Chapter 8 – Total Abandon
Book 6 Chapter 8 – Total Abandon
The two boys left Danyang city in a hurry, they ran for more than ten li in one breath before stopping on a small hill.
Suddenly there was a crash of thunder, followed by lightning and more thunder occurring at the same time, and then heavy rain started to pour.
Kou Zhong thought he might as well take his upper garment off; standing bare-chested, he looked up to the sky and shouted, “What do we do now? Laotianye [God/Heaven], how about telling me, Kou Zhong?”
Xu Ziling also looked up and opened his mouth wide, happily swallowing several mouthful of rainwater. “Du Fuwei showed considerable respect toward you, why did Zhong Shao let this great opportunity slipped away?” he said, “If only you called him Die, Jianghuai Army is yours.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “This is called ‘no desire for convenience’. Besides, how could it be that simple? Don’t forget that there is also Fu Gongyou.”
Xu Ziling roared in laughter and said, “Don’t like to me, there must be another reason.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “It’s indeed difficult to conceal anything from you. Jianghuai Army’s thief-character is too heavy; bad habits die hard, they are definitely not a good material for the struggle over the world. But the most important reason is that I, Kou Zhong, don’t want others to say that I start my career by relying on the Old Du.”
And then his eyes lit up as he said, “In this world, there is nothing more beautiful than life itself, but life has to have meaning, the beautiful part is the process and the experience. Success or failure is not a big deal, it’s the course of events during the struggle that is the most fascinating. My good brother, do you understand now?”
Xu Ziling nodded, “Of course I do!” he said, “But Du Fuwei is also right, you and I are two different types of people, the pursuit of our goals is even more different. Perhaps there will be a day after you obtain the world that we, two brothers, will go our separate ways.”
Kou Zhong grew silent. Suddenly he roared in laughter and said, “The encounter of the future is his granny’s goddamn business. Right now what do we do? Returning to Danyang is out of question, will we simply lose touch with Su Jie just like this?”
Xu Ziling mused, “The life’s encounter is controlled by fate. Although everybody advises us to be a turtle who withdraw its head [i.e. person who refuses to face reality] by avoiding Li Mi’s decree to hunt and kill us, but where is the fun in being such people? We might as well look for something we can do in total abandon, so that the world will know. When that Xiang kid hears it, naturally he would want to bring Su Jie to be reunited with us.”
‘Crash!’ A flash of lightning split the sky, painting the heaven and the earth deathly white.
Being at the front seat of the nature’s display of power, the two boys were momentarily speechless.
It was quite some time later that Kou Zhong broke the silence, “What are we going to do?” he asked.
Xu Ziling burst into loud laughter, “You are really absent-minded; have you forgotten about the batch of salt we transported the other day? We’ll take the goods out and transport it to the northwest region, where salt is most scarce. As long as we can overcome the obstacles along the dangerous and difficult path, if this mission succeeded, we will become genuine martial art masters.”
Kou Zhong’s powerful body shook. “Good idea,” he said, “We deliberately publicize it along the way, so that whoever wants wealth but doesn’t love his life may either come to get our heads, or deliver his life to us.”
‘Crash!’ The thunderstorm grew more violent.
As soon as the storm lessened up, the two boys immediately set off toward the place they called ‘the training beach’, the place they would never forget as long as they lived, the place that, other than the small valley where they buried Fu Junchuo, was able to stir their emotion the most.
Because this time they were taking land route, they had to speculate a lot along the way, which made their journey slow. However, the two boys did not grow impatient, because their focus was on the martial art training.
By this time the two boys had gained a wealth of combat experience. With the addition of the dreadful threat from ‘Duke of Pushan’s Decree’, plus knowing that this journey of transporting the salt was extremely dangerous, the two boys were very careful and extremely focused. They talked less, and tried as much as possible to avoid entering any village, city or marketplace; they only relied on wild fruits to allay their hunger, without any distraction they trained day and night, leading a rather ascetic life.
Naturally at that time they did not know that this period was where they made an astonishing breakthrough, which laid the groundwork to reach the status as invincible martial art masters in the universe.
One day, because their clothes have been so worn-out that it could not even cover their bodies, they had no choice but to enter a small town to buy two new sets of clothing as replacement.
