Book 20 Chapter 12 – Lucky Chance
Xu Ziling, disguised as Yue Shan, and Shi Qingxuan, traveled as father and son, arrived in Hefei, another big city northwest of Liyang. Yangtze River was still two days away, that is, assuming the two would travel as fast as their feet could carry them.
This city was inside Jianghuai Army’s territory, but the flag flying overhead was Fu Gongyou’s banner, and not Du Fuwei’s.
Outside Hefei, the countryside was unbroken fields stretching into the distant; seedlings were everywhere, fresh yellow and light and dark green as far as the eyes could see, making their mind felt fresh and cool.
After paying the tax to enter the city, the fascinating scenery of the patchwork of waterways of the Yangtze River basin warmed their hearts and delighted their eyes.
The streets were paved with either bluestone or built by laying bricks, giving the impression of abundant antiquity. The buildings were compact and elegant, with whitewashed wall and black roof tiles, wooden doors and stone steps, simple, nothing fancy. In this continuous fire of war, the time where ruins lay for a thousand li, outsiders looking at it would feel peace and harmony in their heart.
Passing through a narrow but long alley, both sides densely packed with the rear walls of people’s houses, Shi Qingxuan, who along the way has never uttered even half a word, suddenly laughed and said, “I was thinking of leaving the city immediately after late night supper, so that tomorrow we’ll be able to reach the Great River, but somehow after entering the city, I suddenly feel tired and lazy, and now I only want to rest. Before nightfall I want to go out to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city. Xu Xiong, what do you think?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Even if we are in a hurry, one night or half evening will not matter much. Besides, we really must have a good night sleep. Therefore, I have no objection.”
Thereupon the two found a clean, simple yet elegant inn in the vicinity, ordered two adjacent rooms, and separately went to the bathroom to freshen up, before meeting again and together went to the city center to enjoy the liveliness. Sitting down at the corner of a restaurant, Shi Qingxuan ordered two vegetarian dishes, and then the topic of their conversation went back to Xie Ji Zong.
Shi Qingxuan did not wish for the guests at the adjacent table to listen to their conversation, hence she sat by Xu Ziling’s side, with her back against other people, and affectionately leaned close to Xu Ziling’s ear, and said, “The problem is that so far, no one has ever reaped any benefit from the Relic, but it has become a tradition of the Xie Ji Zong from generation to generation that when the Zongzhu is approaching his end, he would transmit his qi essence into the Relic. Other than Xiang Yutian, who was not able to fulfill this obligation due to the unexpected death, there are altogether eleven Zongzhu who sacrifice their primal essence into this Relic.”
A chill crept up in Xu Ziling’s heart, thinking that the conduct of demonic sect’s people was indeed strange and unfathomable.
Shi Qingxuan went on, “It was only during Xiang Yutian’s time that they took a turn for the better. Xiang Yutian was the first person to understand how to use the Relic to train the demonic skill, so that he ranked above Zhu Yuyan among the demonic sects’ grand masters. It’s a pity that he never completed the ‘Dao Xin Zhong Mo Da Fa’. Just before his death, he separately taught the secret on how to use the Relic to train the demonic skill to four inferior disciples, who harbored the intention to murder their master, and to Yin Gui Pai’s Zhu Yuyan. In addition, he instructed Lu Dashi to hide the ‘Demonic Emperor Relic’ in some secret place. The best part was that he deliberately mystifying this matter, so that You Niaojuan and the others mistakenly thought that the ‘Demonic Emperor Relic’ has been handed over to Zhu Yuyan, while Zhu Yuyan is convinced that it has fallen into the four people’s hands. The consequences can be easily imagined.”
Naturally they battled each other as irreconcilable adversaries [orig. you die, I live], which ended up You Niaojuan and the others suffered a crushing defeat, and no longer dared to show their face. This ruse was certainly evil and extremely vicious, a clear sign that even though Xiang Yutian’s character underwent huge changes, he did not have the heart of Bodhisattva at all, while implying punishment to his evil disciples at the same time.
