Chapter 3 – General Assembly in Bamboo Forest
Book 7 Chapter 3 – General Assembly in Bamboo Forest
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong crouched on a pile of rocks by the beach, staring blankly at the salt boat tilted at 45 degree, wedged between the reefs; they wanted to cry, but no tears came out.
The sail mast was broken, a long, large gash opened up on the hull from the sharp reef scraping at the bottom of the boat.
Even if someone were able to take the salt boat off the reef, it would still be difficult to repair the vessel.
When they set off, they were filled with heroic spirit; who could have guessed that before they even reached Jiangdu, the boat was destroyed, their men went missing; the blow they experience was understandable.
The two boys lost their interest, they did not feel like hauling the salt down the boat.
Kou Zhong said with a wry smile, “Before we graduate our first disciples, our boat is already destroyed; this does not seem to be a good omen.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “After daybreak, we’ll search along the river, to see if we can find their bodies and give them proper burial.”
Kou Zhong hatefully punched both fists into the air, with an angry humph he said, “That Poniang does not deserve to be Niang’s Shimei, her character and broad-mindedness fall too short compared to Niang’s, she refuses to understand that there are also good and bad among Han people, she only knows to call us Han dogs.”
Xu Ziling said, “Thinking about how much suffering the common people of Gaoli had to endure under Yang Guang troops’ iron hoof, we can’t really blame her for that. Ay!”
Kou Zhong coldly said, “Listening to the tone of your voice, when we meet her next time, even if we have the chance, you might treat her leniently. Don’t you think Duan Yucheng and the others died an unjust death?”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, “Do you think killing her is that easy? Fighting one-on-one, we are still a level below her. This Poniang’s qinggong is really formidable.”
Kou Zhong dejectedly said, “How’s your internal injury?”
Xu Ziling replied, “Although our martial art skill is still not enough, our healing technique is actually incomparable under the heavens. A moment ago I was aching all over, but now I am completely all right.”
Kou Zhong roused himself; he laughed and said, “Xiao Ling is really exceptional; if it weren’t for you bumping her back, I am afraid we were still unable to injure her. And if we weren’t able to injure her, it would mean we were going to get injured or killed. Thinking about it, it was extremely risky and dangerous.”
Xu Ziling knitted his brows in deep thought, “But her Yijian technique is really quite profound. Sword battle is just like playing chess, the battlefield is the chessboard. How would we know if the next move is ‘double rook seize the warrior’, or ‘abandon the rook to protect the commander’?” [not sure about this, must be some reference to Chinese chess.]
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “They must be referring to Gaoli chess, don’t think too much about it!”
Xu Ziling seriously said, “Speaking about chess, the principle of chess is the same as the principle of mental cultivation. First of all we must see through the opponent’s opening [in chess], only then can we decide how to attack or defend, to advance or retreat. Formerly we only know how to counter every move; ‘the troops arrive we resist’ really can’t be considered first-class martial art principle.”
Kou Zhong was about to reply when suddenly they heard unusual noise coming from downstream. Focusing their senses to listen carefully, unexpectedly it was Duan Yucheng and the others, four men’s familiar footsteps.
The two boys were pleased beyond their expectation; they rushed forward to meet them. After the calamity, renewed life, there was only joy in their hearts.
Turned out Fu Junyu was being lenient to them; before tossing them into the Great River, she unsealed their acupoints first. Whether they wanted it or not, Kou and Xu’s ill feelings toward her was greatly reduced.
Pulling themselves together, they moved the sacks of salt from the broken ship to the shore and hid them in the jungle. They also chopped the broken boat into pieces of boards and logs, and floated the pieces along the river.
By daybreak, the surface of the river was back to normal, as if this matter had never happened.
After being tossed from side to side all night, Duan Yucheng and the others, four men were exhausted. Thereupon Kou Zhong ordered them to rest in the jungle, while also guarding the salt. In the meantime, he and Xu Ziling went to the nearby town to see whether they could by a mule cart to transport the goods.
