Chapter 4 – Meeting Face to Face on a Narrow Path
Book 7 Chapter 4 – Meeting Face to Face on a Narrow Path
Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong were forced into a corner, with the latter was wounded in the left arm and blood was still trickling down from the wound; evidently they were at a disadvantageous position.
The other guests, as well as the waiters, were crowding the wall on the kitchen side; everybody appeared to be outraged, but nobody dared to speak up.
As soon as Kou and Xu, two boys entered the hall, two Rain Bamboo Hall disciples guarding the door pointed their finger at them and shouted, “You, two small fry, get lost! You have no place to speak up in here.”
Seeing an old friend injured, Xu Ziling let out a cold snort and strode forward.
A sword flashed; one of Rain Bamboo Hall men slashing his sword toward Xu Ziling’s left shoulder.
Xu Ziling had not even reacted, Kou Zhong’s leg flew out.
The man was kicked heavily that the sword flew off his hand and his body flew backward and crashed heavily on a chair; immediately the sound of splintering wood was heard.
Everybody in the hall was shocked.
The other five Rain Bamboo Hall men were scared out of their wits by Kou Zhong’s display of prowess; they all retreated to one side, opening up a gap between the two sides, with each side has received disadvantage from the opponent.
Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong looked at Kou and Xu, two boys in disbelief.
Kou Zhong cupped his fist and said, “Gui Xiangzhu, how would you like subordinate to handle these renegades who dared to offend their superior?”
A strong and muscular man, who seemed to be the leader of these Rain Bamboo Hall men shouted, “What do you mean offending superior? I, Bai Rong, am a Rain Bamboo Hall Xiangzhu, under the order of Tangzhu [hall master] Luo Xian to invite Gui Xiangzhu to have a talk with us. You two are the ones who are offending your superior.”
Gui Xiliang looked at the enemy, who were still struggling to crawl up from the floor, and spoke in a heavy voice, “Do you need a blade to invite me to talk?”
Kou Zhong pointed his finger to Bai Rong and said with a laugh, “In this matter, Bai Xiangzhu is wrong. All right! How about we tie them up and wait for Luo Tangzhu to come and be the judge between us, to see who’s right and who’s wrong.”
Bai Rong gave an eye signal, immediately two of his men charged forward, brandishing their saber to hack on Kou Zhong.
This time Xu Ziling let out a cold snort and stepped in front of Kou Zhong. Slapping rapidly to the left and to the right, he pushed the two blades aside, and then taking a step forward he punched the two men’s lower abdomen.
The two men were thrown back from the strike, and crashed onto Bai Rong, so that the three of them rolled down on the floor like a gourd, in a very sorry condition. The rest of their men stayed quiet out of fear, and even more scared to make any move.
Gui Xiliang and Xing Rong could only stare blankly with mouth agape. In just a short period of time he was already overwhelmed with a whole new level of respect toward these two boys.
Kou Zhong calmly clapped his hands and said, “Well? Do you want to create havoc at the Rain Bamboo Hall and take down Luo Da Tangzhu’s [big/great hall master] power and prestige? If Gui Xiangzhu does not wish to go, just let us, the two small fry, do it for you.”
Gui Xiliang was silent; he signaled Xing Rong with his eyes, and then forcefully pulled Kou and Xu to the street and said, “Let’s go back to Junshi Mansion first and talk about it.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew that he was scared; they had no choice but to smile wryly and come with him.
Like most cities in Jiangnan, the river became the link between Jiangyin City and the four rural areas outside the city; the river also formed the skeleton of the town layout.
The houses along the river were whitewashed, the ones facing the water had their walls and windows reflecting the ripples, painting a fresh and clean artwork like scenery of the patchwork of waterways. Rows of water lanes interspersed with small bridges, small boats carrying people in beautiful silk dress; a touchingly beautiful spring scenery.
Junshi Mansion was originally the Jiangyin’s provincial military governor mansion, it was located at the town center, the confluence of the river courses. Right in front of the main gate there was a big bridge spanning across the river lining the Junshi Mansion, so that the entire building complex looked even more imposing.
Comparatively speaking, the south was more calm and peaceful than the north. Due to the influx of northerners who fled to the south to avoid calamity, Jiangyin appeared to be even more bustling and flourishing.
In troubled times, it is easily understandable that the common people did not wish to see any changes within the Zhuhua Bang.
Even though Xu Ziling also did not wish to be drawn into this kind of power struggle and territorial dispute, he still felt that he ought to prevent Tieqi Hui, whose evil reputation has spread far and wide, from taking over Zhuhua Bang.
As Gui Xiliang was leading the two boys crossing the bridge, they came across trouble.
