Book 9 Chapter 7 – Strange Encounter At The Back of The Mountain
An elegant room does not need to be big, fragrance does not require a lot of flowers.
As the two boys stepped over the main gate, where a sign board carved with the characters ‘An Le Wo’ [Comfort Zone; lit. still/calm happy nest] was hanging over it, a feeling of serene, peaceful harmony welled up in their hearts.
Opposite the entrance, on the beam supported by two pillars, there was another wooden board with this couplet written on it: ‘Mornings are suitable to make qin [zither] music, evenings are suitable to strike the se [standing harp with 5-25 strings]; old friends have arrived, new rains are starting to fall’. The calligraphic style was elegant yet simple, bold and powerful.
This hall was shaped in a four-sided living room style, with all four sides have ‘wooden pot’-style windows. On the far end the plant in the pot drooped down, covering the view of the dangerous precipice beyond. The gentle sound of the bamboo grove dancing in the wind faintly penetrating the inner hall, adding a more relaxed, natural feeling to the simple, plain, rustic mahogany furnishing of the room. On the corner, there was a cedar wood stairs leading to the upper floor.
The old-sounding voice came again, “Gentlemen, please come upstairs!”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling exchanged a glance, then walked slowly up the flight of stairs.
The room upstairs was divided into two sections by a standing screen. The front section had a round table and several chairs; presumably the rear section was where the host slept.
This moment a man was standing at the window, facing out. He spoke in soft voice, “Two Xiao Xiongdi, please sit down, try the Six-fruit Brew Laofu personally made.”
It was only then did the two boys notice the wine bottle and wine cups on the table. The aroma of the wine permeated the whole place.
Under the illumination of two palace-style lanterns hanging from the beam, they saw that other than the table and chairs, there was only a few necessary furniture, all made of rosewood, displaying its stylish, quaint grandeur.
The old man dressed in formal intellectual attire. Although because his back was facing the two boys that they were unable to see his face, he looked slightly taller than Xu Ziling. Furthermore, because of the oversized long robe he was wearing, he exuded some kind of loftiness that commanded other people to look up in respect.
Recalling their own low rank, the two boys looked at the wine on the table, but were unsure of what to do.
The old man sighed and said, “Drink! There’s wine to enjoy, life is short!”
His voice carried a profound helplessness, giving the impression that he must have a sad past.
Kou Zhong pushed Xu Ziling and sat down first.
They were both moving very cautiously, not willing to make any noise to disturb the sacred quietness of the small room upstairs.
They could still hear the faint sound of waterfall from the distance.
Kou Zhong lifted up the wine bottle and poured three cups. Seeing the old man has not made any movement, he picked one cup, and handed the other one to Xu Ziling.
The fruit brew entered his throat. The aroma was mellow and rich, soft and fresh. The most amazing thing was that the fragrance was thick, but in congruence, so that the aftertaste lingered long.
Tranquil and calm, the old man said, “This wine is brewed from a collection of pomegranate, grape, tangerine, crabapple, green plum, and pineapple, six types of fresh fruits. The manufacturing method involves picking the fruits, washing in water, bleaching in water, crushing, pits removal, soaking, juice extraction, fermentation, blending, filtering, and aging process, before loading it in barrels and burying it for three whole years. And it tastes good!”
Kou Zhong praised wholeheartedly, “Laozhang [Sir/gentleman] is adept in wine brewing, and is very creative.”
The old man was silent for half a day before speaking softly, “Laofu has lived here for nearly thirty years. Other than Xiuxun, nobody ever dared to barge in here. You must be newcomers.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew that they had violated a taboo; the latter apologetically said, “Liang Fu Guanjia [deputy housekeeper] has never mentioned this place to us, and thus we have disturbed Qianbei’s [senior/older generation] peace. I …”
The old man interrupted him, “You have Yangzhou accent; this is strange, since the Ranch very seldom hires outsiders. What do you do?”
Thereupon Xu Ziling narrated their story again.
Up to this point the two boys were still unclear of the old man’s identity, or his relationship with the Ranch, but they were quite sure that he was an unfathomable senior martial art expert.
