Book 31 Chapter 6 – Pleasure Quarters and Gambling Establishments
The four VIP halls of Ming Tang Wo were four stand-alone buildings, which were connected to the main hall by corridors. On both sides of the corridors was the beautiful landscape scenery of pavilions, ponds, and gardens; an elegant ambience, totally different and more interesting than the hubbub and the noise and excitement of the mail hall.
Since from time to time the successive monarchs were taking measure to prohibit gambling, the casino had separate venues, which were named ‘Ming Tang Zi’ [lit. bright (or public/open) small hall], and ‘Si Wo Zi’ [private small den/nest]. The former was the casino that was open to public, the latter was a private mansion that was used as the casino. Therefore, the name Ming Tang Wo came from a combination of the ‘Ming Tang’ of the ‘Ming Tang Zi’ and the ‘Wo’ of the ‘Si Wo Zi’.
From this, one could see the ‘Great Immortal’ Hu Fo’s prestige and influence in the Dulin [lit. gambling forest]. It was also clear that in the midst of chaotic situation before the world was unified, the competition among the gambling heroes and gambling hegemons of all parties was already very fierce.
Because this business was extremely lucrative, to be able to open a gambling establishment, not only one must have strong and solid financial resources, one must also get along well with people from black and white ways, plus one must have strong support from either the authority or nobility or both.
In Chang’an, the two largest public and legitimate casinos were Ming Tang Wo and the Six-Happiness Casino. The former had the support of Yin Zuwen, the father of Li Yuan’s doted imperial concubine Yin De Fei [‘fei’ means imperial concubine]. The latter was under Li Yuanji’s protection. Therefore, their standing was extremely strong. Even Li Shimin, who was a proponent of prohibition against gambling, could not do anything against these two casinos.
On the surface, the Six-Happiness Casino was under management of a man with a nickname ‘Shen Xian Shou’ [Daoist immortal/deity hand] Chi Shengchun. But according to Lei Jiuzhi, Chi Shengchun ought to be Xiang Shengchun, Xiang Gui’s eldest son, Xiang Yushan’s eldest brother.
Lei Jiuzhi told all these things to Xu Ziling on their way to Ming Tang Wo, in order to strengthen his resolution to strive for the hegemony of the gambling world. Only by defeating the ‘Great Immortal’ Hu Fo and ‘Deity Hand’ Chi Shengchun would they be able to lure Xiang Gui out and proceed with Lei Jiuzhi’s grand plan of destroying the Xiang Family from the inside.
The four VIP halls of Ming Tang Wo were given the names ‘Da Xian’ [Great Immortal], ‘Tian Huang’ [Heaven/Sky Emperor], ‘Di Huang’ [Earth Emperor], and ‘Ren Huang’ [Man/human Emperor], respectively. Other than the main hall, ‘Da Xian Tang’ [tang = hall], which was not being setup for specific game, each of the three rear halls was setup for specific game. The ‘Tian Huang Tang’ was dice, ‘Di Huang Tang’ was Pan Tan, the ‘Ren Huang Tang’ was Pai Jiu; all were widely popular gambling games.
‘Da Xian Tang’ was Ming Tang Wo’s highest holy land. On the inside, it was divided into eighteen small gambling halls, allowing the gamblers to select the game they wanted to play. The casino itself would be happy to accompany them, but they could also arrange the guests to play against each other; the casino only drew certain-percentage commission.
Xu Ziling and Lei Jiuzhi entered the ‘Tian Huang Tang’, specializing in dice. This hall had about two-thirds the surface area of the main hall, but the number of people inside was only about one-quarter of the main hall. The guests were comparatively of the higher-class; none did not wear gorgeous, fittingly-tailored clothes. Although not as clamorous as the gamblers in the outer hall, the atmosphere was still blazing.
Among the guests, there was no lack of magnificently-dressed women with beautiful appearance. The majority being the ladies from the pleasure houses that the honored guests and the rich merchants brought along into the casino. Everybody was gambling in high spirits; the heaven and the earth lost their light.
Entering the casino, Lei Jiuzhi was like returning home; relaxed and comfortable. He pulled Xu Ziling to sit on the chair at the corner. The casino attendant on duty came to greet them and offer fragrant tea.
Xu Ziling took a sip of the hot tea; he shook his head and said, “I really don’t understand why so many people would be addicted to this and unwilling to let go. Don’t they know the ‘ten bets nine losses’ principle?”
