Book 20 Chapter 6 – Recruiting Soldiers and Buying Horses
With Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong waiting in fear and trepidation, Kou Zhong muttered to himself irresolutely, “Xiliang, have you and Shao Lingzhou’s daughter officially knelt to heaven and earth to be wedded?”
A bit embarrassed, Gui Xiliang stammered, “Just verbal agreement. Hey! You must not be oversensitive; Shao Junshi said that after I master the ‘Taixu Jin’ [Great Emptiness (or Cosmic) Power] that he is going to impart to me, I will be married to Miss Lanfang, because female charms are the most taboo for this kind of internal martial art. Shao Junshi only has good intention toward me.”
Kou Zhong squinted at him; it was only after seeing him feeling uncomfortable from head to toes did he start to laugh hoarsely and said, “You look like someone who had just stepped your foot into the Jianghu, who is easily fooled by others like an idiot, yet you are still immeasurably self-satisfied, thinking that this is all for your benefit. Can’t you use your tiny brains to think? He intentionally gives his darling baby girl to marry you, why would he teach you this his mother’s Taixu Gong, which will prevent you from going into the bridal chamber?”
Gui Xiliang was ashamed and angered at the same time. “Don’t talk nonsense!” he said, “Otherwise forget about us being brothers.”
Xing Rong also ‘pulled his saber’ to come to his aid, “Shao Junshi has been good to Xiliang this whole time, I need not mention it, but speaking about seniority, although Liang Ge [big brother] was late Bangzhu’s disciple, he is still at least half a rank before he is eligible to be the Tangzhu [hall master] of the Dew Bamboo Hall.”
Gui Xiliang also spoke up ruthlessly, “You, this kid, always love to use lowly man’s heart to gage other people’s gentleman’s belly. If Shao Junshi were that kind of despicable lowly man, he would not be willing to let the Bangzhu position empty, he would have ascended to that position himself! Am I right?”
Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, “If I was as naïve as the two of you, I would have been swallowed and become the sacrificial offering in the Five Viscera [i.e. heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys] Temple inside Li Mi, Wang Shichong, those wily old foxes’ belly. How could I sit here and talk to you then? Tell me, does Shao Lingzhou know that I have sent someone to Jiangdu, asking for help?”
Stunned, the two looked at each other. It was Gui Xiliang who responded, “Maybe not? If he did, he would have told me.”
Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, “You are at most his prospective son-in-law. If unexpected misfortune happens to you, the engagement will be automatically annulled. Ay! If I didn’t guess incorrectly, Dew Bamboo Hall must be the Hall with weakest manpower, and that scoundrel Mai Yunfei must be either Clear Bamboo Hall or Rain Bamboo Hall’s Tangzhu. Shao Lingzhou’s gentleman’s belly must be particularly small; he loves to appoint people for his personal gain.”
The two were dumbstruck and unable to reply. Evidently Kou Zhong has guessed correctly.
It was quite a while later that Xing Rong finally spoke dejectedly, “Mai Yunfei is indeed the Clear Bamboo Hall’s Tangzhu.”
Kou Zhong spoke in disdain, “That guy’s [note: original word ‘jiahuo’ can also mean ‘domestic animal’, so it is more vulgar than just a ‘guy’] only strong point is that he is arrogant and conceited. Just think! If Mai Yunfei did not know that is just a temporary plan of convenience, how could he be willing to let it go? Besides, Shao Lanfang has always been his girlfriend, how could she suddenly be willing to marry you? Girls love good-looking guys. Although you, Liang Ge, are not bad, but Mai Yunfei ought to be a bit more handsome than you are?”
Xing Rong could not help nodding; he said, “Xiao Zhong is not without any sense! As a matter of fact, at that time I had a feeling that this is all too sudden; it’s just that seeing Liang Ge was so happy and was head over heels, I did not dare to speak up.”
Gui Xiliang’s countenance turned from red to white and back to red again; shaking his head, he said, “It can’t be like that, why would Shao Lingzhou want to harm me? Even if he did not give his daughter to marry me, I cannot do anything that will be disadvantageous to him.”
