Evidently Chunyu Wei was not too happy with his reaction; pouting her small mouth, she said, "What's so strange about it? The men I like the most are those who are spirited and forthright, not like stupid bird who get deceived and swindled left and right. It was just because you are unlike Kou Zhong, who are always showing off his crafty and sly nature, that I did not notice you. That's all.”
And then, "Hee …” she giggled, exposing her snow white and neat, adorable pearly white teeth, while her eyes showed a dreamy look, and she said tenderly, "Who would have thought that your craftiness is hidden well inside your belly, so that we could only watch helplessly as you guys slipped away easily.”
Xu Ziling did not know whether to laugh or cry, but he also felt big headache. Smiling wryly, he said, "I merely trying to find a way to escape in order to stay alive! How could you use the word ‘crafty' to describe me? And didn't you say you like Kou Zhong?”
Chunyu Wei cast him a sidelong glance and said, "I like both of you! Ay! I have to go. Aren't you going to say a few affectionate words for me? Will you come to Tujue to look for me?”
Xu Ziling awkwardly said, "In my opinion, you picked the wrong target of affection. If I was really crafty, I would have known how to coax you right now. Unfortunately, I can't even hold my own. Is there anything you want me to pass on to Kou Zhong? Pursuing people is like putting off fire, Miss must not lose the opportunity for the sake of a stupid bird like me.”
Not only Chunyu Wei did not pout playfully, she appeared to be in high spirit instead, almost to the point of euphoria, "I like what you said so much. Capable men are not afraid the women they love would look down on them. If I am late, I'll come back to look for you two. Ay Actually, Ba kid is also not bad; if he did not kill Da Shixiong [first martial brother], that would be much better!”
Xu Ziling's opinion on her rose up significantly. The most adorable aspect of this naïve, passionate young girl was her honesty and forthcoming, her hot pursuit of the bright side of life.
Chunyu Wei smiled sweetly, and lowering her voice even more, she said, "Tell Kou Zhong to be careful of Tuli; he is a crafty and cunning schemer. Shizun has never liked him. Yu Wei has to go now! Hee … It's very rare that good-looking men like you and Kou Zhong also have heroic and lofty quality.”
Xu Ziling was anxious of being late. Hearing her last remark, he felt as if he had just received the Emperor's amnesty. After mumbling some kind of farewell, he spurred his horse to gallop away.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong turned around to look; surprisingly it was Tuli and a group of Tujue martial art masters. They were jumping down their horses.
Tuli let one of his subordinate to take care of his horse, while as if he was an old friend he came over to Kou Zhong and said with a smile, "If Kou Xiong is alone, how about eating lunch together? I have an appointment with Shimin Xiong to meet here.”
Kou Zhong walked side by side with him toward the restaurant's front steps. Pretending to be pleased, he said, "Khan's good intention is highly appreciated. But not only I do have an appointment myself, last night I had a falling out with Shimin Xiong; if we eat at the same table, perhaps it will affect his appetite. Ha! We will always have another opportunity in the future.”
In his heart he was secretly wondering, Tuli and he could neither be considered friends nor foes, why suddenly be this amiable to him? Tuli was proud and arrogant, but with his status as the king of Tujue nation, he was willing to lower his voice and downplay his air; it may be assumed that he had some scheme to play.
Tuli halted his steps, and asked in low voice, "Has Ba Fenghan left?”
Following his example, Kou Zhong also stopped, and said in astonishment, "Khan has been in Luoyang for not too many days, yet your eyes and ears are this fast and abundant?”
Tuli's group of Tujue martial art masters formed a ring around them, adopting a stance of stopping anybody from walking too close to these two men, so that the guests entering the restaurant had to walk a few paces farther around them; they looked rather overbearing.
Tuli laughed and said, "To be quite honest, in a world-class strategic city like Luoyang, how could we not have eyes and ears? Much less Kou Xiong, three men, flaunted your prowess by openly riding out the gate. If we were still at a loss, do we even need to mingle in the Central Plains?”
Kou Zhong smiled and replied, "Since Khan is able to see through our deliberate ostentatious display, you must also know that Ba Xiong has some other clever method that he is not afraid of being tracked!”
A murderous aura flitted through Tuli's eyes, but it vanished as quickly. He calmly said, "Ba Fenghan may be able to evade other people, but definitely he won't be able to avoid Ba Dai'er. One, because she is well acquainted with all Ba Fenghan's tactics. Two, because her Enshi [benevolent master] Zhao Deyan Guoshi [teacher of the state, Athena translated it as ‘Imperial High Priest' (as in Jinlun Guoshi, her note on 3rd Edition of Return of the Condor Heroes)] has passed on to her the matchless-under-the-heavens pursuing-and-tracking skill. So Ba Fenghan's ‘counting his chickens before they are hatched' plan will certainly fail.”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Even if you can overtake him, what can you do to him?”
Tuli laughed calmly and said, "If we continued talking like this, we will end up opposing each other with equal harshness again. Frankly speaking, I really admire Kou Xiong's style in handling matters, and really wish that we could convert an enemy into a friend. If we can look for possibilities for cooperation, it will be greatly beneficial, without bringing any harm, to both sides.”
