Book 4 Chapter 11 – Night Visit to the Pleasure House
Zhai Rang, alone, stood in the middle of the door, staring coldly at the three people.
Susu also felt that Zhai Rang was greatly different from usual; with a trembling voice she called out, “Laoye!”
The two boys let off Susu and stood in front of her, preparing to fight to the death.
Zhai Rang’s countenance was back to normal, but it looked like he had aged by several years. With hands behind his back he slowly walked toward a chair, sat down, and spoke with soft voice, “Susu, go inside, I want to speak with your two Didi.”
Obeying him, Susu was about to move, but Kou Zhong pulled her back; he said in heavy voice, “How do we know that you don’t have people waiting in the back for Su Jie.”
Seeing Kou Zhong was so rude toward her old master, Susu was so scared that the blood drained from her jade countenance.
With a cold sneer Zhai Rang said, “With just one order from me, do you think you will still be alive? There is no need for me to take you into my consideration.”
Susu implored the two boys in low voice, “Please just listen to Laoye!” Shaking off Kou Zhong’s hand, she wobbled inside.
The two boys exchanged some glances, and then both of them sat in front of Zhai Rang.
Zhai Rang sized up the two boys in silence. Suddenly he said, “Who is your Niang?”
Xu Ziling opened his mouth, he coldly replied, “That is our secret.”
Zhai Rang flashed an angry look at first, but then it was as if his anger dissipated. “Forget about it!” he said, “Just now you had the chance, but did not make your move to kill me. No matter how shameless or how despicable, I, Zhai Rang, will not make my second move! Previously I wanted to kill you to shut your mouth, I was indeed had no choice due to a predicament. It’s finished! Everything is finished. I wanted to kill you because of my recurrent acute injury, it’s Laotian [Heaven] punishing me for repaying kindness with evil, I am the one to blame for inviting trouble for myself!”
Looking at this once all-powerful [orig. ‘rebuking Heaven and Earth’] figure under this ‘all path exhausted, the road ended’ situation, the two boys were at a loss.
Xu Ziling said, “Da Longtou is back from great victory; even though Zu Junyan is in cahoots with outsiders, can’t Da Longtou give your order and have those renegades’ head fall to the ground?”
Zhai Rang shook his head and sighed. He slowly said, “Inside situation really must not be discussed with outsiders. Right now Ol’ Zhai only have one request, I wish two gentlemen can stay here ten days longer. After ten days, I will send people to escort you and Susu out.”
“Die!” Zhai Jiao’s voice was heard from the door, “You said you wanted to see daughter, why did you sneak up here instead?”
Zhai Rang looked at Wang Ruxin who came with Zhai Jiao, he said, “Notify Duke Mi immediately, I want to have an emergency meeting in Longtou Mansion immediately.”
Everybody was stunned.
Xu Ziling was lying on the bed. Kou Zhong was pacing back and forth in the room. Both had their eyebrows knitted deeply, they were completely baffled. Why did Zhai Rang want to kill them to shut their mouth? According to reason, he ought to be grateful to them for providing him with such useful information.
Xu Ziling slapped the bed and said, “It must be this: the mastermind behind Zu Junyan must be Li Mi, that’s why old Zhai is having such a headache.”
Kou Zhong sat on the bed; he mused, “But he does not have to kill us. The guy who plotted against the old Zhai was wearing a mask, and he was hiding inside the trunk to make his move, naturally it was because he was afraid Old Zhai would recognize him. Based on Old Zhai’s skill, the number of people who are qualified to plot against him cannot be too many; so who could it be?”
The two boys were severely shaken at the same time; they looked at each other.
Trembling with excitement, Kou Zhong said, “Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
Xu Ziling sat up, his eyes showed a horrorstruck expression, “Must be Li Mi!” he whispered.
Kou Zhong took a deep breath. “This is bad,” he said, “Old Zhai summoned Li Mi to have a meeting, obviously he is going to reveal his last card; won’t he bring disaster to us and Su Jie? Speaking about scheming skill, old Zhai is not Li Mi’s match, especially now that he is injured so bad that he could not even kill us.”