Kou Zhong reached out to pat his shoulder and said, “A real man can suffer to be without a wife. He is not trying to win over you, instead, he is trying to win over the Song Clan, and the next best thing, because I was the one asking the Song Clan to support you as the Bangzhu. Shao Lingzhou is afraid of the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que, next in line would be Xiaodi. But now he has Li Zitong as his backer, the situation is definitely different.”
After a short pause, he emphasized, “Just think: why would he want to move the headquarter to Yangzhou? It’s because he is in collusion with Li Zitong, so now they sent you here to get me back to Yangzhou to receive my death. One lifetime, how many brothers can we have? Even if you don’t believe me, your little brother, there is nothing you can do.”
After staring blankly for a moment, Gui Xiliang hung his head like a defeated cock and said, “You have made my heart so confused!”
Xing Rong said, “But the more I think, the more I feel Xiao Zhong’s words make a lot of sense. Just think: why didn’t Shao Lanfang come with her Die to Yangzhou, but wanted to stay at Jiangyin instead?”
Kou Zhong joined in, “She disdains to show even a fake affection to you!”
“Shut up!” Gui Xiliang angrily said.
Kou Zhong was stunned. After looking at him for half a day, he suddenly doubled in laughter and said, “Good kid, you finally figure it out!”
Smiling bitterly, Gui Xiliang said, “You, this kid, are really cruel; you shattered my sweet dream. Ay! What can we do now?”
Kou Zhong asked Xing Rong, “Wind Bamboo Hall’s Tangzhu is Shen Beichang, but who is in charge of the Rain Bamboo Hall?”
Xing Rong replied, “Naturally the former Fu Tangzhu [vice/deputy hall master] of Wind Bamboo Hall, Luo Feng. No one is more qualified than him.”
Kou Zhong said, “Those two are my old friends, I wonder if Shao Lingzhou has made up some preposterous excuse to have them transferred elsewhere, so that it would be more convenient to deal with me?”
Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong looked at each other. It was quite a while later than the former said, “This time I really surrender to you. At this time both of them are not in Yangzhou. His mother! Shao Lingzhou has the guts to harm me. This hatred cannot be left un-avenged.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “You want to take revenge and wipe out a grudge? Very easy! But you have to be a bit more patient.”
And then his eyes shone with sharp flashes as he spoke heavily, “I have the ability to make Li Mi never be able to free himself, naturally I have a way to support you as the Bangzhu. Just put old man Shao in the distance so that you can see him clearly!”
※ ※ ※
Xu Ziling’s shock was justified.
It should be noted that when one was rushing at full speed, the blood and qi, the circulation of the true power within one’s body, were all at their peak. If he raised his voice to speak at the same time, his words would be automatically rushed and hurried, because the outward expression matched the inner flow of the breathing.
Those who had reached the first-class master level had the ability to maintain the evenness of the tone. The way the newcomer talked and the speed at which he was coming were completely opposite to each other. Not only he spoke slowly and calmly, it was also soft and gentle, a clear display that he was able to defy the natural law, and had reach the excellence of being able to completely control the qi power and the distribution of air as he spoke.
This ‘Dao Xing Ni Shi’ You Niaojuan’s martial art skill has definitely reached the grand master level.
Looking down through the branches and the leaves, from Xu Ziling’s angle, this moment he could only see the ‘Charming Lady’ Jin Huanzhen, standing at the edge of the cliff. By the time You Niaojuan’s voice came, at first her jade countenance changed slightly, and then she broke into an enchanting smile. Evidently, just like Xu Ziling, she came to the same conclusion and was shocked.
Suddenly there was a flash of shadow, followed by the fierce noise of strong gust of wind. Someone appeared about five zhang high in the air, and then, like he was falling from the sky, he dropped straight down and landed by Jin Huanzhen’s side without making any noise, as if his body was lighter than a feather.
Xu Ziling held his breath and stopped his qi; he did not make the slightest movement, and even applied his internal energy to close up his pores. If he was the slightest bit careless, he would rouse these people’s alertness.
The ‘Dao Xing Ni Shi’ You Niaojuan’s face was like yellow wax, scrawny, like someone with one foot in the grave. The tip of his brows and his forehead were full of miserable-looking deep wrinkles. But he was really tall; compared to Jin Huanzhen’s jade stature standing beside him, he was a full head taller.
