Book 4 Chapter 8 – Bird Inside The Cage
Indeed other than Zhai Jiao, Tu Shufang was the most influential person in the Longtou Mansion. That very same day they were excused from the drudgery of the kitchen work, and their accommodation was also upgraded to the guards’ living quarters at the inner courtyard, where each person had a spacious bed to sleep on.
For the past many years, the two boys have been sitting and lying down together like form and shadow; momentarily they felt unaccustomed to it, but they also felt it was a novel experience.
Whenever Susu had spare time, she would visit them, she also sewed new clothes for them. The sister-brother feeling grew even deeper as they lived happily together.
Tu Shufang grew fond of the boys as well; he unreservedly passed on his most exquisite skill of ‘Twelve-hand Qinna Meridian-severing Technique’, he even gave them pointers in their other martial arts.
Tu Shufang was able to become the Longtou Mansion’s Zongguan, certainly it was not by luck at all. In Jianghu, he was an all-powerful figure [orig. ‘rebuke the Heaven and Earth’]. Within the Wagang Army, in term of martial art skill he ranked under Zhai Rang, Li Mi and Wang Bo. Receiving this kind of martial art master’s direction, naturally the two boys’ skill advanced by leaps and bounds.
When this great Tu Shufang taught them acupoint sealing technique, he said, “Everybody’s arteries, veins and qi are like the lines on our palms, no two are alike. Also, following the time of the day, the weather, different air circulation, the timing must be flexible, the response adaptable, otherwise it will be difficult to achieve the desired effect.”
“That’s easy,” Kou Zhong cheerfully said, “As long as we send a stream of true qi first, and the mind following the qi, we can sense what is true and what is false.”
Tu Shufang was shaken, “Mind following qi?” he said, “Are you saying that after the true qi enters someone else’s body you can still interact with the condition of that stream of true qi?”
Xu Ziling nodded, “Exactly,” he said, “We always do it that way, it’s really fun!”
With an incredulous expression on his face Tu Shufang said, “That kind of realm, I am afraid even Da Longtou is not able to achieve. Could it be that ‘Secret to Long Life’ is really that formidable?”
After spending time together for several days, Kou and Xu already told him what happened in the past, hence he was clear about the origin of the two boys’ martial art.
Kou Zhong said excitedly, “Even that chicken freak Yuwen Wudi was beaten by us that he covered his head and sneaked away like a rat. Turns out our internal energy is so unusual.”
Tu Shufang said in shock, “You mean Yuwen Wudi of the Yuwen Clan?” This part they have yet to tell Tu Shufang, hence they told him what happened.
Tu Shufang shook his head and sighed, “Over time, perhaps the two of you will be added to Ning Daoqi’s rank. When I learned ‘Twelve-hand Qinna Meridian-severing Technique’ from Enshi [benevolent master], I had to train hard for three years before making a small progress. You only learned it for three days and already have clear and logical understanding; the only thing lacking is maturity. If I am telling it to others, nobody would believe me.”
Kou Zhong was about to speak, one of the underlings came to report that Shen Luoyan wanted to see them.
Tu Shufang was already aware of their conflict with Shen Luoyan; he said, “Even if she had gargantuan guts, she would not dare to behave atrociously in here. Let me come with you, I want to see what kind of trick she is going to play against you.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had their own difficulty, because they had not told Tu Shufang the matter concerning Duke Yang Treasure; naturally they were afraid Shen Luoyang might bring it up. Thereupon Kou Zhong said, “We are not afraid of her. Let us deal with her alone.”
Tu Shufang thought that he was showing off, hence he did not insist.
The two boys went to the main hall and saw Shen Luoyan was enjoying a pot of indoor plant.
It was the first time that the two boys set foot on this main hall, which Wagang Army considered ‘Main Conference Hall’. The lobby of this leader’s mansion was magnificent and extravagant. The layout was set according to ‘seat on the north facing south, three pillars seven beams, resting-on-the-mountain style’, which was heavy with meaning and symbolism.
