Book 17 Chapter 8 – Beating Someone at His Own Game
After the two boys finished discussing and making proper arrangement with Bu Tianzhi, Bu Tianzhi left first, while the two boys stayed at the wine shop.
In the shop, only three tables were occupied, but because the patrons were playing finger-guessing or other drinking games, and the losers were still shouting and yelling, or even singing at the top of their lungs; the clamor was enough to shook the rafter beams.
This kind of noisy environment provided a perfect screen for the boys to talk about secret matters.
Kou Zhong muttered to himself, “Bu Tianzhi and a bunch of Jukun Bang [giant leviathan gang, first mention Book 2 Chapter 7] Xiongdi think very highly of Xiaodi, and want to follow me, Kou Zhong, to conquer the world. This is actually something I seek but failed to get, but in my heart I have a feeling that I am letting Beautiful Shifu down.”
Xu Ziling let out a cold snort and said, “You are only afraid that I might oppose it! Don’t worry, I won’t stop you this time.”
Shaken, Kou Zhong said, “What’s going on? This does not look like your, Ling Shao’s style.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Earlier Bu Tianzhi told me a lot of things, including Su Jie’s marriage. It was indeed fixed up by Xiang Yushan, Xiao Huan and Yun Yuzhen with their deep plans and distant thoughts; they are aiming at our ‘Duke of Yang’s Treasure’.”
“What?” Kou Zhong blurted out.
Xu Ziling smiled bitterly and said, “We were really too naïve to believe others easily. And now the damage is done, we are forfeiting Su Jie’s lifetime happiness in a crafty and evil man’s hands.”
Kou Zhong stood up abruptly and bolted out the door.
Shocked, Xu Ziling tossed some money down and chased out at full speed.
Kou Zhong stood by the roadside, with his back to him, staring blankly into the distance. Although the street was full of people coming and going, his magnificent figure appeared incomparably lonely.
Xu Ziling caught up with him, and was surprised to find Kou Zhong’s face was wet with tears, which flowed down from his tiger-eyes, but he remained silent.
Xu Ziling was extremely grieved as well, but remembering Shi Feixuan’s story about the elderly immortal concocting pills of immortality, he held back his tears and said, “Don’t cry!”
Heroes don’t cry easily, just because they haven’t felt deeply hurt!
After Fu Junchuo’s death [orig. fragrance disappeared, jade perished], Susu has become their only family. To a certain degree, she was taking Fu Junchuo’s place. No matter how much they have become influential figure [orig. the man of the moment] who scold the world, in Susu’s eyes, they were always big boys without scheming heart. There was a heartfelt sincerity between them that outsiders could hardly understand.
Kou Zhong wiped the tears with his sleeve and spoke heavily, “I am going to kill Yun Yuzhen; nobody can stop me.”
Xu Ziling felt a stabbing pain at the pit of his stomach; he shook his head violently and said, “This is not what a sage would do. Right now it’s like we have a hostage in Xiang Yushan’s hands; we must refrain from shooting at the rat for fear of breaking the vases. We will act only after careful planning; or else Su Jie’s experience will be even more unbearable.”
Kou Zhong’s eyes alternated between clear and dark; it was quite a while before he said meekly, “Xiao Ling! Tell me what to do! Right now not only I hate them, I also hate myself. If it weren’t for us cooperating with that little traitor Xiang Yushan because we wanted to deal with Yuwen Huaji, Su Jie would not be harmed like this.”
“Right now we need to deal with the problem at hand,” Xu Ziling said, “And then we’ll go get the ‘Duke of Yang’s Treasure’, and after everything is settled, I am going back to Baling, to get Su Jie, mother and son, out of there. In the meantime, you can focus on your aspiration, the great undertaking of vying over the world.”
Staring blankly, Kou Zhong said, “How could I not worry? Xiao Xian is an old fox, Xiang Yushan is a little fox; considering their sphere of influence, I …”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “Even if you lead magnificent army without thousands of men and horses to find them, what good would it bring? I already have a plan, and I am confident I will be able to pull it properly and satisfactorily.”
