Chapter 1 – Meticulous Planning
Book 8 Chapter 1 – Meticulous Planning
The next morning, the situation inside the city was still very tense. Tieqi Hui’s warriors and Lin Shihong’s Chu Army could be seen galloping on horsebacks back and forth on the streets, patrolling and searching.
Fortunately Niu Fangcai was in good relationship with the high-ranking military officer guarding the city gate; therefore, Yun Yuzhen, Xiang Yushan and the others were able to leave the city and went on board their ship without any surprise without any danger, so that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling breathed a sigh of relief.
After Niu Fangcai returned, he fetched a map of the City of Jiujiang, and coached the two boys in detail. He said, “Jiujiang is located at the heart of the route connecting the north and the south. Those who want to travel from south to the north will most likely take the waterway first and then abandon their boat here to continue by land. There is a stone pier at the north side of the old city that has a reputation as ‘southern boat northern horse’; it is very prosperous.”
Kou Zhong said, “This time Lin Shihong and Ren Shaoming are forming alliance in Jiujiang and announced it all over the world, their intention must be to display their strength to the heroes and warriors from both the north and the south. Ay! Vying over the world is really not a simple matter.”
Niu Fangcai went on, “On the south Jiujiang is connected to Dongting [Lake], on the north it is connected to the Great River, network of waterways crisscrossing the city. The main part is the old city district. The city wall reaches fifteen zhang high, with four city gates and three sluice gates. My Xing Fa Long and the Chun Zai Lou are both located at the old city district, only one in the south the other in the north, at the ends of the North Gate Avenue and the South Gate Avenue, respectively. These two streets meet at the city center, where the city hall, Zhen Jiang Lou [lit. river town building] is located.”
Xu Ziling said, “Fifteen zhang is such a high wall, we will need some kind of tool to climb over it.”
“Or, find a way to slip out via the sluice gate,” Kou Zhong said.
Niu Fangcai said, “The sluice gate is reinforced with double steel walls, extremely sturdy. Plus all three sluice gates are especially equipped with monitoring posts and are being patrolled regularly. Trying to destroy it in advance is also very difficult to do.”
Xu Ziling asked, “Does Niu Shu [uncle] know the patrolling schedule and the times of the changing sentry guards?”
Niu Fangcai proudly replied, “That is our main task, we have all the records. All together there are ten different schedules, which is changing once every five days, and then the schedule will cycle.”
Kou Zhong’s eyes brightened as he said, “As long as we conduct the assassination operation with an accurate grasp of the schedule of the patrols and the changing of the guards, we can get out from the sluice gate before the enemy finds out. But of course we need special tools.”
Niu Fangcai frowned and said, “But that would alert the guards.”
Kou Zhong said, “In that case we might as well get rid of them.”
Niu Fangcai smiled wryly and said, “The guards’ post is on top of the city wall. If you can reach that place, you might as well climb over the wall to escape. But from the city wall, the closest house is at least twenty zhang away, if two Gongzi show yourself in that range, you will be immediately found out, and they are going to shoot arrows from the elevation; it is very difficult to deal with.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Xu Ziling said, “We can stay underwater for a long time without needing to take a breath, we might as well take the water route, we break the sluice gate underwater and escape from there.”
Niu Fangcai agreed, “If two gentlemen have this kind of diving ability, it is indeed a feasible strategy, because the enemy surely won’t expect that you can hide underwater for a long time.”
But then he sighed and said, “The biggest problem is still that it is impossible to get near Ren Shaoming’s place at Chun Yuan [spring garden] without being detected. This is, of course, assuming that Ren Shaoming will go there to visit Huo Qi tonight!”
Kou Zhong said in a heavy voice, “In that case we’ll ambush him on the way to Chun Zai Lou.”
Niu Fangcai shook his head and said, “Because Ren Shaoming is ruthless and has killed a lot of people, he has a lot of enemies; therefore, he never takes the same route to a certain place. This method will be difficult to implement.”
