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Ysabel, HPC, DongBin, Jaya, you are welcome. Xiaohu, thanks for the well wishes. Kowloon, good observation. Akolaw, thanks for sharing. Xu Xiong, what's weevil?

Book 21 Chapter 10 - Back in Yangzhou

The ship arrived at Yangzhou.

From his vantage point at the port side of the ship, Xu Ziling surveyed the big commercial port overlooking the sea in the mist of the dawn; his heart was filled with myriads of emotion. It was as if a prodigal son who left his village, after going through ten thousand crags and torrents, and disaster after disaster, finally returned to his starting point.

The strange thing was that when the last time he was in Yangzhou to see the muddleheaded ruler, Emperor Yang, he did not have the same feeling.

It was the wounding-the-spirit, breaking-the-soul feeling of sea voyage, when they let Susu made the choice that would affect the rest of her life.

Xu Ziling felt a stab of pain in his heart.

Standing beside him, Xing Rong sighed and said, "Sowing one, reaping two. Speaking about commercial trade of the whole nation, our Yangzhou has always been at the top of the list, otherwise our Zhuhua Bang would not be the other big gang besides Baling Bang. Therefore, after moving around everywhere, our zongduo [lit. helms, i.e. the headquarter] has always moved back here. Shao Lingzhou put himself under debt from Li Zitong, this will have its own cause and effects."

The world 'sowing' [yang] referred to Yangzhou, the word 'reaping' [or 'benefitting', yi] referred to Yizhou, namely, the Shu County in Sichuan.

Yangzhou, Jiangdu, and the likes were like the Luoyang of the Central Plains, which was the hub of the water and land transport connecting all parts of the country, especially the waterway aspect, since it was at the intersection of the Canal and the Yangtze River, as well as at the coast of Yangtze River leading to the sea, hence it's geographical superiority could be inferred.

As for the land route, from Yangzhou to the east was Shandong, to the west Sichuan, to the south extended to Huguang's [i.e. Hubei and Hunan provinces] relay stations along the major route.

All these factors combined, Yangzhou became the strategic hub of sea, land, and river transports, the center of distribution connecting the water and land routes of the north and the south. Since the Sui Dynasty, large number of rice, salt, cloth and silk passed by this area on their way north to supply the Central Plains, as well as Ji Shan regions [Hebei and Shaanxi]. Yangzhou was also reckoned to be first or second best metropolitan in the nation. The principal commodity were precious stones, salt distribution, wood, brocade, copperware, and so on.

When Emperor Yang was murdered by the rebel army headed by Yuwen Huaji, Du Fuwei's Jiang Huai Army was one step too late, so he could only watch when Li Zitong took this most important big city in the south. It was like one move difference in the game of chess.

Such a large river like Yangtze River, which was the convergence of the waterways in the world, no one had the capability to completely seal it off for a long period of time. To heavily besiege Yangzhou was definitely not an easy matter. The reason Du Fuwei was willing to cooperate with Shen Faxing was simply because he wanted to draw support from Shen Faxing's navy fleet with its rich naval battle experience, plus the backbone of Shen Faxing's navy was Hai Sha Bang's huge fleet of warships.

Hai Sha Bang's Gang Leader was originally the 'Dragon King' Han Gaitian. But when they mounted a sneak attack to the newly established Shuang Long Bang's base camp in Changshu, he was heavily injured by Xu Ziling, and his internal injury could not recover completely, until finally he had to give way to the Beautiful Mermaid You Qiuyan, with the 'Fat Assassin' You Gui and the 'Roaming General' Ling Zhigao as the Left and Right Deputy Gang Leader, respectively. They reorganized the Gang, and recovered the Gang's power somewhat.

Jiangdu Yangzhou was 'governmental city', with two layers of city walls forming the entire city, linked up by undulating hills.

'Governmental city' was the seat of the imperial palace, also the seat of the Zongguan Mansion and other governmental offices, concentrated in one location, much like the Imperial City of Luoyang, which was located on elevated ground; easily guarded, hard to attack. In those days, were it not for Yuwen Huaji revolted from within the nest, he might not necessarily be able to murder Emperor Yang, who was under the full protection of the Dugu Clan.

Under the 'governmental city', the commercial and residential area extended outside the second wall built around the main city wall. This rectangular city was inhabited by close to two hundred thousand people, with most residents live in the southern crown of the city.

The main street was lined with willow trees every a thousand paces, the red clouds were reflected on the two layers of city wall. The inner city spanned eleven li from north to south, and seven li from east to west, the perimeter was about forty li.

Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong's struggling and challenging, but precious childhood years were spent in the approximately 80-li perimeter outer city. Reminiscing about the past, all kinds of memory flooded back into his mind; how could he not be overcome by emotions?

