi, it may be assumed that he was just overly underestimating them!”
Li Shimin nodded and said, “This man must be from Yuwen Clan. Speaking about water skill, within the Yuwen Clan, Yuwen Chengdu ranks the first. But I think it wasn’t he who personally came, otherwise it would be difficult for Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong to unseal their acupoints.”
Realizing that these people, including Li Shimin, did not think too highly of their skill, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling was terribly upset.
This moment Kou Zhong signaled Xu Ziling with his eyes. Xu Ziling’s mind was interlinked with Kou Zhong’s; he understood his intention, hence he nodded slightly and spoke seriously, “We, brothers, wish that we could get the account book back so that we could do something very important.”
Li Shimin and the others were greatly shocked.
Relying on his seniority, Pei Ji imposed, “This account book records every aspect of Dong Ming Pai’s arms transaction; it is more appropriate to have it stay in our hands.”
Li Xiuning had a rather favorable impression toward the two boys, she urged, “If other people knew that the account book is in your hands, Dong Ming Pai will never let you off.”
Chai Shao showed an impatient look on his face.
Xu Ziling remained calm, he boldly said, “This is our, two brothers’ problem. Li Xiong, what do you think?”
Li Shimin knitted his brows and said, “As soon as we met, I knew that we are kindred spirits; if two gentlemen do not have any place you have to go, why not cooperate with me, Li Shimin, to fight for a common cause? When our Li family succeed in the future, two gentlemen will also enjoy riches and honor.”
Kou Zhong resolutely said, “Li Xiong’s good intention is highly appreciated. Due to we have another important matter we need to attend to, I wish for Li Xiong to return the account book to us, and then you send us off at any nearby shore.”
Chai Shao showed his displeasure, “How can this …” But Li Shimin raised his hand to stop him from continuing.
After looking at the two boys for quite a while, he sighed and said, “If I say no, that means I don’t have enough friendship and yiqi. Let’s do it according to what two gentlemen said. But please don’t forget that when you change your mind in the future, you may come to look for me, Li Shimin.”
Jugong Pond extended before the two boys’ eyes as far as they could see. The fog covering the lake changed according to where the wind blew.
Kou Zhong watched as the huge Li Clan ship disappearing into the fog, his eyes looked vast and obscure, and he was unusually quiet.
Xu Ziling accompanied him standing on the west bank of the big lake; momentarily he was also at a loss of what to say.
It was after a long time that he sounded Kou Zhong out, “Zhong Shao, are you alright?”
Kou Zhong dryly replied, “How can I not be alright?”
Hearing the tone of his voice, Xu Ziling knew that he had not let it go yet. Without any better option, he consoled him, “Why would a real man worry about not having a wife? Let alone Zhong Shao, this time you did not lose the battle, it’s just that Chai guy enjoys the benefit of the ‘quick-footed who climb up first’!”
A complex expression flitted across Kou Zhong’s tiger eyes; it was quite a while later that he finally said in deep voice, “I would rather she hates me!”
“What?” Xu Ziling blurted out.
Kou Zhong turned around like a whirlwind, made a fist and cried out, “I want her to hate me just like Dong Ming Princess hates you. At the very least I would still have a place in her heart. But now when she saw me leaving, she did not show the slightest bit of sign that she cared. Practically we are just two little minions who rush about, exerting ourselves for her Li Clan; we are not even qualified to make her unhappy.”
Noticing how when he spoke, his eyes turned red, he gnashed his teeth in anger, Xu Ziling could not help thinking about Dong Ming Princess Shan Wanjing. He said dejectedly, “How much better do you think I am from you? Didn’t you hear that crafty and unruly Princess only has eyes for people with dignity and status like that Li guy?”
Kou Zhong stared blankly for half a day. And then he turned around and saw that the autumn mist has gradually dissipated. Suddenly he laughed.
Xu Ziling was baffled. “What’s so funny?” he asked.
Kou Zhong roared in laughter; he laughed so hard that he had to squat while holding his belly with both hands. Gasping for breath, he said, “I just realized something; thats why I laughed so hard.”
Xu Ziling followed his example; he also squatted down and happily asked, “Quick, tell me.”
Kou Zhong looked up and stared at Xu Ziling for quite a while before saying, “Speaking about talent and appearance, I don’t believe that we are much worse than Li guy or perhaps that Chai guy. So what made them treat us as nobody? Because we lack accomplishment. It doesn’t matter whether we are in Jianghu or within a clan or society, those without accomplishment will most likely be ignored.”
Xu Ziling knitted his brows and said, “But if we strive for fame, profit, and position only for other people, won’t that be the same as letting others lead us by the nose?”
Kou Zhong sneered and said, “At the end of the day, we are doing it for ourselves. To be respected deeply by others is just the natural consequences. A real man living his life in this world, if he cannot accomplish an outstanding work, but let his precious life slips away in vain, won’t that be a pity?”
Xu Ziling sneered, “What crafty [orig. ghostly] idea do you have in mind this time?” he asked, “You don’t want to do salt business anymore?”
Kou Zhong shook his head. “I want to be the Emperor!” he said.
“What?” Xu Ziling was shocked.
Kou Zhong suddenly stood up, clenched his fist and shout loudly, “I, Kou Zhong, want to fight for the world [tian xia], to establish a glorious deed that will last for ten thousand generations.”
Xu Ziling sprang up and reached out to feel his forehead.
Kou Zhong angrily brushed his hand away and grabbed Xu Ziling’s shoulders instead. With eyes shining brightly he said, “Aspiration must be far-reaching. If we cannot accomplish it, even a little deficiency still carries a lot a weight. Today is not the same as the past, speaking about ability and wisdom, we are not inferior to anybody; speaking about martial art skill, what we lack is only experience and maturity. Right now we go to Xingyang first to find Susu Jie; if we can find Li Dage, that will be even better. One world, two brothers. Will you help me or not?”
Xu Ziling’s scalp felt numb. But under the circumstances, how could he refuse? Without any better option, he nodded his approval.
Kou Zhong cheered, turned around and made a somersault, and landed on a big rock more than a zhang away. He laughed aloud and said, “Come! Let us compete in leg power first, and then we must practice our punching and kicking skill. In any case, we do not have even half a knife to cut meat; without any other choice, we must put up with it a bit.”
Xu Ziling’s aspiration started to rise; he and Kou Zhong ran chasing one another.