Book 2 Chapter 7 – Fish in the Net
Scowling miserably, Kou Zhong helped Xu Ziling tossing the twentieth sack of salt into the ocean. Only then did the seawater no longer attack the deck. Fortunately it was just a small storm; otherwise the boat would have been capsized.
Completely exhausted, the two boys sat on sacks of salt; they did not even have any strength left to laugh or to cry.
By the time the sun showed itself again, Kou Zhong suddenly burst out laughing like crazy. Naturally Xu Ziling also laughed with him until tears flowing out of his eyes.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “We have lost at least enough money to stroll into low-grade brothel twenty times; Laotianye [God/Heaven] is really cruel.”
Xu Ziling sneered, “Didn’t Bai Lao Fuzi often say we should feel contented with our fate? My Zhong Shaoye, one drink, one peck [the context is animal], everything is pre-destined. The Heaven has decided that we lost these twenty sacks of salt, chances are most of sacks won’t be left for us either.”
Kou Zhong’e entire body, from head to toe, suddenly shook violently; pointing behind them, he groaned, “You are right, looks like the Heaven really destined us to be poor wretches; even the remaining fifty, sixty sacks will be taken away.”
Xu Ziling looked back in shock; he saw five three-mast big ships have just turned from the sea into the river. Not only that, the enemy’s pursuing technique was clearly extraordinarily brilliant, because the two boys did not even realize their presence until they were only two li away from them. Judging by the pursuers’ speed, at most it would only take the time needed to burn an incense stick before they could catch up with them.
The two boys looked up at their boat’s flag first, it was embroidered with the fish pattern of the Haisha Bang flag. When they looked at the five pursuing ships, they groaned together, because they saw similar pattern on the mast of all of them.
Kou Zhong threw himself down on the sacks of salt and wailed, “Finished! All my sea sands are finished!” [reminder: haisha means sea sand.]
Xu Ziling pulled him up and called out, “Let’s go! Before it’s too late.”
Suddenly there was a tender laughter, and then they saw a small fast boat coming over; the one sitting on the bow was precisely the Buddhist nun they saw the other night. There were ten men rowing the boat, ten well-trained men, so that the boat glided on the ocean surface like an arrow.
The pretty nun called out, “You just think about escaping right now, it’s really too late!”
The two boys noticed that she was wearing wetsuit, and it looks like she was ready to jump into the water to catch them. Their soul flew away and scattered, how could they still care about the sacks of salt? Immediately they turned around and jumped into the sea; they did not even have time to admire her clearly visible curves under the skin-tight suit, the body that could make the men who look at her pop their eyes and choke their throats.
The pretty nun laughed until her beautiful body shook uncontrollably. Gasping for breath, she said, “If I, the Mermaid You Qiufeng, ever let you, these two kids ever escape the net, I will never go down into the water again.”
Only after saying that did she jump into the water in an incomparably graceful posture. Compared to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s awkward jumped earlier, the difference was like night and day.
Under water, the sun rays looked like tens of thousands strands of silver thread, turning the clear, deep-blue seabed world into an array of infinite stereoscopic mirrors.
The nun, You Qiufeng, focused her eyes and immediately saw Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling about a hundred zhang ahead, desperately trying to swim toward the shore. The bottom of the sailboat looked like a strange clump of black cloud hovering overhead in the clear and brilliant ocean surface.
You Qiufeng twisted her waist, and like a wisp of smoke she darted forward with speed at least more than 50% faster than the ones she was pursuing.
Within Haisha Bang, whose domain was the sea, there was not a second person whose water skill was even close to hers; from this, it was clear how formidable she really was.
She did not understand at all how the two little demons were able to hold their breath underwater. Without first-class internal energy, it was simply impossible to do.
But this moment she was simply too busy to think. Their Bangzhu [clan/gang leader], the Dragon King Han Gaitian, had already issued a strict order to spare no expense in capturing them alive.
By this time Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling have already seen the pretty nun pursuing them from behind, but they had no way of escaping.