Kou Zhong could not help asking, “Has Qianbei really never left this place in thirty years?”
The old man laughed aloud, “Of course not,” he said, “Although these past thirty years I have lived peacefully in this ‘An Le Wo’, but I spent quite a bit of time outside, more than the time I spent in this place. This time I came across you, it can be said it is predestined affinity; it’s not easy for us to be here.”
Finished speaking he slowly turned around to face the two boys.
It was a very particular face; plain, simple, inelegant, amazingly old. His long, thick black eyebrows extended almost to the edge of his temples, while the other ends nearly met above the bridge of his nose, in stark contrast with his deep, elegant hawk eyes. There were wrinkles at the corners of his mouth and under his eyes, making him appear to have a rather cold, tired and sad look of the affairs of life.
The bridge of his nose was straight and powerful, just like his waist. With the addition of his lips, which displayed natural air of arrogance, his slender and clean face, he ought to be someone who enjoyed the riches and honor, the glory and splendor of the world to the fullest; yet now he looked more like a dejected nobleman whose heart had died.
His gaze slowly swept the two boys. Smiling slightly, he said, “Do you know why as someone who take no notice of the things of the world I asked you to come up here?”
The two boys shook their head with blank expression on their face.
Revealing an exhausted look, both physically and mentally, the old man sat down slowly, took the six-fruit brew cup and drained it in one gulp, and said with a wry smile, “Were it not for this thing suspending my life, there’s a good chance I would not see gentlemen today.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other in dismay. “Is Qianbei injured?” the latter asked.
The old man nodded, “The injury I received thirty years ago,” he said, “Although that witch’s demonic power was lauded as the crown jewel of the heretical schools, it still failed to take my life; by taking advantage of the mountain’s topography and utilizing my knowledge of geography, I managed to escape a thousand li and finally hid in this place.”
He sighed and went on, “In thirty years, with my heart and soul I built the landscape garden. Were it not for this sustenance, I am afraid I have already succumbed to my injury and died. But these days I occasionally remember the old enmity, thereupon my injury flared out. I am afraid the old man’s days are numbered.”
Breathing out a mouthful of cold air, Kou Zhong asked, “Who was that witch?”
The old man stared hard at him for half a day; he also cast a glance toward Xu Ziling. Instead of answering the question, he said, “Actually, I have seen you a while back; I even eavesdropped your conversation. You two are very interesting kids indeed.”
The two boys were stunned. “Where did Qianbei see us?” Xu Ziling asked.
The old man spoke indifferently, “Do you remember that abandoned village? The one where Zhai Rang fell into a sinister plot, so much so that his full works fell apart.”
The two boys remembered the smoke from kitchen chimneys; their countenance changed instantly. “It was you!” they said.
Although the old man has exposed their true identity, his demeanor was still as amiable as before. He smiled and said, “That was the reason I invited you to come up; just by looking at your ability to suppress your divine qi, so much so that you can conceal it from Xiuxun, I know that your skill has advanced tremendously. Kou Xiao Xiong and Xu Xiao Xiong, can you tell me what enmity has brought you here to be pastry chefs?”
The two boys were greatly embarrassed; however, seeing his friendly manner, they did not conceal anything, and told him about how they acted before thinking. Naturally they did not tell him about Kou Zhong’s intention to utilize the Ranch in his effort to vie over the world; they only told him about trying to evade the enemy’s tracking.
The old man did not reveal whether he believed their story or not; after pondering for half a day, he said, “Among the four managers of the Flying Horse Ranch, in terms of intelligence and martial art skill, Liu Zongdao ranks first. Logically speaking, under normal situation, he can’t possibly meddle in the kitchen’s personnel affairs. His high regard on you may be due to something else; perhaps your outward appearance and your aptitudes!”
Xu Ziling respectfully asked, “Qianbei must be a greatly well-known character of the Jianghu; would it be possible for you to reveal it to us?”
A glimmer of proud smile appeared on the corners of the old man’s mouth; he replied nonchalantly, “Even if Ning Daoqi sees me, he would respectfully greet me ‘Lu Laoshi [teacher]’. Ay! What does it mean anyway? Ultimately I still nurse a grievance under that witch’ hands, and the illustrious name I built my entire life hereby lost forever.”
