Book 38 Chapter 13 – Verbal Battle
Regardless of whether Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were certain that Du Xing has received order from Xieli to lay out a trap to deal with them, or perhaps certain that he was the mastermind acting behind the scene of the wolf-bandits, or even if he had some secret relationship with the brimming-with-sinister-feeling Da Ming Zun Jiao, any one of these three reasons was enough to make them not daring to act blindly without thinking.
First, they had to take into account the safety of the people in various cities across the northern territory. Du Xing represented some kind of power that can maintain balance inside and outside of the Pass, becoming an intermediary between Gao Kaidao and the various foreign tribes. If Du Xing could control Shanhai Pass, the Tujue and Qidan people would not be afraid that Gao Kaidao would dare to act without looking at their face first.
On the other hand, the longer Gao Kaidao could not gain control over Shanhai Pass, the longer he would become a slave; hence the reason he wanted to borrow Jing Kang to instigate them to deal with Du Xing. If Du Xing was killed, this subtle balance would be destroyed, then Gao Kaidao’s struggle against the foreign tribes would be in full swing, and in the end, it would still be the common people who would suffer hardship.
The second reason was that Da Xiaojie must get back the eighty thousand sheets of top-quality sheepskin. This matter could not be settled by killing until the dead bodies were scattered all over the place, the blood flowing like a river.
The third reason was that they practically did not have the justification to make their move. They could not simply insist that Du Xing was Xieli’s hunting dog, could they? If this matter ever spread outside, those who hear it would laugh until their teeth fall out, because from the beginning Du Xing had made it clear that he was acting under Xieli’s military banner, otherwise, how could he become the commanding officer to keep watch over Shanhai Pass?
Currently this world belonged to the Tujue people. With the fall of the Sui dynasty, the Central Earth collapsed and fell apart, while the Tujue repeatedly expanded their territory; the control was no longer in the hands of Han people.
In this county town dividing the inside and outside of the Pass, this kind of powerful-enemy-pressing-down-the-territory feeling was especially deep.
While Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were looking at each other, the iron-tower like Du Xing greeted Ba Fenghan first using Tujue language, “I could not guess that you are Ba Fenghan, simply because the day before yesterday I heard the news that you beheaded Gelubaili at Fuyu [Pu’yo, Korean Buyeo (c. 200 BC – 494 AD), ancient kingdom in northeast frontier region of China]; I made a mistake of thinking that Ba Fenghan is still at Fuyu, how could I think that Ba Fenghan would suddenly appear in here?”
Whether it was intentional or otherwise, Du Xing revealed some kind of discriminatory attitude toward Han people.
Because Du Xing spoke the Tujue words so fast, the knowledge that they had been studying hard for the last month or so was completely useless, they could only pick up several disjointed words, and were unable to catch the meaning of the entire sentences, so they had a feeling that Du Xing deliberately looked down on them.
Ba Fenghan did not stand up to return the greeting. Still sitting on the chair in high-spirited manner, his pair of eyes flashing brightly, he stared at Du Xing and said, “These two friends of mine are the most formidable figures in the world of the present time. Anybody underestimating them, there will come a day where he will extremely regret it.”
Although he answered in Tujue, but he intentionally spoke very slowly, enunciating every word, hence Kou and Xu, two boys could understand half, while the other half they could guess.
Hearing that, Du Xing was slightly startled. His eyes swept over Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, before he pompously sat down.
Xu Kaishan laughed aloud, stood up, and personally poured wine for everybody. Smoothing things over, he said, “Seeing his countryman, Tujue people, Du Dage could not help feeling meeting-an-old-friend-in-a-foreign-place and spoke Tujue language, Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong must not blame him.”
The expression in Ba Fenghan’s pair of eyes turned harsh, he fixed his gaze on Du Xing and said, “Outside the Pass, I received news that DunYugu [Tonyukuk?] received Xieli’s order to assemble martial art masters from all sides outside the border, to put my two brothers to death in this place. Du Xiong has always had close relationship with Xieli, and it could be said that my two brothers came to Shanhai Pass because of Du Xiong. How can Du Xiong explain this?”
Tonyukuk was Bi Xuan’s younger brother, the most famous martial art master of the Eastern Tujue, extremely doted on and trusted by Xieli.
Just like his eyes, these words were fierce and severe. Xu Kaishan did not dare to interject. The room grew so quiet that a pin drop would have been heard.
