You Niaojuan spoke nonchalantly, "Since the three of you like to think like that, I, Ol' You, won't force you to think otherwise. Even if I did, it won't come to a good end. Let us smash the Relic first, and use the person as the gambling stake. After fighting, whatever you want to do with her, it will not be my concern."
"Aiyo!" Jin Huanzhen exclaimed, as she cast him an incomparably charming sidelong glance, saying, "Since when did You Dage learn how to make meticulous planning and careful accounting like this? After you waste the person, will there be any profit we could dredge up?"
You Niaojuan threw his head back and roared in laughter, he said, "I can't go left, you don't want to go right. Could it be that after twenty years, the three of you still don't make any progress? Don't you understand the principle the weak is prey to the strong? Do you want me to break my oath against taking life before you can obediently follow my command?"
Ding Jiuzhong laughed grimly and said, "Xiaodi, Meizi, You Dage is going to break his oath against taking life. What do you say?"
Zhou Laotan suddenly flashed toward Jin Huanzhen, reached out to pull her small waist, and let out a weird laughter very close to her fragrant face he said, "Whatever Meizi says, Gege will naturally advance hand-in-hand and retreat together with you, flying wing to wing in mutual respect [in marriage] with you!"
In his embrace, Jin Huanzhen laughed like a trembling sprig of blossoming flower and said, "Of course I will live together with you … but not die together! You die first!"
When she spoke the words 'not die together', the tone of her voice turned hurried, as her elbow suddenly struck Zhou Laotan's flank.
With an earth-shattering miserable scream, Zhou Laotan's entire body flew and rolled under some bushes.
Xu Ziling peeking from the side never expected this change; watching all these, he was momentarily dumbfounded.
A strong gust of wind blew at the same time, from inside the pavilion, Ding Jiuzhong swiftly escaped to the rear, while swift like an arrow, You Niaojuan chased after him. The two of them quickly disappeared into the forest against the steep cliff behind the pavilion.
Leisurely, but very deliberately, Jin Huanzhen walked over to Zhou Laotan, who was lying face down on the ground, motionless, and said with a tender sigh, "Zhou Xiaodi, you don't make a progress at all; it's been a long twenty years, how could you still not know that a real husband can't surpass a lover [orig. male adulterer]? Remembering the husband and wife feeling of the past, I'll give you a foot!"
Zhou Laotan rolled around and did not stop until his body bumped against the trunk of the tree where Xu Ziling was hiding.
Without looking back, Jin Huanzhen went up the mountain.
Watching this, Xu Ziling's scalp went numb. This was the first time that he saw such savage and crafty, completely lacking any sense of justice, men and woman.
While he was unsure whether he should run after Jin Huanzhen at once, he suddenly felt something was not right.
Zhou Laotan, who was supposed to be dead, suddenly sprang up from the ground, as if nothing had happened, and let out a strange-sounding laughter, he said, "The one not making any progress can only be him; this time he still does not fall into the trap."
Finished speaking, laughed strangely again, very proud of himself, and walked away.
Xu Ziling was so shocked that his entire body nearly went numb. Taking a deep breath, he put on the Yue Shan mask, and jumped down the tree and run up the mountain in the direction of where You Niaojuan and Ding Jiuzhong were disappearing.
※ ※ ※
In the study room inside the Zongguan Mansion, Kou Zhong received Xuan Yong, Ren Meimei, and Chen Jiafeng, three people. He said, "A good start is the key to future success. Hence it must not be taken lightly. Every political power, when it is starting to rise, must have this kind of gratifying atmosphere. Just like a seed, it will start to germinate, blossom, and produce fruits."
The three had no idea what he was trying to say; they had no choice but to bend their ear to listen carefully.
Kou Zhong revealed a deep-in-thought look.
The three thought he was still organizing his thought to continue his discourse, but actually he was contemplating whether he should take out Lu Miaozi's secret book on history, and turned to the chapter 'Political Prosperity and Decline, Gains and Losses'.
In the end, Kou Zhong decided not to reveal his trump cards; clearing up his throat, he leaned over the table, and then, deftly, with pragmatic assurance and composure, he said, "But when supporting the declining spirit behind this kind of new political power, a decayed, dilapidated circumstances might rise; therefore, we must frequently reflect upon ourselves, to see if we are corrupted by the power, for instance, collusion and nepotism, rejecting outsiders, unwilling to listen to the voices of opposition, and so on. Hey!"
The three had never expected Kou Zhong would have such argument; they were all taken by surprise.
Kou Zhong went on, "I was just speaking casually; actually, I only want you all to accomplish this principle, 'nobility is exquisite, but there are more people who are not noble'. Not only the political structure should be streamlined, the soldiers must increase in quality and not in quantity. If we can accomplish these points, then it will be a good beginning, and will be the spirit with which our Shao Shuai Army will be able to rise."