“It would be best for us to slip away as soon as possible,” Xu Ziling said, “But I know that there is a chance that Su Jie has heard Old Zhai’s remark that we are to stay ten more days before we can leave.”
Kou Zhong said, “We’d better go to Daiqing Yuan [see Book 4 Chapter 9] first to get to the bottom of it. When we slip away in the future, it will be a lot more convenient; besides, if we stay ten more days, won’t we find out what’s going on?”
Xu Ziling said, “But right now we have more martial art masters coming back with that Old Zhai, getting in and out will be very inconvenient.”
Kou Zhong said, “Old Zhai did not say that we cannot stroll down the street. We can just strut down the main gate and test their reaction.”
Xu Ziling sprang up from the bed. They were about to go when from Kou Zhong’s adjoining room they heard knocks on the door.
“Who’s looking for me?” Kou Zhong whispered, “It’s already late.”
Soon afterwards the knocks moved onto Xu Ziling’s door, followed by a sweet voice calling out, “Kou Zhong! Kou Zhong!”
Kou Zhong stared blankly. “It’s Chuchu!” he said, “Really bad!” He jumped; first three steps, and then two steps, and finally pulled the door open.
Seeing Kou Zhong, Chuchu’s eyebrows rose up in delight; her gaze flitted over Kou Zhong’s broad shoulders and she stole a glance toward Xu Ziling as she reached out to grab Kou Zhong’s sleeve and pull him out.
It was quite some time later that Kou Zhong returned, red-faced. Wiping his mouth, he said, “The passion is really fierce, she also wanted to pull me into her room. This must not be the first time for her, otherwise she would not be able to teach me how to do things right like just now.”
Xu Ziling was horrified, “Did you really f*ck her?”
“Get lost!” Kou Zhong snapped, “Just kiss on the mouth, and stroking her fragrant shoulders! Our business is more important, let’s go!”
Side-by-side the two boys left the courtyard of their living quarters, and walked toward the main gate.
Flakes of snow were falling down from the sky like floating feathers, the moon and the stars did not show their light, the air was thick with an impenetrable feeling of tranquility, they met several mansion guards along the way, but nobody stopped them.
When they reached the plaza in front of the main entrance, Tu Shufang caught up with them from behind. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“The boredom is driving us crazy,” Kou Zhong replied, “We want to go out to have a stroll!”
Tu Shufang cordially joined them, he accompanied them going through the main gate and onto the street. He asked in low voice, “When you see Da Longtou today, what actually happened?”
The two boys did not really know how to answer; hence momentarily they were at a loss for words.
There were very few people on the street; those they encountered were passers-by who curled up shivering while walking hurriedly to get out of the cold winter breeze, in stark contrast to the three men’s heavy gaits, giving the impression that they were moving in sluggish, slow-motion steps.
Tu Shufang sighed and said, “Da Longtou is really injured, isn’t he?”
The two boys nodded blankly.
Tu Shufang continued, “Did Da Longtou say who was that man who mounted a sneak attack on him?”
Kou Zhong shook his head, “He did not say, but we were guessing it was Li Mi.”
Tu Shufang was severely shaken; he was pondering in silence.
Xu Ziling looked around. Tu Shufang said, “Don’t bother, I guarantee nobody dares to follow you. Shen Luoyan does not have that kind of guts.”
Kou Zhong was shocked. “When did that b1tch return?” he asked.
“Just yesterday,” Tu Shufang replied. And then he continued, “I have long suspected Li Mi. His only apprehension is precisely Da Longtou’s martial art skill. These last half a year were indeed not good for Da Longtou; not only he had to pretend that he is not injured, he had to fight war on all sides. Were it not for this, Li Mi would have rebelled early on, then it would really be a great loss for Da Longtou.”
Kou Zhong seized this opportunity to ask, “Da Longtou must have determined that the person who wounded him must be Li Mi; he summoned him to have a meeting, was it because he wanted to kill him?”
Tu Shufang shook his head, “Ever since Zhang Xutuo’s defeat, they have been on guard against each other. Unless it’s a direct confrontation, nobody will be able to take advantage over the other. Ay! Each time Li Mi wins a battle, Da Longtou’s position suffers one big shaking, sending us into a situation where we take a complete beating. Most of the high-ranking military officers secretly express their loyalty and devotion to Li Mi only. Now that Da Longtou is injured, we don’t have any asset with which we are going to confront Li Mi.”