Lei Jiuzhi replied quietly, “Although everybody knew that principle, by nature people are greedy, they always think that the god of fortune might bless them; therefore, since ancient times they are always like circling vultures. Otherwise, the casinos would be out of business a long time ago.”
Lei Jiuzhi’s eyes scanned the gamblers again before calmly said, “Casinos are really like miniature world; there are all kinds of people in existence here. Some only whittle their time away or just to dispel their boredom, gambling leisurely to balance their life. Some came to flaunt their riches, throwing away a thousand taels of gold without hesitation; the casino is just like a place where they could parade their wealth. For some, the intense battle on the gambling tables is some kind of psychological detachment from the real world, to turn anxieties into amusement, to immerse themselves into the excitement of a game of chance. But some others gamble out of curiosity, or perhaps using the game of chance as a means to seek contact with certain people for their own benefit, to use it as a communication method, so much so that they would deliberately lose to the other party, which is akin to a disguised form of bribery. The worst kind is the compulsive gamblers; losing, they want to recover their capital, winning, they want to win some more. This kind of addiction is difficult to cure; they would keep sinking and bring disgrace forever.”
Greatly astonished, Xu Ziling said, “Your thought is very thorough. Although I did think about this problem, I could only think about gamblers as the recipients of the excitement stimulated by the depravity of gambling, by the changeable situation, where victory and defeat will be decided in an instant, the psychological temptation of winning a lot of money by relying on pure luck. I have never thought about other situations.”
Lei Jiuzhi smiled and said, “Let’s stop chatting. I want to see your, Laodi [ol’ younger brother] skill in listening to the dice; I wonder if it has disappeared due to lack of practice?”
‘The long Wuxia [Gorge] of the Three Gorges [on the Yangtze River] in the eastern Ba [Sichuan], three cries of the apes brought tears staining the lower garment. The apes of the Three Gorges of Eastern Ba cry in grief, three cries of the apes brought tears moistening the dress’.
Bu Jie, Bu Ting, Tian Santang, Xiao Xiuming, Xie Jiarong, Chen Liang, Wu Dengshan, and Liu Shiwen, along with the nine beautiful courtesans accompanying them drinking, had never thought that this Mo Wei’s improvisation in poetry was as excellent as his swordsmanship. Nobody did not clap their hands and cheered, and toasted each other with a cup.
The beautiful courtesan accompanying Hou Xibai called Guizhi [lit. cinnamon] threw half of her body into his bosom while cooing tenderly, “Mo Ye’s train of thought is very quick; it seems that it would be difficult to find an opponent in Chang’an! Let Nujia toast you one more cup.”
Inwardly though, Hou Xibai felt a little regret. Reciting poetry and composing poems were easy for him, but if Xu Ziling became Mo Wei again, this might be a problem. It’s just too bad that going to a brothel for him was like Lei Jiuzhi going to a casino; after two cups of wine went down this belly and he had beautiful women by his side, his will was immediately swept away, he forgot who he was, and was unable to control himself.
When he was drinking the good wine that the beauty held against his lips and the crowd was cheering to boost his spirit, someone outside the door laughed and spoke in impure Han language, “I hope Mo Xiong’s sword is like your skill in producing poetry, so that Dazhi can broaden his horizon.”
Immediately Bu Ting and the others’ countenance changed.
Raising his cup, Hou Xibai drained it in one gulp, and said with a long laugh, “When morning breaks, go to Shang Lin, when evening comes, rest at Shang Lin; from dawn to dusk spend the day in Shang Lin. Ke Xiong wants to personally experience Xiaodi’s sword technique, it is indeed Xiaodi’s honor. Only aren’t you afraid that saber light and sword shadow will greatly damage Shang Lin’s wind and moon [romance/beautiful scenery]?”
The door was opened wide, revealing Ke Dazhi’s imposing figure. This young martial art from Eastern Tujue’s eyes were like lightning as they stared fixedly at Hou Xibai’s face. Calmly and leisurely he said, “Using martial art to make friends is actually another way apart from using poetry and drinking wine to meet friend. Since we are not going to fight a life and death battle, what does it have to do with Shang Lin Yuan’s fine time, beautiful scenery?”
Confident and at ease, Hou Xibai laughed and said, “Well said! Let Xiaodi offer Ke Xiong a toast.”
Hou Xibai’s leisurely and comfortable, relaxed manner was greatly beyond Ke Dazhi’s expectation. He would never have thought that the everyday Hou Xibai was just this kind of free, unconstrained, casual person. Even if he was defeated or even killed, he would never change this distinctive character.