The hall was furnished with primarily red wood furniture, the four walls were filled with famous paintings. Six octagonal palace lanterns were hanging from the beam; rich, beautiful, and elegant. Most impressive of all, beyond the rectangular window that all four sides were highly decorated, one could see the hundred years old tree and the dancing and swaying bamboo grove outside, along with the autumn sun, which shone its light into the hall, resembling the nature itself.
It was in this mesmerizing scenery that this beautiful Shen Luoyan, wearing her charming face barely hidden behind a fashionable veiled hat, appeared before the two boys. From their angle of view, the veil at back of the hat hung down to her waist, the skirt of the hat drooped down over her arms and was open, trailing over her shoulders, greatly amplifying the elegance silhouette of her back and shoulders. Watching all of these, the two boys momentarily could only stare blankly.
Shen Luoyan slowly turned around, with sweet, enthralling smile she said, “I came to make peace with you!”
Hearing this, the two boys looked at each other. If this b1tch was really willing to make peace, that means the sun could also rise from the west.
Kou Zhong smirked and said, “And the condition?”
Shen Luoyan lightly took jade steps, lithely and with flair went over to the two boys. It was only then did they find out that her clothes was rather revealing. It was an embroidered butterfly gown with round neck and narrow, straight sleeve, reaching down toward her feet. The line and pattern were delicate, the color simple yet elegant; but the neckline was low, almost reaching to her cleavage, exposing her fully rounded, milky white breasts.
Noticing the two boys’ stare was dead centered her silky bosom, she was greatly displeased, “How can you be this rude, staring on certain place on my body?”
‘Glug!’ Kou Zhong swallowed his saliva; having difficulty breathing, he said, “Clearly it was you who came here to seduce us; just consider us surrendering to you. All right, I’ll take you as my wife for the night.”
Shen Luoyan cast him a sidelong glance and said, “A woman cannot have two husbands, which one of you should I marry?”
Xu Ziling was more clear-headed; he cautiously said, “Are you thinking of driving a wedge between us, brothers?”
Shen Luoyan forced a smiled and said, “Is the brotherly feeling between you that weak? Ay! I am not here to blather with you; back to the topic: may I ask, do you want these two antidotes?” Spreading her jade palm, she showed two light green pills, which, in the two boys’ eyes, looked dazzling.
Kou Zhong recalled that they had already fallen into her trap once, he was on alert inwardly. He smiled and said, “How do we know this is not ‘piercing intestine poison’? And then when we get to the Yellow Springs, you would jeer at us.”
Shen Luoyan returned the pills into her bosom. Nonchalantly she said, “If you don’t want it, then let’s forget about it. Just don’t say that I, Shen Luoyan, did not remember you. Those who took ‘strength-scattering’ drug and did not take the antidote within ten days will become useless people who cannot train internal energy forever. At that time, don’t you regret it!”
Seeing her coy smile and flirtatious manner, Xu Ziling knew clearly that her words were incomparably sinister; anger arose in his heart, “Even if we die, we won’t need people like you to feel sorry for us.”
Shen Luoyan pretended to be surprised, “Why do you treat me like you have ten grievances and nine animosities against me? Whatever Luoyan did, I do it all for the sake of Wagang Army. Since you sincerely want to rely on Da Longtou’s help, we are on the same side; we ought to make peace now!”
Kou Zhong sneered and said, “You just did it all for your Pushan whatever Duke Mi. Ha! You still want us to have a good impression on you? Just like last time, not only we helped you breaking Qin Shubao’s heavy siege, we helped you turned defeat into victory. Those many different kinds of favor, you repeatedly harmed us in return. Now I have thought it through, I don’t want you, this b1tch, to accompany me even for one night!”
Shen Luoyan did not seem to take any offence at all, she only said crossly, “Even though you repeatedly insulted me, I have yet made any move against you, two little demons; are you still saying I don’t remember past friendships? All right! En garde!”
The two boys were startled; they have forgotten all about any ‘moon in the water’ mental cultivation, and retreated hastily and in fear.
