However, nobody dared to belittle Pang Yu.
The power of Fu Qian's punch has awed the crowd, it was an astonishing display of strength, which was enough to challenge martial art master of Ning Daoqi's caliber. Pang Yu was able to block his punch without the slightest bit of injury, it was also difficult to deny.
"Stop!" Li Shimin shouted.
Fu Qian laughed aloud and said, "Much obliged!"
Unexpectedly he opened his fist into a palm in a welcoming gesture.
The scorching screen and stifling murderous aura immediately disappeared without a trace, everybody recovered their relaxed feeling.
Pang Yu also relaxed his heroic air and immediately changed the offensive into the propriety, meeting Fu Qian's handshake, which enabled him to float down to the floor.
Li Shimin sighed and said, "My utmost admiration. This round our side lost. Would Wangzi still be interested in playing the next round with Zaixia?"
Although everybody knew this King of Qin's divine bravery was matchless, going in and out of battle and unrivalled in troops disposition, they had never seen him exchange blows in his capacity as a Wulin figure.
This moment he had just seen Fu Qian displaying his deep and immeasurable amazing skill, yet still dared to challenge him to battle. Instantly they all saw him in a new light.
Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong looked at each other; both thinking that if they were Li Shimin, perhaps they would hesitate whether they ought to fight or not.
Fu Qian released Pang Yu's hand, and let him return to his own side. He was about to speak when Tuli strode forward, his eyes shot spirited light straight toward Fu Qian. He spoke solemnly, "No wonder in recent years Wangzi's reputation soared to prominence, so much so that it excelled your father's; indeed it was not by luck. Shimin Xiong, how about giving this round to Xiongdi?"
The arena was so quiet that a falling pin would be heard, everybody quietly waited for which one Fu Qian would choose.
This Tuyuhun martial art master with outstanding heroism threw his head back and let out a long laugh, "Delighted! Delighted! Over the years I, Fu Qian, found that opponents are difficult to come by, which led to my regret. And now suddenly I came across so many good opponents. This is indeed hard to come by. Yet what you don't want done to you, don't do to others [an idiom from Confucian analects]; this place is really not suitable for free hand wrestling. Do two gentlemen have any other suggestion?"
These words were spoken with 'consider oneself unexcelled in the world' air, but since it came out of his mouth, no one had a feeling that he relied on his prowess to insult others, or perhaps a lofty arrogance; on the contrary, it felt like it was as it should be by rights, a feeling of frank and sincerity.
Wang Bo cleared his throat, and then when all attention were on him, he smiled and said, "The future is long, it would be better for us to go back and have a drink first, we can always fight a bit later; how about that?"
Speaking about seniority in Jianghu, even Du Fuwei, Li Zitong, and the others were still considered below Wang Bo, and at this moment in this place, no one could match him. Since he had made the suggestion, everybody must give him a bit of face, otherwise it might be possible that they would have to deal with his whip technique first, which was acclaimed to be matchless under the heavens.
Echoing Wang Bo, Rong Fengxiang said, "Tomorrow evening is Laofu's birthday banquet; how about talking about having a contest then?"
Li Shimin cheerfully said, "Two Qianbei's words, who dare not to obey?"
His appearance suave, his manner elegant, always appropriate to the occasion, making people admiring from the heart.
Just as everybody started to think that this matter has come to an end, someone spoke in soft voice, "Wanbei [junior/younger generation] is also using whip, and this is such a rare opportunity, I hope Old Wang could give me one or two pointers."
Everybody looked toward the voice, turned out it was a martial art master from Li Shimin's Heavenly Policy Mansion, Yuchi Jingde.
Although he spoke politely, everybody knew it was no different from a formal challenge for a duel.
Among the martial art masters of the Heavenly Policy Mansion, in term of reputation, Yuchi Jingde was above Pang Yu, and was on par with Zhangsun Wuji.
If Yuchi Jingde was better than Pang Yu, then nobody dared to doubt his qualification in challenging the Whip King.
