Chapter 11 – Delivered to Their Door
In just one sichen [i.e. 2 hours] the two boys managed to load more than forty sacks of salt onto their boat. Only after thinking that in the past they had to work all night long and spent tremendous strength [orig. the strength of nine bulls and two tigers] to accomplish the same thing did they really feel the progress they have made.
Dawn had yet to arrive, they already set sail.
Kou Zhong said, “Let us try to follow the Great River upstream westwards inland, if we can’t go on, then we’ll take land route!”
Xu Ziling frowned and said, “In term of steering the boat, you and I are low-hand [Translator’s note: in Chinese, master/expert is ‘high-hand’], we can’t even compare with ordinary sailor. In the ocean, there is no problem, naturally! Especially under the situation where the breeze is still, the waves are quiet. But when we enter the river …”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “You think too much! If the boat sank in the Great River, we will simply dredge his mother’s up. Taking the land route at that time won’t be too late. Don’t forget that we are ‘high-hands’ [see note above] both on land and sea.”
Xu Ziling put Kou Zhong’s hand on the rudder and said with a laugh, “Your turn. I am going to the cabin to sleep.”
Kou Zhong grumbled, “If I had known earlier, I would have grabbed several Haisha Bang minions and forced them to pilot the boat, then we would not have to suffer like this right now.”
Xu Ziling woke up by the sound of battle drums; momentarily he thought he was in the battlefield. Rushing out of the cabin, he saw Kou Zhong was squinting to look at three boats in triangular formation coming fast toward them. The boats had more tapered ends, and each one was about a zhang longer compared to their boat. Therefore, in term of mobility, especially since their boat was loaded with salt, those boats had the upper hand.
Both sides were coming fast toward each other.
Under the abundant sunshine, the two boys could see that all three boats had several dozen men standing on the deck; everyone had an arrow strung on a bow, or loaded stone catapult, ready for action. Some even had long poles and other tools to lock the ships in their hands, while they were moving back and forth on the deck; it was an awe-inspiring scene to behold.
Flying high above the deck was a banner with ‘Gao’ character on it.
Xu Ziling came to Kou Zhong’s side and frowned, “Who are these people?” he asked.
A bright smile appeared on Kou Zhong’s face; he said cheerfully, “Just by listening to the drums, we know that they are in high fighting spirit. But looking at the disorderly way they are moving around, we know that they are simply a mob. They must be pirates who go everywhere to plunder; the best sailors we can catch.”
“What?” Xu Ziling cried out.
“Just leave everything to me,” Kou Zhong said, “Let us hide inside the cabin first to avoid the arrows. Once they board our boat, we’ll show them some trick and have these hairy thieves see.”
‘Bang! Bang!’ Using hooks and ropes, two of the enemy ships sandwiched their boat from left and right, and the crowd of thieves immediately swarmed in. Three men charged into the cabin, while the rest inspected the sacks of salt on the deck and in the hold.
The other pirate ship took the lead; all four boats now sailed together. For the time being, it looked like the pirates had the situation under control.
Three of the pirates, who looked like the leaders, stood on the aft giving directions to the rest of the pirates. The biggest and tallest was a man with eyes that looked like bronze bell. His long hair was draped over his shoulders, his face full of beard, his physique looked bold and powerful. Two short tasseled spears, about five chi long each, were hanging in an ‘X’ shape on his back, making his overall appearance even more awe-inspiring. It is kind of surprising that there was such character among the pirates.
“Huh?” this man exclaimed, “Er Lang has gone into the cabin for so long, why haven’t he come out with those two boys in custody?”
A short, thin man with a dignified look standing by his side said, “Let me go take a look!”
The man on the other side, a thick and strong young man, who was only a cun or so shorter than the big man with loose hair, but still bigger and taller than average person, with two iron rings hanging from his waist, apparently some kind of weapon from a strange school, said, “Let me go with Er’ge [second (older) brother].”
