Book 31 Chapter 7 – Where is the Treasure?
Altogether Xu Ziling joined a total of ten different gambling tables playing various dice games; he lost seven games and won three. But because in the each game he won his bet was quite heavy, the bankers had to compensate him according to the betting ratio, hence he still netted more than seventy taels of Tongbao [see previous chapter]. Plus with the more than two hundred taels that he won previously, it was certainly a return from a rewarding journey.
He had surely aroused the casino’s attention; not only someone was continuously staying by himself to watch him, the dealer shaking the bowl was also replaced by a relatively older veteran.
This new dealer’s shaking-the-bowl technique did not follow certain set of steps. The dice inside the bowl did not knock against each other and the bowl horizontally, rather, they jumped straight up and fell down, and suddenly the three dice stopped at the same time, which was beyond everybody’s expectation.
Revealing a smile full of confidence, the dealer fixed his gaze on Xu Ziling and said, “Gentlemen, honored guests, please put your bet.”
Xu Ziling mused that if he wanted to show off his real skill, then they would have to look at this round. He put all his win, leaving nothing, more than a hundred taels – to bet on the twelve-point gate.
The honored guests who could enter the VIP hall were all either very rich people or nobility; but seeing Xu Ziling, with no visible change in his countenance, made such an extravagant bet, throwing away more than a hundred taels in one bet, it still provoked a loud murmur.
One after another the other gamblers put their bet down; the majority rode the wind by putting their bet on twelve dots.
Under ten-thousand crowd’s expectant eyes, the dealer held the lid with both hands; sharp-sighted and deft, he suddenly lifted the lid skillfully, revealing the three dice’s upper surface, showing ‘four’, ‘five’, and ‘six’, respectively, for a total of fifteen dots.
Nobody, including Xu Ziling, put a bet on this point.
A burst of disappointed sigh ensued.
Xu Ziling knew his skill was a notch inferior, so that he was confused by the dealer’s special technique in shaking the bowl, so that he mistakenly heard ‘six’ as a ‘three’.
The dealer rightfully laughed and said, “This time this Ye’er’s [master] gambling luck is lacking. Would you like to try again?”
Xu Ziling sensed that Madame Hong’s eyes were fixed on him. From the first game, she had been following him, bent on seeing him putting his bet, and from time to time she also placed a bet or two.
Xu Ziling took the gambling chips that Lei Jiuzhi exchanged for him, a total of more than two hundred taels – out of his pocket and placed them on the table, thinking that if lost all this money, even Lei Jiuzhi would have no choice but to let him go back to the hotel to sleep.
The crowd burst into a loud whisper again. The atmosphere heated up.
The veteran dealer appeared a little bit nervous. If he lost to Xu Ziling’s single bet, the casino would have to compensate more than a thousand taels, which could not be considered a small amount!
Naturally Xu Ziling did not have a hundred-percent confidence that he would win this hand, but he really did not have any regard toward this amount of money, which, for ordinary people, was enough to finance a life of luxury for at least one year. Therefore, he did not have any pressure of success or failure.
Secretly performing the Motionless Fundamental Image, he pushed his spirit and senses to its peak. Not only he used his ‘ears’ to listen, he also used his ‘heart’ to feel.
The dice dropped; the bowl was also skillfully placed on the table. Xu Ziling heard that one of the dice was still rolling gently inside the bowl, unlike the way the dice stopped inside the bowl previously, where he did not hear one of them was still rolling. He cheered inwardly, ‘Close call!’ He lost because previously he did not hear this tiny variation.
Obviously this technique was aimed specifically for experts in listening to the dice.
With a smile on his face, Xu Ziling put all his gambling chips on nine dots.
This time everybody else placed their bets on various places, only that Madame Hong was still following him by placing twenty taels on the same gate.
The bowl was opened.
It was indeed nine points.
Shang Xiufang’s jet-black, shiny beautiful hair was rolled up in a bun with two locks of hair coming down her temples like a fairy. She was wearing pale-green Hui attire, which was popular among various tribes around the northwest region, which had high turndown collars, with narrowing sleeves but wide bodice, long skirt dragging over the floor, the sleeves were lined with embroidered trimmings, and wearing a pair of soft cotton shoes with raised tips.
