Book 30 Chapter 6 – Merchant Dispute
Kou Zhong woke up in an inn at Yuanxian [lit. yuan county] north of the Yellow River. The sky was already bright, he felt his body and mind were comfortable, the weariness of the last several days of travel had been swept away.
Since Xu Ziling left, they put on an act of changing the itinerary at the last minute by abandoning the ship and going ashore, taking the land route to continue north. Actually, they were secretly continuing their journey by changing into a cargo ship that Fu Qian had his men prepared beforehand, taking the disguise of most commonly seen traveling merchants making their round between the Central Plains and the neighboring foreign countries.
The several hundred troops under Qin Shubao and Cheng Yaojin’s command were broken up into several batches, temporarily going into hiding in secluded places around the county towns in the vicinity. It could be said that this move was very safe, because they took advantage of Luo Shui Bang having internal conflict and was basically unable to effectively monitor their movements.
After passing through Dangcheng, Kou Zhong ascertained that nobody was following their track, and only then did he turn back to the south, to continue along the Yellow River to the west toward Guanzhong, handing over the heavy responsibility to escort Tuli to Fu Qian, Li Jing, husband and wife, and Qin Shubao, Cheng Yaojin, and their men.
After freshening up, Kou Zhong put on the mask of ugly man with rough skin. After breakfast, not daring to tarry, he went to the dock to try his luck, to see whether he could score a ticket on the passenger ship to Guanzhong. Who would have thought that the passenger ship was already full? Furthermore, most of the ships have already departed at daybreak.
While he was hesitating between taking the next day departure, which meant he would have to stay another night, or buying a horse and taking the land route, someone came up to him and happily called out, “Turns out it’s Mo Ye; I did not expect to run into you here. Where is your honorable uncle?”
Kou Zhong thought that this man must have mistaken him for someone else; focusing his attention to look, he saw that the man talking to him was about forty years old, looking like a housekeeper. Behind him were four strong-looking servants carrying several bundles, big and small; evidently they were just back from a shopping expedition in the city.
Looking closer, he thought the face looked familiar, but momentarily he did not remember where he saw this man.
Noticing his lost expression, the man understood immediately; he laughed and said, “Your honorable uncle is Mo Wei, the Divine Doctor! That day outside Xiangyang, your honorable uncle upheld justice by coming to our help, even the medical-treatment gold he nearly forgot to collect. Not only he cured our Xiao Gongzi [young master] Jin Ge’er’s strange illness, he also captured Ma Xuran, that traitor. Does Mo Ye remember now?” [See Book 11 Chapter 6.]
Kou Zhong slapped his forehead and said, “I remember now! You are … ha! You are …”
The man said, “I am Sha Fu. You don’t know how grateful Shaoye [also ‘young master’ but different from ‘xiao gongzi’ above] and Madame are to your honorable uncle and Mo Ye; you don’t know how much painstaking effort we spent to find you. Where’s your honorable uncle? How come I don’t see him?”
Kou Zhong was dying to ask what Mo ‘something’ name he used for himself. Snickering inwardly, he said, “Jiashu [my (humble) uncle] is old. After returning to our hometown in the south, he is no longer willing to leave home again to make his way in the world. Ha! What a coincidence. Where is Sha Guanjia [housekeeper/butler] heading?”
Sha Fu revealed a look of disappointment. Shaking his head, he said, “What a pity. A knight-errant like your honorable uncle, who is not only proficient in medical skill but also has compassion over mankind’s suffering is really hard to encounter, difficult to see.”
Inventing crazy nonsense, Kou Zhong said, “Sha Guanjia praised too much. But I, Mo … um, I already received Jiashu’s handed-down teachings; I dare say that if I don’t have a 100%, then at least I have 90% understanding. Hey! I am in a hurry to find a passenger ship, perhaps I can chat with Sha Guanjia another day. Please!”
As if gaining the most precious treasure, Sha Fu pulled his sleeve and spoke in great delight, “Did Mo Ye really obtain the handed-down teachings of your honorable uncle’s medical expertise?”
Stunned, Kou Zhong said, “Why would I lie to you? But who is sick this time?”
With pained expression on his face, Sha Fu replied, “This time it’s Laoye [old master]. Does Mo Ye know how to treat typhoid?”
Kou Zhong secretly thought that by relying on his sacred qi to heal injury from the Secret to Long Life plus the Jade Annulus of He Clan, he ought to have a bit of assurance that he would be able to treat any strange, difficult, various illnesses; besides, helping others is a good thing. Patting his chest, he said, “What’s so difficult about that? But could you wait until I find a boat?”