Shi Qingxuan continued, “In the end, paper can never contain fire. By the time both sides realized that the ‘Demonic Emperor Relic’ was in Lu Dashi’s hands, both parties have already tied deep enmity with each other.”
Xu Ziling was puzzled, “How did this matter implicate Miss?” he asked.
Shi Qingxuan sighed; she replied, “Can I hold on to the climax for the time being by temporarily not tell you this?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Since Miss has a hidden trouble that is hard to mention, it’s all right not to tell me that. But we are going our separate way tomorrow; is there any other instruction Miss would like to tell me?”
Shi Qingxuan shook her head and said, “We are not going to part tomorrow. We are going to part tonight.”
Xu Ziling was stunned.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong slept until late afternoon; alone, he went to the busiest street in Xiapi, to look around with great interest.
In order to fool people, he did not carry the Moon in the Well, which normally has never left him, he also dressed as a distinguished and accomplished young master of a wealthy family, with silk clothes and everything else.
Along the street, he saw group after group of men wearing blue tight warrior outfit, walking in domineering manner; they must be Luoma Bang men, but they did not create any trouble at all.
In this time of war, common people were the source of manpower. Du Ren must have restrained his men to follow a strict code of conduct; otherwise, if the people ran away, the city would become ruins.
The lanterns were started to illuminate the street. Pedestrians and vehicles fought against each other for the right of way. Except for its scale, which was comparably smaller, the liveliness was not inferior to the Heavenly Street in Luoyang.
After sleeping for more than three sichen, Kou Zhong’s physical strength, as well as his spirit and mind, were completely recovered. He felt full of energy, and really wished he could find some bad people to beat up. Inwardly he also wished for Xu Ziling to be here, so that they could chat and joke, and spoke some vulgar language. Certainly the evening would be even more enjoyable.
After walking for two blocks, he stopped in front of a pleasure house, which signage said ‘Xiao Chun Guang’ [lit. little scenes of springtime]. After taking a deep breath, he swaggered through the pedestrian entrance leading into the courtyard.
Seeing the arrival of a fat sheep, the bouncer at the gate busily took him to the reception lobby, and called the laobao [female brothel keeper] for him.
Kou Zhong showed off that he brought enough money, so that the other party would think that he was a big customer from outside the country who came to do business here. He gave generous tip, before casually mentioning the most popular girl by name, Miss Qiu Yue [lit. autumn moon].
The laobao, who insisted to be called Auntie Qing, showed off an awkward expression while saying, “Daye [big master] is really unfortunate this time! Tonight Qiu Yue is already booked by another Daye. How about I have Qiu Rong [lit. autumn lotus] to accompany Daye? In terms of voice, beauty and artistry, she can’t be inferior to Qiu Yue.”
Kou Zhong tossed half an ingot of gold to her, telling Auntie Qing to have Qiu Rong come and accompany him, but no matter what, he still wanted Qiu Yue to come and have a cup of wine with him, while putting the other half of the gold ingot on the table. [This paragraph has a lot of missing characters, as well as gibberish, so I ‘interpreted’ it as best as I can from what’s left.]
Such a generous and forthright honored guest was rarely seen in the world, hence Auntie Qing’s greedy eyes lit up immediately, but she was still hesitant and could not make decision.
Kou Zhong leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I have an idea; how about this! You arrange for me to have a room next to the room she is entertaining her guest. As long as I hear her singing voice over the wall, you can consider me getting my cherished desire, and that half gold ingot is yours!”
Auntie Qing mused that unexpectedly there was such an idiot in the world who willingly spend money like this. She gladly took him upstairs.
※ ※ ※
A smile broke out of Shi Qingxuan’s dark ‘jade countenance’, like a sliver of sun bursting out of the black clouds; she spoke gently, “Don’t be overly sensitive. I only change my mind, I want to go back to Shichuan via land route.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Very well! We’ll part after dinner. It would be perfect if I can reach Baling sooner.”
After staring at him quietly for half a day, Shi Qingxuan spoke softly, “Your build certainly bears striking resemblance to Old Yue, but you lack his aggressiveness and overbearing saber. Do you want to appear a bit more like him?”