Noticing that Xu Ziling's eyes were gleaming with odd expression, Gui Xiliang, standing on his other side, thought that Xu Ziling felt strange because he did not see the troops and horses besieging the city; thereupon he explained, "This past year or so the war has been stop-and-go; three sides of Jiangdu face river and ocean, the harbor is deep and wide, besieging the city is easier said than done. Plus in the other big city Zhongli, Li Zitong has massive military force, which from time to time raided the besieging enemy via the waterway. Therefore, each time Du Fuwei and Shen Lun finished their turn in besieging the city, they must retreat and regroup to restore their strength; otherwise, how could Li Zitong hold on until today?"

Inwardly Xu Ziling admired Kou Zhong: the reason Du and Shen, two armies were unwilling to siege the city together was because they were suspicious of each other, and Kou Zhong was able to grasp this critical conflict between the two, thereupon he would be able to calmly set up a driving-a-wedge-between-them stratagem. But Xu Ziling did not know that it was Xu Xingzhi who first thought about this crucial point, and not Kou Zhong at all.

Although the pier outside the city could not be compared to its former glory where thousands of ships were docking side by side, their sails and masts covering the sky, but there were at least a hundred ships, big and small, moored along the coast. It appeared that they were taking advantage of this brief period of peace to do business.

Their ship slowly docked. The welcoming committee consisted of Luo Feng and about a dozen Gang members, as well as a small group of troops and sergeants of Li Zitong's army.

Just by looking at this kind of welcome, it was thus clear that Li Zitong and Shao Lingzhou hardly attached any importance to Gui Xiliang.

Xu Ziling stepped back so that he would not be too conspicuous.

Luo Qifei moved over to his side and said, "Looks like we have a little bit of trouble."

Xu Ziling nodded and said, "We have to change according to the situation."

The ship finally cast its anchor, Luo Feng was the first to come aboard, with a slightly helpless intonation he said to Gui Xiliang, "Da Wang's [The King] order, all ships arriving at Jiangdu must be inspected, both the passengers and the goods. After everything is verified properly, you may enter the city."

Gui Xiliang's countenance changed, he said, "Even we, Zhuhua Bang men are not exempt? On this trip I was on mission for Da Wang himself!"

Luo Feng reached out to grab his shoulder and said, "Be patient a bit! We all know what is going on inside."

His gaze fell on Xu Ziling, disguised as the 'Scarface Hero', and the others, seventeen people in all; he asked, "Are these honored guests brothers from Shao Shuai Army?"

Xu Ziling cupped his fist and replied in hoarse voice, "Xiaodi is the 'Feng Dao' [wind saber] Ling Feng of Shandong. I came here to see Luo Tangzhu [hall master/leader], indeed under Shao Shuai's order to wait on Gui Tangzhu."

Naturally Luo Feng has never heard that in the Wulin world of Shandong there existed such figure; inwardly he was apprehensive, but on the surface he put on a your-name-has-been-known-to-me-for-a-long-time appearance, and said, "The inspection process should ne reasonable and fair, it is not to deliberately make things difficult for you, I hope Ling Xiong will show understanding, otherwise how could we cooperate with Shao Shuai?"

Turning his head around, he signaled the Li Army troops waiting on the shore to come aboard to inspect the ship.

Xu Ziling sighed inwardly, knowing that the trouble has just begun.

※ ※ ※

Returning to Yangzhou was like returning to a far away, yet forever unforgettable dream. Whether it was inside or outside the city, everywhere he looked, there were traces of the shocking-the-eye, astonishing-the-heart fire of war, collapsed and damaged city walls, charred and abandoned siege equipment in all kinds of shape and sizes, sunken warships, and bloodstain on the streets, which had turned black, the ruins of houses after the fire, crumbling walls and scattered roof tiles everywhere.

But the people were accustomed to this kind of sight; except for the migrant workers who were working on mending the walls, for others, life went on as usual.

Due to lack of warhorses, everybody entering the city must rely on their legs; they walked slowly while carefully observing the desolation of the trauma of war.

The Zhuhua Bang's headquarters was back on its former site, at the foot of a hillock right next to the inner city wall, but the building was of new construction, the scale was more magnificent than the previous one, the complex was composed of seven compounds, each has its own separate wall, connected to each other by gateways and passageways; four of those buildings housed the Wind, Clear, Rain, and Dew, four Halls.

Before reaching the headquarters, Luo Feng and Gui Xiliang moved to the front of the line, while constantly conversing with each other in low voices. Xu Ziling and Xing Rong brought up the rear. When they were passing the most famous red-light district in Yangzhou, the Willow Lane, Xing Rong whispered in Xu Ziling's ear, "Madame Yuling reopened the House of Heavenly Fragrance, and nowadays it has become Yangzhou's most famous pleasure house, and the Two Principals of Heavenly Fragrance are the most famous talented ladies of the south; it won't be easy for anybody to see them, so let me take you out tonight."

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