Book 32 Chapter 5 – The Person in the Carriage
While Xu Ziling and Lei Jiuzhi’s attention was focused on the four martial art masters mixing among the crowd of pedestrians who were coming toward them, someone from behind shouted loudly, “The one surnamed Yong, when are you going to pay they money you owe?”
And then there was the sound of wind; the opponent must have thrown some kind of secret projectile like flying dagger or the like, separately targeting the two. Their means was very ruthless.
Without even looking back, Xu Ziling shouted, “Wen Xiong, deal with the rear!”
Lei Jiuzhi was a Jianghu veteran; in an instant he already grasped the opponent’s strategy. Without saying anything further, he spun around. Like magic the padded gown he was wearing suddenly appeared in his hands, sweeping across the secret projectiles shooting toward them.
As the pedestrians in the vicinity saw people fighting, they were terrified and scattered in all directions to avoid trouble.
This moment the four Tujue martial art masters were only about two zhang away from Xu Ziling. Suddenly they moved faster, knocking against two innocent passers-by that they tumbled to the east and fell to the west. At the same time they drew their weapons. All of them were wielding cavalry sabers, which were very suitable to be used to chop and hack from the horseback; their momentum like torrential rush.
But not only Xu Ziling was a martial art master of grandmaster level, he was also an expert with real combat experience, a veteran of a hundred battles. In just a glance, he immediately knew that not only these four Tujue men had formidable saber technique, they were also accustomed to group warfare. In order to attack Xu Ziling at the same time, they did not hesitate to knock down passers-by who happened to be in their way.
Xu Ziling was sure that this moment Ke Dazhi and Er Wenhuan were not present, and these men launching sneak attack on them from the front and rear were merely receiving order to guard and wait for the two to come out. It was reasonable to think that with Ke Dazhi and Er Wenhuan’s status and rank, they would never painstakingly wait for some nameless people.
However, these four Tujue men were all first-class martial art masters; the most terrifying thing was that they were dauntless and aggressive by nature. If the four sabers attacked him at the same time, even with Xu Ziling’s ability, it would still be quite a struggle to cope.
Under similar circumstances, Xu Ziling only needed to retreat or perhaps sidestep, he could change his passive situation into active, and then using all kinds of strategy and technique, he would be able to break their seemingly invulnerable battle array. The problem was that Lei Jiuzhi was facing the sneak attack from the rear. If he got out of the way, it would be akin to open up Lie Jiuzhi’s defense and practically exposing his back to receive the enemy’s saber strike. Therefore, he had no choice but to meet the enemy’s strike head-on.
The bigger headache was that he must not appear to be too brilliant. ‘Yong Qin’ was not like ‘Yue Shan’, ‘Mo Yixin’, or ‘Mo Wei’, who could rely on their special status as a cover.
If someone figured out that ‘Yong Qin’ was either Xu Ziling or Kou Zhong in disguise, not only he could not use this identity anymore, he might even implicated Gao Zhandao and the others, or even Kou Zhong himself.
As all these thoughts were flashing through his mind in an instant, the arm protectors dropped into his hands, both feet sprang up, he charged swiftly toward the enemy; bold and powerful, dauntless and severe, surpassing the enemy.
Like two streaks of lightning both sides collided.
The instant before the close, hand-to-hand combat occurred, one after another the two Tujue martial art masters in the middle suddenly slowed down and stopped out of the line. Turned out these two men separately felt Xu Ziling’s terrifying offensive momentum with some kind of advancing-courageously, wholeheartedly-willing-to-die-together-with-the-enemy feeling, completely focused on their bodies, so that even if their companions would be able to kill the opponent to avenge them, but they would have to die first.
Their heart grew timid, immediately their courage was gone. From being at the front line, they fell behind somewhat, and thus creating a gap in their own battle formation.
A continuous ringing of the arm protectors and the cavalry sabers clashing against each other was heard.
Xu Ziling felt the tip of the leftmost enemy’s saber poked his left shoulder, ripping his clothes, while the other enemy’s saber stabbed into his right arm, penetrating his flesh for a full cun.