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, “It doesn’t matter how much I look like him on the outside, once I fight, there is no way I can cover my traces; therefore, there is no need to do more than is required.”
Pursing her lips, Shi Qingxuan laughed and said, “I said to appear a bit more like him, naturally that includes his saber technique and his overbearing saber. Do you forget that when he died I was at his bedside?”
Thinking about it, Xu Ziling felt more headache, “No matter how hard I tried, it’s difficult for me to imagine that you and Yue Shan could hang out together.”
From this angle, he could see Shi Qingxuan’s profile from the side, as clear and distinct as if it was carved by a knife, the lines were as beautiful as if it came from the ghost’s hatchet with divine skill, astonishing to see, especially since the make up to disguise her original appearance covered up her icy flesh and bone, so that Xu Ziling was able to focus his attention on her refined lines.
Shi Qingxuan’s beautiful eyes showed a far-away, recalling-fond-memories, look, her jade lips spoke gently, “Forty years ago, Old Yue suffered a crushing defeat under the hands of Heavenly Saber Song Que. Heavily injured, he traveled a thousand li to see my Niang, his original intention was that just before dying, he could see Niang for one last time. But Niang disregarded the wear and tear of her own true power, and saved his life using her acupuncture skill to stimulate his acupoints, so that he was able to live thirty more years, but he was unable to save his martial art skill.”
And then, casting a glance at Xu Ziling, she spoke indifferently, “Why are you staring at me?”
Xu Ziling hastily averted his gaze and said in embarrassment, “Listening to you, I was enthralled, and involuntarily staring at you. If you don’t like it, I won’t look at you.”
Shi Qingxuan showed a cute, naïve expression like a little girl, pursed her lips and said with a laugh, “I was teasing you. You are different from other men; no matter how ugly my disguise is, you are always able to find something touching about me. And now Qingxuan’s skin is dark and rough, what do you say?”
Xu Ziling nearly grabbed his head and cried out for the pain; distressed, he said, “You seem to be afraid others might admire your appearance, but that is a fact that cannot be changed.”
Shi Qingxuan smiled and said, “That is because I have my Niang as an example. Ever since I was old enough to understand, I have never seen Niang smiling. Don’t change the subject, where were we?”
Xu Ziling thought that it was you who changed the subject, yet you made laozi [me] the criminal ringleader, the main offender. But naturally he would not argue with her over this; he replied, “You were telling me that Yue Shan managed to keep his life, but not his martial art skill …”
Shi Qingxuan slapped her pretty forehead, and exclaimed softly, “Right! The details are not important, but as far as I understand, afterwards Old Yue built his house outside the secluded forest of the small valley where we lived. From time to time I visited him there, listening to him telling the stories of Jianghu, hence I was very clear about his affairs. In his spare time, he wrote his saber technique, which he called ‘seventy two seasons’ [orig. ‘hou’ – a period of five days] into a book. If I pass on this book to you, you could even pretend that you know his martial art!”
Xu Ziling’s heart was moved; he asked, “Do you know that Yue Shan and Zhu Yuyan have a daughter together?”
Shi Qingxuan replied, “That was the biggest regret Old Yue had in all his life. At first he thought that Zhu Yuyan was viewing him in a new light, that his feeling was reciprocated; who would have thought that Zhu Yuyan … ay! I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Is this your habit?” Xu Ziling protested, “You always stir up other people’s curiosity, but then you don’t want to continue.”
Shi Qingxuan smiled teasingly; she said, “Finally you are willing to speak honestly. What I hate the most about you is your repulsive attitude of don’t-care-about-everything, nothing-is-urgent. I’ll let you off this time!”
After a short pause, she continued, “Often time Demonic Cult people’s conduct violates social relationships and heaven’s law. For instance: bearing and raising children, which are proper human relationships and follow heavenly law, they would see it as impediment. The reason Zhu Yuyan chose Yue Shan to be husband and wife for one night was simply because she loathed Yue Shan. Therefore, although they had man-woman relationship, she did not have to worry about falling in love with him, and would have difficulty extricate herself from it. Tell me, don’t you think that was a perversion of heaven’s law?”