Escorted by two pretty maids, she floated inside the hall.
This kind of glamorous spirit, magnificent style unmatched in her generation, even a nobility like the Crown Prince of the Great Tang, Li Jiancheng, was overwhelmed with ashamed-of-his-own-inferiority feeling, let alone other people.
Originally Li Jiancheng was rather resentful that Shang Xiufang was coming late; who would have thought that he was swept over by her pair of shallow-water rippling eyes that could pull the spirit and hook the soul, so that all resentment and indignation were entirely cast away outside the ninth-level clouds, and were completely forgotten to the point that none remained.
Shang Xiufang saluted and apologized, while still tenderly trying to catch her breath. Nobody, Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai included, did not have their soul hooked by her soft-speech and warbler-voice, and her touching manner and expression.
Li Jiancheng introduced Kou Zhong and Hou Xibai, whom Shang Xiufang met for the first time. On the surface this beauty showed consistently polite demeanor, but did not pay too much attention.
Two strong-looking servants, who were following behind Shang Xiufang, presented a guzheng, and laid it in the middle of the hall. Everything was set, Shang Xiufang moved her jade steps and sat down in front of the guzheng. Everybody returned to their seat, while the maids and the servants withdrew outside the hall.
Under everybody’s expectant gaze, Shang Xiufang, with tranquil expression, plucked the strings to tune it. She casually spoke in soft voice, “Building a house within mankind’s territory, there is no clamor from the vehicles and horses. Asking the lord how could it be, the heart is straying to a distant place. Picking chrysanthemum under the eastern fence, leisurely looking at the southern mountain [orig. Mount Nan, perhaps Mount Zhongnan; see also Book 30 Chapter 10]. The mountain air, the fine day and night, the flying birds are returning. There is true meaning in all these, wanting to argue but already forgot the words.”
Using singing-the-poetry style, neither slow nor hurried, she sang the previous generation’s great poet Tao Yuanming’s pastoral poem, matched by the tune from the guzheng’s strings, her clear voice lingered in the air, similar to the gentle, mellow speech in which he composed the beautiful poem brimming with mysterious touch, making people could not help but pouring out their spirit to listen respectfully, wishing that her enchanting voice would never stop.
Kou Zhong turned his head to look outside the window. After the big snow, Chang’an was blanketed in white, reflecting the soft light of the half-moon in the sky. He suddenly felt that Shang Xiufang’s singing voice, brimming with powerful inspiration, had transported him into a faraway land, and then from there, he wandered alone in endless, boundless earth. All those contention for hegemony over the world, the Duke Yang’s Treasure, had become something that were happening in another world that had nothing to do with him.
Each time he met Shang Xiufang in the past, there has always been a ‘direct participation’ feeling. But this time, by becoming the ugly man Mo Yixin, he had turned into a ‘bystander’, yet he was more engrossed instead. Even he himself did not understand why it was so.
‘Ding! Ding! Dong! Dong!’
Shang Xiufang’s song ended. She revealed a deep, contemplative expression, a touching demeanor of the-heart-racing-beyond-material-world. Her slender and long, elegant jade fingers, seemingly carelessly, fiddled with the strings, completely without any trace of hatchet and chisel, weaving phrase after phrase of graceful music, hiding within it a lingering, deeply felt but not in an exaggerated way, faint resentment.
The breathing between the notes, the transition between the phrases of the music, created a sense of space and beautiful line within the movement [of a symphony]; the timbre of her voice was even more like waves of multi-colored grandiose, endlessly haunting melody.
Without any warning at all, Shang Xiufang’s elegant, unconstrained voice leisurely, amidst the enchanting-between-the-heaven-and-the-earth guzheng sound, like the bright moon rising in the clear sky, pure and perfect – sang, “There are many beautiful women in famous metropolis, the capital produces young men, treasured sword worth a thousand gold, covered in beautiful and brightly-colored clothes. Cock fighting on the eastern suburbs street, riding a horse in long autumn days, rushing headlong yet not even reaching half, to avoid passing through in front of me …”
In an elusive, yet matching perfectly like seamless heavenly clothes – guzheng accompaniment, her unconcerned, sensual and captivating voice sang a touching feeling. Nobody in the hall did not feel that she was singing this song exclusively for him.
