Book 20 Chapter 11 – Traveling With A Beauty
Shi Qingxuan pushed open the wooden door of a stone house; turning her pretty face around, she smiled and said, “Xu Xiong, please come in!”
Xu Ziling stared blankly for half a day before stepping over the threshold into the house. The room inside was separated into front and rear sections by a bamboo wall. Although the house itself was small, it contained a gamut of furniture, various bits and bobs; everything necessary in a household, with clear window and clean table, quiet and secluded, and pleasant.
Shi Qingxuan spoke indifferently, “This is Qingxuan’s humble abode [orig. snail’s home].”
Surprised, Xu Ziling asked, “Don’t Miss Shi live in Bashu?”
Shi Qingxuan invited him to sit on the chair by the window, while she herself stepped into the inner section behind the bamboo wall, and said, “This cottage was not built by Qingxuan at all. The original owner passed away five years ago, thereupon Qingxuan borrow it to stay for a time. I like it since it is only half a sichen away by foot from the Demonic Emperor Temple.”
Looking through the bamboo wall, Xu Ziling could vaguely see this unique beauty sat down in front of a small table by the bed inside the inner section, with her back toward him, facing a round copper mirror hanging on the wall. Under the hazy illumination in the room, everything was purified by the bamboo wall, emphasizing her graceful figure and posture even more.
Xu Ziling sighed in admiration, “This is indeed a good place to shun the world. If Miss did not take Zaixia here, I am afraid I would never find it even if I searched for it ten thousand years.”
This small stone house was built inside a small canyon located about ten li southeast of the bat cave maze, with its back to a tall waterfall pouring down into a small lake. In front of the house fruit trees were swaying, the scenery was extremely beautiful.
Shi Qingxuan picked up the comb and started to brush her jet-black, shiny and long beautiful hair gently. Her movement and posture were extremely attractive.
“Why don’t you ask who the original owner was?” she spoke indifferently, “Aren’t you curious?”
A warm and comfortable feeling welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart, as if he was in a small nest together with his lovely wife, chatting about domestic trivia over a bamboo wall. It was an extremely novel sensation.
Smiling, he said, “Perhaps my character makes it so! I rarely have the urge to absolutely want to know certain things. But since Miss particularly raised this issue, it is obvious that the original owner of this house must be a person of great history. Now Zaixia is highly curious.”
Laughing softly, Shi Qingxuan said, “I was wondering, may Qingxuan ask Xu Xiong a rather rude question?”
While listening to the sound of the boisterous tweets of the birds chasing each other and playing outside passing through the window, he casually replied, “Miss, please enlighten!”
Shi Qingxuan said, “May I venture to ask Xu Xiong, in the past few years you are roaming to the south wandering to the north, have you hurt the heart of many girls who poured out their feeling, who are fondly attached to you?”
Xu Ziling was stunned, “I have never thought about that,” he said, “But I don’t think there is such thing?”
Shi Qingxuan cheerfully said, “Finally you, this guy, are not being honest. But for the time being, I am not going to settle this account with you. Let Qingxuan put this question on the other side: how many famous beauties have Xu Xiong seen in Jianghu? Which one can make you admire her wholeheartedly?”
Xu Ziling smiled ruefully and said, “Miss’ question is more difficult to parry, to ward off than any strange-skill, ultimate-art. Can Xiaodi simply surrender and be done with it?”
Shi Qingxuan put down the comb, ‘Pfft!’ she giggled tenderly and said, “A useless fellow! Real man should dare to love, dare to hate. Turns out the Xu Ziling, whose name shook the world, is so useless in this regard.”
Full of confidence, Xu Ziling calmly shrugged his shoulders and said, “Xiaodi have an extremely light and indifferent view toward the feeling between men and women, neither do I have any particular expectation or hope. In everything, I am at home wherever I am. If you ask me, my wish is to lead a life of free and easy, to roam the world and enjoy immortal scenery, without any burden of this life.”
Shi Qingxuan was silent for half a day, before slowly said, “Your way of thinking is extremely similar to Qingxuan’s; the difference is one is moving, the other still. In Qingxuan’s heart, the ideal way of life is to live in secluded mountain or forest, studying meticulously the art and knowledge that I like, and use it to amuse myself, passing through this life in peace and quiet. Therefore, I am a little anxious to pass on this responsibility to Xu Xiong.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Xiaodi finally understand Miss’ intention. Say it then! As long as it is within my power, I will definitely accomplish Miss’ cherished desire.”
Shi Qingxuan sighed and said, “Ay! You are such a good person, you make Qingxuan feel ashamed and guilty to inconvenience you. Xu Xiong, could you temporarily close your eyes, I want to change clothes!”
Xu Ziling jumped in fright, and hastily shut his eyes.