Ke Dazhi was displaying a martial art master’s bearing; stepping forward directly toward the table, he took the cup of good wine that Hou Xibai personally poured to the brim. Raising it up, he said, “Mo Xiong’s spirit is indeed out of the ordinary. We will have a three-stroke limit to add a little color to Shang Lin Yuan’s beautiful scenery.”
Hou Xibai was relieved. It would be very bad if they were having a free hand combat and he was forced to reveal his unique school’s Fan of Beauty.
Under Bu Jie and the others’ worried look, Hou Xibai rose to his full height. He and Ke Dazhi saluted each other with a toast. Before using martial art to make friends, they used the wine to make friends first.
Showing off the wild and dauntless character of Tujue warrior, Ke Dazhi casually hurled the wine cup onto the floor, creating sharp and clear noise as the cup shattered. His eyes were flashing with intense murderous intent, but the tone of his voice was surprisingly tranquil. He said, “Taizi Dianxia’s room is a bit more spacious. Mo Xiong, please!”
Turning around, he simply left.
Hou Xibai signaled Bu Jie, Bu Ting, and the others not to worry and to wait for him, before following behind Ke Dazhi out of the room.
The other gamblers’ envious eyes were looking at Xu Ziling collecting his win. More anxiously, they were waiting for which gate, among the two gates, ‘big’ and ‘small’, Xu Ziling would put his bet next.
Xu Ziling has been playing for seven hands and won five, netting him nearly fifty taels of gambling chips, which was equivalent to nearly two hundred taels of Wu Zhu Coin; a considerable amount of money.
Originally, when the Sui Dynasty unified the world, they also unified the currency by minting Wu Zhu Coin. By the time Emperor Yang ascended the throne, the expenditures of the military campaigns over many years put a very heavy burden on the state treasury, which forced the House of Sui to mint a large amount of Wu Zhu Coin. As a result, its worth and market value plummeted, inflation intensified, plus under lax government control, there were a large number of private foundries casting their own money.
When the House of Tang was established in Guanzhong, Li Yuan, following Li Shimin’s proposal, minted new currency called Kaiyuan Tongbao, in which ten wen worth one tael. The people under his rule may still use the old dynasty’s Wu Zhu Coin in place of the new currency, with the exchange rate of four taels of Wu Zhu Coin to one tael of Kaiyuan Tongbao. Therefore, winning fifty taels in Chang’an was equal to winning two hundred taels of Wu Zhu Coin being used in the area outside the Pass. This amount was nothing to be sneezed at.
If gold was converted directly into Tongbao, each tael of gold could be exchanged for more than thirty taels of Tongbao. Therefore, Xu Ziling’s win of fifty taels of gaming chips was really a considerable wealth.
Although the ‘Tian Huang Tang’ specialized in dice, there were all kinds of gambling games; there was big and small, two gates, and then there was sixteen-gate wager, or putting the bet according to the number of dots on the dice themselves, such as using three dice: if one die matched the number of the bet, the payment would be one to one, if two dice matched, two to one, if all three matched, three to one.
There was also Pan Tan style counting; the total number of dots on three dice divided by four, the remainder would be the points that the bet was checked against. The most complicated was using Tian Jiu Pai style. The three dice were matched against various tile combination of the Tian Jiu Pai, and the winning or losing was determined according to Tian Jiu rules.
All shapes and styles, rich and diverse; it was difficult to enumerate.
Xu Ziling was playing the simplest big/small, two gates, simply because his dice-listening skill was still not one hundred percent accurate, he could not always hear the dots that the three dice landed on. Therefore, although the two-gate wager only paid one to one, he had a comparatively higher odds.
Lei Jiuzhi intentionally did not stay near him; he stood on the other side of the gambling table, helping him by being on the lookout.
With an endless clanking noise the covered bowl was shaken for one round and then stopped, the casino girl shaking the bowl called loudly in singsong voice, “Have treasure bet your treasure, no treasure leave the table.”
The more than thirty gamblers standing around the table had their eyes on Xu Ziling, to see which gate he would put his bet on, because they wanted to go with the tide and place their bet on the same gate, hoping that they could obtain his luck and win some money.
Xu Ziling already received pointers from Lei Jiuzhi that under this kind of situation, it was not advisable to win money, or else he might attract the casino’s attention; therefore, he deliberately placed his bet on the losing gate, provoking loud complain from everybody. Naturally the banker seized total victory.
