Book 21 Chapter 4 – Fortune Makes The Man
Upon returning to Xiapi, before even sitting comfortably, Kou Zhong already began receiving important figures [orig. people with head and face] of the neighboring towns and counties who came to attach themselves to him. Among them, there was no lack of generals of Li Zitong’s inner circle.
One of them was a man called Li Xingyuan, aged about thirty, tall and mighty, but he did not come from Li Zitong’s hometown, but another big city Muyang, located between Xiapi and Donghai. He was willing to surrender Muyang, which was tantamount to half of Donghai County has fallen into Kou Zhong’s bag.
Kou Zhong was greatly surprised and asked the reason, Li Xingyuan snorted coldly and said, “Li Zitong is harsh and merciless, he employs only close and distant relatives, and not based on talent or ability, his insight narrow and shallow, absolutely not a man with high aspiration. Frankly speaking, originally Xingyuan hesitated and could not make decision, but the various generals under my command, as well as business and agricultural leaders, from the most senior to the youngest, all unanimously agree to seek shelter under Shao Shuai. Only then did Xingyuan understand the meaning of ‘ten thousand people convert their allegiance’.”
Kou Zhong could not help laughing; he said, “Xingyuan is honest enough, I like this kind of straightforward man. I wonder how’s Donghai situation currently?”
Li Xingyuan replied, “Donghai County is currently under the leadership of Li Zitong’s younger brother Li Ziyun, so they will never surrender to Shao Shuai. Moreover, they have adequate rations and fodder; a year or a half shouldn’t be any problem.”
Frowning, Kou Zhong asked, “What kind of person is Li Ziyun?”
Li Xingyuan replied in disdain, “Other than bullying and humiliating the small and weak, taking the fat and wealth of the people, what else does he know? Precisely because Li Zitong knew that he is bold but not very astute that he appointed rotten ghost scholar Tong Shuwen to be his Junshi [military counselor]. This man is extremely shrewd, unlike Li Ziyun, who’s just a straw bag [i.e. idiot].”
Highly interested, Kou Zhong pursued further, “Why did Xingyuan call him rotten ghost scholar?”
Gnashing his teeth in anger, Li Xingyuan replied, “Tong Shuwen loves to call himself a noble and virtuous man the most, always claims that he is well-read in the book of the Sages, that his learning was the Way of the Emperor, benevolence and righteousness hang onto his mouth all day long; yet beneath the surface he is ‘greedy of flowers’, he has ruined the reputation and integrity of I don’t know how many women. Even his subordinates’ wives, concubines, and daughters did not escape his clutch. Were it not for his superior martial art skill, plus he is under Li Zitong, two brothers’ protection, someone would have cut him into ten thousand pieces.”
Kou Zhong deduced that this must be Li Xingyuan’s most important reason; he could not help being grateful that he was not a womanizer at all. Nodding, he said, “To capture Donghai, this man is the key. If we can remove him, no matter how vicious Li Ziyun is, he will only be a toothless tiger. Does Xingyuan have any good proposal?”
Li Xingyuan showed a difficult expression; he said, “In Donghai, there is no one more afraid of assassin than Tong Shuwen; therefore, not only he is very careful, his action is secretive, even going to bed at night, he never sleeps in the same room two nights in a row. To assassinate Li Ziyun is a bit easier.”
Kou Zhong mused, “Xingyuan came to see me, did Li Ziyun know?”
Li Xingyuan replied, “Although Tong Shuwen has his spies among my men, he can’t conceal it from me. This time I am especially careful; they shouldn’t be aware.”
Kou Zhong happily said, “In that case it will work! Xingyuan should return to Muyang immediately, keep it under the lid, wait for me to draft a comprehensive plan, and then I will coordinate with you for further action.”
Li Xingyuan nodded his acknowledgement. His eyes revealed a fervent expectation, he said, “Xingyuan has a presumptuous request, I really hope Shao Shuai would grant it.”
