Chapter 11 – Under Heavy Rewards
Book 10 Chapter 11 – Under Heavy Rewards
By midday the next day, the boat reached Hannan, another big city before Jingling. Entering the full harbor, they cast anchor at the dock. They saw boats coming back, but not one boat heading towards Jingling. The boatman went out to ask around, but the opinion differed.
Some said there were pirates blocking the water ways, some said the City of Jingling had been taken over by the Jianghuai Army, some even said that there was a water demon in the river, boring into the passing boats. In short, the people were in turmoil, nobody dared to proceed toward Jingling.
Naturally this boatman was no exception. No matter how Xu Yang and the others tempted him, offering more money, he was unwilling to take the risk. Finally the boatman said, “How about if I sell this boat to you, and you can take it to Jingling yourself?”
Xu Yang and the others looked at each other in dismay; simply because no one knew how to sail.
Kou Zhong ‘stepped forward bravely’; he slapped his chest to indicate ‘leave it to me’.
And thus the transaction, involving a huge amount of money, took place.
After the boatman and his sailors left, carrying their gold in great delight, Kou Zhong said, “We left our luggage and supplies at Xiangyang, and now since we are already in Hannan, we might as well go into the city to buy some supplies and make preparations. It would be best if we could buy a dozen or so strong bows and a thousand or so arrows, so that if something happens, we would not be caught in a difficult situation.”
He added, “Also, some kerosene, oil cloth, and other materials. I am skilled in water battle; we will use fire to attack, so must not be unprepared.”
Shang Xiuxun, who was still wearing men’s clothing, asked in doubt, “You really know how to do it?”
Immensely proud of himself, Kou Zhong said, “Haven’t you heard about my bold and powerful victory over the Haisha Bang? If I did not have any weight in maritime warfare, how could I deal big blow on Haisha Bang?”
Liang Zhi modestly asked, “So what else do you want to buy?”
Seeing Xu Ziling snickering on the side, Kou Zhong shouted, “What’s so funny?” And then he gave them a shopping list.
Wu Yan, Luo Fang and the others listened with respectful attention, and then they left noisily, entered town and spread out to do some serious shopping.
With nothing else to do, Kou Zhong proposed that they go to a restaurant by the dock to eat lunch.
Liang Zhi shook his head and said, “This is not a good time. It was not easy for us to obtain this ship. You go ahead! I’ll stay to guard the ship.”
Shang Peng and Shang He also refused to go ashore.
Seeing Kou Zhong looking at her expectantly and making an eye signal, Shang Xiuxun’s heart softened. “Very well!” she agreed.
Xu Ziling wanted to go back to his room to rest, but Kou Zhong pulled him to come along.
※ ※ ※
As soon as Shang Xiuxun stepped into the restaurant, she wrinkled her brows.
Turned out the inside was crowded to its bursting point; the restaurant was full with people from all trades, so that all thirty or so tables were filled to capacity.
Shang Xiuxun turned around and was about to leave. But Kou Zhong pulled her sleeve and said, “Changzhu, don’t worry, subordinate can make arrangement.”
Shaking off his hand, Shang Xiuxun said, “If you want me to sit on the same table as these people, just forget it. If you want to squeeze in, just squeeze in yourself!”
Giggling, Kou Zhong’s said, “I told you not to worry. Changzhu’s temperament, we are quite clear about it. Just give me a few taels of silver first! I’ll clear up a table immediately. You’ll see.”
Shang Xiuxun crossly said, “You have no money?”
Smiling mischievously, Kou Zhong said, “I have a little bit, but how can I be compared to Changzhu whose riches rank high in the world?”
Shang Xiuxun painstakingly held her temper in check; she grabbed three taels of silver and dropped it on his outstretched palm.
Kou Zhong took the money and boldly marched away.
Shang Xiuxun scooted over toward Xu Ziling, who was standing quietly with his hands behind his back. She spoke gently, “I have not yet had the opportunity to thank you!”
Xu Ziling knew she was referring to that night, where they fought a hard battle side-by-side; he smiled and said, “That was an unforgettable memory; I should be the one who thanks you.”
