Book 3 Chapter 5 – One Business Deal
One after another Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling appeared out of the water, breathing the late night fresh and clean air of River Si.
Without even exerting any strength, the hollow of their palms automatically produced suction force, attaching their bodies onto the wall of the ship; they did not even understand how it worked.
Immensely proud of himself, Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “This time we dealt a big blow to that Shen woman [reminder, the term ‘woman’ here is derogatory] that she fell flat on his granny’s face. Ha! It’s actually Shen woman’s granny.” [Translator’s note: ‘his granny’ was a cuss word, equivalent to ‘[email protected] it’.]
“Don’t be complacent too soon,” Xu Ziling said, “There’s still half a day before we can be considered winning this bet. Excessive complacency may cause hundreds of foolish negligence, don’t ruin the enterprise for the sake of one basketful.”
Kou Zhong nodded, “We’ll act properly. Ay! We are so stupid, when we made the bet, she only spoke about what we’d do if she won, but not if we won. Otherwise, stroking her body a couple times won’t be too bad.”
Xu Ziling chuckled softly and said, “Less wishful thinking! This woman is full of thorns from top to bottom; she must not be touched. Ay! I am worried that Qin Laoge cannot deal with her!”
“That would be better,” Kou Zhong replied, “Otherwise, I am afraid he would be beheaded by that muddle-headed ruler. Hey! These three ships seem to be prominent; will you be interested in borrowing a couple of clothes and perhaps some food and money? It is better than looking like beggars wearing worn-out clothes with nothing in our hands.”
“Be careful!” Xu Ziling said in low voice, “The people who can use such three big ships must be either large and influential family of high standing, or high ranking official and nobility, or perhaps big shots gangster boss. If we are not careful, we would just offer our little lives to the Heaven.”
Kou Zhong frowned, “So are we going or not?” he asked.
Xu Ziling chuckled softly, “If we are not afraid of the Ol’ Die, why should we fear anybody? Follow me, the future Wulin expert!” Finished speaking, he crawled up along the wall.
By this time the two boys already had considerable experience in hiding and concealing their track, in breathing with their mouth and nose shut, in exercising restraint to their bodily functions, so that when being cautious, they were completely noiseless and undetectable.
There were wind lanterns on the deck, as well as hanging from the masts of the big ship, but on the side facing them, from twenty-something cabin windows on three levels, only about half were illuminated.
Xu Ziling selected a dark window on the second level from which he wanted to crawl into the ship. But as they passed an illuminated window, they heard a female voice coming from the inside. The two boys succumbed to their curiosity and stopped to listen.
The female voice suddenly sounded very close to the boys’ ears, “Er Ge [second (older) brother], it would be best if you stop persuading Die; he has always been loyal and devoted to the imperial court. Duan Shu [paternal (younger) uncle] has advised him for a long time, but did he even listen to half a word he said?”
The two boys jumped in fright; they had just realized that the dainty woman was moving to the window, hence they did not dare to make the slightest move.
A distressed-sounding young male voice responded, “What Die reluctant to part the most is our relationship with the Dugu Clan; but he did not know that Dugu Feng is a wily old fox, who regards us as the thorn in his eyes. Right now the world is in chaos, tens of thousands people are angry, while the Tujue [Turkic] people are glaring at us like a tiger watching his prey, and Sui imperial court is no longer viable. And we get hold of Taiyuan, our troops are sufficient, our provisions abundant, enough to last us ten or eight years. Right now Yingyang Pai’s Liu Wuzhuo and Liang Shidu are aligning themselves with the Tujue, raising their troops to fight the Sui, taking over Loulan and Dingxiang, one after another. If they break through Yan Men [lit. wild goose gate], our Taiyuan will bear the brunt. If Die keeps wavering, ultimately we will be implicated by that muddle-headed ruler; the boat capsize, the people perish.”
Listening to this, the two boys outside the window sucked in a mouthful of cold air; who exactly were these man and woman inside? Whose children were they? Unexpectedly they were directly related to the Dugu Clan and Emperor Yang of Sui. Terrified, they did not dare to budge even more.
The man’s voice was full of authority and power; needless to say, he must be a top quality martial art expert.