The rustling noise of clothes being changed continuously came from behind the bamboo wall. Shi Qingxuan’s unhurried, calm voice said, “’Dao Xin Zhong Mo Da Fa’ is definitely the demonic school’s supreme skill; it is a level higher than Yin Gui Pai’s ‘Tian Mo Da Fa’. The strangest thing is that in the process of training, the practitioner’s character and temperament will change, from demonic to enter the Way. According to Lu Dashi, although in training this skill Xie Di Xiang Yutian ruined the enterprise for the sake of one basketful, he did not complete the whole skill, and ended up suffering fire deviation and the disaster of having his body burned, but before his tragic death, he suddenly came to see the truth of his evil deeds in the past in devastating all living things, hence he tried hard to remedy it.”
Xu Ziling almost opened his eyes. Astounded, he said, “Turns out there is such skill in the world, it is really surprising.”
Although the ‘Secret to Long Life’ was able to change his and Kou Zhong’s temperament, it still followed their own natural character and natural development, absolutely unlike the ’Dao Xin Zhong Mo Da Fa’ that could completely change someone’s deep-rooted character.
Shi Qingxuan seemed to finish changing her clothes; she opened the bamboo wall and walked over to the outer hall, but she did not tell Xu Ziling to open his eyes. She spoke gently, “At that time, the only concern he had was You Niaojuan, those four evil disciples. No one understood their evil nature more than he did, thereupon he wanted to exploit their weak point of desiring to be the next generation Xie Di, using the ‘Demonic Emperor Relic’ as a bait, forcing them to make an oath under the demonic school’s supreme and binding blood curse, that only after obtaining the ‘Demonic Emperor Relic’ that they could inherit the Xie Di position, and only then would they be allowed to establish the Sect. On the other hand, he secretly informed Zhu Yuyan that the ‘Demonic Emperor Relic’ has already been passed on to these four inferior disciples, so that they would carry the blame.”
Xu Ziling still had his eyes shut tight, so he could not see her expression while she was speaking. It was like he was in the middle of the fog; completely at a loss. “Why is ‘Demonic Emperor Relic’ so important?” he asked.
Shi Qingxuan’s sweet-sounding voice replied, “That is the mystery within a mystery in the Xie Ji Zong [lit. extremely demonic school], the strange technique and secret method that has been handed down from generation to generation since the establishment of the Xie Ji Zong, and has become the symbol of authority of the Zongzhu [head of a clan, school master]. It also represents some kind of terrifying skill. In itself, the ‘Demonic Emperor Relic’ is a finely polished rare yellow crystal stone. Since the first generation Xie Di, when the successive Xie Di knew that he was coming to his allocated lifespan, using a secret method, he condensed the power he accumulated his entire life to become a qi essence, and injected it into the crystal stone, hoping that the person inheriting the demonic stone would be able to use the primary essence, so that from generation to generation, the Xie Ji Zong would grow stronger and stronger, unrivalled in Wulin. Oh! You may open your eyes now!”
Xu Ziling suddenly opened his tiger-eyes. Shi Qingxuan had her beautiful hair rolled up in a bun, capped with a hat, while wearing complete menswear; the attire one would wear on a long journey.
Her ugly nose disappeared without a trace, but her skin became rough and swarthy. Even so, her beauty still made people hold their breath.
It was unclear whether because he paid particular attention and the difference in their relationship now, but he felt that her straight backbone made her tender nose looked perfect, so that she appeared more noble and elegant beyond comprehension, flawless.
Her beauty was cold and detached, and mysterious. Perhaps this was due to her innate purity and pride, so that others did not dare to get close to her, yet they would thirst for her favor. Adding his previous impression of her to that, Xu Ziling dared to affirm her distinct style, her bold beauty was in no way inferior to Shi Feixuan, Wanwan, or other peerless beauty of their caliber.
Shi Qingxuan smiled and said, “Why are you staring at me, unable to take your eyes off me? Do you think Qingxuan has changed too much?”
Laughing involuntarily, Xu Ziling said, “Miss really knows how to read my heart. Hey! If what you have said is true, that Xie Ji Zong ought to far surpass Yin Gui Pai by now, but why is the fact not so?”
Shi Qingxuan sighed and said, “The real situation is complicated. Tell me first, where are you heading?”
After Xu Ziling explained everything to her, Shi Qingxuan gladly said, “We will be able to travel together for two, three days. After reaching the Great River, you go down to Jiangnan, while I’ll take the boat to the west. We’ll talk it over during the journey, all right?”
Xu Ziling has never imagined that he would gain a female companion. But every moment he spent with this beauty would be a beautiful experience that he would never forget as long as he lived. Thereupon he nodded and smiled, “If Miss don’t mind, we ought to hasten on with our journey.”
