Book 25 Chapter 12 - Fated Encounter
By the time they reached the pier, there were already several dozens of men, women, young and old waiting to board the ship. Xu ZIling still maintained his 'Scar-faced Guest' Gong Chenchun identity to avoid unnecessary trouble.
Knowing that Xu Ziling did not like publicity, Hou Xibai said, "Xiaodi will only send Ziling off thus far; Ziling only need to give your name to the Wu Jiang Bang people onboard, then you won't have to worry about anything else. Xiaodi already paid the fare, everything has been arranged properly."
Xu Ziling asked in passing, "How could Wu Jiang Bang have so much face?"
Hou Xibai replied, "Wu Jiang Bang's Sha Laoda [big boss] has more than ten years' history of doing business around the Three Gorges, transporting people and goods, his credibility is outstanding. Because of its long history with Baling Bang, also because they are in charge of buying provision and arranging payments, as well as transporting the goods for Xiao Xian, they are getting on well with each other. Ziling can rest assured."
"So that's how it is," Xu Ziling said, "No wonder such a big ship only has twenty, thirty passengers. Transporting cargo ought to be their main business, and the passengers are only secondary business?"
Hou Xibai laughed and said, "But the real money actually comes from the passengers. Knowing that the situation may change at any moment, they only have fifteen cabins. If not a well-off passenger, it is impossible to get a bed. I went to talk directly to Sha Laoda, only then was I able to make this arrangement for Ziling."
Patting Hou Xibai's shoulder, Xu Ziling said, "Thank you very much Hou Xiong for making this arrangement, Xiaodi is leaving!"
Reluctant to part, Hou Xibai said, "Were it not for Xiaodi unexpectedly must train in secret - to delve into the xinfa on the Immortal Image Scroll, I would definitely accompany Ziling touring the Three Gorges. Ziling, please take a good care of yourself."
Xu Ziling shook hands with Hou Xibai to bid him farewell, and then walked over to the pier. The passengers have just started boarding the ship. Xu Ziling was at the end of the line. When he looked back, Hou Xibai has already disappeared without any trace.
Since leaving Yangzhou, this was the first time he took long-distance passenger ship. It was a novel and fascinating feeling. What he did not understand the most was why must they sail at night? It carried some kind of 'fleeing from calamity' impression.
Under the flickering wind lantern, the river water appeared to be an expanse of darkness, all he could hear was the sound of the water beating against the hull and lapping the shore. The dock and the city were separated by a wooded area, all he could see was faint dots of light on the other side of the forest; it looked as if it was another world altogether.
Other than the Wu Jiang Bang's passenger and cargo ships, moored upstream of the river were several dozen sailboats, big and small. This moment those boats were dark without any light. On such a big dock, theirs was the only ship showing any activities, with several dozen of big men continuously taking goods from the covered shed and carrying it to the ship.
The four big men in tight warrior outfits in charge of receiving the passengers were quite polite and courteous; they even helped carrying the passengers' heavy luggage on board.
In front of Xu Ziling was a small family of three. The man appeared to be a scholar; the woman was beautiful and dignified. Both husband and wife seemed to be in their twenties, with the boy looked to be around four, five years old.
Seeing Xu Ziling's scarred face, apparently they were a bit wary, so much so that they forbade the boy to look back at him.
Most of the other passengers were dressed like traveling merchants, in groups of three or four. Only about five or six people appeared to be Jianghu people.
When Xu Ziling came on board and gave his name, the Wu Jiang Bang man was even more courteous; he even shouted, "Chief! Gong Ye is here!"
The woman ahead of him could not resist her curiosity; she looked back to cast him a glance. Xu Ziling nodded at her and smiled. Unexpectedly it frightened her even more that she hung down her head in panic and hurriedly walked up the deck.
Xu Ziling was accustomed to mingle around in Jianghu. He immediately thought that this family of three must be in trouble; otherwise, they would not be like a bird startled at the twang of a bow like this. He could not help secretly elevating his vigilance.
Arriving on the deck, a short and stout man greeted him, "Gong Ye, how are you, Senior? Xiaoren Lin Lang, the Xiangzhu [fragrant master] of Wu Jiang Bang's Meihua Tang [plum blossom hall]. Sha Laoda already instructed us not to neglect hospitality toward Gong Ye. Please come this way."
Xu Ziling really wanted to tell him not to be overly courteous toward him, but realized that it would not work. Toward such a celebrity martial art master whose name was known throughout the country like Hou Xibai, naturally local gangs and societies would do their best to curry favor from him, to win a big favor from him, so that when something happened in the future, Hou Xibai would stand up for them.
The ship was sturdy and spacious; the hold was divided into three decks, unexpectedly Xu Ziling got a single-occupancy cabin, which was beyond his expectation.
After some chitchats and good wishes, Lin Lang left.
Xu Ziling walked over toward the window to look out; the goods from the shed have been completely transferred to the ship. Myriads of thoughts burst in his heart. Bashu was certainly a very special place for him, yet he just wanted to leave as soon as possible, so that everything that happened here could be forgotten.
