Book 5 Chapter 2 – Big Hiding Place in the City
Were it not for Susu had once come with Zhai Jiao to call on Shen Luoyan, even if they had her address in hand, perhaps they would have to waste considerable time before they could find this vicious and merciless beauty’s fragrant residence.
Shen Luoyan’s house was located in a residential area by the eastern city wall, where the buildings were situated next to each other. Including her residence, there were thousands of courtyards surrounded by walls with dark green bricks and dark green roof tiles, linked together by small alleys, taking shape of deep alley between high walls. The alleys were narrow and winding; several hundred streets and alleys winding and turning, criss-crossing each other, and they all paved with large dark green flagstone, which looked virtually the same.
After braving the snow, the three people arrived here and felt that that they were entering a maze; it was difficult to tell one street from another. Particularly during this time of the night, where the only light they could rely on was the dim lantern light coming out from the buildings; it felt even more like entering a ghost area.
But they felt unusually safe instead.
Because in this kind of place, it would be very convenient for them to either fight or stay.
Kou Zhong slipped into an alley and said with a laugh, “That Shen Poniang must have a lot of enemies that she lives in this kind of place that will make people faint with blurred vision.”
Xu Ziling also felt relaxed. While walking and stretching at the same time, he said, “When I first heard that Shen Poniang’s lover [orig. male adulterer] Xu Shiji said that they were going to conduct house-to-house search, he gave me a real scare. Turns out he was just tooting his horn; if he came to this side, we would go to that side. How could he deal with Wulin martial art masters like us?”
Susu was still having a lingering fear, “Can you not be so carried away like that?” she said, “The people of Xingyang are all fervent supporters of Wagang Army. All it takes is just one person spotting us, and I guarantee that he will report it to them … oh!”
Before she finished speaking, Kou Zhong already had his arms around her waist and whisked her up to the roof of a building on the left. Xu Ziling also leaped at the same time.
The three of them lay low on the roof and looked down toward the mouth of the alley some distance ahead. Amidst the swirling snowflakes, all they saw was quiet, silent and lonely footprints.
Susu was baffled, “Is there anybody here?” she asked.
Kou Zhong replied in low voice, “My intuition can’t be wrong. It’s really strange, how come I can’t even see anybody’s shadow, I can’t hear anybody’s voice, but I can feel that there is danger approaching?”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “I also feel a warning in my heart. Look!”
They saw a squad of about a dozen warriors in dark green clothes, coming from the alley on the other side, along the way they knocked on every door. Needless to say, obviously they were looking for the three people.
Watching these men, the three people felt their scalp went numb. This Xu Shiji apparently someone who did what he said he would. By the time the entire city knew about these three fugitives, they would not be able to move a single step.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were not ordinary people, their look was particularly easy to recognize, to conceal it from others would be more difficult than ascending the heavens.
After the search party went far, the three of them cried out inwardly, ‘What a close shave!’ If it were not for the heavy snow, Xu Shiji only needed to send his men to watch from vantage points, while the other team was conducting house-to-house search, and then even if the three people grew wings, it would still be difficult for them to fly away.
But right now the weather was bitterly cold, plus visibility was very low, naturally Xu Shiji’s men only worked halfheartedly.
Gnashing his teeth, Kou Zhong said, “All along we only receive beatings without being able to hit back, greatly damaging our reputation as the Yangzhou’s Two Dragons. Since we have Daiqing Lou’s Peipei as our way out, we might as well strike back without restraint, making his mother’s trouble that will turn the sky and the earth upside down, and thus venting the resentment in our hearts.”
Susu was extremely nervous [orig. a bird startled by the mere twang of a bow]; overwhelmed with horror, she said, “How can you do that? How can you fight them?”
Xu Ziling, however, was greatly excited; he said in a low voice, “If you want to be famous, naturally you must establish your prestige. However, we’d better find a dependable hiding place first before making a grand plan.”
“Jiejie, come!” Kou Zhong excitedly said.
As soon as Susu was perched on Kou Zhong’s back, he brought her soaring into the air like a big bird.
