Xing Mofei slyly said, "Speaking about whip technique, there's no one inside or outside the Central Plains can match him. But speaking about person, one must not consider his martial art only. Only by having a fitting character would one make others convinced. True heroes like three gentlemen here are the kind of people that my humble Master admires and wishes to be associated with.”
Hearing that, the three looked at each other; because according to the rumor, didn't Wang Bo have a very tight relationship with Fu Qian?
Moreover, if Wang Bo was a man falling from virtue, how could a very able person who was outside the system like Liao Kong consider him an intimate friend?
Astounded, Kou Zhong asked these questions.
Xing Mofei replied with a smile, "It would be better for my humble Master, when he has time later, to personally answer these questions properly. But three gentlemen only need to look at the outstanding heroes of today. If Du Fuwei, Li Zitong, and the likes have thrown their support to be Wang Bo's subordinates, but then later on they rebelled and left him, it is obvious that this man has no capacity to hold others. Otherwise there is no way his prestige would fall under any other militias.”
And then he asked, "Are three gentlemen surprised that last night Wang Bo did not show himself?”
Amazed, the three nodded their head.
Xing Mofei laughed and said, "The logic is very simple. Because in this matter he wants to take all the credits to himself; he wants to curry favor with Shi Feixuan, but he is not a person who appreciate kindness. Toward this man, three gentlemen must be a bit more careful. As for other matters, please forgive Xiaodi because it is rather inconvenient to disclose.”
Nodding, Kou Zhong said, "Although we have just met, Xing Xiong is indeed a true friend. This was the first time that we heard this information; it is extremely useful.”
Ba Fenghan said, "But by doing that, what good would it be for Wang Bo himself? Furthermore, isn't he stating publicly that he no longer in the race for the throne [orig. hunting deer in Central Plain - please see Jin Yong's Deer and Cauldron translated by yours truly on this idiom]?”
Xing Mofei sighed and said, "Those with ambitions are always unwilling to give up their dreams. Because Xiaodi has deep respect toward the three gentlemen, I came with special purpose to reveal information that you need to know: after Yuwen Huaji returning to the north, he restructured his forces once again. By relying on his Yuwen Clan's profound foundation, he struck the gongs and beat the drums, preparing to spread out his hands and feet again. It is highly possible that he is going to form an alliance with Wang Bo, hence the reason he raised such a ruckus in the Jade Annulus of He Clan's affair.”
The three were suddenly enlightened.
Smiling bitterly, Xing Mofei continued, "Looking at three gentlemen's expression, it is clear to me that you are not going downstairs to see my humble Master.”
The four men looked at each other. Suddenly they all burst out laughing. Their laughter was filled with pride from understanding each other's heart.
Finished laughing, Xu Ziling said, "Please forgive Zaixia for brazenly asking an imperceptive question: what is the purpose of Fu Wangzi‘s [king] visit this time?”
Lowering his voice, Xing Mofei replied, "This time my humble Master came to the Central Plains, there are two principal objectives: one is to see what kind of outstanding, remarkable figures there are in the Central Plains, the other objective is to look for someone to settle an account.”
Kou Zhong's eyes shone with sharp light; he said, "The first objective is too broad that it is difficult to grasp the real meaning behind it, but since Xing Xiong is unwilling to elaborate, let's not talk about it! As for looking for someone, who is that person? Who has such a face [i.e. honor]?”
Delighted, Xing Mofei said, "Talking with you is really enjoyable; it saves me a lot of crap. The one we want to look for is Pei Ju.”
Staring blankly, Kou Zhong asked, "Who is Pei Ju? How come I've never heard his name?”
Sneering, Ba Fenghan said, "Zhong Shao, this time you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Even at our place, no one does not know Pei Ju, this man's name. It could even be said that this name stinks to high heaven; there is no one who would disagree with that.”
Xing Mofei spoke coldly, "Pei Ju was Yang Guang's chancellor who was in charge of trade and commerce, as well as public affairs of the Western Region and Old Sui's frontiers. He wrote a three-volume work entitled the ‘Maps and Notes on the Western Regions', as well as an account on the general profile of the forty-four states of the Western Region. At the end of the preface, he wrote: ‘Therefore, Magnificent Emperor ought to send envoy, without deploying troops and chariots, various foreign powers, from ‘Hun' and so on will faint and be exterminated. The United Xia will thus be here! It should be noted to some extent that our might has never transformed this far.' It was precisely because of the sentence ‘from ‘Hun' and so on will faint and be exterminated' that our Tuyuhun became rivers of blood, dead bodies lay everywhere on the fields. If we do not avenge this hatred, how could we face our dead clansmen?”