A murderous aura flitted across Wang Bo's eyes, but it quickly vanished, replaced by a smile as he said, "The rear waves of the Yangtze River drive on those before. Ol' Wang and Yuchi Xiaodi will have the opportunity to meet again later."
With a loud laugh he brushed away his sleeve and returned to his room.
Fu Qian also saluted hurriedly and asked to be excuse. His men followed behind him.
From Fu Qian's broad back, Li Shimin's eyes moved to Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling. After nodding his head and smiling, he asked for leave from Song Lu and the others, before returning to his room, accompanied by Tuli and his men.
When Kou Zhong's eyes were meeting Li Shimin's, Song Yuzhi felt a pair of eyes, which were able to make her heart beating differently, was staring at her with burning gaze. She turned to look, and could not stop her fragrant heart from shivering slightly. She mused that unexpectedly there was such elegant, confident and at ease man in the world, whose out-of-the-dust elegance was not inferior in any respect to Xu Ziling's. And then she noticed Yun Yuzhen standing by his side. She hurriedly smiled to greet her.
Hou Xibai thought that Song Yuzhi was giving him a positive response, hence he immediately smiled in return.
This moment Song Lu was turning around and starting to move. Song Yuzhi knew the other side misunderstood, but in this kind of situation, how could she explain and correct him? Without any choice, while in her nervous fragrant heart she did not know whether to laugh or cry, she followed behind her uncle.
※ ※ ※
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, one lying down the other sitting up on the grassy dike under the tree shade by the bank of River Luo, were enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the lazy afternoon. This place was not only the place where they agreed upon to rendezvous, but it was a very good place to think deeply, and to chat.
Although behind them people were passing-by, but since it was separated by a row of weeping willow from the main street, it was just like a different world altogether.
In front of them the River Luo was heavy with boats and ships traffic, far away to their right was the Tianjin Bridge spanning the River, where endless stream of vehicles and horses, as well as pedestrian, was passing-by; yet it also had a peaceful feeling of 'river water does not interfere with well water'.
The sun was shining in the sky, on the opposite bank, rows of gable roofs [orig. '人' (ren - human/people) character shape] dazzling under the bright sunlight, bringing about the glittering texture of the combination of artificial and natural structure.
While the sitting-cross-legged Xu Ziling thought that Kou Zhong was asleep, this kid suddenly sighed and said, "Ol' Ba left too soon! If he had seen the dragon-bearded kid's fist, I guarantee he would scramble ahead of Li and Tu, two kids, to challenge him. Unexpectedly there is such martial art in the world. Perhaps Female demon Wan and female immortal Shi would not win so easily against him."
Xu Ziling was amused, "What female immortal Shi?" he said with a smile, "You made it like she is seventy or eighty years old granny."
"Ha!" Kou Zhong laughed and said, "You are so quick to speak for her. It is obvious that you, this kid, have a deep-rooted feeling toward her and it is hard for you to extricate yourself. Woe is me! Ha!"
Xu Ziling was crossed, but he did not respond to him.
Seeing his old trick did not work, it failed to arouse Xu Ziling's reaction, Kou Zhong had no choice but to change the subject, "Why don't you lie down and catch some sleep? Our sleep for the last several nights put together is less than four sichen. Life is really hard."
However, Xu Ziling fished out the astronomy book given by Lu Miaozi, and flipping through it with keen interest, while mumbling to himself, "It was because you, this kid, have hit a nail in Song San Xiaojie that your heart is filled with grievance hence you can't sleep, so you came to disturb my peace and quiet. If you speak more babbling nonsense, you can walk your road through Yangguan [fig. wide open road] and I'll walk my single-log bridge [fig. difficult path]. Each cultivates his own way."
Kou Zhong promptly surrendered. But a moment later he could not help saying, "What are you reading? Can you read it out loud for me?"
Xu Ziling asked in surprise, "I am reading about the method to determine the length of a year; you still want to listen?"
Kou Zhong asked in amazement, "Can you determine that? Are you scaring me?"
Xu Ziling sighed and said, "This is called the gem our predecessors left behind. If I have to think about it myself, I am afraid even for ten thousand years I would not be able to figure it out. But now I only have to read three pages, and it is already very clear for me."