At first Kou Zhong was about two zhang ahead of Xu Ziling, but seeing the enemy rapidly approaching, he knew that very soon she would catch up with Xu Ziling, whose water skill was not as good as his. Therefore, clenching his teeth, he waved his hand to have Xu Ziling swim ahead, and then, with the saber in his hand, he turned around to face the enemy.
However, how could Xu Ziling be willing to let Kou Zhong face the enemy alone? Hence he also held his saber across as he turned around to fight the fast-approaching enemy.
Two sides rapidly approaching each other. Soon they would be engaged in close combat. Suddenly a quirly smile appeared on You Qiufeng’s face as she reached toward her back. Waving her hand, a large net shot out like an arrow to meet the two boys head-on.
The boys saw the large net like a layer of black cloud coming fast at them. By the time they realized the situation was bad, they have already been captured inside the net; persons and sabers became the fish in the net.
The boat they stole along with the salt suffered the same fate; it has become Haisha Bang’s prisoner. It was towed behind Haisha Bang’s flagship using a very thick rope, with its sail folded down.
Haisha Bang’s big boss, the Dragon King Han Gaitian pompously sat on a special dragon chair. Behind his chair stood seven of his subordinates with law-protector level, who have been fighting from all four quarters with him. Their position was even higher than the eighteen helmsmen who were in charge of the eighteen coastal salt-producing divisions.
His dragon chair was set up leaning against the door of the cabin at the stern. He was waiting calmly for the two young offenders to be brought over.
Haisha Bang was one of three major gangs along the southeast coast; it share the same fame as the Shuilong Bang [water dragon gang] and Jukun Bang [gigantic leviathan gang].
The three major gangs were suspicious and envious of each other. Previously they were still able to delimit their respective territory and sphere of influence, hence they were able to maintain peace in general.
But since Sui Dynasty government became corrupt, the heroes all over the world [tian xia] arose, the three major gangs also began to stir, each conspired to expand their influence, and thus the power struggle gradually turned intense.
Shuilong Bang has always attached themselves to the powerful Song Clan of the south. But for their survival, Haisha Bang cast their lot to the Yuwen Clan and became one powerful claw and teeth of the Yuwen family.
Jukun Bang on the other hand, stayed independent. Nevertheless, in terms of fame and power they were not the least bit inferior. The hottest topic in Jianghu recently was after the former Clan Leader Yun Guangling was murdered and his daughter Yun Yuzhen took office, Jukun Bang’s prestige has become even more dazzling.
This beautiful woman with the nickname ‘Clan Leader of the Fairer Sex’ [orig. hong fen bang zhu – clan leader of rouge and powder] had a consummate martial art skill, even more outstanding than her father; she was considered as number one heroine of the southeastern Wulin world.
Meanwhile, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, with their hands tied behind their back, were dragged toward Han Gaitian, and were pushed down to kneel by the four strong men who were in charge of them; the two boys hung their head dispiritedly.
The subordinate reported, “Both they and their boat have been searched, only twenty taels of silver found, there is no other things.”
Han Gaitian’s eyes shot a cold ray. “Report your name!” he barked.
Kou Zhong called out, “I am Fu Zhong, he is Fu Ling …”
‘Pow! Pow!’ Two long whips lashed out from behind, breaking the back of two boys’ clothes, and tore into their flesh; their face’s muscles twisted in severe pain.
Han Gaitian laughed aloud and said, “Still dare to lie to me? You are Kou Zhong, and the other Xu Ziling; both are criminals whose capture Yuwen Zongguan put in the wanted notice nationwide. Whoever can bring you back to Yangzhou and hand you over to Yuchi Zongguan will receive a thousand taels of gold as a reward.”
Standing on his right was the chief law protector, the ‘Fat Assassin’. This man was so fat that he looked like a ball, his eyes small and treacherous. Hearing the last sentence, he laughed eerily and said, “Human beings will die for riches just as birds will for food; if not for these two kids were greedy, stealing a boat load of sea sand, it would not be easy for us to get these thousand taels of gold.”