Kou Zhong cheerfully said, “We are now brothers, whatever load you have in your mind, please speak out boldly!”
Li Xingyuan spoke in low voice, “I wish for Shao Shuai to start off leniently, don’t let disaster befall the common people of Donghai County.”
Taken aback, Kou Zhong laughed and said, “That is not presumptuous request! That is compassion, plus it is in accordance with the Heaven’s law. Xingyuan, set your heart at ease. If the only way to capture Donghai is by murdering the entire city, I, Kou Zhong, will definitely refuse to do it. If I break this oath, may I, Kou Zhong, die a horrible death.”
Severely shaken, Li Xingyuan prostrated himself; he was so moved that he could not say anything.
Kou Zhong hastily helped him up. After discussing the method on how they would contact each other, Li Xingyuan hurriedly left.
His hind leg had just left, Chen Changlin’s front leg already stepped over the Mansion’s gate. Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong went out to meet him.
Right now, what he craved the most was talent.
※ ※ ※
Under the setting sun, a fishing boat was slowly docking on the pier outside the city of Baling.
Bu Tianzhi, disguised as a fisherman, leaned over on Xu Ziling, who was gazing at the city gate, and whispered in his ear, “Ziling must be very careful. In recent years Xiao Xian’s prestige is flourishing greatly, plus he has ample financial resources, and has attracted countless martial art masters from both the south and the north of the river. Xiang Yushan is his favored minister, plus he has been Yang Xuyan’s target of assassination; therefore, he always have martial art masters around to protect him.”
Wearing the Scarface Hero mask, Xu Ziling was dejected, but his blazing eyes did not change the least bit; remaining tranquil and calm, he said, “Based on what Zhi Shu [uncle] knows, is there any formidable character that I have to pay special attention to?”
Bu Tianzhi replied, “There are five who can be considered first class martial art masters. First, there is ‘Da Li Shen’ [lit. deity with great strength, Hercules, Titan] Bao Rang. This man’s ‘Heng Lian Gang’ is extremely well-known in the Great River Basin area; he trains hard skill from lower quality external school like to Tie Bu Shan [lit. iron cloth garment], but his current mastery is no different than Bi Xijing’s first-class internal true qi, that he has become a wonder whom the southern Wulin people discuss enthusiastically. This man is ruthless; he has enemies everywhere. This time he is willing to take refuge in Xiao Xian, the main reason must be to avoid misfortune.”
Xu Ziling quietly memorized the name Bao Rang, but he did not say anything.
Bu Tianzhi continued, “The second one is ‘E quan’ [Vicious Dog] Qu Wuju [his given name means ‘no fear’]. This man originally belonged to a group of horse-mounted bandits that wreaked havoc in Ao Dong, but since he provoked a martial art master of Song Clan, who hunted him for a thousand li, he ran away alone. Somehow he ended up as Xiao Xian’s dog. His vicious name is a close runner-up to the ‘Da Li Shen’ Bao Rang. His expertise is in a pair of big iron hammers called the ‘Mysterious Thunder’; extremely difficult to deal with. Ay! If you can avoid him, better not fight against him.”
Xu Ziling coldly said, “Anybody who tries to stop me from taking back Su Jie and her child will die!” The tone of his voice carried his no-return determination.
Bu Tianzhi knew that persuasion would not do any good, thereupon he simply went on, “As for the other three, although they cannot surpass these two, but their names are quite well known in the south. They are ‘Wang Ming Tu’ [lit. exiled disciple] Su Chao, a saw tooth saber user; ‘Su Yi Rusheng’ [lit. plain-clothed Confucian scholar] Xie Fengge, an expert in 38-move Yan Yue Jianfa lit. covering-the-moon sword technique], known as the best swordsman among the younger generation of the south, and finally ‘Niu Lang’ [lit. cowherd] Zhu Zhong. His weapon is qimei [lit. eyebrow] truncheons; he is the creator of ‘Niulang’s 108 truncheons’, variation is countless, definitely must not be taken lightly.”