“Pfft!” Shang Xiuxun burst into a tender giggle and said, “You and Kou Zhong are practically two very different kinds of people, I really don’t understand how you can mingle together. He loves to brag about little things and speaks about it as if it was a big thing; but you love to play down big things as if it was an insignificant matter.”
Xu Xiling said, “Under normal circumstances, he is indeed, as you said, that kind of person; but in really important matters, in no way would he act willfully and make a scene. Otherwise everybody would have seen his other side!”
Shang Xiuxun’s pretty face suddenly reddened; she said in a low voice, “I suddenly feel very happy. Do you want to know why?”
A peculiar feeling crept into Xu Ziling’s heart; he asked in astonishment, “What makes Changzhu suddenly opens up your heart?”
Shang Xiuxun shrugged her tender and beautiful shoulders, and said nonchalantly, “No reason at all. Since I became Changzhu, this is the first time I feel happy for no particular reason. I only had this kind of feeling when I was little; I had never expected that today I can relive my childhood feeling.”
Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Changzhu’s remark is really thought-provoking. Hey! That kid succeeded!”
Under heavy rewards, the waiter led them to a small table by the window. Not only nobody else try to sit on it, they could also their eyes on scenic view of the Han River pier.
After taking the order, the waiter bowed respectfully and left.
Satisfied, Shang Xiuxun said, “You do have a knack on doing things like this; but three taels of silver to buy an empty table is kind of expensive.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Only one tael of silver.”
“What about the other two?” Shang Xiuxun asked in surprise.
Without even thinking, Kou Zhong replied, “To pay the bill later, of course! Right now you are dressed like a pampered, spoiled brat, a white-faced Gongzi of noble family; naturally you’ll have attendants like us who’d settle the bill. Look! There are already people who stare at you with drools on their mouth.”
Shang Xiuxun’s entire face was burning; she spoke ferociously, “Really dog’s mouth won’t grow ivory; can’t you speak a bit more proper and polite?”
Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself; he said, “Changzhu has fallen into a trap. He deliberately said those things to divide your attention, so that you won’t force him to spit out the money he already pocketed. Do you think the wine and food we ordered will cost as much as two taels of silver?”
Shang Xiuxun was delighted, “Very good!” she said, “Xiao Ling is helping me!” Turning toward Kou Zhong, she spread her palm wide and protested coquettishly, “Give it back!”
Kou Zhong grabbed her delicate jade-palm; scrutinizing it, he analyzed, “This palm has three peaks, meaning fame and profit of every kind!”
Blushing profusely, Shang Xiuxun pulled her hand back, and crossly said, “How could you be this rude?”
“Not fair!” Kou Zhong cried, “Just now Changzhu let Xiao Ling pulled your hand to have a heart-to-heart talk, but now I can’t even read your palm?”
Greatly embarrassed, Shang Xiuxun said, “How can there be such thing?”
From the corner of her eye she caught Xu Ziling was bursting out laughing; she realized she had fallen into his trap again. Stomping her feet, she said, “Don’t think that I will fall into your trickery again! Quickly take out the silver you embezzled.”
Finished speaking, she covered her laughing mouth again, prompting more people to stare at her charming, pretty beyond human comprehension, pampered son of a wealthy family look.
Kou Zhong’s tiger-eyes flashed with cold rays; sweeping the restaurant, he scared those people that they hastily averted their gaze.
Shang Xiuxun laughed until she was out of breath; she said, “If you, Kou Daye is in urgent need of some money, eight or ten ingots of gold, I won’t be stingy; why would you bother embezzling me a mere two taels of silver?”
Kou Zhong heaved a sigh of relief; flashing his brilliant smile, he said, “Men who stretch out their hand to ask for money are the most useless. Only those who have guts will earn money with all his heart and all his strength.”
Hearing that, Xu Ziling’s heart was moved.
These sentences pretty much summed up Kou Zhong’s frame of mind in his endeavor to vie over the world; he disdained to do it just by hanging his hands by his side. The more difficult and the more challenging it was, he would be most interested; otherwise, he would have accepted Du Fuwei’s hard to refuse proposal the other day.