Xu Ziling knew how to quit while he was ahead; picking up his gambling chips, he signaled Lei Jiuzhi with his eyes, and moved to another table to lay his bet.
Suddenly a female voice rang by his side, “This Daye, could you please step aside? Our Madame wanted to ask for Daye’s guidance.”
Startled, Xu Ziling turned to look at the lady who was speaking to him. She was dressed as a maid, her age could not be more than twenty, but the tip of her brows and the corners of her eyes were pregnant with passion; her gaze bold, not at all like the maid of an honorable family.
Knitting his brows, he asked, “Who’s Guniang’s [Miss] Madame?”
The amorous maid stretched out her finger to point, and spoke with an enchanting smile, “In Chang’an, nobody does not know our Madame Hong, Daye must have just arrived here; am I right?”
Looking toward the direction she pointed at, he saw a beautiful lady [orig. ‘fu’, older woman] wearing splendid clothes, beautiful garment, sitting charmingly on a chair in the corner. Standing behind her were two big men that looked like bodyguards. Meeting his gaze, she smiled in return.
Xu Ziling was greatly astonished; this woman seemed to take a fancy to him, but it could not possibly because of his dry, waxy-yellow fake face. If it were about Xu Ziling’s gambling skill, it would be even more baffling, because he was only playing for ten hands, eight hands, which were really not enough for the other party to form an opinion.
Letting out a cold snort, he said, “Laozi is in a hurry to make a fortune; I don’t have time to chat with your honorable Madame.” No longer paying any attention to the amorous maid, he squeezed into the crowd surrounding another table.
Slapping the table, Li Jiancheng exclaimed, “Good! Jingzhao [capital of the country] has one more strong and courageous man with guts. No matter victory or defeat, this Dianxia will reward each side ten taels of gold.”
Hou Xibai saluted him according to the propriety; he spoke in loud and clear voice, “Thank you very much for Taizi Dianxia bestowing rewards.”
From Li Jiancheng, his gaze turned toward Kou Zhong. As soon as their eyes met, they both immediately recognized who the other person was. However, if both of them did not know that the other man was in Chang’an, perhaps they would not be able to guess with 80-, 90-percent accuracy in such a short period of time.
Kou Zhong felt relieved, because he knew Hou Xibai could not possibly reveal their secret. Furthermore, since Li Jiancheng wanted to win over this fake ‘Mo Wei’, Kou Zhong felt even less worry. Now he could take his time in trying to figure Ke Dazhi’s Sandstorm Saber Technique out, so that when he faced this opponent in the future, he would have greater confidence of victory.
Ke Dazhi pulled the saber out of its sheath and took a stance. His movement was flawless, but without any with-swords-drawn-and-bows-bent feeling.
Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai, who saw Ke Dazhi pulling his saber for the first time, shivered inwardly.
It should be noted that even for a first-class martial art master, as long as the weapon was in hand and poised to attack, it would automatically reveal killer, attacking, forcing – momentum. But Ke Dazhi was able to have a complete control of the momentum, whether it was to be released or to be withdrawn – according to what his mind decided; he had indeed reached the realm of a grandmaster level.
The profoundness of this fact, only brilliant masters like Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai could understand. Er Wenhuan, Qiao Gongshan, and Wei Jiaqing, who were anxiously looking forward to Ke Dazhi upholding justice on their behalf – immediately broke into cheer and applause.
Li Jiancheng looked pleased; with calm, composed countenance he watched attentively at Hou Xibai, who has not drawn his sword yet. Noticing his natural elegance, he knew that this was also the bearing of a Wulin master.
Xue Wanche was still showing a deep, impenetrable, enigmatic expression; he did not seem to be the least bit interested in the dragon wars, the tiger battles, which was about to happen in the hall. But Kou Zhong knew that he was concentrating his attention completely on Ke Dazhi; contrary to expectation, he did not seem to care about Hou Xibai at all.
Hou Xibai’s lightly swiped his waist, the long sword suddenly appeared in his slender, long hand. He lightly waved it in front of his body just like if he were playing with the Fan of Beauty, creating a flash of sharp light. Only then did he point at the opponent, who was standing about ten paces away, and spoke with a cheerful laugh, “Were it not for Ke Xiong already decided on the three-stroke limit, perhaps Xiaodi would be so scared that I couldn’t even hold the sword steadily in my hand. Ke Xiong, please!”
