Book 35 Chapter 10 – Difficult To Say Goodbye
The carriage was spacious, but it only had seats at either end. Kou Zhong originally wanted to sit on the seat at the other end, but Li Xiuning said in low voice, “Come sit next to me, it will be more convenient to talk. Where are you going anyway?”
Kou Zhong did not want her to know that he was going to see Shang Xiufang; he gave her a random answer, “I want to go to the Six-Happiness Casino in Bei Li.” Musing inwardly that he only needed to walk across the street, since cattycorner from the Six-Happiness Casino was precisely the Shang Lin Yuan.
After giving her men some direction, Li Xiuning lightly twisted her waist so that her pretty face was looking directly at him. She said, “Xiuning thought that last night you could not escape disaster, thinking that when you fell down to the river cave your chance of survival was very slim; I was so worried about you, unexpectedly I suddenly received the news that you went to see Jieyu.”
Stretching his limbs, Kou Zhong laid back comfortably on the soft cushion and said with a laugh, “What kind of scene have I, Kou Zhong, not seen? A river cave cannot stop me.”
Astonished, Li Xiuning said, “Looking at you, it appears that you are not disappointed over losing the treasure at all. Ay! Is your head made differently from ordinary people’s head?”
Kou Zhong met her beautiful eyes. He spoke in low voice, “Right now I don’t have time to worry about the treasure house; thank you very much for Gongzhu’s concern. About that information, where did Gongzhu obtain it from?”
The information he was referring to was about Shi Feixuan asking Ning Daoqi to deal with Kou Zhong.
Hanging her head low, Li Xiuning said, “It was Chai Shao who learned it from Er Wang Xiong [second king brother]. Although your and Xu Ziling’s martial art skill is very high, I am afraid you are still not Ning Daoqi’s match.”
Kou Zhong pondered it in his heart; if Li Shimin deliberately let Chai Shao tell Li Xiuning, and in turn Li Xiuning told them to drive a wedge between Xu Ziling and Shi Feixuan, then Li Shimin’s scheme was simply too formidable.
Li Xiuning cast her gaze toward him again, her pretty eyes emitted anxious, restless expression; she said, “Now that you lose the treasure, would Shao Shuai consider withdrawing from pursuing the deer [i.e. vying for supremacy]?”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong replied, “I do not wish to deceive Gongzhu; the fact is, I do not have the option to quit. Either you kill me, or I will do my utmost to reach my goal.”
Li Xiuning calmed down instead. Obviously her heart has finally been dead for him; her eyes looked straight ahead, she nodded and said, “Everybody has his own aspiration, Xiuning cannot force my will.”
The carriage stopped, Kou Zhong sighed inwardly, knowing that this might very well be the last time that he could talk with Li Xiuning as friends. Next time they met, it would be as the-two-cannot-exist-together enemies.
“Gongzhu, please take good care of yourself!” he spoke in low voice, pushed the door, and got off the carriage.
※ ※ ※
Obviously Ji Qian was a frequent visitor to the restaurant. She easily obtained a wing room on the second floor, and ordered some wine and dishes. After the waiter withdrew, Ji Qian put on the air of a seasoned Jianghu girl, candid and heroic, without yielding the least bit to any man.
Although Xu Ziling was forced to come here, he did not have any bad feeling toward her. “My name is Yong Qin,” he said.
Ji Qian revealed a hint of sly smile; she said, “Actually, I already know that your name is Yong Qin; just now I was pretending that I did not know. Didn’t Die Furen [Madame Butterfly] look upon you? [Previously it was Hong Furen (Madame Rainbow), perhaps it is simply a typo.] Her man is not to be trifled with, watch out or you will never leave Chang’an.”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “So what does Ji Guniang look upon Zaixia for? I am sure it’s not to accompany you eating and drinking in here, is it?”
The food and drink arrived, the two paused their talk.