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong racked their brains trying to remember a Jianghu senior character with the surname Lu.
Feeling it would be embarrassing to ask directly, Kou Zhong tried a roundabout way, “Who was that witch anyway?”
The old man straightened up his back, his eyebrows rose, his sharp eyes shone with murderous aura as he said hatefully, “Have you heard about Yin Gui Pai?”
The two boys blurted out in chorus, “Empress Yin, Zhu Yuyan!”
It was the old man’s turn to be stunned. “You are indeed not simpletons! Unexpectedly you knew about this witch. Ay! There are two things that I regret doing in all my life, and one of them is to fall in love with this woman. To think that I, Lu Miaozi [his given name’s literal translation is ‘clever kid’] has always been conceited all my life, unexpectedly I made continuous mistakes; other than blaming it to my luck, what else can I say?”
Chapter 7 - Part 2
The two boys felt the name ‘Lu Miaozi’ sound very familiar, but it took them quite a while to remember that it was Shen Luoyan who mentioned his name, saying that he was the number one skilled craftsman under the heavens. Supposedly her weird net was coming from his miraculous hands. No wonder the design of this Inner Castle’s landscape garden, the layout of every tree, every stone, seemed as if it was made by Heaven, all because he was secretly behind it.
Glistening teardrops appeared from Lu Miaozi’s eyes; unable to bear it anymore, he turned his head around and let out a painful sob.
Suddenly he shook his head and heaved a deep sigh, and then spoke in low voice, “You’d better go back and go to bed! If you are free tomorrow, try to find time to come here, I have something to tell you.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling slept for less than two sichen [i.e. 4 hrs] when the sound of knocking on their door woke them up.
From the outside, Xiao Juan called out, “Two Xiao Shifu, wake up quickly, it is dawn!”
The two boys were a hundred thousand times unwilling to get out of bed, but Xu Ziling was pushed by Kou Zhong to open the door.
As soon as Xiao Juan came in, her eyebrows rose up so high as she said, “What happened to you two? Such a dirty clothes and you went to bed in it? Take it out now and change, let me take the dirty ones to be washed, all right? Two ‘great generals’?”
Rubbing his eyes, Kou Zhong fell back onto the bed and said, “Can I sleep a little longer, please?”
Putting her hands on her small waist, Xiao Juan angrily said, “Changzhu wants to see you, quickly take a bath and change your clothes.”
Xu Ziling sat down on the corner of the bed and said with a wry smile, “Not taking a bath is also violation of the house rule?”
Xiao Juan stomped her feet and said, “If you keep doing this, I won’t pay any attention to you anymore!”
Kou Zhong sprang up, pressed his hands on Xiao Juan’s shoulders, and smiled apologetically, “Xiao Juan Jie, please calm down; may I ask which way is to the public bath, north, south, east or west? Also how many li do we have to walk? The sooner we go, the sooner we will come back.”
Xiao Juan wanted to keep a straight face, but in the end, “Pfft!” she could not help laughing. Rolling her eyes, she frowned and said, “Don’t stand too close; you stink!”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and stood back. Casually he caught the clothes Xu Ziling threw at him; he was adamant not to concede, “There are many kinds of stink, my kind is the best kind of stink.”
Xiao Juan laughed tenderly and went out the door. The two boys scrambled to follow on her left and right sides.
The weather was very nice that day, an old servant was sweeping dead leaves in the courtyard, everywhere they looked, they saw people were coming and going. Three young maids, who were pruning the flowers and bushes, were brazen enough to stare at them.
Kou Zhong whispered in Xiao Juan’s ear, “Why does Changzhu want to see us?”
Xiao Juan did not care at all, “How would I know?” she replied, “It was Fu Dajie who ordered me to get you.”
Kou Zhong fell back to Xu Ziling’s side, who was walking three steps behind; he laughed softly and said, “It ought to be because you are handsome enough, right? Ha!”
Xiao Juan suddenly stopped, turned around with arms akimbo, her apricot eyes glowered at them as she shouted with her tender voice, “What did you say? You must be talking bad things about Changzhu.”
