Book 26 Chapter 9 – Meeting Again at Different Place
This would be Kou Zhong’s third visit to Jiujiang.
The first time was the trip to assassinate Ren Shaoming, which propelled his and Xu Ziling’s fame of fighting prowess, which inspired awe throughout the empire.
The second time was on their way to break the siege on the Flying Horse Ranch, where they had to pass through this city, and accidentally rescued back Luo Fang.
Because this place was within Xiao Xian’s sphere of influence, Kou Zhong had to be extra careful. Not only he put on the mask that transformed him into a full-bearded man with aquiline nose, he also wrapped a piece of cloth around the Moon in the Well’s scabbard, which was a common practice at that time, hence it did not look so out of place.
Although the Song Family had good relationship with Xiao Xian, but during this time, Kou Zhong did not dare to disembark at the dock; he instructed the Song Family disciples who took him there to go about a li downstream from Jiujiang before letting him off, and then he rushed along the coast toward Jiujiang.
His plan was that after reaching Jiujiang, he would look for a passenger ship going along the Chang Jiang to the north toward the Han River and continued on to Xiangyang. Not only it would save him energy, he was hoping, relying on his quick mouth, to get familiar with the other passengers on board, and then enter the city together, so that he would not attract any attention.
Very soon he was already outside the city wall of Jiu Jiang.
Jiujiang was an important city along the water way of Yangtze River; it was prosperous and bustling with activities. On the coastal area moored nearly a thousand ships and boats, big and small, connected by sampan [flat-bottomed wooden boat]; their sail and banner filled the sky. On the shore, mule carts and horse carriages going back and forth in unending stream.
Xiao Xian’s Great Liang Dynasty’s army were setting up checkpoints in strategic places and intersections, the security was very tight, the situation was quite intimidating.
Jiujiang City was the focal point of the struggle between Xiao Xian’s Liang Army and Lin Shihong’s Chu Army. Whoever could control this highly strategic city would be equal to having the ability to choke the throat of the Great River and the waterway west of Lake Poyang.
Currently it had fallen into the Liang Army’s hands. Even if Lin Shihong could control Poyang and the waterways of the south, he could advance neither to the west nor the north; hence he was unable to move a single step.
To the east there were Du Fuwei, Li Zitong, and Shen Faxing, which made it even more difficult for Lin Shihong to advance even for a cun. However, since Zhu Jiang [sic] and Xiao Xian became enemies, after many battles, both sides’ strength suffered considerable injury, hence the Chu Army, who, all along, had been under pressure from Xiao Xian that they could not breathe, was beginning to get restless.
According to the Song Family’s intelligence, Lin Shihong was building up his navy in Lake Poyang, with the intention of invading Jiujiang.
Kou Zhong carried a pass of safe conduct issued by the Song Family, so he entered Jiujiang without any difficulty at all. As he was going down the memory lane, unconsciously his thoughts and feelings were stirred.
After seven days of cultivation in hiding, not only he was able to fuse and thread together the saber technique he learned from Song Que, taking advantage of the rarely-found leisure time among his busyness these days, he even went one step further by assimilating it with the real combat experience he gained for the past few years, into a comprehensive and systematic thought.
By the time he left the boat, he felt completely brand new, as if in the cultivation of the saber way, it was only this moment that he could consider to be great achievement.
He was about to find an inn to stay for the night, when a horse-drawn carriage, which had just entered the city, passed by his side. He heard a faint female voice speaking inside the carriage, and Kou Zhong’s heart shivered slightly. The voice sounded familiar, but momentarily he was unable to recall to whom the voice belonged to.
Even more baffling was, why, on this noisy big street, crowded with people and vehicles to bursting point, he was able to distinctly hear the voice inside a carriage speeding past? In the past, this was practically an impossibility.
His heart was moved, he decided to follow the carriage closely.
From the north gate, the target carriage was traveling southbound along the main street, and then turned into another big street heading east.