The woman spoke in soft voice, “Have you talked it over with Dage [big/first (older) brother]?”
“I don’t know how many times,” the man replied, “He can’t think of any idea either. Xiuning should know how horrible Die’s stubbornness is.”
That Xiuning said, “We’d better confide with Madame Dong Ming; father always listen to everything she said. Ay! If only Niang came back to life; Die would definitely listen to her.”
The two boys outside were so terrified that their hands slipped and they almost fell into the river. Finally they were able to guess that the ship they were climbing actually belonged to the Li Clan; how could they dare to continue eavesdropping? Hastily and quietly they continued pulling themselves up.
Right this moment the conversation inside the cabin suddenly stopped. But the two boys did not pay attention anymore.
They opened the window, and after ascertaining there was nobody inside, they crawled in, and only then did they dare to breathe a sigh of relief.
The two boys swept the room with their gaze, and noticed that it was a fairly large room, the furnishing was gorgeous. Other than bed, chairs and other furniture, there was also a large wooden chest; inside there should be clothes and that sort of thing.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear, “We ought to steal with principle; each person should only get a set of clothes, and if we find money, we should also take only enough to cover our meals for several days and one visit to the pleasure house.”
At this point a man’s head appeared on the window, but when he heard Kou Zhong, the head suddenly disappeared again.
Xu Ziling spoke in a low voice, “I have never imagined that we would steal Li Yuan’s belongings. Didn’t that Dugu fellow want to harm Li Yuan? We’d better harm him instead. Let’s leave a brief note warning the Li Clan people, just consider it payment for the stuff we steal.” [Reminder: Li Yuan was the personal name of first Tang emperor Gauzu (566-635), reigned 618-626.]
Kou Zhong chuckled quietly and said, “Since when did you become this conscientious? Ha! Perhaps in all the world, we are the only one who have the ability to cause Li Yuan to revolt. But I don’t know whether this guy is a good guy or a bad guy …”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” Xu Ziling scolded him, “If somebody’s coming we will be in trouble. Quickly steal!”
The two boys walked over to the chest and were about to lift the lid, suddenly there was a ‘shush!’ from the window, as if it was warning the two boys not to make any noise.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were scared out of their wits. They froze and turned their heads toward the window.
A dark shadow noiselessly came in through the window and stood in front of the two boys.
The two boys calmed their nerves and looked closely. Turned out it was a tall young man that looked only a few years older than they were, with a rectangular face and big ears, with formidable physique and eyes that shone like glossy lacquer, and elegant bearing. Right now he was standing proudly yet self-composed, a demeanor that could stop deep pool and overcome high mountain peak; that could turn other people’s heart upside down.
While Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were as dumb as a wooden chicken, the young man spoke in low voice, “Zaixia [I, humble] Shimin, the third son of Li Yuan, the caretaker of Taiyuan. Two Xiongtai [brother, of the same age] look just, honest and amazing, I wonder what are your respected surname and great given names?”
The two boys exchanged a glance; their heart has calmed down, but at the same time they felt at a loss. This man has caught the two little thieves red-handed, yet he was still this refined and courteous, as if the two of them were ‘noble guests’ whose appearance was simply unexpected.
The two boys stood up. Kou Zhong cupped his fist to show his respect, and said with a giggle, “This name ‘Shimin’ is very good. Ha! Saving the world, coming to the relief of the people [jiu shi ji min, same ‘shi’ and ‘min’ characters]; perhaps in the future you will become the emperor.”
Li Shimin smiled indifferently and said, “Xiongtai needs not praise Zaixia; but this name indeed has a little bit of background. Why don’t you two gentlemen have a seat so that we can talk?” [Another reminder (because I think I already had the footnote somewhere): Li Shimin, personal name of second Tang emperor Taizong (599-649), reigned 626-649.]
This moment Li Xiuning’s voice came from below, “Er Ge! What happened?”
Li Shimin leaned over the window and called out, “I’ll tell you later!”
Turning around, he asked the two boys to have a seat; his manner was sincere and courteous. Deep in their heart the two boys knew his intention, but they also knew that they could not charge through him toward the window. Therefore, bracing themselves, they sat down in two armchairs leaning against the wall. Because their body was still dripping wet, it was quite uncomfortable.