When the two boys reached the official road, Xu Ziling said, “You are proficient in astronomy and geography, tell me which way to go.”
Kou Zhong confidently said with a laugh, “I knew you wouldn’t let me off. We have just left Changsu the day before yesterday, plus we hid for half a day, so we should not have reached Jiangyin yet. If mountain people’s guess is correct, if we walk to the west for a couple of sichen, we should reach Jiangyin! Ha ha! Are you convinced?”
Xu Ziling sneered and said, “Are we there yet? Just use your feet, not your mouth!”
The two boys unfolded their shenfa, and sure enough, less than a sichen later the city of Jiangyin appeared in the distance.
Kou Zhong said triumphantly, “When you come with me, you won’t make a pointless trip. I was just wondering Jiangyin city nowadays has fallen into whose hands?”
Xu Ziling looked up at a caravan of horses and mules going down the hill heading toward Jiangyin; he laughed and said, “Can’t you go up and ask?”
Kou Zhong bumped into him and with hee hee ha ha he ran down the hill. Xu Ziling ran after him. But when they were about to reach the caravan, the people of the caravan shouted repeatedly, telling them to stop.
Five or six riders from the caravan reined their horses and turned back to block them. An old man who appeared to be their leader shouted, “Who’s there!”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were greatly surprised; why did they act nervous and tense as if they were facing an enemy?
The two boys had no choice but to stop. Kou Zhong cupped his fist and said, “Gentlemen, Lao Ge [old elder brothers] please do not misunderstand, we, two brothers, only wanted to inquire about the situation of Jiangyin, to see if it is safe to enter the city.”
A middle age man with thick eyebrows and big eyes next to the old man nodded and said, “You don’t look like vicious disciples of Tieqi Hui [armored horses society]. What is it that you wanted to ask?”
Kou Zhong suddenly understood, “Turns out Lao Ge mistook us as Tieqi Hui men.” And then elbowing Xu Ziling, he went on, “Do you know who is the leader of the Tieqi Hui? Could it be that he took the name ‘Xiao’ [little]?”
Those several men under the leadership of the old men laughed; they understood that Kou Zhong deliberately made fun of the name Ren Shaoming. Immediately the distance between the two sides diminished considerably.
[Translator’s note: this is hard to carry over to English. Ren – to take/appoint/assume, Shao – few/less/junior, Ming – name/famous. Kou Zhong said ‘took the name xiao’ – ren xiao ming.]
Tieqi Hui was one of eight-gang ten-society. In the recent years they emerged suddenly to become a big underworld gang in the Jiangnan [south of Yangtze river] area. Their Bangzhu [gang leader] ‘Green Dragon’ Ren Shaoming was an expert in using the meteor hammer. Together with the Huizhu [society leader] of Poyang Hui, Lin Shihong, who recently called himself the Emperor of Chu, they were known as the Two Hegemons of Jiangnan, the two dominant figures [orig. whose foot’s move sways the balance] of the Wulin world of Jiangnan. [Translator’s note: here the ‘dragon’ (蛟 jiao) is legendary dragon with the ability to control rain and floods, not the usual 龙/龍 (long).]
It was rumored that other than losing to the Song Clan’s Heavenly Saber Song Que in a fight over territorial dispute, Ren Shaoming had never met a well-matched adversary. From this, it could be seen that he was indeed exceptional.
The old man laughed and said, “You, this kid, have a bit of courage and insight; so which Sect’s disciples are you?”
Kou Zhong put on a respectful look as he said solemnly, “We, two brothers Fu Zhong and Fu Ling are the seventh generation disciples of Zhuhua Bang [bamboo flower gang]; Yan Kuan is our grandpa [or ‘master’].”
The old man was stunned, “The Yan Kuan who was martyred due to his loyalty in Yangzhou?” he asked.
This time it was Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s turn to look at each other in dismay.
First, they did not expect that the old man would know such an insignificant character like Yan Kuan; second, how did Yan Laoda become a martyr due to his loyalty?
