Book 17 Chapter 12 – The Whip Way to Contend for Supremacy
In his current role, Xu Ziling had no choice but to sit on one of the three tables on the east; fortunately he did not share the table with Li Jing, otherwise it would be very easy to reveal the cloven foot [i.e. to unmask one’s true nature].
He and Chen Changlin sat to the left and right of Linglong Jiao, opposite Xing Mofei and the two Tuyuhun beauties, whose eyes seemed to be able to talk. After self-introduction to each other, they found out that the rest of the people sitting around them were either sons and daughters or trusted aides of the people sitting on the main tables.
Those able to share table with Rong Fengxiang were, naturally, people with enough weight, such as Li Shimin, Tuli, Wang Shichong, Song Lu, Liu Jing, Fu Qian, Ouyang Xiyi, Priest Ke Feng, and three others, Luoyang’s celebrities with enough face, but Madam Rong Fengxiang was nowhere to be seen.
Kou Zhong was seated with Yun Yuzhen and Hou Xibai. Fortunately he and Yun Yuzhen was separated by Zheng Shiru, so it was inconvenient to talk to her; otherwise he might not be able to hide his anger and might bicker with her at the banquet table.
Bai Qing’er and Zheng Shuming sat across the table from him. It was a case of enemies meeting face to face; they should have been infuriated with each other. But surprisingly Zheng Shuming acted as if he did not exist; she merely chatting and joking with Bai Qing’er in low voices.
By the time all guests have been seated, Kou Zhong found out that the seat on his right was empty. He asked the maid serving him, and the maid simply said that she was just following the Housekeeper’s order, while other people did not have any idea either, so that he was unable to make any sense of it.
After Zheng Shiru greeted him perfunctorily, he then talked to Hou Xibai and Yun Yuzhen, no longer paying attention to Kou Zhong, and Kou Zhong was only too happy to have his ears pure and peaceful, and took this opportunity to look around.
This moment Rong Fengxiang stood up straight and toasted everybody with delight, saying, “Today Ol’ Rong has passed fifty lowly years, it is rare that all distinguished guests honored me with your presence, including good friends who have come from thousands of li, making Ol’ Rong fully experiencing being honored and pampered. I sincerely offer this cup of wine water as a small token of respect and gratitude for everybody’s kind intention.”
Everybody rose up to return the propriety, the atmosphere warmed up immediately, the sound of praise and wine cup clinking against each other lingered on.
It was quite a while later that everybody returned to their seats.
Smiling mysteriously, Rong Fengxiang said, “Before the vegetable and meat dishes are served on the table, Ol’ Rong wants to give honored guests a little nice surprise. Please welcome Miss Shang Xiufang.”
Amidst the roar of the guests cheering and clapping, the ensemble played an upbeat music, bringing a joyful atmosphere to the Hall.
Hou Xibai’s eyes gleamed with a strange light, as he attentively waiting for this famous courtesan to appear on stage and offer up her art.
Shang Xiufang had just appeared on the stage, immediately Dong Shuni, Rong Jiaojiao, Yun Yuzhen, and the other beauties lose some color.
In term of the brightness of the countenance and the glamor of appearance, each one of these beauties had her unique distinguishing feature; it was difficult to differentiate their relative superiority. But Shang Xiufang’s charm and bearing had some kind of distinctive style, which made the other ladies appeared inferior in comparison.
Apparently she was quite good at sorrowful, touching Xiaodiao [Chinese folk song genre]; therefore, this time she sang a joyful, congratulatory song to wish the host a happy birthday, although it was still exceptionally good, Kou Zhong had a feeling that her performance this time was slightly inferior to the previous day’s performance at the Shangshu Mansion.
However, as soon as she began singing, nearly everybody in the hall listened as if they were intoxicated. Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong were the only two exceptions.
Currently, the two boys’ mood was opposite to the joyful tune.