Actually, Shen Luoyan did not have any intention to make any move; laughing merrily like quivering flower stems she said, “Turns out somebody already neutralized the poison in your body. No wonder you don’t want to be seduced. But your experience is really shallow; with only an empty threat others can see through you clearly.”
The two boys lost too much face; without any choice they had to curse their own uselessness. At the same time they realized that if they were not confused and disoriented by the seduction of her alluring beauty, how could they fail to see whether her move was fake or real? A real martial art master would never be confused by the charm of a woman.
Shen Luoyan turned around and walked over toward a redwood table and chairs set on the corner. She sat down, placed her elbows on the table, struck a very charming posture with her hands supporting her chin, and said tenderly, “My two Xiao Didi [little younger brother] who want to marry me, sit down! The time to talk has come.”
Displeased, Xu Ziling said, “What makes you think that you can boss us around?”
Shen Luoyan calmly replied, “Does the word ‘someone’s treasure’ carry enough weight?”
Immediately the two boys’ countenance changed.
Just based on this one sentence, they knew that Shen Luoyan had planted a spy in the Big Boss Mansion. Moreover, the spy’s status could not be low, so that she knew that the two boys have concealed the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’ matter from the people in the Big Boss Mansion.
If this matter leaked out, it would be greatly disadvantageous to the two boys. Worse yet, nobody knew what kind of method Zhai Rang was going to take to deal with them.
Helplessly they had to sit across from her.
Shen Luoyan rolled her beautiful eyes on the two boys’ faces for a moment before smiling sweetly and said, “If I could pick, I will choose Xiao Ling as my husband, and Xiao Zhong as my lover. Then the two little demons could share nujia’s cup of soup.” [reminder: nujia – female slave, a humble way a woman referring to self.]
Kou Zhong dejectedly said, “Beautiful must not toy with us, just be direct!”
In all honesty, even Shen Luoyan herself did not understand why she loved to tease them. All along she had always been showing her proud and arrogant side to men, and that was not a fake display. But when dealing with these two boys, unwittingly she had the urge to tease and make fun of them in regards of men-women relationship.
Chapter 8, Part 2
Ysabel, Jaya, Komeng, HPC, Weed, Anh, you are welcome. Sky, Drax, I don't know ... as of right now, I don't have a good impression on her. She is too ruthless for my taste. Critical, sorry, not yet ...
Shen Luoyan sighed and said, “Do you understand the present situation? First of all, the people of Da Longtou Mansion do not allow you to leave the mansion even for half a step. Secondly, I may do everything in my power to prevent you from leaving Xingyang. Therefore, although presently you appear to be free and easy, the fact is, you are no more than birds inside the cage; you have absolutely no power to be independent.”
“You don’t need to worry about that,” Xu Ziling coldly said.
Shen Luoyan lowered her voice and said, “Right now within the Wagang Army, I am the only one who knew that you have the secret to ‘Duke Yang Treasure’ in you, but if I reveal it, even Nujia does not know what kind of situation might develop. Just a friendly reminder, Wagang Army has specialists in extracting confession by torture, those experts will not be as polite and fun as I am.”
“If that’s the case,” Kou Zhong wondered, “Why do you still need to be this longwinded?”
“Because,” Shen Luoyan replied, “I have a favorable impression toward you! I do not wish to see you being tortured that while still alive, you will be reduced to become crippled people. Furthermore, it will also implicate your Su Jie. Although she could be considered Wang Bodang’s woman, under that kind of circumstances, even Wang Bodang himself won’t shield her.”
The two boys were greatly shaken; on one hand they knew she had their Achilles hell, on the other hand, now they knew the traitor’s name who raped and humiliated their Su Jie.
Looking at the two boys’ expression, Shen Luoyan was satisfied. “Therefore,” she said, “It would be best if we can make a fair dealing. My two good Xiao Didi, what do you say?”