“I wonder where is Mo Ye going by boat?” Sha Fu asked.
Kou Zhong replied, “I am thinking of going to Chang’an to mingle there, to see whether I could start a medical business.”
Sha Fu was delighted, “In that case, no need to look for a boat, because we happen to go to Guanzhong. Mo Ye, please!”
This moment Kou Zhong really wish he would remember his name!
Xu Ziling entered the passenger cabin. But before he had a chance to sit down, a man, who clearly belonged to a gang or society, came to him and said in low voice, “This Xiongdi, may I ask your honorable surname and great given name? Do you have any identification from some school or sect? What is your business in Guanzhong?”
Xu Ziling’s heart was filled with rage. This was certainly an intolerable bullying!
In order to avoid any trouble with Yang WenGan and the others, he changed into Gong Chenchun mask, and originally thought that he would be able to use this disguise to pass through. However, due to his strong and muscular, tall and straight build, he bought a sword [orig. 佩剑 – fencing saber, the type of sword that is usually hung on the waist] to fool people’s eyes, but eventually he provoked suspicion from the gang and society men guarding the pier, and this big man interrogating him was precisely one of those men.
Laughing coldly, he said, “Tell me first, who are you? Let’s see if you have enough qualifications to question me.”
It looked like the man already knew he was going to get angry; he smiled and said, “Laoxiong, why don’t you go ashore for me first? Otherwise this ship will not weigh anchor and set sail. To roam in Jianghu, one must be sensible; one must not implicate other passengers for one’s self interest.”
By this time the boat was already half full with passengers; everybody was waiting with raised eyebrows, only nobody created any disturbance.
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly; he knew that if this situation continued, there would not be any benefit either for him or for everybody else. While suppressing his anger, he threw all misgivings away, and followed that big man leaving the boat.
As soon as they were out of the door, the big man suddenly lowered his voice and said, “Xiaoren [the lowly one] Zha Huo, one of the Four Tigers under Hong Nong Bang Bangzhu Sheng Nanfu’s command. Just now my words were offensive, it was because I did not want outsiders to know our relationship. Gong Ye must not take offense.”
Xu Ziling was greatly surprised. “How did you recognize Ol’ Gong?” he asked in confusion.
Zha Huo replied, “Let’s talk after we get off the boat.”
Going down the gangplank, they saw a horse-drawn carriage galloping over. “Gong Ye, please get in,” Zha Huo said.
Greatly puzzled and feeling completely at a loss, Xu Ziling got in and sat down. After the carriage started to move, Zha Huo heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Fortunately we intercepted Gong Ye; otherwise Bangzhu might pass down the blame, and then how could I, Zha Huo, take it upon myself?”
Meeting Xu Ziling’s inquiring look, Zha Huo explained, “Lei Jiuzhi Daye and our Bangzhu have friendship that surpasses life itself. Five days ago, on his way to Guanzhong, he stopped by our Hong Nong Bang’s headquarters. He repeatedly implored us to properly greet Gong Ye; he also drew Gong Ye’s portrait, hence the reason we could recognize Gong Ye.”
It was only then did Xu Ziling understand; inwardly he did not know whether he should be grateful to Lei Jiuzhi, or he should blame him, because otherwise he would have been on his way to Guanzhong.
Zha Huo went on, “This month, the security to enter the Pass, whether by water or land, two routes, are very strict. Without any pass or anybody not having any business in Guanzhong are not allowed to enter the Pass, no exception. Lei Daye also relied on us to get him a pass. But Gong Ye’s situation is even more special. According to our intelligent, Gong Ye’s name is on the list of people who should be arrested as soon as you enter Guanzhong, hence you absolutely must not reveal your identity.”
Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, “Is there such thing?” While inwardly mused that even if he was still disguised as Yue Shan, it would not be any better.
According to reason, Li Jiancheng’s men should not know that Gong Chenchun was Xu Ziling; there ought to be another reason behind this.
Having a card up his sleeve, Zha Huo said, “Gong Ye, don’t worry; if we can’t even accomplish such a trivial matter as getting Gong Ye inside the Pass, how could we, Hong Nong Bang, mingle among the Jianghu?”