The main reason was Shi Qingxuan, a woman who, in certain instant - was able to move him into revealing his true feeling. In the end Xi Ying was killed singlehandedly by him; what would she, or perhaps Shi Feixuan, think?
The hull shuddered, the anchor was raised and the ship started to sail.
Suddenly there was a thunderous sound of hoof beats.
More than dozen riders swept through the forest like a tornado, rushing toward the dock. The riders called out loudly to stop the boat.
Obviously Wu Jiang Bang men did not know who these people were; they put the punting poles out and pushed the boat faster off the shore. They sailed downstream following the current. At first they could still see the group of riders giving chase along the shore, but in the blink of an eye the ship has left them far away behind.
Xu Ziling has not had a good sleep for more than ten days. He went to the bed and collapsed, and was immediately entering the land of dreams.
In the morning light, all around them strange mountain peaks, with dangerous ridges and lofty peaks, as if they were pared by a hatchet - stood in great numbers. Layered rocks and piles of stones were heavy in bluish-green color; beautiful landscape appeared one after another.
Although watching all these Kou Zhong was gasping in amazement, he knew that he had lost his way; he could not find his way toward Yulin County. Otherwise, after rushing about all through the night, it was impossible for him not to find even a shadow of a single official road.
In this layer upon layer of mountains and overlapping rivers, among the towering mountains and precipitous ridges, finding man-made road was not an easy thing to do.
Originally he was heading west on the northern bank along the Yu River, who would have thought that mountains and streams were in the way? He thought about making a detour to continue, but after making a few turns he came to this 'ahead no village was to be seen, behind there was no place with any people on it' place.
Exasperated, Kou Zhong thought he might as well climb one of the peaks. This peak towered above the range of hills. Climbing halfway, he was already enveloped by clouds and mist. There was a stream meandering among the strange-looking rocks and unusual trees. When he reached the peak, he looked to the west, and saw a fortified village about ten li away, hidden among the mountain ranges covered by the trees. There was a longwinded stone path leading to the main gate of the stronghold. There were also terraced rice fields, where the water reflected the light like luster of gems.
It was already the end of autumn, the beginning of winter. The forest leaves had turned golden yellow. Surrounded by the mountain and embraced by the river, there was an out-of-the-world, stand-alone, oblivious-of-human-world - feeling about the village.
Watching all these, Kou Zhong's thoughts wandered far away, thinking to himself that if he did not have important matter to attend to, it would be extremely enjoyable if he could stay here for ten days or half a month. But thinking about Song Yuzhi, his hesitation was gone; he quickly rushed toward the fortified village.
Sailing downstream following the current to the east, in just one night they already passed Meishan, Jianwei, and Luchuan, three counties. After eating breakfast provided by the ship, Xu Ziling went to the bow and stood facing the wind, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the river.
On this section of the river, the water was deep, the current swift, and the tide was surging. Overhanging cliffs stood opposite of each other on both sides; arduous, high and steep. Following the torrential current, the sailboat carried a flowing-out-swiftly-for-thousand-li momentum.
Seeing all these, Xu Ziling's heart yearned, his spirit raced; he felt deeply that the trip has not been made in vain, so he was even more grateful to Hou Xibai for this good suggestion, thinking that if Kou Zhong were here, chatting and joking with him, it would be even more free and pleasing.
He could not help thinking about Shi Feixuan accompanying Hou Xibai touring the Three Gorges as well, momentarily a hundred different emotions running through his heart.
While he was still deep in thought, Lin Lang came over and said, "By noon today, we will pass through Ba County. From Ba County to Badong, the section of the river is even more strategic; if we get tailwind, by nightfall tomorrow we are going to reach Zheng County, where we are going to stop over for one night. Over there, they have numerous shrines; if Gong Ye is interested, you may want to go into the city to take a look around."
Xu Ziling asked, "When are we going to enter the Gorges?"
Lin Lang replied, "After Baidi City, probably about a sichen later will be the mouth of the gorge. For us who are used to seeing it, it's nothing, but if this is the first time Gong Ye tours the gorge, that kind of towering mountain peaks clasping the river in between with steep terrain might make Gong Ye sigh pretty darn good."
Xu Ziling was extremely interested; Chang Jiang [Yangtze] was like a jade belt of vast water forest, extending into the peaks of the mountain range. Nodding, he said, "Before entering the gorge, the scenery is already this spectacular; after entering the gorge, naturally it will be even more worth seeing."
Appearing to be casual, Lin Lang asked, "Last night, those people who chased after us demanding to stop the boat, did Gong Ye recognize them?"
Xu Ziling was well aware that this was the real purpose of him coming to speak to him; shaking his head, he said, "It has nothing to do with me. Does Lin Xiangzhu know which side those people belong to?"
Doubtful, Lin Lang replied, "Xiaoren is unclear of their identity, hence I came to inquire of Gong Ye. In that case, it may be related to other guests on board. Gong Ye need not take it to heart."
After some more pleasantries, Lin Lang took his leave to go back to his job. But the image of those young couple and the little boy floated in Xu Ziling's heart.