Li Shimin calmly smiled and sat down on a chair next to the window; he said, “When Ziaxia was four, a man who was good in physiognomy came to our home; by reading my facial features, he predicted that ‘by age twenty, you will relieve the world [shi] and pacify the people [min]’. That time Niang doted on me very much, hence she changed my name to ‘Shimin’.” While speaking, he casually picked up the flint to light up the oil lamp on a small table by his side.
Xu Ziling noticed that when he mentioned his mother, his eyes revealed a fondness of a child’s deep admiration toward his mother; he could not help thinking about Fu Junchuo. Sighing, he said, “You must miss your Niang very much.”
Li Shimin nodded slightly; turning his attention to the water droplets on the floor dripping from the two boys’ body, he said with a deep voice, “What is the relationship between the two gentlemen and Shan Mei Xianzi Madame Dong Ming of Ryukyu? Why did when you heard her name your hearts jump a few times? Otherwise, Zaixia would still be in the dark as to the two gentlemen have sneaked into our ship.”
It was only then did the two boys realize what went wrong. They were also astonished at Li Shimin’s thorough thought process; that just from this point he was able to deduce that the two of them were somehow related to Madame Dong Ming.
Kou Zhong giggled and replied, “Naturally we are related! But we’d better make a business deal; supposing we can make your respected Ol’ Die to raise arms and rebel, you will give us, two brothers, two sets of clothes and … hey! And two, no! Thirty taels of silver. Ha! What do you say?”
This time it was Li Shimin who was dumbstruck. “Thirty taels of silver?” he asked in incredulity.
Xu Zilings heart skipped a beat, he hastily tried to remedy the situation by saying, “If thirty taels of silver is too much, twenty-five is alright.”
Chapter 5, Part 2
Jaya, Faerro, HPC, DongBin, Ysabel, Drak, you are welcome. Lawwoo, thanks for coming out of your seclusion. Sky, oh, OK. I agree, it won't be fun if the entire story is about the two boys running around everywhere. But they have not mastered high level martial art skill yet, and they have not found good Shifu.
Happy New Year everybody!
Li Shimin looked at the two boys in disbelief; he reached into his pocket, took out a money purse and without even looking at it he tossed it to Kou Zhong. “Just look how much money is in there,” he said.
Kou Zhong caught the purse, and opened it without hesitation. As soon as he looked inside, he gasped, “My grandma, old dad, and all my ancestors!” he exclaimed, “It’s his mother’s gold ingots!”
Hastily Xu Ziling craned his neck to look. He was speechless. “It worth at least several hundred taels of silver,” he said.
Kou Zhong’s eyes lit up; he stuffed the purse into his pocket. Taking a deep breath he said, “Taking people’s money, we’ll avoid calamities on their behalf; the two of us brothers will take full responsibility of this matter.”
Xu Ziling had a bit more conscience. “Zhong Shao,” he said apologetically, “You must return the money first, we have to wait until the business is done before we can receive the payment.”
Li Shimin shrugged him off, “Take it! Whether success or failure, we can all be friends. That money should be enough for you to stroll into low-grade brothel a hundred times over.”
The two boys were touched. Kou Zhong raised his thumb in praise, “We accept your friendship.”
“Not too loud,” Li Shimin said in low voice, “I don’t want others to know that you are here.”
Kou Zhong’s thick face blushed; he lowered his voice to the lowest volume and said, “Let me tell you an astonishingly big secret! Madame Dong Ming kept an account book in her residence listing the purchase of weapons your Old Die made in secret to her, on it there is his signature and stamp too. Just imagine if this treasure is stolen, what would happen then?”
Li Shimin was shaken. Naturally he knew that these two boys did not invent some crazy talk. Because the reason that he took his troops to Pengcheng this time was to place another order to Madame Dong Ming for another batch of weapons.
Since two years ago his father, Li Yuan, was transferred to Hong Hua to be its caretaker, while at the same time he was assigned to be the Junshi [military advisor] of Guan You’s thirteen counties. To deal with Yang Xuan’gan’s main forces, Li Yuan finally accepted his advice to buy a large quantity of weapons from Madame Dong Ming. This matter was outside Emperor Yang of Sui’s knowledge; if it leaked, and there was credible evidence, the paranoid Emperor Yang of Sui would certainly suspect him of planning a rebellion. If not, it would be a fantastic story indeed.
