Book 31 Chapter 2 – Strange Disease Bewildering Illness
‘Bluish green water, limpid deep pool reflecting the distant sky, violet cloud of fragrance driven by the breeze; the threshold of Han Family’s city doubting the Heavens, the Qin land’s mountains and rivers appear like reflection in the mirror.’
The Taiji Palace and the East Palace were connected by a door. After the door was the Taiji Palace’s east garden, as well as the location of the well-known Dong Yu Chi [lit. east imperial pond].
Under the snowflakes floating down, the vast Dong Yu Chi’s crystal and brightly clear water silently reflecting the newly refurbished observation-terrace-pavilion, the old Chinese scholar tree and the weeping willow by the pond, as if it was a fairyland in the human world.
Accompanied by Li Jiancheng, Chang He, and Feng Liben, three men, Kou Zhong walked slowly along a small gravel path by the Dong Yu Chi in the middle of the garden toward Zhang Jieyu’s residence, the Ning Bi Ge [concentrated/dark bluish-green pavilion], which was located in the garden north of Dong Yu Chi. Outside the wall separating the East Garden and the main palace complex, the roof of the Taiji Palace towered in the distance above the snow-covered forest, creating a spectacular scene.
Li Jiancheng whispered in Kou Zhong’s ear, “Zhang Niangniang’s illness this time is very sudden; half a month ago, when she was playing ball in the palace, she suddenly fainted. Afterwards she caught this strange disease; all along she has been sometimes good, sometimes bad, even Wei Zhengxing has his hands bound and is unable to do anything about it.”
Kou Zhong recalled that Wei Zhengxing was Guanzhong’s most famous doctor, known as ‘Living Hua Tuo’. “What did Wei Dafu [doctor] say?” he casually asked.
Letting out a cold snort, Li Jiancheng said, “After speaking back and forth, in the end he said the same old stuff like cold, dry, empty and real. Only Qin Wang insisted that his medical skill was exceptional; in this Prince’s opinion, his medical skill is only so-so; he just happened to cure several illnesses and then rose to fame. Encountering a real thorny strange and difficult miscellaneous illnesses, immediately his hands were bound and was unable to do anything about it.”
Only then did Kou Zhong know that Wei Zhengxing was a man from Li Shimin’s side; no wonder Li Jiancheng was this nervous and was so courteous toward him. However, supposing Kou Zhong sent out his troops but failed to be victorious, he might be immediately beaten and thrown to the cold palace.
He also thought about Li Jiancheng’s craftiness; while Li Yuan was away from the Palace, he let Kou Zhong attempting to diagnose and treat the illness; if he failed to cure her, Li Yuan did not need to know, so he could not possibly blame it on this Crown Prince.
Kou Zhong asked, “How was Niangniang usual physical condition?”
Li Jiancheng revealed a deep-in-thought expression; frowning deeply, he replied, “Previously Zhang Niangniang’s physique could be considered not bad; this time the illness broke out so suddenly, this has been greatly beyond our expectation.”
While talking, they passed through a small path in the middle of a bamboo grove, suddenly a wide-open space appeared before their eyes. The land north of Dong Yu Chi was full of all kinds of flower and plants, grass and trees. The dark bluish green water in the pond reflecting the Ning Bi Pavilion, the Tai Dian [terrace palace hall] Pavilion, and the surrounding area, melting everything into one.
Li Jiancheng led Kou Zhong and the others climbing a flight of steps. A forty-something eunuch, accompanied by two small eunuchs, met them at the main door.
Introducing Kou Zhong, Li Jiancheng said, “Zheng Gonggong [term to address a court eunuch], this is Mo Shen Yi!”
Seeing Kou Zhong’s ugly countenance, Zheng Gonggong revealed a despising, condescending look, but he quickly restrained it. Reluctantly greeting Kou Zhong, he said, “Taizi Dianxia, please!”
Leaving Dong Da Si, Xu Ziling felt his entire body relaxed. He thought that this would be a good time to leave some secret markers with which he could contact Kou Zhong, to give him clear direction.
Walking under the falling snow toward the Vermillion Bird Boulevard, suddenly someone appeared from a side street and laughed aloud, “Gong Xiong, how are you? It is indeed a small world [orig. in life, which place not meet by chance]!”
Xu Ziling was greatly startled; he hastily spoke in low voice, “I am now Mo Wei; Xibai Xiong must not randomly shout.”
It was precisely the ‘Passionate Prince’ Hou Xibai. Even though his hat covered half of his face, but his uniquely outstanding build and poise was still easily recognizable.
