Book 31 Chapter 3 – Burning-Channels Poison Powder
Hou Xibai spoke heavily, “This kind of poison powder came from my humble school’s ‘Five-Poison Book’. In term of toxicity, compared to the other poisons listed in the book, the difference is difficult to gauge, it could only be effective for one kind of people.”
“What kind of people?” Xu Ziling asked in astonishment.
Hou Xibai replied, “Precisely those who do not know martial art and whose body is in poor health; it has magical effect particularly against women. The person poisoned, because of the imbalance in his passages of qi, his immune system against the disease is substantially reduced.”
It was only then did Xu Ziling understand why Hou Xibai said Yang Xuyan was despicable, because the poison he was refining was going to be used to deal with weak women who did not know martial art.
Hou Xibai has always been a lover of flowers; naturally he could not stand by idly and watch.
Just like Shi Feixuan said, Hou Xibai was a different species within the demonic school. Although the difference between the orthodox and demonic was a bit difficult to tell, his desire to cherish women evolved from his sincere heart, and on this, his words and action were consistent with each other.
After pondering quietly, he said, “This kind of poison powder must have certain extremely unique characteristic; otherwise, it would not be worthy to be listed within your honorable sect’s ‘Five-Poison Book’.”
Impressed, Hou Xibai said, “Ziling’s guess is spot on. It does not matter which poison, but anybody being poisoned will more or less display certain symptoms of poisoning. Only this Fen Jing San [burning-channels (medicinal) powder] not only colorless and odorless, but also because it simply indirectly affect the victim’s health, moreover the process is long and slow, even first-class physicians would be incapable to detect that the patient has been poisoned. Ay! I wonder who is Yang Xuyan going to harm?”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “Unless we catch Yang Xuyan and force his confession, I am afraid we will never find out the answer.”
Hou Xibai suddenly asked, “Have you ever heard of Jingzhao Lian’s Yang WenGan?”
Without thinking, Xu Ziling nearly blurted out that he almost fought with him, but if he did that, he would reveal this ‘Yue Shan’ identity; therefore, he only nodded to indicate that he has.
Hou Xibai said, “If my guess is correct, Yang WenGan ought to belong to the old dynasty’s imperial family, just like Yang Xuyan. On the surface he and Yang Xuyan appear to be standing together on Li Jiancheng’s Princelings Faction’s side, but he is actually conspiring against Yang Xuyan in the dark.”
Xu Ziling agreed with his analysis, but because it was not suitable for him to stay too long, he said, “Can we agree on when we can meet again, and then explore the possibilities on how we can seize the Image Scroll from Yang Xuyan’s hands?”
Hou Xibai understood his situation; after agreeing on a good way to get in touch with each other, Xu Ziling hurriedly left. After leaving some secret marks for Kou Zhong in the city, he returned to Xing Chang Long at the East Market. Bu Ting, Tian Santang, and the others were gathered at the rear hall, anxiously waiting for him.
After listening to Xu Ziling narrating his meeting with Li Yuan earlier that day, Bu Jie cursed, “We always thought that Feng Deyi is Li Jiancheng’s man, but looking at how he protected Mo Laoshi, the inside story seems to be quite intriguing. This matter must be reported to Duan Jiangjun [general].”
Bu Ting’s highest concern was about Xing Chang Long; he asked, “Did Huangshang say anything about Xing Chang Long?”
Xu Ziling honestly shook his head and said, “Because I came from Bashu, Huangshang only asked some matters related to that place!”
Tian Santang said in heavy voice, “In my opinion, Feng Deyi only wanted to use Mo Laoshi. Looking from this point of view, it is still possible that he is working for Li Jiancheng.”
Xu Ziling shook his head and said, “Before seeing Huangshang, I already made it clear to him about my position that I am loyal to Xing Chang Long; yet Feng Daren was still threading the needle to let me see Huangshang, the intention seemed to be so that the people from Li Jiancheng’s side would not dare to touch me anymore. The situation does not seem to match what Tian Ye was inferring.”