She suddenly had a feeling that she did not have clear understanding of these two brothers of hers. If it were other people, they would either be so terrified that they pulled their heads like a turtle and refused to come out, or with a thousand ways, a hundred plans would try to escape without a trace. How could they be like these two boys, who were fully aware that the enemy’s power was a thousand times, a hundred times bigger than theirs, yet they still had the courage to ‘strike back’, just like striking a stone with an egg?
Looking at Shen Luoyan’s fragrant residence from the outside, there was really no difference from the other houses in the neighborhood, only the door decoration was comparatively more exquisite, unlike the peeling off door and walls of the next door neighbor’s.
But the inside was a different story altogether. Not only it was spacious, elegant and pure, the garden and courtyard were integrated into one continuous entity, the layout gave a beautiful and secluded impression, the building displayed original architecture, and was quite distinctive.
The house was called Luoyan Zhuang [lit. falling wild goose manor], where the manor’s courtyard was dominated by the main residence hall; water and rock in contrast with one another, pathways and winding corridor were running through rock garden, which also function as separator. The winding path went up and down, what is true and what is false engendered one another.
North of the pond was a small two-story building styled as if it was resting on a hilltop, with five continuous pillars over two levels, and overhanging eaves, like butterfly flapping its wings ready to fly; very unique. Shen Luoyan’s boudoir was precisely in that building.
Behind the small two-story building was an artificial stream, with two small bridges connecting the rear court with the maids and servants’ apartments, as well as the storehouse.
Luoyan Zhuang did not cover too large of a land, but it was just like a remote, secluded area; simple and unadorned, yet exquisite, and highly poetic.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling jumped over the sidewall into the courtyard, momentarily they were staring in awe. It never occurred to them that Shen Luoyan was the type of person who knew how to enjoy life, her dwelling was rather like a ‘Big Hiding Place in the Alley’.
Not too long afterwards, Kou Zhong already gathered the information that the manor only had four young maids, and a pair of husband and wife servants, none of which knew martial art.
The three people finally settled on hiding in a guest room, which seemed like no one has slept in it for a very long time. The most wonderful thing was that this room was already well stocked with everything they needed. The three were not bashful; after drinking enough stolen tea, they fell asleep immediately.
By the time Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were awakened because they heard unusual noise, the day has already brightened.
Kou Zhong moved away Susu’s arm, which was resting on his chest, walked over to the window, and peeked outside. Turned out it was the only male servant, sweeping the snow on the yard.
Xu Ziling also got out of bed came over to him; he whispered, “The snow has stopped!”
Without averting his gaze, Kou Zhong asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Hungry as hell!” Xu Ziling replied.
Kou Zhong whispered, “We can’t steal food in here, otherwise they will discover us. Let me go out to take care of the food and then I’ll come back!”
Xu Ziling said, “Going to the street could be very dangerous.”
Kou Zhong laughed, “Don’t worry!” he said, “As long as the three of us don’t walk together, it won’t be that conspicuous. I’ll even scout around for the news.”
Xu Ziling knew that Kou Zhong was full of craft and cunning, plus he has been hungry since last night, so after warning him repeatedly, he said, “The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll come back.”
Kou Zhong consented; he then sneaked out of the rear window.
Having nothing to do, Xu Ziling was about to sit cross-legged silently, when from the bed Susu called out, “Li Dage! Li Dage!”
Xu Ziling was startled; he jumped onto the bed to cover Susu’s fragrant lips.
Susu woke up. As soon as she regained her consciousness, her pretty eyes immediately shot a panic-stricken look. When Xu Ziling lifted up his hand, she cried out in low voice, “The enemy’s coming?”
“No!” Xu Ziling shook his head, “But Jiejie was talking in your sleep. I was just afraid you might alert the man sweeping the snow outside.”
Susu was relieved, but then her charming face turned red as she said, “What did I say in my dream?”
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly. “Nothing!” he said indifferently, “It was practically some unintelligible words.”
Susu sat up. Knitting her brows, she asked, “Where is Xiao Zhong?”
After Xu Ziling told her, she began to worry again.
Suddenly there was a sound of footsteps approaching. The two people were scared and busily folded the blankets back to their previous condition, and then they went into hiding under the bed.