Listening to that, Xu Ziling was stupefied, and was unable to answer.
Shi Qingxuan was silent for a moment, and then she spoke softly, “You kill You Niaojuan and Zhou Laotan for me, and I’ll invite you to my little valley, and will play a tune for you wholeheartedly, with my true appearance. Don’t you think this condition is satisfactory?”
※ ※ ※
Indeed Qiu Rong, who came to accompany Kou Zhong drinking, did not look bad at all; she was glowing with youthfulness, not in the least looked like a broken flower, withered willow [fig. fallen woman].
Seeing Kou Zhong’s back of a tiger and waist of a bear [fig. tough and sturdy build], her smart countenance immediately rippled with amorous feeling; she clung to him like honey, doing everything she could to curry his favor.
Although on the surface Kou Zhong appeared to be engrossed in her ministration, his ears were focused on the next-door room, where the ‘Little Lu Bu’ Jiao Hongjin and Qiu Yue were having conversation.
This moment Qiu Yue won the finger-guessing game, so Jiao Hongjin had to drink as a punishment. Kou Zhong was thinking that this might be the best time. But as he was about to pay Jiao Hongjin a visit, suddenly he heard rapid footsteps coming near, with awe-inspiring momentum.
More than a dozen footsteps walked pass his door, and stopped in front of the next-door room.
Someone kicked the door open, followed by Jiao Hongjin’s surprised voice called out, “Da Dangjia [first chief]!”
Kou Zhong’s heart was shaken, knowing that Du Ren was coming, only he did not know what made him so angry that he did not give Jiao Hongjin any face at all.
A deep and low, hoarse and heavy guttural male voice shouted, “Other people get lost!”
Jiao Hongjin remained silent. Qiu Yue’s footsteps left the room. The sound of her footsteps alternating between heavy and light; obviously she was terrified that her footsteps were unsteady.
The door closed.
Du Ren slapped the table and shouted, “Tell me, who leaked out our plan to attack Pengcheng?”
Listening to that, Kou Zhong was dumbfounded; he thought how could there be such a coincidence? At the same time he praised Shen Renfu inwardly, for the high efficiency with which he spread the rumors.
Displeased, Jiao Hongjin replied, “I don’t understand what Da Dangjia is talking about.”
Du Ren cursed furiously and said, “If you don’t understand, then who does? The attack to Pengcheng, you know it, I know it, Ku Ge knows it, but no one else. But now rumors are springing everywhere outside, even our coalition forces’ strategy, which one will attack Pengcheng first, which one later, are plainly in the open. If your mouth did not speak it out, do you think it was either me or Ku Ge? Tell me!”
Jiao Hongjin spoke in heavy voice, “I, Jiao Hongjin, have been with Da Dangjia for many years, when did I ever speak half a word of lie? I said I did not, that means I did not. Da Dangjia don’t believe me, there is nothing that I can do.”
After an unbearable silence, Du Ren suddenly stood up, and after saying ‘Good!’ three times in succession, he left just like he came: like the wind.
Several times Kou Zhong was thinking of making his move, but in the end he decided not to do it, because if he assassinated Du Ren just like that, it would be difficult to admit Luoma Bang people peacefully later.
He stood up suddenly.
Qiu Rong, who had just recovered from the shock, jumped in fright. Pulling his sleeve, she said, “Honored guest, where are you going?”
Kou Zhong caressed her face [and some gibberish], and said, “Listen, I want you to wait nicely here, don’t go stealing other man.”
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “I can only promise you that I’ll do my best. Just think! That night, in the bat cave labyrinth, under such favorable situation, they still managed to escape; clearly these two are so formidable. Later on, Miss must also be more careful.”
Shi Qingxuan’s eyes were rippling with unusual luster. After looking at him for quite a while, she smiled, exposing two rows of snow white teeth, and said, “You are not able to accomplish something today does not mean that you are not going to accomplish it tomorrow. As long as you are willing to promise, that is enough.”
This moment the vegetarian dishes arrived.