Kou Zhong dejectedly said, “This moment I feel so helpless [orig. every hope turned to dust]; I really want to give up everything, and then …”
“Don’t let your imagination run wild!” Xu Ziling cut him off, “First of all, Ren Bangzhu’s enmity, we cannot but avenge it. Secondly, Zhai Jiao is waiting for your good news. And then a group of our Shuanglong Bang [twin-dragon gang, see Book 6 Chapter 12] Xiongdi is waiting for you at Guanzhong to get the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’ out. Am I missing anybody? This kind of matter, once you started, you can’t stop even if you wanted to. The only thing you need to do right now is to raise your own spirit and be brave to meet the enemy. There is no other way.”
Kou Zhong hyperventilated; it was quite half a day later that he gradually calmed down. “Do we need to see Wang Shichong now?” he asked.
Xu Ziling pulled his elbow and took him walking down the street; he said in low voice, “If you tell Wang Shichong about the mole, what would his reaction be?”
Kou Zhong came to his senses; emotionally moved, he said, “It may be assumed that there won’t be any benefit at all. First of all, he is unwilling to use his own self to brave danger, and then he is already suspicious of everybody around him. It will be just like exposing our own trail to the enemy for no reason.”
“Who else knows about Zhai Jiao?” Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong said, “Those who are able to participate in Wang Shichong’s secret meetings, besides his sons and two emperor relatives [idiom: person with powerful connections], there are his trusted aides Zhang Zhenzhou, Yang Gongqing, Lang Feng, and Song Mengqiu, four people. Other than that, there are several renowned martial art masters who act as his personal bodyguards. In my opinion, Song Mengqiu is the most unreliable.”
Xu Ziling said, “It’s one thing if you don’t like him personally, but whether he can betray Wang Shichong or not, it’s another matter altogether. Putting future development aside, currently Wang Shichong is comparatively strong. If Song Mengqiu colluded with outsiders, it means he is smashing his own rice bowl [fig. livelihood]; what good would it be for him? Would Dugu Feng and Yang Dong be able to put a traitor general in an important position?”
Kou Zhong was silenced immediately; embarrassed, he said, “This moment my heart is like a knocked-out deer, I am out of my wits; you are more clear-headed.”
Xu Ziling revealed a mixture hard-to-distinguish laughing and crying expression on his face; he cursed, “It’s lucky that in this kind of situation you still want to make me happy. ‘Heart like a knocked-out deer’ generally describes a woman having her heart moved by a man; how could it be applied to you? Tell me, who are those martial art masters?”
Kou Zhong said, “Naturally there are a bunch of them who are there just to eat, but those who are privy to the secrets include Ouyang Xiyi, Ke Feng Daoren [Taoist priest], one who is called ‘the Iron Hook’, that kid Chen Changlin, and the beauty Linglong Jiao, who came from Qiuci, world famous for their music and dancing skills. This woman has always been not very friendly to me, so I don’t think she is the spy. Ouyang Xiyi don’t have any problem even more, and Ke Feng Daoren takes a very good care of me. Hey!”
The two boys’ four eyes met immediately.
Because according to Kou Zhong’s reasoning, those who are especially friendly to him have a greater chance to be the mole.
But Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “Aren’t we looking for a hidden ghost here? This man appears to have immortal style and Tao [‘the way’] bones, a man outside secular world, who regards fame and wealth as dirt; how could he be a traitor? On the contrary that Chen Changlin is young and vigorous; if either Shen Luoyan or Dugu Feng [phoenix] lured him with sex, he would crawl in front of the beauty’s bed and perhaps won’t even care if his ancestors are being sold!”
Xu Ziling sneered and said, “In term of having immortal style and Tao bones, won’t Ke Feng match Pi Chen [see Book 14 Chapter 11]?”