Feeling the pain on his back, Kou Zhong was apologetic toward Xu Ziling and could only look at him with bitter smile. The latter however, acted if nothing had happened; he said in low voice, “Turns out we are worth that much. If we had sold ourselves, wouldn’t we be very rich by now?”
“Silence!” Han Gaitian roared.
While the two boys were frightened that they were trembling inside, the pretty nun You Qiufeng’s tender laughter was heard, coming from inside the cabin. She had changed into a dry robe; surprisingly she also wore a wig with the hair rolled up in a bun, which was held together carelessly with seven or eight silver hairpins; she looked quite odd.
With hundred charms and thousand daintiness she came over to Han Gaitian, and then plopped her buttocks on his thigh, and wrapped her arms around Han Gaitian’s neck, which was as thick and solid as a tree trunk. With a flatteringly sweet voice she said, “To lose at sunrise but gain at sunset; although this time Dong Ming Pai escaped great catastrophe, in the end we obtain these two valuable kids. Now Bangzhu [Clan Leader] have enough face to see Yuwen Daren.”
Han Gaitian reached out to caress the pretty nun’s bottom; he patted it twice and then talked to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling in grim voice, “Tell me! How come you, two kids whose smell of mother’s milk has not yet dried, can be that valuable?”
The two boys deeply regretted the fact that they did not know Haisha Bang was related to Yuwen Huagu; moreover, they did not expect Yuwen Huagu would give secret order to the clans and societies working for him to hunt and capture them. If they knew this fact, they would not risk being captured.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “If Bangzhu agree not to hand us over to Yuwen Huaji, we will tell you this secret.”
Han Gaitian tossed his head backward and roared in heroic laughter; gasping for breath, he said, “Did you see that? This kid has the audacity to bargain with us.”
Chapter 7, Part 2
Anh, HPC, Jaya, Janger, you are welcome. Here is the end of Chapter 7.
Immediately the law-protectors under his command accompanied him in laughter. Another law-protector, the ‘Double Spears Charging Generals’ [the original rhymes: shuang qiang chuang jiang] Ling Zhigao said, “I heard You Meizi [younger sister You] said that these two kids know the technique to take a breath underwater; while obviously their martial art skill is lacking. This is extremely strange, there must be a reason.”
The pretty nun laughed tenderly and said, “Men! Give them three lashes; I want to see how profound their internal energy is!”
Amidst the roar of everybody’s laughter, immediately the whip rained down on the two boys. They were whipped at least a dozen times; not only the clothes on their back shattered into small pieces, their flesh was badly mangled as well, as they stumbled face down on the deck.
But the two boys did not even let out half a groan.
When they were pulled up, Han Gaitian was emotional as he said, “The two of you indeed have strong backbones. These whips were infused with poison; if it were ordinary people, two, three lashes are all they can take. Considering this fact, if you are willing to tell me the truth, perhaps I, the Clan Leader, will deal with you differently.”
Gnashing his teeth, Kou Zhong’s voice was raspy as he spoke through his cracked lips, “Naturally there is a reason why we are so valuable. It is because we know the secret of Duke Yang’s treasure-trove.”
Suddenly the deck became very quiet, but everybody’s eyes lit up.
Han Gaitian signaled his subordinates not to say anything, he pushed the pretty nun aside and stood up, “Let them stand up, untie them!” he called out.
The two boys were helped up, the ropes binding them were cut. Their clothes had been ripped by the poisonous whips, and there were bloody stripes on their arms. When the two boys saw their own condition, they were horrified; however, the strange thing was that other than the searing pain at the beginning, they felt as if it was not a big deal at all.
Han Gaitian’s iron-tower like stature was still two or three cun taller than the two boys. With hands behind his back, he walked over to the two boys and spoke in softer tone, “You really know Duke Yang’s treasure-trove location?”
“Our Niang told us,” Xu Ziling answered.
Han Gaitian nodded, “We also know about that,” he said, “It was the female Luocha who rescued you. Why didn’t she come with you?”