Mai Yunfei, another fragrant master who was in guard duty that day, who was also the head disciple of Military Adviser Shao Lingzhou, with a rather handsome and dignified look, as well as an arrogant and conceited individual, stared hard at Kou and Xu, two boys, and said, “Shifu’s order, from now on, no stranger is allowed inside Junshi Mansion.”
Gui Xiliang suffered quite a loss of face in front of Kou Zhong, two people; but he was helpless. As a last attempt, he said, “These two were disciples of loyal martyr Yan Kuan, who in the past had bravely sacrificed his own life in Yangzhou. In recent years they roamed the Jianghu and have acquired good martial art skill. Just now they had beaten Rain Bamboo Hall’s Bai Rong until he was in a sorry state; therefore, I was hoping to introduce them to Shao Junshi and recommend them for promotion.”
Mai Yunfei condescendingly swept his gaze over the two boys, assuming an understanding look, he shook his head and said, “You can do that tonight.”
Gui Xiliang helplessly pulled the two boys to the side and said, “Let me go inside to see Shao Junshi first, and then I’ll come to get you two and take you in.”
Xing Rong groaning apologetically and said, “Mai Yunfei relies on his position as Shao Junshi’s first disciple, plus he is Shao Lanfang’s lover, so he has always been riding roughshod over people, especially to us, who used to be the late Bangzhu’s attendants. Sooner or later we will have him fall head first.”
Gu Xiliang knew he was not Mai Yunfei’s match, so pulling Xing Rong aside he said, “Don’t talk nonsense, let’s go in first and talk later. You two wait for us here.”
After the two men left, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling walked over to the rocky beach of the river at end of the bridge; just like in the past, like a couple of marketplace rogues they sprawled on the beach facing the water.
Kou Zhong looked at Mai Yunfei, who was guarding at the other side of the bridge, and said with a laugh, “That scoundrel Xiliang’s luck does not seem to be too good; originally he had the opportunity to achieve meteoric success in his career, but the Bangzhu was slaughtered by the muddleheaded ruler. And now he is up against Mai Yunfei, who’s butting head with him in all aspects, so that even to get inside the Mansion he had his hands and feet blocked. I wonder why would he still want to be this kind of Xiangzhu?”
But then he turned excited as he said, “Shao Lanfang is the most famous beauty in our Zhuhua Bang; we might as well rob Mai Yunfei’s most cherished possession, so that he would die of anger.”
Displeased, Xu Ziling said, “If you seduce somebody else’s lover just for that reason, I will definitely not allow you to do that.”
Kou Zhong pulled Xu Ziling’s shoulder and laughed apologetically, “I was just kidding!” he said, “Xiao Ling, don’t take it too seriously.”
And then he changed the subject, “As a Xiangzhu plus the last disciple of the late Bangzhu, Xiliang’s position is not low, on top of that he still has the support of the late Bangzhu’s direct subordinates. Tell me, do you think he has a chance to be the new Bangzhu? Otherwise, Mai Yunfei would not squeeze him on purpose.”
Xu Ziling was lying down, supporting his body with his elbows, enjoying the afternoon sun; hearing Kou Zhong, he was taken aback. “Xiliang’s skill is too shallow,” he said, “He is not qualified to be a gang leader, don’t pull to the east and lead to the west, you are the one who wants to be the gang leader!”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “I really don’t have that desire, plus it won’t work. Right now Li Mi’s power is flourishing, if I became Zhuhua Bang’s Longtou [lit. dragonhead, i.e. big boss], there is good chance Zhuhua Bang won’t last a few days. But if Xiliang became the new Bangzhu, he only needs to rely on us for support, and then there won’t be any difference to me becoming the Bangzhu.”
Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, “If you want Xiliang to be the Bangzhu, I am afraid you will have to slaughter the current Junshi and all his cronies clean; are you that formidable?”
Kou Zhong looked down on the river water under his feet; he muttered, “That is really a bit difficult, but it is not impossible at all. The most important thing is that Xiliang was the late Bangzhu’s disciple. This guy used to be very gutsy, but perhaps he has been bullied for a long time that he lost his confidence. Hmm!”
Xu Ziling spoke in low voice, “That Mai Yunfei is coming!”
Kou Zhong looked without raising his head; he saw Mai Yunfei, leading four of his men, walking away from the head of the bridge, following the rocky path toward the beach where they sat. Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Probably he is angered by Xiliang?”
Before Xu Ziling had any chance to respond, Mai Yunfei had already shouted from the distance, “You, these two kids, are sitting and lying down in front of the Junshi Mansion like that; whatever next? Quickly go back to the Hall where you belong!”
Xu Ziling did not react at all, he was still enjoying the sun with his eyes closed.
