Book 28 Chapter 3 – Tyrannical and Overbearing
Hanfu was a city between Xiangyang and Jingling. Although in term of scale it could not be compared to Xiangyang and Jingling, but due to its location by the Han River, it had strong grip on major water and land routes, hence it was very prosperous.
Although this city was within the Jianghuai Army’s sphere of influence, it was not under Du Fuwei’s direct governance; instead, it was handed over to the local gangs and societies to deal with the city’s internal affairs, hence it was a bit like Xiangyang city.
By dusk that day, after rushing the whole way, Kou Zhong and the others reached the official road south of Han River. From here, if they follow the official road for about ten li, they would enter the city.
Because they were afraid that the spies from Li Yuanji and Kang Qiaoli’s side would discover their whereabouts, they especially chose wild, mountainous country to hasten on with their journey. Therefore, it was only this moment that they had the weird feeling that they had returned to the land of the living.
Looking out from the forest toward the official road, they saw a large open space on the other side of the official road, where more than a hundred traveling merchants and passers-by were spread across more than a dozen shacks, big and small, constructed of wood and bamboo, as well as several empty mule and horse-drawn carriages parked by the roadside.
Some of the sheds offered tea, but some other offered meals; it was very noisy.
Stunned, Kou Zhong asked, “What’s going on here?”
Tuli explained, “This is the last major relay station [for post horses] on the west side of Hannan [lit. south of Han (River)]. All the traveling merchants from the cities and towns west of Hannan, either buying or selling to and from the big cities north and south of the river, will have to transport their goods via waterway to Hanfu first; therefore, these official roads are always busy with unending stream of horses and carriages going back and forth.”
Kou Zhong could not help thinking about Longyou Bang [roaming dragon gang, Book 22 Chapter 3]; nodding his head, he said, “Turns out Hannan is a big distribution center; no wonder it is bustling with noise and excitement. Hey! Shall we eat here? Our breakfast is late by nearly four sichen.”
Knitting his brows, Tuli said, “We ran around like this, how could we escape the enemy’s eyes and ears? I dare say that among those people eating inside those shacks, there will be Li Yuanji’s spies watching people coming and going.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Hiding to the east and running away to the west is not a way out. From the two groups of enemies pursuing us, there must be some falcons high in the sky that can recognize people. Taking wild, mountainous country pathways may not necessarily be the safest route.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Ling Shao’s way of thinking and stratagems are all displaying originality, making it difficult for others to guess. Since Ling Shao said so, Xiaodi has a more brazen idea; I guarantee that the enemy will be thrown into confusion and will lose their mind.”
Tuli was getting used to these two boys’ unpredictable style of conduct; he cheerfully said, “Tell us quickly!”
Kou Zhong focused his power into his eyes. Scanning the several sheds back and forth with his luminous eyes, he spoke heavily, “You said that those men ought to be the spies sent by Li Yuanji.”
Focusing his own eyes, Tuli also looked on. He saw most of the men congregating inside three of the shacks had weapons with them; they looked like men who made their living in Jianghu. Feeling a big headache, he said, “That is very difficult to say.”
Proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, “Ling Shao, what do you say?”
Xu Ziling laughed and cursed, “You got fart, let it out! Isn’t it hard for you to keep it inside your belly?”
Tuli could not help smiling; his originally nervous mood started to relax.
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Kou Zhong said, “Of those three shacks, only those three tables on the left, by the noodle shop door, have the optimum position to completely monitor both ends of the official road at just one glance. Therefore, if there are any Li Family’s man, it will be one of the diners on those tables.”
The other two looked at the three tables he was referring to. Each table had four to six persons. One of the tables had finished with their meals, they were just drinking tea and chatting. All six men looked heroic with build like white horse; while chatting and drinking, their eyes continuously scanned the traveling merchant and passers-by going back and forth along the road.
Kou Zhong rose up to his full height, “Come!” he said, “I guarantee that based on what we know plus their reaction when they suddenly see us, I am not accusing them wrongly.”
The three suddenly appeared outside their target shack and continued inside in large strides. The six big men’s countenance changed immediately; unconsciously they lowered their head to avoid looking at the three men’s eyes.