This southern town did not seem to be affected by the fire of war; it was bustling, flourishing and peaceful. It happened to be some sort of holiday that every household was decorated with lanterns and colored banners, everybody was wearing new clothes, and firecrackers were crackling incessantly.
By nature, Kou Zhong was more inquisitive than Xu Ziling, so he went outside to find out what was going on. When he came back to the inn, he said to Xu Ziling, who was meditating in full concentration, “Turns out this place is under Lin Shihong’s power. This fellow was originally the Er Longtou [second boss] of Poyang Hui [society]. After only a few months rising in rebellion, the Da Longtou [big boss] Cao Shiqi was eliminated by others, giving his cold hand the opportunity to hold some hot fried dumplings. On top of that, because he killed and beheaded Sui Dynasty’s valiant general Liu Ziyi, his reputation soared, attracting his former subordinates so that the number of his men added together reaches more than 100,000. This fellow declared himself an emperor, taking Chu as the name of his dynasty, with Yuchang as his capital. Jiujiang, Linchuan [both are in Jiangxi] and several other large counties have all fallen into his hands. Hey! There are other news, we’d better go to a wine shop and talk it over some big bowls of wine and big chunks of meat.”
Xu Ziling frowned and said, “This past month all we ate was wild fruits, cassava, King Solomon’s seal [Polygonatum], and the like; our digestive system is used to clean and mild food; I am afraid eating meat and drinking wine will make us sick.”
Kou Zhong pulled him up and said, “Exactly for that reason we have to rejoin the world. You, this kid, have the tendency of withdrawing from worldly affairs, which makes me afraid that you might become a Buddhist monk or a Taoist priest. Worse yet, you seem to completely lose interest in girls.”
While talking, he pulled a pair of daggers from his bosom, and stuffed one into Xu Ziling’s hand; he said, “These are very expensive, I bought them from a street vendor, very good steel. The best part is their names, yours is called ‘cutting off jade’, mine is called ‘dispersing gold’, Hui Jin Duan Yu, such interesting and strange names.”
Xu Ziling examined the dagger in his hand; the hilt indeed had ancient seal script engraved on it, ‘duan yu’ two characters. He said, “I don’t like using weapons, why did you give it to me?”
Kou Zhong slapped his back excitedly; with a hearty laugh he said, “It’s for you to shave your beard. Go look into the mirror, see if you can recognize Xu Ziling!”
Xu Ziling still did not understand, “What’s the big deal?” he asked.
“Why you suddenly become so stupid?” Kou Zhong angrily said, “If nobody recognize who we are, then nobody would come to us to settle the debt. If this matter is not elevated, how can we let Su Jie know that we are still in the world of the living?”
Still confused, Xu Ziling followed Kou Zhong’s order and used the dagger to shave his beard. While shaving, he sighed and said, “This is really a treasured blade!”
Kou Zhong had just shaved his face clean, squinting as if he was looking at the bright sun he said in astonishment, “Your, this kid, appearance seems to change, but I can’t tell exactly what’s different. Could be changes in personality traits, like a degree or two of transcending-the-earth refinement?”
Xu Ziling did not seem to care to even look back at him, he spoke indifferently, “You look more like Wulin martial art master as well; you could even scare people without fighting.”
Kou Zhong laughed and cursed, “Get lost, you big headed ghost!” And then he pulled Xu Ziling to go to the wine shop.
The wine shop’s main hall was nearly full, more than thirty tables with only two empty ones. The patrons were mostly traveling merchants or people who make a living as traveling performers, those who wandered the world.
When the two boys stepped into the hall, they immediately attracted the attention of most people, some even looked startled and showed unsure expression.
Kou Zhong swaggered toward one of the vacant tables and sat down. “Get Ol’ Kou two catties of good wine first, I want the top quality ones,” he shouted.
As soon as the two words ‘Ol’ Kou’ came out of his mouth, those several people were visibly shaken immediately, and their faces looked weird, as if they were delighted.
Xu Ziling saw this, and said in low voice, “Be careful, someone might poison the food and wine.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Don’t forget that a hundred poison cannot invade our body, Shen Poniang’s poison could not do anything to us.”
Xu Ziling irately said, “Even if we can expel poison, it still wasted a lot of effort, not to mention the inconvenience. It is still better to be a bit more careful.”