Shang Xiuxun seemed to be in very good mood; she no longer argued with Kou Zhong. Meanwhile the waiter returned with their food. The two boys leaned over and started to chew. But she cast her gaze outside the window, looking at the boats turning back from the Han River.
“Who could tell me what had actually happened in Jingling?” she mused.
With his mouth full of food, Kou Zhong mumbled, “One ingot of gold!”
“What?” Shang Xiuxun blurted out, “I have not even settled the account of those two taels of silver with you, and now you want to be a hopeless ghost who demand money?”
Deadpan, Kou Zhong said, “Under heavy rewards, there will be brave men. You want news, others want gold. It’s fair and square!”
Seeing his outlandish behavior, Shang Xiuxun could not help glowering at him; but in the end she fished out an ingot of gold, while speaking disdainfully, “It’s easy for you to say; one tael of silver to buy an empty table, one ingot of gold to buy ghost news, but you don’t know whether the person wanting to earn the gold will tell you rubbish.”
 People from all trades - Orig. Three Religions (Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism) and Nine Schools (Confucians, Daoists, Yin-yang, Legalists, Logicians, Mohists, Political Strategists, Eclectics, Agriculturists).
Chapter 11 - Part 2
Kou Zhong swallowed his food. Sighing contentedly, he said, “Money is supposed to be spent; money that don’t get to be spent is a waste. This is a ‘money in exchange of goods’ society, if it is used properly, not only it could make you enjoy everything comfortably, it could also make your life more colorful, and could even earn you fame and profit, and power too, to such an extent that the Emperor’s throne is not impossible to obtain.”
Shang Xiuxun was emotionally moved. “Turns out you want to be like others who vie for the throne. But the money you spent so far has been mine!”
As the spectator, Xu Ziling was able to see more clearly. He knew that Kou Zhong has been going all out to win Shang Xiuxun’s heart, to make her happy, and thus greatly reduced the distance between the two, so that in the future this beauty would support him.
Against all expectation, Kou Zhong suddenly rose up to his full height and raised the gold high above his head. “Whoever can tell me what’s going on in Jingling, this gold will become his!” he shouted loudly.
His voice was full of energy; it immediately subdued the clamor that the noisy restaurant gradually quieted down. Everybody’s eyes were on him. As soon as they saw the glittering yellow gold high up in the air, seventy-percent of the people there shouted, “I know!” and then stood up hurriedly, so that the restaurant was in an uproar.
Kou Zhong pulled his Moon in the Well and waved it lightly; fast as lightning the treasured saber soared and embedded itself deep into the beam.
While the blade that was outside the beam was still quivering endlessly, Kou Zhong thundered, “I am Kou Zhong who cut off Ren Shaoming’s bird [or pen1s] head. If anybody dares to babbling nonsense to deceive me, or perhaps simply giving me news that everybody already knew, I will immediately break his mother’s egg.”
After this, one after another the people sat back, no longer made any noise. Right this moment, a middle-aged man in scholar attire stood up smoothly, with an unspeakable calmness.
Kou Zhong said, “Everybody continue eating, your Daye does not like to be looked at!”
Everybody kept quiet out of fear; they simply buried their heads in the dining table. The sound of laughing and chatting was greatly reduced as well.
Pointing to the middle-aged scholar, Kou Zhong called, “You, come here!”
And then, sitting pompously, he said to Shang Xiuxun, who was still laughing like a trembling stem of flower, “Interesting! This is the power of gold combined with the saber.”
Shang Xiuxun rolled her coquettish eyes to him, and swore under her breath, “A dead evil tyrant whose entire body is covered in copper stench.” But at the same time there was a peculiar feeling rising up in her fragrant heart.
All along, in the Flying Horse Ranch she was aloof and remote. Forget about playing or joking with others, she did not even have anybody with whom she could vent up to unload her mind. Yet the kid in her presence was able to make her bursting with joy, mixed with bashful and anger, which was difficult to differentiate.
It was undeniably a fresh and moving feeling.
