Chapter 10 – Yuwen Chengdu
Book 5 Chapter 10 – Yuwen Chengdu
The farther north they travelled, the weather was growing colder and colder, the snow on the ground reached knee depth. The six of them forged ahead at full speed on the sea of forest and plains of snow, which extended as far as the eye could see. Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling took turn carrying Susu on their backs.
After their battle against Tuoba Yu, they were more careful, not daring to be as negligence as the previous day.
The snowstorm has stopped, the heaven and earth was a vast expanse of desolation, with occasional howling of the wolves, that as they heard it, their hair was standing on its end.
After hastening for two days, one evening they reached the forest around the southern bank of the Tongji Canal. The deep dark-colored forest looked like a wall or a rampart, layer upon layer, standing up all around, if one was not careful, it would be very easy to get lost.
Even if their bodies were made of iron, after running away for their lives like that for a couple of days, they would be extremely exhausted. It was not clear who started it, but eventually everybody slowed down until finally they walked as slow as marching ants or crawling tortoises, as they looked for a lodging place that could provide shelter from the wind and the snow.
The mountain and the forest were blanketed in complete silence [orig. ten thousand pipes are still], only noise they heard was the rustling of soft snow underneath their own feet.
Occasionally a light wind would blow, shaking the snow on the branches that it rained down to the ground below and filled the air with snowflakes.
Finally they stopped in a clearing in the middle of the forest. Liu Heita said, “Looks like tonight we cannot find an abandoned house or a cave to spend the night, so we’ll have to put up with building a bonfire in here and sit until daybreak before hasting up on our journey tomorrow. According to my estimation, we will reach Yangwu by tomorrow afternoon.”
In the meantime, Susu slipped down from Xu Ziling’s back onto the snowy ground below. Although she was wearing cotton coat, she was still shivering in cold. Without the slightest hesitation Liu Heita took off his sheepskin coat and draped it tenderly over her shoulder, while speaking softly, “When we get the fire going, it won’t be so cold anymore.”
This iron man was showing so much consideration and thoughtful action, it was quite touching, actually.
“Liu Dage is not afraid of cold?” Susu gratefully asked.
Liu Heita laughed and said, “After being in battle for so many years, what kind of hardship I haven’t been through? Su Jie, set your heart at ease!”
Xu Ziling took off his outer robe and spread it over the snowy ground; he said with a laugh, “Now I am really not afraid of cold, unlike the mighty Liu Dage. Su Jie please sit down.”
Susu knew that due to his ‘Secret to Long Life’ internal energy, he really was not afraid of either hot or cold; she gladly sat down.
Kou Zhong reached out and wrapped his arm around Liu Heita’s shoulder; he said with a giggle, “Let me give Liu Dage a bit of warmth! Hey! You, this fellow, are lacking in manners, you just copying us calling her Su Jie; you ought to call her Su Mei [younger sister].”
After many days of close association, they had known each other better. The two boys grew very fond of this brave and cunning young general. Cui Dong did not like to talk, but he was a hot-blooded man. On the other hand, Liu Heita’s sworn brother Zhuge Dewei always gave out the impression that he was a slick and sly man, while his actual character was a gloomy one; he did not seem to like the two boys too much.
Seeing Liu Heita was showing some interest on Susu, Xu Ziling had a mind to play matchmaker, so that Susu might forget Li Jing. Turning to Susu, he said, “Su Jie’s legs had to be bent all day long, right now you must be numb and sore, while we are going to fetch firewood, why don’t Liu Xiong give you a leg rub?”
Susu jumped in fright. “I am all right,” she cried out in fear, “No need to rub!”
Liu Heita’s black face turned red [Translators note: ‘hei’ from Liu Heita’s name means ‘black’], “I’ll go fetch firewood,” he said. And then with Cui Dong and Zhuge Dewei he left without saying anything.
Susu said, “You should also go to help!”