Having a brainwave, Kou Zhong said, “Aren’t there several banyan trees outside Chun Zai Lou? We can swing the tree up, borrowing the force to cross over the thirty some zhang distance and land on the back of the Xiang Yuan [fragrant garden] roof. Ay! But the escape will not be as easy.”
Xu Ziling said indifferently, “It’s always difficult to have one’s cake and eat it too in this world!”
Kou Zhong took out the aerial drawing of the Chun Zai Lou and spread it out on the table. Pointing to the big tree at the southwest corner outside the Chun Yuan, he traced his finger to another big tree, which scale-wise was about five zhang away from the first tree to the north. He said excitedly, “If we can tie a strong and elastic rope across the top of these two trees, we can escape by catapulting ourselves out. Oh, heavens! If we could lay out several elastic ropes on high places, won’t we be able to come and go like flying? My only concern is that the enemy would notice it first.”
Niu Fangcai was emotionally moved; he said, “That is a wonderful ‘opening the heaven’ idea, but it is feasible. I’ll find a way to make arrangement for the ropes. If we put iron hook on both ends, and paint it black, plus we put it high up in the air, hopefully nobody can see it. The only problem remaining is how to conceal all these preparations from the enemy’s eyes and ears. Furthermore, can the two Gongzi land your feet on these ropes without missing a hairbreadth?”
Kou Zhong said, “Let the two of us worry about these two issues.” Standing up abruptly, he laughed aloud and said, “We’ll scout the site first. Unless Ren Shaoming does not go to Chun Zai Lou, he will lose his life tonight.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sat on the table by the window on the second floor of a restaurant, both were looking out the window.
The first thing that entered their vision was the wide street outside, wide enough for five four-horse carriages to come and go at the same time, and then they looked at the row of shops across the street from the main entrance of the restaurant, five of which were pharmacies. It can clearly be seen that since Jiujiang has always been prosperous, it was the common practice of the residents to frequently rely on medicaments. The other shops were grain retailer, oil mill, cloth shop, grocery store, et cetera.
Every seven or eight zhang, there was a tree planted by the side of the road, to provide shade to the passerby.
Toward the south, the high wall at the northeast corner of Chun Zai Lou’s rear courtyard was barely visible. Beyond the wall, behind the trees, patches of dark green roof tiles could be seen. It was a massive building, and was quite imposing.
Inside the courtyard, fresh and green, verdant trees: elms, Chinese scholar trees, old banyan trees, had their luxuriant leaves rustling in the breeze. The trees did not seem to know that a life and death battle involving the fate of the world [tian xia] would happen that night.
Taking a deep breath, Kou Zhong said in a low voice, “We will install the first batch elastic ropes on the trees in this side of the road, and then when we get to the treetops at the other side of the road, we’ll install the second batch of ropes with which we can shoot into the courtyard. This way with just a few ups and downs we could reach the Chun Yuan. We will get out following the same route.”
This moment the waiter came with some noodles. Kou Zhong quickly engaged him in some chitchats.
After the waiter left, Xu Ziling started to eat his noodles and said, “It would be best if we could be one step ahead of Ren Shaoming, lying in wait for him outside the Chun Yuan, so that we won’t have to take the trouble of making our move inside the room. Also it would be a bit easier to escape.”
Kou Zhong nodded his agreement. Looking down, he concentrated on eating and drinking for a moment. But when he drank the soup, he suddenly said in heavy voice, “If we fail to kill Ren Shaoming, we will die instead. We won’t leave unless we succeed. Do you understand?”
Xu Ziling smiled, “Fully understand,” he replied, “If we don’t set up an impassable aspiration, we will never succeed.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “This is actually my business, you should not get involved.”
Chapter 1, Part 2
With a forced smile Xu Ziling said, “Why do you suddenly become sentimental? To achieve success, there is always a price to pay. With any challenge naturally comes pressure; have you thought about such contradiction?”