She could not help shooting a quick glance toward Xu Ziling, who appeared to be deep in thought; a totally different type of person, yet was also able to pull her heartstrings.
The middle-aged scholar came to their table. The waiter hurriedly added a chair for him, while continuously blabbering ‘Kou Ye this’ and ‘Kou Ye that’ for fear that his service was unsatisfactory.
After the waiter withdrew, Kou Zhong put the gold in front of the scholar, and said with an indifferent laugh, “Let me hear first what makes you qualified to earn this gold.”
The scholar smiled and said, “Zaixia Xu Xingzhi, a public figure in Jingling; formerly I held an official post as the secretary of Duba Village’s Right Vanguard Fang Daoyuan, and only this morning I came here by boat. Kou Ye, do you think this qualification is enough?” [Translator’s note: different ‘Xu’ surname from Xu Ziling’s.]
The man spoke with grace, his demeanor calm and collected, neither servile nor overbearing. The three could not help sizing him up again.
Xu Xingzhi looked to be approximately thirty, his gaze ran deep without betraying his emotion, obviously he was well versed in martial arts and possessed considerable skills. His long eyes and straight nose, combined with his five-strand long beard, which matched very well with his delicate features, gave him the impression that he looked like a Taoist immortal.
Kou Zhong nodded, “No question about that,” he said, “Please continue!”
Xu Xingzhi looked up at the Moon in the Well stuck in the beam; he said slyly, “The first thing in military operation is to gain military intelligence. I wonder if Kou Ye would be willing to add another ingot of gold?”
While Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were looking at each other in disbelief, Shang Xiuxun already took out another ingot of gold and heavily dropped it on the table in front of the scholar. Letting out a cold humph, she said, “If what you say is not worth two ingots of gold, I will cut off your ear.”
Xu Xingzhi laughed aloud. He put the two ingots of gold into his pocket, and then calmly, without any sign of fear, he said, “Don’t worry, I totally earn these two ingots of gold.”
A bit impatient, Kou Zhong said, “Speak up quickly!”
Xu Xingzhi was still calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos; he said slowly, “Right now Jingling has worries outside and trouble inside. On the outside is Jianghuai Army’s massive military force besieging the city, cutting off the water and land transport. In the inside is gorgeous female demon causing internal strife, brothers are massacring each other.”
Kou Zhong and the others’ countenance changed immediately; at the same time they felt that the two ingots of gold were money well spent.
Xu Ziling asked heavily, “Is that demon called Wanwan by any chance?”
This time it was Xu Xingzhi’s turn to be astonished; he said, “This gentleman must be Xu Ye! How do you know that woman Wanwan?”
“Let’s talk about that later,” Shang Xiuxun interjected, “Tell me Jingling’s situation in details, don’t miss anything at all.”
Xu Xingzhi said, “And id Zaixia is not mistaken, Miss must be the Flying Horse Ranch’s Changzhu, Shang Xiuxun, because only she would be so concerned about Jingling, and only she would be so liberal with money.”
The three people were moved again; they had a feeling that this Xu Xingzhi was not simple at all. Naturally Shang Xiuxun’s bossy demeanor [orig. order people around by pointing the chin] also contributed to give away her status as someone who was accustomed to boss people around, only Xu Xingzhi did not want to speak it out.
Kou Zhong asked, “So what happened in Jingling? And how did you know that Wanwan is a female demon? Because on the surface she is apparently a fairy.”
Xu Xingzhi smiled wryly and said, “Ever since she pretended to sleep without waking up, I have already warned Fang Ye that this woman’s background is dubious, and did not conform to reason at all. But Fang Ye simply treated my warning as the wind passing his ear, just because he is obsessed with her beauty.”
Xu Ziling asked in wonder, “Didn’t Fang Daoyuan know that Wanwan is Fang Zhuangzhu’s woman?”
