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Ysabel, Xiaohu, spy, Jaya, DongBin, you are welcome. Sky, if you meant lunar new year, nobody (that I know around here) celebrates it, so I only called my parents.

OK, if another 'peerless beauty' appears, I am going to scream ...

Book 17 Chapter 6 - Peerless Courtesan

By the time Shang Xiu Fang, like an immortal from the dreamland's deep hidden valley coming to the secular world, appeared in front of everybody's eyes, the entire hall, both men and women, could not tear their eyes off of this turning-all-living-things-upside-down famous courtesan.

She made Kou Zhong think about Shi Feixuan and Wanwan.

Shang Xiufang reminded him of the former natural beauty with her immortal elegance; but at the same time she also possessed the latter's dreamy and enchanting mysterious beauty. The end result was another kind of exceptional charm, which was not inferior in any respect to the two women.

The most stunning thing about her, other than her slim, shapely figure, was her multifarious bearing and expression; even more touching was her pair of lucid, rippling eyes, which could hook people's soul and absorb people's spirit, full of tender feelings, combined with the somewhat bashful sparkling smile, which appeared on the corner of her mouth; certainly no man could withstand.

Looking at her, Kou Zhong almost could not remember the purpose of his visit.

This moment, the music suddenly changed. Contrary to everybody's expectation, Shang Xiufang, wearing plain yellow gauzed dress with light green cape, started to sing and dance.

It was only this moment that Kou Zhong were able to see clearly that her jade countenance was devoid of any cosmetics, but her facial appearance was as bright as day; she looked a thousand times better than any women who applied makeup conspicuously. It was not clear whether she had just emerged from a public bath, but there was no hairpin or any other jewelry hanging on her beautiful hair, yet there seemed to be traces of glistening water, pure, beautiful and clean, which charmed everybody.

She sang, "Beads of tears streaming down beautiful silk dress, young Gongzi bears much favor. At that time elder and younger sisters were traveling distinct roads, none treated him with sincerity. After careful consideration, there's a faint feeling of good resolution."

Her singing carried some kind of aloof and laid-back, but also penetratingly dark, dismal, and grim feeling. Yet there was also a beautiful and elegant flavor that no one can match. Her voice and vocal skill did not leave any flaw for the critics to criticize. Combined with her touching expression, nobody was not emotionally moved.

"The deep bridal room was empty and quiet, the void embraced the body and mind, producing solitude. Waiting for the arrival, waiting with a prayer, cease the longing for wild flower youth. Mild and even adornment, less socializing, just for the sake of five hills in distant and indistinct places. The snowfall in the breast, from the gentleman's bite, afraid to offend the laughter bought with thousand catty of gold."

Her singing seemed to absorb the listeners into a fantastic realm of music, her mellow seductive voice, through variety of vocal tones, displaying some kind of rich and varied stances, with a deeply growing enigmatic flavor, going down and circled back to wound the emotion and feel the sentiments, irresolute like the surging tide covering the listeners' spirit, flooding their earth so that no peak was left uncovered.

But the one thing that made Kou Zhong lose himself was her 'lazily painted crescent brows [fig. beautiful woman], delaying the self-adornment and making herself presentable', yet inadvertently revealing her natural beauty.

The song ended.

The music faded.

It was half a day later that the hall erupted in thunderous applause, followed by the clamor of the sound of praise and accolades.

Exclaiming in admiration, Wang Shichong said, "This song ought to be coming from the heaven, which circled back to the earth to be heard. Miss, I wonder who wrote this song?"

Shang Xiufang gently hung her small cicada head down, revealing her swan-like elegant and slender milky the back of her neck; she replied in soft voice, "Shangshu Daren, please do not mock; this tune was created by qie [I, your servant] herself."

Delighted, Wang Shichong said, "I have already guessed so, it's just that I wanted Miss to confirm it with your own mouth! Indeed your name is not in vain. Miss Shang, please take a seat."

Except Linglong Jiao and Ouyang Xiyi, all men slightly left their banquet seat, waiting for this natural beauty with peerless talent, the stunning young lady to be seated, before they dared to take their seat again to show their respect.

With her sitting within his hand-reach, Kou Zhong could not stop his heart from beating faster.

At this point all eyes were focused on her, but no one dared to show any leering look. On one hand, they were intimidated by her noble personality traits, but they were even more afraid she would look down upon them, and then they would forever lose the chance to please her.

Wang Shichong introduced her to everybody first, but when it was Kou Zhong's turn, Shang Xiufang's beautiful eyes swept his face across several times, and then she spoke with tender laughter, "Shangshu Daren need not introduce him! That evening Xiufang was worried for Kou Gongzi for a long time. Luckily in the end he displayed his divine prowess by capturing the treacherous villain alive and took him away."

Not only was she an eloquent and fluent speaker, she had deep understanding of the way to make people happy, by wrapping the praise around cordial words so that it was unobtrusive; she was worthy to be called the famous courtesan who traveled everywhere north and south sides of the Yangtze River.