Kou Zhong slowly breathed out a long breath. Leaning forward a little, he said, “What we are going to do might very well be our, two brothers, most important turning point in life. If we succeed, we will reverse the situation in the south immediately, while our names will shake the world at the same time. Ay! I know that you don’t have the slightest bit of interest in this kind of thing. It is merely to help me that you are willing to risk your life. Tell me, don’t you think I am able of having conflicting thought?”
Dejectedly he slumped back into his chair and said softly, “All you need to do is just say the word, and we will drop the operation tonight.”
Xu Ziling said indifferently, “All will go according to plan! By tomorrow morning, either Ren Shaoming will die a violent death around the Chun Yuan, or Shuanglong Bang will be finished. The only other possibility is if Ren Shaoming never show up.”
Leaving the restaurant, the two boys walked in the direction of Chun Zai Lou, oblivious of anything unusual.
Kou Zhong was back into his usual relaxed self; he whispered in Xu Ziling’s ear with a laugh, “I was right, wasn’t I? That evil princess is very interested in you!”
Xu Ziling casually shrugged his shoulders and said, “Have you forgotten that she and Fengshi Han were having private meeting in here? She is interested in me all right, but her interest is in taking my life, hence I don’t think it is worth mentioning.”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “A woman’s heart is the most difficult thing to fathom. Maybe the reason she is good with that Ba kid is merely because she wanted to forget you. But when she saw you, anything wet and cold will be cast out to the back of her mind.” [Translator’s note: play on words – shi shi han han (wet and cold), the character ‘shi’ and ‘han’ are the same as in ‘fengshi han’ (rheumatism).]
Xu Ziling smiled wryly and said, “You actually understand narcissistic people. Uh, looks like someone is following us?”
Kou Zhong also sensed it; lowering his voice, he said, “Do you also feel that it was that guy wearing dark green clothes? He has been trailing us as soon as we left the restaurant’s door. Hey! Turn left!”
The two boys turned left into a side street. It was a secondary street only for pedestrians, with tall walls and deep courtyards, a serene and quiet alley, vastly different from the noisy and lively street outside; a very peaceful environment.
“He did not follow us!” Kou Zhong said.
Xu Ziling signaled him with his eyes, the two of them soared up to the left and right, separately jumping over the walls, entering the residents’ courtyard on either side of the alley.
Not a moment later the man wearing dark green clothes also flitted over. By the time he heard the rustling gust of wind behind him, his retreat path has already been sealed dead by Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling.
Standing behind him, Kou Zhong said with a laugh, “This Xiongtai …”
The man suddenly turn around and hissed, “Finally I found you, two kids who don’t know how to spell ‘dead’.”
Turned it was a woman dressed as a man, the big beauty of the Song family, Song Yuzhi.
The three of them stepped out of the alley and walked over to an arch bridge constructed over the river. The stream winding its way toward Chun Zai Lou’s side of the city.
Strewn randomly along the river bank were row upon row of houses at different elevations, with the stone steps in front of the houses leading into the river. The scenery was extremely unique.
However, Song Yuzhi’s face, which had two strips of moustache on it to enhance her masculine air, was as cold as frost. She halted her steps on the bridge and spoke in a heavy voice, “Why are you still here and have not slipped out? For no reasons you created havoc that now the entire city know that you have come here to assassinate Ren Shaoming, and in the process you destroyed our carefully drawn up plan.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “I wonder if our agreement is still in effect? Have Miss Song discussed this matter with your esteemed father?”
Song Yuzhi turned her tender body around; seething with anger, she scolded in low voice, “What’s the use of discussion? Under present circumstances, nobody will have any chance.”
Xu Ziling walked over to the edge, leaning against the bridge’s railing, he looked down on the water below, while silently listening to the two people’s exchange behind him.
Calm and unfazed, Kou Zhong said, “As long as the agreement is still in effect, that is enough for me. Miss, please immediately leave the city, I guarantee that by tomorrow you will hear good news.”
“You must be mad,” Song Yuzhi was not happy, “If you want to kill yourself, why don’t you just jump into the river?”