No matter how overbearing and arrogant Du Xing was, he would never dare to despise Ba Fenghan. In the past few years, Ba Fenghan literally swept across the great prairie and the intimidating desert outside the Pass, his footprints encompassed the Eastern and Western Tujue, Huihe, Shiwei, Tuyuhun, Gaochang, Qiuci, Tiele, and Xueyantuo, various kingdoms. Everywhere he went, one after another, countless consider-oneself-unexcelled-in-the-world, so-arrogant-that-no-one-else-matters evil and demonic martial art masters nursed a grievance under the Beheading Mystery Sword. Although many times Xieli dispatched martial art masters and elite cavalry to hunt and kill Ba Fenghan, he always managed to strike back by exploiting the desert and prairie’s characteristics, so that they ended up the-soldiers-destroyed-the-generals-broken, and returned in low spirits following a defeat [idiom], so that Ba Fenghan gradually established an unrivalled fame for fighting prowess outside the Pass.
No one was willing to make such an enemy.
Du Xing came from outside the Great Wall, he would only respect a martial art master with deep understanding of the desert and the prairie like Ba Fenghan. Therefore, no matter how much Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s reputation was making a splash, all along it was only the Han people of the Central Earth’s affair, not something that Du Xing, a half Tujue, would consider worthy in his eyes.
Now that Ba Fenghan was questioning him bluntly, it was clear that one wrong word, the wine of harmony would immediately become Feast of Hongmen [fig. a banquet set up with the aim of murdering a guest, referring to a famous episode in 206 BC when future Han emperor Liu Bang escaped attempted murder by his rival Xiang Yu].
Du Xing met Ba Fenghan’s gaze. Without yielding the slightest bit he looked him in the face and changed to Han language, saying, “I respect Tuli, but I esteem Xieli even more, because they are men worthy of respect. But I, Du Xing, am not their dog; Du Xing is Du Xing. Frankly speaking, ever since I received the news from Yuyang that Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong went to the pleasure house to look for Jian Dashi, to seek after the Piercing the Sun and the Shooting the Moon, two famous bows, I really wanted to try whether their name is not in vain, and why even Zhao Deyan and Ke Dazhi could not do anything to them either? But Ba Xiong’s appearance has made me dispelling this thought, and decided to cooperate with three gentlemen in sincerity, to get Zhai Jiao’s batch of goods back by all means.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew that Ba Fenghan managed to put pressure on Du Xing, hence they did not speak and simple let Ba Fenghan to play his trick.
In order to dilute the with-sword-drawn-and-bows-bent atmosphere of the four men, Xu Kaishan joined in, “The problem is that now getting that batch of sheepskin back will not resolve this issue; on that side, Da Xiaojie lost fifteen men, Shaoshuai and Xu Xiong will certainly not let this matter drop just like that, it has evolved to something that can only be resolved with martial force. Just now Shaoshuai demanded that I tell him who robbed the sheepskin. It is very difficult for me to make decision for Dage. Dage, what do you think?”
Knitting his brows, Du Xing said, “Whether it’s inside or outside the Pass, every day, there are people being killed or are killing others. The dead can only blame himself his skill is not exquisite enough, his power is not as good as others’, or he should not have mingled in Jianghu. If because of the dead we are entangled in an endless enmity, when the Great Sui Army went beyond the Great Wall in the past, killing and burning, raping and looting all over the place, how do we settle that? Shall we, the Tujue, charge inside the Pass and kill any Han people we see?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were nearly at a loss for words. Although Du Xing’s words were a bit harsh, but it was not without a bit of truth.
The divine light in Du Xing’s pair of eyes flaring out, he pressed on without yielding, pointing his thumb to himself, with heroic spirit soaring to the sky he said, “I, Du Xing, am able to gain respect from friends inside and outside the Pass, the key word here is ‘good faith’, two characters [xin yi]. Even though Tuli and Xieli are at war, yet both of them are still my, Du Xing’s friends, but I won’t step in between them. You should know that I had to personally ask Qidan’s Hu Yanjin to find out who robbed Zhai Jiao’s sheepskin. But the condition is that I must not divulge who the bandit is. Now you guys want me not only to hand over the skin, not to pay the ransom, but also to kill the other side. You tell me, Du Xing, how am I going to answer Hu Yanjin? Hu Yanjin, that kid, is really not easy to push around.”
Inwardly, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling smiled bitterly; they secretly thought that they should not underestimate Xu Kaishan, but they should not underestimate Du Xing even more. Ba Fenghan’s appearance has thrown Du Xing’s plot to deal with them into chaos. Shi Feixuan’s immortal appearance made Du Xing have no room to advance or to retreat even more. Therefore, he immediately regrouped his troops and met the enemy head-on, by playing Xu Kaishan, the old intermediary card, and tried to talk about compass and set square and discuss reason with them, to avoid frontal confrontation as the only way out, yet it was more difficult to parry than using saber, spear, sword, or halberd.
Laughing involuntarily, Ba Fenghan said, “Old Du, this was not the first day you came out to walk in Jianghu, was it? In this world, what could possibly confound Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling? Basically, they do not even need to ask you.”