After staring blankly for half a day, Li Shimin frowned and said, “Madame Dong Ming has several martial art masters under her command, each one of the four law protector fairies has ultimate skill. Other than ‘Shan Ren’ Ning Daoqi [see Book 1 Chapter 6] personally made the move, who would be able to come aboard their ship to steal such an important thing?”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “Seeing that you are such a true friend, we can tell you a secret; but you must not harm us like other people, or perhaps when this business is done use some trick against us.”
Li Shimin seriously said, “If I, Li Shimin, commit any despicable act, let me not die a good death. Humph! You dare to look at me that way.”
As if nothing had happened, Kou Zhong said, “It is called ‘once bitten by a snake’. It is also called ‘being careful sailing on ten-thousand-year ship’. We must establish trust with each other first, only then will any large-scale plan be effective.”
It was obvious that Li Shimin thought that between the two, Kou Zhong was comparatively the dishonest one. He turned to Xu Ziling and said, “You will tell me!”
Right that moment someone was passing through outside. After the sound of footsteps was gone, Xu Ziling asked, “Whose room is this?”
Li Shimin laughed. “It’s mine,” he replied, “The deck below is used by the womenfolk. If you want to steal clothes, you have come to the right place. Our builds are similar.”
The two boys were amused.
Thereupon Xu Ziling narrated the story around Haisha Bang’s desire to attack Dong Ming Pai’s flagship. When Li Shimin heard that Yuwen Huaji and Dugu Ce were involved, his eyes flickered with cold ray, his imposing aura radiated all around.
“Therefore,” Kou Zhong summed up, “Right now only the two of us can mingle aboard the ship. Besides, they thought that our martial art skill is low, hence they do not guard against us so much. Of course, we will be very secretive, so that we won’t let Laoxiong’s [old chap] money down.”
Li Shimin was already accustomed to the way he tooted his horn, he did not even bother whether they would be secretive or not. After thinking hard, he said, “What can we do to lure Madame Dong Ming someplace else? This is something that I have to think about.”
Finished speaking he stood up, opened the chest and took out two sets of clothes, and handed them over to the two boys, “Change into dry clothes first, and after a good night sleep, I will wake you up when we arrive at Pengcheng by daybreak. I need to go to the lower level and have some talk with my sister.”
“We can sleep on the floor,” Kou Zhong offered.
Li Shimin laughed and said, “Such a big bed, enough for three people to sleep, why sleep on the floor? Are we not only business partners, but brothers and friends as well? Ha! Your encounter is so bizarre that it is hard to believe.”
Finished speaking he went out through the window again.
When the two boys stepped into Pengcheng, they were rather hesitant, but were full of good feeling. What they were wearing was clean and tidy warrior outfit, on their waist hung highest quality steel saber and a full money pouch given by Li Shimin. Ever since they came out of their mother’s womb, they had never looked so grand like this.
Xu Ziling was tall and straight, scholarly and elegant. On the other hand, Kou Zhong looked bold and powerful, with a heroic and imposing aura around him.
The two boys walked side by side. From time to time people shot them admiring and envious look.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and pulled Xu Ziling’s elbow, “What we need right now is a pair of steeds and a dozen or so footmen, otherwise we can go to a low-grade brothel first and acting like young tycoons.”
Xu Ziling cheerfully said, “Visiting low-grade brothel is an essential program for tonight, but right now we need to find a wine shop. Bug bowl of wine, big piece of meat, we’ll have a his-granny’s good time, while casually discuss how we are going to proceed in this business deal. We have received other people’s money, naturally we must do something for him.”
Kou Zhong took a surreptitious look around, examining the façade of the restaurants lining up both sides of the main street. “I did not expect Pengcheng to be this thriving and lively,” he said, “The strangest thing is, there does not seem to be any refugee around. Look! Those of elder sisters are so pretty. Ha!”