Kou Zhong felt that they had fallen into absolute disadvantageous position, that they were being led by the nose by this ‘concealed dagger within a smile’ beauty. With a wry smile he said, “If we knew where the treasure is hidden, we would have plundered it early on; why would we want to bicker with you in a hopelessly muddled way like a pair of husband and wife?”
Shen Luoyan shrugged her shoulders and said nonchalantly, “All right! In that case I’ll go see Miss immediately, let’s see how she is going to handle you, the two little demons.”
Kou Zhong smiled apologetically and said, “Everything is negotiable. If you want the location of the treasure, we can casually give you one to satisfy your curiosity!”
Shen Luoyan angrily said, “Looks like you absolutely don’t know the meaning of regret. Very well! Let’s not talk about whether you really don’t know or just pretend not to know the location of the treasure, tell me quickly why Miss is so protective of you? And don’t tell me that it is as simple as because you rescued her little maid.”
The two boys immediately felt their scalp grew numbed. Who could tell whether Shen Luoyan was not Zu Junyan’s accomplice?
Shen Luoyan straightened her tender body, her beautiful eyes flashed with cold rays. “Since you arrived here, Miss has deployed a troop division under Da Longtou’s direct command from outside the city, their number reaches five hundred men. What actually is going on here?”
By this time the two boys were already fully occupied by bemoaning the craftiness of this lovely b1tch; they hurriedly racked their brains to get out of this situation.
Kou Zhong rolled his eyes; he was about to concoct some stories when Shen Luoyan said with a laugh, “Are you thinking of lying to me?”
Right this moment, when the two boys were completely at a loss of what to say, one of Shen Luoyan’s underlings rushed in and reported, “Our troops have attacked and captured Luoxing [sic] Storehouse [it was Xingluo in the previous chapter]; Duke Mi is sending his order to send reinforcement right away, would Miss please make decision.”
Shen Luoyan stood up in great delight; she said to the two boys, “I have no time to chat nonsense with you right now, plus you cannot leave anyway, so I’ll find another day to deal with you, two little demons!” Finished speaking she left in a hurry.
Recalling that the Big Boss Zhai Rang would soon return, the two boys could not stop their hearts from thumping wildly. Since Zu Junyan was Li Mi’s trusted aide, would they incite conflict between those two?
That evening, Shen Luoyan led the army leaving the city. Almost at the same time, Zhai Jiao also left the city. But Tu Shufang would not reveal her destination; everything seemed to be very mysterious.
Without Zhai Jiao, the Zhai Mansion immediately regained its liveliness, everybody seemed to be breathing a bit easier. Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong and Susu, three people ate their dinner together. Soon afterwards, Tu Shufang came in to join them. He asked about Shen Luoyan. Kou Zhong mentioned the part about neutralizing the poison, but he did not say anything about the hidden treasure.
By speaking half-truth half-lie like this, Tu Shufang did not suspect anything. He only expressed his great amazement that they were able to force the strength-scattering drug out of their body using their internal energy.
But while talking about the capture of Luoxing Storehouse, Tu Shufang actually looked very worried. He sighed and said, “The reason we are able to capture Luokou Storehouse this time lies entirely in Duke Mi’s merit in deploying soldiers and dispatching generals. Although nominally Zhai Ye is the head, in reality the power actually lies in Duke Mi’s hands.”
Li Jing’s analysis remained fresh the three people’s mind, naturally they understood the cause of his concern.
Tu Shufang also said, “Luokou fell, the imperial court must be shocked. Right now Yang Guang must be thinking of regaining Luokou at all cost by pulling things around. He must have ordered Liu Changgong and Pei Renji, two people to separately deploy their main forces from Luoyang and Hulao [tiger cage] to attack our troops at Luokou from two directions. If this battle is won, then we can be considered truly obtain Luoxing Storehouse. Otherwise we will have to return everything, both the capital and the interest.”
After Tu Shufang left, Kou Zhong spoke in high spirit, “Shen Poniang went out to war, Su Jie’s Big Miss also left and we don’t know where she went. If we don’t leave now, what are we waiting for?”
