Book 2 Chapter 6 – Benefiting Self, Benefiting Others
When they got to the city gate, they found out that not only the city gate has closed, there was also a large assembly of people. For some unknown reason, the yamen [government office in feudal China] officers who guard the gate were also replaced by big men.
Being new thieves, the two boys still lacked confidence; they retreated to a dark alley not far from the city gate and sat down on the ground.
Kou Zhong took out the purse he snatched from his victims earlier. Under the dim golden and orange light shining from the torches at the city gate, he counted his booty.
Xu Ziling took out the saber and lovingly played with it in his hand.
After counting it twice, Kou Zhong exclaimed in delight, “This time we hit the jackpot; there are altogether about twenty taels of silver. Not only it is enough to cover our travel expenses to Luoyang, we can also have a feast, and stroll into a low-grade brothel for three days.”
With the saber rested on his knees, Xu Ziling stretched out his neck in disbelief, and then happily said, “In that case, we need not steal salt, transport salt and sell salt; such a hard work.”
“So lack of ambition,” Kou Zhong scolded, “Twenty taels is just to satisfy the most annoying needs, we will still steal Haisha’s salt as planned. We stay here one night, when the city gate opens tomorrow, we immediately pick up the goods and leave. Ay! I hope nobody will find Ol’ Liu.”
Xu Ziling said in dismay, “I wish we know qinggong [lightness skill], so we could climb over the wall and leave. Ah!”
The two boys’ countenance changed greatly. They heard hoof beats in the distance coming rapidly over. As their scalp went numb, a large group of riders galloped along the main street outside the alley; there were at least a hundred riders, and all were speeding toward the city gate.
Soon they heard someone yelled in subdued voice, “Sea sand [haisha] raises its power!”
The other side replied, “Eastern sea [dong ming] in trouble!”
When the two boys stretched out their neck to look, they saw the small door by the city gate was opened, the crowd of Haisha Bang riders urged their horses to file out of the city.
The two boys looked at each other. But soon afterwards several more people went out of the city; all with the same secret password. Some of the gang members even went out on foot.
Xu Ziling said, “Seems to me Haisha Bang is going to attack Dong Ming Pai’s big ship tonight. Should we notify them? Haisha Bang definitely does not have even half a decent person!”
Kou Zhong’s eyes lit up as he said in low voice, “Do you want to go to Ryukyu? Just by marrying that little maid, our luck cannot be considered shallow. Come!”
Xu Ziling followed him standing up. With terrified expression he said, “What if they recognize us?”
Puffing up his chest, Kou Zhong replied, “Without going into the tiger den, how can we get a tiger cub? Oh! I get it. It’s the tiger’s daughter, and the tiger is female. For the sake of those beautiful Dong Ming Pai’s beautiful tigresses, we have to fight his mother’s battle. Look! The city gate is still open, we have sabers; if we get recognized, we’ll kill our way out. As long as we could reach the seaside, ‘splash!’ we can plunge into the water. With our Nine Mysteries breath-holding Great Method, who could possibly catch us? Come on! Coward!”
Finished speaking he strode forward.
Xu Ziling had no choice but to follow him out.
They had just stepped into the main street, there was the sound of hoof beats again. Four riders came over, fast.
Kou Zhong cast his gaze toward the city gate, but did not see the big men earlier; there were only about a dozen yamen officers, who were staring hard at them. He could not go back even if he wanted to. Turning around to face the four riders he called out, “Has Er Ye left of the city?”
The four riders brushed past; one of them replied, “Da Ye [big/first master] and Er Ye are in the back!” Then they went like a whirlwind.
Terrified, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling hastily increased their speed. Still far away from the yamen officers, they called out, “Sea sand raises its power!”
One of the officers, presumably the leader, laughed and said, “You, two kids whose smell of your mother’s milk has not yet dried, also want to follow those men doing their work; don’t you like to have a long life?”
The officers burst into laughter.
One of the troops said, “Who are you? How come I’ve never seen you before?”
Kou Zhong patted his saber; assuming a forthright manner he said, “Er Ye is our elder [orig. agong – grandfather], Xie Feng is our adoptive senior [orig. adie – dad/old man]. It was only last month that they included us in.”
Seeing he spoke reasonably and with confidence, the troops did not stop them; they let the two boys got out of the city.
The two boys were wild with delight; they rushed out of the city.
