Kou Zhong pushed the door and entered; he said to Xu Ziling, who was sitting up from the bed, “Wake up!”
“Did you have to make so much noise to wake me up?” Xu Ziling said in displeasure.
Kou Zhong sat on the edge of the bed, stretching out in exaggerated movement, and said, “I also fell asleep and was out cold. Look! The sun is at least four-pole high!”
Xu Ziling deeply felt the same way, “Now I understand what is called toiling the army in military expedition is not what a wise man would do. The two of us already made our names, but last night when I went to bed, I still feel like all the bones in my body were falling apart.”
Kou Zhong looked out the window at the mother earth bathed in bright and beautiful sunshine. He said, “This time we can be considered a bit lucky, running into Bai Wenyuan. If not, it would not be different than walking right into the trap. Now we are disguising ourselves as An Long’s fleet transporting raw material to make wine, plus we have Bai Wenyuan, this genuine-goods-at-fair-prices Garuda Army general stepping in to direct the operation. Do you think there is still any flaw?”
Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, “When An Long and Zhu Mei arrived at the crossing dock and found out that the seven ships have gone missing, what would they think?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Naturally they would indulge in flights of fancy; but they would never find half a hoof print on the ground, because we swept it away. Therefore, they would never think to associate Bai Wenyuan with us; they might think that Jianghuai Navy arrived and captured their men and ships, or perhaps they had scared his men off that his wine boat slipped away.”
“Where did the other three ships go?” Xu Ziling wondered.
“It’s nothing,” Kou Zhong replied, “They just received An Long’s order to sail to Jiangdu to do business. Turns out An Long’s wine-transporting ships have always been doing business with those ‘Snake and Dog, Two Fools’, Pei Yue and Pei Yan.”
The ‘Dragon and Tiger, Two Lords’ became ‘Snake and Dog, Two Fools’ in Kou Zhong mouth.
Xu Ziling left the bed and walked over to the window. He stretched his limbs, while looking at the fascinating forest and open country beyond the bank of the river, resplendent in the bright sunlight. “Where is our next stop?” he asked.
Kou Zhong said, “We are going to reach Xiao Xian’s Jiujiang [lit. nine rivers] county tonight. If we can pass this place, our ambushing troops will penetrate deep into the enemy’s territory. Currently I change my mind; I want to deal a crushing blow to the coalition army under Dong Jingzhen leadership in one go. Ling Shao, do you have any thought?”
Xu Ziling agreed, “It ought to be so,” he said, “Shall we notify Beautiful Changzhu [Ranch Master] to coordinate with her?”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “According to Bai Wenyuan, although they failed to take Changyang and Yuan’an, but they put these two cities under siege that not one drop can trickle through. Flying Horse Ranch is also under close surveillance, so we must not beat the grass to scare the snake at all.”
And then, rising up to his full height, he came over behind Xu Ziling and said, “Do you think Shi Feixuan came to Hefei has something to do with Wan yaonu?”
“Of course,” Xu Ziling replied, “Their struggle has turned from a battle of force and blade into a competition of control over the world. Shi Feixuan is fighting for the happiness of the people, while Yin Gui Pai wants to expand its influence. If the future emperor is under Yin Gui Pai’s control, Ci Hang Jingzhai will not have any place to set their feet. That will be more beneficial than defeating Shi Feixuan.”
Emotionally moved, Kou Zhong said, “Your conjecture is very rational. In that case, among the warlords vying for supremacy, there must be one Yin Gui Pai’s man. Could that person be Ol’ Die?”
Xu Ziling pondered, “Ol’ Die does not look like Yin Gui Pai’s man at all, Xiao Xian is more like it. But if Xiao Xian is indeed a Yin Gui Pai demon, he would have not helped us assassinating Ren Shaoming. And thus, Lin Shihong is the biggest suspect.”
Kou Zhong sat comfortably in the chair by the cabin window; he said cheerfully, “If it is really Lin Shihong, then it’s the same as if Yin Gui Pai is eating a damaged walking stick. Currently, no matter how you think about it, you won’t remember Lin Shihong. Unless in a short period of time he can acquire Xiao Xian and the Song Family’s support; if not, he can only wait to be destroyed by the other faction.”
“Do not underestimate anybody,” Xu Ziling said, “Although, contrary to expectation, Lin Shihong stays in the south, but he occupies Poyang Lake, which give him distinct advantage. Presently, the Song Family and Xiao Xian are helpless to do anything to him, hence the reason Yin Gui Pai is keeping the hostility under control, conniving at our high wind and high rain, the more we make chaos the better. When Xiao Xian is crossing to the north, Lin Shihong can expand in a big way. This aspect must not be lightly ignored.”
Slapping the table in praise, Kou Zhong exclaimed, “Makes sense! Or perhaps Lin Shihong has nothing to do with Yin Gui Pai at all; the real demon can be Liu Wuzhou, Liang Shidu, Dou Jiande, even Li Zitong, Zhu Can, or Cao Yinglong. Ha! This guessing game is really interesting.”
Xu Ziling sat down in the other chair; smiling, he said, “As long as we are successful in one thing, it doesn’t matter which one is the Yin Gui Pai demon, we will deal a heavy blow on Yin Gui Pai’s grand scheme of world domination.”