Bu Jie, Bu Ting and the others were emotionally moved; they greatly appreciated Xu Ziling’s ‘loyalty’. Although Xing Chang Long could be greatly beneficial to Xu Ziling, but, in addition to wealth, Feng Deyi could give Xu Ziling the power that most people coveted, yet unexpectedly Xu Ziling was not moved. It was a clear display of his rarely seen personal integrity.
With this turn of events, the atmosphere quickly turned harmonious, all suspicions were gone. Bu Jie cheerfully said, “Tonight we are going to Shang Lin Yuan [upper forest garden] to have fun, we won’t go home until we are drunk, so that Mo Laoshi can enjoy Chang’an’s wind, flower, snow, and moon.”
Xiao Xiuming and Xie Jiarong, two men, cheered loudly. Knowing that refusing would be unreasonable, although unwilling, Xu Ziling had no choice but to agree.
Evidently Tian Santang was an old hand in roaming the world of the wind and the moon [i.e. romance]; he laughed and said, “It would be best if Er Shu book Shang Lin Yuan’s prettiest Hong Ahgu [popular ladies; ahgu (lit. paternal aunt) is a term of respect to address a courtesan (Courtesy of Akolaw)]; otherwise, if they are inferior to Chengdu’s San Hua Lou [scattering-flower building] ladies, how could we save our face?”
When speaking about this aspect, the men relaxed and abandoned restraint.
Bu Jie proudly said, “I, Bu Jie, dare to guarantee Mo Laoshi’s satisfaction.”
His thoughts wandering far away, Bu Ting said, “I hear Shang Xiufang is currently staying at the Shang Lin Yuan; if we could invite her to sing a song for us, our lives would be without any regret.”
Bu Jie’s face revealed difficult expression; he said, “Shang Xiufang’s status is way above everybody else’s; I am afraid only Qin Wang’s invitation would move her heart.”
Tian Santang said, “Even if we could move her heart into accepting the invitation, we shouldn’t think about doing it. Chang’an’s beauty, who would not want to personally enjoy their fragrance? But in this troubled times, it is not suitable for us to do anything that would incite other people’s jealousy.” And then he changed the subject by asking Xu Ziling to describe the two ministers, who, along with Feng Deyi and Pei Ji, accompanied the Emperor when Xu Ziling was seeing Li Yuan.
After listening to Xu Ziling describing their appearance, Bu Jie said, “The one called Shu Da must be Chen Shuda; the fat guy must be Xiao Yu. Xiao Pangzi [Fatty] was Yang Guang’s wife’s maternal uncle. In the old Sui Dynasty, he was an intimate friend of the Emperor. Apart from Liu Wenjing, he was one of the several members of the Emperor’s inner ministerial circle, which Mo Xiansheng had seen them all.”
Suddenly someone came to report that Duan Zhixuan has arrived. While everybody was greatly surprised, Duan Zhixuan hurriedly came in and said, “Qin Wang wishes to see Ting Shidi [younger martial brother] and Mo Laoshi.”
Instantly Xu Ziling felt the chill on his spine; would he be able to deceive Li Shimin’s sharp eyes?
Finished listening to the ‘nonsense’ that Kou Zhong told Zhang Jieyu, immediately Li Jiancheng’s countenance sank; he coldly asked, “How much confidence does Mo Xiansheng have that you could cure Niangniang’s illness?”
Inwardly Kou Zhong cursed Li Jiancheng’s cold and dubious heart; he said inwardly, ‘Laozi don’t have even the slightest confidence; how about you, Jiancheng kid, help me fart?’ However, with his mouth he said, “If I could prepare the elixir according to the secret recipe that has been handed down from generation to generation in my family, I guarantee that as soon as Niangniang takes the medicine, the illness will be gone, and forever will not contract the disease anymore.”
Deeply concerned, Chang He asked, “How much time will Mo Xiansheng need to prepare the elixir?”
Inwardly Kou Zhong only thought about how soon he could fetch the Moon in the Well and then slip away. He replied randomly, “Xiaode [I (when talking to a superior)] may check around the herbal medicine stores in town to see if they have good stuffs that are readily available; as for the rest, I will have to go to Mount Zhongnan to pick them up. Probably two days will be enough!”