Kou Zhong squinting his eyes looking at him and said, “Mai Xiangzhu, I was wondering if you are deaf, and did not hear Gui Xiangzhu ordering us to wait for him here? You quickly go back to the place you are supposed to guard.”
Mai Yunfei’s countenance underwent a drastic change, while the four hunting dogs behind him rushed out to close in on the two boys on the riverbank; very imposing.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “What? You want to fight?”
Mai Yunfei was so angry that his handsome face turned green; he gravely said, “Stand up!”
Still calm and unruffled Kou Zhong said, “Since you are not the Bangzhu, and you are not our grandpa, what makes you think you can order us around?”
Mai Yunfei could not hold back anymore. “Throw them into the river!” he bellowed.
Chapter 4 - Part 2
The four men was about to make their move, Xu Ziling threw himself backward on the sand; fast as lightning his hands reached out to grab the ankles of the two men behind him.
Under Mai Yunfei and the others’ utter shock, plus nobody knew what technique Xu Ziling used, the two men were thrown overhead, and ‘Splash!’ they landed in the river, and immediately struggled hard to crawl onto the opposite bank.
Amidst the shouting and yelling, more than a dozen Zhuhua Bang disciples who were guarding the Mansion at the other end of the bridge rushed over.
‘Qiang!’ Mai Yunfei and the other two men drew their sword, but instead of charging forward, they retreated. Apparently they were waiting for the rest of the men to arrive before they dared to make their move.
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and sprang up, his long saber left its scabbard and in one fluid motion hacked down on Mai Yunfei.
Mai Yunfei raised his sword horizontally to block.
Kou Zhong’s ‘Moon in the Well’ returned to its scabbard. Mai Yunfei staggered five steps back before he could steady his footings; his countenance turned unbearably ugly.
Meanwhile his reinforcement has arrived. They crowded behind him, but nobody dared to step forward to fight.
Xu Ziling also sprang up. Pointing to the other end of the bridge, he said, “Someone’s coming, you don’t mind your proper business, but are engrossed in bullying your own people. If that is not dereliction of duty, then what is it?”
It was only then did Mai Yunfei caught his breath back; he was fighting hard to suppress his continuously surging blood and qi provoked by Kou Zhong’s saber power. Along with his men, he turned his head around to see, and indeed there were a group of about a dozen riders galloping along the street heading toward the head of the bridge.
Only after giving the two boys a vicious look and said, “I will settle the score with you later,” did he lead his men to hurry back over the bridge.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other and burst out in laughter. The former shook his head and sighed, “Why are there so many people who love to ride roughshod over others in the world?
The sound of hoof beats was getting closer.
The two boys looked over and were stunned.
Because one of the riders turned and galloped toward them, on the horseback was astoundingly the beautiful and energetic young lady of the Song Clan, Song Yuzhi.
This beauty with unique style reined her horse and stopped. Arrogantly and coldly she looked at the two boys from head to toes several times. Finally her eyes landed on the Wind Bamboo insignia embroidered on the lapel of their clothes. Knitting her jet-black eyebrows, she said, “You, these two drifters, why do you suddenly become a single bamboo [level] disciple of the Zhuhua Bang? Are you conspiring against the law?”
Although the other people did not come over, their attention was fixed on the situation over here.
Kou Zhong smiled slightly and said, “Come! Let me do the introduction: this is Miss High and Mighty Song Yuzhi.” And then wrapping his arm around Xu Ziling’s shoulder and pulled him closer, he said, “My brother Xu Ziling; he looks handsome enough, right?”
Seeing him giving her an irrelevant answer, plus he was mocking her, Song Yuzhi’s jade countenance fell. Feigning disdain she shot a glance toward Xu Ziling. A weird expression appeared suddenly in her eyes, but just as sudden it died out. And then with a tender snort she said, “Seeing that you have not committed any wicked conduct, I want you to leave town immediately. Otherwise, with just one word from me, don’t even think that you can leave town alive.”
Kou Zhong slapped his own forehead, hard. “Xiaodi [little brother, referring to self] nearly forget,” he said, “Our, two brothers’ heads are extremely valuable. Song Xiaojie [young lady], please go ahead and give your word! Let’s see how many people we can drag down to accompany us to the grave.”
Amazingly enough Song Yuzhi did not get angry. After staring at Kou Zhong for half a day, she finally turned to Xu Ziling and said, “I advise you and your brother to leave together! If people knew you are here, they might give you gargantuan problem.”
Xu Ziling has never had any good opinion on arrogant, precious daughters of lofty family and big clan; he felt that those girls would always look down upon ordinary men. He replied indifferently, “We are basically not afraid of anybody; otherwise, we won’t be here talking to Miss Song.”