Discovering the scar on Xu Ziling’s mask was a lot shallower, Hou Xibai responded in embarrassment, “I can say that I am quick at hearing. Fortunately I am positive that nobody is following behind Mo Xiong, hence I showed myself to greet you; otherwise I might reveal Mo Xiong’s identity. Ha! Mo Wei! This name is remarkable.” Pulling Xu Ziling’s sleeve, he took him into a side alley.
“How did you know I am here?” Xu Ziling asked in surprise.
Elegantly shrugging his shoulders, Hou Xibai replied, “Ziling Xiong … hey! Mo Xiong is merely my unexpected reward. The one I was following is actually Yang Xuyan, I thought that he must be following Li Yuan’s carriage to Dong Da Si; who would have thought that I saw you exiting Dong Da Si instead? I jumped in fright, not daring to believe my own eyes. How about going to my humble abode to have a couple of cups?”
Astonished, Xu Ziling asked, “You also have a home here?”
Leading him away, Hou Xibai laughed, confidently and at ease, and said, “Money will even wear the devil’s down. Over the years I made a lot of portraits for people who can afford it. Although it is very difficult to obtain household registration in Chang’an, I was able to purchase a house and the household registration, and make it my hiding place.”
The two entered a door with ‘Xuan Ping’ [declaring peace] written over it; inside was another scene altogether.
Inside the City of Chang’an, city blocks and the streets were separated by perimeter walls, everything was clear and in good order. Each block had four gates, and the gates were linked up together by cross-shaped principal streets laid with flagstones. The lattice mesh-shaped alleys led to the main streets within the block.
Inside the block, most of the houses were of brick and wood construction; plain, simple, and orderly. The courtyards were dense with trees and flowers, with clean window and clean table [idiom: bright and clean]; a serene and cozy residential atmosphere.
Hou Xibai took Xu Ziling deep into the alleys toward a front gate of a small courtyard. Pushing the door, he said, “Mo Xiong, please come in.”
While Li Jiancheng and the others stayed in the main hall, Kou Zhong, this fake divine doctor, ascended the hall and entered in. With Zheng Gonggong leading the way, they went through corridors and passed rooms toward the Great Tang Emperor’s doted imperial concubine Zhang Jieyu’s fragrant chamber door. Zheng Gonggong told Kou Zhong to wait on the side, while he went to lightly knock the door, acting as if he was afraid to alarm Zhang Jieyu.
With nothing to do, Kou Zhong took this opportunity to enjoy Ning Bi Pavilion’s inner garden scenery. Even in the deep of winter, where cold snow was floating down, he could still easily imagine the exuberant ancient Chinese scholar tree and deep green cypress in the garden. In the spring and summer, the dense shade would cover the earth. In the garden full of dark green climbing plants, the fragrance of the snow-white pear flower and luxuriant red peach blossom would strive to be the most glamorous enchanting scenery.
This kind of observing-this-and-pondering-about-that imagination has propelled Kou Zhong’s state of mind to ascend beyond the current tangible matter into another level; the feeling was novel.
Right in the middle of the garden was a large pond, with a water pavilion built in the middle of the pond. Next to the pavilion was a fake mountain rock. A water orifice was carved near the top of the rockery, and a stream of clear spring was spouting from its mouth, shooting water into the pond. The flying beads of pearl and splashing jade afforded a spectacular view; furthermore, it brought about a little bit of vitality to this clear and quiet winter garden, rather like having the effect of painting a dragon and dotting in the eyes [idiom: adding a vital finishing touch].
While he was enjoying all these, the palace door opened, a palace maid’s voice was heard, “Zheng Gonggong is well? Is the Divine Doctor coming?”
Zheng Gonggong replied in low voice, “Mo Xiansheng is here. Is it convenient?”
Naturally Kou Zhong pretended that he did not know and did not hear; he sensed that the palace maid was sticking out her head to look at him. Evidently the palace maid was scared by his rough appearance. It was quite a moment later that she found her voice to ask, “Is it him?”
Zheng Gonggong hastily responded in low voice, “It’s Taizi Dianxia who strongly recommended him; we as the slaves could only obey the order and do it.”
Inwardly Kou Zhong cursed this eunuch for readily pushing all the blames on Li Jiancheng; he was indeed despicable.
The palace maid said, “It would be better if Gonggong come with Xiaobi [little maid] to report to Guiren [lit. noble person]; let her make the decision.” The two’s footsteps slowly went away.