Kou Zhong was shaken. He said, “Of course he is still a notch below. I don’t know what kind of demonic skill Pi Chen trained; so demonic that he appears like immortal descending into the mortal world.”
Xu Ziling said, “If Lang Feng, or perhaps Song Mengqiu, surrendered to the enemy, perhaps Wang Shichong would not be able to even enter the city gate; therefore, I am sure they are not the problem. On the contrary, Zhang Zhenzhou and Yang Gongqing have been stationed outside for a long time; perhaps when they saw Li Mi’s increasing power, it is very reasonable to guess that they threw their lot with him.”
Kou Zhong suddenly pulled Xu Ziling into a side lane; he spoke in a low voice, “I think it is quite possible that Ke Feng is the spy. Last night, when we were besieged on the Tianjin Bridge, he strongly advocated to send the troops to help us, unlike the absolutely-not-the-spy Ouyang Xiyi who was strongly opposing it.”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, “Problem is that we cannot prove it based on that matter alone. What kind of fellow is he? Why did Wang Shichong trust him so much?”
Kou Zhong said, “He seems to be from a Taoist sect near Luoyang somewhere. Ouyang Xiyi even said that the people from this Taoist sect rarely interfere with Jiangju matters, so this time Wang Shichong gained a considerable face. That was the reason I said he can’t be the spy. I think we’d better focus our attention on that kid Chen Changlin; let’s see if he is going out to have a tryst with Shen Luoyan.”
Suddenly Xu Ziling was jolted; he said, “Did he come from the Laojun Guan [Taoist monastery] on the summit of Cuiyun Peak of Mount Mang [See Book 16 Chapter 11]?”
Kou Zhong was dumbstruck. “How did you know that?” he asked.
Xu Ziling spoke decisively, “We must see Wang Shichong immediately. I am positive the spy is demon Taoist Ke Feng. There is not much time, I’ll explain it to you on the way.”
Inside the secret chamber.
Finished listening, Wang Shichong’s countenance changed; he said, “Is there such thing? Laojun Temple’s Zhuchi [manager, see my earlier note, Book 16 Chapter 11] Bi Chen Xianzhang [I translated this as ‘immortal elder’ earlier, must be a term of respect to address Taoist Priest] is a friend of mine for many years; how could Ke Feng harm me?”
This time it was Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s turn to have their countenance changed. “Pi Chen?” they blurted out.
Wang Shichong was surprised, “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Kou Zhong said, “Bi Chen’s real name is Pi Chen, the Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] of the other demonic sect outside Yin Gui Pai; as for what kind of demonic method they are using, I, myself, am not too clear. But Liao Kong has personally told Xiao Ling that Liaojun Temple has fallen under some crafty scoundrels’ control, and we do know Pi Chen’s background. Ke Feng is the spy, I no longer have any doubt. Don’t forget that last night he was the one who suggested we go to war.”
Evidently Wang Shichong’s mind was in chaos; he asked, “How could Liao Kong reveal this information to Ziling for no reason?”
So Xu Ziling told him about his visit to see Shi Feixuan that morning. Naturally he did not say anything about the Jade Annulus of He Clan being stolen by them.
Finally Wang Shichong was convinced. “What do we do now?” he asked.
Kou Zhong excitedly said, “Right now only you, me and Xiao Ling know about this matter. Later on we will use a scheme within a scheme, I guarantee Shen Luoyan will fail miserably [orig. capsize in the ditch], and will suffer a great loss.”
※ ※ ※
When the two boys stepped out of the Shangshu Mansion, their mood was greatly different; at least their objective was clear before their eyes, so that they had the direction on what they were fighting for.
The guards brought their horses out.
The two were just about to mount their horses, when Ke Feng’s voice rang out from behind, “Two Xiao Xiong, please wait for me.”
Kou Zhong turned around and saluted, “Does Daozhang [Taoist Priest] have any urgent matter to discuss? I am in a hurry to send my humble friend out of the city.”