Li Jiancheng’s countenance relaxed slightly. This moment Feng Liben signaled him with his eyes. Li Jiancheng immediately revealed a smiling expression, brimming with crafty intention. He said, “I’ll leave this matter into Chang Jiangjun’s hand. Please provide assistance and convenience to Mo Xiansheng as much as possible. We don’t have much time; we must trouble Mo Xiansheng!”
Immediately Chang He’s countenance changed. This remark was tantamount to say that if Kou Zhong could not refine the elixir, or perhaps the elixir was ineffective, even Chang He would have to take responsibility.
At the same time, Kou Zhong’s countenance also changed. Fortunately it was hidden behind the mask. He has been mingling in Jianghu since he was little, and had never done any shady business to harm anybody, in everything, yiqi [spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice] was of utmost importance. If he slipped away just like this, not only he might cause Chang He to be executed, even the entire Sha Family would be implicated. How could he have the heart to do such thing?
Accompanied by Duan Zhixuan and Bu Ting, Xu Ziling finally had the opportunity to pass through the Vermillion Bird Gate to enter the Imperial City. They walked along the Cheng Tian Gate Street, which was also called the ‘Heavenly Street’, connecting the Vermillion Bird and Cheng Tian, two gates. Official offices lined the street on both sides. On the left there were Taichang Si [Ministry of Ceremonies], Taipu Si [Court of Imperial Stud, the office charged with horse breeding], Shangshu Xing [government minister superintendent], Zuo Wu Wei [left military guard], Men Xia Wai Xing [under-the-gate outside supervisor]; on the right were Hong Lu Si [lit. ministry of information], Zongzheng Si [Director of Imperial Clan], You Lingjun Wei [right vanguard regiment], Si Nong Si [ministry of agriculture], You Wu Wei [right military guard], Zhong Shu Wai Xing [central document outside supervisor], and so on. [Translator’s note: I do not have any knowledge of these imperial governmental offices, hence the above terms were literal translations.]
Each building had its own characteristics. Standing together, they became an austere, awe-inspiring scene. The layout was orderly, lofty and grand.
The Taiji Hall towered above all the palace halls beyond the city wall. In the vast snowscape, the scene was even more spectacular; it represented the summit of the Great Tang imperial court’s power.
A group of riders that has just galloped into the cutting-across-east-to-west public square separating the Palace City and the Imperial City – was trotting over slowly from the direction of the East Palace’s Zhong Ming Gate. Due to the current unusual circumstances, Li Yuan allowed his ministers and generals to ride their horses in slow trot inside the Imperial City, in order not to waste both time and energy.
Duan Zhixuan turned his head to look; he saluted and said, “Turns out it is Chang He Jiangjun.”
Xu Ziling also cast a casual glance, and nearly fell off his horse; because he instantly recognized Kou Zhong’s ugly face.
Kou Zhong has never expected to encounter Xu Ziling’s Gong Chenchun at the wide public square cutting across between the Palace City and the Imperial City either. Momentarily he was dumbstruck, but he struggled hard not to show it.
Chang He led Kou Zhong and his group of personal guards toward Duan Zhixuan and stopped in front of them. Returning the salute, he said, “Duan Jiangjun, how are you?”
Duan Zhixuan’s gaze turned toward Kou Zhong’s ugly face; he smiled and said, “This gentleman is …”
Kou Zhong grabbed the opportunity to speak, “Xiaoren Mo Yixin; obtaining Jiafu Mo Wei’s handed-down teachings, we have practice medicine for many generations …”
Hearing that, Bu Ting was shaken; he cast a glance toward Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling groaned inwardly. If because of Kou Zhong’s fake report of his old man, which had exactly the same surname and given name with him – Bu Ting was surprised and asked question, it would be strange indeed if Chang He and Duan Zhixuan did not grow suspicious. Hastily he gave Bu Ting a faint smile while slightly shaking his head, signaling him not to say anything.
In the world, people having the same given name and family name could be found everywhere, hence Bu Ting shouldn’t be suspicious of this ‘no heart man’ [reminder: Mo Yixin’s literal translation is ‘without one heart’, figuratively means ‘no aspiration’.]
Chang He was anxious that Kou Zhong had not come out with effective cure, miracle medicine [idiom: panacea], plus he did not want Kou Zhong to leak too much information to Qin Wang Mansion’s people; thereupon he said, “Mo Jiang has an important matter to attend to, Duan Jiangjun, please!”