The carriage stopped. Zha Huo said, “We have already prepared an absolutely safe scheme to get Gong Ye sneak into Guanzhong. We only need to cover the saber scar on Gong Ye’s face, which is just like a trademark, and then change your name and substitute your surname, plus wearing clothing and personal adornment to assume different identity, we can accomplish this.”
Deeply puzzled, Xu Ziling followed Zha Huo get off the carriage, and found out that he was inside a courtyard. Smiling ruefully, he followed Zha Huo into the house.
Two two-mast big ships with identical style were moored on the pier. Kou Zhong followed Sha Fu climbing onto the ship. Several men on board, who ought to be some kind of bodyguards, were sizing him up with their luminous gaze. One of them spoke in great delight, “Turns out it’s Mo Xiongdi; where is your honorable uncle, Mo Wei, the Divine Doctor?”
The speaker was a fair-skinned, plump middle-aged man. Although he was fat, he looked strong and nimble; obviously his martial art skill was not weak.
Kou Zhong still had a bit of impression remained toward him, but of course he already forgot the man’s name. With a forced laugh he said, “Hey! How are you?”
Inwardly he cursed Xu Ziling; a lot of names he did not want to use, yet he changed his name to Mo Wei, plus the addition of two words ‘divine doctor’ to his name, which made it sound even weirder and so twisted, as if it was a metaphor of do not become a divine doctor. [Reminder: ‘mo wei’ could mean ‘nobody’, ‘mo’ itself means ‘do not’.]
Obviously Sha Fu was accustomed to serving high official and noble persons; being a quick-witted man, he reminded him by saying, “This is Chen Laiman, Chen Shifu!”
Kou Zhong hastily continued his laughter and said, “Turns out it is Chen Shifu; I did not expect to see you again in here!”
Seeing that they knew each other, one by one the other bodyguards cup their fist to salute; there was a big change in their attitude, everybody became cordial and friendly.
Sha Fu asked Kou Zhong to wait outside the cabin door, while he himself went into the cabin to report to his master.
Speaking for one moment and was quiet the next, Kou Zhong chatted with the rather enthusiastic Chen Laiman, repeating his nonsense earlier about Xu Ziling returning to his hometown to till the fields and live in seclusion and so on, while secretly focusing his power to his ears to follow the sound of Sha Fu’s footsteps. This was the first time that he attempted to divide his mind for two purposes; sometimes it was fuzzy, sometimes he could hear clearly. It was a weird feeling.
He heard a woman exclaimed, ‘Ah!’ and then a tender voice said, “Unexpectedly you came across Mo Shaoxia [young hero]. What about his uncle? Why haven’t you invited them to come in?”
Kou Zhong’s impression toward this young madam was the deepest, simply because she was extremely elegant and beautiful, hence he immediately recognized her voice.
And then his eardrums were filled with Chen Laiman’s voice, so he was unable to hear Sha Fu’s response.
After giving Chen Laiman a perfunctory answer, Kou Zhong heard a young man’s voice inside the cabin said, “Is his medical expertise all right? If anything goes wrong, Dage and Erge [first and second (older) brother, respectively] will never let me off.”
Young Madame’s gentle and soft, graceful and subdued voice said, “Xianggong [husband], you’d better talk to Popo [mother-in-law] to ask for instructions first; with her making decision, Dabo and Erbo [first and second brother-in-law, respectively] won’t have anything to say!”
This moment Chen Laiman asked again, “Mo Xiongdi’s martial art is superior; I wonder if it was passed on by your honorable uncle?”
Again Kou Zhong was unable to hear the voices inside the cabin. He cursed inwardly, but had to answer anyway, “I, Mo … hey! All my martial art skill was imparted by Jiashu. He often said that my face is ugly, my natural disposition is dull-witted, without a bit of skill to help myself, when I come out to roam the Jianghu, I will be at an extreme disadvantage. Ha!”
Looking at his ‘revered’ countenance, it was hard for Chen Laiman to say any comforting words; without any better option, he said, “The most important thing for men is a far-reaching aspiration, like Zi Yu in the past, well-known for his ugly appearance, but didn’t he become prime minister and was conferred nobility as a marquis, his name is being passed on throughout all ages?”
Kou Zhong mused inwardly that if he told him his aspiration, he could guarantee that it would make him jump in fright. Pretending to take it seriously, he said, “I wonder if in term of taking a wife Zi Yu also get what he wished?”
This remark immediately provoked the other bodyguard warriors to explode in laughter. One of them, a young warrior who was called Yun Gui by the others, said with a laugh, “Since he became the prime minister, naturally his wives and concubines were like the cloud. Mo Laoxiong, there is no need to worry.”