His nose was even higher and more crooked than Ding Jiuzhong, his lips were thicker than Zhou Laotan’s. His eyebrows were unusually thick and jet-black; below the eyebrows, his bright and spirited eyes were in total contrast with his bleak, miserable countenance. The eyes were shining and limpid like those of a child’s; however, in the depth of the eyes, there was faint coldness and hatred that could not possibly be in a child’s eyes, so that those who looked at him shivered all over not from the cold.
He wore an unusually big and loose black robe, which looked extremely ill fitting on his emaciated body. On his back was a huge, glimmering copper mace in the shape of a one-legged man, it looked to be at least several hundred catties, but hanging in his back, it appeared as light as a feather, as if he did not feel the load at all.
Jin Huanzhen unwittingly moved away a little in full alert.
With his hands behind his back, You Niaojuan swept his gaze across, and then threw his head backward and burst into an owl-like screeching laughter that sounded as unpleasant as a sharp awl scratching against a porcelain dish. Narrowing his eyes, he spoke in his peculiar soft and gentle voice, “Twenty years! It is rare that the direct disciples of Nixing Pai [lit. going the wrong way, ‘Pai’ is usually translated as ‘Sect’], Bawang Gu [lit. hegemon valley], Chishou Jiao [lit. scarlet hands, ‘Jiao’ is usually translated as ‘Cult’] and Meihuo Zong [lit. bewitching school], these four major demonic schools of heretical skill and strange technique meet together in one place. The person is mine; as for the ‘Xie Di Sheli’ [lit. ashes (after cremation) or relic of the demonic emperor], if you’d like to strive for it until you are badly burned about the head [from trying to put out a fire], the three of you can do as you wish, Ol’ You will not interfere.”
Ding Jiuzhong’s cold, trickling voice came out from inside the pavilion, “You are certainly counting your chicken before they are hatched; you want to enjoy the person first, and then after we fight desperately for the Relic until several defeats and all are injured, you’d come to reap the benefit. How could there be such a convenient thing in the world?”
You Niaojuan’s eyes flickered with cruel, malicious strange flashed, as he let out a weird-sounding laugh and said, “Ding Jiuzhong, it must be that you have not woken up from your dream of becoming the demonic emperor. It looks like Ol’ You will have to personally wake you up.”
Zhou Laotan, who previously looked like he could not exist together with Ding Jiuzhong like water and fire, joined in, “You Niaojuan, you happen to be wrong! Not only Ding Da Di is not still dreaming about becoming the emperor, it is because he is very clear-headed that he can see it clearly that you are harboring unfathomable motives. Zhen Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment], what do you say?”
Jin Huanzhen replied with an enchanting smile, “What Zhou Xiaodi said, of course Jiejie agrees!”
Suddenly, these tree people decided to form a united front to resist You Niaojuan, the strongest big devil head.
You Niaojuan spoke nonchalantly, “Since the three of you like to think like that, I, Ol’ You, won’t force you to think otherwise. Even if I did, it won’t come to a good end. Let us smash the Relic first, and use the person as the gambling stake. After fighting, whatever you want to do with her, it will not be my concern.”
“Aiyo!” Jin Huanzhen exclaimed, as she cast him an incomparably charming sidelong glance, saying, “Since when did You Dage learn how to make meticulous planning and careful accounting like this? After you waste the person, will there be any profit we could dredge up?”
You Niaojuan threw his head back and roared in laughter, he said, “I can’t go left, you don’t want to go right. Could it be that after twenty years, the three of you still don’t make any progress? Don’t you understand the principle the weak is prey to the strong? Do you want me to break my oath against taking life before you can obediently follow my command?”
Ding Jiuzhong laughed grimly and said, “Xiaodi, Meizi, You Dage is going to break his oath against taking life. What do you say?”
Zhou Laotan suddenly flashed toward Jin Huanzhen, reached out to pull her small waist, and let out a weird laughter very close to her fragrant face he said, “Whatever Meizi says, Gege will naturally advance hand-in-hand and retreat together with you, flying wing to wing in mutual respect [in marriage] with you!”
In his embrace, Jin Huanzhen laughed like a trembling sprig of blossoming flower and said, “Of course I will live together with you … but not die together! You die first!”