That kind of tender, satisfying feeling was certainly hard to describe.
“When the sun gallops to the southwest, the circumstances cannot be climbed anymore. The scattering clouds returning to the city, the early morning circles back.”
The guzheng turned urgent. It appeared sharp; washing, refining, and powerful. Just the moment the remaining feeling has not disappeared completely, during the time when they wanted to stop but were unable to, the guzheng faded into the distance, and then suddenly stopped.
While the crowd was still in the state of rude awakening, Hou Xibai, unruffled by the sentiment, was the first to applaud, and said with a sigh, “White horse adorned with golden bridle, galloping in quick succession to the northwest. I wonder whose family is it? Hidden away together with the wandering knight. Xiufang Dajia’s song portrayed all living things in the capital [of the country], Zaixia prostrates myself in admiration. This song ought to exist in heaven only, human world has no right to listen.”
Everybody, including Kou Zhong, was stunned. If these words had come from Li Jiancheng, it would be proper and to be expected as a matter of course. But coming from an ‘outsider’, Hou Xibai’s mouth, it was slightly ‘the voice of the guest overwhelms that of the host’ [idiom: a minor player upstages the main attraction].
Shang Xiufang was slightly startled; looking at Hou Xibai, she spoke softly, “Turns out Mo Gongzi is well-versed in both pen and sword; it ought to be Xiufang who prostrates myself in admiration!”
Kou Zhong quickly thought of a scheme to remedy the situation, he hastily interjected, “This was the first time that Xiaoren listen to Xiufang Dajia’s touching immortal song; I could not help wanting to applaud loudly, but Mo Xiong was one step ahead of me.”
Li Jiancheng recalled the first time he experienced Shang Xiufang’s double-peerless, beauty and art – performance, he was also overwhelmed with forgetting-self feeling, hence he also felt relieved immediately. Rising to his full height, he said, “Xiufang Dajia, please take a seat.”
It was only then did Hou Xibai realize that he had lost self-control in this situation. He also knew that it was unsuitable for him to stay for a long time, hence he seized this opportunity to take his leave.
Kou Zhong also took this opportunity to leave with the pretext that he was tired. Chang He had no choice but to go together with him.
Li Jiancheng did not detain them either, although inwardly he was wondering why with such peerless beauty present, the two of them still left as soon as they said they were leaving.
Although Shang Xiufang did not say anything, these two men had left a very deep impression in her heart.
Leaving Ming Tang Wo, Xu Ziling and Lei Jiuzhi stepped into the street. Taking advantage while the Bei Li was still bustling with noise and excitement, stream of people was still unabated, the two men wandered back toward the inn. The whistling cold wind was giving them another feeling.
Carrying the heavy bundle of Kaiyuan Tongbao, Lei Jiuzhi said, “This gambling capital is enough to make you the King of Gamblers in Chang’an. In my opinion, your consummate skill in listening to the dice already surpasses mine, your master, like green coming out from the blue. It has also reached the number-one-under-the-heavens realm.”
Xu Ziling laughed and said, “I don’t care about that kind of number one under the heavens. Have you inquired which hallowed character that Madame Hong is?”
Lei Jiuzhi replied, “Madame Hong is a celebrity, which no one in Guanzhong casinos does not know, simply because she has a very strong backer. Can you guess who that person is?”
Xu Ziling replied, “Listening to the tone of your voice, it ought to be an acquaintance; but who is it?”
Lowering his voice, Lei Jiuzhi replied, “It’s Jingzhao Lian’s Yang WenGan. Madame Hong was originally a popular courtesan in the Shang Lin Yuan; Yang WenGan took her to be his young concubine. She loves to linger around the casinos, but it’s rarely heard that she seduces men, because nobody dares to touch Yang WenGan’s woman. I really don’t understand why she fancied you.”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “It must be because she took a fancy to my gambling technique. The strange thing is that after that she no longer wanted to talk to me. However, we shouldn’t be involved with Yang WenGan’s woman either; it will only bring us harm without any benefit.”
Lei Jiuzhi pulled Xu Ziling into a side alley, he spoke in astonishment, “I thought someone would follow our track to see where we are staying, because they want to understand our foundation clearly.”