Luoma Lake was located southeast of the biggest lake in Shandong, the Weishan Lake, the two are connected by River Si.
Luoma Lake’s water under the wide open sky extended as far as the eye can see, the bluish green waves rippled, the water was rich with fish: carp, Crucian carp, black carp, shrimp and crabs; as for the flora, there was water caltrop, fresh lotus root, cattail, mouth grass, and so on.
Every time the weather was favorable, fishing boats roamed about the mist covered water, the oars braved the waves, heron glided and gulls soared; the scenery was enchanting.
Luoma Bang’s base, the City of Xiapi, was located about ten li northwest of Luoma Lake. It was a fortress at the confluence of three major river courses, Si River, Yi River, and Bian River. From here, in just a little more than half a day of voyage, one could reach Pengcheng, located at the upper reaches of Bian River.
The convenience of transportation has made Xiapi the transit center between Luoma Lake and Weishan Lake, with a tight grip on the waterways in the entire region. As a result, Xiapi brought a lot of commercial trade, which, in turn, gave Luoma Bang full belly and fat intestines, their fame and power grew.
The alliance with Khitan’s group of horse-mounted bandits offered Luoma Bang the opportunity to expand their influence and fuel their wild ambition.
Kou Zhong, Luo Qifei, and ten of their men disguised themselves as traveling merchants, who came to this village, rich in fish and rice, in the Luoma Lake region, to buy provisions, and safely entered Xiapi.
Assisting them in gaining access and establishing contact was the local huge grain and oil merchant, Shen Renfu. He has always had close relationship with Pengliang Bang. Although on the surface he also maintained friendly relations with Luoma Bang, inwardly he was extremely resentful toward Du Ren’s excessive, not-knowing-his-limit taxation, his surly and unreasoning way of doing business.
Luo Qifei’s information was coming from him.
Shen Renfu was a proficient and calculating businessman; originally he was unwilling to be drawn into the dispute. But Du Ren and Ku Ge’s alliance was more than he could bear, simply because his younger brother’s family, men, women, young and old, all lost their lives in Ku Ge’s hands, hence his hatred was deeper than the sea.
But the most important thing was his admiration and confidence in Kou Zhong, thereupon once the agreement was made, he was determined to help Kou Zhong to deal with Du Ren and Ku Ge.
As soon as Kou Zhong and Luo Qifei reached the Shen Mansion, the three immediately held a meeting inside the secret chamber.
Shen Renfu was a tall, sturdy and rugged looking man, his hair was iron grey, he appeared to be confident and easy-going. On his bright and broad face was a pair of shiny eyes, he wore a long and thick beard, his age around forty, the impression he was giving out was that of an astute, decisive, and stop-at-nothing man.
After some polite exchange, Shen Renfu presented the situation, “After obtaining Ku Ge’s support, Du Ren’s major task is recruiting soldiers and buying horse, in preparation to display his fist and feet, putting all towns and villages in the vicinity in danger, afraid that he and Ku Ge would join forces and go to all directions, killing and burning, besieging cities and robbing lands.”
Frowning, Kou Zhong said, “Ku Ge’s group only consists of an insignificant number of several hundred horse-mounted bandits, why does Du Ren seem to acquire big backers?”
Shen Renfu sighed and said, “In Zhong Ye’s eyes, it’s only natural that Ku Ge is a totally insignificant nobody; but in the surrounding area, who did not hear the name Khitan group of horse-mounted bandits and their countenance change? If we add the thieves Ku Ge left at the coastal area, the number may reaches more than a thousand. Every one of these Khitan group of horse-mounted bandits has outstanding martial art skill, very aggressive and ruthless. Their horsemanship is a level above everybody else, plus they come and go like the wind. Except for the big defeat under your, Zhong Ye’s hands, they have always been undefeated. And now that they acquired Du Ren’s intelligence and base of operations, they are indeed like a tiger that has grown wings, putting all of us in danger. We are hoping that Zhong Ye can come out to preside over justice, and take revenge and wipe out the grudges of the people massacred by them.”
Kou Zhong calmly said, “Shen Laoban [boss], please set your heart at ease. Merely for your esteemed younger brother’s family being harmed by them, I already am unable to sit still. I must make this bunch of evil thieves unable to return to their hometown forever. I wonder where Ku Ge is staying now. Du Ren will never dare to lead the wolf into the house, to sleep under the same roof with Ku Ge!”
Seeing how much Kou Zhong was giving him face, Shen Renfu was so grateful that he was almost in tears. After kneeling down to express his gratitude, he said, “Ku Ge and his men are hiding on the prairie at the foot of Mount Ze, about a dozen li west of Xiapi, ready to respond and rendezvous with the other group of horse-mounted bandits. As for the details of his conspiracy with Du Ren, Xiaoren [the lowly one, referring to self] has not explored that information yet.”