When the two enemies were hit and spun around and fell, Xu Ziling’s blood splashed as he swiftly retreated. These two saber wounds were deliberate. Although on the surface it looked like he was drenched with blood, the cuts were actually only skin and flesh injury; it was to hide his real skill.
Xu Ziling’s back bumped into Lei Jiuzhi’s back.
The remaining two Tujue martial art masters saw that Xu Ziling was wounded, they did not even look at their companions’ life or death, they bellowed like a thunder and brandished their saber to chase and kill.
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly; he mused since you are courting death, let Laozi fulfill your wish then!
He was about to make his move again, suddenly a loud shout came from the horses and carriage lane, “Qin Wang’s order, stop immediately!”
Following Sha Chengjiu, Kou Zhong stepped into the Tian Huang Hall. Sweeping his gaze around, he did not see Xu Ziling and Lei Jiuzhi, whom he ought to see in here. While groaning inwardly, someone welcomed them with a laugh, “Turns out it’s Sha Xianzhi [virtuous nephew]; since hearing that Xianzhi was coming to Chang’an to settle here, Ol’ Hu has been waiting respectfully for your good self.”
Hearing that this man was surnamed Hu, Kou Zhong’s heart was moved. Looking up, sure enough, he saw Sha Chengjiu cupping his fist and respectfully said, “Chengjiu pay my respect to Da Xian [great immortal].”
Under escort of four big men, the Great Immortal Hu Fo glibly came toward the two.
This hegemon of the gambling world looked to be about forty-five, forty-six years of age. His grey hair was combed from his forehead back, and tied into a bun near the back of the top of his head. He wore a small square cap made of green jade. His face and eyes delicate and pretty, showing off his distinct personality, with five locks of long beard, which was also grizzled like the color of his hair. Combined with his slender and tall figure, he did carry some kind of ‘fox fairy’ exotic personality traits.
Kou Zhong was particularly interested in his pair of hands, which were spotlessly white, sparkling and translucent, slender and exquisite. In itself it appeared to have some kind of magical power.
When his inquiring eyes fell onto Kou Zhong’s ugly face, unexpectedly Kou Zhong could not help feeling guilty, as if Hu Fo’s gaze was able to see through that his face was fake.
Sha Chengjiu hastily said, “This is Mo Yixin, Mo Shen Yi, who cured Zhang Niangniang’s weird illness!”
The ‘Great Immortal’ Hu Fo cupped his fist and said, “I’ve long looked forward to meeting you! It’s an honor to meet you at last! Ol’ Hu is fortunate, unexpectedly Mo Xiansheng is honoring us with your presence; this is indeed our Ming Tang Wo’s honor and glory.”
Kou Zhong absent-mindedly returned the salute. Finally he could not resist asking, “Hu Laoban’s Ming Tang Wo has how many inner halls?”
Obviously Hu Fo was trying to win over and curry favor with this popular man in Chang’an; smiling, he replied, “Other than Tian, Di, Ren Huang, three halls, there is also Da Xian Hall, which only admit honored guests. If Mo Xiansheng is interested, let Xiaodi accompany you looking around the halls one by one.”
Kou Zhong cried, ‘Bad!’ inwardly; this mistake, what would the consequences be?
Xu Ziling turned to look; he saw a gorgeous horse-drawn carriage stopping in the middle of the street, to its left and right there were more than a dozen riders. He recognized five of them as Yuchi Jingde, Zhangsun Wuji, Pang Yu, Luo Shixin, Shi Wanbao, the martial art masters and fierce generals of the Heavenly Policy Mansion.
This moment the eyes of every single one of them were shooting fierce and severe look as they fixed their gaze on the two Tujue martial art masters, who, although they were stopping, their faces still showed unyielding expression.
One after another the other two Tujue martial art masters were crawling back up. The three Er Wenhuan’s underlings who fought against Lei Jiuzhi did not suffer losses at all; seeing the King of Qin’s honorable self’s arrival, they knew that they had to seize this opportunity to squeeze into the crowd of onlookers and disappeared without any trace.