Xu Ziling said, “This is precisely one of our major problems. If someone is intentionally spying on us and saw us, two big gamblers, entering Dong Lai Inn, yet there really are no such two hotel guests in the end, it will be strange indeed if it doesn’t rouse people’s suspicion.”
Putting his hand on Xu Ziling’s shoulder, Lei Jiuzhi took him out of the alley, crossed the Guang Ming Avenue, and walked along Wang Xian Street, toward its southern end. Proud of himself, he said, “Such a simple thing, naturally LaoGe has made appropriate arrangement. At the Chong Xian Li, next to Yong An Canal on the southeast corner of the West Market, I have a small courtyard, a place where we can stay when we are doing business. I also prepared your identity. I guarantee that even if someone is investigating, they won’t find anything amiss.”
Greatly astonished, Xu Ziling said, “This is not something that you could arrange in just a few days; who’s supporting you from behind?”
Lei Jiuzhi led him turning left into the Vermillion Bird Boulevard. Slowing his pace, he said, “Naturally it is Hong Nong Bang people. Your LaoGe, I want to destroy Xiang Gui’s human trafficking business with a thousand ways, a hundred plans; half of the reason is for the sake of these sworn brothers of mine, simply because in the old dynasty, his younger sister was kidnapped by Xiang Family’s men and was offered to the Sui Palace. At that time they had Yang Guang’s support, nobody could do anything to their Baling Bang. But now the time has come to settle the account with them.”
Recalling Susu’s voice and features, Xu Ziling nodded his head and said, “All right! I’ll do it according to your plan.”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “When we are back to our residence, I am going to explain to you clearly about our overall plan, so that you can be flexible in carrying it out. No matter how fierce and cunning those Xiang Family, father and sons, they will never expect that we are conspiring in the dark for their Xiang Family’s demise. There is one more thing that I forgot to tell you. Xiao Zhong asked me to get two wetsuits [orig. water armor] for him. Tonight, if he could get away, he might meet with you to explore the buried treasure. Lu Shi’s concept certainly stands out from the masses; unexpectedly he had the treasure buried under the riverbed. No wonder no one could find it.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “I haven’t had a wink for three nights straight; I do hope he won’t be able to get away tonight!”
Chang He took Kou Zhong back to the Sha Family’s magnificent mansion in the Guang De Li, northeast of the Yue Ma Bridge. He warned him a thousand times, ten thousand times that tomorrow at the beginning of Mao hour [5-7am] he would come to pick him up into the Palace to carry out the second round of treatment for Zhang Jieyu; only then did he take his leave.
Sha Fu met him and took him into the main hall. Seeing the main hall was still brightly lit and hearing the clamor of people talking, Kou Zhong was aghast and halted his steps. “Who’s coming?” he asked.
Sha Fu excitedly said, “I don’t know how many people came, but after Laoye returned from the Imperial Palace, the stream of visitors has never stopped. Just look at how many carriages parked in the outer courtyard.”
And then he leaned over and whispered in Kou Zhong’s ear, “The news about Mo Ye’s magical hands that can bring the dying back to life and have caused Niangniang’s speedy recovery has already spread over Chang’an. None of the visiting guests did not ask about Mo Ye. Laoye instructed that when Mo Ye returns, to immediately ask Mo Ye to the main hall to meet the guests.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong called for his Niang inwardly, while musing that a thousand things he did not disguise himself as, ten thousand things he did not disguise himself as, why must he foolishly disguise himself as a divine doctor? If this thing continued, perhaps he would not even have time to sleep because he would have to treat sick people.
There’s a saying that if you say too much, you are bound to slip up at some point. If he treated sick people too much, he was bound to fail at some point. He pulled Sha Fu, who was about to step into the hall, and took him to a hidden spot. He spoke solemnly, “Very early tomorrow, Guye [son-in-law] may come to pick me up to bring me to the Palace to treat Niangniang’s illness. This is a matter of utmost importance; I have to go to bed right now. And when I sleep, I must absolutely not be disturbed. Hey! Simply because what I train is called shui gong [sleeping skill/power]. Ha! Perhaps wo gong [lie down/couch skill/power] will be more apt. Do you understand?