The fishing boat touched the dock.
Without saying anything, Xu Ziling went ashore and entered the city.
※ ※ ※
Chen Changlin strode inside; reaching out to grab Kou Zhong’s shoulders, his eyes shone with warm expression as he happily said, “When I heard the news that Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong were nearly killed by Wang Shichong, that old thief who forget favors and violate justice that day, I immediately rushed back to the Eastern Capital to question that old thief, how can he bite the hand that feeds him? I had big quarrel with him, which, of course, did not do any good. Without any better option, I left in fury. Fortunately, soon after I heard that you gained small victory at Liangdu, relying on ragtag troops to inflict defeat on Yuwen Huaji’s elite and powerful troops. Thereupon I traveled at double speed to come over; as luck has it, Kou Xiong has just left the city, and only today do I have the chance to see Kou Xiong. Where is Ziling?”
Kou Zhong was tongue-tied; he said, “Turns out you were also looking for me. I went all over the place, beating the gongs to find you. Changlin Xiong is so bold; you have the guts to contradict that old ghost Shichong.”
It was only now did he start to understand that Chen Changlin was a good man who was cold at the outside but warm in the inside. Usually he was honest and unaffected but not talkative, but as soon as he saw something that he could not put up with any longer, he absolutely would pursue justice with no second thoughts. Even more unexpected, he considered Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling as good friends.
Chen Changlin let go of his hands and said with a cold snort, “Wang Shichong still does not dare to kill me, because it was Old Yi who recommended me. One more day he has not really become the emperor, he does not have the guts to offend the entire ‘white way’ Wulin. Where is Ziling Xiong?”
Wrapping his arm around Chen Changlin’s shoulder, Kou Zhong pulled him toward the main hall. Along the way, he said, “Xiao Ling went to Baling for a small errand. Changlin Xiong has come at the right time. We are going to spend some energy for the common people of the world [orig. (area where) vegetation grows], while Changlin Xiong will also be able to get rid of Shen Lun, to avenge that animal for destroying your family.”
Chen Changlin’s eyes lit up immediately.
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling walked along the street, neither fast nor slow, toward Xiang Yushan’s big house. Baling looked just like he remembered it, except there were more people around.
His mind was exceptionally calm. Ever since he walked into the city gate, he already cast all worries about Susu, as well as his eagerness to see her again, aside, because he had now arrived at the destination. The only thing left to think about was how to accomplish his goal, as clearly and as infallible as possible. He did not have to waste his thought on other things.
To get Susu, mother and son, out of Baling was not difficult at all. The problem was how to convince Susu, for which he would need to expose the cruel truth to her.
The ancient long street; the buildings everywhere. Inside the city, along the main street connecting the northern and southern parts of Baling, Xu Ziling walked pass layer upon layer of memorial arches and two-story buildings spanning the street. Along the way he recalled the old affair of Yang Xuyan’s failed assassination attempt on Xiang Yushan, until he finally arrived outside Xiang Mansion’s main gate.
※ ※ ※
 Heng Lian Gang: heng – horizontal/across, lian – refined (as in refining metal), gang – handle of the Big Dipper (constellation). Not sure if this is a typo, the text seems to have a lot of ‘gang’ recently.
Book 21 Chapter 4 - Part 2
Ysabel, Xiaohu, Spy, HPC, DongBin, Chua, Jaya, you are welcome. Tail, have you found the answer, or are you still wondering? Sky, taking a break from flowery Huang Yi to simple, straightforward Gu Long is good for me. Akolaw, thanks, with your permission, I'd like to include that in the text. Xu Xiong, I am an amateur, and do it for fun, not to be bothered with strict language rules (whatever that is). Paona, I'll let him comment himself.