“There shouldn’t be any colorless, odorless poison in the world,” Kou Zhong replied, “As soon as Laozi give it a glance with my keen eyes, a sniff with my sharp nose, I guarantee there won’t be any poison slipping through my nose and my eyes.”
Although he said that, this kid actually went to the kitchen to personally monitor the server pouring wine. He also ordered some dishes, mainly dumplings with meat filling and green veggies, with only one dish of stewed meat. It was clear that although with his mouth he said all those things, he still took Xu Ziling’s likes and dislikes into account very much.
The two boys acted as though there were nobody else present, they ate and drank as much as they liked. While being tipsy and merry, Kou Zhong said in low voice, “When Li Yuan heard that the muddleheaded ruler was killed, he forced King of Dai Yang You to hand over the emperor position to him. Outsiders naturally say that that child was perfectly happy to abdicate and yield to him. Ha! We have one more emperor coming out.”
“Must be Li Shimin’s idea,” Xu Ziling commented.
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “Hard to say. I heard that Li Shimin’s older brother, Li Jiancheng is also a formidable character. Another brother is Li Yuanji, his bravery is unrivalled, his martial art skill surpasses his older brother’s. Ay! That Li kid is so pitiful, with much toil he fights over the world, in the end he might only benefit Li Jiancheng.”
Xu Ziling said, “They are hands and feet [fig. brothers] with deep feeling between them, riches and honor will be enjoyed together, why bother about that kind of things?”
A smile of contempt appeared on the corner of Kou Zhong’s mouth, but he did not say anything.
Chapter 8, Part 2
Unlike Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling was concerned about Li Shimin; he said, “How’s the situation in Guanzhong?”
“Guanzhong capital is a piece of fatty meat [fig. cash cow], everybody wants to eat it up. Li Mi and Yang Shichong [there’s this name again, I don’t know whether it was a typo or different character from Wang Shichong] actually had a lot of chances to snatch it away from the Li Clan at Chang’an, but they are curbing each other’s move that in the end nobody could make any move. Do you still remember that guy Xue Ju?”
Xu Ziling’s memory was exceptionally good; he nodded and said, “That was the guy who wanted to copy Qin Shihuang [first emperor, 259-210 BC], that idiot who called himself Xi Qin Bawang [the overlord of the western Qin], right? His dominion Jincheng is west of Chang’an. Do you think he is fighting for food against the Li Clan?”
Kou Zhong said, “Kid, you are so smart that others cannot help loving you, one guess and you hit the target. This idiot claimed to have a hundred and thirty thousand men under him, and looked down on Li Yuan. Unexpectedly he dared to recklessly attack a solid city like Chang’an, and was beaten by that Li kid outside the city, and had to crawl back home before he finished eating, thus his prestige also took a large fall.”
Xu Ziling asked in amazement, “This place is so far away from Guanzhong, how could you describe it with living spirit, living image, as if you have witnessed it with your own eyes?”
Kou Zhong proudly said, “In this small town, at least one out of four people is a refugee from the north. I am just adding a little imagination to that, and you are listening with smile of exultation.”
Xu Ziling said, “The big battle between Wang Shichong and Li Mi is inevitable, I just don’t know who won and who lost.”
Kou Zhong smiled mysteriously and said, “Turns out you haven’t forgotten Shen Poniang.”
Xu Ziling let out a forced laugh; he said, “You have contracted the incurable disease of using too much imagination. I was only concerned over the situation of the world. If this chaotic situation continues, common people will have to suffer I don’t know how much more pain.”
Kou Zhong said, “Since that muddleheaded ruler’s death, the situation is getting more tangled and complicated. One of the so-called five martial art masters of Sui Dynasty, Shen Faxing, and thus is one strong character outside the Four Powerful Clans who is able to gather his descendants based on surname connection, took office as the Governor of Wuxing. On the pretext that he was attacking Yuwen Huaji, he gathered sixty-thousand Sui troops, to occupy Kunling. His fame and power flourished suddenly, and called himself Jiangnan Dao Da Zongguan [the big steward of Jiangan (area south of Yangtze River) road], in direct opposition to Li Zitong and our Ol’ Die. These rebel armies, one was originally Sui troops, and the other was originally born from grass and pond, have deep enmity against each other. Water and fire cannot tolerate each other.”