Kou Zhong replied indifferently, "Khan thinks so highly of Xiaodi, it really makes me overwhelmed by favor [from superior]. Someday when we have a chance to raise our wine cup and chat in details, we will think about some mutually profitable grand projects.”
Delighted, Tuli said, "Kou Xiong is indeed a man who has a clear view of things as well as knowing your surrounding; you will have great prospects for the future. When the time is ripe, I will pay special visit to you.”
Kou Zhong seized this opportunity to take his leave and continue climbing up the stairs. But in his heart he was still pondering and speculating on what did Tuli mean by his remark, ‘when the time is ripe'.
※ ※ ※
Trailing a group of seven or eight riders, Xu Ziling entered the spacious outer courtyard of the House of Dong Restaurant. Only after entering the door did he notice that one of those men was surprisingly Li Shimin. But he did not see either Li Jing or Hong Funu. Already too late to avoid him, he could only hope that Li Shimin would not see him.
Who would have thought that everybody in Li Shimin's group seemed to be alerted at the same time; they all looked at him.
Bracing himself, Xu Ziling said, "What a coincidence, Shimin Xiong also came here.”
Li Shimin revealed a slightly pleasantly surprised smile; hastening over to him, he said, "I was just looking for Ziling Xiong for a chat, who would have thought I bump into you in here.”
All his escorts were smiling amiably; there was not the least bit of swords-drawn-bows-bent sentiment on them. But Xu Ziling still felt that their eyes were looking for any flaw or weakness in him; nothing seemed to escape their gaze.
Li Shimin cheerfully said, "Let Xiaodi introduce Ziling Xiong. This one here is Yuchi Jingde Xiong. Not only is he proficient in the art of war, he is also an expert in using lance and mace. His name shakes the Jianghuai.”
Yuchi Jingde, who looked to be about twenty-five, twenty-six years old, took a step forward, and cupped his fist to salute.
At first glance this man's physique did not look either big or tall, hence he did not particularly attract attention. Yet he was able to make Xu Ziling had a deep, unforgettable impression on him, because he was standing erect with stable-as-a-mountain air, and carried a stream of murderous-looking momentum around him; a clear display of out-of-the-ordinary power and charisma, with the confidence of a fierce general who treated the enemy's magnificent army with thousands of men and horses as nothing.
His face had some kind of plain and simple, inelegant, and boorish flavor, but his eyes were flickering with spirited light, so that others knew that he was not someone who could be easily bullied.
While Xu Ziling was sizing him up, he still fixed his attention respectfully. "I believe very soon I will be able to ask Xu Xiong for advice on the outstanding consummate skill you got from the ‘Secret to Long Life'!” he said with a smile.
Naturally Xu Ziling understood the meaning behind his remark; he only smiled but did not say anything.
Another man took a step forward and introduced himself, "Zaixia Pang Yu. I have seen Xu Xiong before.”
Xu Ziling's eyes lit up suddenly.
This man was tall and handsome; rarer still, his build was well proportioned, and there was nothing he could pick about. Moreover, he appeared svelte and forthright, giving the impression of a refined, educated gentleman, an expert in diplomacy, yet without being too wordy.
These two were key persons within Li Shimin's Heavenly Policy Mansion, and formidable opponents to Kou Zhong and he.
Standing behind Pang Yu slightly to the side was a seemingly gentle scholar in scholarly attire, on his fair and comely face there seemed to hang a perpetual smile of someone who always planned in advance, someone who speak unhurriedly, and was always calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos.
By the time Li Shimin introduced this man was Zhangsun Wuji, Xu Ziling immediately recalled that this man and Yuchi Jingde were the two men Kou Zhong particularly mentioned; Xu Ziling could not help shivering inwardly.
Yuchi Jingde exuded domineering prowess without appearing angry. Together with Pang Yu's heroic suave manners, and Zhangsun Wuji's unfathomable depths, have stirred up the vigilance in Xu Ziling's heart.
As for the remaining three men, they were Luo Shixin, Shi Wanbao, and Liu Dewei; all were martial art masters with refined and amassed qi within their bodies. Just from these six men, one could have a glimpse of Li Shimin's astonishing strength.
After the introduction, Li Shimin warmly pulled Xu Ziling's elbow to have him walking side-by-side with him, and said in a low voice, "Last night Xiaodi had a detailed chat with Mr. Li Jing …”
Hearing the name Li Jing, Xu Ziling immediately stopped his steps and cut him off, "Everybody has his own aspiration, and nobody can force it on anybody else. Shimin Xiong must not consider Kou Zhong's normally frivolous manners. The fact is that he really has his own strong views; his determination will not be easily swayed by others.”
Li Shimin let go of Xu Ziling's elbow; laughing calmly, he said, "In that case Xiaodi can save a lot of talking. In the future, if I ever commit an offense, Ziling Xiong must not take it personally. Xiaodi is also forced to act against my will.”
After staring deep at Xu Ziling with eyes brimming with emotion, he waved his hand with determination, and then with a smile on his face he led the Heavenly Policy Mansion's martial art masters continued on up the stairs into the restaurant.
Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, knowing that he had just missed the last opportunity make amend with Li Shimin.
From now on, Li Shimin would become their most dreadful archenemy.