The carriage door opened; the King of Qin Li Shimin, whom Xu Ziling had not seen for a long time, stepped down from the carriage. With intimidating expression he swept his gaze around. When the crowd watching the excitement met his not-angry-but-mighty, elegant eyes, unexpectedly they quieted down.
Zhangsun Wuji let out a shout, more than a dozen riders flew off their mounts at the same time; their movement was orderly, as if they had rehearsed this a thousand or a hundred times, brimming with performance or demonstration flavor, in itself it carried enormously shocking power. Immediately the onlookers broke into applause and cheers, which also showed how popular Li Shimin was.
Although on the surface the four Tujue martial art masters still appeared brazen without any fear, but Xu Ziling could feel that after seeing Li Shimin, immediately their bravado was gone their heart turned timid. They could not leave, but staying was not an option either; thereupon they could only force themselves to keep up their appearance.
Li Shimin let out a cold snort. His eyes moved away from them toward Xu Ziling and Lei Jiuzhi. His sword-shaped eyebrows slightly knitted, he spoke gently, “This Renxiong’s injury is not too heavy, is it?”
‘Close call!’ Xu Ziling cried inwardly; if just now he did not carry out the-trick-of-injuring-himself-to-gain-the-enemy’s-confidence stratagem but making his move with all his might, Li Shimin would surely see through that he was Xu Ziling.
Moreover, if the person behind him were not Lei Jiuzhi but Kou Zhong, even if he disguised himself as ugly-faced weird doctor, it would also be very difficult not to arouse astute men’s suspicion like Li Shimin.
Xu Ziling cupped his face and kneeled down to the ground, saying, “Thank you very much for Qin Wang’s concern; Biren has no serious problem.”
By this moment the number of people watching the excitement has swelled to nearly a thousand; everybody was striving to see Li Shimin’s elegant manner. The traffic on this big street in the most prosperous section of Bei Li was paralyzed.
The instant Xu Ziling straightened up his tiger-body after saluting, he felt that the window curtain of Li Shimin’s personal carriage was slightly raised, and a pair of eyes was looking at him from the window, sizing him up in full concentration.
Xu Ziling really wanted to see who was looking at him from behind the window, but he also realized that doing so would be extremely unwise; therefore, he had no choice but to suppress his urge.
Zhangsun Wuji and Pang Yu separately came behind Li Shimin. The former shouted to those four Tujue martial art masters, “Unexpectedly the Chang Lin Army men do not understand courtesy when seeing Qin Wang? Kneel down for me.”
Immediately the four Tujue martial art masters’ countenance changed; they knew that the House of Tang’s martial law was extremely strict. Under this kind of circumstances, if they dare to resist, it would be tantamount to violating military orders; even Li Jiancheng would not be able to protect them, let alone Er Wenhuan or Ke Dazhi.
You looked at me, I looked at you, hanging their head dispiritedly they dropped down on one knee to salute.
Li Shimin did not even cast half a glance toward them; calmly and leisurely he smiled and said, “This Renxiong’s skill is not weak; may I ask your honorable surname and great given name?”
Cupping his fist, Xu Ziling said, “Biren Yong Qin, coming from Shandong, doing business in silk cloth, in my spare time I love to go to the casino to play a round or two. Because my sworn brother offended someone, they wanted Biren to suffer their reprisals. Thank you very much for Qin Wang’s kindness in rendering your assistance.”
Slightly nodding his head, Li Shimin said, “Yong Xiong, please be a bit more careful!” Turning toward those four Tujue martial art masters, he shouted, “Get lost for me!”
Like stray dogs the four slinked away with their head hung down.
Most probably Li Shimin thought that Lei Jiuzhi was the sworn brother that Xu Ziling was referring to; turning to Lei Jiuzhi, he spoke in low voice, “It would be best if two gentlemen leave Chang’an immediately; there are some things that even I am not convenient to meddle.”
Finished speaking, he climbed into the carriage and left.
When the convoy has left far away, the main street returned to normal. Only this moment did Kou Zhong, flustered and exasperated – arrived. Seeing Xu Ziling was bleeding on two places, he was aghast, “Ke Dazhi is really that formidable?” he asked.