Listening to this, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were left speechless, while at the same time thinking that Fu Qian's purpose in visiting the Central Plains this time was more or less the same as Tuli's, which was to exact revenge.
The Central Plains would be a lot messier.
Ba Fenghan spoke nonchalantly, "Pei Ju has not died yet? This man is adept in driving wedges between allies; our Western Tujue was split into two factions, which attack each other endlessly. Taking advantage while we are powerless to care about anything outside, Pei Ju secretly incited the Tieles to send troops to attack Tuyuhun. This scheme is certainly vicious to the extreme, killing someone with borrowed knife, while he himself did not need to spend half a soldier.”
Xing Mofei showed grief and indignation; he said hatefully, "Even after suffering defeat from the surprise attack, our Emperor Fu Yun did not know that it was his friend, Pei the traitor who incited it in the dark; he even sent words to Pei traitor, asking for help, yet he sent two contingents of troops and horses to pursue and attack, to throw stones at someone who fell down a well. After repeatedly being under attack, finally our Emperor brought the remaining a thousand or so injured riders to escape by breaking the siege. This hatred, not one of Tuyuhun people can forget.”
Only then did Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling understand the gratitude and grudges between the Tieles, Pei Ju, and Tuyuhuns. No wonder Fu Qian went south to the Central Plains, the first thing he did was to seek Tiele's number one martial art master Qu Ao for a life and death duel.
As if he was completely unconcerned, Ba Fenghan said, "Oh! Ol' Ba nearly forget, tonight Qu Ao is mine. Just now I have had a clash with him, you can't possibly do not know about this matter?”
Xing Mofei sighed and said, "This matter is out of my hands. If Qu Ao knew that he is such in great demand, he might regret his conduct.”
And then, rising to his full height, he cupped his fist and said, "Xiaodi has other orders I need to take care of, I can't stay for long. Ba Xiong's esteemed opinion, Xiaodi will pass on to my humble Master. As for how we are going to settle it, it will be decided by my humble Master.”
After Xing Mofei left, Kou Zhong laughed and said, "It would be better for us to go out and keep watch. As soon as we see Qu Ao, we'll kill him with a vengeance. Once the main problem is solved, won't all troubles be solved?”
Nodding, Ba Fenghan said, "I was thinking the same thing. But it won't be as excited as if we have several hundred people watching on the side shouting and cheering for me.”
Kou Zhong rose up and said, "Almost forget my appointment with Song Jingang. I will be back before the chou hour. Remember to wait for me before going into action. Otherwise I won't let you get away with it.”
Xu Ziling laughed and cursed, "There's not enough time, why haven't you taken a hike?”
Immensely pleased with himself, Kou Zhong said, "When the girls come later, remember to keep an extra for me. This is called ‘blessing, we enjoy together'.”
While talking, he pushed the door, and was immediately stunned by what he saw outside.
Ba Fenghan and Xu Ziling also felt the alarm went off in their hearts; they immediately turned their heads to look at the door. But Kou Zhong's tall and sturdy figure obstructed their line of sight. All they were able to see was plain yellow gauzed skirt with lots of creases on it, and a pair of green embroidered shoes, with phoenix ornament sewed to the toes, peeking out from under the skirt.
Just from the fact that this woman was able to stand outside the door without arousing the alarm in the three men's heart, they knew that she was not someone to be trifled with.
But Kou Zhong's eyes actually shone.
The woman suddenly appeared outside their door looked to be about twenty-three, twenty-four years old. Unlike Shang Xiuxun or perhaps Shen Luoyan, who, in just one look, people could tell that they were extremely beautiful, this woman had some kind of unique hidden appeal and personality, which would stir up deep attraction within your heart.
Her demeanor was calm and sophisticated, gentle, refined and dignified; but the remarkable feature of her face was her determined look, which gave up the impression that not only was she beautiful and touching, she would not tolerate men's brazenness, that she was fearless, and full of confidence in herself, as if she firmly believed that everything she did was correct and proper.
Her shiny jet-black beautiful hair, her fair and tender skin, her slim and well-proportioned figure, her beautiful, curved eyebrows, and the deep, slender phoenix eyes under the eyebrows, combined with the faint natural delicate fragrance emitted from her body, formed a picture of beautiful woman that men would topple over it.
But the one thing attracted Kou Zhong's attention the most was the whisk, which appeared to be made of red silk, hanging diagonally across her back, slightly visible over her left shoulder. Immediately Kou Zhong was able to grasp her identity.
Surprisingly, she was the one acclaimed to be the most outstanding female martial art master, considered ‘top of the list among the generals' within Li Shimin's Tian Ce Fu [heavenly policy government], Li Jing's tender wife, the ‘Red Brush Lady'.