The two little eunuchs accompanying Kou Zhong looked at each other; they did not seem to be too optimistic toward this Divine Doctor, Kou Zhong. As a matter of fact, even Kou Zhong himself did not have the confidence; he could not help feeling a bit nervous.
Half a day later Zheng Gonggong came back and said, “Mo Xiansheng, please come in.”
Kou Zhong took a deep breath before following Zheng Gonggong into the beautifully-beyond-human-comprehension decorated, beautiful and lustrous inner hall. The lady’s chamber was on the other side of the hall.
With the two eunuchs and several palace maids crowding around her, a delicately pretty beauty was sitting on a couch. Her tender body appeared to be powerless, her face carried that kind of inducing-your-pity-as-soon-as-you-see-her sickly expression.
Kou Zhong did not dare to indulge himself in enjoying the beauty; he was about to drop on his knees to kowtow, Zhang Jieyu weakly said, “Mo Dafu, there is no need to be over courteous, as long as you could cure Aijia’s [from the dictionary: I, me (self-referring by a widowed empress etc., used in historical novels and operas)] ineradicable disease, Aijia will reward you handsomely.”
A pretty palace maid, which ought to be Zhang Jieyu’ personal maid, standing by her, explained, “What our Guiren mean is that Doctor must be particular about observing, hearing, and asking questions; if you are constraint by superior/subordinate and common courtesy, with a lot of scruples, it will hinder Mo Dafu’s diagnosis instead. Therefore, Mo Dafu may dispense these court etiquettes.”
Inwardly Kou Zhong said that it would be best this way. Therefore, after cupping his fist to salute, he cleared his throat, applying his power to alter his voice, and only then did he start speaking, “Niangniang is surely an understanding person. In that case, let Xiaoren examine Madame’s pulse first.”
Zhang Jieyu nodded her agreement. Zheng Gonggong busily signaled the eunuchs to fetch a chair to let Kou Zhong sit in front of this beautiful Niangniang.
A clear scent of orchid and musk deer emitted from her skin and jade flesh. When Kou Zhong put three fingers on Zhang Jieyu’s limp, unable-to-move, more-slippery-than-condensed-fat jade wrist, a wave of dizziness overwhelmed him, and he nearly forgot that his purpose here was not to enjoy the fragrance, but to treat an illness.
Under everybody’s glaring-like-tiger-watching-its-prey eyes, Kou Zhong secretly transmitted three streams of true qi, penetrating her qi meridians.
Suddenly Zhang Jieyu’s tender body shook severely; greatly shocked, Kou Zhong hurriedly pulled back his hand.
All palace maids and eunuchs cried out in alarm; their soul flew away and scattered.
Xu Ziling took the fragrant tea that Hou Xibai offered; he took a sip, and commented in amazement, “The decoration here is extremely out of the ordinary; the original owner must be an elegant scholar.”
Hou Xibai smiled and said, “Thank you very much for Ziling’s compliment; this humble abode, Xiaodi has completely redone the original decoration. Ay! Xiaodi’s trait is that I cannot bear to see tacky things.”
To be elegant, a room does not necessarily need to be big. Hou Xibai’s small hall was simple yet elegant. The window was clear and quiet. The things that filled the entire environment with literary flavor were the long rhyming couplets hanging between the east and the west walls; there were two pairs, written in bold cursive calligraphy [orig. dragon flies, the phoenix dances], lucid and elegant, brilliant and ancient.
One of the antithetical couplets was ‘releasing the bright moon coming out of the mountain, quickly bringing along the wine from inside the stone spring, washing the heart from the dust of the earth, pulling the heavy wind into the room, good zither playing at the Lotus home town, feeling the rocks and the bones to be cleaned up.’
The other antithetical couplet was ‘coming out from crooked path, the rain in the region enhancing the color of the willow tree, rolling up the thin hanging curtain, the wind from half the pond delivers the fragrance of the root of lotus.’
The couplets were counterpart of each other, the artistic conception was lofty, making those who read it cherish happy feeling.
In poetry, Xu Ziling could only call himself a layman. He asked, “Are these couplets Hou Xiong’s work of art and the result of your brush?”
Hou Xibai modestly replied, “They are indeed Xiaodi’s inferior work; would Ziling please bestow your instruction?”
Xu Ziling smiled bitterly and said, “In this aspect, you could at least be my Shigong [master’s master]; how could I have the qualifications to give you instruction?”
Hou Xibai was very appreciative toward Xu Ziling’s frankness; he laughed and said, “If it were other people, it doesn’t matter if he was a layman, he would definitely invent crazy nonsense so that he could appear to be an uneducated person who mingles with the cognoscenti. From this, Ziling’s noble style is even more prominent.”