Xu Ziling crossly said, “If you don’t want to know, slip away with us right away!”
In the corner of a wine shop, the three raised their cup to toast each other. Since arriving in Chang’an, this was the first time that they met in public like this; they were delighted.
There were a total of thirteen tables in the shop, and seven or eight of them were occupied. Business could be considered quite good.
This place was in a rather secluded alley in Bei Li, two streets away from Shang Lin Yuan and Ming Tang Wo.
Frowning, Kou Zhong pondered, “Who’s that person staring at you from inside Li kid’s carriage? If he did not get suspicious, he could not possibly look at you attentively. If he was not familiar with you, Ling Shao, he would not be suspicious. Therefore, this person should be an acquaintance, but not entirely standing on Li Shimin’s side. Otherwise, he would expose you on the spot.”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “It’s possible that that person is not sure yet. Among the southern people, you guys can be considered very tall; but in the north, people with body type like yours are not a few. Therefore, as long as you change your usual posture and habit, plus with wearing Lu Shi’s completely-without-any-flaw mask, even I, every now and then, am having misperception, thinking that you have really become another person.”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “No! In my opinion, Ling Shao has been recognized by that person. I also have a feeling that this person must be a woman, that’s why it was inconvenient for her to get off the carriage.”
After a short pause, he laughed in low voice and said, “A man is looking at a woman, a woman is looking at a man, both are especially attentive and profound; like I am looking at Song Yuzhi, I only need to look at the graceful line under her fragrant shoulder blade, I would immediately be able to recognize her back. A man looking at a man will not be like that.”
Lei Jiuzhi cast a glance toward Xu Ziling. “Could it be Li Xiuning?” he wondered.
Kou Zhong, holding the pearl of wisdom [idiom: to be endowed with extraordinary intelligence], said with confidence, “Definitely not Li Xiuning; because she is not familiar with Ling Shao at all.”
Xu Ziling spoke in surprise, “You look like you already guessed who it was.”
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong was unable to cover his pride, as he said, “Of course it’s the beauty who has always admired you, the ‘Dong Ming Princess’ Shan Wanjing. Ha! I am formidable, aren’t I?”
Lei Jiuzhi topped off their wine cups; nodding his head, he said, “Make sense! Indeed you are formidable!”
Xu Ziling was slightly startled; he was speechless.
Kou Zhong said, “Li Yuanji is back. Nowadays he regards you and I as his enemies with hatred as deep as the ocean. I am sure he will do his best, by fair means or foul, to capture us.”
Lei Jiuzhi was puzzled, “Li Yuanji ought to work hand in glove with Crown Prince Jiancheng, but looking at his action tonight in targeting you, this Divine Doctor, Li Jiancheng must be unaware of it.”
A smile, brimming with murderous intent, escaped from the corner of Kou Zhong’s mouth. He said, “I can’t possibly misjudge people like Li Yuanji. Currently the one he is wary of is Li Shimin; therefore, he wants to borrow Li Jiancheng’s power to eliminate Li Shimin. And then, when Li Jiancheng becomes the obstacle between him and the Emperor’s throne, he will turn the spearhead around to deal with Li Jiancheng. If he were not a man with wild schemes, how could he put so much effort to cultivate his own power and his band?”
Xu Ziling agreed, “Li Yuanji is certainly that kind of man with thriving wild schemes. He took the task of intercepting us in his hands, it is precisely to extract the location of the Duke Yang’s Treasure from our mouth, and then cover it up and not report it so that some day he could use it for himself.”
Lei Jiuzhi sighed and said, “And thus the demise of the Great Tang starts from this.”
Kou Zhong’s eyes glowed with spirited light; fixing his gaze on Xu Ziling, he said, “In your opinion, in this intense struggle, how much chance does Li Shimin have of victory?”
Sidestepping the question, Xu Ziling said instead, “Tomorrow morning I am going to see Li Yuan.”
Frowning, Lei Jiuzhi said, “Aren’t you afraid if you say too much, you’re bound to slip up at some point, and reveal some flaws?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Xu Ziling said, “My main purpose is to chew him out a bit; is there any problem?”