Sha Fu stepped out of the cabin; he politely said, “Mo Xiong, please follow me.”
Kou Zhong bade the others farewell before following Sha Fu into the cabin.
He saw along the narrow and long corridor maids and servants were going back and forth, rushing endlessly. Seeing Kou Zhong, this stranger, their eyes showed a somewhat disdain expression; apparently they were judging him by his appearance, and were not happy with his looks.
In one of the two big rooms, which were located side-by-side, forward and aft, Kou Zhong saw the young madame Cheng Bisu, as well as the pretty maid Xiao Feng and Jin Ge’er. The latter has grown considerably; he looked spirited and elegant, with striking resemblance to his mother, his appearance was a delight to look at. It’s just that Kou Zhong’s appearance was too scary that Jin Ge’er was scared and went to hide behind Xiao Feng; he did not dare to greet ‘Uncle Mo’ like his mother instructed him to do.
Cheng Bisu’s graceful bearing was just like in former times; her pretty eyes emitted grateful expression. But the one she was grateful to was mainly Xu Ziling, not Kou Zhong. After uttering some polite words, she inquired in detail about the ‘Divine Doctor Mo Wei’, which Kou Zhong answered one by one.
Cheng Bisu said, “Mo Shaoxia must be tired from the journey, please rest in your cabin first; after raising enough spirit, we will have to trouble Shaoxia to treat Laoye’s illness.”
But Kou Zhong groaned inwardly. If Sha Laoye’s illness was an incurable disease, how could he have the face to see this ladylike, lovely young madame? Looking at the troop disposition and weaponry on the ship, the entire Sha Family ought to go to Guanzhong; only he was wondering if they had some connection with influential officials at Guanzhong?
The hull lightly shuddered; the ship raised the anchor and started to sail.
Xu Ziling, having the scar on his face covered, followed the direction given by Zha Huo of Hong Nong Bang, to Xing Chang Long’s front door, a shop specializing in salt, located at the main street of Yuanxian. He saw more than thirty shop helpers loading bags of salt onto seven mule carts parked in front of the door; they were very busy. Just by looking at the shop front, he knew that this Xing Chang Long was a very big store; no wonder it could become one of the major salt suppliers for Guanzhong.
He was about to enter the shop, two men stopped him and impatiently asked, “Who are you looking for?”
Applying his power to change his voice, Xu Ziling replied, “I am Mo Wei; Zha Huo of Hong Nong Bang recommended me to see Tian Ye.”
Hearing Zha Huo’s name, immediately the two men’s attitude changed; one of them said, “Mo Xiong, please come with me!”
Xu Ziling followed behind him, passing through the main store full of piles of salt, through the open courtyard, and into the hall between the storehouse and the main store, which was large enough to hold a hundred people. Here, bags of salt were piled even higher like a mountain, with several dozen men rushing about endlessly.
The man told Xu Ziling to stand on the side, while he walked over toward two middle-aged men who were supervising the work. After talking for a moment, one of them walked over toward Xu Ziling and said, “Mo Xiong, which school or sect do you belong to?”
Xu Ziling replied without much thinking, “Biren’s [your humble servant] swordsmanship was passed on directly by Jiafu [my humble father].” [Again, I just wanted to show the complexity of Chinese appellation. In this case, Xu Ziling was actually being very polite.]
The man asked, “And Lingzun’s [your esteemed father] honorable surname and great given name?” [He was also being polite.]
Xu Ziling invented some crazy nonsense, “Jiafu Mo Yixin; he has a bit of reputation in Bashu.” [Translator’s note: Mo Yixin (lit. no aspiration) was the name he assigned to Kou Zhong as his nephew, back when they encountered Sha family (see above). Apparently Huang Yi was aiming for a comedic effect here.].
The man drew a blank expression; naturally it was because he had never heard of Mo Yixin’s name. Pulling Xu Ziling’s sleeve aside, he said, “Mo Xiong! It’s not that I, Tian Santang [lit. third hall] don’t want to use you, but this time we want to ask for Sheng Bangzhu’s help, simply because Guang Sheng Xing’s side has strong men and robust horses. Therefore, what I really want is a genuine martial art master; otherwise, it would only bring harm to Mo Xiong.”