The man with loose hair nodded his approval, he said in a low voice, “Something’s strange, be careful!”
The young man laughed aloud and said, “What kind of wind and waves we, Donghai Sanyi [three sworn brothers of the eastern sea] have never seen?” Finished speaking he followed that short and thin man, which he called the second brother, into the cabin.
While the big man with loose hair was following his two sworn brothers disappearing into the cabin entrance with his eyes, an underling came to report, “Daye [big master]! All the sacks piled up on the deck contain salt.”
The big man with loose hair muttered to himself, “Tough luck. Unless these useless goods are transported inland, just how much money can we sell them for? But the boat is top-quality goods.”
A voice glibly responded, “Your three boats are not bad either, perhaps you’ll let us make his mother’s deals.”
The pirates were shocked; their countenance paled.
Kou Zhong was sitting leisurely at the cabin’s roof, one leg above the other, the broadsword lying across his knees, his feet hanging above the hatch, swaying back and forth casually, looking indescribably comfortable.
Under the bright sunlight, his smile looked so brilliant, his tiger-eyes exuded some kind of deep and immeasurable divine ray. When he looked around and their eyes met, nobody did not feel dread growing from the bottom of their heart.
The man with loose hair was shocked. “What did you do to them?” he asked.
With flawless smile Kou Zhong replied, “Tell your men not to act recklessly first, and then this Shaoye will be interested in considering whether he should answer your question.”
The man with loose hair made prompt decision. “Everybody stop! Come to my side!” he shouted.
The more than twenty pirates who boarded the boat hastily moved to the aft, so that they became two sides facing each other, the enemy and us were demarcated clearly.
The man with loose hair was clearly someone who valued comradeship. His eyes glittered like frost and snow, as he said coldly, “This time just consider us committing an offense. As soon as Sire release them, we will immediately turn on our heels, and we never eat our words.”
Kou Zhong knew that these people saw them quietly subdued five of their comrades, so they were scared in their hearts; thereupon, he laughed aloud and said, “How can it be that easy? I want all of you to throw yourselves into the sea, hand over your three boats; otherwise, don’t even think that you will live to see tomorrow’s sun. Humph! You rely on strength to loot the week, you ought to know that this day will come.”
The pirates’ countenance changed, they all shouted and cursed. Everybody assumed the heroic posture of ‘ready to fight to the death’.
The man with loose hair let out a sudden burst of shout, “Shut up!” Slowly taking out the pair of spears on his back, he said in a heavy voice, “This is called ‘refusing a toast only to be forced to drink a forfeit’. Kid, state your name.”
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “Old kid, you tell me first!”
The man with loose hair was taken aback, and then he smiled and said, “One is a kid, the other an old kid, fair enough, listen up. Laozi is the head of Donghai Sanyi, the Double Spear, Gao Zhandao.”
Kou Zhong doubled over in laughter, “Luckily the weapon you use is rather special, if you only used sword, you’d have to change your name to Single Sword, Gao Zhandao. That nickname, you must have come up with it yourself, didn’t you?”
Gao Zhandao and the pirates have never met someone who in the face of a battle was still able to talk and laugh as though nothing had happened, plus his words were amusing and without any devious or blaming intention; a strange feeling started to grow in their heart.
“Rubbish!” Gao Zhandao shouted angrily, “Since you refuse to give up, just call your companion, we will see who’s superior who’s inferior.” While secretly signaled his men by his side, as soon as the other enemy hiding in the cabin came out, they ought to immediately rescue their comrades.
This was the brilliance of Kou Zhong’s plan of capturing five men of the opponent’s side, otherwise, Gao Zhandao might come back to his pirate ship and launch long-distance attack, then their own boat’s demise would be guaranteed.
Kou Zhong suddenly calmed down. His tiger-eyes shining with divine light, as he stared at Gao Zhandao and spoke indifferently, “Just to deal with you, these small thieves, there is no need for my brother to come out. Gao Zhandao, if you still have a little bit of thief’s guts, just fight one-on-one with me; if you can take ten moves, this Shaoye will release your men.”