“Niang was killed by Yuwen Huaji,” Kou Zhong sadly replied, “Therefore, we can’t possibly tell him the location of the treasure.”
Swaying her bottom, the pretty nun walked over to the two boys; she reached out to pinch Xu Ziling’s cheek as she spoke with coquettish glances, “Bangzhu! Looks like these two handsome Xiao Xiongdi really aren’t babbling nonsense. ‘Man Tian Wang’ [fill-the-sky king, see Book 1 Chapter 1] has wholeheartedly follow Gaoli’s Luocha female’s trail. Rumor has it that she pawned a piece of ancient jade. At that time we were still in the dark, but now we ought to know that this piece of jade must be part of Duke Yang’s treasure trove.”
The ‘Fat Assassin’ You Gui said, “Now that two Xiao Xiongdi are here, this is a proof that the Heaven has chosen Bangzhu to fulfill your destiny.”
Han Gaitian spoke in deep voice, “Where is the treasure trove?”
Kou Zhong stayed calm, but before answering, he exchanged flirting glances with the pretty nun, provoking an enchanting giggle from her, “The treasure trove is somewhere around the Emperor Guan Temple in Yangzhou, but it has to be opened using special technique; otherwise, you will never find the treasure.”
The pretty nun threw her tender body forward, pressing her erect breasts against Kou Zhong’s chest; she spoke in intimate manner, “Then why haven’t you tell us, Bangzhu will definitely not treat you shabbily.”
Kou Zhong obviously enjoyed this flirtation very much; he closed his eyes and moaned, “If Bangzhu is willing to give us ten taels of gold, we will help Bangzhu find the hidden treasure.”
“Ten taels of gold is a small matter,” Han Gaitian said, “Quickly speak up!”
The pretty nun stretched out her arm to pull Kou Zhong’s neck, and planted a fragrant kiss on his face. Her smile was as pretty as the flower, “Listen to Jiejie, quickly speak up.”
Kou Zhong giggled and said, “We are all Jianghu people. As long as Bangzhu take us back to Yangzhou, and swear a heavy oath not to kill us, and give us the gold, we will open the treasure-trove for you. Otherwise, we’d rather die than speak out.”
Xu Ziling added, “The treasure is covered densely with mechanism, it is hidden over twenty zhang deep underground. Unless Bangzhu can obtain Yangzhou Zongguan approval to tear apart the citizens’ dwelling within five li radius, and turn the ground upside down, don’t ever think of getting into the treasure-trove.”
Kou Zhong interrupted, “If we leave out even half a sentence, Bangzhu will never know. Why don’t we become friends and strike a fair dealing by mutual agreement?”
Being barraged with ‘I speak one word, you speak a sentence’ from the two boys, Han Gaitian smiled wryly, shook his head, and said with a sigh, “It is really a waste that you, two little demons, did not go into business. Alright! I’ll take you back to Yangzhou, but you must not lie to me, or else you won’t have a good end.”
And then he barked his order, “Men! Have them locked up in the iron cage in punishment chamber.”
When Kou Zhong heard the two words ‘iron cage’, he immediately lowered his head to kiss the pretty nun’s lips, while groping her hair at the same time. When his mouth was busy clicking his tongue in admiration, his hand deftly pulled a silver hairpin and hid it in his palm.
The pretty nun angrily said, “Kid with lecherous mouth!” and pushed him away.
In the meantime, her subordinates stepped out to grab the two boys’ arms. Han Gaitian did not feel at ease, he personally escorted the two boys into the cabin, down the stairs into the lower deck, and into the punishment chamber filled with all kinds of torture instruments. He watched as his men pushed the two boys into a large iron cage on the corner, checked the lock to make sure it was engaged properly, and only then did he leave.
While Xu Ziling was staring blankly at the iron bars, which were as thick as a child’s arm, Kou Zhong stretched out his hand to show him the thin silver wire in his palm, and said, “I think Han Bangzhu is a good man; it would be best if we could work for him!”