The man with thick eyebrows who had spoken earlier suddenly made a secret signal, which only Zhuhua Bang’s member could understand.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling hastily returned the politeness with another Zhuhua Bang’s secret signal.
All the six men opened their robe at the same time, exposing the Zhuhua Bang insignia on the lapel of their clothes. It was only then did Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong realize that they had come across ‘one of their own’.
However, even when they were still in Yangzhou Yan Laoda and the two boys were intermingling with various characters of the Zhuhua Bang, they had not reached enough seniority to have a bamboo tree, which was the formal low level insignia of Zhuhua Bang disciples, embroidered on the lapel of their clothes; let alone this moment.
Kou Zhong awkwardly said, “Three years ago, in order to hide from the authorities, we, two brothers, wandered around everywhere, hey!”
“We understand,” the big man said, “Yan Kuan was the first faithful martyr from our Gang who was killed by that muddleheaded ruler; if you did not flee, your lives would not be guaranteed.”
The old man showed a doubtful look, “Since you are Zhuhua Bang disciples, how come you did not recognize Laofu [old man, referring to self]?”
Noticing that the insignia embroidered on the old man’s clothes was eight wind bamboo [not sure, this is literal translation], Kou Zhong knew that this man must be of Hall Master level. He had a brainwave and said, “Could it be Wind Bamboo Hall’s Tangzhu [Hall Master] Shen Beichang, Shen Ye [master Shen]?” Pulling Xu Ziling along, they hastily performed the ritual of saluting a Hall Master.
The old man stroked the long beard under his chin; he laughed aloud, “You are indeed one of our own,” he said, “This time you came here, was it because you heard the news and came to participate in our Gang’s ‘General Assembly in Bamboo Forest’?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glances again; could it be that they had come across another lucky coincidence?
Chapter 3 - Part 2
Zhuhua Bang was one of those gangs with tight organizational structure. Under the Bangzhu, there was one Junshi [military advisor], followed by Wind, Clear, Rain and Dew, four Halls. Under them were Duozhu [helmsman], Xiangzhu [fragrant master] and the Gang disciples. ‘General Assembly in the Bamboo Forest’ was the highest assembly of the Gang, except in case of an emergency, it was held only once every three years.
Kou Zhong turned to the man with thick eyebrows and said, “My guess is Daye must be Wind Bamboo Hall’s Deputy Hall Master, Lou Feng Daye!”
Lou Feng had a rather favorable impression on these two boys; he said, “Let’s talk after we are inside the city!”
Along the way Kou and Xu, two boys figured out what was going on. Turned out after the muddleheaded ruler was killed, Yangzhou fell into Li Zitong’s hands, Zhuhua Bang elected new Gang Leader at Danyang, but then Jianghuai Army attacked Danyang, Junshi Shao Lingzhou seized that opportunity to lead the Gang to occupy Jiangyin. Although in term of power they were far inferior to Li Zitong, Shen Faxing, and the like, it was enough for them to become a local power.
Recently all local powers were trying to pull them apart, notably the most active one was Tieqi Hui who occupied Wuxi and Jinling, south and southwest of Jiangyin, respectively.
Tieqi Hui Leader Ren Shaoming was even openly trying to lure the Hall Masters of Clear Bamboo Hall, Rain Bamboo Hall, and Dew Bamboo Hall, three halls; time and again he sabotaged the Gang Leader election. His intention was to absorb the ‘dragon without a head’ Zhuhua Bang and incorporate it under Tieqi Hui banner.
The ‘General Assembly in Bamboo Forest’ this time was Junshi Shao Lingzhou’s initiative, supported by Shen Beichang, to discuss the effort to counter Ren Shaoming and the three other Halls’ renegades’ operation, while hoping that they would be able to elect new Gang Leader in the assembly.
In this journey, Shen Beichang and the others have suffered repeated Tieqi Hui attacks, and have lost close to a hundred men; hence the reason they were nervous and tensed.