“Shut up!” Gao Zhandao roared angrily, “How could I, Gao Zhandao, tolerate your random babbling of little thieves this and that, left and right? No need to have ten-move limit either, let us see who has real skill.”
Kou Zhong frostily said, “You board boats to loot, if not thieves, then what are you? You rely on force to bully the weak, you only dare to make a move on fishermen, common people who have no power to fight you, if not small thieves, then are you something completely different?”
A man standing by Gao Zhandao’s side retorted and cursed, “Aren’t you also a thief? Is smuggling salt considered honorable or shady business?”
Kou Zhong laughed involuntarily, “What’s not honorable in this?” he said, “Northwest region lacks salt, we spare no effort, transporting salt over ten thousand crags and torrents, we buy and sell honestly, both sides are perfectly happy to do business; don’t you think it is much more noble than robbing money and goods that others obtained from their blood and sweats and hard work?”
The crowd of pirates was dumbstruck and unable to reply.
Kou Zhong vehemently continued, “Men’s existence in the world is to have critical and lofty aspiration, to have broad view over the world. After Laozi earns this profit, I want to use it to recruit soldiers and buy horses, to fight over the world, to accomplish great undertaking that will stand for eternity; how could you, small thieves who only know how to rob left and seize right, understand?”
Gao Zhandao snorted disdainfully; striding over, he shouted, “No kidding! Let Laozi see how much weight you carry.”
While the crowd of pirates burst into cheers and applause, Kou Zhong already sprang up and swooped down from above; like a thunderbolt the long saber in his hand struck toward Gao Zhandao’s face.
Gao Zhandao did not expect Kou Zhong to be so dauntless, that as soon as he said that they would fight he immediately fought. The incoming attack carried the ten thousand jun [1 jun = 30 catties] force of a thunder; without any choice he clenched his teeth and raised his double spears and crossed them on each other to block this incomparably swift and fierce saber.
It should be noted that for top-quality martial art masters, before they could display their power at peak condition, they must focus their attention first and warm themselves up, and only then would they be able to release the full potential of their internal energy without any reservation. Someone like Kou Zhong, who did not go through the process but was able to unleash his power brimming with explosive force like this, was simply too shocking; the crowd of pirates was astonished beyond words.
‘Pow!’ With a dull thud Gao Zhandao staggered seven steps back in succession before he could stabilize his footing; his countenance was deathly pale.
Kou Zhong, on the other hand, was secretly full of praise, realizing that this man was actually a lot more superior to them, two brothers; unexpectedly he was able to withstand Kou Zhong’s full-powered blow.
The crowd of pirates could see clearly that their leader was in bad situation; they rushed forward to stand in front of Gao Zhandao, but nobody dared to make any move against Kou Zhong.
Kou Zhong stood quietly, holding the saber across his chest, exuding some kind of heroic, uninhibited aura in a beautiful, elegant posture. Bending his finger, he flicked on the blade of his saber, creating a clear, ringing buzz. He smiled and said, “Since you are able to block my saber strike, this time I am willing to drop this matter.”
Gao Zhandao had just finished driving away Kou Zhong’s cold qi invading his body; overwhelmed with amazement, he said, “May I ask Sire’s honorable surname and great given name?”
Kou Zhong replied nonchalantly, “My name is Kou Zhong, my brother is Xu Ziling. I won’t be surprised if you have never heard our names.”
The crowd of pirates was visibly shaken.
“How could we have not heard?” Gao Zhandao suddenly said, “Recently you burned more than a dozen Haisha Bang’s ships, even Li Mi cannot do anything to you.”
Kou Zhong was greatly delighted, “You have fast and abundant news indeed. Did you get the information while you were disembarking and strolling on land?”
The pirates were amazed, one of them even said, “How could Kou Ye [master] even guess those things?”