Xu Ziling took this opportunity to calmly observing the reaction of everybody on the four main tables. The one with most engrossed expression was Hou Xibai; he looked as if as soon as he heard the music, he wanted to dance. Although Li Shimin and Fu Qian were listening attentively, their manner appeared calm and collected. Others’ reaction varied, but in general they all looked captivated by Shang Xiufang’s musical skill, which sounded like celestial sound of the immortals, and the elegance and beauty of her dance’s posture and movements. Tuli’s eyes looked even stranger; he looked as if he wanted to swallow this glamorous and delicious popular artist alive in one gulp.
Shang Xiufang’s pair of hooking-the-spirit, absorbing-the-soul limpid-water eyes, combined with her posture and her expression, while she was spinning around and around on the stage, continuously sweeping the banquet tables, so that the younger generations with comparatively weak self-control had their spirit and soul turned upside down.
As soon as the song ended, the applause was thunderous and ear splitting.
Even before the applause ended, Rong Fengxiang already left his seat to personally meet her and brought Shang Xiufang to the empty seat right next to Kou Zhong. While all the men stood up to welcome her, Rong Fengxiang vaguely winked at Kou Zhong; he said with a laugh, “Kou Xiongdi, please take a good care of Miss Fang for Laofu.”
And so everybody knew that Shang Xiufang sitting by Kou Zhong’s side was not his own arrangement.
After the introduction, Shang Xiufang sat down, and only then did Rong Fengxiang leave the table. Before he even sat down, Zheng Shiru already showered Shang Xiufang with endless praise, as if Kou Zhong was not there at all.
Although Hou Xibai was looking at Shang Xiufang with a hint of smile on his face, he did not look anxious to strike a conversation at all; he was extremely poised.
It was unclear whether it was deliberate arrangement, but on this banquet table, more than half were women; only Kou Zhong, Zheng Shiru, Hou Xibai and two pampered young masters of Luoyang influential families had the honor to accompany the ladies.
Meanwhile the vegetable and meat dishes were being served. There was also an unending stream of guests from the front and middle, two halls, coming in to toast the host, pushing the banquet atmosphere to its peak.
Rong Fengxiang’s alcohol capacity was quite excellent; he never refuse anybody. Once in a while he would ask various guests around his table to drink on his behalf. The one took the most toasts was, quite naturally, Wang Shichong, who sat by his side.
All these things did not escape Xu Ziling’s eyes; he wondered whether Rong Fengxiang was intentional or not, but it appeared that he wanted to make Wang Shichong drunk. However, Wang Shichong’s inner power was quite profound, plus he was a Jianghu veteran, so he knew how much he was able to take.
While he was thinking deeply, Linglong Jiao leaned over and asked, “Why did you look indifferent toward Shang Xiufang’s singing just now? Is it because she did not sing well, or because you don’t like the music?”
Xu Ziling was taken aback; only then did he realize that she had been paying him attention. A bit embarrassed, he said, “I just love to hear comparably sad songs.”
In his heart he could not help remembering Shi Qingxuan’s flute, which touched him deeply.
Looking pensive, Linglong Jiao said, “As the moon is about to sink south of the Kunlun Mountain range, shepherds play sad song on their Hujia. Hujia is Qiang flute; they produce the most mournful sound. When Gongzi has the opportunity, you should listen to them.”
Over there, Shang Xiufang finally found the opportunity to talk to Kou Zhong; she spoke in low voice, “Qie [I, your servant] stays at Man Qing Yuan, if you have time tomorrow, could you find an opportunity to see qie? The day after tomorrow Xiufang is leaving for Guanzhong!”
Kou Zhong has never thought that she would have such a high opinion on him; he nodded slightly to say that he promised.
And then he found that Zheng Shuming, Bai Qing’er and Yun Yuzhen were staring at the two of them. He could only hope that because of the clamor, the three women did not hear Shang Xiufang’s invitation to him. Even he himself did not understand this kind of fear; a fear of people knowing what’s in his heart.
Right this moment, the herald at the door announced loudly, “Imperial Bodyguard Commander, Right Wuhou [martial/military marquis] Great General Dugu Feng has arrived!”
Everybody was taken by surprise.