Xu Ziling understood his intention; he caught on, “I just hope that when we get to Yangzhou we won’t be caught by Yuwen Huagu. Ay! We know exactly where the treasure is, but we don’t have the guts to pick it up.”
Both boys were intelligent, seeing Han Gaitian and all his men withdrew completely without a single man remained, which was too unnatural, they knew these men would eavesdrop somewhere nearby; which was precisely the case.
Kou Zhong said, “Can you really remember the key to opening the storehouse that Niang taught us? It’s too complicated for me, luckily your memory is always better than mine.”
Xu Ziling replied, “I only remember the second half. Ay! At that time Niang was about to die, I cried so hard that everything was a blur to me.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Leave the first half to me. It’s something like three left seven right; I guarantee I won’t make mistake. People are paying us high price, we have to hand over the goods.”
Xu Ziling lay down on his side, stretched out, and said, “Go sleep!”
Kou Zhong lay down by his side; unexpectedly both of them really fell into deep slumber.
The big ship sailed at full speed in northerly direction toward the mouth of Yangtze River.
From sailing full speed, the ship suddenly slowed down. This change of speed caused the two boys to wake up.
They did not know since when did the wind lanterns on the four corners of the room go out; in this closed room, they could not even see the fingers in front of their nose. But they felt that the walls seemed to radiate some kind of dim light, so that they could faintly see the silhouette of the objects around them.
They felt very strange.
According to reason, Han Gaitian ought to want to arrive at Yangzhou as soon as he could; why did the ship slow down?
They sat up. Kou Zhong reached out to feel his back, and then he touched Xu Ziling’s back; he could not help feeling very proud, “We have definitely become internal energy expert. Earlier we were beaten until our skin cracked our flesh lacerated, but now our skin is clear and our flesh smooth.”
Xu Ziling spoke in low voice, “Could there be people out there listening to us still?”
Kou Zhong whispered in his ear, “Supposed someone can make you the emperor, you don’t have to suffer any hardship, would you or would you not send people to keep an eye on him?”
Xu Ziling was alarmed, “If we really get to Yangzhou without being able to escape, won’t that Han Choutian [gai tian – covering the sky, chou tian – stinky sky] tear our skin and crush our bones?”
Kou Zhong took out the silver hairpin and said in low voice, “Let’s see if we can open the lock or not. You see that this punishment chamber is full of sharp tools. With our superb internal energy, drilling a hole on the bottom of the ship should not be too difficult.”
Xu Ziling sighed. “I know that,” he said, “But how can we do it without making any noise?”
Kou Zhong came over to the iron cage door, he bent one end of the silver hairpin into a small hook, and then very carefully inserted it into the keyhole of the padlock. In no time at all there was a soft ‘click’.
Xu Ziling was not surprised; he skillfully opened the lock and put it on the corner. Gently pulling the iron grille, the two boys crawled out like a dog.
By this time the ship was slowing down even more, they heard rapid footsteps going back and forth on the upper deck.
The two boys were greatly delighted; immediately they looked for a tool they could use. Xu Ziling beckoned Kou Zhong to come over, he pointed to a stove on the corner with branding iron in it and said, “If we light the stove and heat the branding iron until red, perhaps we could burn a small hole on the ship’s bottom noiselessly. And then when the seawater pours in, we could use the saw to open a big hole from which we could escape.”
Kou Zhong patted his shoulder in praise. While Xu Ziling took a charcoal tinder next to the stove to light the fire, he took off his tattered outer clothes and stuffed it underneath the door to prevent the seawater to seep out prematurely.
In the meantime the ship was going faster again, while apparently also made a sharp turn, as if it was trying to avoid something. Above, the footsteps stopped, but there were footsteps in the corridor outside.
By this time Xu Ziling already dumped more than a dozen branding irons into the stove. Hearing the footsteps outside, he was startled and turned his eyes toward the door. Kou Zhong quickly positioned himself behind the door while signaling Xu Ziling not to show mercy by making a chopping gesture.