Stretching his limbs, Kou Zhong said, “I wonder if Shen Laoban knows: within the Luoma Bang itself, who opposed this alliance most intensely?”
Without even thinking, Shen Renfu replied, “Of course it’s the Er Dangjia [second chief] Xiao Lu Bu [little Lu Bu (-198), a general and warlord] Jiao Hongjin. This man is an exceptional hero, he received the love and respect of ten thousand of his men, but also received Du Ren’s jealousy the most. This alliance, at least half of Du Ren’s reason was directed at him. Since his fight against the alliance failed, every night Jiao Hongjin lingers at the pleasure house, drowning his sorrow in wine. In my opinion, he is at the initial stage of dying, otherwise Du Ren might have him killed.”
Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Lu Bu did not love the rivers and mountains, but loved beauties instead. Hopefully Little Lu Bu is a bit better. We will start with him. Who knows, perhaps without spending a single man, a single troop, the entire Luoma Bang will join us. At that time, I can guarantee that the Khitan group of horse-mounted bandits will die without a burial place, plus we will gain a batch of well-trained warhorses. Don’t you think this is a very sound scheme?”
Shen Renfu happily said, “Xiaoren has quite a bit of friendship with Jiao Hongjin; let Xiaoren make the arrangement.”
Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, “It’s not advisable for Shen Laoban to appear personally. It is hard to fathom a person’s mind; nobody knows how Jiao Hongjin would react. Qifei, do you have any suggestion?"
Luo Qifei, who has been listening on the side without saying anything, agreed; he said, “It would be best indeed if Shen Laoban does not appear personally, but how are we going to make contact with Jiao Hongjin secretly?”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Then I will have to act according to circumstances. What is his favorite place? I am going to meet him there. If he is unwilling to help me, I might as well kill him with a blade, and then it will be Du Ren’s turn.”
Although he talked big, Shen Renfu and Luo Qifei merely thought that it was proper and to be expected as a matter of course.
Compared to Ren Shaoming and Li Mi, Du Ren could be considered nothing.
After thinking for a moment, Kou Zhong said to the two, “Since nobody knows what Du Ren and Ku Ge are going to do next, we might as well do them a big favor: spread a bit of rumor, so that the people of neighboring towns will panic. Once we get rid of Du Ren, everybody will be doubly grateful, so in a few words we can buy the hearts of the people back. Ha! Is there anything more cost-effective than this?”
The two nodded their heads in praise. Both inwardly thought that indeed ‘there is no empty scholar under famous reputation’; he was able to think about such tactic.
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Kou Zhong said, “The rumor must be reasonable and fair, otherwise it’s not worth spreading. Ah! Shen Laoban, you are more familiar about this: what are the people nearby most afraid of?”
Shen Renfu respectfully replied, “Du Ren has always intended to capture Liu County and Pei County by the Weishan Lake, so that he can obtain a foothold at Weishan Lake, from which he can then attack bigger towns around Weishan Lake. Can the rumor be something about this matter? To the north, Weishan Lake is connected to Zhaoyang, Dushan, and Nanyang, three lakes, which are joined head to tail, as if they are one single lake. If it fell into Du Ren’s hands, the entire Shandong’s economic lifeline would fall under Du Ren’s control.”
Luo Qifei said, “To capture Weishan Lake, they must first seize Pengcheng. Therefore, as long as we falsely spread the news that Du Ren is about to attack Pengcheng, others will imagine and speculate about his wild ambition and his large scale plan.”
Roaring in laughter, Kou Zhong said, “The more we talk about this matter, the more it becomes the truth, even I believe it a little! We might as well add some salt and put on some vinegar, saying that Ku Ge is going to take the lead, to wash the disgrace of defeat under my hands; therefore, they would kill anybody they see. How’s that?”
The two cheered together.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Ol’ Du and Ol’ Ku, two big brothers! Let’s see how many more days you are going to enjoy the wind and the sunshine.”
With excited expression, Shen Renfu said, “Working for Zhong Ye is such a delight, Xiaoren will immediately do it according to plan.”
“Hold on!” Kou Zhong said, “It would be best if the rumor starts outside and spreads inside, then even if Du Ren wanted to investigate it, he can’t. You can dispatch men to nearby cities and towns immediately … Ah! We’d better change it to using the traveling merchants who come and go along the waterways; that way the news will travel faster and spread wider.”
Shen Renfu accepted the order and left.
Kou Zhong stretched again, and then said to Luo Qifei, “Go and investigate which pleasure house our Little Lu Bu might go tonight, I am going to take a nap, and when I wake up, I’ll go find him to feel the bottom of the wine cup and discuss this business with him.”
Yawning again, he exclaimed, “I am exhausted!”