Xu Xingzhi sighed and said, “That was precisely the reason I warned Fang Ye. What happened between that female demon and Fang Ye, nobody knows. But the result is that Fang Ye was killed by Fang Zetao. Fortunately, knowing that disaster was hard to avoid, I already made preparation, hence the reason I was able to escape Jingling in timely manner. Now under Fang Zetao there is no more capable general, plus the morale of his soldiers was shaken. If I were Shang Changzhu, the best strategy right now is to immediately return to the Ranch to prepare your troops for imminent war, while at the same time make contact with other powers in the area, to resist the Jianghuai Army’s invasion.”
The three people looked at each other; nobody expected that Jingling’s situation has deteriorated to this condition. Wanwan has managed to make the originally as-steady-as-iron-bucket solid fort to collapse silly and became as precarious as a pile of eggs.
Kou Zhong asked, “How’s the situation at Du Fuwei’s side?”
Xu Xingzhi replied, “Du Fuwei personally led the seventy-thousand strong main force, besieging Jingling heavily, but deliberately open up the southeast road, in order to sway Jingling people’s heart and crush their aspiration to defend their property to death. It is definitely a brilliant strategy. Right now Jingling’s power is gone, the city’s fall is just a matter between morning and evening.”
Shang Xiuxun coldly said, “The gold is yours.”
Xu Xingzhi understood that she was dismissing him. He was about to stand up and leave, when Kou Zhong’s tiger-eyes gleamed with cold rays.
“Mister Xu, what’s your future plan?” Kou Zhong asked with a smile.
Smiling wryly, Xu Xingzhi said, “I was thinking of taking refuge in Guangdong, but deep in my heart I am rather unwilling. Presently I have not made any decision yet.”
Kou Zhong probed further, “A talent such as Mister, any militia would be happy to employ. Why don’t Mister go around to try your luck?”
Xu Xingzhi sighed and said, “In terms of fame and power, nowadays Li Mi is at the top; but in terms of long-term plan, the Li Clan’s base at Guanzhong is the most advantageous. But I don’t like Li Mi’s biting the hands that feed him, and I never liked large and influential clan’s style. The rest are not worth mentioning.”
Shang Xiuxun asked in astonishment, “Li Yuan’s second son Li Shimin is talented and capable, plus he likes to befriend heroes and warriors from all over the world, he appoints talents appropriately, and washes away the degenerate custom of the rich and powerful family; why did Mister speak of him in such an inferior tone?”
Xu Xingzhi said, “If the Li Clan has Li Shimin in charge, he will be able to unify the Clan. Problem is that Li Yuan is a gutless muddle-head; unexpectedly he abandoned Li Shimin and set up his oldest son as the heir apparent. Although this man Li Jiancheng has high martial art skill, he is an obstinate and self-opinionated man, always suspicious and envy talents. Never mind! It looks like I’d better be looking for a quiet place and stay outside of the arena watching a bustling scene!”
Kou Zhong’s eyes shone even brighter. Laughing aloud, he said, “Mister was born in this world, if you don’t create a great undertaking, won’t you just turn your back on the aspiration of your heart? If it were me, rather than feeling wronged all my life, I might as well follow a dead-end road to bring forth new ideas. Even if the horse inside the hide is a dead horse, it is better than gloomily and stuffily enduring life month after month, year after year.”
Xu Xingzhi was amazed, “Turns out Kou Ye harbors magnificent aspiration in your heart. But the world’s great powers are already established, what else can we do?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “If we can find a suitable location, we can talk about it later. If I, Kou Zhong, be fated not to die in Jingling, I will see Mister in Luoyang.”
Xu Xingzhi’s countenance changed, “You still want to go to Jingling?” he asked.
Shang Xiuxun seriously replied, “Fearing calamity and turning back, how could that be what we do?”
Xu Xingzhi pondered quietly for half a day, he also sized Kou Zhong up for a while; finally making up his mind, he said, “Merely based on Kou and Xu, two Daye’s courage and insight is assassinating Ren Shaoming, I will wait for two gentlemen in Luoyang for three months.”
Immediately they decided on the secret mark with which they would contact each other; only then did Xu Xingzhi took his leave cheerfully.
After retrieving his Moon in the Well from the beam, Kou Zhong and the others rushed back to their boat. As soon as everybody was back onboard, they weighed anchor and sailed toward Jingling.