Because of the three’s outstanding appearance and tall and study body shape, plus Tuli did not look like a Han from the Central Earth, they immediately attracted the attention of most people in the shack.
Kou Zhong grabbed the waiter, who was hurriedly walking past him, and said loudly, “Get Laozi a clean, big and wide table.”
If the waiter did not see Kou Zhong’s Jianghu young thug terrifying appearance, he would certainly curse him, but this moment he could only suppress his anger and spoke in low voice with bitter expression, “Daye, you can see it for yourself, all the tables are occupied. If Daye and your honorable friends do not wish to sit separately, would you please wait a moment?”
Kou Zhong pointed to the table with six men, whom he suspected to be the Li Family’s warriors, and spoke with rough voice, rough manner, “Can’t that table be freed up? You have finished eating, why are you still hanging on to that table?”
All the fifty, sixty people sitting around the thirteen tables in the shack immediately quieted down that the crow and peacock made no sound. Even someone who had just made his debut in Jianghu would know that Kou Zhong, three men, were deliberately stirring up trouble; moreover, they seemed to be rushing into it by facing the apparently many men, great force – the side with the stronger six men against three.
All the six men’s countenance changed immediately, twelve eyes were burning with rage. The waiter was stuck with no room to advance or to retreat, but then one of the six stood up and tossed a string of silver pieces, and spoke with forced laughter, “Brothers, let’s go!”
Without saying anything, the other five hurriedly followed him out of the shack.
This outcome was greatly beyond the other guests’ expectation; they also guessed that Kou Zhong, three men, must be people with influence who were not easy to deal with.
As if nothing had happened, Kou Zhong beckoned Tuli and Xu Ziling to sit down, and ordered food and wine.
By this time, the shack had more or less returned to its previous condition, but nobody dared to speak or laugh as loudly as before. They had quite a misgiving toward the three. Furthermore, some people were rushing to settle their bills and get out of the shack, leaving a lot of leftover on their tables.
Kou Zhong acted as if he was completely oblivious of his surroundings; leaning over to Tuli, he asked, “That business delegation of yours in Luoyang, is the leader as trustworthy as you said he is?”
“You may rest assured,” Tuli replied, “This man is called Mo He’er, a Khitan man. I have done a big favor to him by rescuing him, as well as his clansmen, from the Zhujie people [Jie people are a branch of Tokhara people, not sure about the ‘Zhu’ part]. And Xieli does not know anything about this, hence the reason I am so confident.”
Xu Ziling said, “Is he representing Khitan or representing your Tujue people?”
“Mainly Khitan,” Tuli replied, “But since he is also the ‘Ci She’ [lit. second to set up/arrange] in Xieli Khan’s court, your Central Earth and various nations regard him as an envoy minister of our East Tujue.”
Kou Zhong had a headache, “What in the world is ‘Ci She’?” he asked.
Tuli explained, “Our Khanate Imperial Court have official titles such as Ye Hu, Ci She, Te Nan, Ci Si Li Fa, Ci Tu Tun Fa, and so on, a total of eighteen titles. Ye Hu and the likes are like your Prime Minister. Ci She ought to be analogous to a departmental cabinet minister. Mo He’er is a Khitan prince. He does not need to exert himself for the Khanate Court, him being a minister is just a gesture showing that he acknowledges allegiance to us.”
Xu Ziling was puzzled, “West Tujue’s Great Khan is called Tong Yehu, is he using his governmental title as his name?”
Tuli explained, “Before becoming the Great Khan, he was the Western Tujue’s Ye Hu [lit. (historical) period protector]. When he ascended the Great Khan’s throne, he continued to use this name; who dare to argue with him?”
Kou Zhong was about to speak when from the other corner of the shack came a tender, soft, and pleasant-to-hear female voice, saying, “There are a lot of evil people in Jianghu, but I, Lu Wuxia have never seen anybody more vile and annoying like these three reckless fellows; I wonder if Da Shixiong [oldest/first martial brother] agree?”
A male voice replied, “If Shimei has never seen any, how could yu xiong [I or me (modest)] see any? But since they have the guts to come to Hannan to seek trouble, I am afraid there won’t be any good outcome.”
The three have never thought that in the current situation, there were still such seeing-injustice-on-the-road, warning-the-evil-and-punishing-them-well kind of heroes and heroines; they could not help smiling inwardly.