Inside the study room, after Kou Zhong finished telling Chen Changlin his story, Chen Changlin put the cup of tea he has been holding in his hands on the small table by the chair, nodding his head, and said, “Maritime business is not difficult at all. As long as it is profitable, merchants will come like ants. The difficult thing is that we must guarantee that the sea and the river course are safe. That means we will have to have superior navy, and put the waterways in our territory under control.”
Kou Zhong agreed, “I have thought about that as well,” he said, “Bu Tianzhi of Jukun Bang already agreed to pledge the fleet of ships under his command to Xiaodi. According to what he said, they have five huge warships, which is five too many; all came from the old Sui dynasty, which they seized as the spoils of war. Other comparatively smaller warships, they have over twenty. As for cargo ships, they have hundreds.”
Chen Changlin’s spirit greatly aroused, he said, “It’s entirely different story! The most difficult thing to obtain is to raise a large number of experienced and careful mariners who are not afraid of the wind and the waves. As long as we can train for sea battle, refurbish old warship, build new warship to adapt to the local waterways, there will come a day where we will dominate the seas and the rivers, to unify the word.”
Staring blankly, Kou Zhong said, “You seem to have more confidence than Xiaodi.”
Chen Changlin smiled and said, “That’s because I have confidence in Kou Xiong! Our top priority this moment is to recruit a batch of fine shipbuilders; first, to work on the refurbishing of the old ships. And then, when the preparation is completed, we can seal off Donghai County’s sea traffic, breaking the sea link between Donghai County and Jiangdu. At that time, Donghai can only receive its fate of being beaten, with absolutely no strength to fight back.”
Knitting his brows, Kou Zhong asked, “Where can we find such a group of shipbuilders?”
Patting his chest, Chen Changlin said, “Naturally in Xiaodi’s hometown, Nanhai County. [Reminder: Donghai – east sea, Nanhai – south sea.] Our Chen family is the biggest clan in Nanhai County. Our clansmen are either sailors on the old dynasty’s navy, or accustomed to maritime trade. Furthermore, most of them cannot coexist with Shen Faxing, father and son. If I can sneak back over there, I will definitely be able to bring back a large number of talents in this regard, to establish an unequalled-under-the-heavens navy for Kou Xiong. At that time, Shen Faxing, father and son’s days can be counted on one’s fingers.”
Kou Zhong slapped the table and sighed, “Obtaining Changlin Xiong’s words, half of the world has already fallen into Xiaodi’s bag!”
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling walked pass the door, but he did not enter. Circling toward the back of the house, he had a very bad feeling in his heart.
Relying on his near-psychic sense of hearing, he had a clear grasp of the situation inside and outside the Xiang Mansion.
On the buildings around the Xiang Mansion, he detected sentries secretly monitoring any movement in the Mansion, but inside the Mansion itself was lifeless, as if everybody inside has already moved elsewhere. There were only a few lanterns.
Xu Ziling could not help but was puzzled, because the setup before his eyes was clearly a trap, and it seemed to be directed at him. Logically, the relationship between he and Xiang Yushan has not reached the ‘nasty’ stage, so that even if he had received Yun Yuzhen’s letter via pigeon post, he would not have prepared this trap as if he was expecting a big enemy.
Suddeny a heard a series of violent cough from behind the wall.
Xu Ziling’s tiger-body shook severely. This moment he had found a way to evade the sentries’ eyes and ears; creeping close to the wall, he entered a small alley, and arrived at the bottom of the Xiang Mansion’s rear courtyard wall, and then he climbed the wall and was soon inside the Mansion.
Sure enough, he heard Susu’s weak voice from the second floor of a small building nearby, “Carry Lingzhong out! Hurry up!”
How could Xu Ziling be able to restrain himself? Immediately he tore off his mask and soared toward the building, and entered through the window.
Susu was sitting on the bed, stooping forward, and was having a coughing fit [orig. coughing until the sky dark and the earth black]. With each cough, a shocking-the-eye, astonishing-the-heart drop of blood appeared on the towel in her hands.