Ke Feng caught up with them and said with a smile, “This must be Kou Xiao Xiong’s good partner Ziling Xiao Xiong. Pindao [impoverished Taoist] just want to say hello!”
And then he casually asked, “Where is Xu Xiao Xiong going?”
Pretending to be not in the mood to chitchat, Xu Ziling replied without thinking, “To Huaiyang.”
Kou Zhong’s countenance immediately became very unnatural; pretending to be very much in earnestness, he lowered his voice and said, “Even Wanggong only has partial information [orig. to know the first, but not know the second; Daozhang, please do us a big favor, you must not breathe a word.”
Ke Feng solemnly said, “What is it? Why is it so serious that Xu Xiao Xiong must leave town immediately? Is there anything Pindao can do to help?”
Xu Ziling put on an awkward expression as if he had just said something that he should not say; he stammered, “Because this matter involves the safety of some friends, we would appreciate it very much if Daozhang could keep it strictly confidential.”
Frowning, Ke Feng asked, “Does that mean Xu Xiao Xiong is not going to participate in our operation tomorrow?”
Smiling ruefully, Kou Zhong replied, “It came up very suddenly, Xiao Ling has no choice but to rush to that place.”
Ke Feng nodded and said, “In that case, Pindao is not going to waste Xu Xiao Xiong’s time anymore. As long as you are careful in everything, your esteemed friend will be able to turn misfortune into blessing.”
The two urged their horses to gallop out of the Imperial City via the eastern gate. When they reached the city gate, they handed over the command tablet issued by Wang Shichong himself, plus the captain of the guards recognized Kou Zhong, so they were able to leave the city without any trouble.
Outside the city, the two made an act of galloping over the mountains and fields for about ten li before stopping on a hilltop to rest and let the horses have a breather.
After gazing into the distance from the top of the hill for half a day, Kou Zhong said, “There shouldn’t be anybody dare to tail us, right?”
Facing the cool night breeze, Xu Ziling took a deep breath. Not in a good mood, he said, “The enemy surely can send information via flying pigeon or something like that to notify their cronies in Huaiyang, and spread out the net to wait for me. When I meet with Zhai Jiao, with a momentum of ten-thousand-catty thunderbolt they would swoop us in one go to get rid of any problem later on. Why would they spend so much energy to trail me?”
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, “My brain is still not quite working yet. Ay! Thinking about Su Jie, I just want to cry.”
Xu Ziling coldly said, “Go ahead and cry. Afterwards, don’t cry anymore. The only thing we must do right now is to be strong enough to face all the unfortunate things that already happened, and then do our best to deal with the crisis before our eyes. I think Ke Feng has been fooled. Now it’s Shen Luoyan’s turn, and later on, Li Mi. It’s almost time! You’d better go back to town to avoid any suspicion.”
“Please be careful!” Kou Zhong said.
Xu Ziling nodded, “So must you!” he said.
※ ※ ※
The door opened. The Song Clan’s martial art master guarding the door was stunned. “Turns out it’s Kou Ye. May I ask if you are looking for Qi Shu [seventh uncle], or San Xiaojie [third miss]?”
Stepping over the courtyard gate, Kou Zhong replied, “If San Xiaojie had not gone to bed, I’d like to ask her a couple of questions.”
The man led him toward the main residential building, while another man took his horse away. Naturally there ought to be another man flying toward the inner courtyard to notify Song Yuzhi. Nobody did not act deferential and proud to have the honor to serve him.
When they reached the main hall and Kou Zhong sat down, the young man taking him inside, whose name was Song Jie, personally served him fragrant tea and apologetically said, “All the maids have retreated to the rear courtyard to rest; who would have thought that Kou Ye would suddenly arrive to grace us with your presence?”
Kou Zhong thought that the Song Clan was worthy to be counted as the number one big clan in the south; any random captain of the gatekeepers, not only his martial art skill was not bad, his speech and demeanor were decent and appropriate to the occasion. Smiling, he said, “I don’t dare! There’s no need for Song Xiong to be overly courteous.”