Actually, they had already noticed this pair of a man and a woman, not because the woman was pretty, but because they occupied two tables, accompanied by eleven young men, whose clothes and adornments, even their weapons were uniform; they all looked quite lordly.
Tuli laughed in low voice and said, “They ought to be Tian Kui Pai [heavenly stalwart sect] people. This sect is the biggest sect in this region, they have dojos in Hannan, Xiangyang, Nanyang, and Yuyang; their disciples are more than ten thousand. Their Zhangmen, the ‘Huan Shou Dao’ [ring/looping hand saber] Lu Zhong is quite influential and powerful both in Jianghu and in governmental circle. These two martial brother and sister are using ring-head, straight-body long and narrow saber; undoubtedly they must be his direct disciples. The woman is surnamed Lu; she ought to be Lu Zhong’s daughter.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly surprised; they had never thought that Tuli would know more clearly about the Central Plains’ affair than the two of them.
This moment the group of men with Lu Wuxia roared in laughter, brimming with mockery. Everybody else remained quiet, waiting for a good show that they were sure would come.
Since they did not know the whole story, everybody in the shack was deeply dissatisfied with Kou Zhong, three men’s tyrannical and overbearing attitude.
Xu Ziling put down the bowl of noodle that he had finished. Raising the cup of green tea, he sipped it and said, “Li Yuanji and Kang Qiaoli sent out their troops without achieving anything; this moment they knew we are here, I wonder what kind of magic weapon they are going to draw next.”
Tuli acted as if he already forgot Lu Wuxia and her companions’ existence; he even ignored the fact that the three of them have become the focus of everybody’s attention. He said, “Even if Li Yuanji is just a fool with courage and strength, Kang Qiaoli ought to realize their weak point of lacking real martial art masters. Therefore, in the last couple of days, they must be busy gathering martial art masters, so that they would be able to wipe us out in one move. Just like on the battlefield, no matter how many troops and horses they have, they still need a group of absolutely-loyal elite trusted aides to bring the entire situation under control.”
Lu Wuxia’s voice was heard again, this time it contained real anger, as she snorted coldly and said, “Just now they looked like bullies riding roughshod over people, and now suddenly they become turtles who pull their heads back, not daring to say anything.”
Her martial brother laughed aloud and said, “Shimei, please calm down. Let yu xiong get them to come here to kowtow and admit their guilt.”
Kou Zhong also acted as if he did not hear their exchange at all; he pondered over and said, “Supposing ‘Mo Shi’ [demonic master] Zhao Deyan is really in this area, naturally he would come to join the fun. Other than him, do they have any strong hands? Li Yuanji naturally would not ask Li kid to deploy his Heavenly Policy Mansion’s martial art master, would he?”
Tuli solemnly replied, “You may already know that Nanhai Pai [South (China) Sea Sect] people, with the Dugu Clan threading the needle [i.e. mediator], are one step ahead of Li Mi to pledge their allegiance to Li Yuan. Nanhai Pai’s young Paizhu [sect master] Mei Xun even has intimate relationship with Li Jiancheng, he even gave his younger sister Mei Ling to Li Jiancheng as his feipin [imperial concubine].”
Remembering the ‘Nanhai Xian Weng’ Huang Gongcuo [immortal elderly man of the South Sea, see Book 12 Chapter 10], the two boys were greatly surprised.
Frowning, Kou Zhong said, “Mei Xun must be an idiot. There is Li Shimin, this kind of wise master, he did not rely on help from him, but he hang out with Li Jiancheng; so what if he is the crown prince.”
There was a sound of fluttering sleeves. On Lu Wuxia’s side, four or five men stood up; upright and unafraid, they marched toward the three, looking as if they already ate them.
Turning a blind eye to them, Tuli said, “Mei Xun did not have that option; Shimin Xiong basically disapproved the alliance with Nanhai Pai, because Nanhai Pai’s objective was to borrow the Li Family’s power to subdue their biggest enemy in the south, Song Que. Anybody with a brain ought to know that Song Que is the kind of enemy that must not be provoked. Only because Li Jiancheng is anxious to expand his power that he sought for, and accepted, Nanhai Pai.”