They were barely hidden when two young maids came in and started sweeping and dusting, as well as replacing the bedding with a fresh one.
One of the maid said, “Miss has not returned home for eight full days, and last night Longtou Mansion was burned to the ground. And now rumors are flying all around town, making me really worried for Miss.”
Under the bed, Xu Ziling mused that it was other people who should be worried; definitely not that Shen b1tch.
The other maid laughed and said, “Xiao Ju [li’l chrysanthemum], you are worried over nothing. Last night Duke Mi has just deployed the troops to take over Liyang Storehouse. What happened to Longtou Mansion can’t be helped; who told old ghost Zhai to be so stubborn that he adamantly refused to abdicate? Speaking about competence, how could he be Duke Mi’s match?”
Xiao Ju was astounded, “How could Lan Jie [elder sister orchid] know so clearly?” she asked.
Xiao Lan proudly replied, “Naturally somebody told me!”
Xiao Ju laughed and said, “Must be that guy Li Jie, hee … hee … Have you slept with him yet?”
And then chasing and hitting each other the two maids left the room.
Chapter 2, Part 2
Ysabel, HPC, Jaya, you are welcome. Sky, George, Ari, good analysis on SLY. My take on Li Mi? How could he (along with his minions) be so heartless as massacring their own comrades? We are not talking about enemies here. These people used to fight together. A bit of story: a recruiter contacted me with a very good job opportunity, but when I found out that it was for a direct competitor of the company I am currently working for, I declined. Mind you, there is nothing illegal or unethical here, I just don't want to be in 'direct confrontation' with my colleagues. Now, it's a different story if Zhai Rang fired Li Mi or being hostile to him first. You know what I mean? Laoren, I agree. But last time I offer to wait until the story gets to the interesting part and post it at once, many of you objected. I skimmed ahead, and seems to me they are stuck in the city of Xingyang for the next few chapters. Anyway, here is the end of Chapter 2.
Xu Ziling and Susu crawled out of under the bed. Breathing out a sigh of relief, Xu Ziling said, “Li Mi is gone! Other people I am not too scared.”
Susu sat next to him on a long wooden bench; she said, “They have many men, great force, you guys only have two pairs of fists, plus you have to take care of me. You must not be eager to excel and want to show off your heroism!”
Xu Ziling spiritedly replied, “Don’t look down on your two Didi; these past two years, I lost count on how many times we met mishaps, but every time we escaped alive from mortal danger, our skill seemed to be getting better. Hey! Jiejie may rest here for a while, I’ll go around to take a look.”
Susu hastily grabbed his arm; her voice cracking, “What if someone finds you?”
With a hundred-percent confidence Xu Ziling said, “I have been an expert in imitating the dog and stealing chicken since childhood; I will not make an unwise move. This is called ‘know yourself, know your enemy’. The more we know about our surroundings here, the more confident we will be when something comes up and we have to deal with it.”
Susu had no choice but to let him go.
Very scared and on edge she waited for half a sichen [reminder: 1 sichen is 2 hours]; keeping watch alone and was bored, she could not help thinking about Zhai Mansion people who met calamity, thus she cried inwardly. Fortunately Xu Ziling returned with excitement on his face. There was also a folder in his hand.
“All thanks to the skill we learned from Chen Laomou for several days, I managed to find Shen Poniang’s treasure she hid inside her secret chamber,” he proudly said.
Seeing he came back, the distress and terror in Susu’s heart reached its limit. Forcing herself to share his excitement, she asked, “Who’s Chen Laomou?”
Xu Ziling sat down and put the precious and heavy folder on his lap; he said, “Chen Laomou was Jukun Bang’s man, his specific responsibility was to train the gang member how to steal and gather information, which they would then sell for money. Oh! He is back.”
Following his gaze, Susu saw Kou Zhong, with two big bundles in his hands, pushing the door from the anteroom and walked in. Kou Zhong laughed and said, “One bundle of clothes, one bundle of food. Mission successfully accomplished. The most wonderful thing is that all the maids and servants have returned to their apartments in the rear courtyard.”