Kou Zhong’s desire to fight vanished completely. Seeing the pirates looked at him with admiring, even adoring eyes, he laughed aloud and said, “Let’s make a deal. We will release your five brothers; in turn you prepare a sumptuous banquet for us, two brothers to enjoy. After that, we will go our separate ways; how’s that?”
Gao Zhandao put away his two spears; he said with delight, “This is the first time in my life that I, Gao Zhandao, meet this kind of natural hero like Kou Ye. Kou Ye is willing not to blame us for our recklessness, naturally we will gladly accept [orig. deference is no substitute for obedience]. Ha! This is really wonderful.”
Turns out the pirates were originally Sui soldiers. In the seventh year, second month of the great undertaking [Translator’s note: I believe this is in reference to the founding of the Sui Dynasty], Emperor Yang issued an imperial edict to send a punitive expedition to Gaoli [Korea, see my note, Book 1 Chapter 3]. These people were conscripted at Zhuo County, to join Sui Army’s main force heading to Korean capital, Pyongyang [ping rang]. After the first victory, subsequent military expedition suffered defeat after defeat; Sui troops were demoralized, plus army provisions ceased to reach them.
Gao Zhandao was a member of a 300,000-man army, they suffered crushing defeat in the middle of summer, and only 2,700 men were able to return to Liaodong [peninsula].
The first time they defeated Gaoli, the cost in terms of manpower and physical resources was disastrous, they ought to recover. Who would have thought that Yang Guang sent the second punitive expedition to Gaoli in the ninth year of the great undertaking? Taking advantage while Yang Guang was out in the military expedition, and common people detest military service and forced labor bitterly, while the world was in chaos, the Director of the Board of Rites Yang Xuan led the troops to rebel. It was during this time that Gao Zhandao and the others decided to rebel against the Sui and followed Yang Xuan as renegades.
After Yang Xuan’s troops were defeated and he died, Gao Zhandao and the others fled back to Kunling. To their surprise, the family they left behind had been implicated and was beheaded early on. Without any other choice they had to flee to the sea and became pirates.
The short and skinny fellow was called Niu Fengyi, the young man was called Zha Jie. Not only these two had a quite good martial art skill, they were also educated men who read a lot of books. Therefore, along with Gao Zhandao, the pirates pushed them to become their leaders.
The group originally had 52 men, but presently they grew to become 228 men. This time they went out to sea, only 208 men joined the expedition, the others stayed to guard their lair in Changsu [county, in Suzhou, Jiangsu].
The four boats sailed together northward as a fleet along the coastal region.
The sky gradually darkened, but the boats were brightly lit.
A banquet was prepared on Kou and Xu, two boys’ boat. Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong, Gao Zhandao, Niu Fengyi, Zha Jie, and a few more leaders sat around the table, drinking and chatting merrily in perfect harmony.
As for steering the boats, they handed it over to some small thieves to handle.
After listening to their life story, how the government official drove the people to revolt and forcing talents to become pirates, Xu Ziling’s ill will diminished a little. More so, he noticed that these people were real men who valued family, thereupon he asked, “Gao Xiong, you can’t go on like this; don’t you have the desire to turn over a new leaf?”
Niu Fengyi smiled bitterly and replied, “Right now the world is all split up and in pieces, where can we find a place to live in peace and work happily? Currently we band together into a group, nobody dares to mess with us for no reason; we are quite well-off, even if we agree to stop, I am afraid our fellow brothers will not want to agree.”
Zha Jie spoke up in earnestness, “We are merely forced to fall into the grass. Therefore, unless it is absolutely necessary, we would never kill indiscriminately. Even in robbing, we also have a sense of propriety; we never rob impoverished fishermen. If Xu Ye don’t believe me, ask the people around here, you will now our, Donghai Bang’s [eastern sea gang] work style.”
Another leader, Wei Yuan, said, “At first we saw two gentlemen’s ship bore the flag of Haisha Bang, we thought you were from Haisha Bang transporting goods for Shen Faxing, an attractive and easy mark.”