Urging his horse, he simply left. Kou Zhong did not even dare to give half an eye signal to Xu Ziling; he also urged his horse to catch up with Chang He.
Duan Zhixuan followed them galloping toward Vermillion Bird Gate with his eyes; muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, “In order to treat Niangniang’s strange illness, all of us must exhaust all our magic weapon [orig. talisman, religious magic technique]. Ay!”
Inwardly Xu Ziling was severely shaken. He had guessed whom the person Yang Xuyan wanted to harm and why he did that.
As if his soul had been wandering away, Kou Zhong followed Chang He out of the Vermillion Bird Gate. Reining his horse, Chang He said, “There is a street at West Market specializing in mountain herbs and ready-made medicine; they have all kinds of goods, everything that should be there is there. Perhaps the medicine Mo Xiansheng wanted to pick on Mount Zhongnan is also available there. But I wonder which kind of herbal medicine?”
Kou Zhong cried for help inwardly; in term of mountain herbal medicine, it could be said that he did not know anything. The name of the main ingredient of Mount Zhongnan that he randomly invented was still all right, but naturally he could not mention any other medicine randomly, because the boss of the herbal medicine shop would be the first to know that he was a fake goods. More unfortunate for him, he could not say the name of even one type of herbal medicine.
Right this critical moment between life and death, someone among the crowd of pedestrians across the street intentionally moved back and forth for a short moment. Kou Zhong immediately generated reaction. Casting his gaze toward the man, immediately he was pleased beyond his expectations. Raising his voice, he said, “To go to the West Market we ought to head west, right? Let’s talk on the way there. Chang Jiangjun, please!”
Until this moment, Chang He still had not seen any flaws in him, naturally he did not suspect anything. Urging the horse, he turned right to join the stream of vehicles and horses along the Guang Ming Avenue connecting the main city gates on the east and the west.
From the corner of his eyes, Kou Zhong caught Lei Jiuzhi secretly following them from the side, hence he deliberately slowed down his horse. Pretending to be thinking hard, he said, “This time, in order to treat Zhang Niangniang’s hot-on-top, cold-on-bottom illness, I, Mo Yixin, must display a bit of my skill by curing Niangniang’s illness in several applications of the medicine. Therefore, I need to find a quiet place to carefully think about this before prescribing any medication. If the drug stores in the West Market have the ingredients readily available, naturally it will save a lot of time. Hey! Xiaoren has a peculiarity, which is during thinking over the illness and the prescription, I must spend time alone.”
Chang He laughed and said, “That’s easy. How about going to Xiaodi’s residence? Mo Xiansheng can have the place as quiet as you want it to be.”
Kou Zhong cursed inwardly. Chang He clearly showed that from now on, until he refined the ‘immortal pill’, he absolutely would not let Kou Zhong leave his side even for half a step. Forget about he would not have the heart to harm Chang He, even if he heartlessly slipped away, it would not be easy; unless Kou Zhong disregarded everything by exposing his true identity and simply going all out. But then the Duke Yang’s Treasure could be declared done for.
This kind of no-room-to-advance-or-to-retreat situation, he barely got to Chang’an and it immediately happened. His luck certainly could not get worse, could it? He nearly cried to vent off the resentment and indignation in his heart.
Fortunately, there was still Lei Jiuzhi, who could make him come back from death’s door, the savior who could buy him a little bit of time. Thereupon he hastily said, “Before peace and quiet, I need to go to a place bustling with noise and excitement to rouse my spirit. Hence the reason I said it was a peculiarity. I wonder which wine shop or restaurant is the most famous in Chang’an?”
As if he was enumerating his family valuables, Chang He said, “At night, naturally the Bei Li is most lively; Shang Lin Yuan, Ming Tang Wo, Six-Happiness Casino, Xiao Chun Yuan [little spring garden], and so on; all kinds of brothels and casinos are congregated in that area. During the daytime, the prime example would be the East and West, two markets. Speaking about vegetable and meat dishes, Fu Ju Lou [congregating-happiness building] of the West Market ranks at the top of the list, the scenery is also beautiful. From the tables on the east side of the third floor, we could see the enchanting scenery of Yue Ma Bridge and the entire Yong An [lit. eternal peace] Canal region.”