Xu Ziling looked around and saw Kou Zhong was staring at a group of young women walking directly toward them, with what he thought was the most attractive smile he could muster. Amazingly, the group of young women did not try to avoid the two boys’ stare; they smiled back at them with even more attractive smile.
It was the first time ever that the two boys received such courtesy. After the group of young women walked passed, they squealed in delight and entered a restaurant on their right that looked like a rather upscale restaurant.
With their appearance, weaponry and attire, as soon as the two boys set foot on the second floor, the waiters greeted them attentively, and called them ‘Gongzi this’ and ‘Gongzi that’ as they led them to a table by the window facing the street. At this time from about a dozen tables on the second floor, more than half had guests sitting on them.
Kou Zhong generously tipped the waiter while ordering food and drink. He said excitedly, “Those sweet girls just now have a rather high nose, their eyes are big and blue; they must be Hu women [non-Han people, esp. from central Asia]. I heard that they are licentious by nature, very easy to get our hands on them. Ha! Perhaps this time we don’t need to visit a low-grade brothel.”
Xu Ziling was worried, “Why did you order that much wine? Two catties? Can you drink wine? I can only drink a little bit.”
Kou Zhong reached out to grab Xu Ziling’s shoulder. “Life is short, make merry while you can!” he said, “From two marketplace ruffians in Yangzhou, we now become big shots in Wulin world. With this kind of encounter, we have nothing to complain to Laotianye; how can you not enjoy it with cheerful heart?”
With his other hand he beckoned Xu Ziling to look out the window at the endless stream of horses and carriages on the street below; he sighed and said, “Look! This is such a beautiful world. Meeting this kind of fine time, beautiful scenery, we ought to welcome it with a bit of wine and celebrate. You drink one catty, I drink one catty. Whoever does not get drunk will be considered a hero.”
Following his gaze, Xu Ziling also stared blankly at the street. He remembered Fu Junchuo, he remembered Li Jing and Susu, his heart was overwhelmed with an indescribable feeling. “Alright,” he nodded and said, “One catty it is.”
Kou Zhong suddenly lowered his voice, “On the table to the left, there is a handsome guy who keeps looking at you; I think he prefers male to female.”
Startled, Xu Ziling turned to look. Sure enough, on a large table by the stairs, about three, four tables away, sat three men. One of them wore a dark green scholar robe, and was exceptionally handsome; he was sizing the two boys up. When he noticed that Xu Ziling was staring at him, he nodded and smiled.
Remembering what Kou Zhong had just said, Xu Ziling was startled; hastily he averted his gaze and said in low voice, “He seems to recognize us. Maybe it’s another trap of Shen Luoyan. Don’t forget that the deadline for that woman’s three-day bet is still tonight!”
Kou Zhong nodded. “I almost forget,” he said, “Did you see his throat?”
Xu Ziling was taken aback, “Is it any good?” he asked.
Kou Zhong stroked his own adam’s apple and said with a low chuckle, “That guy cannot be more handsome than that, plus he does not have this thing that we have; what do you say he is?”
Horrified, Xu Ziling gasped, “Not Shen Luoyan in disguise!”
“It doesn’t seem like it,” Kou Zhong replied, “Oh no! She came over.”
Shocked, Xu Ziling turned around. The woman who disguised herself as a scholar was already standing by their table. Her feature that was particularly impressive, other than her ‘handsome’ face, which was adorned with a pair of big, bright and lively eyes, was her pair of long legs, so that disguised as a man, she gave other people some kind of tall and straight impression.
While the two boys were staring at her in surprise, she revealed a faint nonchalant smile as she cupped her fist and spoke in deeper voice, “Across five lakes and four oceans are brothers, two Xiongtai carried an extraordinary look; I wonder what are your honorable surname and great given names, so that I, Li Zhi, can make friends with you.”
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “I am Zhang San, he is Li Si. If across five lakes and four oceans are really brothers, there won’t be people everywhere running away for their lives. Handsome Xiongtai, please return to your seat!”
 ‘Zhang the third’ and ‘Li the fourth’ are equivalent to ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ in western world. The third name is ‘Wang Wu’ (Wang the fifth).