After the waiter left the room, Ji Qian’s spotlessly white and beautiful hand picked up the wine pot and poured a cup for him; laughing tenderly, she said, “The thing I am looking upon is your gambling skill. I wonder if you could tutor me a skill or two, I will give you a hundred taels of gold as the reward of passing on your art, and I will also guarantee that you can leave Chang’an safely. It’s not that I am using frightening words to scare people, but Yang WenGan already issued an order to hunt you down, he would do anything to put you to death.”
Xu Ziling thought that this was quite logical. Since Yang WenGan requested Xiang Yushan’s help in carrying out the plot, afterwards, he would want to distance himself from this matter. Moreover, because of his relationship with Li Jiancheng, not only he wanted to preserve his strength, he could also seize this opportunity to expand his power, until he had complete control over the situation, and then he would eliminate Li Jiancheng.
Under this kind of circumstances, naturally he wanted to kill Xu Ziling to shut his mouth, to avoid Li Jiancheng finding out the inside story from Xu Ziling. If the Tujue people were really willing to support Yang WenGan, plus Li Yuan and Li Shimin had no prior knowledge, his chance of success could be quite high.
Laughing indifferently, Xu Ziling said, “Since that’s the case, why did Guniang dip yourself into the muddy water? Could it be that you are not afraid of Yang WenGan?”
Puzzled, Ji Qian sized him up for half a day. Instead of answering, she asked with astonishment, “I know you knew a skill or two of martial arts, but Jingzhao Lian is the biggest gang in Guanzhong. If you think that you can escape the disaster, then one, you don’t know yourself, or two, you think that I, Ji Qian, am threatening you with empty words. So, which one is it?”
Laughing involuntarily, Xu Ziling said, “Both reasons are correct. Guniang, please answer my question first: why is it that you do not hesitate to spend huge money to learn tricks from me to deceive people?”
Ji Qian replied, “On that, no need for you to worry. Oh! Apparently you, this man, is pigheaded. Forget it, your life and death, I will care no more. Are you interested in making a hundred-tael-gold profit or not?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “If I want to make a bit of profit, I could always go to Ming Tang Wo or Six-Happiness Casino to try my luck; I wonder if Guniang does not think so?”
Greatly displeased, Ji Qian said, “I don’t know how to say it to make you understand; as soon as you step into any casino that has any link to Jingzhao Lian people, your little life won’t be guaranteed anymore. I have saved your life, yet you don’t know how to be grateful.”
Astonished, Xu Ziling said, “When did you save me?”
Ji Qian crossly said, “Is your head really made of stone? Who pulled you out of the casino’s doorway’s gate of hell to come over here, and still treat you for food and drink? All right, five hundred tael of gold, take it or leave it. Don’t act coy like a girl, at most this Guniang will also accompany you for one night.”
This time it was Xu Ziling’s turn to blush; fortunately he had the mask to hide his face, plus his ears were covered under the wig. This was the first time that he encountered a woman whose words and actions were as unrestrained and brazen as Ji Qian. Yet she looked so open, beautiful and moving; so that it was inconceivable that anyone would associate vulgarity or lasciviousness with her.
Recalling the numerous pampered sons of wealthy families who were trying to woo her during the Lunar New Year’s Eve banquet, he could not help but was greatly astonished inwardly. Such a famous and currently popular courtesan, unexpectedly was willing to pay and to spend some efforts in learning gambling technique, certainly it was not as simple as for the sake of wealth or just to have fun.
Noticing that Xu Ziling was looking at her blankly, Ji Qian smiled sweetly, wile casting him a thousand-tender-a-hundred-charm glance, the autumn ripples [fig. luminous eyes of a woman, amorous glance] were on the move, with her breath smelling like orchid, she softly said, “Don’t think that I, Ji Qian, am a very wanton person. In Chang’an, I don’t know how many men wanted to get close to me, but I never let them touch even my fingertips. You don’t know how lucky you are!”
Xu Ziling’s heart was moved, lowering his voice, he said, “If Guniang is willing to tell me the real reason you, without sparing anything, want to learn Zaixia’s little bit of trick, perhaps without requiring Guniang to pay any price, Zaixia would empty my pocket to teach away our humble Sect’s gambling skill to you.”