Changing the subject, he asked, “How did Ziling swagger out of Dong Da Si just now?”
After giving him a brief explanation, Xu Ziling asked in return, “What was the purpose of Hou Xiong’s visit here this time?”
Hou Xibai sighed and said, “Naturally to snatch the other half piece of the Image Scroll from Yang Xuyan’s hands. Right now, in the Immortal Image Method, I only know on the mouth and understand half; when training it, I nearly suffered fire deviation.”
Greatly confused, Xu Ziling asked, “What is your honorable master’s stand on this? Seeing the two of you fighting life and death battle, didn’t he say anything? Currently which side is he standing on?”
His countenance sank, Hou Xibai spoke slowly, “It was he himself who created this situation. Frankly speaking, I really am not so enthusiastic about the Immortal Image Method, because there are so many fine things in the world that can make Xiaodi become intoxicated in pursuing them. It’s just that I know that Yang Xuyan will never be willing to let go of the other piece of the Image scroll in my hands. If I let him master the Immortal Image Method, the first person he is going to kill would be me, Hou Xibai.”
Frowning, Xu Ziling said, “Speculating from the current situation, your honorable master’s relationship with Yang Xuyan ought to be relatively close, and this would be greatly unfavorable toward Hou Xiong.”
Hou Xibai shook his head and said, “That is just some kind of façade; Yang Xuyan should be on similar situation with Xiaodi; we can only rely on our own skill to get along and produce any activity and accomplishment. When either me or Yang Xuyan succeeded in mastering the Immortal Image Method, the first thing we would do is to face the challenge of the demonic school’s two sects and six ways. It is precisely because Shi Shi [master Shi] has to go through this kind of test and struggle that he wants one of us to reveal our talent to become the man who would unify the demonic way.”
Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, “Why doesn’t your honorable master work hard to accomplish this great desire of his heart, but place the heavy responsibility on you guys’ shoulder?”
Hou Xibai responded with heavy voice, “The reason is very simple: because of Bi Xiuxin, his Immortal Image Method is flawed, therefore, he must hide to repair it in secret. Otherwise, if he provoked Ning Daoqi or Ci Hang Jingzhai’s Zhaizhu to make their move, he would probably suffer defeat.”
Xu Ziling was shaken inwardly, recalling that most probably the ‘Demonic Emperor Relics’ in the Duke Yang’s Treasure was the crucial point to make up for the deficiency within the Immortal Image Method.
Smiling wryly, Hou Xibai went on dejectedly, “Sometimes even Xiaodi is confused and feeling lost about my relationship with Shi Shi and Yang Xuyan. I wonder if Ziling would be willing to help me snatching the Image Scroll from Yang Xuyan’s hands?”
Xu Ziling smiled ruefully in return; he said, “You are my friend; a friend in need, how could Xiaodi sit and watch without doing anything?”
Greatly delighted, Hou Xibai said, “Ziling is indeed my life-and-death friend who treat one another with absolute sincerity. In return, I, Hou Xibai, will also help Ziling obtaining the Duke Yang’s buried treasure.”
Xu Ziling mused inwardly that in this matter, they must receive Kou Zhong’s approval first. Nodding his head, he said, “We’ll talk about that later. Currently, do you have any idea on how to deal with Yang Xuyan?”
After muttering to himself irresolutely for a moment, Hou Xibai let out a cold laugh and said, “The more I understand this my martial-brother-from-different-school’s style of action, the more I know that he is a man who employs despicable methods.”
“What makes Hou Xiong say that?” Xu Ziling asked.
A murderous intent flashed through his eyes, Hou Xibai replied heavily, “I have been in Guanzhong for pretty much half a month. Based on my familiarity with the demonic school, I have a clear idea on where Yang Xuyan’s hiding place is. Several times when Yang Xuyan was out, I sneaked in to search for the Immortal Scroll. Although I gained nothing, I accidentally discovered his other shady business!”
Greatly interested, Xu Ziling asked, “What kind of shady business?”
Hou Xibai fiercely said, “I found the traces of his refinement of ‘Fen Jing San’ [lit. burn-through powder (as in ‘medicinal powder’)] that Shi Shi passed on. He could deceive anybody else, but how could he deceive me, Hou Xibai?”
When Kou Zhong transmitted his true qi, the qi and blood in Zhang Jieyu’s entire tender body opened up, just like a plainly visible scroll of painting, which put her mind on full display.