Xu Ziling said, “In that case, why not urging Da Longtou to avoid the problem by walking away from it? He could go someplace else and lay another foundations; it will definitely be better than staying here, waiting to be slaughtered by others.”
Tu Shufang halted his steps; he let out a wry smile and said, “This matter has to be decided by Da Longtou, we can only do what he commands us to do. I want to go back now, you must not stay out too late.”
Waving his hand, he walked away.
Hearing him, the two boys felt as if their heart was weighed down by lead; absent-mindedly they continued toward the direction of Daiqing Yuan.
Kou Zhong looked up, letting the snowflakes landed on his face, enjoying the feeling of cold ice on his skin. He sighed and said, “The struggle over the world [tian xia] has just begun, internal strife already appeared within the Wagang Army. Looks like Wagang Army is not a good material to vie for the world.”
Xu Ziling said ruefully, “Just in that term ‘vying for the world’, naturally everybody will be ‘you fight, I snatch’. The greats will fight over big thing, the small will fight over small thing. Zhong Shao, do you still have the interest to enter the contest?”
Kou Zhong’s spirit was shaken. He said, “If the world is won by Li Mi, Ol’ Die, those kind of people who are crafty scoundrel by nature, won’t common people suffer calamity? Don’t you think it would be better if we became the emperor?”
Xu Ziling sneered and said, “There can only be one emperor; you can become one. I am not interested.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud. When he looked up, he saw the Daiqing Yuan’s big courtyard and the golden-lacquered signboard. “We are here!” he happily said.
Chapter 11, Part 2
Komeng, HPC, Ysabel, Laoren, Jaya, Weed, Lawwoo, you are welcome. Sky, DongBin ... no comment. Ari, Bocah, power struggle indeed. But if my memory serves me right, this is not the first time KZ wanted to be the emperor, although from the start their ambition was to be great general and prime minister. End of Chapter 11, one more to go to close Book 4.
Xu Ziling pulled him back. “Are we going to go in and ask for Peipei right away?” he asked.
Kou Zhong was bemused, “If we are not looking for Peipei, then whom are we looking for?” he said.
“This place is Shen Luoyan’s old nest,” Xu Ziling reminded him, “Although she does not dare to send people trailing us openly, it’s impossible for her not to know if we are randomly barging all over the place. And then when she investigates later, she would immediately find out that as soon as we get in, we single out Peipei, as if we are her old flames. It would be strange indeed if that did not raise her suspicion.”
Kou Zhong slapped his forehead, “You are very thorough,” he admitted, “What should we do then? Are we going in or not?”
“We are definitely going in,” Xu Ziling said, “But it must be the procuress herself who introduces us. At that time we’ll play it by ear!”
Kou Zhong let out a forced laugh; he said, “We must not fail our bodies in vain. The fire in me lighted up by Chuchu has not stopped burning until now!”
Amidst the happy giggle, the two boys strutted into Daiqing Yuan.
Seeing the robe the two boys were wearing had Big Boss Mansion insignia embroidered on it, the guards at the door did not dare to be negligent. Bowing respectfully with clasped hands they welcomed the two boys into the reception area, and handed them over to the female brothel keeper who was coming out to greet them.
Although the two boys had never really enjoyed the gentle and soft taste of the inside of the pleasure house, they were already familiar with the initial procedure. First, they bestowed a tip, and then they found a set of chairs to sit down.
The reception lobby was noisy, several pretty maids shuttling around six, seven groups of guests, waiting upon the customers attentively, while teasing and laughing with them; the air was thick with the thoughts of love.
The procuress serving the two boys was called Lan Yi [lit. orchid aunt], a middle-aged, but still attractive woman, she still looked rather pretty. Just by looking at her good looks, they knew that the brothel Baling Bang operated was a first-class business.
Lan Yi noticed the two boys were handsome and of outstanding quality. Xu Ziling was scholarly and classy, Kou Zhong was straight and impressive looking. It was the first time that she came across this kind of men in this kind of place. Her beautiful eyes were nearly burning with passion. With a smiling face that looked like a flower she said, “Two Gongzi must’ve just been back in triumphal return with Da Longtou, otherwise, how come tonight is the first time you came to visit us?”