Chapter 5, Part 3
DongBin, you mean thousand updates, right? With the number of chapters in this story, I think you will get your wish ... Sky, why 'oh, no'? I thought you like the beautiful women that keep appearing in this story? Jaya, Smiling Proud Wanderer also has 'his granny' a lot. Ysabel, you are welcome. Anh, good for you. I did not have any special dinner ... We don't have any family/relatives around here.
Short update today, the end of Chapter 5.
Since he suspected that the other party was Shen Luoyan’s second trap, he flatly turned her down.
Xu Ziling took this opportunity to look at ‘Li Zhi’s’ two companions; he saw that they were ‘genuine goods at fair prices’: real, tough looking men. Their eyes gleaming with vigor and they had swords hanging on their waist; all in all, they smelled like bodyguards.
Obviously Li Zhi was quite shocked that Kou Zhong was treating her like that; her pretty face alternated between red and white, her phoenix eyes turned cold. She looked like she wanted to turn around and leave, but could not let it go.
After giving Kou Zhong a hateful glare, she turned to Xu Ziling and said, “You are Li Si? I …”
Xu Ziling simply cut her off, “I am definitely Li Si. Miss is flirting openly in such a public place, don’t you have any shame?”
‘Li Zhi’ was visibly shaken, her ‘beautiful eyes’ shot a thick murderous aura, yet her ‘jade countenance’ stayed surprisingly calm. The two boys thought, ‘Here it comes,’ their hands immediately grabbed the hilt of their saber. They were even more convinced that she was Shen Luoyan’s people.
Suddenly Li Zhi seemed to be able to regain her self-control, her eyes calmed down as she said in low voice, “You’d better remember what you said to me.”
Finished speaking, she brushed her sleeve and walked down the stairs. In a flurry the two middle-aged men paid the bill and ran after her.
By the time the three people left, their food and drink were delivered; the two boys forgot everything about Li Zhi, they simply bent over the table and chewing busily.
Cups came and cups went, very soon the two boys started to feel tipsy, and then they entered the world of the drunkards.
Holding a cup of wine with both hands Kou Zhong giggled drunkenly and said, “The first cup tasted pungent and difficult to drink, but the second cup turned into exquisite elixir; ha! I did not know wine is such a good drink.”
Xu Ziling looked at the more than half a cup strong wine still remained, he surrendered, “A little tipsy feeling is enough; perhaps as soon as we step out of this wine shop Shen Luoyan will prepare a trap for us. Ay! Right now I only want to sleep. Last night that Li Shimin guy had his leg pressed on my side that I could not sleep well.”
Kou Zhong pressed his hand against Xu Ziling’s forehead, he drunkenly whispered in his ear, “It would be better to go straight into the biggest pleasure house, find two most popular aunties to accompany us sleeping. This is called ‘today has wine, today get drunk’ [i.e. live in the moment, carpe diem]. Come! Call the waiter, have him tell us all the detailed information about this pleasure house.”
Xu Ziling nodded happily. He was about to call the waiter, when suddenly one of the two men sitting on the next table raised his voice a little bit, “Zhang Xiong, you came to visit our Pengcheng, but if have never visited Yihong Courtyard, and have never seen that place’s most popular aunties, Baiyun [white cloud] and Qiuyan [autumn swallow], how can you be considered ever visiting Pengcheng?” [Translator’s note: at first I thought Kou and Xu mentioned ‘auntie’ (lit. paternal aunt) because the women were older than they were, but this man also said ‘auntie’, so perhaps the word refers to ‘prostitute’?]
The two boys thought ‘what a great coincidence’; hurriedly they focused their attention to eavesdrop.
The other man replied, “Is Chen Xiong referring to the Yihong Courtyard that is at the corner of the street as you turned left from this street? How could I never come there? It’s just that now it is still daytime, the misses are still asleep; let’s talk about it again tonight! Ha! Those girls are so pretty that I am drooling already.”
The one surnamed Chen laughed and said, “Right now it’s still wu hour [noon, 11am-1pm], Yihong Courtyard is not open to receive guests. Let us drink two more cups and then take a stroll around!”
Hearing this, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were delighted; they kicked each other’s leg under the table, and decided right then and there that today would be the day they have a taste of women.
For young men their age, what could be more interesting than the mystery of the opposite sex? What could move their heart even more?