Xu Ziling’s eyebrows were deeply knitted; he said, “If that’s the case, then it is highly possible that there will be Nanhai Pai and Dugu Clan’s martial art masters among those who are going to deal with us?”
Under the leadership of their first martial brother, five Tian Kui Pai disciples fanned out behind Tuli. The Da Shixiong did not even have a single shred of Jianghu etiquette; he shouted arrogantly to the three men, “Are you going to come out on your own, or do you need us to shoo you away?”
The murderous aura in Tuli’s eyes flared out.
He came in the capacity as the East Tujue Khan. In the Central Plains, even Li Mi, Wang Shichong and the like, when they saw him, they would bow respectfully with clasped hands. These past few days he already nursed a bellyful of grievance of a tiger fallen into the plains, and now, even younger generations like Tian Kui Pai disciples also shouted and insulted him, so how could he endure it?
Knowing that Tuli’s vicious temperament has been aroused, Xu Ziling reached out to press the back of Tuli’s hand down, hinting that he must not act blindly without thinking. And then turning to Kou Zhong, he signaled him with his eyes, telling Kou Zhong to deal with this matter.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “This xiongtai [brother (of the same generation/rank] looks like a talent. I wonder what’s your relationship with Lu Zhong Laoshi [teacher]?
The Da Shixiong has not answered, Lu Wuxia’s tender and beautiful voice already came, “Da Shixiong must not be bewitched by them; how could Die know these third-class lowly men?”
Slightly embarrassed, the Da Shixiong turn his head around to cast Lu Wuxia a glance. When he looked back, he instantly lengthened his face and spoke in heavy voice, “I am Ying Yu, the first disciple under Lu Zhong. I wonder which line of friends three gentleman are.”
He came from a famous school and big sect; since the other side already called the name of Lu Zhong, naturally he must find out the opposite side’s identity first.
Another more important reason was that not only the three did not show the least bit of fear, they remained steady and cool-headed, carrying the air of real martial art masters, which actually intimidated him.
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “Lu Xiaojie [Miss] is really formidable; you even know such a secret that we are third-class lowly thugs. I might as well reveal it to Miss that those men who were driven away by us just now are fourth-class lowly men. It was because Miss did not know this classified information that you thought that we are bad men. The fact is, we are no different than Miss and your honorable Da Shixiong; we are chivalrous Jianghu heroes. So we all are of the same ‘way’.”
Xu Ziling tried hard not to smile, but in the end he could not help it.
Looking at Xu Ziling’s expression, Tuli suddenly realized that in a big roundabout way, Kou Zhong was calling Lu Wuxia and the others third-class lowly people. He could not help the fury from disappearing from his face, and was quite amused inwardly.
At the same time, he was quite wary, because he knew that in term of broad-mindedness, he really could not match these two boys.
From the Tian Kui Pai side, Miss Lu was the first one to realize it. With a tender shout she sprang out of her seat and angrily said, “You dare to curse me in a roundabout way.”
Seeing their little Shimei throwing a temper tantrum like that, one after another the rest of her martial brothers also stood up, full of with-swords-drawn-and-bows-bent, storm-clouds-looming-in-the-horizon air.
Afraid of disaster coming to the fish on the moat, while also unwilling to miss this exciting show, the other guests on the two outermost tables left their seat with the intention of standing outside the shack to watch from a safe distance.
Who would have thought that Kou Zhong spread out his arms to block them while crying out, “Those who have not paid the bill are not allowed to leave. Do you think Laozi would treat you to dinner?”
Watching this kind of ‘chivalrous’ behavior from Kou Zhong, Ying Yu and the others felt that it was not right for them not to help him stop those people, but they had no reason to stop them either, so they all felt stuck in difficult position.
While the diners obediently paid their bill, Lu Wuxia, under escort of the other six martial brothers, joined Ying Yu and his team of five martial brothers, greatly increasing their momentum.
In deadly earnest Kou Zhong forced the people to pay their bill to the trembling-with-fear waiter. He turned to Lu Wuxia, who was staring at him with her almond eyes opened wide, and said with a laugh, “Miss is being oversensitive; I was just pointing out that we all are chivalrous people. Just now, those are Zhu Can’s men; they came here to Hannan to open the path for Zhu Can to break into the house and rob them. We scared them away, it was entirely for the benefit of Hannan people.”