Taking a cup of fragrant tea offered by a pretty maid, Kou Zhong giggled happily and said, “There will always be first time for everything. Tonight it is the first time that I came across such an enchanting beauty like Lan Yi. Who knows? Perhaps in our previous lives we were husband and wife!”
Hearing that, Lan Yi covered her mouth while laughing tenderly; like a fluttering stem of flower she said, “Gongzi really knows how sweet-talk a girl; be careful now, nujia might disregard the girls’ resentment and hog you for myself!”
Xu Ziling was quite amused to see Kou Zhong’s action in pretending to be an old hand in the midst of a cluster of flowers; but he only watched silently from the side.
However, how could Lan Yi be willing to spare him? Her beautiful eyes swept across, she threw a coquettish glance over at him and said, “Xu Gongzi is a lot quieter than you are, but all the same nujia is bewitched that my mind is in chaos.”
Kou Zhong sank himself in the soft chair; he sneered and said, “He is the one who ought to be bewitched; if you let this kid climb onto your bed, do you think he would still be able to maintain his current dignified air of a sour-looking old scholar?”
Noticing Xu Ziling’s face was blushing, Lan Yi laughed happily. She reached out to pat Kou Zhong’s thigh and while catching for her breath, she said, “Right now Kou Gongzi is like this, but when you are on my bed, will you be like a dead person?”
Inwardly Kou Zhong was smiling wryly; because if he really went into her bed, practically he did not know how to start. But of course on the surface he still maintained the air of a veteran who has criss-crossed the field of love. Slapping the arm of the chair he said, “Who are the most popular girls in here?”
Lan Yi gladly obliged, “Those with the highest status are already booked, but looking at two Gongzi, nujia may make exception to arrange for them to visit you. Let you meet them first, and then you can make your reservation. What do you think?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Can you at least tell us their fragrant names first?”
Lan Yi mentioned five, six names in succession, like Cui’er, Qing’er, and so on, but there was no Peipei.
Kou Zhong rolled his eyes; he laughed and said, “Other than Lan Yi, who might be available to accompany us enjoying the night?”
Lan Yi cast him a sidelong glance in mock anger; she sultrily said, “If Kou Gongzi tease nujia again, let’s see if nujia will let you get away.” And then she mentioned another string of names, but still there was no Peipei.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt a headache was coming. It was only then did they regret not asking Xiang Yushan for more details. But this moment they were already riding a tiger, it would be hard to get off.
In the past, although the two boys adored pleasure houses, but since each time they visited a brothel they always had danger lurking on every side, plus they were anxious over Susu, as well as anxious over the risky conditions in which they were planning to escape, they lost the mood to have fun with women [orig. ‘cuddle with the red and lying down with the bluish-green’].
However, if they turned on their heels just like that, it would be inappropriate; yet if they pressed on and continued questioning her, they would raise her suspicion. Logically speaking, it was unlikely that the entire brothel, from top to bottom, were Baling Bang people. If they were not careful, they would reveal their secret.
Suddenly someone came to Lan Yi, leaned close to her and whispered a few words. When the man left, Lan Yi’s countenance became a bit unnatural; forcing a smile, she said, “A room has just become available. It would be better for nujia to take two Gongzi there first, at least it will be better than waiting in this crowded room.”
The two boys knew she was not telling them the truth, but they both thought that very likely that ‘Peipei’ found out about their arrival, hence they gladly followed her going upstairs.
When the door opened, the person their eyes saw was Shen Luoyan, who was sitting calmly inside. She was greeting them with her charming smile.
Lan Yi spoke in low voice, “Nujia is only following order, two Gongzi please forgive me.”
The two boys felt as if a bucket of cold water had just been dumped onto their head, they both groaned inwardly.
Kou Zhong carefully examined the surrounding; other than the young maid waiting upon them, there did not seem to be any troop lying in ambush. Therefore, he bravely walked in, and sat down across from her. Xu Ziling had no choice but to sit next to him.