Raising his cup, Kou Zhong said, “Let me honor Du Ba Wang with a cup. Du Xiong really need not reveal the name of the robbers out, because I dare say that it was Cui Wang’s doing. As long as we can catch Cui Wang, Ba Xiong naturally can make him call his dad if he wants him to call his dad, and call his mom if he wants him to call his mom; definitely he won’t call anybody else. Cheers!”
On the surface Du Xing and Xu Kaishan did not show any emotion, but the three could sense the shock in their hearts.
It was a martial art master’s intuition.
Kou Zhong was fierce and severe to the extreme point, just like the Chess Abundant of his Eight Methods of the Well; although he was hacking an empty space, it posed a direct thread toward Du Xing and Xu Kaishan.
Five men raised their cup to drink.
Ba Fenghan said, “This kind of small thieves, Xiaodi understands very well. Whether they had just obtained big bounty or small bounty, they would immediately flee to the prairie, thinking that this way, they could always occupy the invincible position. They never thought that others are able to see through the style of their operation instead. I dare to guarantee that this moment the wolf-bandits are on their way out of the Pass; as long as we catch their tail and pursue them relentlessly, they won’t be able to escape too far.”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “The ones sealing the shop and destroying the store must be them. Cui Wang originally thought of killing the people in the shop to vent their anger; who would have thought that Uncle Li and the others happened to go elsewhere, and thus escaped this calamity.”
Noticing that Du Xing and Xu Kaishan quieted down, Kou Zhong tried to liven the atmosphere by laughing and said, “How come we have not seen Jing Dangjia?”
Xu Kaishan replied, “Jing Lao went out to see Wang Bo, he will be here later.” And then he sighed and spoke gently, “I was wondering if four gentlemen would be willing to listen to me, the middleman, for a few words.”
Everybody’s eyes fell on him.
Xu Kaishan laughed and said, “The northern border is in a time of great changes, great upheaval. Because of Xieli and Tuli’s confrontation, the entire northeast lost its central core and equilibrium. The smaller tribes, which are comparatively weaker, which have always been under pressure from the Tujue that they are unable to raise their heads, none does not begin to stir. The clearest example is Suwei of the Jie people establishing a kingdom. The Jie are divided into Suwei, Baishan, Paduo, Anchegu, Binie, Haoshi, and Heishui, seven major divisions. Among the seven, other than Baishan and Anchegu, the rest are opposed to Suwei declaring independence and founding a country. It is thus clear that whether Bai Ziting can successfully establish his kingdom at this time is still unknown.”
Du Xing joined in, “And the most intense opposition comes from the Qidan. This is understandable.”
Xu Kaishan said, “Please don’t blame Xiaodi for going off on a tangent, I only want to explain the current situation, both inside and outside the Pass are in troubled times. It is better to avoid unnecessary trouble, unless gentlemen practically do not care about the eighty thousand sheets of sheepskin.”
Du Xing said, “The wolf-bandits have handed over this matter to us to handle, I, Du Xing, will definitely give account to Kou Xiong and Xu Xiong.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “It seems like two gentlemen still do not know what kind of man am I, Kou Zhong? No matter how the two gentlemen hinted that Cui Wang is not the sheepskin robber, you still can’t sway my conviction. If the two gentlemen were on my shoes, would you be willing to let Cui Wang get away?”
Xu Kaishan smiled and said, “In that case, let me wish Shaoshuai the troops arrive the merit accomplished, to capture Cui Wang alive and bring him back, to uncover his true face.”
Xu Ziling said, “I still want to see Jin Huanzhen and Zhou Laotan’s remains; I hope Xu Xiong could grant this wish.”
Xu Kaishan readily agreed.
Du Xing suddenly spoke heavily, “I wonder if three gentlemen suspect that I, Du Xing, and the wolf-bandits are related?”
This was exactly what the three wanted to question Du Xing, who would have thought that in the end Du Xing himself opened up the opportunity.
Brushing his sleeve, Ba Fenghan switched to Tujue language as he laughed coldly and said, “With Du Xing having tight control over Shanhai Pass, having numerous eyes and ears, how could Cui Wang and his men come and go across the border without you knowing anything at all? And they still had enough time to find red paint and oil to splash dirt into Yi Sheng Long?”
Du Xing let out a cold snort, revealing his iron-man intrinsic quality, and spoke heavily, “Everyday, passersby, traveling merchants going in and out the Pass number in hundreds and thousands. If I, Du Xing, have to inspect them one by one, would I still have the time to conduct myself? What’s more, it is most likely that Cui Wang entered the city in secret, he exited the city in the dark; it’s none of my, Du Xing’s goddamn business [orig. bird thing].”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “How could Cui Wang hide from Du Xiong? If you arrested Cui Wang, wouldn’t you be able to inquire so that the whole truth is revealed, as the water recedes, the rocks appear?”
Jing Kang’s voice came over, “What whole truth to be revealed, as the water recedes, the rocks appear?”
Finally Jing Kang’s good-self arrived.