Xu Ziling sat down by her side and shook his head, “If we go, who would protect Jiejie if the hungry wolves are coming?” he said.
Susu shivered, and no longer dared to insist.
Kou Zhong sat down on her other side and muttered to himself, “I wonder if Xiao Ling also has the same feeling; beginning yesterday afternoon, I have a feeling a disaster is looming ahead. Sometimes this feeling was strong, sometimes it was weak, as if someone was hanging on our tail.”
Overwhelmed with shock, Susu said, “What should we do?”
Xu Ziling exposed an astonished look; he blew out a mouthful of breath, which became fog, and said, “I thought I was being paranoid, turns out you are having the same feeling. There must be a martial art master following our trail, seeing that we are of many men with a great force, he is forced to wait for an opportunity to make his move.”
Kou Zhong said, “If his target is the account book in our hands, what he wanted to get hold of at first must be Su Jie, so that he could use her to threaten us. So no matter what happens, we must have at least one person by Su Jie all the time.”
Xu Ziling said, “The enemy is in the dark, we are in the open; the one who will suffer losses will be us. I wonder if there is a way to turn the table around and lure him out to the open!”
Kou Zhong happily said, “What do you have in mind?”
Xu Ziling said, “When Dugu Ba plotted against Shen Luoyan the other day, he had himself buried in the snow, and then when she passed through, he seized the opportunity to attack. We can copy his trick.”
Right this moment, there was a howling of the beast from a distance; hearing that, Susu’s hair stood up on its end, and she threw herself on Kou Zhong’s back.
Kou Zhong continued, “This person was able to follow us for a day and a night, and is still undetected, obviously his skill is extremely superior. Besides, he can’t possibly accidentally walk through right above you. Dealing with him will require our cooperation.” And then he added dejectedly, “How are we going to bury ourselves in the snow anyway?”
Xu Ziling triumphantly said, “I had thought about that problem before. Look!” Finished speaking, he moved away a little, lay down on the snow, closed his eyes and applied his internal energy. Soon the snow on which he lay melted, and his whole body sank in, and Xu Ziling disappeared underneath the layer of snow.
Kou Zhong knew that he was using his internal energy to generate heat; while he was inwardly cheered, Liu Heita and Zhuge Dewei came back with large pile of dry branches in their hands. The latter asked in surprise, “Where is Xiao Ling?”
Kou Zhong and Susu laughed; they immensely proud of themselves. Kou Zhong said, “A wolf ate him!”
Liu Heita was displeased; he dumped the dry branches in front of the two people, and said with a laugh, “Quickly call him back to scrape the snow from these sticks. Su … hey … Su Mei might be too cold.”
“Where is Dong Shu [(younger) uncle]?” Susu asked.
Zhuge Dewei replied, “He was afraid dry ration would not help Miss Su resist the cold, so when he heard the sound of wild animal, he went hunting!”
Liu Heita plopped his butt on the snow next to where Xu Ziling buried himself; he was still completely oblivious. “I am best at roasting meat, I guarantee after eating it, Su Mei won’t be cold anymore!”
Kou Zhong remembered something; he sprang up and cried out, “Not good! Quickly call Dong Shu back, don’t let him go alone!”
Before he even finished, there was a violent hiss coming from a distant place in the southeast direction.
Zhuge Dewei’s hands shook that the branches fell off to the ground; his countenance changed. “It’s Dong Shu!” he said.
Liu Heita already leaped up and pulled Kou Zhong, who was about to run, back. “Stay here and protect Su Mei,” he said, “Where is Xiao Ling?”
Kou Zhong did not have time to explain, he cried, “He is all right! Go quickly!”
Liu Heita, two people, felt their hearts were burning, without thinking anything, they shot away like an arrow.
Kou Zhong had a brainwave; he spoke to Xu Ziling under the snow, “Don’t come out no matter what! This must be the ‘luring the tiger away from the mountain’ stratagem.”