Gao Zhandao suddenly turned to Kou Zhong, who was enjoying a large bowl of wine and a large piece of meat and was chewing contentedly, “Just now Kou Ye mentioned something about your aspiration to vie for the world; I wonder what kind of grand plan do you have in mind?”
Xu Ziling shot Kou Zhong a look; he was the only one who understood Kou Zhong’s super-outstanding trick in controlling others. Just now he was unleashing that skill with all his heart and soul to manipulate Donghai Bang people, using both soft and hard methods to scare them off that they became like clay in the palm of his hand. The most formidable part was to raise the opposite party’s lofty aspiration, while displaying the ‘I-don’t-give-a-damn’ attitude, so that they would be most willing to come to him.
Kou Zhong drained the wine in his cup in one gulp, put the cup down, used his sleeve to wipe the wine stain from the corner of his mouth, swept everybody with his flashing-with-divine-light eyes, and spoke nonchalantly, “Tell me, who is currently have the biggest chance and the most qualifications to obtain the world?”
Without the slightest hesitation Gao Zhandao replied, “Naturally it’s … hey! I am only stating the fact. In term of prestige, naturally Li Mi holds the first place.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “He is only well-regarded on the surface. The biggest problem is the Eastern Capital has high and thick city walls, it also has former Sui’s elite troops, on top of that, they are under the leadership of Yang Shichong [sic], who has real skill in military literature and military strategy. Previously Li Mi failed to attack Luoyang, and now can’t attack Luoyang even more, even slight carelessness will cause him big defeat.” [Translator’s note: while I think it was Wang Shichong, but because I am not 100% sure, I am afraid to simply change it to Wang Shichong; henceforth I will write the name as is.]
Zha Jie did not understand, “It is rumored that Duke Mi is proficient in historiography, well-versed in ‘Records of the Grand Historian’ [by Sima Qian (145-86 BC), Han Dynasty historian] and ‘History of the Former Han Dynasty’ [by Ban Gu (AD 32–92)], and is also proficient in the art of war, his repeated victories over repeated battles confirm this. The most formidable thing is that he knows how to buy the heart of the people. If he cannot obtain the world, who will have that qualifications?”
Kou Zhong already had a card up his sleeve; he said, “Don’t forget there is still Dou Jiande in the northeast curbing Li Mi. Besides, this fellow Li Mi has committed something that a hundred-time, a thousand-time he should not have done.”
Niu Fengyi was stunned, “What’s that?” he asked.
Xu Ziling knew what Kou Zhong was going to say, inwardly he admired Kou Zhong’s ability, wisdom and charisma; to touch these three men’s heart would be as easy as turning his hand.
“He murdered Da Longtou Zhai Rang,” Kou Zhong calmly replied, “Because of that, the old generals who had been following Zhai Rang are discontented and afraid of their own safety. Wagang Army no longer has the unity of the former Wagang Army.”
Gao Zhandao was puzzled, “But presently tens of thousands people are coming to him, outstanding heroes from all over the world are flocking to Xingyang to attach themselves with Duke Mi and achieve greatness; his strength ought to be increased.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Coincidentally, this has become two major problems for him. First of all, the old people are afraid they might be pushed aside by the newcomers, add to that the apprehension of high-ranking officers who used to have close relationship with Zhai Rang; secondly, the elite troops of the new Wagang Army thereby has good and bad people intermingle with each other, who could tell if they have been infiltrated by the opponent’s spies? Humph! People keep saying how talented and outstanding Li Mi is; in my opinion, he is only so-so. If I were him, I would only house-arrest Zhai Rang, let him be a puppet leader who has a name but no reality.”
Gao Zhandao and the others exchanged glances, they all showed amazed look on their faces. Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, knowing that Kou Zhong’s intention to vie over the world was already like an arrow that left the bow; there was no turning back. Li Mi and the others have just gained one more terrifying formidable opponent. Having Gao Zhandao and his group of pirates under his control was only the beginning.