Xu Ziling and Susu cheered together. While they were eating and drinking as much as they liked, Kou Zhong said with radiant delight, “That guy Xu Shiji searched the entire City of Xingyang and nearly turning it upside down; there are checkpoints at the mouth of every street, patrolling troops are everywhere. Seeing the look of things was anything but reassuring, I went to steal from house-to-house, in a random, different parts of the city. I guarantee nobody would suspect anything.”
“Xiao Ling also stole something!” Susu said.
Only now did Xu Ziling remember; hurriedly he took out the folder that he stuffed into his pocket earlier and handed over to Kou Zhong. “Look at this,” he said, “Do you think this looks like Shen Poniang’s roster of spies in all parts of the country? Plus there are records of expenditures, big and small, and the amount of money exchanges, that kind of stuff.”
Kou Zhong stuffed the remaining mantou [steamed bun] in his hand into his mouth, freeing up both hands to thumb through the folder. A bit unsure, he said, “Ha! Let my methodical eyes look at it, I guarantee nothing will be hidden from me. This guy’s name is really weird, Chen Siya [lit. dead duck]? Also his address and communication method? Last month he received a hundred taels of silver. Turns out it is that easy to earn money.”
Susu leaned over to take a look. She angrily said, “He is called Chen Shuijia [lit. water armor], not Chen Siya. You randomly change people’s name.”
Kou Zhong’s eyes shone, “Xiao Ling,” he said, “Based on this treasure, do you think we can ruthless rip some money off that Shen Poniang?”
Xu Ziling let out a cold snort, “She harmed us like that, how could some money compensate us?”
Horrified, Susu said, “If you hand this thing over to the authorities, it will implicate a lot of people; their houses will be searched, their possessions confiscated, their heads chopped off.”
Kou Zhong put the roster into his pocket; he laughed and said, “How can we make things easy for the emperor’s baby boy? As for how we are going to use this thing, let’s think about it later.”
Turning to Xu Ziling, he said, “It’s time for us to change our appearance a little bit. I don’t know who did such a good job in painting our faces, but our three revered countenances are being pasted all over the streets, making our effort to call on Peipei of Daiqing Lou becomes extremely dangerous.”
Xu Ziling said, “Just now in the storage room at the rear court I found ten big earthen jars of kerosene. If we can find that guy Xu Shiji’s house, we can torch it and burn it to the ground; a tooth for a tooth. Oh, and I haven’t told you yet, but Li Mi is out to fight a battle, he is not in town.”
Kou Zhong let out a ‘ya, ya’ laugh like a crow cawing, and said, “Xu Shiji is just a four-legged crawling lackey. Since Li Mi is away, we might as well burn his old nest. Hey, I wonder where that guy Li Mi’s doghouse is anyway.”
Noticing the two boys’ gaze was fixed on her, Susu pouted her lovely lips and tut-tutted, “Don’t even think that I will tell you. You said we are here to keep away from the way the wind blows, if you make such disturbance, everybody will know that we are still in the city. What’s more, Duke of Pusan’s Mansion has martial art experts as numerous as the cloud, if you are going there to create trouble, it will be nothing more than delivering your own lives!”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “This is the most exciting place; they know very well that we are still in the city, but they can’t find us. Even better, right now the military is in a state of emergency, Xu Shiji and the others can’t put us above the war. Therefore, as long as we are able to create internal anxiety for them, I guarantee they will have no room to advance or retreat.”
Xu Ziling added, “It would be better if after setting on the fire, we lure them to pursue us, and we flee out of the city right in front of their eyes. Afterwards we can come back to fetch Jiejie. This will be even more foolproof.”
Kou Zhong frowned and said, “The city wall is so high, can you jump out?”
Xu Ziling dejectedly replied, “I can’t.”
“Pfft!” Susu broke into a giggle. Casting a sidelong glance toward the two boys, she chastised them, “Just a couple of kids who love to fool around.”
Kou Zhong stole a lightning speed kiss on her cheek; he sighed and said, “Jiejie’s eyes can really hook people’s soul!”
At first Susu was beaming with delighted, but then her smile faded; perhaps she remembered Li Jing?