Ji Qian fixed her eyes at him with full attention for half a day, suddenly, like a trembling stem of flower she broke into tender laugh. Gasping for breath, her seductive appearance grew without restraint as she said, “Ay! I never thought that the new year has just begun, I, Ji Qian, already walked into a bad luck, meeting a man with no manly character.”
And then her countenance sank, she hatefully said, “You want to investigate this Guniang’s affair? You must be thinking that this is the first day that I, Ji Qian, am mingling in Jianghu. You’d better leave Chang’an immediately, otherwise, don’t even think that this Guniang is going to care for your dead body.”
Finished speaking, she furiously brushed away her sleeve and stormed out of the room.
Although he was scolded like that, Xu Ziling could still tell from the way she spoke that she was actually a kindhearted person, hence the reason she still did not forget to warn him to leave Chang’an immediately.
Xu Ziling laughed hoarsely. He raised his chopsticks and marched toward the table-full of wine and dishes, which had not been touched at all. His belly was empty anyway, so he might as well not waste the food.
The door opened again, followed by a whiff of fragrance. Ji Qian came back and sat across the table from him, saying in astonishment, “You, this person, are very not simple. Fully aware that the disaster is at the door, unexpectedly you are still sitting leisurely in here, gorging yourself.”
Xu Ziling raised his cup to salute her, he smiled and said, “This is called to live in the moment [orig. there is wine today, get drunk today]; let me salute Guniang a cup.”
Ji Qian watched as he raised his cup and drank it in one gulp. As he was putting down the cup, her jet-black eyebrows lightly knitted, she said, “There’s a table downstairs with four Jingzhao Lian men, all are their Alliance’s outstanding, well-known martial art masters. Even if you want to wait until tomorrow to worry, you simply can’t.”
Xu Ziling picked up a mantou [steamed bun] and sent it to the edge of his mouth. Before taking a bite, he smiled calmly and asked, “Why did Guniang come back? Offending Jingzhao Lian will not benefit you at all.”
Ji Qian sighed and said, “This is perhaps sympathy to a talent; you are the most brilliant gambler that I ever met in the casino; your technique did not show the least bit of trace. All right! Last offer, will you take both money and beauty?”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong arrived at the Shang Lin Yuan. When he reported his visit, the gatekeepers immediately recognized him as the current burn-your-hand, feel-the-heat [idiom: a mighty figure no one dares approach] celebrity, Divine Doctor Mo; they were exceedingly polite.
One of the men took him to the fragrant temporary residence where Shang Xiufang stayed; he even disclosed confidential information to Kou Zhong, saying, “Ke Dazhi Daye has just come to request an audience with Xiaojie, and has not left yet. Perhaps Mo Ye would have to wait a little bit.”
Kou Zhong secretly mused that where the beauty was, there he could see traces of Ke Dazhi; but he also had to admit that Ke Dazhi had the charm that could make any beauty admire wholeheartedly and be bewitched by him.
Arriving at Shang Xiufang’s courtyard, the man handed over the responsibility to Shang Xiufang’s maid, leaving Kou Zhong in her care.
Kou Zhong sat in the side room. He waited for nearly half a sichen, still he was not summoned to see the beauty. Impatient, he stood up. But as he was about to leave, the maid stopped him. Terrified, she said, “Mo Xiansheng, please wait a moment, let Xiao Bi [little maid] make another report.”
Seeing the young maid’s panic and terrified appearance, Kou Zhong had no choice but to suppress his burning heart and sat down quietly.
It was not because he felt that he was given cold treatment and thus was throwing a fit and wanted to leave; rather, it was because time was precious. He wanted to visit Qingqing, the woman who had subtle relationship with him, to see why she repeatedly sent her people to look for him.
Who would have thought that after waiting for the entire sichen, Shang Xiufang still did not appear? Kou Zhong no longer had the patience to wait here, doing nothing. He said to the maid, “I will come back later!”