None of the listeners did not have their countenance changed. Hannan was located south of Han River. From here going north, after passing through Xiangyang, the road would branch out along the flowing the east to the west Tanghe, Chunshui, Nieshui, and Chaoshui, four tributaries [Translator’s note: in all cases ‘he’ and ‘shui’ mean ‘river’].
Zhu Can’s Garuda Kingdom must have stationed their troops in Guanjun city on the west bank of Qingshui. They were always looking at Xiangyang like a tiger watching its prey, but because of Xiangyang’s strong troops and stalwart city walls, plus there was Qian Duguan defending the city, while Zhu Can was too busy to deal with Xiao Xian and Du Fuwei, he was helpless to take Xiangyang.
But anybody on the street could see that he had always coveted Xiangyang. Speaking about reputation, Zhu Can could not possibly be better than the roving bandits under Cao Yinglong’s leadership. If he brought his troops to attack, Hannan would definitely face imminent catastrophe.
Furthermore, to attack Xiangyang, Hanfu, Nanyang, all these big cities along the river just north of Xiangyang would certainly be the battleground.
Because of this deep understanding of this fact, Kou Zhong called those Li Yuanji’s men as Zhu Can’s men, so that the listeners were confused.
Severely shaken, Ying Yu asked, “Is that true?”
Another man said, “May I ask three gentlemen’s honorable surname and great given name?”
Lu Wuxia restrained her angry look; she appeared to be skeptical. It was only now that she carefully scrutinized the three men’s appearance. Xu Ziling was handsome, leisurely, confident and at ease. Kou Zhong was brimming with heroic and powerful aura. Although Tuli was full of aggressiveness, he was brimming with masculine charm as well.
Three special individuals coming together, suddenly her hostility was substantially reduced.
Kou Zhong smiled. But before he had any chance to speak, there was the sound of rapid hoof beats approaching, cloud of dust rose up like whirlwind from the direction of Hannan, as more than a dozen riders were coming at full speed toward them.
Xu Ziling and Tuli exchanged a glance; all of them were greatly surprised. Li Yuanji knew their strength, yet he still dared to come and deal with them head-on, instead of waiting for their reinforcement to arrive and deploying their troops to besiege the enemy, which was what they should be doing.
Narrowing his tiger-eyes, Kou Zhong looked into the distance to examine the enemy’s potential. Slyly leaning back into his chair, he raised his cup and said with a smile, “Xiaodi’s other group of enemies, apart from Zhu Can, is coming! If all of you are willing to give me, Kou Zhong, a little bit of face, please leave immediately. This time all of your dinner is on me, so that you won’t be involved in this muddy water for no reason at all.”
As soon as ‘Kou Zhong’, two words came out of his mouth, it was really like thunder piercing the ear, shaking and terrifying everybody present.
By this time, the newcomers’ body type and appearance could already be clearly seen. The leader was precisely the outstanding martial art master of the Li Clan, Li Yuanji.
Amazed and uncertain, Lu Wuxia looked at the speeding-along heroic rider. Her beautiful eyes went back and forth over the three men. With a feeling that even she herself could not explain, she asked, “Who’s the newcomer?”
The diners in the shack have already scattered like birds and beasts; they thronged out of the shack like a swarm of bees. The situation was extremely chaotic.
Panic spread like a plague; the entire relay station area suddenly became a trap that put people in danger, immediately the atmosphere became so thick with everybody trying to escape as quickly as possible.
Kou Zhong replied softly, “The newcomer is Li Yuan’s third son, Qi Wang Yuanji. Miss Lu should have heard about Zaixia going up to Guanzhong for the treasure?”
Seeing Li Yuanji and his men already reached the perimeter of the relay station, Xu Ziling spoke to Ying Yu with knitted brows, “Ying Xiong, please lead your honorable martial art brothers to immediately leave this place in order to avoid unnecessary trouble.”
Ying Yu showed respect and worshipful admiration on his face. But in this tensed critical moment, he also displayed his quality as the Da Shixiong. Cupping his fist to salute, he pulled away the unwilling Lu Wuxia, and then while Li Yuanji and his fifteen men flew off their mount more than ten zhang outside the shack and aggressively coming near, they hurriedly left.