Raising up her chopsticks, Shi Qingxuan picked up some vegetarian dishes and put it in Xu Ziling’s bowl; she said, “Consider this meal as a farewell dinner for you, it’s Xiaomei’s [little sister] treat. Oh! I am very happy. Ever since Niang became an immortal [fig. die], Qingxuan has never had such a good laugh.”
Xu Ziling had no choice but to force a smile to reciprocate.
As if she had just remembered something, Shi Qingxuan said, “I almost forget to tell you how to find me in the middle of Sichuan, otherwise you’ll look for ten thousand years and still won’t find me. Hee …! I don’t know why, but I find myself love to tease you, to see your embarrassed and awkward expression.”
Xu Ziling did not know what to say.
The two ‘you pick a chopsticks, I pick a chopsticks’, very soon the vegetarian dishes on the table were wiped clean.
Looking at the empty dishes and bowls, they both were amused.
After Si Qingxuan scrambled to pay the bill, they went out to the street, she said, “Do you have anything you left at the inn?”
Xu Zilng shook his head to say negative.
Shi Qingxuan said, “It’s late, the city gate should be closed by now, our only way out is to climb over the wall. Do you really want to send me off a while?”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “That is affirmative!”
Shi Qingxuan blissfully said, “In that case, follow me!”
Turning around, she headed toward the western part of the city.
Xu Ziling ran after her, and said, “You have said a lot of things in half; shouldn’t you finish everything clearly before we part company?”
Shi Qingxuan shook her head and said, “Those are all troublesome matters, once I start, I won’t be able to finish it. How about later on when you come to see me? You are the first guest I have ever invited.”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “I am afraid it will be a long time before I can spare some time to go!”
Unconcerned, Shi Qingxuan slightly shrugged her fragrant shoulders and said, “Naturally you’ll come when you have time.”
Xu Ziling was about to talk, suddenly he heard a horse neighing wildly, on the street, a carriage stopped abruptly.
The carriage roof broke open, a flash of shadow shot out of the carriage, and landed behind the two; his momentum was astonishing to the extreme point.
Xu Ziling and Shi Qingxuan exchanged a glance; neither one knew what was going on.
“Ba Dao [overbearing saber] Yue Shan, it is you!”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling’s scalp went numb, while inwardly he cried ‘injustice’.
Shi Qingxuan’s voice came into his ear, “Don’t be afraid, it’s your old friend Zuo Youxian. I speak a sentence, you speak a sentence; understand?” Finished speaking, she quickly walked aside.
Xu Ziling slowly turned around; following Shi Qingxuan’s instruction, he spoke indifferently, “Since we parted at Changbai, in the blink of an eye more than forty years have passed. Youxian Xiong is as svelte as before; it is indeed worthy of celebration.”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong pushed the door open and entered.
Jiao Hongjin’s fierce gaze looked at him like lightning flashes, but his voice was extraordinarily tranquil. “Who are you?” he spoke indifferently.
This man was worthy to be called Little Lu Bu; his appearance was heroic, grand, and handsome, big and tall, well proportioned. Every movement exuded his full self-confidence.
Kou Zhong smiled indifferently, and sat down across the table from him. He said, “Xiaodi Kou Zhong. Jiao Xiong, how are you?”
Jiao Hongjin’s tiger-body shook severely; his hand quickly reached out to grab the hilt of the broadsword still in its scabbard on the table.
“Hold on!” Kou Zhong shouted in low voice.
Jiao Hongjin’s hand held the hilt tightly, but he did not pull it out. “Are you here just to accompany me drinking and playing finger-guessing game?” he spoke in low voice.
Kou Zhong spread out his hands, indicating that he did not have any intention to attack. Sneering, he said, “If I wanted to kill, your Da Dangjia just now would not leave this place alive. Am I right?”
Jiao Hongjin calmed down. Carefully sizing up the opposite party, he nodded and and said, “Why didn’t you make your move?”
Kou Zhong replied, “Because I wanted to give Jiao Xiong some face.”
While Jiao Hongjin was stumped for words, footsteps suddenly rose up from afar, but quickly came near. At least there were several dozen men, coming from either side of the corridor outside the room.
Kou Zhong unhurriedly said, “Du Ren wants to kill you!”