Her cold and detached, yet sharp gaze was focused on Kou Zhong's face; without any emotion at all she spoke indifferently, "You are Kou Zhong?”
Kou Zhong stepped aside to let Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan's sharp eyes to have good visibility on her, and then he replied in heavy voice, "It is Xiaodi. Shall I address Miss by Mrs. Li, or Li Saozi [sister-in-law]?”
Hong Funu's [i.e. Red Brush Lady] grim gaze fearlessly turned toward Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan. The moment she heard Kou Zhong's question, there seemed to be a mocking expression flashing through her eyes; she replied coldly, "That depends on how you place yourselves.”
The three were stunned; deep in their hearts they felt something was very wrong, or she would not have used such a blunt tone.
Finally Hong Funu's eyes landed on Xu Ziling. Her phoenix eyes flashed with intelligent, sharp rays, but her voice turned soft as she said, "King of Qin has something very important to discuss with two gentlemen, hence he especially sent qie [I, your servant; deprecatory self-reference for women] to invite your honored selves. This matter is of grave importance, two gentlemen must not refuse.”
Turning his eyes away from her, Ba Fenghan simply raised his cup and drained the wine in one gulp.
Kou Zhong's face showed a rather furious and complicated expression; he spoke coldly, "If it is pertaining to the Jade Annulus of He Clan, there is nothing to say.”
A fierce and sharp look flitted through Hong Funu's beautiful eyes as she stared at Kou Zhong. But before she had time to speak, Ba Fenghan already cut her off, "Why don't you go to see what he has to say? Sooner or later this matter must be resolved on way or another.”
Xu Ziling calmly said, "Zhong Shao, just go! It is up to you to decide.”
Kou Zhong was silent for half a day. Finally he nodded his agreement.
※ ※ ※
Hong Funu pushed the door open and said with a light sigh, "Get in! I wish by the time you get out, you will still be Jing Lang's [in this case, ‘lang' is the term a wife uses to refer to her husband] good Xiongdi, and not his irreconcilable enemy.”
Kou Zhong cast her an indifferent look before stepping into the room, and casually closed the door.
This room was the last side room on the third floor of the east wing of the north building; it was nearly double the size of their room.
Li Shimin was standing in front of the window with his back facing him, staring at the fish pond in the garden down below.
Hearing Kou Zhong's voice, Li Shimin sighed and said, "Do we still have any leeway in this matter?”
Walking over to the round table in the middle of the room, Kou Zhong fixed his gaze on Li Shimin's majestic, tall and straight back. "Which matter was Shimin Xiong referring to?” he spoke heavily.
Li Shimin slowly turned around. Looking deep into Kou Zhong's eyes, he said, "How many years has it been since we saw each other? Zhong Shao, you are more formidable than what I thought. Every movement you make carries the air of a martial art master of this generation. No wonder although you have enemies everywhere, nobody is able to deal with you the slightest bit; on the contrary, you were able to play with them in the palm of your hand.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, "Compared to His Royal Highness King of Qin, what is one little Kou Zhong? Since Qin Wang [King] raised your army at Taiyuan, you successively defeated old dynasty's fierce general Song laosheng [old man, but a bit more respectful] and Qu Tutong, used the few to defeat the many, and took Guanzhong by ruse; hence you are enabling your honorable Clan to occupy an advance-can-attack, retreat-can-defend, powerful base of operations. Then you went west to Zheng Long You in order to consolidate Guanzhong, and drove Xue Ju, father and son's main forces that invaded your territory back to their old nest. And now, who'd dare to underestimate your Li Family? This kind of achievement, who can match?”
Sneering, Li Shimin said, "For generations our Li Family frequently became generals, our foundation profound; as long as we have sufficient reason to send troops, with proper tactics, triumph over the opponent is as expected as a matter of course. How could we be compared to you, Zhong Shao, who's all alone in the world, yet is able to create clouds by flipping your hand, and create rain by overturning your palm, changing the situation of the world? Ha! We haven't seen each other for so long, how about sitting down and drinking a cup of wine?”
Neither for nor against it, Kou Zhong sat down.
Li Shimin raised the wine pot, poured some wine for Kou Zhong, and said with a smile, "I prefer you call me Shimin; our friendship surpasses casual acquaintances. That year, were it not for your, two brothers' help, I am afraid our Li Family would not have the respectable position of today.”
And then he sat down and raised his cup with both hands in a toast; he said, "This cup is to thank Zhong Shao in your assistance to uphold justice at the Flying Horse Ranch, to prevent Xiuning from falling into Li Tianfan's trap and Shen Luoyan's scheming.”
Scorching heat attacked his heart.
Kou Zhong grabbed his throat and called out, "Good wine! It's not poisonous, is it?”