Hearing the three-character word ‘Yue Ma Bridge’, immediately Kou Zhong’s eyes lit up, he nearly forgot his powerless-to-defend-oneself predicament.
The snow finally stopped, but the entire Guang Ming Avenue and the buildings on both sides had already become a white-capped world.
Relying on his spirited ears, he was also secretly following Lei Jiuzhi’s movement on the side. He was able to hear everything clearly.
This moment they entered a side street. Their first destination was the Fu Ju Lou, so that Kou Zhong, this fake divine doctor, could perform his fraud skillfully.
Duan Zhixuan, Xu Ziling, and Bu Ting, three men sat down in the hall at a small courtyard that was known as Xu Xuan [lit. continuous brilliance] inside the Ye Ting Palace’s east garden, drinking fragrant tea served by the palace maids.
This courtyard was where Li Shimin loved to spend time to take a break; the scenery was beautiful, outside the door was a man-made lake passing through a pond. The water was bright, clear, and wavy, with fish lived deep underwater and lotus floated on the surface. By the bank of the lake, flowers and trees were spread out. A long bridge spanned the lake, toward a hexagonal pavilion built right in the middle of the lake, and continued on toward the courtyard gate.
It’s a pity that Xu Ziling’s mind was occupied with the concern whether Li Shimin would be able to see through his real identity or not, hence he was not in the mood to enjoy this beautiful scenery.
Speaking one minute and was quiet the next, Duan Zhixuan accompanied the other two in some idle gossip. Suddenly someone entered the hall. Bu Ting thought it was the King of Qin himself has arrived, hence he hurriedly stood up.
Xu Ziling already knew that the newcomer was definitely not Li Shimin; however, since his ‘master’ [as in master/servant] stood up, he also stood up to salute.
The newcomer was a man about thirty, wearing Confucian scholar attire, his outward appearance was refined in manner, but Xu Ziling was able to see through at first glance that this man was a martial art master.
The man came in front of the three men, saluted, and said with a laugh, “Hou Junji pays his respect to Bu Xiong and Mo Xiong. Because of an urgent matter, Qin Wang had to see Huangshang, hence he sent Xiaodi to express his regret to the two gentlemen. He will have to reschedule the meeting for another day.”
Secretly Xu Ziling heaved a sigh of relief, but Bu Ting was unable to conceal his disappointment.
After everybody was seated properly, Duan Zhixuan asked with a frown, “What could be this urgent?”
Hou Junji sighed and said, “Precisely the matter about Crown Prince Jiancheng recruiting Tujue’s martial art master to join the Chang Lin Army. Tuli Khan of Eastern Tujue’s ambition toward our Central Earth, everybody in the world knows. Crown Prince Jiancheng dotes on and trusts Ke Dazhi, who was sent by Tuli to throw our Great Tang into disorder, it was already unwise, but now he even put Ke Dazhi in an important position, and he is summoning Tujue people to be his personal guards. He is showing the wolf into the house like this, naturally Qin Wang will have to counsel and strongly admonish Huangshang.”
And then he went on, “This group of nearly three hundred Tujue martial art masters has been in the Capital for more than a month, but only this morning the paperwork was formally submitted to the personnel supervisor. Qin Wang went to see Huangshang as soon as received the news; he simply had to do it, he begged for Bu Xiong and Mo Xiong’s forgiveness.”
Bu Ting immediately stated that he understood clearly and did not mind at all. As long as Qin Wang was willing to grant him interview, it was already something that would bring honor to his ancestors. He did not have any qualifications to bicker about Li Shimin missing an appointment, and even if he did, he would not dare to bicker.
Hou Junji himself was clearly very busy; as soon as his job here was done, he stood up to see the visitors out.
As they were stepping out of Ye Ting Palace’s main gate, Xu Ziling’s only hope was that he would never have to come back here. But he also knew that sooner or later the ugly woman must appear before her father-in-law. If Li Shimin could see through his disguise, Kou Zhong’s treasure hunt would definitely be done for.