Horrified, the maid said, “Xiaojie’s instruction: whatever the case, I must keep Xiansheng here; she …”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “It is I who, whatever the case – must leave; it is not your fault. As long as Jiejie [older sister] report truthfully, Xiaojie can’t possibly blame you.”
Finished speaking, he calmly walked away.
※ ※ ※
Like rolling wind and scattering wind Xu Ziling filled his belly to the brim, before meeting Ji Qian’s eyes, which were staring at him without any letup. Laughing calmly, he said, “Since disaster is imminent, how could I have the time to collect both money and beauty? Let’s wait until after I pass the hurdle downstairs before we talk further!”
Stomping her feet, Ji Qian said, “You really angered me to death; now, I am the only one who can help you, you still don’t understand?”
Puzzled, Xu Ziling asked, “Why does Guniang look upon me?”
Sticking out her silky breasts, Ji Qian proudly said, “In Chang’an, who dares not to give me, Ji Qian, some face? As long as you are with me, no one will dare to touch you.”
Under ordinary circumstances, Xu Ziling believed that what Ji Qian said was not empty words. Just by looking at how she was able to perform song and dance at the palace court, this special position and status, no one dared to offend her. However, this was a special situation; perhaps even Ji Qian would not be able to suppress Jingzhao Lian’s people.
Xu Ziling said, “Let’s do it this way: we’ll conduct an experiment, you and I leave together, if Jingzhao Lian’s people really do not come to deal with me because of Guniang, then I’ll teach Guniang the trick. If the opposite is true, then Guniang will have to give up this desire, plus Guniang will have to tuck your hands inside your sleeves, and ignore whatever is happening between me and Jingzhao Lian.”
Seething, Ji Qian said, “In the end, you still refuse to believe that Jingzhao Lian’s people are out to kill you. Let’s go then! A real man must not go back on your words.”
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong arrived at the Feng Ya Ge, and was immediately invited into Qingqing’s fragrant residence.
Seeing him, Qingqing breathed a deep sigh of relief and said, “You finally came!”
Greatly astonished, Kou Zhong asked, “Furen is so anxious to see Xiaoren, yet it is not because of your illness flaring out, so what is actually the reason?”
Qingqing ordered everybody else to withdraw first, and then she picked an embroidered case with both hands and put it on the table. Smiling, she opened the embroidered box. Inside, there was something that looked like a scroll of silk parchment; she spoke softly, “This is the imperial notification offering heavy reward that was posted on the street. I had someone stole it for me; Xiansheng, why don’t you open it and see?”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Without opening it, I also know who is that valuable. Furen is really formidable. When did you start suspecting me?”
Qingqing slipped her lily-white hand into the crook of his arm, while with the other hand she closed the embroidered box. Pulling him into her lady’s chamber, she took him to sit side-by-side on a bench at the corner of the room. She cheerfully said, “The first time I saw you, I felt that your eyes looked very familiar. The strangest thing was that you know my past like the back of your hand, every word you said was right on the mark. At first I never thought that it would be you. Fortunately Qi Wang told me that you guys entered Chang’an in secret, and that they are struggling but failing to find you. All these things put together; I was still not suspicious. Later on, Qi Wang also told me that you know disguising method. And then that night at the Lunar New Year Eve’s banquet in the Palace you and Ziling, two men, stood together. Although you have grown taller and much more impressive compared to before, I could still recognize you in one glance.”
Kou Zhong met her gaze, a familiar, warm feeling welled up in his heart, but it was not a romantic emotion between a man and a woman at all; rather, it was more like when he met Susu in the past!
Slowly he peeled his mask and removed it.
Qingqing’s pair of eyes turned red, she hung her head low and spoke softly, “You really do not blame me for repaying a kindness with a complain?”
Kou Zhong mused inwardly that he and Xu Ziling had already forgotten about her early on; how could there be any gratitude and grudges? But naturally he could not tell her that. Smiling, he said, “Qing Jie [older sister] still cannot get down the steps [fig. way out of an embarrassing situation]? We have never blamed Qing Jie.”