Sha Fu nodded incessantly and said, “Of course treating Niangniang’s illness is more important. Xiaoren will take Mo Ye back into your room, and then immediately report to let Laoye know.”
Only then did Kou Zhong feel relieved. But his mind already flew to the not-so-far-away-outside-the-courtyard Yue Ma Bridge.
The drum signaling the second watch of the night [9-11 pm] was heard from the direction of the West Market. A squad of patrolling troops walked past from the Yue Ma Bridge, along the Yong An Canal, heading south, gradually getting farther away in the quiet, nobody-was-around street, carrying away the bright light from the wind lantern, so that once again the moon cast its weak light on the Yue Ma Bridge under the cold night.
Without making any noise, Xu Ziling’s head appeared on the surface of the water under the bridge. He swam toward the pillar of the bridge’s arch. With both hands holding on to the column shaft, he regulated his breathing and circulated his qi.
It was quite some time later before it was Kou Zhong’s turn to surface. He came to Xu Ziling’s side. Gasping for breath, he said with a wry smile, “Before her death Niang only said Yue Ma Bridge; what she did not say could be a thousand paces to the bridge’s east, or two thousand paces to the bridge’s west. In short, it could not possibly be at the bottom of the bridge.”
Quite possibly that in those days, Chang’an was the most well-managed city in the Central Plains. The bottom of the big canal ought to have been cleaned recently. The silt and mud accumulated at the bottom of the canal have been filtered and purified clean.
The two boys spent nearly half a sichen to comb every chi and every cun exploring the canal, yet they still could not find any trace of the entrance to the hidden treasure.
Xu Ziling swept his eyes over the huge mansions of the rich and powerful families in the dense darkness around the arch bridge. He sighed and said, “We can’t go to every building and every door to search for it, can we? These magnificent mansions have vicious dogs protecting the courtyard, plus we are not supposed to be exposed to the light. Ay! Tell me what should we do now?”
Displeased, Kou Zhong said, “Ling Shao has never been one who would give up easily; why is this treasure hunt an exception?”
Stunned, Xu Ziling stared blankly for half a day. Apologetically he said, “I was wrong! All right! From this moment on, I will do my best to find the treasure for you. Success or failure, I will abide by your decision and let you be in charge.”
Kou Zhong reached out to put his hand on his shoulder; he said, “Now, THAT’s my good brother. Let’s not talk about the treasure for now, I want to know about your ‘Great Method of Exchanging the Person’; how everybody can fit together later. Good kid, you are really quite something, unexpectedly you got Hou Xibai to take your place. Otherwise you will never be able to pass this Li Shimin hurdle.”
Xu Ziling briefly narrated the situation he was facing.
Kou Zhong asked in surprise, “From what Li Jing said, Feng Deyi ought to be Li Jiancheng’s imperial strategic adviser, why did it look like he is setting himself against Li Jiancheng?”
Xu Ziling said, “The way I see it, his relationship with Li Jiancheng is rather delicate. He told me not to mention anything about Li Jiancheng when I went to see Li Yuan. If he really set himself against Li Jiancheng, he ought to expose Chang Lin Army’s wicked conduct via my mouth.”
“Sooner or later you will find out the relationship between them,” Kou Zhong said, “But you disguise yourself as Yue Shan and go see Li Yuan, there is a great risk here; I wonder if you have thought about it.”
Staring blankly, Xu Ziling asked, “What risk?”
Surprised, Kou Zhong said, “You are rarely this forgetful. Perhaps because I had just seen Shang Xiufang and she left a very deep impression in my heart that I was thinking about this matter.”
Suddenly understood what he meant, Xu Ziling said, “I really have not thought about this matter. But before I understand clearly the relationship between Shang Xiufang and Yue Shan, avoiding and not seeing her shouldn’t be a problem.”
Kou Zhong agreed, “Fortunately the Yue Shan you are impersonating is reclusive and arrogant by nature, so that whatever you are doing, people would think that it is quite natural. Ha! I really can’t believe that you have such an old man like Huang Gongcuo as a rival in love.”
Xu Ziling’s mind was being used to think about something else. He asked, “What do you think about Lei Jiuzhi and Hou Xibai? Are we going to let them join our treasure hunt operation?”