“In that case,” Xu Ziling said, “Li Clan’s victory over Xue Ju is actually a crucial turning point, because from now on they no longer fear threats from the west, and can simply sit and watch the heroes of the Central Plains killing each other.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “I know that you always think highly of that Li kid, but he and his brother Li Jiancheng once wanted to attack Luoyang, in the end there was neither accomplishment nor pay back. The current situation is a stale-mate; nobody is able to do anything to the other side.”
Xu Ziling pressed Kou Zhong’s cup down. “Don’t drink too much!” he said, “Something might happen tonight.”
Kou Zhong pushed his hand aside and drained his cup in one gulp. There was an unusual glint in his eyes as he said, “This is the last cup.”
Xu Ziling knew that he had evoked the bad memory of Li Xiuning in Kou Zhong’s mind. Sighing inwardly, he pulled Kou Zhong back to their room at the inn.
That night indeed there were Jianghu people who acted recklessly by coming to them looking for trouble, but they were beaten to be in a sorry state by the two boys, and ended up running away with broken arms and broken feet. The two boys knew it was only the beginning, so they might as well not hiding their identity, as they swaggered through towns and villages, pressing on toward their ‘training beach’.
They were not people who love to flaunt their courage and strength at all, while deliberately elusive, sometimes for two, three days they trained in the wilderness, cultivating the internal energy from the ‘Secret to Long Life’, baffling those who were trying to follow their trails.
On one hand, they were focused on their training; on the other hand, they wanted to use these endless streams of people – who were coming to their door coveting Li Mi’s reward – as their target practice, to see whether the technique they previously learned could be thoroughly blended with what they had just learned, or perhaps with their own interpretation, to become even more comprehensive, to enable them to control the true qi within their body smoothly, and to bring out the innate quality to its extreme saturation.
One day the two boys chatted about making a stop at Yuhang, so they paid taxes as required by the rules and entered the city. Kou Zhong laughed and said, “I wonder if those b@stards Haisha Bang [see Book 2 Chapter 4] still exists? Now that the Yuwen Clan is powerless to defend itself, Haisha Bang cannot flaunt their viciousness. We might as well tear down their Yuhang Division, forcing them to offer us a big ship, with a hundred sailors, a thousand sacks of salt, and ten thousand beauties. Ha! The more I think, the happier I am.”
Xu Ziling swept his gaze around, the scene on the streets did not look much different from what he remembered, only there were a lot more Jianghu people around, but no one dared to look directly at them, obviously these people knew who they were. Some even made a detour to avoid them.
Laughing aloud, he said, “Gain the initiative by striking first, it can really save us a lot of trouble. This place is probably Shen Faxing’s territory, someone who has been a government official is, after all, different; everything in this place is clear and orderly, unlike Ol’ Die’s place that looks like a mess.”
Kou Zhong halted his steps and pointed to a shop across the street. “Do you remember?” he said, “It’s here! Look! Everyone in that bunch of people at the door has ominous glint in their eyes, their expression looks bad.”
Xu Ziling looked over; he recalled Haisha Bang Yuhang Division’s Vice Helmsman Tan Yong, who that night walked out of precisely that place.
Just like that night, about a dozen Haisha Bang disciples gathered in that store, everybody had a weapon in his hand, everybody was glaring at the two boys, as if they were ready to fight at any time.
Kou Zhong said, “That idiot Dragon [King] Han Gaidi [reminder: his real name was Gaitian, tian – heaven, di – earth] must’ve thrown his lot to Shen Faxing, otherwise, I would be surprised if he is not swept out of Yuhang. Shen Faxing made it clear that he is on crusade against the Yuwen Clan; thereby Han Gaidi, who is accustomed to piloting the ship, has a deep understanding on how to steer the rudder by looking at the wind.”
Xu Ziling took the initiative this time, he strode across the street straight toward that store; beckoning Kou Zhong to come along, he said, “Attacking the unprepared is the best policy! C’mon good brother!”
Kou Zhong laughed and followed him, just like they were going to play a fun game.
Right this moment, they both felt that they had grown up to be adults, no longer two young marketplace hooligans.