As soon as he finished speaking, a dark shadow descended from the sky, with astonishing power the wind from the palm strike pressed down on the top of their heads.
While Kou Zhong was thinking of grabbing Susu and brought her rolling away to the side, the strong wind already arrived. Left with no other options, he raised both fists upward to meet the enemy’s palm head-on.
There was a powerful ‘Bang!’ Kou Zhong felt his arms were about to break, his brain felt as if a lightning has just struck him, and his body was jarred that it flew backward. By this time his combat experience was already very rich; the moment before he fell, the true qi inside his body already circulated several times, neutralizing the enemy’s ‘destroying the heart, splitting the lungs’ force.
By the time he struggled to stand up, Susu already screamed, because she had fallen into the incoming enemy’s hands.
This kind of martial art skill was extremely frightening.
The man had one arm wrapped around Susu, the other hand was pressing on her tianling acupoint [top of the head]; he roared in laughter and said, “Kid, stay where you are, you move half a finger, your Jiejie won’t live.”
Chapter 10, Part 2
Xu Xiong, that, I know. In fact, if you google using the original Chinese characters, you'd get circus or Lima (Peru) circus, hence the reason I thought it was a transliteration of some foreign words. DongBin, Jaya, HPC, Komeng, you are welcome. Laoren, I am so sorry ... Bocah, don't worry about it. Sky, that's what I thought. So, don't hate her too much, OK? End of Chapter 10.
It was only then did Kou Zhong see clearly that the opponent was a middle-aged man that appeared full of confidence, heroic, but also at ease. His nose was especially big, so that his eyes appeared slim, but his eyeballs flickered with very cold rays, that it chilled those who looked at him.
Kou Zhong pulled the iron [see my note in previous chapter] Cui Dong gave him for self-protection. “You dare hurting her?” he angrily roared, while in his heart he was praying that Xu Ziling would not come out of the snow right this moment, otherwise Susu’s life would be in danger. An idea popped out in his head, he called out, “Kid, you must also stay where you are. You should not make any move until I say so.”
How could the man know that he was speaking to Xu Ziling, who was buried in the snow? With a cold laugh he said, “You are so scared that you turn mad. Just stop talking, get the Dongming Pai’s account book out and give it to me. Otherwise this baby girl will lose her life.”
Kou Zhong signaled Susu with his eyes, telling her not to panic. When he was about to speak, Liu Heita and Zhuge Dewei rushed back. Seeing Susu had fallen into the enemy’s hands, they both roared furiously, and then together with Kou Zhong, they formed a triangle with the enemy surrounded in the middle.
“Where is Dong Shu?” Kou Zhong called out.
Liu Heita’s eyes flickered fiercely, but surprisingly his expression was heavy and cold. He slowly said, “He had fallen into this thief’s evil scheme.”
Kou Zhong was terribly grieved. “Who are you?” he asked, “What enmity do we have against you?”
“I am Yuwen Chengdu,” that man calmly replied, “How could there be no enmity no grudges between you and I? If you are done chatting, I am going to count from one to ten, if you haven’t handed the account book over to me, your Jiejie’s head will burst open.”
He paused, and then, “Huh? Where is that Xu kid?” he asked.
Everybody shivered inwardly; they knew that among the four top martial art masters of the Yuwen Clan, Yuwen Chengdu’s rank was only a tad lower than Yuwen Huaji. Although he might not necessarily be able to defeat their combined power, but they could forget about stopping him either.
Afraid that he might suspect Xu Ziling’s whereabouts, Kou Zhong fetched the account book from his pocket and lifted it up high above his head. “Release Su Jie,” he said, “I will toss the account book to you.”
Seeing the account book, Yuwen Chengdu’s eyes lit up. Rolling his eyes, he let out a cold snort and said, “If I release her, but then you did not hand the account book to me, won’t I suffer heavy losses?”