Xuan Yong's old face blushed, he said, "Fortunately Shao Shuai said it clearly. Otherwise, subordinate would still think that Shao Shuai wanted to raise your banner and beat the drums to recruit as many soldiers as possible!"
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, "Our top priority is to encourage production. If everybody goes to war, who will till the fields? Plus our army provision is not enough to deal with enormous expenditures. Our citizens won't care who you are, as long as you can guarantee that they live in peace and work happily, having ample food and clothing, they will willingly throw their lives for you; other things will be unnecessary."
Emotionally moved, Ren Meimei said, "I never thought Shao Shuai would have such an acute foresight [lit. stand tall and see far] in the great endeavor to rule a country. We will definitely work according to what Shao Shuai has decreed."
Kou Zhong smiled and said, "These principles of mine, anybody who had read history book would understand, but implementing it is not easy at all. Furthermore, it is susceptible to the influence of objective situation. Therefore, I must formulate an outline in the main direction we are going to follow. In the first place is how to consolidate our foundation. This matter will be described in details by Xuan Zongguan."
Thereupon Xuan Yong explained the plan they already discussed about taking Xiapi and Luoma Lake first, and then the cities surrounding Dong Hai County.
Listening to this, Ren Meimei and Chen Jiafeng's spirit was greatly aroused.
Kou Zhong said, "Regarding the organization of the army, you guys are the experts, but on the organizing the structure of the government, do you have any ideal candidate in mind?"
The three 'you look at me, I gaze at you', no one had any idea who might be able to bear this heavy responsibility.
With a card up his sleeve, Kou Zhong said, "This is indeed a very heavy assignment; one small mistake, the line of command with crumble, power distribution will be uneven, and excess personnel and complications might occur. Fortunately I already have someone in mind. This man is called Xu Xingzhi, currently he is at the Flying Horse Ranch, and I already sent a messenger to summon him back. As long as he presides over the general situation, we need not be worried!"
Seeing he appeared to be holding the pearl of wisdom in everything, Xuan Yong, three people, had their confidence doubled.
Kou Zhong continued, "The second issue is how to promote the economy and trade situation. Even if in the future we acquire Donghai, this strategic town for overseas commercial trade, we still need infrastructure that can be considered our own, such as ocean-going fleet of ships with ample experience. Only then will we be able to develop Donghai County to its full potential."
The three could only return a blank stare; naturally they had no idea how to obtain such a fleet of ships.
Chen Jiafeng proposed, "If we reduce the tax on the river course commerce, perhaps we can encourage more boats to come to our territory to do business."
Kou Zhong raised his thumb in praise and said, "That's an excellent idea! While our army is tiny our generals a few, while our expenditure is not high, not only we want to lower the toll [lit. money to buy the road], we also want to keep the people from paying exorbitant tax. These past few years, your Pengliang Hui must have scraped not a few profit, just use that to support the general situation!"
Ren Meimei's pretty face slightly blushed, she stared at him viciously and said, "Without Shao Shuai's reminder, we ought to know how to handle this matter. But rebuilding Pengcheng requires considerable expenditures, I am afraid that if the taxation is reduced, perhaps the money we accumulated would be used up in half a year time."
Kou Zhong laughed and said, "Let me worry about that. If I can put the 'Duke Yang's Treasure' to work, all the problems will be easily solved [lit. (bamboo) splits when it meets the knife's edge]. As for the fleet, I have a thorough plan in mind, which I will share with you a bit later."
Then, turning to Xuan Yong, he said, "I want you to find me a way to send a letter to one of Wang Shichong's subordinates by the name of Chen Changlin. If we can have this man to manage Donghai County for us, we will be able to make that county as the most prosperous strategic city in term of foreign trade, which will be very beneficial to us, it might even be difficult to estimate. If not because of the vitality of foreign trade in Jiangdu, Li Zitong would have been finished early on."
Xuan Yong nodded and said, "I have heard about this man as well, but I didn't know he is proficient in maritime trade."
Kou Zhong said, "His ancestors were engaged in maritime trade for ages, plus they were skillful in shipbuilding. Nowadays, it is difficult to find even half a person with this talent; therefore, this matter is very important. In my estimate, he should be returning to the Eastern Capital, Da Xiaojie ought to be able to tell you his whereabouts."
"I'll take care of it," Xuan Yong replied.
And then Kou Zhong asked about the whereabouts of Ku Ge's defeated army.
Ren Meimei replied, "He has been seen running away toward the ocean, killing and looting along the way; they are probably on the sea by now."
Kou Zhong nodded. He said, "Military intelligence is number one priority, with Luo Qifei in charge of this, I am very relieved."
Patting his chest, Chen Jiafeng said, "In the Peng and Liang region, no one is more well-informed than us. Any wind blowing, grass moving, nothing can hide from us."
Kou Zhong stretched out and said, "In that case, we have nothing to do but to wait for Qifei's good news. Another good start for us will be to kill that fellow by the name of Du Ren from Luoma Bang!"
The three saluted loudly.