Right this moment, he suddenly became aware that the meridians inside this noble madame’s body were about to break, as if she would not be able to withstand any stimulation of energy stream no matter how weak. Aghast, he immediately withdrew his true qi and lifted up his right hand from her wrist.
Because they saw how Zhang Jieyu’s tender body was severely shaken, the crowd of eunuchs and palace maids immediately pounced over.
Zhang Jieyu was in so much pain that she was drenched in cold sweats, her tender body was shivering. Momentarily everybody forgot that Kou Zhong existed.
Kou Zhong groaned inwardly; if because of this Zhang Jieyu died [orig. the fragrance disappears, the jade perishes], even if he threw himself into the Yellow River, he still could not wash clean the suspicion of him causing her death. Fortunately, half a day later Zhang Jieyu recovered. Opening her eyes, she let out an ‘Ah!’ cry.
Zheng Gonggong angrily said, “Mo Dafu! What the hell is going on!”
By this time Kou Zhong has had full understanding of his own situation; he knew that Zhang Niangniang’s strange illness was beyond his ability. His only capital of being a divine doctor was precisely by relying on the ‘healing sacred qi’, but because of Zhang Niangniang’s ‘a person who is in poor health cannot handle something so strong as a tonic’ condition, naturally he could not use it, so that just like ‘Living Hua Tuo’ Wei Zhengxing, he had his hands bound and was unable to do anything about it.
His top priority right now was how to safely slip away unnoticed; thereupon he hurriedly spoke with serious expression, “Gonggong must not be anxious at all. This is to be expected. Xiaoren already have a plan up my sleeve on how to treat Niangniang’s illness. Presently I must go back and forth to collect herbal medicine first to dissolve the cold poison invading Niangniang’s body before I can use needle to bring the foul disease under control. Gonggong please understand clearly.”
Hearing that, Zheng Gonggong was half-believing, half-doubting; while rolling his eyes indecisively, Zhang Jieyu breathed out a deep sigh and said, “Mo Dafu’s determining-meridians technique is different than the others’; evidently you have genuine talent. Just now it was as if it suddenly made the qi and blood in Aijia’s entire body wanted to turn over.”
Zheng Gonggong was actually a master proficient in martial art study; hearing that, he suspiciously said, “I hear that Mo Dafu is a martial art master in internal technique; aren’t you being reckless in thinking that you could transfer your qi into Madame’s body just like that?”
Kou Zhong was dumbstruck and unable to reply; he cried, ‘Bad!’ inwardly. Fortunately Zhang Jieyu personally rescued him, “Shengshang [His Holiness] has also many times transmitted his true qi into Aijia’s body, but no peculiar thing happened. With Dafu feeling my pulse this time, it is entirely different.”
Zheng Gonggong wanted to say something, but then hesitated.
Zhang Jieyu’s charming eyes looked at Kou Zhong, she asked, “Does Dafu really have a plan up your sleeve? What illness does Aijia really suffer?”
Bracing himself, Kou Zhong inventing crazy nonsense, “This is some kind of rare cold-and-hot-intersecting-and-invading-the-body disease. When the sickness flares out, cold and hot grow together, when it does not … oh! Just like Niangniang’s condition now. Hey! Don’t worry! As long as I get a dose of herbal medicine, which is the right cure for the illness, I guarantee that Niangniang will feel much better.”
Zhang Jieyu was like someone drowning at sea and suddenly saw a floating log; her hope and confidence grew, simply because there has never been any physician who dared to boast that he could cure her illness. Her pretty eyes lit up, she said, “In that case, I will have to trouble Mo Dafu to immediately write prescription for Aijia.”
Kou Zhong mused that wouldn’t it mean that he would immediately make a fool of himself? Hastily he said, “This medicine must be Xiaoren personally go up the mountain to pick the ingredients and prepare it; we must not be careless. Niangniang, please give Xiaoren a day or two; I hear that Mount Zhongnan has the greatest amount of famous herbal medicine?”
Zhang Jieyu’s personal maid knitted her brows and said, “We just had big snow, the trees and grass are frozen to death!”
Kou Zhong had not thought about this flaw, but being a quick-witted person, he said, “The main ingredient that Xiaoren needs is called Changchun [lit. eternal spring] Flower’s root; it would not be affected by the wind and the snow at all. Jiejie, please set your heart at ease.”
Zhang Jieyu spoke to the Divine Doctor Mo, who was her only hope, “In that case, I will have to trouble Mo Dafu!”
Inwardly Kou Zhong wiped his cold sweat, thinking that finally he snatched his little life back.
After leaving the Palace, he would flee as far as he could; and if people thought that he was scared of this illness, then so be it.