Focusing his power into his ears, Kou Zhong was able to hear two women talking inside the carriage. He heard that quite familiar female voice saying, “We have investigated Gong Chenchun’s background; he must be the martial art master who many years ago ran amuck for a period of time around YunGui region. Afterwards, for some unknown reason he offended many people, and disappeared without any trace. Unexpectedly this time he returned to Jianghu and has become that formidable. From the saber scar on his face, he earned the nickname ‘Dao Ba Ke’ [saber scar guest].”
Kou Zhong’s heart was shaken; could it be that she was talking about Xu Ziling’s disguise of the Scar-faced Hero?
Another female voice coldly said, “Facing Fa Nan and Chang Zhen, he was able to inflict heavy injury on Fa Nan in just one move, so his martial art skill has reached the universally-shocking level. How could such person suddenly appear in Jianghu without any rhyme or reason? I wonder if he is Xu Ziling in disguise? Both he and Kou kid have the ability to change their appearance.”
‘Wonderful!’ Kou Zhong cried inwardly. Not only he was able to confirm that this Gong Chenchun was indeed Xu Ziling, but also because of the mention of Fa Nan and Chang Zhen’s names, he was able to guess that the woman must be Bai Qing’er; and the other was a Yin Gui Pai elder, with whom he has had predestined affinity to battle in Luoyang, Wen Caiting.
How could there be such a coincidence?
Bai Qing’er said, “At first I also had the same suspicion, because the time and the place were quite fitting. But according to the latest intelligence, this Gong Chenchun is a hundred percent gambling ghost; wherever the boat stop, there he would go gambling, and his gambling method is quite ruthless. Do you think Xu Ziling could be this kind of man? In any case, when his ship arrives tonight, we can ascertain his foundation.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong’s confidence was immediately shaken. Nobody knew Xu Ziling better than he. Not only Xu Ziling was not good at gambling, he did not even understand gambling.
Apparently Wen Caiting was also persuaded by Bai Qing’er; she said, “According to what you said, he can’t be Xu Ziling. But no matter who he is, capturing Xiaochang back is secondary; Zhangmen Shijie issued strict order to eliminate this man at all cost. Do you have any information on your Bian Shishu [martial uncle]? I haven’t seen him since we parted in Chengdu.”
Bai Qing’er sighed and said, “Under An Long and You Niaojuan’s joint attack, Bian Shishu received serious internal injury; fortunately Shijie came in time to rescue him and sent him to a secret place to recuperate. Wen Shishu may set your heart at ease.”
This moment the carriage turned into a mansion. Kou Zhong did not dare to recklessly charge inside, so he quietly left. At the same time, he was inwardly happy. Yin Gui Pai assembled their manpower here to deal with this gambler called Gong Chenchun. This guy must be very formidable that he could alert Zhu Yuyan to send martial art master of elder level to deal with him. Could it be that he had three heads and six arms?
By this time, just like Wen Caiting, he did not believe that ‘Ba Lian Ke’ [scar-faced guest] was Xu Ziling’s ‘ba lian daxia’ [Scar-faced Hero]. He figured that he would stay one night in Jiujiang. If this Gong Chenchun did not come tonight, he might try to find Yin Gui Pai’s lair and strike them [feminine] and put them in a sorry state. The most important thing was naturally to test the saber technique that Song Que imbued on him.
Thinking to this point, his mood was improving tremendously.
He had just entered the main street leading to the north gate when a group of riders galloped into the city. The leader was unexpectedly the Gang Leader of Jukun Bang, with whom he has had endless gratitude and grudges entanglement, Yun Yuzhen.
Kou Zhong had thought of the possibility of coming across her here, but he never expected that he would see her as soon as he entered the city. New animosity and old hatred rushed forth in his heart, he quietly ran after them.