Song Yuzhi sighed and said, “Although you have made a little name for yourself, but compared to Li Mi you are still far too inferior. Well, just think about it!”
Kou Zhong asked in surprise, “Could it be that Miss Song has a high regard toward this handsome brother of mine? Why are you so amiable toward him, but toward me you are so stern and harsh? After all, the relationship between you and I ought to be a bit deeper.”
Finally Song Yuzhi could not take it anymore. “Shut up!” she angrily said.
Kou Zhong giggled and pulled Xu Ziling away.
“Hold on!” Song Yuzhi’s tender voice called out.
Already three or four riders galloped over toward them.
Kou Zhong let Xu Ziling go, he stopped abruptly, his hand already pressed on the hilt of his saber, his entire body stood up perfectly straight, his tiger eyes flashed with deep and unfathomable sharp gleam, his countenance became incomparably hard and callous, his entire being seemed to exude a terrifying, powerful grandeur.
Song Yuzhi suddenly felt that this instant Kou Zhong has completely turned into someone that she did not recognize, no longer like the kid who laughed and giggled in the past, but rather a hero, a towering figure who stood straight and wouldn’t surrender in front of any storm, who would not be afraid of anybody.
But then, against all expectations, Kou Zhong suddenly broke into laughter, revealing a splendid, as bright as the sun, smile on his face. Shaking his head, he said with a sigh, “This won’t do! How could I, Kou Zhong, be hard-hearted in front of Miss Song?”
Finished speaking, he laughed aloud and pulled Xu Ziling away.
Song Yuzhi was disconcerted by his dramatic change and the tone of his voice, as well as his demeanor, and his teasing, which were overflowing with youthful, masculine charisma. Unexpectedly she forgot to stop them.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sat down against the wall in a quiet, secluded alley, just like back in Yangzhou, when they were still little rogues from the marketplace.
With a faint smile Xu Ziling said, “Zhong Shao, are you thinking of replacing Li Xiuning with her?”
Kou Zhong revealed a smile that showed that he had pondered it over; stretching himself, he spoke leisurely, “Love affair between boys and girls will only increase the burden in our mind. I don’t mind looking for a girl to have fun, but I will never let myself get emotionally involved. Our business is more important, other matters must be set aside. Teasing the haughty Song family’s Miss is all right, but don’t ever think that I, Kou Zhong, will want to be inconvenienced by fawning on her, by stooping down for her. Do you understand?”
“But what are we going to do now?” Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong said, “We can either leave right now, or wait until tonight, when we can create his mother’s havoc in here. What do you say?”
Xu Ziling shrugged his shoulders, “I am certain my idea will be different than yours. In my opinion, we can’t manage, nor do we have the ability to mind the Zhuhua Bang’s affair. Not to mention Duan Yucheng and the others are still waiting for us. It is better to avoid unnecessary trouble. Don’t you think we have enough trouble of our own already?”
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “Can you not have that much prejudice against me? When did I, Kou Zhong, ever dare not to esteem your, Ling Shao’s opinion? Just as you said, we’ll steal a mule cart and leave. Perhaps two mule carts will be enough.”
Xu Ziling looked doubtful, “Where can we steal mule carts from?” he asked.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Naturally from the Wind Bamboo Hall. They have that many mule carts, loaning two for our use shouldn’t be any problem. We can simply make any excuse, the mule carts will be ours immediately. Just leave it to me.”
Xu Ziling was unhappy, “Shen Beichang and Luo Feng are very kind to us, how could we repay good with evil?”
“You are right,” Kou Zhong nodded, “In that case we’d better go take a look at the Rain Bamboo Hall. Since we already had enmity with them, adding one shouldn’t make any difference.”
Xu Ziling understood immediately; he smiled wryly and said, “You d@mn muddled-egg [i.e. scoundrel/b@stard], after going around and around, in the end you still want to create trouble, and then see in there is any opportunity to fish in troubled water.”
Kou Zhong roared in laughter, “Nobody knows me better than you do,” he said.
And then he pulled Xu Ziling hard and lowered his voice, “Just now Rain Bamboo Hall’s Hall Leader Luo Xian sent that Bai Rong to get Xiliang to Rain Bamboo Hall, there must be a conspiracy somewhere, so we might as well find out what it is. Hey! You can’t ignore Xiliang and Xing Rong’s two little lives, can you?”
“Do you know where Rain Bamboo Hall is?” Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong replied, “When a sage does not know something, he would not feel ashamed to ask and learn from his subordinates, right? Don’t drag your feet, come on!”
Knowing he could not win against him, Xu Ziling helplessly followed Kou Zhong.