Her wan and sallow sickly countenance did not have any trace of blood, her originally black and shiny eyes had lost their former shine and splendor.
Xu Ziling pounced toward the bed, pressed his palm onto his back, and transmitted his true qi into Susu’s body. Eyes brimming with tears, choking with sobs, he said, “Su Jie!”
Susu’s tender body shook. Miraculously she stopped coughing, for an instant her eyes recovered their shine and splendor, as she looked at him in disbelief and cried out, “Xiao Ling! This is not real, is it?”
Xu Ziling struggled hard to keep his tears from falling; shaking his head, he said, “All of these should not be real. We shouldn’t have let Su Jie leave our side.”
Strange rays shot out from Susu’s eyes; she reached out to lovingly stroke his handsome-without-equal face. As if she suddenly fully recovered, she spoke calmly and gently, “I have always hoped that you’d come back! Where is Xiao Zhong? Even if he did not come, Su Jie is perfectly satisfied that you are here.”
Xu Ziling’s heart sank into the bleak, bottomless abyss of despair. It was over. From transmitting his true qi into Susu’s body, he detected Susu’s lifeforce was gone; the moment he took his hand away from her back, that would be the moment her jade perished, her fragrance disappeared. All fervent longing and anticipation were completely shattered by the cruel and unacceptable fate in front of his eyes, everything was turning into mere illusion.
Susu turned her tender body around. With infinite tenderness she wiped the tears from his eyes, and said, “Good Didi [younger brother], don’t cry. Jiejie has been waiting for you to come, and now you are here! Do you know the obedient darling’s name?”
Xu Ziling noticed the smiling expression, brimming with maternal radiance, floating out of the corner of her mouth, but he felt as if his heart was stabbed violently by ruthlessly sharp awl, again and again. Struggling hard to compose himself, he softly said, “Is it Lingzhong?”
Susu happily said, “That is a great change, isn’t it? Every time I call him, I will remember you, a pair of well-behaved Didi. In the future he will surely be as well-behaved as you two.”
Xu Ziling almost wanted to look up to the sky and cry out his grief; hot tears flowed down uncontrollably from the corners of his eyes. “How did this happen?” he said mournfully, “Where is Xiang Yushan?”
Susu’s jade countenance sank; gently hanging her small cicada head down, she spoke in low, but determined voice, “Jiejie actually could not take it anymore, but in order to wait for you, I tried to hold on until this moment. Let bygones be bygones. After Jiejie is gone, Xiao Ling, I want you to take Lingzhong away, nurture him that he will grow up to be outstanding hero like you. Jiejie’s surname is Fang, so his name will be Fang Lingzhong!”
Xu Ziling’s eyes flashed with frightening, extremely intense murderous intention, as he asked in heavy voice, “What did Xiang Yushan do to you?”
Susu stare was fixed on the towel in her hand; she spoke indifferently, “Don’t blame him. If you want to blame someone, blame Jiejie for not believing your opinion on him, for not understanding people.”
Xu Ziling took a deep breath; he did his utmost to maintain the most cool-headed demeanor and calm tone as he said, “Where is he?”
Susu looked at him, shook her head, and said with a sigh, “He wanted Jiejie to write you a letter. When Jiejie refused, his attitude toward Jiejie turned cold. Ay! It’s best if we don’t talk about it.”
Burying her face in his bosom, Susu spoke softly, “Even if I tell you, what good will it bring? Jiejie was able to meet you, I already feel that my life is not in vain. In the end we will all die, sooner or later, it does not make much difference. Now Jiejie is very happy, even if I die, I don’t have any regret. Xiao Ling! Can you ring that copper bell for me?”
It was only then did Xu Ziling notice that there was a copper bell on the small table by the bed, and next to the bell was a small copper stick to beat the bell.
Xu Ziling produced a stream of finger wind.
A clear noise of metal-to-metal striking against each other reverberated over the Mansion.
“Help me to sit up!” Susu spoke weakly.