After the young maid left, Kou Zhong leered at her, “Tonight, are you going to accompany me, or him?”
Shen Luoyan indifferently said, “Of course I will accompany both of you. But only in this room, drinking wine and having a heart-to-heart chat.”
Tonight she was wearing plain white clothes, while outside the window the fine snowflakes floating in the air. The two boys felt that it was so hard for them to grow hostile toward her, yet they were fully aware that they were facing imminent catastrophe at every turn. It was indeed a very contradictory feeling.
Xu Ziling sneered and said, “Spit it out, Shaoye still needs to go home to sleep.”
Shen Luoyan raised her wine cup and cheerfully said, “The night is young, raise your cup and have a heart-to-heart chat; isn’t that a delight in one’s life? Let Luoyan toast two gentlemen a cup.”
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “How do we know you didn’t put any drug in the wine?”
Displeased, Shen Luoyan put down her cup; she said with a laugh, “If I want to drug you, I don’t need to show myself! You haven’t made any progress at all; instead of seeking pleasure in Longtou Mansion, where most imperial concubines from Yang Guang’s temporary imperial residence live, you came here to spend your silver to buy some smile. I wonder if all men are miserable wretch like you?”
Kou Zhong countered by saying, “Somebody received someone else’s benevolence, yet instead of thinking about repaying the debt of gratitude, she only thinks about how to conspire against her benefactors. I wonder if those people were born with the heart of wolf and the lungs of dog?”
‘Pfft!’ Shen Luoyan burst in laughter. “Touche!” she said, “But I am here now precisely to pay the debt of gratitude. Actually Luoyan is committed to give myself wholly to marry one of you, Shaoye!”
“Here we go again!” Xu Ziling was upset, “If you continue like this, we’ll just brush away our sleeves and leave.”
Shen Luoyan said, “Xu Shaoye must not take offense, there is a rumor in Jianghu recently, Yuwen Wudi was beaten by you that he ran away in panic. If this continues, perhaps one day your fame and power will surpass Ba Fenghan and the ‘shadow assassin’ Yang Xuyan, who are currently like the sun in the middle of the sky.”
Hearing the name Ba Fenghan, and found out about the name of the ‘shadow assassin’, the two boys’ spirit was shaken; they both had a faint feeling that one day these two men would become their opponent.
Observing their countenance, Shen Luoyan was greatly astounded, “Turns out the rumor is not false at all,” she said, “In that case, it was indeed you yourselves who dispelled the strength-scattering drug from your body by circulating your internal energy; no wonder at that time your forehead was gleaming with perspiration.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “All of those things have nothing to do with you. To make a long story short, Shaoye still want to seek pleasure.”
Shen Luoyan smiled and said, “Then you ought to answer Luoyan’s question: among the outstanding heroes of today, who could surpass Duke Li?”
“How about the Li Clan?” Xu Ziling blurted out.
Shen Luoyan showed disdain, “From the four clan leaders, speaking about martial art skill, Li Yuan can only be ranked at the last of the list; speaking about ability and sagacity, he is also number one, if you count backwards. Speaking about personal character, he is cowardice, afraid of getting involved, indecisive, and just like you: he clings to the loveliness of a woman too much. Even knowing that it was a crime punishable by beheading, he still privately accepted from the palace supervisor of Jinyang Palace, Pei Ji, two stunning beauties hand-picked from Yang Guang’s collection of palace maids. How can this kind of person accomplish big thing? I can’t believe your vision is severely lacking like this!”
How would the two boys know that Li Yuan was that kind of person? But by looking at how Li Shimin was using a thousand ways and a hundred plans trying to get him to revolt, they knew that even if Shen Luoyan did not hit the target, she was not too far off.
Shen Luoyan complacently said, “As for your Old Die Du Fuwei, he can only be considered an ambitious and ruthless character of the underworld. Vying for territory in Jianghu, he is more than adequate, but vying for the world? When will his turn come?”
After a short pause, she continued, “Right now Duke Mi has opened the storehouse to aid the common people. He also calls the world to arms, by enumerating Yang Guang’s ten major crimes. The heart of the people all over the world, none did not turn toward him. Those with a clear view of things ought to know who has received the Heaven’s command to be the master.”