During their Yangzhou days, other than Yan Laoda, practically nobody knew that these two boys’ names were Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. They only knew the two boys as Little Zhong and Little Ling; naturally nobody knew that Yan Kuan was implicated and was killed because of them, they thought that Yan Kuan was martyred because he dared to oppose the muddleheaded ruler. Only Kou and Xu, two boys, were aware that Yan Kuan and martyrdom had nothing to do with each other.
Among the caravan, there was a carriage with its curtains hung down, and it was guarded particularly strictly. With ‘glancing knock, sideways stroke’ Kou Zhong was trying to find out the identity of the person inside the carriage, but all he obtained was the reprimand of the Deputy Hall Master, Lou Feng.
In the city, the two boys followed the Wind Bamboo Hall people into the Wind Bamboo Hall mansion house in the town center. Taking advantage while Shen Beichang and Luo Feng went to see Junshi Shao Wuzhuo [sic], the two boys slipped out into the street.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “This Shao Wuzhuo is indeed a talent; just look how he govern the city that everything in Jiangyin is clear and orderly, the chaos outside does not seem to affect this place.”
Watching the bustling scene of people coming and going, Xu Ziling agreed, “The south has always been bountiful, plus Jiangyin is the connecting fort at the mouth of Yangtze River to the ocean; as long as their production capability is not destroyed, the people can live in peace and work happily.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling had changed their clothes into Gang uniform with a single bamboo embroidered on them, the insignia of the lowest level Gang disciples. This moment they saw five or six Zhuhua Bang disciples were walking in their direction while talking loudly among themselves; hurriedly the two boys made a hand signal to show their respect.
When those several people saw that the two boys’ insignia was of the Wind Bamboo, they snorted repeatedly and simply left without paying them any attention.
Kou and Xu, two boys were taken aback; it was only then did they realize that those people did not belong to the Wind Bamboo Hall, and that the struggle among the four Halls was clearly very intense.
They found a restaurant and took a seat, the waiter stepped forward and politely welcomed them.
After the waiter left, Xu Ziling frowned and said, “Zhong Shao, you seem to forget why we are here?”
Kou Zhong smiled apologetically and said, “If I randomly fabricated some words, you will definitely accuse me of being not honest enough. The bottom line is that we are now considered Zhuhua Bang people, and now Zhuhua Bang is in distress as they are on the brink of annexation, we should really spend a bit of effort to help!”
Xu Ziling sneered and said, “You are just thinking of taking Tieqi Hui’s place and take over Zhuhua Bang for yourself!”
Kou Zhong said, “How could you consider it the same thing? Ren Shaoming is a big rotten-egg of the dark road [i.e. criminal], but I, Kou Zhong am a good man who in all respects conduct myself in consideration of other people’s needs. If Zhuhua Bang fell into my hands, it would be their good fortune. One lifetime two brothers, will you or will you not help me?”
This moment the waiter came to offer some pastries, but he lingered at their table. “I wonder if both masters belong to Wind Bamboo Hall,” he asked respectfully.
Kou Zhong was surprised, “What’s the matter?” he asked.
The waiter said, “As long as you are Wind Bamboo Hall or Shao Junzhi’s men, we will serve you free of charge. But Daye [big master] must not let Ren Shaoming prevails!” And then he left, deeply worried and sick at heart.
Xu Ziling stared blankly for half a day, and then he sighed and said, “Very well!”
Kou Zhong was pleased beyond his expectation. “General Assembly in Bamboo Forest will start tonight; we are going to see the opportunity and act accordingly!”
Recalling Duan Yucheng and the others, four men, Xu Ziling was about to speak when they heard a chuckle and someone spoke, “You, two boys are unexpectedly here!”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong jumped in fright and turned their gaze toward the door. To their surprise, it was Gui Xiliang, who had risen to the Fragrant Master position, the guy the two boys used to hang around with. Next to him was another familiar face, also someone whom they hang around with, Xing Rong. This kid was slim, his hands and feet looked lithe, and seemed to be rather cunning.