※ ※ ※
Dugu Feng, wearing full government official attire, under escort of four internal ministers, pompously entered the hall, and loudly said, “Dugu Feng, under Huang Taizu’s imperial order, came with specific purpose of congratulating Rong Laoban on his birthday, and to act on Huang Taizu’s behalf to bestow this jade tree.”
He acted as if he did not see Wang Shichong; his eyes seemed to focus on Rong Fengxiang, one person.
In such an award-given time, following the custom, Li Shimin and the other outsiders stepped aside, while all Yang Dong’s subjects, including Rong Fengxiang, had to kneel to receive the gift that Yang Dong bestowed. There remained only Wang Shichong and his men, who weren’t sure of what to do.
It should be noted that technically, Wang Shichong was still accepting orders from Yang Dong as his master; even when mobilizing his troops to pressurized the Imperial Palace, their claim was to capture two ‘treacherous court officials’ Yuan Wendu and Lu Da, rather than blatant rebellion.
This was the critical, life and death, time where they had to confront Li Mi, if he made his real position public, in which his power was illegitimately conferred, he might lose, albeit partially, Luoyang’s civil and military support, and that would bring more harm without any benefit.
If he wanted to depose Yang Dong, he must make prior arrangement to deploy his troops, which would be implemented only when the time is ripe; but as it stands right now, no matter which scheme he used, he would be subject to humiliation.
Thinking of this, Wang Shichong rose to his full height, and then knelt beside Rong Fengxiang.
Wang Xuanying and Wang Xuanshu had no choice but to follow suit.
Kou Zhong and the others were technically Wang Shichong’s guests, so if they merely stepped away from the banquet table, nobody would raise their eyebrows.
Dugu Feng was very proud of himself; he said loudly, “You may rise!”
Wang Shichong stood up full of anger in his belly.
Inwardly Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cried, ‘Formidable!’. They knew that it was because Shen Luoyan could see through their ‘showing weakness in front of the enemy’ stratagem that she used this strategy to frustrate their morale and acute spirit.
Dugu Feng took a small brocade box from the hand of one of his chamberlains, and put it in the kneeling Rong Fengxiang’s open palms, and thus the ceremony is over.
Rong Fengxiang, with the brocade case in his hands, laughed and said, “Dugu Daren must stay and drink a cup of wine.”
With an air of complacency, Dugu Feng laughed aloud and said, “Xiaodi is under His Majesty’s order, it’s not suitable for me to stay for a long time. Everybody, please!”
Without giving Wang Shichong time to react, he haughtily turned around and walked away. Rong Fengxiang hastily sent him off.
After everybody was seated once again, Wang Bo suddenly burst into laughter and spoke to Li Shimin, “Didn’t your esteemed subordinate Yuchi Renxiong [my dear friend] want to play with Laofu a moment or two? Why not take this opportunity to let Laofu experience his skill?”
Suddenly the hall grew quiet.
Nobody expected that Wang Bo would take the initiative to issue a challenge; apparently he was extremely offended by Yuchi Jingde’s ‘disrespect’ earlier.
Before Li Shimin could respond, Yuchi Jingde, sitting on one of the side tables stood up suddenly, cupped his fist and said, “I hope Wanggong will be generous in giving pointers to junior [here the word is houxue, junior scholar]!”
Finished speaking, he strode toward the spacious floor in front of the main banquet tables; his appearance was very bold and powerful.
Everybody felt deep veneration toward his boldness; they knew Wang Bo’s resounding reputation, which even surpassed Li Mi, Du Fuwei, and the likes. The ‘Ding Shi Whip’ in his hand was praised as the number one whip under the heavens. Merely the fact that Yuchi Jingde was not afraid of the opponent, his guts was no ordinary.
Wang Bo smiled; he calmly left his seat and walked over to where Yuchi Jingde was standing, and spoke in delight, “Today is Xiong’s happy day, so our competition this time is just to liven things up, we’ll stop upon contact. Yuchi Renxiong, what do you think?”
He spoke those words leisurely, which brought out his air as an expert and increased his exalted status even more.
Yuchi Jingde saluted and said, “Qianbei, please be lenient.”