The two boys did not expect her reaction to be this intense; they jumped in fright.
Xu Ziling hastily said, “Xiao Juan Jie, please don’t misunderstand, Xiao Ning only said that probably Changzhu did not think we did not learn enough lesson, so that she summons us to admonish us.”
Xiao Juan half-believing, half-doubting; she spoke with serious expression, “Just remember: don’t be disrespectful toward Changzhu, otherwise, no one will be able to bail you out.”
Without any choice, the two boys nodded their promise.
Xiao Juan continued in low voice, “If you really dare to speak ill of Changzhu behind her back, I will no longer pay attention to you.”
When Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling arrived at the ‘Flying Horse Pavilion’, where Shang Xiuxun handled day-to-day operation of the Flying Horse Ranch, this beautiful Ranch Master was having a meeting with the Housekeeper Shang Zhen and the Four Managers, including Liu Zongdao. About a dozen men and women were standing outside the courtyard, Deputy Housekeeper Liang Qian and Lan Gu were among them.
Noticing the two boys arrival with Xiao Juan, they all turned their attention to them. Lan Gu even whispered something to a man standing next to her, evidently she was talking about the two boys.
One of them, a young girl with well-proportioned figure, gentle, refined, and dignified, with elegant appearance, stepped forward to meet the three people. Frowning, she said, “Why so late? Changzhu has already asked about you, you don’t know how embarrassed I am.”
After explaining the reason, Xiao Juan introduced them, “This is Fu Dajie!”
The two boys hurriedly paid their respect, while secretly praised Luo Fang’s luck with women was indeed not shallow; they also did not expect her to be so young, yet her position within the Ranch was quite high.
Big Sister Fu studied the two boys for a moment; an amazed look flitted across her pretty eyes. She was just about to speak, when the man standing guard by the door called out, “Summoning the two Pastry Chefs!”
Big Sister Fu instructed them in low voice, “Come with me, be careful when speaking.”
The two boys could not help feeling a bit nervous as they came to just outside the threshold.
They saw that the entire furnishing inside the hall was finely carved furniture, in the middle was three-panel marble-deck big reclining chair, on east and west were symmetrically placed two marble armchairs with circular screen and a matching small table decorated with some small objects; the atmosphere looked solemn and serene.
Shang Xiuxun was half-reclining on the chair, she was dressed in men’s clothes, complete with a hat to cover her beautiful hair, yet it was still difficult to conceal beautiful glow of her oppressing natural beauty.
The Housekeeper Shang Zhen was sitting on the first chair to her left, and the next in line was precisely Liu Zongdao, while the other two [sic] managers were sitting on the other side.
The three people had to give way to an old man coming out of the pavilion. Big Sister Fu saluted to him and reported, “Two Xiao Shifu are here.” And then she whispered, “You are new here, you can’t cross the threshold.” After that she withdrew to the side.
The two boys had no choice but to stay outside the threshold and saluted inside, feeling a bit awkward.
Shang Xiuxun had her head down, concentrating on drinking her tea. Shang Zhen was blowing smoke from his pipe. Liu Zongdao returned their salute with a smile, but the other three managers’ eyes were like sharp arrows shooting at them.
Li Zongdao’s single eye lit up as he smiled and said, “Was it because the hard journey that you were unable to get out of bed?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were quick-witted; they knew he was saying that in their defense, hence they promptly agreed with him.
Taking advantage while Shang Xiuxun was still drinking her tea, Liu Zongdao introduced the other three managers.
The First Manager Liang Zhi was a man short in stature, about forty years old, but grew a beautiful, glossy black beard. His eyes flickered with terrifying sharpness, the taiyang acupoints [on one’s temples] bulged out. Just by looking at his appearance, one would immediately know that he was a martial art master expert in both inner and outer skills.
The Third Manager Tao Shusheng was a big and tall middle-aged man, his eyes long and narrow like a goat’s, making his appearance unflattering.
On the contrary, the Fourth Manager Wu Zhaoru was young and handsome, his skin as fair as a girl’s; but compared to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s unique physical appearance, he appeared exceptionally inelegant.