Yong An Canal received the water from the north; it was the biggest man-made canal connecting the north and south parts of the city of Chang’an, as well as the most important water structure in the city.
The Yue Ma Bridge magnificently spanned above the canal. The body of the bridge was a big arch, like a rainbow in the sky, made of delicately carved stones. The span of the Bridge was more than ten zhang. The pedestrian path on both sides flanked the vehicles and horses lane in the middle, which was wide enough to accommodate four carriages traveling side by side. On the big arch’s shoulders, there was a small arch on each side, both for drainage purposes, as well as to lighten the load of the big arch. It was an ingenious combination, making the bridge’s main structure lighter and artistic, reducing the slope of the road, and making the shape even more remarkable.
The carved stone railings on the bridge were engraved with clouds and dragons decorative design bas-relief. The six observation pillars in the middle were even more different from other observation pillars; they formed six dragonheads looking down outward of the bridge, silently watching the river water and the boats flowing and passing under the bridge. It was such a unique concept.
Kou Zhong grasped tightly in the palm of his hand the life-saving prescription that Lei Jiuzhi slipped into his hand as they brushed past each other just now. From the table on the east side of Fu Ju Lou’s third floor his tiger-eyes, without blinking at all – stared blankly out the window, down onto the big stone bridge with a distinct style.
Together with the Jing Yao Avenue [or the big street with glorious scenery] that ran parallel to the Yong An Canal, where pedestrians and vehicles and horses were flowing in an unending stream, the Yue Ma Bridge was surrounded all around with layer upon layer of luxurious mansions and big courtyards of rich and influential families. Even if the Duke Yang’s Treasure was at the bottom of the bridge, transporting a large quantity of treasure and weaponry from such a densely populated place was certainly easier said than done.
On either side of the Bridge there were city guards standing on sentry duty, greatly increasing the difficulty of getting the treasure out of this place.
Accompanying him on the side, Chang He thought that he was thinking hard about prescribing the elixir, hence he did not dare to disturb; he could never have imagined that the problem turning around in Kou Zhong’s head was such a thing. Chang He’s attendants were sitting on another table next to theirs.
Since it was lunch time, the section of Fu Ju Lou with the best scenery was fully packed [orig. a banquet with no empty seats], only two or three tables were empty, but it was just because the guests reserving the tables had not arrived.
Kou Zhong could not help sighing. Greatly nervous, Chang He asked, “Does Mo Xiansheng have some difficulties?”
Kou Zhong came to his senses. Taking his eyes off the Yue Ma Bridge, he whispered, “I need to go to the latrine; I wonder if Chang Jiangjun would come with me?”
Chang He was greatly embarrassed; his old face turned slightly red. Smiling wryly, he said, “Mo Xiansheng really know how to crack a joke; only because Xiao Jiang [lowly general] received heavy responsibility from Jiancheng Dianxia [His Highness] that I am this tense. Mo Xiansheng, please!”
Kou Zhong was just about to stand up when a group of men was climbing the stairs to this floor; the one in the lead was tall and straight, wearing tight-fitting dark blue warrior outfit with white trimming, with white sheepskin coat on the outside, and a long saber was hanging on his back.
This lordly man appeared to be no more than twenty-five, twenty-six years old, with spotlessly white and a tint of healthy rosy glow on almost like a girl’s – delicate face. His jet-black and shiny hair was put in a bun on top of his head, tied with a piece of white ribbon. His appearance was heroic, grand, out of the ordinary; his imposing attitude was intimidating.
His pair of slender eyes exuded some kind of terrifyingly deep attractive force as well as solemn rays of light, so sharp that it looked like they were able to penetrate the opponent’s what is true and what is false.
Although he was dressed in Han attire, with just one glance Kou Zhong was able to see that he was a Tujue; moreover, he was certain that this was the young martial art master who shared the same fame outside the Great Wall with Ba Fenghan, the expert in using ‘Kuang Sha Dao Fa’ [sand storm saber technique], Ke Dazhi.
Kou Zhong had never expected that he had just arrived in Chang’an and already came across him under this kind of circumstances; wasn’t this a case of enemies on a narrow road [idiom; fig. an inevitable clash between opposing factions]?