When she spoke the words ‘not die together’, the tone of her voice turned hurried, as her elbow suddenly struck Zhou Laotan’s flank.
With an earth-shattering miserable scream, Zhou Laotan’s entire body flew and rolled under some bushes.
Xu Ziling peeking from the side never expected this change; watching all these, he was momentarily dumbfounded.
A strong gust of wind blew at the same time, from inside the pavilion, Ding Jiuzhong swiftly escaped to the rear, while swift like an arrow, You Niaojuan chased after him. The two of them quickly disappeared into the forest against the steep cliff behind the pavilion.
Leisurely, but very deliberately, Jin Huanzhen walked over to Zhou Laotan, who was lying face down on the ground, motionless, and said with a tender sigh, “Zhou Xiaodi, you don’t make a progress at all; it’s been a long twenty years, how could you still not know that a real husband can’t surpass a lover [orig. male adulterer]? Remembering the husband and wife feeling of the past, I’ll give you a foot!”
Zhou Laotan rolled around and did not stop until his body bumped against the trunk of the tree where Xu Ziling was hiding.
Without looking back, Jin Huanzhen went up the mountain.
Watching this, Xu Ziling’s scalp went numb. This was the first time that he saw such savage and crafty, completely lacking any sense of justice, men and woman.
While he was unsure whether he should run after Jin Huanzhen at once, he suddenly felt something was not right.
Zhou Laotan, who was supposed to be dead, suddenly sprang up from the ground, as if nothing had happened, and let out a strange-sounding laughter, he said, “The one not making any progress can only be him; this time he still does not fall into the trap.”
Finished speaking, laughed strangely again, very proud of himself, and walked away.
Xu Ziling was so shocked that his entire body nearly went numb. Taking a deep breath, he put on the Yue Shan mask, and jumped down the tree and run up the mountain in the direction of where You Niaojuan and Ding Jiuzhong were disappearing.
※ ※ ※
In the study room inside the Zongguan Mansion, Kou Zhong received Xuan Yong, Ren Meimei, and Chen Jiafeng, three people. He said, “A good start is the key to future success. Hence it must not be taken lightly. Every political power, when it is starting to rise, must have this kind of gratifying atmosphere. Just like a seed, it will start to germinate, blossom, and produce fruits.”
The three had no idea what he was trying to say; they had no choice but to bend their ear to listen carefully.
Kou Zhong revealed a deep-in-thought look.
The three thought he was still organizing his thought to continue his discourse, but actually he was contemplating whether he should take out Lu Miaozi’s secret book on history, and turned to the chapter ‘Political Prosperity and Decline, Gains and Losses’.
In the end, Kou Zhong decided not to reveal his trump cards; clearing up his throat, he leaned over the table, and then, deftly, with pragmatic assurance and composure, he said, “But when supporting the declining spirit behind this kind of new political power, a decayed, dilapidated circumstances might rise; therefore, we must frequently reflect upon ourselves, to see if we are corrupted by the power, for instance, collusion and nepotism, rejecting outsiders, unwilling to listen to the voices of opposition, and so on. Hey!”
The three had never expected Kou Zhong would have such argument; they were all taken by surprise.
Kou Zhong went on, “I was just speaking casually; actually, I only want you all to accomplish this principle, ‘nobility is exquisite, but there are more people who are not noble’. Not only the political structure should be streamlined, the soldiers must increase in quality and not in quantity. If we can accomplish these points, then it will be a good beginning, and will be the spirit with which our Shao Shuai Army will be able to rise.”
Xuan Yong’s old face blushed, he said, “Fortunately Shao Shuai said it clearly. Otherwise, subordinate would still think that Shao Shuai wanted to raise your banner and beat the drums to recruit as many soldiers as possible!”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “Our top priority is to encourage production. If everybody goes to war, who will till the fields? Plus our army provision is not enough to deal with enormous expenditures. Our citizens won’t care who you are, as long as you can guarantee that they live in peace and work happily, having ample food and clothing, they will willingly throw their lives for you; other things will be unnecessary.”