Xu Ziling had already been briefed by Zha Huo on the rise and fall of the terrain [idiom: the whole sequence of events]. Guang Sheng Xing and Xing Chang Long were Guanzhong’s two largest salt suppliers. The competition between the two has always been intense; the former enjoyed the support of the House of Tang’s Crown Prince, while the latter has always had close relationship with the King of Qin, Li Shimin.
Recently, due to Jiancheng, Yuanji’s Crown Prince faction’s power was flourishing, Guang Sheng Xing’s big boss Gu Tianzhang also abandoned restraint; he was using force to intimidate Xing Chang Long, even as far as sending their men to plunder Xing Chang Long’s salt ship with the intention of destroying Xing Chang Long altogether. In their desperation, Xing Chang Long could only turn to Jianghu friends for help, in which Sheng Nanfu, the Gang Leader of Hong Nong Bang, was one.
On one hand, Sheng Nanfu was looking at Lei Jiuzhi’s face; on the other hand, he also learned from Lei Jiuzhi that Xu Ziling’s ‘Gong Chenchun’ had outstanding martial art skill. One move, two gains; thereupon he recommended Xu Ziling to Xing Chang Long, both to help Xing Chang Long’s boss Bu WanNian in dealing with powerful enemy, and to help Xu Ziling to use this cover to sneak into Guanzhong.
Tian Santang was Bu WanNian’s oldest daughter’s husband. His martial art skill was not weak, his specific responsibility was to protect their fleet of salt-transporting ships, naturally those who wanted to join would have to pass his evaluation first.
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Tian Ye, don’t worry, since Sheng Bangzhu dared to recommend me to see Tian Ye, naturally he has ample confidence in my swordsmanship. Tian Ye may inquire clearly from Zha Huo Xiong.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Tian Santang asked, “What is Mo Xiong’s relationship with Sheng Bangzhu?”
Xu Ziling replied, “Sheng Bangzhu’s sworn brother is my uncle.”
Nodding his head, Tian Santang said, “Mo Xiong please come with me.”
Xu Ziling followed him through a maze of rooms and buildings toward another courtyard.
“Get me my stick,” Tian Santang shouted.
From the hall on the left wing came three men, who looked like warriors; one of them handed a long stick to Tian Santang.
Tian Santang received the stick and immediately his expression turned serious. Taking a stance, he said, “Mo Xiong, please make your move. No need to yield.”
Xu Ziling mused inwardly that if he did not yield, perhaps Tian Santang would not be able to take one move from him. However, he certainly could not pretend to be too incompetent either, because there would be a fleet leaving for Guanzhong today. He only needed to show enough strength, and the other party might let him to come along, to avoid wasting a martial art master.
With a cry asking for forgiveness, Xu Ziling’s sword left its sheathe.
Immediately the three warriors watching from the side were emotionally moved.
When experts made their move, others would already see whether they really had substance or not. Although Xu Ziling was deliberately concealing his strength, his movement when he drew the sword and his footwork put his great-expert air on full display. A series of movements from him was like flowing water and floating clouds, everything was fused together into indivisible entity.
“Good!” Tian Santang cried out. Under Xu Ziling’s oppressive momentum, he produced appropriate responses; brandishing his stick, he swiftly poked upward.
Xu Ziling’s sword swept across, lightly and gently he parried the long stick, and then sword pattern appeared suddenly, completely sealing Tian Santang’s all attack routes.
Shocked, Tian Santang retreated, and then his face lit up as he cried, “Mo Xiong, try attacking me!”
Xu Ziling let out a heavy shout, while brandishing his sword in a stabbing movement.
This sword strike seemed to be ordinary without anything marvelous, but both Tian Santang, who was in close proximity to the sharp point of the blade, and the three observers all felt that the sword momentum was fierce and severe, creating a feeling that it was very difficult to block. Tian Santang practically did not know how to block.
Retreating again, he let out a long laugh and said, “No wonder Sheng Bangzhu recommends Mo Xiong to our Xing Chang Long; obtaining help from such a talent like Mo Xiong, why would we be afraid of that Gu Tianzhang somebody. Mo Xiong, please come with the fleet to enter the Pass today, Tian Santang will definitely not treat you with meager hospitality.”
Knowing that Xu Ziling was from Hong Nong Bang’s side, plus seeing his outstanding skill, the three warriors immediately swarmed over to congratulate him and to make friends with him.
Xu Ziling was relieved. He was finally able to solve the problem, which gave him a lot of headache – of entering Guanzhong. Only he wondered if that kid, Kou Zhong, was also having a similar good luck?