Outside, a man’s voice was heard, “Any activity?”
And then two other male voices replied, “Nothing!”
The first man said, “The incoming ship belongs to Jukun Bang, perhaps that pretty Bangzhu has eaten some leopard gall that they dare to intercept us. Bangzhu ordered us to keep a close eye on these kids, or else we will be punished according to the gang rules.”
The two guards on duty promptly responded.
Noise of footsteps went away.
Kou Zhong promptly removed the tattered clothes he stuffed under the door.
They heard the sound of lock being opened, the thick wooden door was pulled open, dim lantern light shone in, but it was not bright enough to reach the iron cage on the corner.
The two unsuspecting guards came in; one of them even said, “Light the lantern first!”
But the other man saw the burning stove. While he was wondering about it, Xu Ziling’s fist struck his head like a lightning; immediately he slumped down, but Xu Ziling caught him before he reached the floor.
Kou Zhong made his move at the same time; he also knocked the other man down. He still had time to crane his neck outside to look, and saw three men standing at the corridor leading to the stairs. The men were looking at him.
Luckily Kou Zhong was quick-witted; he raised his hand in greeting, and then quickly closed the door again. Luckily the corridor was dimly lit, plus his movement was very quick, so that the men could not see his face clearly. But he was so scared that his heart nearly jumped out of his throat.
The two boys took off the men’s clothes and used it to tie them and stuffed their mouths. Only then did they feel a bit better.
The two men’s money bags had already entered Kou Zhong’s pocket, while Xu Ziling untied the men’s short halberd and sword. Although they were not as accustomed in using these weapons as a saber, but it was definitely better than without a cun of iron in their hands and thus making them feel lost.
Xu Ziling picked the smoldering branding iron and placed it on the cabin wall. A ‘chi, chi’ sound ensued, followed by smoke rising up from a charred wood. When he removed the branding iron, as expected, a glowing red indentation appeared on the wooden plank.
Kou Zhong plugged the bottom of the door again.
This time Xu Ziling pressed three branding irons to the indentation, creating more smoke, and burning the plank red.
The ship made another sharp turn; it seemed like the Jukun Bang people were getting really close. There were faint shouting from above, coupled with the sound of urgent footsteps. The situation was getting more and more intense.
‘Pop!’ The branding iron finally penetrated the wood plank; seawater immediately came gushing in.
The two boys cheered. Using the saw that they prepared in advance, they desperately sawed the wood to make the hole bigger. The seawater continued to pour in; very soon it reached their ankles. Soaked by the cold water, their two prisoners woke up.
‘Crack!’ Kou Zhong sawed the plank until only a small section left, which he then pulled and twisted as hard as he could to break it. Immediately a large triangular hole appeared.
The two boys did not have time to hesitate. They cut the knot binding their two captives first to let them untie the rest of their bind, and then they slipped into the sea underneath the ship.
Haisha Bang flagship was moving rapidly forward, the bottom of the boat they stole along with the salt appeared above them. The ocean surface was bright with the yellow glow of the moon; hence the boys knew it was already evening.
Kou Zhong did not care whether Xu Ziling wanted it or not, he simply dragged him up toward the surface.
Who would have thought that the ship was sailing too fast? By the time the two boys reached the surface, the salt boat has just slipped right through them.
As soon as they had their heads above water, they were dumbstruck. Because Haisha Bang’s five ships were besieged by more than a dozen smaller sailboats.
Both sides were shooting fire arrows and throwing rocks at each other, the raging battle has reached the state where neither side could extricate themselves. The rockets lit the night sky.
Kou Zhong had his eyes fixed on the stolen boat, which was getting farther and farther away. While he felt like crying, but did not want to shed any tears, as he looked at their fortune turning into water, suddenly the stolen-salt boat separated from Haisha Bang flagship and slowed down. Apparently someone thought that the stolen-salt boat was too cumbersome and had the mooring rope cut off.
The two boys were overjoyed at the turn of events; hastily they swam with everything they had toward their happy future.
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