Xu Ziling let out a cold laugh and said, “You open your mouth, you close your mouth, it’s always Li Mi this and Li Mi that; where actually have you placed Da Longtou?”
Totally unfazed, Shen Luoyan calmly replied, “You can only blame yourself for being muddleheaded. Today Duke Zhai already informed me formally to notify Duke Mi that he is going to abdicate to yield to a more worthy person. As soon as the high-ranking military officers assemble, he will publicly announce this matter. Hence the reason I open my mouth, I close my mouth, it’s always Li Mi this and Li Mi that. So what’s actually the problem?”
Hearing that, the two boys looked at each other. It was only then did they find out that Zhai Rang already publicly conceded, and gave up the Da Longtou [reminder: big boss] position of Wagang Army to someone else. Immediately they felt some kind of heavy burden has been relieved from their heart.
A weapon of war ought to be kept in check.
Shen Luoyan’s pretty eyes lit up, flashing an unfathomable expression.
Kou Zhong still refused to concede; he said, “What about the other three Clans? Will they be willing to sit back and watch the world falls into your Wagang Army’s hands?”
Shen Luoyan cunningly and leisurely replied, “The Song Clan’s power is in the south, they can only rely on northern power to get the things done; hence we can set them aside. Dugu Clan’s association with the imperial family is too deep; without the lips, the teeth feel the cold [i.e. interdependent], hence they also have no power to strive for the world. Only Yuwen Clan has sufficient manpower and enough talent to accomplish something small. But because they have been hunting dogs for so many years, they planted enmity everywhere. If Yang Guang perishes, Yuwen Clan will turn into a target of a multitude of arrows. Even if they have three heads and six arms, they will not be able to deal with it. Hee … hee …! Plus you won’t let Yuwen Huaji off. Is Luoyan correct?”
The two boys were silenced by her.
This woman knew the current situation, big and small, from top to bottom, like the back of her hands; it was not surprising that Li Mi put her in an important position.
Xu Ziling said, “What about Guo Zihe, Liu Wuzou, Liang Shidou, three people? They have the Tujues behind their back. I am afraid your Duke Mi is not Bi Xuan’s match at all!”
Still relaxed, Shen Luoyan calmly said, “As it turns out, that is precisely their biggest weakness. Honestly, do you want Tujue’s evil claws to be extended to the Central Plains? Duke Mi often says that opposing the will of the people is the surest way to defeat. Yang Guang is the best example.”
Kou Zhong looked like he was about to speak, but stopped himself at the last minute.
Shen Luoyan laughed and said, “You were going to ask about Dou Jiande, Wang Bo, or perhaps Shen Faxing, Li Zitong, Xu Yuanlang, and the others, weren’t you? Among the warlords vying for supremacy, only our Wagang Army has tight control over the throat of the canal connecting Yellow River and its tributaries. From the west going toward the Eastern Capital, from the east facing Jiangdu, just looking at the geographical location and the terrain, nobody can compete with us.
Kou Zhong was totally unyielding; he sighed and said, “After all is said and done, all you want from us is the secret of the Duke Yang Treasure. How about this: you marry one of us, the treasure will be yours so that in turn you can hand it over to Duke Mi to ingratiate himself with.”
Seeing that even though she had exhausted all arguments and still failed to convince the two boys, she was greatly frustrated, “Go to your Niang, you little demons with garrulous tongue; just watch if I don’t pull your tongue out.”
The two boys did not expect that Shen Luoyan who has always been refined, gentle and soft, could imitate them in speaking vulgar language; they were overjoyed.
Finally Shen Luoyan was unable to hold her temper; brushing away her sleeve, she walked away and said, “This is called ‘refusing a toast only to be forced to drink a forfeit’. If you could leave Xingyang safe and sound, I, Shen Luoyan, will …”
The two boys exchanged a wink, and then together they loudly continued, “Will give myself in marriage to you, two little demons.”
Shen Luoyan was taken aback, but then she regained her usual composure as she smiled sweetly and said, “So be it!”
Listening to her footsteps disappearing in the distance, the two boys felt their scalp went numb.
Why didn’t she deal with them right away? Could it be that there was a larger conspiracy brewing?