Frowning, Kou Zhong pondered, “You are a bit more familiar with those two than I am; what do you think?”
Xu Ziling confidently said, “They are trustworthy friends. Only Hou Xibai has a difficult-to-distinguish gratitude and grudges with Shi Zhixuan. Plus the Duke Yang’s Treasure involves the Demonic Emperor Relics, so that I have no choice but to be a bit more careful.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “This is called there is a difference between close and distant relatives. Lei Jiuzhi can, after all, be considered one of our own, but Hou Xibai is half outsider. Let’s just let them participate with this in mind!”
Xu Ziling said, “It’s not that I deliberately want to complicate the issue, but Lei Jiuzhi wanting to deal with the Xiang Family; however, either for the good of the common people or for selfish reason, we shouldn’t be shirked without dishonor. And then Hou Xibai wanting to snatch back the other half of the Image Scroll from Yang Xuyan’s hands, it is difficult for us just to watch with folded arms. This …”
Kou Zhong laughed and cut him off, “We are all brothers, why did you speak like a stranger? Ling Shao’s decision is my, Kou Zhong’s decision. No need to speak superfluous words.”
Looking up at the sky, Xu Ziling said, “While there are still about two sichen before daybreak, why don’t we go back to sleep earlier. When we wake up tomorrow, we’ll think again how to proceed with the treasure hunt.”
“Wait!” Kou Zhong said, “In the book about architecture that Lu Dashi left for you, is there any reference about cave dwelling or hidden storage construction?”
Shaken, Xu Ziling said, “Lucky that you bring it up in time. In his book, there is indeed a chapter about secret passages and underground construction principles.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “It’s not that you haven’t thought about it, but basically you have no intention to think about it. Ay! Yet you still say we are brothers!”
Xu Ziling laughed involuntarily. “You cannot find the treasure, and then constantly put the blame on me,” he said, “All right, I apologize again. In his book, the chapter has a section which content is kind of vague, I am not sure if it is about hidden underground cave dwelling or storage. The entire section talks about the design of the entrance, empty is solid, and solid is empty, which could be difficult to find in a hundred generations. When he wrote about that, perhaps in his mind he was thinking about the Duke Yang’s treasure.”
Immediately Kou Zhong’s eyes brightened; while scanning the magnificent mansions standing in great numbers by the canal, he spoke in low voice, “The Duke Yang’s treasure may still be at the bottom of the bridge, but the entrance might be in one of the houses nearby. We need to find out which house belonged to Yang Su that year, or perhaps which house was constructed during the time Yang Su held power; there ought to be a list about that. This information ought to be in certain archive room in some department office in the Imperial City!”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “Even with you and I, our two boys’ skill, sneaking into the Imperial City is still an extremely dangerous thing. Compared to the Old Fox Wang’s Luoyang Palace City, this place is a lot more heavily-guarded.”
His spirit greatly aroused, Kou Zhong said, “I am convinced that there must be an old timer in Chang’an who would know about this matter, then we won’t need to take risks to investigate. You and I will search separately; if we can find such premises,
the scope of our investigation will be greatly narrowed. Time is limited, for each day we are able to leave with the treasure sooner, our danger is reduced by one part. Don’t you ever think that I am snug and cozy in Chang’an!”
Laughing in spite of himself, Xu Ziling said, “You, this kid, are always afraid I am not willing to give it my best; in every single turn you always remind me one time. Go back quickly! Tomorrow early morning you still have to play Divine Doctor!”
Kou Zhong said, “There is another important thing that I haven’t told you. Your Princess is also coming to Chang’an!”
Stunned, Xu Ziling asked, “What Princess?”
Kou Zhong whispered in his ear, “It’s Dong Ming Gongzhu [princess] Shan Wanjing!”
Hearing that, the frown on Xu Ziling’s sword-shaped eyebrows relaxed; he casually struck back, “How’s your date with Xiuning Gongzhu?”
Rolling his eyes, Kou Zhong swam toward the end of the bridge, “I haven’t thought about that,” he replied.
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, but it was unclear whether it was for himself or for Kou Zhong. In dazed, he followed behind Kou Zhong, swimming toward the end of the bridge.
 Tao Yuanming (c. 365-427), Jin dynasty writer and poet.