Recovering her liveliness, Qingqing’s eyes lit up with beautiful light. She blissfully said, “When I saw the imperial notification, I know that you are the ‘Shao Shuai’ Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, whose names shook the world. Xi’er and I were so happy that we couldn’t sleep, but we did not dare to tell anybody else, and are even more anxious for you.”
Kou Zhong asked in surprise, “Do you often go to see the imperial notifications in the city?”
“Pfft!” Qingqing giggled tenderly and said, “I have never seen it. It’s just that when Qi Wang was mentioning it, I have a feeling that it was you. In the past, you were still very young, but Xi’er and I knew that you guys are not ordinary things in the pond at all, we just did not think that you would become big heroes understood by everyone [idiom: household name]. How’s Ziling?”
“He is very good,” Kou Zhong replied, “I did mention to him that I came across you. By the way, is Xi’er hooking up with that kid Ke Dazhi?”
Qingqing’s countenance darkened; she said, “We are women who sell laughter to make a living [to work as a good-time girl/to prostitute oneself], what and with whom are we hooking up with? Ke Dazhi is a favorite person by Taizi’s side; even if our heart is unwilling, we still do not dare to offend him.”
Kou Zhong seized this opportunity to ask, “I wonder if Xi’er is unwilling to get acquainted with a kid of younger generation called Zha Jie?”
“How did you know about this?” Qingqing asked in surprise.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Zha Jie is my brother; this kid is quite all right.”
Covering her mouth, Qingqing laughed tenderly. Returning to the natural color of a pleasure house woman, she leaned half of her tender body over and whispered in his ear, “Shao Shuai wants to play a matchmaker? But Xi’er may not want it. Xi’er is a bit like me in the past; very easy to have feelings toward good-looking men, also very easy to trust other people, whatever you say won’t change her mind, but she should have a good impression toward Zha Jie! Only these days she only has Ke Dazhi’s name on her lips; I advised her but was met with a rebuff.”
In today’s situation, Zha Jie would not have the time to think about the love affair between a boy and a girl anyway; Kou Zhong had no choice but to change the subject, “Currently Qing Jie is the most famous lady boss of the pleasure house, your circle of friends are all influential officials; Ziling and I are very relieved. We will leave Chang’an one of these days, when we have the opportunity, we will come back to visit Jiejie.”
Qingqing said, “Jiejie understands your situation. I really take pride in you. Even Qi Wang, who considers himself to be on top of the world, when he mentioned you, he could not help admitting that you guys are the most difficult opponents to deal with. Oh! When are you leaving?”
Kou Zhong felt that he had an unreserved trust in her, just like he trusted Susu. Thereupon he replied honestly, “Soonest will be tonight, latest will be tomorrow morning, depending on the situation.”
Disappointed, Qingqing said, “Then Xi’er and I will not have time to serve you.”
Kou Zhong jumped in fright. He hastily said, “We have elder-sister-younger-brother feeling between us, which is very special; why do you need to serve us?”
Qingqing was slightly taken aback, but then she delightedly said, “Only today did Qingqing know what is real hero, towering figure. Other men, no matter how beautiful the words coming out of their mouth, the bottom line is that their greatest interest lies in our body. I don’t know where Xi’er went, but when she finds out that she missed the opportunity to meet you, she will be sorely disappointed.”
Kou Zhong fixed the mask properly on his face, rose up to his full height, and said, “Here we part, I don’t know when we will have the opportunity to meet again. Qing Jie, please take a good care of yourself.”
Qingqing suddenly pulled his sleeve. Standing up, she said, “I almost forget to tell you, Qi Wang leaving the Capital to go hunting on Mount Zhongnan is just a ruse; the fact is that as soon as he left the city, he would turn around and slip back, in order to plot against you in the dark.”
Kou Zhong thought it made sense. After happily bade his farewell to Qingqing, as he was stepping out of Feng Ya Ge, he felt his entire body relaxed, and he had high fighting spirit.