The three managers’ response seemed to be rather cold; it appeared that they only nodded their heads to acknowledge the two boys’ salute just as a courtesy to Liu Zongdao.
Shang Xiuxun put down the cup and picked up something that looked like an account book from the small table and looked down to browse it. Absent-mindedly she said, “Other than pastries, what else can you make?”
Everybody, including Big Sister Fu and Liu Zongdao, was taken aback; nobody ever thought that their astute Ranch Master would summon the two boys just to ask such a trivial matter.
With his hands hanging by his side, Kou Zhong respectfully replied, “We know a bit of everything.”
The Third Manager Tao Shusheng scolded them harshly, “Genius! Changzhu is asking you, outside of pastries, what other expertise do you have. Do you understand the question?”
Wu Zhaoru seemed to be breathing through the same nostrils with Tao Shusheng; he laughed mockingly and said, “Perhaps they have expertise in a bit of everything!”
Xu Ziling did not take any offence, but Kou Zhong really wished he could take the two men outside and give them a good beating; but right now all he could do was ‘glug!’ swallow his anger into his belly.
Shang Xiuxun still had her attention focused on the book; she did not even seem to hear what others were talking about. It was quite a moment later she finally said slowly, “In the meeting tonight we will have honored guests coming from the north. Northerners love to eat roast meat, smoked meat and stuff like that the most. Do you know how to make them?”
Chapter 7 - Part 3
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “Roast meat, smoked meat are no problem. Changzhu, please just instruct us which one to make.”
“Smoked meat then,” Shang Xiuxun replied without thinking.
Clearing his throat, the First Manager Liang Zhi said, “It’s not that I don’t trust you, but the guest’ status is definitely not a small matter, plus he is from a dignitary family, and pay particular attention to food and drink. If your skill in this regard were slightly lacking, you would only display your meager skill before an expert. Therefore, is it possible for you to tell us first how you are going to make the smoked meat?”
Finally Shang Xiuxun raised her small head up; her pretty eyes were fixed on the two boys, “That’s right!” she agreed, “Tell us then.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were well aware that Liang Zhi and the others suspected their identity; fortunately they did have ‘genuine goods at fair prices’ skill they learned from Ol’ Zhang. The latter spoke nonchalantly, “The most critical thing in making smoked meat is to blend the flavor of the seasoning well, requiring boiling water over high heat, mixing Sichuan pepper, lilac, amomum, cardamom, ominato, garlic, fresh ginger, thick soybean paste, tofu, and sweet soy paste [please don’t ask me, I have no idea what these seasoning are]. Only then will the finished product have both the bright color and the thick savory taste.”
Kou Zhong joined in, “Next will be the smoking technique itself. First, mix the choice meat and the sauce well in a big pot, and then smoke it over cedar wood. The skin will be crispy and the meat tender, inside and outside will be cooked uniformly; the fat won’t taste greasy in the mouth, the lean meat won’t break our tooth, and the distinctive flavor will be unique.”
The two boys were both eloquent and able to adapt to the situation well; echoing one another like that, they painted a very vivid picture as if a plate of hot, spicy delicacy with its aroma permeating the whole place was already served on the table.
Emotionally moved, the Housekeeper, Shang Zhen, removed the pipe from his mouth and said, “Indeed you have real ability and learning, definitely not con artists.”
The two boys laughed in their hearts. “Thank you for Da Guanjia’s praise,” they spoke in unison.
Shang Xiuxun was noncommittal; she looked down on the book again and said absent-mindedly, “Tonight, other than in charge of the main dish, you also have to prepare some dessert. Dismissed!”
Returning to their room, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling did not know whether they should laugh or cry; Shang Xiuxun grandly and seriously summoning them, unexpectedly it was only to discuss such a ‘chicken feather, garlic skin’ matter.
However, this matter has brought unintended aftermath; since Lan Gu could not figure out Shang Xiuxun’s treatment toward them, immediately she became a lot friendlier than before. After inquiring about the ingredients, she immediately went to make arrangement for them.