Looking at her from such a close proximity, Kou Zhong felt even more that she was like a blooming flower, whose delicate fragrance assaulted others' nostrils. And the most touching was her graceful bearing. Whether it was her sweet voice, her tone modulation, to delicate expression from the tip of her brows and the corners of her eyes, everything carried some kind of intoxicating charm, which confused people's mind and enchanted their spirit.

Ouyang Xiyi, who was sitting on the other side, suddenly let out a sigh so soft that only Kou Zhong was able to hear.

Immediately Kou Zhong came to his senses and remembered the purpose of his visit. He replied without thinking, "If I had known that Miss' singing voice is better than the sounds of nature, that night I would have waited until Miss' immortal song was finished before making my move. Ha!"

Noticing the pensive look in Kou Zhong's eyes, inwardly Shang Xiufang was greatly astounded.

Although she only turned twenty-one this year, but since she finished her apprenticeship and came out to sell her art at the age of thirteen, what kind of men she had never seen? Especially men of Kou Zhong's age, rarely have they seen her without having their spirit and soul turned upside down.

This moment, in order to show off his knowledge and experience, Wang Xuanying was trying to engage Shang Xiufang in a discussion about the Swallow Song, which was very popular at that time.

Kou Zhong took this opportunity to lean over toward Ouyang Xiyi and asked quietly, "What matter made Qianbei sigh?"

An emotional expression flashed across Ouyang Xiyi's eyes; he replied in low voice, "Too much alike! Too much alike!"

※ ※ ※

By the time Xu Ziling reached his destination - he was rushing on foot instead of on the horseback, a big burly man happened to push the door and walk out of the house where Song Jingang stayed. The two men looked at each other, and both exclaimed in delight.

This gentleman was, surprisingly, Yun Yuzhen's lieutenant Bu Tianzhi.

Xu Ziling hastily greeted, "Turns out it is Bu Fu Bangzhu [vice gang leader]. Is Kou Zhong inside?"

Frowning, Bu Tianzhi replied, "Kou Ye did not come at the appointed time, I was going out to look for him."

Xu Ziling's heart sank, he wondered inwardly whether something bad happened to Kou Zhong?

Bu Tianzhi continued in low voice, "Xu Ye, could we go someplace quiet to talk?"

Noticing his serious expression, although he was anxious of Kou Zhong's safety, Xu Ziling had no choice but to nod his head and said, "Bu Xiong, just call me Ziling, you must not call me Xu Ye or whatever."

Bu Tianzhi cheerfully said, "Although Ziling is already world famous, but your emotion, character and attitude are completely the same as before. Merely this point, not many people can match."

Xu Ziling temporarily cast his concern over Kou Zhong aside, thinking that he had the ability to deal with danger. Together with Bu Tianzhi they walked side by side toward the end of the lane. He spoke indifferently, "Fame is just false reputation, nothing to rely on. Isn't Bu Xiong with Yun Bangzhu?"

Bu Tianzhi was silent for half a day. In the end he shook his head and said, "Bangzhu is with her lover, how could she spare time for other things? She only ordered me to wait for Kou Ye at Song Jingang's place, to see what the outcome is."

Stunned, Xu Ziling cast him a sidelong glance, and said, "Listening to the tone of Bu Xiong's voice, it appears that you are dissatisfied with Yun Bangzhu."

Bu Tianzhi replied heavily, "Ziling and Kou Ye are men whom I, Bu Tianzhi, admire and trust from the bottom of my heart, hence I do not wish to conceal anything from you. My dissatisfaction toward Yun Yuzhen did not start just today. And within our Gang, I am by no means the only one with this thought."

Xu Ziling was stunned speechless.

Bu Tianzhi pointed to a small wine shop across the street and said, "We'd better go inside and sit down before continuing this talk."

※ ※ ※

Shang Xiufang casually responded to Wang Yingxuan, "The so-called 'trend' is using 'new' in place of 'beauty', using 'marvel' in place of 'finery'. Hu music[1] in itself not necessarily excels over our Central Earth's 'source is distant and the flow is long' [fig. something that goes back to the dim and distant past] music, but we could always use it as a reference. All India, Qiuci, Shule, Anguo, Gaoli, Gaochang and Kangguo's[2] music, each one has its own unique characteristic and different flavor, particularly Qiuci music, which has reached the highest realm. Imported during the Northern Dynasties' Qi and Zhou, there appeared not a few masterpieces adapted and changed from Hu music with strong foreign flavor."

With her status as a wanderer she spoke an expert remark, immediately it provoked a burst of heartfelt praise.

Linglong Jiao was a Qiuci; hearing Shang Xiufang's very high evaluation of her country's music, her good impression rose up tremendously.

[1] Hu music: central Asian music as appreciated by Tang literati. Hu is basically any non-Han tribe in China.

[2] India, orig. Tianzhu, Indian subcontinent in Tang or Buddhist context. Qiuci, ancient Central Asia city-state, flourished during first millennium AD, in modern Aksu, Xinjiang. Shule, ancient name for modern Kashgar, west Xinjiang. Gaoli, Korea (esp. in context of art and culture), Anguo [lit. An State], Gaochang, Kangguo [Kang State], I have no idea. But I am sure very soon one of you, knowledgeable people, will enlighten the rest of us.

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