Kou Zhong mockingly said, “Is your head stuffed with straws? Such a simple matter you failed to understand. Now I am going to withdraw two zhang back but put the account book on the ground. You tell my Jiejie to pick it up and throw it to you. But remember, before my Jiejie picks the book, you must not move even half a step. Otherwise, my two companions will immediately attack you.”
Yuwen Chengdu thought that if that was the case, then could always take the initiative to lay his evil scheme on Susu. Nodding, he said, “So be it. You must not play any trick, otherwise I can send out a palm strike over the empty air to take your Jiejie’s life.” While in his heart he had made up his mind that as soon as Susu threw the account book to him, he would kill Susu at the same time, so that Kou Zhong would be grieved and his mind would be a confused mess.
Kou Zhong called out loudly, “You must act according to my order!” Naturally this sentence was directed to Xu Ziling.
By this time Yuwen Chengdu no longer cared to argue with Kou Zhong. Seeing Kou Zhong really put the account book down and backed away, he eagerly pushed Susu forward. “Pick the book and throw it over!” he ordered.
Naturally Susu understood Kou Zhong’s plan. With weakened knees, she forced herself to walk toward the account book.
Kou Zhong withdrew about a zhang and a half and stopped; gathering his strength, he waited.
Susu stopped in front of the book. Her knees gave up, she fell sitting down on the snowy ground.
Yuwen Chengdu anxiously called out, “if you want to live, throw the book here!”
Susu was a bit lost; she stared blankly at the book in front of her. Kou Zhong suddenly thundered, “Now!”
Yuwen Chengdu still thought that Kou Zhong ordered Susu to hurry up and pick the account book. Suddenly a wave of snow burst forth from behind him, followed by a violently hot palm strike hitting his back; it was only then did he realize that he had fallen into the enemy’s scheme. While spurting a mouthful of blood forward, his palm struck backward; to his surprise, however, he struck empty air. Knowing that the situation was not good, he hastily pulled back and leaped away.
Meanwhile, Kou Zhong already rushed toward Susu. Liu Heita and Zhuge Dewei also soared; one cane and one fan attacked toward Yuwen Chengdu midair.
While his first attack went smoothly, Xu Ziling second move hit empty air. This Yuwen Chengdu was indeed a first-class martial art master; although he was unable to guard against Xu Ziling’s palm strike against his back that he was injured and spurted a mouthful of blood, his true qi reacted and shocked Xu Ziling that blood and qi surged, which rendered him unable to pursue.
The three men exchanged blows midair. Yuwen Chengdu screamed miserably. Although he managed to block Zhuge Dewei’s iron fan, his left shoulder was hit by the extremely angry Liu Heita’s cane that his bone broke and his flesh split, and he was thrown sideways.
But this man was really outstanding; he was still able to rouse his qi and landed on the branch of a large tree nearby. Borrowing the momentum, he ricocheted and flew like a bird into the depth of the forest; in a few blinks he disappeared in the darkness.
The pit of Cui Dong’s stomach was hit by a palm strike, his sternum fractured and he perished. Everybody was inconsolably grieved; they vowed to avenge this great enmity for Cui Dong. That very night Liu Heita looked for a rather secluded spot on an elevated ground, dug a deep hole, and spread large rocks over the place where he buried Cui Dong, so that hungry wolves would not catch the smell and dig the corpse and eat it.
Recalling that it was because Cui Dong wanted to find a game to be roasted to help her resisting the cold that he went alone and was murdered by Yuwen Chengdu, Susu cried uncontrollably that her tears rained down like pear blossom. Recalling that Cui Dong died because of the account book, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s grief was inconsolable; but they were also greatly puzzled.
Surprisingly, it was Liu Heita who was open-minded. After kowtowing in front of the grave, he spoke to the tombstone in a loud and clear voice, “Dong Shu, you went a step ahead of us. After Xiao Hei [little black, from Liu Heita’s name] takes advantage of this numerous and disorderly world and damn play for a while, a bit later I will go down the spring [i.e. underworld] to find you to play finger-guessing game and drink wine.”