His response was even more appropriate. Everybody knew that it was merely words of politeness, and not really fear of being injured by the opponent. But it could bring a great deal of pressure to Wang Bo, because it was tantamount to say that if you win, that should be expected, but if you lose, your reputation would be swept to the floor.
Kou Zhong paid special attention to Li Shimin’s expression. Noticing that Li Shimin remained calm, without the slightest bit of nervousness, he could not help shivering inwardly.
Yuchi Jingde had the audacity to incite the battle first, naturally he must have received Li Shimin’s nod; as for the reason he targeted Wang Bo, there must be a profound meaning behind it.
Yuchi Jingde’s tiger-eyes were blazing like a torch as he fixed his gaze on Wang Bo, who was standing approximately ten paces way. “Forgive my offense!” he shouted.
Groping to his left waist, the whip suddenly appeared in his hand.
Wang Bo’s eyes fell on his whip; he spoke indifferently, “Does this whip have a name?”
Yuchi Jingde raised the coiled whip in his right hand up in the air, like magic the whip suddenly turned straight as a ramrod, hovering at an angle above Wang Bo’s head. He spoke in a loud and clear voice, “This whip is called ‘Gui Zang’ [return to its storehouse (fig. Buddhist or Taoist scripture)], two zhang and three chi long. Qianbei please be generous in bestowing instruction.”
He did not shake back the whip at all; it was being loosely held just like he was holding a more than two zhang long dark-colored iron stick. It was just hard to believe that that was a long whip. Merely this internal strength, capable of holding the whip in such a way, was enough to make the spectators, where there was no lack of grandmaster-level martial art experts, have a whole new level of respect for him.
Under the illumination of the lanterns, the body of the whip appeared to be full of tiny suction pads, which reflected the light as tiny dots; it was weird beyond words.
Wang Bo laughed aloud, “Good whip!” he said.
Then suddenly he made a swift move, like a flowing water or floating cloud, toward the opponent. Flicking his right-hand middle finger, he attacked the center of Yuchi Jingde’s face. Surprisingly he did not draw the Ding Shi Whip, the weapon with which he made his name.
Sudden change occurred.
The originally-slanting-midair Gui Zang Whip suddenly coiled above Yuchi Jingde’s head. It made a few circles, and then moved in front of his chest; circle by circle it met Wang Bo’s middle finger attack. It was brilliant to the extreme point.
Everybody had already guessed that his whip skill must be superior, otherwise he would not have dared to challenge Wang Bo; but still, no one expected that his whip technique has reached perfection. Practically it was already at the expert level where the whip could move as his heart desired.
Kou Zhong could not help exchange glances with Xu Ziling, who, at this moment, was also looking at him. They both were able to tell the amazement in each other’s heart. No wonder Li Jing advised them to leave.
Wang Bo’s expression looked grave. What happened was that when the wind generated by his finger attack met the first circle of Yuchi Jingde’s whip, unexpectedly the qi power generated by the whip coil was able to cut it down nearly half; by the time the fourth circle arrived, the finger wind already disappeared without any trace. Even with his deep experience, he could not help being terribly surprised, because he discovered that the opponent’s foundation was extremely deep; it has already reached the level where it was able to contend against his own power. Although it still could not match his, but the difference was not too far.
It was entirely outside his expectation.
Wang Bo let out a loud shout. With a strange footwork, he suddenly flashed to the opponent’s right side. His right hand pulled back, at the same time a piece of white shadow flew out of his sleeve. With strange wave-like trajectory it stabbed the right side of Yuchi Jingde’s neck; fast like a serpent, and looked like it could change direction at any time, full of sly, ruthless fantastical none-can-resist, overbearing prowess.
Momentarily qi power was pressing in, creating a nip in the air.
This Whip King, who has been famous for decades, finally revealed the Ding Shi Whip, the weapon with which he made his name.
The hall exploded with thunderous applause.