Giggling, Kou Zhong leaned closer to her pretty face; shoving the ‘unbearably vulgar’ fake face with drools at the corner of his mouth to her, he said, “How about making an additional bet? If, under this very difficult situation, I can still succeed, Miss will give yourself in marriage to me, Kou Zhong, okay?”
Song Yuzhi stared hatefully at him for a moment before angrily said, “You fake belly touches me!”
Kou Zhong deliberately used his fake belly to squeeze her a bit before backing off and said with mischievous smile, “Miss has not replied to my question concerning the rest of your life!”
Exasperated, Song Yuzhi said, “Why are you so hopelessly muddled like this? Didn’t I tell you that Die has already promised my hands in marriage to another? Besides, I see that you are always upset and angry, nobody will fall for you; just go home and look at yourself in the mirror.”
Turning around, she looked at Xu Ziling’s back and said, “Xu Ziling! Do you have to accompany him in losing his mind?”
Xu Ziling spoke emotionlessly, “Tonight will be the anniversary of Ren Shaoming’s death. Miss Song, please leave the city immediately.”
While Song Yuzhi was stunned by Xu Ziling’s answer, Kou Zhong, assuming a distressed face, said, “Turns out Miss Song has had a change of heart, you are now falling for Xiao Ling. I, Kou Zhong, have no choice but to declare my withdrawal from this competition; I only want to kill Ren Shaoming and … ow!”
With a crisp slapping noise, five traces of Song Yuzhi’s slender fingers immediately appeared on Kou Zhong’s face, even the grease and powder were scraped off of his face quite a bit.
Song Yuzhi herself was shocked, “Why didn’t you dodge?” she asked.
Stroking his stung face, Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, “I wanted to see if I can sober you up, so that later on I won’t have to cause trouble or illness to you.”
Song Yuzhi wanted to say something, but in the end she held her peace, and turned her beautiful face to look at Xu Ziling.
Xu Ziling stood motionless, with his gaze fixed on a fisherman who had just appeared from the bend of the river; he seemed to be deep in thought.
Kou Zhong saw several people were walking toward the bridge where they were standing. Pulling Song Yuzhi’s sleeve, he said, “Go home, let’s talk about this later!”
Xu Ziling suddenly trembled slightly. “My Niang!” he exclaimed, “Zhong Shao! Fishing line!”
Forgetting Song Yuzhi, Kou Zhong walked over to Xu Ziling’s side and said in great delight, “We are really stupid! What can be more elastic and invisible than fishing line in the world? That time Shen Poniang [reminder: b1tch] used super long fishing line to trap us, and in broad daylight!”
That moment those people were walking passed them, the three people remained silent.
When those people were out of earshot, Song Yuzhi asked in bewilderment, “What are you guys talking about? Have you really turned crazy?”
By this time, how could Kou Zhong be in the mood to bicker with her? If they were using fishing line, plus it was installed ten zhang above the ground, ordinary martial art masters would find it difficult to see, especially if they were not intentionally looking for it. Since now they had to move as soon as possible, Kou Zhong simply laughed and said, “Miss Song, please move your jade self out of town. There is a good chance that tomorrow you will receive report of success!”
At the end of her patience, Song Yuzhi snapped, “No! I want the two of you to follow me leaving the city.”
Kou Zhong was stunned. “Turns out Miss Song is so concerned about us,” he said.
Song Yuzhi suddenly recovered her cold, detached demeanor. “Of course I am!” she replied in soft voice, “If the ‘Duke Yang Treasure’ fell into Ren Shaoming and Lin Shihong’s hands, the whole world will suffer a calamity.”
Kou Zhong smiled wryly and said, “Turns out you are that good to me. Never mind! Let us now go our separate ways, but don’t forget the agreement; otherwise your Song Family and I will have nothing to do with each other anymore.”
Song Yuzhi’s voice was as cold as ice as she stared at him and said, “Do you really want to deliver your life?”
Bright and shiny light flashed through Kou Zhong’s eyes. “Exactly,” he said decisively.
“Then go ahead and die!” Song Yuzhi spoke indifferently.
Brushing her sleeve, she walked away. Just like that.