And then he walked over to Susu, who was supported by Kou and Xu, two boys; smiling, he said, “Su Mei, please don’t be sad, summer went, winter came [Translator's note: the 'dong' in Cui Dong's name means 'winter'], to be born, to grow old, to get sick and to die, life is nothing more than that." Finished speaking, he preceded the other to leave.
With a grim expression Zhuge Dewei said, "Let's hit the road! If others don't kill me, then I will kill others. After fighting several battles, everything will be clear!"
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were somewhat comforted. Helping Susu up, they followed the two men continuing their journey toward Yangwu.
By midday, they cut through the mountain and fields toward the official road of Yangwu. They saw the road pas packed with refugees who were leaving Yangwu, pedestrians and carts fighting over the road, the cries of grief shook the heavens, so that the people who were already suffering from the intense cold weather became more miserable and flustered.
Liu Heita and Zhuge Dewei keep their calm in the face of the unexpected; their expression remained aloof as they tried to ask around. They found out that Li Mi recaptured Liyang Storehouse, Wang Shichong led his main force to reinforce the Sui Army, but was defeated by Li Mi. Li Mi then recruited a large number of surrendering Sui soldiers and generals, so that his fame and power was greatly flourishing; he was about to march toward Yangwu; therefore, common people in the neighboring area abandoned their homes to flee.
After hearing this news, Susu was aghast, "Li Mi is coming! We must run away now!" Hearing Li Mi's name, her countenance changed as if she was hearing a tiger was coming.
Liu Heita led them into the woods next to the road to get away from the crowd; he said with a laugh, "If you think these people are running away from Li Mi, you are gravely mistaken. These are peasant families from the rural counties near Yangwu. What they are afraid of is the defeated troops would scatter in all directions and looting the people. Yangwu closed its gate and not allowed them to enter the city, hence they had no choice but to flee for their lives first."
Zhuge Dewei said, "Li Mi is the best at buying the people's heart, chances are he will send grain to relieve the people; how could those common people fear him?"
Frowning, Kou Zhong asked, "If that's the case, won't we be able to enter the city as well?"
Liu Heita had already planned in advance, "Leave this matter to me," he said, "We have several officers of Yangwu who have dealings with us in secret, plus I have an official pass. As long as we are willing to spend a few pennies, bringing in two or three more people inside won’t be a problem.”
Zhuge Dewei said, “We also have some connections with the clans and societies in there, if the three of you still insist on going to Jiangdu, we can make some arrangements to have you take a boat. It would definitely be a lot more comfortable than going on foot!”
Xu Ziling said, “What I am afraid the most is Yuwen Chengdu waiting for us there. After all, Yangwu is under the influence of his Yuwen Clan.”
Liu Heita said, “Before entering the city, I can disguise the three of you first, turning you into granpas and grandma. We will also change our appearance to avoid attracting undue attention.”
Zhuge Dewei proposed, “It would be best if we enter the city in two batches, it would be even more foolproof.”
Kou Zhong slapped his thigh and cheered, “I have heard about disguising skill in Jianghu, turns out two gentlemen are experts in it,” he said, “Would it be possible for you to teach us, brothers and sister, a trick or two? It would help us as self-protection skill when we have to escape.”
Liu Heita gladly said, “I only have superficial knowledge on this, Dage is the genuine expert; within our army, he occupies the first place. If you want to learn, you’d better beg him to teach you.”
Zhuge Dewei laughed and said, “Such a trivial trick, there is no need to use so much fuss on me; we all are friends in times of tribulations, to be able to catch your appreciation, you don’t know what a privilege that is to me.”
The three people’s favorable impression on Zhuge Dewei suddenly enjoyed a great boost. Chatting and laughing, they went against the flow of people leaving Yangwu. Temporarily the grief of Cui Dong’s demise was pushed toward the back of their heads; their life force has returned.