Kou Zhong thought hard, “Who could come from the north and has illustrious family background?” he asked aloud.
Displeased, Xu Ziling said, “You’d better leave some brainpower to deal with the pastries and dishes for tonight! Although we know how to make smoked meat, but what we learned from the Ol’ Zhang would not do the trick. If they had never eaten any smoked meat before, it is still all right, but if we want to gain those northern people’s praise, it would be no more than a dream.”
With much trepidation he said, “Just by remembering our creativity in producing the cakes yesterday, I already have a headache. You must think of something.”
Smiling wryly, Kou Zhong said, “I am relying on you to think of something.”
The two boys ‘you look at me, I look at you’, suddenly their eyes lit up at the same time.
Pointing at Xu Ziling, Kou Zhong said, “Are you thinking about him?”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “He is the number one master craftsman in the world; plus he is experienced and knowledgeable, at least he is able to brew outstanding wine, cooking dishes and making pastries should not be too far below!”
The two boys sprang up immediately.
Xu Ziling pulled Kou Zhong back and said with a laugh, “You stay here to deal with Lan Gu, I am going to ask him, the Senior’s guidance, understand?”
Xu Ziling had just left; Lan Gu stepped across the door. Frowning, she asked, “Where is Xiao Jing?”
Kou Zhong simply rubbed his belly, and then pointed outward.
Lan Gu smiled knowingly and said, “Everything for the sauce is readily available, but you must select the meat yourselves. Do you need any help? Or perhaps another room in the kitchen?”
Kou Zhong immediately unleashed his delaying tactic; he said, “We, two brothers, have always advanced together, retreated together; we have business, then we have the capacity. I am going to wait until he finishes pooping before we set about our task together. Hee! If we need extra hands or extra room, we’ll let you know!”
Lan Gu gave him a dirty look. She was about to lash at him, but then she changed her mind and pressed down her temper; so after mumbling something she left.
Soon afterwards two make servants came to deliver the seasoning. Kou Zhong immediately got busy.
A moment later Luo Fang came to find him. After chatting for a few moments, Kou Zhong asked him, “Do you know what kind of people are coming tonight?”
“I am not clear about that,” Luo Fang replied, “All I know is that the guests are obviously people of great influence; otherwise Changzhu would not personally go out to meet their ship. From time to time these past few years, there have been people coming here trying to build friendly relations, but Cahngzhu has never attached any importance to them like she does this time.”
Kou Zhong failed to grasp the main points; he blurted out, “Right now the whole country is in rebellion, and we have war-horse to sell, naturally people are trying to build friendly relationship with us!”
“That is true,” Luo Fang proudly said, “But there are some guys who acted recklessly, they came wanted to take control of us by force. It’s just that within hundreds of li around here, who are not our Ranch’s descendants and disciples? Any wind blowing swaying the grass, nothing escaped our attention.”
Following the tone of his voice, Kou Zhong said, “Which people have that much guts?”
A bit vexed, Luo Fang said, “Have you heard the people on the street mentioning the four popular piece of doggerel recently? They are the ‘Not even a blade of grass grows’ Xiang Batian, ‘Chicken and dogs won’t remain’ Fang Jianding, ‘scorched earth for a thousand li’ Mao Zao, ‘the Ghosts weep the Deities cry’ Cao Yinglong.”
Kou Zhong had a sudden revelation, “Ah, those must be the Xiang-Fang-Mao-Cao, the Four Big Bandits!”
Luo Fang hatefully said, “Precisely those four men, whom the deities detest and the ghosts loathe, who loot all over the place and in all directions, who leave trails of destruction everywhere like locusts, who rape and pillage, not stopping at anything.”
After a short pause, he went on, “We are as close as lips and teeth with Duba Village of Jingling, we support each other, and have several times killed their small bands of raiders, so that they view us as a nail in their eyes early on. But recently they secretly forged an alliance, in preparation to break off the rescue route between Jingling and us, and then they will go all-out to attack Duba Village. This scheme is certainly very malicious.”
