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Ysabel, HPC, Jaya, Chowbeng, you are welcome. Lao Qianbei, hence I appreciate you guys who always let me know that you are following the story. thank you. Kowloon, you are right, I think it was on the boat somewhere, but I don't think he pursued that skill though. Xiaohu, at least (so far) Huang Yi did not randomly drop any character only to make it disappear soon afterwards, like Gu Long … Hungry, agree. Although sometimes it feels like a filler, I think some of it (not all, naturally) are quite interesting. Chua, He was a politician, was he not? Kowloon, soon, soon … DongBin, and so little time …

Ba Qing'er was slightly stunned. Naturally she had never imagined that Kou Zhong has been to her studio [i.e. artist studio], he had even hid inside the large cabinet among her rolls of paper. She was quite at a loss for a long time before finally found her voice back, "Qie has indeed studied painting, but definitely not an expert. How did Kou Gongzi guess?"

Kou Zhong noticed that even Zheng Shuming was staring at him with her black, rippling eyes; inwardly he was amused. First, he turned to Shang Xiufang and Yun Yuzhen to give each lady a flash of his brilliant smile, and then staying calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, he said, "The idea is so simple. Just like people who love swordsmanship, they would be interested in how to use the sword and the key secret in using the sword. Frankly speaking, I am no more than an admirer of his mother, oh! Not of his mother, just of paintings. In my humble opinion, only paintings without using any color yet is able to produce 'all the colors in profusion' effect can be called the highest artistic conception. If you don't believe me, just ask Hou Xiong to open his folding fan, and you'll see what I mean. Ha! Speaking about Caocao, Caocao thus appear [see Book 8 Chapter 11]!"

Everybody followed his gaze, and sure enough, Hou Xibai's confident and at ease figure came into view.

※ ※ ※

Linglong Jiao returned to her seat, leaned close to Xu Ziling, and whispered, "Wanggong's order: when Rong Laoban is back from toasting the guests, we will leave immediately."

Xu Ziling nodded in acknowledgement, and then he passed on this message to Chen Changlin sitting on the other side.

Xing Mofei, who was sitting across the table, had been watching him attentively. This moment he smiled and said, "How come Xiaodi has a feeling that Qin Xiong looks a bit familiar? Have we met somewhere before?"

Currently Xu Ziling was using the name Qin Jieyuan as his alias; although he picked that name at random, but he took Shi Feixuan's alias, Qin Chuan's surname. Only afterwards, when he thought about it, did he feel somewhat strange.

The two Tuyuhun beauties, Li An and Hua Na's two pairs of big eyes were also constantly looking at him; it appears to be his one-in-a-hundred heroic, grand physique. Although he lacked a handsome face, he seemed to attract this pair of beauties from different tribe's interest.

Xu Ziling applied his power to change his voice first before smiling and responding, "Maybe I did come across Xing Xiong on the street somewhere, but at that time we did not know each other yet, so now we have a sense of déjà vu."

Xing Mofei laughed aloud and said, "Qin Xiong's statement contained deep meaning; it is clear that you are not an ordinary person, yet Xiaodi clearly has never heard Qin Xiong's great name. This is strange."

Linglong Jiao coldly said, "There are so many great people in the Central Plains, and this is the first time Xing Xiong steps foot on the Central Plains, so what's so strange about you having never heard Qin Xiongdi's name?"

Xing Mofei did not look displeased although she was clearly opposing him with harshness; he calmly said, "Before Xiaodi came here, I have painstakingly done quite comprehensive research on Central Earth's each sect and famous school's martial art masters, therefore, I was curious about Qin Xiong. I wonder if Qin Xiong is a martial art master belonging to a certain sect?"

Xu Ziling replied indifferently, "Please forgive Xiaodi for not betraying my confidence. This is Shangshu Daren's order, Xing Xiong please do not blame me."

Xing Mofei nodded and smile; he no longer questioned closely.

※ ※ ※


Hou Xibai opened up his fan a little bit, exposing a vivid image of a beauty on the fan, along with a clear scent of sweet perfumes [lit. orchids and musk], sleek skin and luxuriant jade flesh. Although it was only painted using black ink, but just as Kou Zhong said: without the slightest bit of color yet producing 'all the colors in profusion'. Rarer still, the beauty's 'light body, snowy curve, gauzed, thin, transparent cosmetics' astonishing beautiful appearance was displayed with such extreme saturation. Everything was just perfect.

"Ah!" Shang Xiufang exclaimed in astonishment, "When did Hou Gongzi paint qie on your fan? I am afraid Xiufang's common cattail and willow appearance might defile Gongzi's treasured fan." [Translator's note: again, I am not a fan of Huang Yi's using flowery language in describing women, so I translate it perhaps too literally. My apology.]

Anybody could see from Shang Xiufang's expression that she was deeply moved by Hou Xibai's painting skill. In fact, everybody around the banquet table, men and women alike, none was not emotionally moved by Hou Xibai's wonderful, unparalleled-in-the-world, painting brush.