This move certainly came as a surprise; even with Yuchi Jingde’s capability, because of this senior martial art master’s footwork, technique and astonishing innate qi power, combined together into a swift and severe counterattack, he was momentarily unable to find a good way of blocking this attack. Promptly he flashed sideways, the tip of Gui Zang Whip, as if it had eyes, dove down first, and then as soon as it touched the ground, it lashed at angle upward, aiming at Wang Bo’s lower abdomen. Indeed it was a fierce, ruthless attack to counter another attack.
The two combatants have only been exchanging two moved, but everybody already watched with bated breath.
Wang Bo let out a cold laugh. Like a serpent the Ding Shi Whip returned to his sleeve, while his left hand, with fingers held together like a blade, fiercely and accurately, fast beyond comprehension, chopped down on the tip of the opponent’s whip coming toward him.
The explosion of the qi power collided sounded like a muffled thunder.
Yuchi Jingde’s entire body shook; he was forced to take half a step back, his eyes shone with power, his long whip turned into millions whip shadows, like a rainstorm shrouding Wang Bo. It appeared that he wanted to launch offensive at all cost, bold and powerful without equal; even though his strength was slightly affected, it did not dampened his attack.
Kou Zhong and the others had to nod their approval. Only this kind of offensive would be able to restrain Wang Bo’s appear-and-disappear-unpredictably [orig. gods disappear and devils vanish], impossible-to-defend-effectively whip technique.
Wang Bo laughed aloud. Like beads of pearl on a jade tray, using moving-clouds-and-flowing-water shenfa, he moved amidst the opponent’s crisscrossing, fluttering whip momentum; with an exquisite, profound-mystery finger move, his right hand middle finger continuously jabbing six, seven times, each jab accurately, without missing a bit, hit the opponent’s whip, each finger jab was stronger than the previous one. Indeed he was a warrior who lived up to his name, not a nobody with undeserved reputation.
But Yuchi Jingde was able to force Wang Bo to go all out, this would be enough for his name to shake the world.
Yuchi Jingde roared again, his whip momentum also changed again. His right hand simultaneously held the whip handle and the whip tip tightly, while his inner power pierced through the whip body. On top of that, controlled by his left hand, the whip looked like dancing flexible iron stick of about one zhang long, attacking the opponent using a set of fantastic stick technique, which could be either stiff or flexible.
Inwardly Wang Bo was astonished and baffled.
He was an expert in whip technique; no matter how cunning or changing unfathomably the opponent’s whip moves were, almost instantly he would be able to see through the changes in the opponent’s follow up move.
After fighting to this point, he already knew his chance of victory; who would have thought that the opponent suddenly moved the whip as if it was a stick? This change was not common in whip technique, so that he had to grope about once more, and his dream of easy victory was dashed.
This moment he gained even clearer understanding that his young opponent’s wisdom and understanding were out of the ordinary; he was absolutely not an easy prey.
Wang Bo was also forced to adapt himself to these changes. Both his hands moved out, alternating between chopping and palm strike, the strong wind that ensued was ear splitting. Using a powerful and unique palm technique, for the time being he was able to deal with the opponent’s toppling-the-mountains-and-overturning-the-seas offensive.
In the meantime, Rong Fengxian has returned to the inner hall; he stood at the entrance with his hands behind his back, watching the battle; he did not look the slightest bit surprised, on the contrary, he seemed to have anticipated this battle to happen.
Wang Bo’s palm hacked down on the whip stick, his true power passed through the stick and entered in, shockingly the entire whip stick bent, and Yuchi Jingde tumbled backward.
While everybody was worried about him, Wang Bo’s Ding Shi Whip unexpectedly flew out of his left sleeve, aiming toward the opponent’s throat. A single dot flashed, cry of alarm rose up.
The tip of Yuchi Jingde’s whip shot out of his right hand. A dot pierced the incoming tip of the opponent’s whip.
Ever since the battle started, this was the first time the two whips collided with each other.
 Ding Shi Whip: again, this is hard to translate succinctly, basically it means ‘the whip that determine/decide the era’; reminder: Wang Bo’s title was ‘Zhi Shi Lang’ - ‘the minister/official/youth who understood the world/lifetime/era. See Book 1 Chapter 10.