Kou Zhong hastily sat up; his spirit greatly aroused, he said, "Lesson learned well. From now on I will have to be a bit more diligent. How do you determine it, anyway?"
With full resignation, Xu Ziling said, "It's just by using an upright pole stuck in the ground, called tu gui [lit. earth/dirt jade tablet (a ceremonial badge of rank)]. When the midday sun cast its light onto this pole, our ancestors were able to make the measurement."
Kou Zhong stared blankly and said, "What's so strange about that?"
Xu Ziling explained passionately, "The main principle is simple and easy. The more ordinary something is, there is something more unordinary in it; it's just that because we are so used to it, we tend to overlook it. Turn out there is not one day that the position of the sun at noon is identical. When the sun is at its northernmost and highest position, the shadow of the pole is the shortest. This is the xiazhi [summer solstice, 10th of the 24 solar terms]. When the sun moves to the southernmost and lowest point, the shadow of the pole is the longest. This is the dongzhi [winter solstice, 22nd of the 24 solar terms]. From the cycle of the variation of the length of the pole's shadow, our predecessors measured that one year is three hundred sixty-five and one-quarter days. Do you understand?"
Grabbing his head, Kou Zhong said, "Wow! People from ancient times are really formidable, Bai Lao Fuzi [see Book 1 Chapter 1] must step aside."
Lying back on the dike slope, he took out Lu Miaozi's manuscript and read it with full concentration.
Xu Ziling put down the book, and fixed his gaze on a boat sailing across speedily, the image of Song Shidao accompanying the sleeping beauty Fu Junyu setting sail to the north returning to Korea played in his mind. He sighed and said, "Have you made up your mind to be the Song Clan's son-in-law?"
Kou Zhong covered his face with the book and said with a bitter smile, "Zhizhi made it so that I feel so guilty, as well as my interest coming to an end. Without you telling me, I am already thinking of giving up. Much less even if I didn't have the Song Clan's support right now, I am still confident that I will be able to break through the world. The only prerequisite is we must take the treasure first."
Xu Ziling nodded and said, "Hereafter you'd better not provoke Yuzhi anymore; I really cannot bear to see her grieving because of you."
"Whatever you say, how can I dare not to listen?" Kou Zhong said, "It's just that unlike what you think, I am not completely without any feeling or sincerity toward her. Sometimes I really wish I could take her in my arms and cherish her with all my heart, but she is always unwilling to cooperate!"
Xu Ziling laughed in spite of himself, "Don't kill me with your jokes! Which beauty you did not wish to take into your arms and get intimate with her?"
Kou Zhong sat up again and said, "Can you not talk about this kind of distressing thing? Tell me, Fu Qian came to the Central Plains, what is he actually looking for?"
Frowning, Xu Ziling said, "Can't you guess?"
Kou Zhong asked earnestly, "In this kind of things, you are still better than me. There are a lot of things that you can think of, but it had not even occurred to me."
Xu Ziling appeared to be thinking deeply. Finally he spoke heavily, "He came to the Central Plains to survey the situation, to see who are available for his use, and to see what he should do for him to achieve his goal."
Kou Zhong slapped his thigh and said with a sigh, "This is called what heroes see must be the same thing. This kid has enormous ambition; as soon as he sees that he has an opportunity with us, Han people, that he can exploit, he would go on a large-scale invasion to enlarge his territory. And if there were no opportunity he cannot exploit, he would establish friendly relations with the future Son of Heaven ordained by heaven, he would climb connections of higher status, and use it to deal with the Tujue and the Tiele peoples. This is indeed not-a-trivial outstanding figure."
The two boys sat in silence for half a day. Finally Kou Zhong said, "I have an appointment to see Song Jingang; do you want to come with me to meet him face-to-face?"
This time it was Xu Ziling who lay down on the dike slope and closed his eyes, "I want to sleep!" he said, "Wake me up when you are back!"
Kou Zhong was unable to do anything to him; without any choice he went alone.