Xu Ziling suddenly said, “Does Jiejie know who is in charge of the city defense?”
“The one really in charge, I do not know,” Susu replied, “But city’s affairs have always been managed by Xu Shiji, so it ought to be his men.”
Kou Zhong was shaken, “I got it!” he said, “Xiao Ling, are you thinking of escaping via the sewer like we did in Yangzhou?”
Susu was shocked, “Down there is so dirty, how could we do that?” she said, “Aren’t you going to ask for Peipei’s help?”
Xu Ziling said, “Under present circumstances, I am afraid nobody will be willing to help us. Besides, as soon as we go to Daiqing Lou, we will be recognized immediately.”
Kou Zhong said, “No good will come of receiving favor from someone like Xiang Yushan. Xiao Ling’s idea is really unique. Tonight we are going to Xu Shiji’s house to steal, trying our luck. Chen Laomou said that any city must have architectural drawings; otherwise, how are they going to do maintenance and repairs?”
Susu was helpless, “Your prejudice toward Xiang Gongzi is too deep,” she said. She proceeded by telling them the location of Xu Shiji’s residence, and then she said, “I want to try the clothes that Xiao Zhong brought back.” So the two boys slipped out of the room.
After closing the door, Xu Ziling pulled Kou Zhong aside and said, “Just now I heard Su Jie calling Li Dage in her dream. Ay, Jiejie is so forlorn! But in this kind of matter, nobody can help her.”
Kou Zhong slumped in silence; he sat down and after thinking long and hard he said, “We’d better go to Luoyang first to look for Li Dage, and tell him directly about Jiejie’s situation, see if he has a way to help Jiejie settling down.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “That will make Li Dage feel very awkward; once things turn bad, it will also place Jiejie in an awkward position. Furthermore, because of that lowly scum Wang Bodang, Jiejie seems to abandon herself in despair a little. One moment she said she is coming with us, the next moment she speaks up on that fellow Xiang Yushan’s behalf. Forcing her to go to Luoyang might be counter-productive.”
In this kind of man-woman relationship, Kou Zhong, who was always full of craft and cunning, completely had his hands bound and was unable to do anything about it.
While he was sighing in despair, Susu came out wearing the new clothes. The two boys promptly made a supreme effort to flatter her by saying all good things they could muster.
Although Susu repeatedly laughed charmingly, inevitably there was a trace of unraveled melancholy on her beautiful eyebrows, giving the impression that she was merely forcing herself to look happy.
Kou Zhong finally surrendered, “Does Jiejie still want us to go to Peipei of Daiqing Lou?”
With a not-so-hidden bitterness Susu said, “Does Jiejie have any right to mind your business?”
Naturally the two boys understood her intention; busily they made an oath and swore that they would listen to her opinion in handling this matter. Only then did Susu’s joyous expression return. And then they discussed how to evade the patrolling troops’ eyes and ears to find this woman named Peipei.
Kou Zhong came up with an idea, “How about we go to the silk fabric store and buy a set of highest-quality silk brocade, and indicate that this is a present for Peipei. We will tail the delivery guy and see who will receive the gift, then we ought to know which one is Peipei.”
Susu frowned and said, “But if the silk fabric store people recognize you as the fugitive wanted by Wagang Army, won’t you harm Peipei instead?”
Kou Zhong was ready with the answer, “Inevitably there will be people who don’t have the least bit concern over the matters of the world, or perhaps they are simply ignorant. When I went out to steal Jiejie’s new clothes, one of the clothing store’s bosses was an old man who looks as if his vision is already blurred of age; he is relying on two young lads to deliver the goods. As long as we wait until he is alone in the store, our great plan can be executed.”
Susu happily said, “It would be even better if I pretend to be Peipei’s young maid and am doing my Miss’ shopping; it would be more foolproof.”
Noticing she was regaining her vitality, Kou Zhong laughed and said, “But Jiejie cannot wear this clothes!”
Susu began to realize that she was the dirty rotten thief who wore the stolen clothes from that exact store. Smiling sheepishly she returned to the room to change.