Chang He, Feng Liben, both revealed a look of surprise, all because Hou Xibai’s movement was confident and at ease, and free, very pleasing to the eyes, implying a great expert attitude. More unexpected was that facing such a martial art like Ke Dazhi, whose name shook Chang’an, unexpectedly he still did not reveal the slightest trepidation.
Ke Dazhi’s eyes suddenly became incomparably sharp; with a cold shout, “Good!” the Sandstorm Saber immediately shot strong, fierce-beyond-human-comprehension saber qi, straight toward the opponent.
The originally ‘moderate wind, beautiful sun’ atmosphere suddenly turned into ‘raging sandstorm’-like biting cold momentum. The most astonishing thing was that the shooting out qi energy powered by his internal strength was like a rolling sandstorm, like tiny particles pelting Hou Xibai’s skin that was quite painful.
Such a bizarre and marvelous qigong, this was the first time that Hou Xibai encountered it.
Even with Hou Xibai’s ability, presently he was forced to brandish the sword to make a small circle in the air, using hidden fan move to counter the opponent’s saber qi.
Speaking about the relative superiority of the two, Hou Xibai was already falling into the disadvantageous position.
Ke Dazhi’s momentum did not spare the opponent at all; like a tiger finding its prey he moved forward while slightly stooping down. Two feet braced the floor, he suddenly pounced forward; as if without any effort at all the Sandstorm Saber slashed down on Hou Xibai, yet none in the hall did not feel that his saber carried ten-thousand catty of force, an irresistible mighty power.
Seeing this, Kou Zhong was shocked inwardly; only from this one saber strike he could tell that Ke Dazhi’s saber technique was in no way inferior to Ba Fenghan, who defeated the ‘Tiele Eagle’ Qu Ao in the past. Simply his ability to handle-heavy-as-it-was-light was particularly outstanding.
But Hou Xibai did not have time to think. As soon as the opponent released the saber momentum, saber qi already moved one step ahead to reach his body; quickly he swiped his sword like a fan and retreated at an angle backward before sending out his countermove.
Suddenly lightning flashed, sword qi pervaded the air, completely enveloping the attacking Ke Dazhi inside its sphere.
Saber and sword collided.
Hou Xibai staggered two steps back, deflecting Ke Dazhi’s Sandstorm Saber dangerously closely.
Instead of advancing, the latter retreated, back to his original spot. Letting out a long laugh, he said, “Mo Xiong indeed did not disappoint Dazhi! But were it not this time we are using martial art to make friends, Dazhi’s Sandstorm Saber Technique would attack Mo Xiong like violently raging sandstorm. How many moves does Mo Xiong think you could receive my attack?”
Having just recovered from the shock, Hou Xibai mused that if he had to use the sword, which he could not take advantage of, perhaps he would breathe his last within twenty strokes. But if he were using the Fan of Beauty, then victory or defeat would be difficult to foresee.
He was a free and at ease person, who did not care about momentary gains and losses; cupping the sword in his hand, he laughed and said, “Ke Xiong’s Sandstorm Saber Technique’s name is certainly not in vain; Biren steps down gracefully.”
Ke Dazhi was amazed inwardly. He originally wanted to provoke Hou Xibai into making unyielding response, so that by unleashing his consummate skill, he could attack him into submission within two strokes. Who would have thought that the opponent would admit defeat on the spot? How could he then unleash the remaining two strokes?
Li Jiancheng stood up with a long laugh; he said, “Mo Xiong is able to block one of Ke Dazhi’s all-out strike, it is enough to make your name spread out in the capital [orig. jingzhao, see above]. Such a talent, how could I let it fall into oblivion? Please sit down!”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong’s heart was full of admiration. Although Li Jiancheng had used means that do not deserve to see the light to harm others, but he himself was a talent who had good taste and knew how to buy people’s heart; no wonder he could become Li Shimin’s adversary.
Hou Xibai returned the sword into its sheath. He and Ke Dazhi were just about to take their seats, outside the door someone shouted, “Xiufang Dajia [great expert] has arrived!”
Promptly everybody stood up. Even if Li Yuan was gracing them with his presence, they would not have shown him more respect than this. Even Ke Dazhi also revealed a longing, expectant expression. Clearly Shang Xiufang had enough charisma to impress others.
Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai exchanged a glance; inwardly they had the same feeling, which was they both did not expect that under such circumstances, they would again meet this peerless tender beauty, with whom they have not met for a very long time.