Kou Zhong understood now. Although in themselves the Four Big Bandits’ power was insufficient to deal with war on two fronts, it was enough to separately lay heavy siege on Jingling or Flying Horse Ranch, then they would be able to nibble away the surrounding towns and villages, so that it would be difficult for the Duba Village and Flying Horse Ranch to maintain their existence. Even if they ultimately obtain victory, their strength would take heavy beating.
“How’s those thieves’ strength?” Kou Zhong asked.
Lou Fang replied, “Of the Four Big Bandits, in terms of martial art skill, the ‘Ghosts cry deities roar’ Cao Yinglong is the most superior, he also has the largest number of thieves under his command, up to 30,000 people, and they constantly recruit new people; constantly expanding on daily basis. Currently they are occupying Baodong County near the Great River, more than a hundred li to our west. Their prestige rose up greatly, the other three Bandits consider him as their leader.”
This moment Xu Ziling returned, his face flushed with excitement, “Let’s start immediately,” he said.
After greeting him, Luo Fang said, “Do your job well. Changzhu has never shown such high regards to anybody from the kitchen. Perhaps later on you and I can become brothers. All right, I’ll leave you alone!”
After Luo Fang left, Kou Zhong happily said, “You have good material?”
Xu Ziling sighed in praise, “Not only good material, this is basically the secret recipe of the unique school of the number one skilled craftsman in the world. For the time being we can learn two recipes, one is smoked fish, the other is Jinhua’s sweet and crispy. Come on! Processing takes time, while we don’t have much time. We can talk while working. Tonight, we, the Twin Chefs of the Central Plain, will show off our great skill, which will shake the four seats. Those who eat it will sincerely convinced and ready to concede. Won’t it beat martial art superiority?”
Kou Zhong’s ‘old pride’ swelled up; he laughed and said, “Why, of course! It would be best if after eating it, Shang Xiuxun would give her heart to you, Great Chef Xu; that would be even more blissful! Ha …”
Seeing Kou Zhong would never change his character, Xu Ziling said irately, “Come on! This treasured dish is called ‘Saber Fish of Yangtze River’, Mr. Lu said that if we mix and stir it with eggs, sauce and flour, and make it into strips, and then smoke it until crisp, it will be so tasty that after eating it, even the blinds would want to open their eyes. Get out! Less talking about your dream of vying over the world.”
After all the ingredients were ready, the two boys were busy non-stop.
By dusk, the smoked fish and the sweet and crispy were ready.
It was only then did the two boys remember that not even half a grain of rice entered their tummy that day. Without any scruple they helped themselves to a piece of smoked fish each and ate it with total delight.
Kou Zhong chewed and spoke, “Such delicious food, I can’t believe it came from our hands. We’d better do obeisance and take that old fellow as our master, see if he has other consummate skills we can learn from him.”
This moment, Xiao Juan and Big Sister Fu decided to honor the kitchen with their presence. Seeing the two boys embezzled the food, the former’s almond eyes grew big as she scolded them, “You two are really brazen; you have the cheek to eat the food meant to entertain the guest to your fill.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “We are only checking the taste. Hey! This smoked fish still lack a little bit, let me add a bit more sauce and check it again.”
Grabbing another piece of smoked fish, he made a show of basting it with more sauce, and then wolfed it down his stomach with total abandon.
The two women were at a loss on how to deal with him. Big Sister Fu said crossly, “Changzhu’s order, although during the banquet you will serve nearby, you will also have to introduce Jiangnan delicacy to the guests. Do you understand?”
Xu Ziling did not like the crowd; even worse, he did not like to be other people’s servants who were sent to do their bidding. Pretending to be exhausted, he said, “We have been busy all day long, our body weary, our strength exhausted early on; can we be excused from this one obligation?”
Xiao Juan laughed and said, “What one obligation or half obligation? Are you being drafted to fight a war? Changzhu has high regards on you, that’s the reason she is willing to let you increase your knowledge by getting involved in this occasion. Whatever Changzhu says is the golden rule; disobedience is punishable by beheading. Are you clear?”
Big Sister Fu smiled sweetly and said, “In the Ranch, nobody else is like you, who make things happen but love to act behind the scene. Quickly get those things and come with me, Changzhu wants to sample it first!”
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