Taking the offered tea, he took a sip and said, “Why don’t Song Xiong sit down and talk?”
Song Jie smiled and said, “It’s against the rules, Kou Ye please fell free to ask. Fortunately the one Kou Ye wanted to see is San Xiaojie, because Qi Shu still attended a banquet and has not returned.”
Kou Zhong took another sip of the hot tea; emotionally moved, he said, “What kind of tea is this? It’s so fragrant!”
Song Yuzhi’s voice responded, “That is West Lake’s Longjing Tea. If it were brewed using local Hupau [lit. tiger paw] spring water, it would give out even more sweet smelling and clear taste, mouthwatering and thirst quenching; it is known as double-ultimates.”
Kou Zhong turned his head to look at her; his eyes immediately brightened.
She was wearing silk woven pure white dress, with the collar, breast, sleeves, skirt, and other places adorned with perfectly matched plum colored embroidery. The flower’s shape lucid and elegant, the color and luster pleasing to the eye, what is true and what is false in stark contrast, the gradation distinct. Plus the upper outer garment soft and elegant, light and smooth. Worn by this beauty, it was so touching, so moving.
Song Jie quickly asked to be excused.
Without the slightest bit of emotion on her face, Song Yuzhi sat down on a chair by the window opposite him, so the two of them were separated by the entire hall, which was nearly two and a half zhang wide.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “To be quite honest, when I saw San Xiaojie just now, I nearly wanted to flee absent-mindedly. Because looking at San Xiaojie’s brilliant splendor, which is like the bright moon in the sky, I was suddenly overwhelmed with an intense feeling of shame of my own inferiority.”
Song Yuzhi crossly said, “You are the best in coaxing a child, the best at talking insincere words. Do you know what time is it now?”
Giggling, Kou Zhong said, “That was exactly what I wanted to ask: what time is it now? How come San Xiaojie is not in bed yet?”
Evidently Song Yuzhi was helpless dealing with him; she angrily said, “I don’t want to blather with you; if you are not going to tell me the reason of your visit this late at night, I am going to ignore you.”
In deadly earnest, Kou Zhong said, “I was hoping I could spend the night here.”
Song Yuzhi’s almond eyes grew big. “What?” she blurted.
Kou Zhong crossed his legs, assuming a rogue, rascally demeanor, and then calmly and nonchalantly said, “Tonight Xiaodi remains to be the one who is cut off from others [idiom: one who has chosen to follow a solitary path], no more me and Xiao Ling take turns on night vigil while sleeping on the street. I want to get a good night sleep, so I came to implore San Xiaojie to offer shelter. Ay! Tender village is the hero’s burial mound; to the other end of the world, where is my home?”
Listening to his last two sentences, which were incongruous nonsense, although fully aware that this kid was casually making fun of her, Song Yuzhi was still unable to refrain from smiling; she had to struggle not to laugh as she said, Get lost! Go to Wang Shichong and ask him to offer shelter to you, the tramp!”
Kou Zhong stood up to his full height, stretched his limbs, and said, “Where is San Xiaojie’s boudoir? If I have no place to stay, I will have to borrow San Xiaojie’s fragrant room, ha! San Xiaojie’s fragrant room must be particularly savory.”
Just like that, and he walked toward the inner hall.
Song Yuzhi jumped out of her skin; angered and annoyed, she ran after him, stretching out her finger to seal the vital acupoint on his back.
This finger attack carried ‘hatred’ in it, naturally it was quite different from an ordinary move.
Who would have thought that Kou Zhong took the attack and collapsed.
Song Yuzhi had never imagined that Kou Zhong did not even dodge or run; quickly she dashed forward to hold him up.
Paralyzed, Kou Zhong seemed to be falling into her fragrant bosom, while producing a loud snoring noise.
It was only then did Song Yuzhi realize that she had fallen into a crafty scoundrel’s trap.