Xu Ziling knew that she has reached the lantern-that-its-oil-has-been-dried-up stage, the moment of -final-radiance-of-the-setting-sun. Fighting the irresistible grief in his heart, he helped her up, while not daring to lift his palm from her fragrant back even for a moment.
He heard footsteps walking slowly up a flight of steps.
Turning toward the door, Susu strived to speak, “Xiao Zhi, no need to panic, my good Didi is here to visit me!”
After crying out in alarm, with much fear and trepidation the young maid, carrying Fang Lingzhong in her arms, appeared at the door, and looked at Xu Ziling with horror.
Xu Ziling held out his hand and said, “Hand Lingzhong to me, and then go back downstairs, but don’t leave the building. Understand?”
Being at the receiving end of his fierce gaze, immediately the young maid trembled from head to toes, naturally she did not dare to refuse. Hastily handing over the baby to Xu Ziling, she walked out with unsteady steps.
Xu Ziling put the sleeping-soundly chubby little Lingzhong in Susu’s bosom, his heart was filled with myriads of unnamable deep emotions, as if he did not know that this mother was about to leave him, and that the baby and his flesh and blood have already been linked.
Susu’s beautiful eyes were fixed at the child in her bosom, a pure and holy radiance emerged on her pretty face, showing boundless tenderness, she said, “You have two Die [father], one is called Kou Zhong, the other is Xu Ziling. Niang had thought to marry them, in all the world, only they deserve to be your Die.”
Xu Ziling suddenly remembered the ‘congratulatory gift’ Liu Heita was asking him to give to her; he quickly took it out and helped her to put it on her wrist. With a sour and pained heart, he spoke in low voice, “Liu Dage entrusted this to me to give to Jiejie. Ay!”
Susu’s beautiful eyes lit up. Hugging little Lingzhong, she happily said, “Ah! So it’s a gift from Li Dage?”
Xu Ziling knew she misheard ‘Liu’ as ‘Li’, he wanted to correct her, but nothing came out.
Susu’s breathing became rapid. Gasping for breath, she said, “Tell Li Dage, Susu has never blamed him.”
Finished speaking, her tender body went limp, she breathed her last with a smile on her face.
Surprisingly, Xu Ziling did not show any emotion. Gently he lay Susu’s body on the bed, held up the little Lingzhong, who was deep in his dream, completely oblivious of the tragedy of the humankind that his flesh and blood has just been separated from him – in his arm, tore the cloth to make a sling, and put him in his bosom.
He was very deliberate in his action, giving all his attention to every movement, making every effort not to think about Susu’s death.
Outside, the building was very quiet; Susu’s passing away was so serene and imperceptible.
Outside the window, the vast expanse of the sky was embedded with stars, as if this human world was totally separate from the dark, satin-like of night sky. He had received devastating blow and his heart was shattered. Outside Susu’s orphan and her demise, there was no other thing.
Picking up the quilt, he wrapped Susu’s body in it. Originally he wanted to send out an earth-shattering cry of grief, to wash away the despair, painful, mournful mind completely onto the night sky. However, afraid that he might startle and wake little Lingzhong from his beautiful dream, he could only sigh mournfully in silence, and scamper out of the window.
The moment he put Susu and little Lingzhong safely at Bu Tianzhi’s place would be the moment he’d come back.
Xiang Yushan must pay this debt with his death.
Startling firework signal burst out high in the sky behind him, but it was no more than a missed opportunity. The ought-to-be seamless-heavenly-clothes trap has failed simply because they failed to see through Xu Ziling’s true identity, and because with intelligence and quick-wit Xu Ziling was able to sneak into the house unknown to the gods and undetected by the ghosts, so that Xiang Yuzhan’s despicable scheme ended up one step behind.
Otherwise, if Xu Ziling were burdened by Susu, mother and child when he fell into the heavy siege of numerous martial art masters, it would be very difficult indeed for him to escape.