But as soon as they stepped out of the city gate, both groaned inwardly. Because the area just outside the gate was densely packed with a large group of men and horses, at least the number was close to a thousand. However, because no one lighted a torch and that everybody was silent, the two boys did not find out until they were outside the gate; therefore, they were now stuck.
Someone shouted, “Sea sand raises its power!”
The two boys responded in unison, “Eastern sea in trouble!”
A man came over to meet them, “Which hall?” he asked in low voice.
Bracing himself, Kou Zhong replied, “Yuhang division!”
The man did not suspect anything; he pointed to a group of men and said, “Tie the red band and stand over there. Boss will be here soon!”
Seeing him handing out two pieces of red band, Xu Ziling hastily stepped forward to receive it.
When they got to the Yuhang division group, the two boys pretended to be busy tying the red band, and then with head hung low they stood at the last of the line; surprisingly, nobody said anything.
Several men at the front turned their heads around to look at them, but since it was dark, they could not see clearly. The men were just about to question the two boys when sound of hoof beats was heard; a group of riders went out the city gate. Hence nobody paid them any attention anymore.
When they looked up, they saw a big man like an iron tower. Because the two men standing on his left and right were holding their torch high, everybody was able to see him clearly.
This man looked intimidatingly impressive; on his back he carried a pair of hatchets, his eyes were like copper bells. When he swept his gaze around, everybody, including Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, felt that he was looking straight at him.
The other people with him were different from each other. One of them was a rather good-looking Buddhist nun; her oversized Buddhist robe was blown by the sea breeze that it stuck to her body, revealing her beautiful and captivating curves.
That Tan Yong was also one of them, it’s just that he was at the last of the line; apparently the other people ranked higher than him.
The troops opened up a path in the middle. The big man urged his horse to gallop in a small circle before he finally stopped. One after another the Haisha Bang people pulled their weapons and paid their respect.
While raising his saber, Kou Zhong took the opportunity to whisper in Xu Ziling’s ear, “Looks like this Boss is much more superior than us, two martial art masters. As soon as we have the opportunity, we must slip away; don’t care about anything else.”
Seeing this kind of display of power, Xu Ziling was also extremely nervous; he nodded incessantly.
The Haisha Bang Boss reined his horse and shouted, “This time, we, Haisha Bang are working for Yuwen Huaji Daren; generous reward is not difficult to attain, plus there are other benefits as well. The key to victory this time is to attack when they are not prepared, leaving no one alive. You must make an all-out effort to follow your Boss in handling this matter; anyone who shrinks back on approaching the battlefield will be dealt with according to our house rules. When we achieve success, everybody will be heavily rewarded. Got it?”
The crowd responded in unison.
This place was still quite far from the dock, separated by a gulf. Even if they shouted loudly, Dong Ming Pai people on the dock would not hear it.
Kou Zhong was just about to pull Xu Ziling to slip away from the back when he suddenly realized that there were people shouting their response from a small hill behind them as well; therefore, he abandoned his plan.
In the meantime, Tan Yong and a short man rode toward the Yuhang division people; he talked in a low voice for a moment, and then he gave the order to move. Those with horses galloped on horseback, those on foot ran behind them. The annoying thing was that Tan Yong fell behind, he rode at the rear of the formation, so that the two boys were unable to go AWOL. Without any choice they ran in the middle of the group.
After traveling for little less than half a sichen, they arrived at the seaside, where three double-mast boats were already waiting. They were about three, four li away from the shore where the big Dong Ming Pai ship was anchored.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling braced themselves to climb onboard one of the ships under Tan Yong’s supervision. As soon as they were on board, everybody started working. Some were preparing the stone catapult; some took care of the fire arrows, and some others manned the sail and untie the mooring rope. Only the two boys did not know what to do, so that they were sticking up like a sore thumb.
While they were terrified and extremely nervous, Tan Yong suddenly decided to board their ship. Fortunately the ship was in total blackout; otherwise, they would be discovered early on as fake articles.
Chapter 6, Part 2
Jaya, HPC, Anh, you are welcome. Strawberry, it's not difficult to guess since I also live in this area. Sky, I did not announce it here, and I didn't know you are an expert in football ... DongBin, thanks, but as I said, you didn't miss anything; the only reason Sky knew was because she sent me a personal email. Here's the end of Chapter 6.
The two were at a loss; they were just thinking of leaning against the ship’s railing and jumping into the sea when a man stopped them and shouted, “Why haven’t you go down to the bilge and get me the ‘water armor’ and ‘breaking-hill bore’?”