Xu Ziling was still deep in thought while facing the beautiful scenery of the Three Gorges when Lei Jiuzhi pushed the door and entered in. Sitting down next to him, he said, “There’s still one sichen before we arrive in Jiujiang. Lin Lang might make arrangement for us to stay in an inn that have some connection with them. Tonight we are going to kick the gambling ghost Zha Hai’s gathering place.”
“How do you feel about Gongliang Ji’s character?” Xu Ziling asked.
Gongliang Ji was the medicinal ingredient businessman who was cheated by the con-artist Lai Chaogui until he lost his family fortune.
Lei Jiuzhi said, “I asked Lin Lang, Gongliang Ji was telling the truth. Gongliang Family is big philanthropist, famous in Qinghua region; they give away medicine to poor people. Therefore, although their medicinal ingredient business is very big, their family property is not so much. Wu Jiang Bang’s Sha Laoda [big boss] is sending him to Jiujiang without charging a single cent. Not only that, he also instructed Lin Lang to plead with people who have some face within the gangs and societies in Jiujiang to help, but naturally they won’t be as good as our Gong Ye’s rough hand and strong fist.”
After hanging around each other for many days, the two men got along so well that they did not stand on ceremony anymore.
Xu Ziling said, “I want to take care of Gongliang Ji’s rotten account first before going to the casino.”
Lei Jiuzhi said, “This is called ‘the money is in the bandit’s hand, once we go, there is no turning back’. Killing him is not going to make any sense. It would be better if we could win Gongliang Ji’s money back on the gambling table.”
“Aren’t you contradicting yourself?” Xu Ziling crossly said, “If he already squandered away the money he cheated from him, then what’s the difference between using blade or using gambling table? In the end we won’t get the money back.”
Remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, Lei Jiuzhi said, “We shout and scream to force him to return the money, if he is willing to follow Jianghu rules and return fifty-percent, it could be considered pretty good. But on the gambling table, he cannot but follow casino rules. Whatever amount he loses, he must pay in full. Casinos attach most importance to trust; he won’t dare to mess with it.”
Frowning deeply, Xu Ziling said, “How are you going to lure Lai Chaogui to gamble big against us?”
With a card up his sleeve, Lei Jiuzhi replied, “From Gongliang Ji and Lin Lang’s mouth, I already understood this person’s style. Speaking about cheating in gambling, all those ‘in order to capture, one must let loose’, bluffing, ‘engaging in fraudulent activities’, he does not even have the qualification to be my disciple or grandson. As long as Ling Shao is willing to stay in Jiujiang for two more days, I guarantee he will be caught by my fishing hook.”
Xu Ziling seriously said, “I’ll give you two days. Otherwise, we will proceed according to my distinguished method.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Lei Jiuzhi said, “It’s really strange, how come Yin Gui Pai does not shown any sign of acitivity?”
Xu Ziling analyzed, “Yin Gui Pai, with Wanwan as the main force, deployed their martial art masters into Bashu. Because of her lofty position, Zhu Yuyan can’t possibly undertake this task personally, while naturally moving an army and sending a general takes time. But Jiujiang is their last chance. After this, finding us will not be so easy.”
Lei Jiuzhi laughed and said, “He has a good plan, I have a ladder to climb over the wall. As soon as you, this Gong Chenchun, suddenly vanish from the human world, even if Zhu Yuyan personally came, what can she possibly do?”
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, “I may be able to avoid her momentarily, but I can’t avoid her for a lifetime. In the end, I will have to meet with Zhu Yuyan and the others, to take this opportunity to battle them. You, along with Gongliang Ji and Lin Lang, must not be seen together with me. We will contact each other using some secret method; won’t it be more interesting and fun?”
Kou Zhong went to the inn’s public bath. After heartily washed himself clean, he went down the street. It was early evening, the time when the lanterns were first lit. The street was bustling with noise. The people going back and forth on the streets were traveling merchants from all over the place and all kinds of Jianghu characters.
When he was following Yun Yuzhen before, it was not until she entered the governmental mansion Zhenjiang Lou [lit. town and river building, not sure if this is a name], representing Jiujiang political power, located at the city center, that he continued his quest for an inn to have a rest.