Susu mournfully said, “Why don’t you two leave by yourselves?”
Xu Ziling was stunned, “That kind of master who regarded you as a gift they could give others at will, why is Su Jie so reluctant to leave?” he asked.
Susu sobbed and said, “Don’t say anymore. This is for Miss’ sake. How could I abandon her and leave in this kind of situation?”
The two boys were panicked; they busily raised their sleeves to wipe her tears.
Kou Zhong gently said, “My good Jiejie, please don’t cry; we’ll stay with you. Ay! But even if we stay, we won’t do you any good.”
Susu said, “After Laoye comes back, Jiejie will leave with you!”
For lack of better option, the two boys could only nod their agreement.
Early morning the next day, the two boys woke up and practiced their martial art in the big garden at the rear courtyard, but Tu Shufang did not show up.
Due to Tu Shufang’s influence, the two boys had full access to any weapon in the armory. This moment the two boys were in high spirit, they simply took out a bunch of different types of weapons: swords and spears, sabers and halberds, long weapons, short arms, they tried it all, testing all kinds of weapon, and were having a lot of fun.
Susu cheered on the side. The three sister and brothers had a happy and warm relationship.
Gradually there were more and more maids and servants coming and going; they did not want to show off too much, plus the boys were scared at the maids’ passionate looks and coquettish glances, hence they called it a day. After taking a bath they changed into the new clothes Susu sewed for them. In their excitement, they wanted to seize this opportunity to slip away to the streets.
Somewhat nervous, the three of them sneaked out via the back door. Once they reached the street, they saw dead leaves covering the road; a desolate autumn scenery. Thinking about from the day they first met until today, two years had passed in the blink of an eye, right now Li Jing’s whereabouts was unknown; they could not help feeling emotional.
Amidst the whistling autumn breeze, the three people walked side by side, with Susu holding on to the crook of the two boys’ arms, strolling along the street.
The city of Xingyang was surprisingly thriving. According to Susu, it was due to Li Mi’s deep understanding on how to win the people’s hearts; therefore, the people in nearby towns and counties had their hearts attached to them while obtaining Wagang Army’s protection.
After walking not even half a block, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling became aware of people on their trail. What they were most afraid of was Shen Luoyan, but since they knew she was out of town, there ought to be no one else who could deal with them. Therefore, they did not take it to heart and simply continued walking while joking, talking and laughing.
In the north, due to heavy influence of non-Han [hu] people, in general men and women were more unrestrained by convention. Therefore, although the three of them were having fun affectionately with each other in public, passers-by did not think it strange.
The three of them found a dumpling restaurant, so they sat down and ate and drank as much as they liked.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “After this we’ll go to cosmetics store, let Su Jie add flowers on brocade [i.e. decorating something that is already perfect], so that she will be more beautiful and alluring, and will pull men’s heart even more.”
Xu Ziling excitedly joined in, “And then we’ll go to silk and satin store, so that relying on her pair of magical hands, Su Jie can sew herself a gorgeous new clothes to celebrate the New Year.”
Susu nodded slightly, but her countenance remained grim.
Gnashing his teeth, Kou Zhong said, “Su Jie, please be assured that one day we will slaughter this lecherous traitor Wang Bodang so that Jiejie can purge your disgrace and wash away your hatred.”
Susu’s flower-like countenance turned pale, “How did you know it was him?” she asked, “You must never mention this matter anymore. Speaking about martial art skill, within Wagang Army, after Laoye and Duke Mi, he ranks next in line.”
And then she turned sad again and said, “This is the fate of a slave servant, Jiejie has to accept the misfortunes as decreed by fate. I forbid you to let your imagination run wild regarding this matter.”
The two boys remained silent in disappointment.
At this point, they suddenly sensed that there was someone coming straight at them from the front door. Kou and Xu turned their gaze toward the approaching person, and were shocked.
Turned out it was a Baling Bang member who they once thought had a strong yiqi toward them, the son of the boss of Cuibi Lou of Pengcheng city, Xiang Yushan.