Kou Zhong and Lei Jiuzhi looked at each other; they were stunned.
Kou Zhong returned to the Sha Mansion. The two brothers Chengjiu and Chenggong, one went gambling, the other was visiting prostitute – had not returned home. Old Master Sha was discussing how to expand their mining and metal foundry operations in Guanzhong with the Third Young Master Chengde.
Until this time, Kou Zhong still could not figure out clearly about the confused account in the past; when someone struck treacherously, harming the Third Young Master Chengde’s beloved son, what exactly was going on.
However, extrapolating from the facts on the surface, he thought that Sha Tiannan was a man whom any hegemon who wanted to obtain the world would like to win over, because not only he possessed mineral resources and weapon manufacturing plant, the most important thing was that he was an expert in both aspects; how could this kind of talent be easy to seek?
And looking at the present situation, only the Third Young Master Chengde had the aptitude to inherit Sha Tiannan’s legacy [orig. the cassock and alms bowl of a Buddhist master passed on to the favorite disciple (Buddhism)] and enterprise. After all, Sha Tiannan was old; it would be difficult for him to pursue great accomplishments. Therefore, the Third Young Master Chengde and Madame Cheng Bisu made those outside the Sha Family to be trembling with fear, simply because it was so easy to provoke the other two young masters’ jealousy. One thing went wrong, it would provoke an attack.
Returning to the inner courtyard, Kou Zhong came across Sha Fu.
Sha Fu asked in surprise, “Didn’t Mo Ye go with Er Shaoye to attend Qi Wang’s banquet? How come you are returning home alone?”
Kou Zhong mused that Sha Chenggong must have done his best to broadcast the news that he was being invited to the King of Qi’s banquet, in order to show off his identity and status. He laughed and said, “I still have to go to the Palace tomorrow morning; how could I dare to return too late? Tonight I must have a good night rest. These past few days I have been so tired that I forget even my Ol’ Die’s surname.”
Sha Fu laughed and said, “Mo Ye loves to crack jokes! I have instructed everybody in the Mansion that after Mo Ye enter your room to rest for the night, absolutely no one can disturb Mo Ye’s ‘lian wo gong’ [lying down skill/power training]. Hey! I hear Mo Ye is training ‘Tongzi Gong’, is that right?”
Greatly surprised, Kou Zhong asked, “Where did Sha Guanjia [housekeeper] hear it from?”
A bit embarrassed, Sha Fu replied, “It seems to have been passed on from Wu Xiaojie’s maid over there.”
Kou Zhong said, “This is called good things don’t go out the door, ugly scandals spread for a thousand li. Ay! A man who trains Tongzi Gong, can he still be considered a man?”
Sha Fu could not help asking, “Why did Mo Ye train this kind of kungfu? Is it really must not be broken?”
Putting his hand on Sha Fu’s shoulder, Kou Zhong dejectedly said, “Only Laotianye knows. But if Shifu said so, do you dare to violate? One thing goes wrong, all four limbs are paralyzed; must we call on Wei Zhengxing to save me?”
Horrified, Sha Fu said, “In that case Mo Ye must not try!”
Amused inwardly, Kou Zhong said, “I am going back to my room to train Tongzi Gong; even half a night training won’t be enough.”
Finished speaking, he went back to his room.
He was barely outside the door, a strange feeling suddenly rose up in his heart. But momentarily he could not pinpoint the exact reason.
He thought could it be that he was seeing a bow reflected in a cup as a snake, suspecting a ghost in the dark?
Before pushing the door open, he focused his power to detect any sign of activity inside the room. Only after he was certain that no one was hiding inside did he push the door and enter.
The maid assigned to wait on him has already lit up the oil lamp in the small outer hall, giving the elegantly decorated small hall a warm and cozy feeling.
The bedroom on the inside and the exterior hall were separated by a curtain; inside, the bedroom was pitch-black.
Gazing at the curtain, Kou Zhong shouted in low voice, “Who’s there?”
The lone oil lamp in the outer hall went out. The entire room sank into total darkness.
A strange change appeared suddenly.
 Chapter title: person, orig. 伊人 (yi ren), usually refers to a female.