The four of them saw each other; naturally it was a very happy occasion. The two boys were happy and they found it amusing that Gui Xiliang was putting an air as a fragrant master.
Xing Rong knitted his brows and said, “Since when did you become Wind Bamboo Hall people?”
“You did not steal someone else’s clothes, did you?” Gui Xiliang asked suspiciously.
Gui and Xing, two men’s clothes had bamboo flower embroidered on the lapel, showing that they were direct subordinate of their Gang Leader, but since they currently did not have Gang Leader, naturally they were under Junshi Shao Lingzhou’s command.
Seeing the long saber hanging on Kou Zhong’s back, Xing Rong happily said, “Watching you two with glowing faces, I don’t know where you stole the weapon from, but you must be mingling with the right crowd!”
Xu Ziling self-deprecatingly said, “Why stop with ‘right’? He practically had grand style. Zhong Shao practically held hands and drank wine together with Zhai Rang, Du Fuwei, and the likes; don’t you think it was impressive enough?”
“Tsk, tsk,” Xing Rong repeatedly clucked his tongue, but his face showed that he was scorning Xu Ziling for boasting groundlessly.
Kou Zhong reached out to pat Xing Rong’s shoulder; he said with a laugh, “You must not be that jealous.”
Xing Rong laughed, but pushed his hand aside, and heaved a deep sigh.
“Don’t brag,” Gui Xiliang said, “Remember that we are among brothers, you come with me from now on! Tonight after Shao Junshi becomes Bangzhu, I will report to him about you.”
Kou Zhong made a non-committal remark; and then he asked, “Are you sure Shao Junshi will become Bangzhu?”
Xing Rong replied, “In terms of popularity, capacity, status, and martial art skill, no one in our Gang can consider Shao Junshi is second to anybody, but the situation is not that simple.”
Gui Xiliang spoke in an authoritative tone, “Nowadays everybody wants to stick their foot in our ‘General Assembly in Bamboo Forest’; they ought to know Ren Shaoming, that treacherous bandit’s behavior, plus that thief is now in cahoots with Lin Shihong. The situation is not too optimistic.”
Xing Rong said, “Luckily Shao Junshi obtained the Song Clan’s support; otherwise Ren Shaoming and Lin Shihong would be even more unbridled.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged glanced; their eyes lit up. “The Song Clan?” they asked, “Who are they sending to support him?”
Gui Xiliang frowned and said, “How could you inquire about such confidential information? We are going back to Junshi Mansion; are you coming or not?”
Kou Zhong stood up while pulling Xu Ziling along, and said, “Naturally we will follow Gui Xiangzhu [fragrant master] to increase our knowledge.”
Xing Rong objected, “But we have not had our fill yet, why would you stand up so quickly?”
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “But we are already full; let us go outside first and wait respectfully for two Dage.”
They had just stepped out of the door, the same bunch of young men from the Rain Bamboo Hall they saw earlier crowded in; they intentionally bumped the two boys aside, clearly they were trying to pick a fight.
However, the two boys were familiar with this kind of situation; they refused to be provoked.
Outside the door, Kou Zhong excitedly said in a low voice, “This is getting more and more interesting. Let us strike a friendship with Shao Lingzhou during the assembly, and then see where things go from there.”
Xu Ziling knitted his brows and said, “I just think that this matter is too troublesome, plus it is also not something we would receive any benefit from, nor is it something that we could do.”
Kou Zhong raised his clenched fist in front of his eyes and said, “Under similar circumstances, it would be difficult for us to be of any use; being mere two kids would not suit us well. However, it has become clear right now that whoever has harder fist would get the chance to speak. Don’t you think that we have a great opportunity here?”
Xu Ziling grumpily stared at him for a moment. Suddenly the sound of bowls and cups falling to the ground and shattered followed by the sound of people shouting and cursing was heard from inside the restaurant.
The two boys were staring blankly at each other; could it be that the Rain Bamboo Hall people dare to violate their Gang’s rule by starting a fight with Gui Xiliang, two people?