Up to this point, he still did not know how to deal with her.
If using secret assassination method, based on his current saber technique, skill and experience, after the mission was accomplished, he would still be able to leave easily. But he was well aware that he would not be able to make his move.
He has always had a soft heart toward women.
He selected a restaurant from which he could watch the north gate as he dined. If that guy called Gong Chenchun was coming from Bashu by boat via the Three Gorges to Jiujiang, he ought to be coming from the dock outside the city.
Jiujiang actually had a waterway that went directly inside the city, but it was restricted for the Liang Navy boats’ use only. All other ships and boats, without exception, must drop anchor outside the city.
The two tables by the door were already occupied, while from the rest of the room, one could not see the situation outside the shop. Unleashing his consummate skill ‘money can get through the gods’, Kou Zhong took out three taels of silver and came to one of the table, ‘Bang!’ he slapped the silver onto the table. He smiled and said, “If you are willing to let me have this table, you can divide the silver among yourselves.”
Those three men were obviously friends; without second thought they took the silver, paid the bill and left, for fear that if they were even half a step late, this ostentatious, ugly-looking foolish man would go back on this deal.
Again, Kou Zhong heavily tipped the attendant, ignoring the gaze with raised eyebrows of the entire shop, and said, “Give me full set of bowls and chopsticks, I am meeting friends.”
The waiter, as if he received imperial decree, followed the order and obeyed wholeheartedly, and waited on him in every possible way.
Kou Zhong made a big show of sitting down and untied the Moon in the Well from his back and put it on the table. This way, unless someone ate leopard gall bladder, nobody would dare to sit at his table.
After ordering food and wine, Kou Zhong gazed at the main street leading into the city. There was still a steady stream of traveling merchants from out of town entering the city; it was a level of prosperity that was a bit out of place.
When the waiter returned to offer the good wine, Kou Zhong casually asked, “I never thought that Jiujiang would be this lively.”
The waiter laughed politely and said, “Daye didn’t know, but they all came to take advantage of the excitement of Yin Ru Ge’s annual gambling meet.” And then, lowering his voice he went on, “The extent of your luck not only limited to the chance of winning money, there will also be beautiful women keeping you company all night. Daye, tell me, who would want to miss this opportunity?”
Kou Zhong’s heart was moved, thinking that this casino’s style was rather like Xiang Yushan’s casino, plus Jiujiang was currently Baling Bang’s territory. Perhaps this Yin Ru Ge was under his Xiang Family’s management as well.
Thinking to this point, murderous intent flared out in his heart. But on the surface he remained calm and collected as he laughed aloud and said, “Turns out there is such a fun place like that. When it comes to gambling, my luck has always been not bad. Which way to the Yin Ru Ge?”
After taking the time to give Kou Zhong a detailed direction, the waiter turned around to wait on other guests.
While Kou Zhong was still deep in thought, a voice, reverent and respectful, rang out by his side, saying, “Daye, please forgive Xiaoren’s offense by disturbing you.”
Kou Zhong looked up. The speaker was a man about forty years old, slightly-built, with the pale complexion of a man who had excessive wine and women. Although he was trying to show some kind frank and honest look, his narrow eyes revealed his sly character. His countenance was not bad, but experienced person would be able to see that he was the kind of Jianghu people who make a living by stealing and swindling.
Kou Zhong knew that he would violate the ‘wealth does not betray the eyes’ big taboo of the Jianghu by inciting this drooling drifter. But since he was bored, plus this kind of person was an ideal candidate if he wanted to go one step further by inquiring about everything pertaining to Yin Ru Ge, thereupon he said, “Sit down and tell me!”
As if he was overwhelmed by favor from superior, the man sat down to Kou Zhong’s left and spoke in flattering way, “Xiaoren Liu An; Daye, may I ask your honorable surname and great given name?”