Kou Zhong’s spirit was shaken, “What one thing?” he asked.
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, “Taking over Xiangyang, driving out Qian Duguan and Bai Qing’er.”
Kou Zhong’s pair of tiger-eyes lit up; nodding, he said, “Well said! That is Yin Gui Pai’s heaviest ‘x木莸悖’ [I have no idea what it is, the first character seems to be missing, I checked all my three sources] in the Central Plains. The day I conquer Jingling will be the harbinger of Qian Duguan’s downfall; the King of Heaven or Lao-tze won’t be able to stop me, Kou Zhong.”
In the dark of the night, the seven ships were sailing slowly into the waters of Jiujiang.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling put on their mask, and stood behind Bai Wenyuan, ready to deal with any sudden change.
In their hearts, the two boys had some kind of peculiar feeling.
It was in this big city on the southern bank of Yangtze River that they went through the nine-deaths-and-were-still-alive realms, succeeded in killing Ren Shaoming, destroyed the conspiracy between the Tiele people and Yin Gui Pai, reversed the situation in the south, which also made their names shook the heavens.
Jiujiang has changed hands several times, before finally fell into Xiao Xian’s hands, forcing Lin Shihong to stay in Poyang.
A small boat of Baling Army sailed speedily toward them.
Bai Wenyuan talked with the captain, who had climbed aboard to their ship, naturally there was no problem. But when they started to relax, a warship left the dock and head straight toward them.
Astounded, Bai Wenyuan asked, “What is it?”
The captain returned a blank, “It’s General Chen Wu’s ship,” he replied, “I don’t know what it is either; perhaps he just wanted to speak with General Bai!”
Everybody cried, ‘Bad!’ inwardly, but they had no choice but to wait with blank expression on their faces. If they were discovered, their previous achievement would all go to waste, killing a few people would not help.
While their scalp went numb, the enemy ship slowly approached. A general, leading four or five attendants, leaped over to their ship, laughed aloud, and said, “Bai Jiangjun, how are you? How come I did not see Mei Gongzhu [princess]?”
Everybody, without exception, breathed a sigh of relief.
Bai Wenyuan stepped forward and raised his cupped fist in salute, “Chen Jiangjun, please do not blame Xiao Jiang [lowly general] for passing through the door but not entering; it is because we have an urgent matter, and must return immediately. Mei Gongzhu has something to attend to and has to stay in Hefei; she will be two days late.”
Chen Wu nodded and said, “That is as it should be. This time I came aboard to pay a visit, there is actually a favor I’d like to ask.”
Bai Wenyuan laughed aloud and said, “Chen Jiangjun need not stand on ceremony; as long as it is within Xiao Jiang’s power to do so, it will definitely be done properly.”
Chen Wu said, “To Bai Jiangjun, this is merely the exertion of lifting one's hand. Three days ago, we intercepted Flying Horse Ranch’s ship on the River, killed more than a dozen people on the spot, but one kid managed to escape, only this evening we were able to catch him back. We were just about to torture him for questioning when we heard Jiangjun is here. I was wondering if you could do us a favor by taking this man to Dong Shuai [Commander]? This man’s martial art skill is quite good, he must have a bit of position in the Flying Horse Ranch, plus he had been seen with Kou and Xu, those two thieves, he might be of a great use to Dong Shuai.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were both sad and happy at the same time. Sad naturally because Flying Horse Ranch brothers were killed. Happy because with no blood on the men's swords [idiom: effortless victory], they could rescue back this kid, who, very likely, was Luo Fang.
Naturally Bai Wenyuan did not stop agreeing.
“Bring him here!” Chen Wu shouted.
The ship left Jiujiang.
His spirit took a beating, Luo Fang, with bare upper body, while letting someone clean and replace the bandage of his many wounds, drank a cup of hot tea, and spoke in disbelief, “I thought everything was over, who would have thought that unexpectedly I came across you guys; it’s just like in a dream.”
Kou Zhong hatefully said, “It was practically a trap. They intentionally let you go to us for help, but on the way back they made their move against you. Fortunately Laotianye has eyes, we ran into you.”
Xuan Yong said, “Now victory and defeat will be decided by who can move a bit faster. We have no other choice, we can only go ashore at the most advantageous location, and then go full speed to attack Dong Jingzhen so that he will be caught unprepared, and then rendezvous with the Ranch’s main forces, while the enemy is flustered, we launch a large-scale counterattack, resolving it in the shortest time possible.”
Everybody’s eyes turned toward Bai Wenyuan.
Full of confidence, Bai Wenyuan said, “In three days, we will turn into River Ju, and disembark at Chunfeng Du [lit. spring breeze crossing], about ten li south of Dangyang. I am confident that we will be able to keep all gateways in the dark, and hide from Dong Jingzhen’s hidden army at the Chunfeng Hill. I will then make a map, and have everybody study it, to determine how we are going to make Dong Jingzhen suffer a big defeat.”
Delighted, Kou Zhong said, “We will to use these three days’ time to preserve and nurture our spirit, so that when the time comes, we are not a weary force, but a lively-dragon, animated-tiger-in-military-expedition ambushing force!”
The crowd responded with thunderous roar. Their morale was elevated to its highest point.