The two boys jumped in fright; they went down to the bilge with heads hung down.
More than a dozen men were already busy carrying some wooden chests up. One of the men said, “Only one chest left, you two can take care of it.”
Their mind went blank, the two boys groped their way down the bilge. They saw under the dusky light of a wind lantern, piles of junks, but there was no one else; and then they saw the chest.
Kou Zhong was overjoyed; he pounced onto the chest and opened up its lid. Inside there was a huge, sharp helix auger, weighed at least fifty, sixty catties.
The ship shuddered slightly; apparently it cast off and set sail.
Xu Ziling helped him taking the auger out of the chest; without prior discussion they put the sharp tip against the bottom of the hold and turned the handle.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “If we can sink this ship, all our enmities are avenged in full.”
“This matter is related to Yuwen Huaji,” Xu Ziling said, “We cannot just sit and watch and remain indifferent. After the water enters the ship, we will run to the deck and making a ruckus, to spoil Haisha Bang’s plan on ‘attacking the unprepared enemy’. And then we jump into the sea flee for our lives, and immediately steal some salt. Ha!”
The more they talked, the more excited they got; they turned the handle faster and faster like a windmill. Less than half a day later, ‘pop!’ a hole appeared on the bottom of the ship; hastily they pulled the auger out.
By the time they were ready to take the chest to the deck, the seawater had already reached their ankles.
Like a crouching monster the giant Dong Ming Pai ship sat still by the dock, the area surrounding it was dark without any lantern at all, only its bow and its stern had four small wind lanterns shining their cheerless, lonely and cold lights, which flickered incessantly in the sea breeze.
There were hundreds or even thousands of other ships and boats around the harbor; some were moored close to the shore, but most dropped their anchor in the bay.
The three Haisha Bang ships sailed quietly through this array of boats, until they were about ten zhang away from the giant ship before stopping.
The boat that had its bottom drilled has been sinking for about two chi, only about a chi or so more, and the water will reach the deck. But because everybody’s attention was on the enemy’s ship, no one took any notice yet.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were hiding in the darkest area near the bow; they each had a bow and an arrow, which tip was wrapped in a piece of cloth that had been soaked in oil. Their hearts were pounding wildly in anticipation.
Tan Yong gave his command, “To the water!”
Silently eight of his men, wearing wetsuit and carrying the ‘breaking-hill’ auger dived into the water.
Suddenly someone let out a muffled shout, “Why is the water level so high?”
Kou Zhong knew it was time. Nudging Xu Ziling, he lighted the arrow, and then, in everybody’s amazement they shot the fiery arrows toward the big ship, drawing two beautiful fiery arcs in the dark sky.
“Are you crazy?” Tan Yong roared in shock.
The two boys shouted together, “Sea sand raises its power, eastern sea in trouble! Haisha Bang attacks the unprepared!”
Tan Yong stormed across the boat. “You, two little demons again!” he thundered.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling threw their bows by swinging their arms like throwing secret projectiles toward Tan Yong. And then they turned around and jumped into the water together.
On the other side, closer to the dock, the battle cry shook the heavens. The big ship slowly left the shore heading north to escape. It passed behind Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, who had just climbed out of the water right behind Haisha Bang’s warehouse by the dock.
The two boys laughed and ran toward the warehouse.
When they reached the entrance, Kou Zhong grabbed the iron lock with one hand and exclaimed, “Look at my internal strength!”
“Umph!” the padlock did not budge.
Kou Zhong was at a loss.
Grabbing the iron chain, he yelled, “Get your saber and chop this thing!”
Xu Ziling shook his head, “What if it breaks my saber?”
Kou Zhong angrily said, “You break your saber, you can buy a new one. But if we cannot make a fortune, we will be paupers for the rest of our lives. It’s not every day that Haisha Bang would deploy their entire troops to fight a battle like this!”
Xu Ziling giggled happily and pulled Kou Zhong’s saber. Exerting his entire strength he chopped down.
‘Tchak!’ The iron chain met the saber and broke instantly.
The two boys were taken aback. But they were too busy to think too much.
Pointing to the biggest sailboat moored on the dock behind them, Kou Zhong said, “Quickly row that boat here, I’ll get the goods.”
They have lived for more or less eighteen and seventeen years, respectively, but have never seen a better scenery than they saw right now.
Kou Zhong was lying on the sacks of salt piling high on the boat, enjoying the early morning sunshine, while humming Yangzhou’s most popular folk song. He was so comfortable that he looked like he was about to die of laziness.