Kou Zhong was disgusted, but he forced himself to suppress his irritation toward this man. “Whatever you want to say, just say it, don’t talk nonsense,” he replied impatiently.
In fear and trepidation, Liu An said, “Daye, please calm down. It is because Xiaoren noticed Daye’s outstanding appearance, with marvelous shine across your face, and good luck imminent on your countenance – that I am thinking of a good proposal that I guarantee Daye will be pleased.”
Kou Zhong sniggered inwardly. His appearance right now was certainly extremely outstanding, but it was the unbearably-ugly kind of outstanding. However, on the surface he put on an act that he took the compliment at face value. Staring at Liu An, he said, “If after you tell me and I am dissatisfied, I am going to chop you with this saber.”
Liu An hastily smiled apologetically and said, “Daye really loves to joke.” And then, leaning closer, he spoke in low voice, “Isn’t Daye interested to try your luck at the Yin Ru Ge? Not only Xiaoren can take you in, but I can also help Daye’s skill to put everyone there under control; you can obtain both the money and the people.”
Displeased, Kou Zhong said, “You think I am an idiot? If you really have such ability, why not use your skill to put everyone under control? Why would you want to give me the advantage? Get the hell out of here right now, or I’ll kill you for real.”
Liu An hastily said, “Daye, please listen to Xiaoren’s explanation. Here’s the truth: the highlight of the gambling meet is the Tian Jiu [lit. heavenly nine, Tien Gow] competition, which will be held tomorrow night. Whoever can win the highest number of gaming chips will be declared the winner. But those who want to enter the contest must register three days ago, and have to be present for the draw to determine the table and the opponents. Look!”
Spreading out his right hand, he revealed a uniquely-shaped bronze token, engraved with a number and Yin Ru Ge logo; the lines were very fine.
Staring blankly, Kou Zhong said, “Are you trying to sell me this bronze token? Humph! You really know how to do business.”
Liu An put away the bronze token; he laughed and said, “My problem is that I lack the gambling capital. Simply because the gambling meet provision stated that the competitor must purchase gaming chips worth twenty taels of gold, those who lose everything will be immediately kicked out of the arena. This was the reason I was looking for Daye to work together.”
Kou Zhong was not interested to continue talking with him. Shaking his head, he said, “I’m sorry, in my pocket right now, scraping to the east and gathering from the west, I only have twelve taels of gold. Therefore, it does not matter how brilliant my gambling skill is, I still lack eight taels of gold before I can even qualify. Just get lost and go find your second fat sheep!”
While Kou Zhong thought that Liu An would sound out the difficulties and retreat to avoid defeat, Liu An rolled his rat-eyes, and without changing his expression at all he laughed and said, “No problem; as long as Daye is willing to cooperate, isn’t winning eight taels of gold as easy as a hand’s turn? Tonight, Jiujiang’s streets are crowded with sheep to the bursting point; as long as we have enough capital in hand, Xiaoren can work together with Daye to make a lot of money.”
This moment the dish arrived. Kou Zhong perfunctorily said, “Let me think about it!”
“Of course! Of course!” Liu An replied, “If Daye is interested in Xiaoren’s proposal, you can go to Yin Ru Ge to look for Xiaoren. Xiaoren is an expert in reading people’s aura; Daye is currently in the winning form. Otherwise, Xiaoren would not waste that much time explaining.”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Kou Zhong said, “If we get enough money to be exchanged with gaming chips, who would compete? Will it be you, or me?”
Liu An said, “Of course Daye can personally play. Afterwards, Xiaoren will be perfectly content to get ten percent.”
Kou Zhong nodded and said, “All right! If I’m interested, I will look for you at Yin Ru Ge tonight.”
Thinking that he had persuaded Kou Zhong; Liu An left in high spirits.
Kou Zhong snickered inwardly. Lifting his chopsticks, he was about to pick the dish when Xu Ziling’s Scar-faced Hero swaggered into the city from the north city gate.
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