Emotionally moved, Ren Meimei said, “I never thought Shao Shuai would have such an acute foresight [lit. stand tall and see far] in the great endeavor to rule a country. We will definitely work according to what Shao Shuai has decreed.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “These principles of mine, anybody who had read history book would understand, but implementing it is not easy at all. Furthermore, it is susceptible to the influence of objective situation. Therefore, I must formulate an outline in the main direction we are going to follow. In the first place is how to consolidate our foundation. This matter will be described in details by Xuan Zongguan.”
Thereupon Xuan Yong explained the plan they already discussed about taking Xiapi and Luoma Lake first, and then the cities surrounding Dong Hai County.
Listening to this, Ren Meimei and Chen Jiafeng’s spirit was greatly aroused.
Kou Zhong said, “Regarding the organization of the army, you guys are the experts, but on the organizing the structure of the government, do you have any ideal candidate in mind?”
The three ‘you look at me, I gaze at you’, no one had any idea who might be able to bear this heavy responsibility.
With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, “This is indeed a very heavy assignment; one small mistake, the line of command with crumble, power distribution will be uneven, and excess personnel and complications might occur. Fortunately I already have someone in mind. This man is called Xu Xingzhi, currently he is at the Flying Horse Ranch, and I already sent a messenger to summon him back. As long as he presides over the general situation, we need not be worried!”
Seeing he appeared to be holding the pearl of wisdom in everything, Xuan Yong, three people, had their confidence doubled.
Kou Zhong continued, “The second issue is how to promote the economy and trade situation. Even if in the future we acquire Donghai, this strategic town for overseas commercial trade, we still need infrastructure that can be considered our own, such as ocean-going fleet of ships with ample experience. Only then will we be able to develop Donghai County to its full potential.”
The three could only return a blank stare; naturally they had no idea how to obtain such a fleet of ships.
Chen Jiafeng proposed, “If we reduce the tax on the river course commerce, perhaps we can encourage more boats to come to our territory to do business.”
Kou Zhong raised his thumb in praise and said, “That’s an excellent idea! While our army is tiny our generals a few, while our expenditure is not high, not only we want to lower the toll [lit. money to buy the road], we also want to keep the people from paying exorbitant tax. These past few years, your Pengliang Hui must have scraped not a few profit, just use that to support the general situation!”
Ren Meimei’s pretty face slightly blushed, she stared at him viciously and said, “Without Shao Shuai’s reminder, we ought to know how to handle this matter. But rebuilding Pengcheng requires considerable expenditures, I am afraid that if the taxation is reduced, perhaps the money we accumulated would be used up in half a year time.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Let me worry about that. If I can put the ‘Duke Yang’s Treasure’ to work, all the problems will be easily solved [lit. (bamboo) splits when it meets the knife's edge]. As for the fleet, I have a thorough plan in mind, which I will share with you a bit later.”
Then, turning to Xuan Yong, he said, “I want you to find me a way to send a letter to one of Wang Shichong’s subordinates by the name of Chen Changlin. If we can have this man to manage Donghai County for us, we will be able to make that county as the most prosperous strategic city in term of foreign trade, which will be very beneficial to us, it might even be difficult to estimate. If not because of the vitality of foreign trade in Jiangdu, Li Zitong would have been finished early on.”
Xuan Yong nodded and said, “I have heard about this man as well, but I didn’t know he is proficient in maritime trade.”
Kou Zhong said, “His ancestors were engaged in maritime trade for ages, plus they were skillful in shipbuilding. Nowadays, it is difficult to find even half a person with this talent; therefore, this matter is very important. In my estimate, he should be returning to the Eastern Capital, Da Xiaojie ought to be able to tell you his whereabouts.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Xuan Yong replied.
And then Kou Zhong asked about the whereabouts of Ku Ge’s defeated army.
Ren Meimei replied, “He has been seen running away toward the ocean, killing and looting along the way; they are probably on the sea by now.”
Kou Zhong nodded. He said, “Military intelligence is number one priority, with Luo Qifei in charge of this, I am very relieved.”
Patting his chest, Chen Jiafeng said, “In the Peng and Liang region, no one is more well-informed than us. Any wind blowing, grass moving, nothing can hide from us.”
Kou Zhong stretched out and said, “In that case, we have nothing to do but to wait for Qifei’s good news. Another good start for us will be to kill that fellow by the name of Du Ren from Luoma Bang!”
The three saluted loudly.