Xu Ziling was looking at the road stretching along the river on the left bank, his eyes darted quickly to the water level that was very close to the deck. “I told you not to steal this much salt,” he said with a frown, “Now even the place to sleep is crammed with goods, and the boat will sink very soon. We’d better cast off a dozen sacks or so!”
Kou Zhong jumped in fright; he turned around to hug the salt sack tightly and cried out, “These are shining white silver; if you want me to throw away money into the sea, you might as well tell me to throw my life away into the sea.”
Seeing Xu Ziling stayed silent, he sat down again and giggled, “Xiao Ling, please don’t get angry. Alright, how about this: when we come ashore to buy clothes and provision later, let me see if there are people willing to offer good price for several sacks!”
“This is coastal salt-producing area,” Xu Ziling angrily said, “You want to sell salt here, those who are willing to offer good price must be either a lunatic or an idiot just like you. The difference is one spends money recklessly, the other considers wealth as important as his life.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and came over to the stern. He wrapped his arm around Xu Ziling’s shoulder and said, “One world, two brothers; there’s no need to be mad. Ha! I am a bit greedy, but it’s all for our future. If we could earn a few coins, we will be a bit more comfortable and happy in the future. Perhaps we can even organize a militia, strike the capital and be a happy emperor. At that time, won’t we be able to push Yuwen Huagu out of Meridian Gate and behead him to avenge Niang?”
With a forced laugh he added, “Look! This boat is so sturdy, we are making good progress with tail wind and following the current.”
Xu Ziling fetched his saber and shrugged his ‘embrace’; he stood up and stepped over nobody knew how many sacks of salt, toward the middle of the boat under the sail mast, where he stopped with his saber in hand. “Do you, Zhong Shao, know how to operate the sail?” he said with a wry smile, “Right now the sky is clear the weather is fair, the breeze is still the waves are quiet; naturally we won’t have any problem. But if we come across the wind and waves, in a moment or two when we are sinking down, don’t you ‘fight over the heavens and cry over the earth’ to me.”
Kou Zhong stroked his own big head and pointed to the shore to their left; he laughed and said, “This head of mine, which you think does not have any plan inside, has already thought about all those problems. When the sky turns somewhat ominous, we immediately sail toward the shore. Ha! I thought you are worried about some serious things, turns out merely this trivial matter.”
Xu Ziling pointed his saber to Kou Zhong and said coldly, “If this boat suddenly pull toward the shore, if we do not crash and have our body torn and our bones crushed, I won’t open my mouth again, ever; and then you can laugh at me that I am worried in vain.”
Apparently Kou Zhong has exhausted his argument, “How many sacks do you want to throw away?” he asked painfully.
Xu Ziling dejectedly kneeled down on the sacks of salt; he sighed and said, “That’s not our biggest problem, but if we travel along this route, sooner or later we will enter inland via the Great River, thus Yangzhou is the only route we must follow. At that time you should know who we are going to encounter.”
Kou Zhong acted as if he had just seen the light; laughing aloud he said, “How could my outstanding brains not think about that matter? When we get there, we crash our way through Yangzhou in the night. Not only we will avoid the government boats, we also conveniently avoid coming across our old Die. When we arrive at Liyang, we will disembark a bit early to sell half of our goods, and transport the rest by mule cart to his mother’s far away places, hence completed our great scheme to make a fortune. Look! This plan is so perfect.”
Xu Ziling knew he could not argue with him, he stood up and started practicing his saber play.
Kou Zhong watched with rapt attention for a moment. Finally he drew his saber and said, “Looking at you waving your hand and kicking your leg alone like a madman, let me, Zhong Shao accompany you playing for a couple of stances!”
Xu Ziling flatly said, “I am afraid my hand will slip and injure you.”
“You? Injure me?” Kou Zhong screamed, “En garde!”
The saber in his hand emitted a sharp cold wind that even he himself could not believe as it swept across toward Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling had never expected that he would be this formidable. Unleashing the stance ‘Unyielding and Escaping’ of the ‘Bloody Battle Ten Styles’ taught by Li Jing, he swiftly moved sideways before hacking down his saber once again.
The two boys were so worked up that soon they even forgot the styles and simply moved their sabers any way they pleased.
They also forgot to look at the sun, which was covered by dark clouds, and the sea breeze, which was getting stronger; they thought it was the wind generated by their sabers.
Finally what Xu Ziling was worried about has arrived.