Yun Yuzhen's pretty eyes shot out a look of envy, but there was obviously nothing she could do about it. From the beginning she was quite clear about Hou Xibai's 'romantic' character, which he showed everywhere, and which all women, including Zheng Shuming and Bai Qing'er, found it hard to endure.

Only Kou Zhong had a sense of relief.

Distant past, it was Li Xiuning, recent past, it was Song Yuzhi; twice in a row, in different time and space, his feeling has taken a big hit. On top of that, there were Yun Yuzhen and Dong Shuni, who have had physical relationship with him, but secretly plotted to harm him, so that toward the so-called romantic love, his heart was extremely dead.

And now although the national grace, divine fragrance Shang Xiufang seemed to show him extreme favor, he had no interest whatsoever; instead, he felt that it was an unnecessary burden.

Supposing Shang Xiufang swicthed her target onto Hou Xibai, Kou Zhong would be happy instead of jealous of losing her.

Because such a strong opponent suddenly appeared and cut his offensive, momentarily Zheng Shiru panicked and was unable to ward it off.

Hou Xibai folded his fan back and lightly spoke, as if he was reciting a poem, "White bosom and embroidered feeling, whose family is this lady? Fragrant stars in spring sky tell the story. Miss Fang has a beauty capable of causing the downfall of a nation, a skill that turns all living things upside down, Xibai falls on his knees in admiration."

In term of literary talent, this man was distinguished and accomplished, in term of speech, he was graceful; which woman would not be moved by him?

Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, "Xiaodi's understanding of 'qi luo hua' came from the fragrant beauties in living color on Hou Xiong's fan. Now that Hou Xiong is here, ladies and gentlemen do not need to listen to Xiaodi's random talk!"

Shang Xiufang glowered at him. But inwardly she was wondering if this man has reached the vastly broad-minded state that he was completely without any jealousy?

She has roamed the world, north and south of the Great River, and was accustomed to deal with all kinds of men. Men who had enough qualifications to pursue her like Kou Zhong, have always made every effort to show off in front of her, always attempted to overwhelm the other competitors, like a peacock spreading its tail to win her approval.

Only a special person like Kou Zhong would act against the norm; he enthusiastically praised other man instead.

Thinking to this point, since Hou Xibai has given her a shock, she could not help mellowing a little bit.

In the meantime, Song Lu graced their table with his presence. After greeting everybody, he said to Kou Zhong, "Come! I want to talk to you."

After apologizing to his tablemates, Kou Zhong followed him though the side door to the half corridor outside.

Bursts of noise coming from the two front halls. Song Lu leaned on the parapet, gazing at the fishpond. "Did you offend Zhizhi?" he spoke heavily.

Kou Zhong smiled ruefully and asked, "Is she gone?"

Song Lu nodded and said, "She didn't even want to listen to me; she just left."

Kou Zhong took a deep sigh, but was unable to speak.

It is finished!

Song Yuzhi and he were completely finished; no hope of restoration. But he could not blame anybody else; he could only blame himself.

Song Lu suddenly asked, "What are you going to do?"

Dejectedly Kou Zhong said, "Lu Shu [uncle] is referring to which aspect?"

Song Lu sighed and said, "I'm a bit unclear myself; I guess any aspect will do. I just want to know what are you thinking of doing next? During the banquet just now, on the surface everybody was polite, but actually the air was filled with hostility, there are more than just the apparent meaning."

And then he moved his gaze to Kou Zhong's face, and spoke in heavy voice, "You have to be careful with Wang Bo. Just now he repeatedly suggested to Wang Shichong that you are a man of great ambition; he is using a despicable method."

Kou Zhong smiled bitterly without saying anything.

As soon as he entered the powerful current of this contending-over-the-world affair, thousand-kind and ten-thousand-way of danger and trouble would come his way; it was basically something that he could not guard against.

Song Lu continued in low voice, "How much confidence do you have that you would be able to get the 'Duke Yang Treasure' out? In my opinion, in this particular business, Li Shimin is watching you like a tiger watching its prey; he won't let you succeed, to avoid damaging the current situation, which is to his favor."

Kou Zhong could only say, "I don't have the exact number yet. Ay! When Yuzhi left, did she say anything?"

Song Lu replied, "You ought to know her temperament very well, she will hide everything in her heart. But don't worry about her right now, perhaps when she cools down later, she would change her mind."

And then he patted Kou Zhong's shoulder and said, "Do what you need to do! I will speak good words on your behalf. Fortunately, you are a southerner, we are a bit closer to each other."

Kou Zhong was stunned; he said, "Lu Shu is saying …"

Song Lu's eyes moved to a cluster of tree peony by the fishpond. Letting out a cold snort, he said, "Northern barbarian families, various tribes, have always been trying to destroy our southern blood relationship and pure aristocratic culture. Those like Yang Jian, although they strived to practice our southern style, with the intention to restore the orthodoxy of our Han people's dynasty; beneath the surface, aren't they still barbarians? If you can use southern people to govern the north, our Song Family will give you full support. Do you understand me?"

Kou Zhong's spirit was greatly aroused. "I understand!" he replied.

The noise from the hall was getting louder.

Rong Fengxiang has returned from his round of toasting the guests.

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