The two boys looked at each other with wry smile. Xu Ziling sighed and said, “I do hope Jiejie does not take a fancy to Xiang Yushan! You saw it yourself, as soon as we agreed to look for Peipei, her entire personality changed instantly.”
Full of confidence, Kou Zhong said, “Which part of that Xiang guy deserves Jiejie taking a fancy of? In my opinion, she is just bursting with joy from knowing that we won’t take the risk of going to Xu Shiji’s house to set fire and steal things, and also from knowing that we esteem her opinion!”
Not too long afterwards Susu came out wearing suitable clothes. The three of them hence went out of their hiding place. Avoiding several groups of Wagang Army troops, they reached the small alley across the street from the clothing store.
Susu went in according to plan, while the two boys waited in a dark corner, ready to render assistance if needed.
The snow was falling again, the streets were deserted; it was so peaceful that it felt like nothing had ever happened.
But Xu Ziling knew that the Wagang Army, whose fame was currently at its height, has already developed irreparable rifts internally due to Zhai Rang’s murder. He could easily imagine that because Zhai Rang was the initiator of Wagang Army, no matter how well Li Mi won the people’s heart, he could not entirely displace Zhai Rang’s deep-rooted influence of the past. Inevitably disloyalty would grow among his men who had always been following Zhai Rang in the past.
Meanwhile, Kou Zhong was also thinking about Li Mi. He recalled Zhai Rang’s remark about him being not ruthless enough, and thus he failed in his fight against Li Mi. Therefore, is being ‘vicious and merciless’ the most important prerequisite one must have if one wants to contend for control over the land under the heavens?
While he was entranced in his own thought, Xu Ziling called out softly, “This is bad!”
Kou Zhong was startled; his alertness returned, he looked toward the street, and the first thing that caught his eyes was Shen Luoyan, with her phoenix-like beauty and grace. And then his eyes were drawn into the girl in the prime of youth by Shen Luoyan’s side.
At first glance this girl did not look too pretty; perhaps because her silhouette was reminiscent of a man. But her skin was snow white, glowing with healthy pink; her demeanor was noble and elegant, her legs long and her waist slender, she was approximately two cun taller than Shen Luoyan, she had bright eyes and white teeth, and all these features fit together perfectly, making her not the least bit inferior to Shen Luoyan, forming a very unique personality traits.
In front and behind the two women were their attendants. They were strolling down the street, with Shen Luoyan pointing here and there while talking and laughing with her; it seemed that Shen Luoyan was acting as her tour guide.
In about ten paces or so the women and their party would reach the door of the clothing store where Susu was. The two boys' hands automatically reached the hilt of their weapons. Their scalp went numb as they watched step-by-step the enemy approaching the dangerous position where they would be able to see Susu.
Right this critical moment [orig. a thousand catty hanging on a thread], that healthy-looking, carefree beautiful woman suddenly halted her steps. Without showing any emotion she spoke to Shen Luoyan and then she stepped into the arts and crafts store right next door to the clothing store. Shen Luoyan cheerfully followed her inside.
Those dozen or so attendants spread out; a small number of them followed the women inside, while the rest of them stood around the door, assuming bodyguards position.
In the meantime Susu has just walked out of the clothing store. Seeing a bunch of armed men gathered outside the shop next door, she was terrified. Hanging her head low, she hurriedly crossed the street toward the alley where the two boys were waiting for her.
The men did not pay her any attention. As soon as she was out of sight of the enemy, she met with the two boys. Her face paled as she said, "I am scared to death!"
Having just recovered from a shock, the two boys pulled her deeper into the small alley. Once they were well hidden, Kou Zhong whispered, "Success?"
Susu nodded, "No problem. But the boss said that it is too late today, they will deliver the goods tomorrow."
Xu Ziling sighed. "That would be bad," he said, "Pleasure house girls sleep all day. If the delivery is received by other person, our effort will be wasted."
Pleased with herself, Susu said, "Don't worry! I already gave him instruction that the goods are to be delivered within shenshi [between 3-5pm] hour tomorrow. That old man already promised!"
For lack of better option, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had no choice but to take Susu back 'home'.