If those riders persevered by taking a boat to continue their relentless pursuit on their tail, then something might happen during their stop over at Zheng County tomorrow night.
Thinking to this point, he heard the pitter-patter of footsteps from behind him. Xu Ziling looked back, and saw the little boy skipping over toward him. Hastily he reached out to catch him. Frowning, he said, "Child, how could you rush around randomly on the boat?"
The child had red lips and white teeth, his features delicate; he was extremely refined and cute. Acting like a spoiled kid, he said, "Bobo [uncle, older than one's dad] pick me up, Jie'er wants to see."
Sweeping his gaze around, Xu Ziling was surprised not to see the child's parents. Thinking about little Lingzhong, his heart was filled with infinite tenderness. Picking him up, he spoke softly, "There, can you see now?"
Little Jie's big eyes, which black and white were distinct, without the least bit of contamination of grownups' muddy aura - sparkled brightly as he looked around, full of curiosity.
Xu Ziling's emotion was stirred. Only a little child, with his inquisitive mind and his power of mental association - would be able to 'see' things with purity and innocence like the heart of a newborn; full of passion, and full of desire.
Although Xu Ziling could see with his spirit, but in his heart different thoughts were surging, his mind was full of the adult world's matter, brimming with disturbing gains and losses, far inferior to Little Jie's pure and unadulterated focus and intentions.
Light footsteps entered his ears.
Inwardly Xu Ziling shivered slightly. This was the sound of footsteps of a woman who knew martial art.
Sure enough, the pretty young mother came behind him and chided, "Jie'er, how could you be so disobedient and bother this Dashu [big uncle (younger than one's dad)]!"
Xu Ziling put Little Jie, who did not want to let off easily, down on the deck, before turning around to meet the young mother face-to-face.
Stooping down slightly, she picked Little Jie up, hung down her head to avert his gaze, and spoke in low voice, "I am so sorry, Jie'er has bothered Dashu!"
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Don't worry about it!"
Carried in his mother's bosom, as they walked away, Little Jie was still grinning while waving his little hand to him. Right this instant, Xu Ziling made a firm resolution that if Little Jie and his parents were in danger, he would definitely not watch with folded arms.
The closer he was to the fortified village, the more Kou Zhong felt this place's fascinating scenery, its strange beauty and serenity. A stream of river flowed from the northwest, winding its way through the middle of the fortified village, and continued to the southeast. The stockade consisted of long buildings with shingle siding scattered around on both sides of the stream in clusters of four to six houses.
The houses located at the edge of the water or on the slope had their foundation supported by wooden pillars, forming some kind of platform, so that it looked like the house had hanging feet; very distinctive.
The smaller stockaded village had more than a dozen households, the bigger ones had more than a hundred households; some were hidden among the trees, some were built on the cliff at higher elevation, with small path crisscrossing among the buildings.
He had not entered the village yet, the dogs were already barking.
A group of about a dozen Li Liao women was sitting in a circle at the entrance to the village, chatting idly while doing their embroidery work. Seeing a stranger came, they all showed alert expression.
The bell rang.
After his past experience, Kou Zhong did not dare to rashly enter the village. He stopped and raised his voice to call out, "Anybody speak Han? I just want to ask for directions!"
Greeting him was nearly a dozen of vicious dogs, big and small, rushing toward him, but stopped at approximately a zhang away from him, while continuing to bark furiously; fortunately the dogs did not pounce straight at him.
Maybe the men of the village were out hunting, but other than the women at the mouth of the village, he only saw old men and young children. Everybody was looking and pointing at him, as if he was some kind of a freak; obviously no one understood his words.
Thinking that entering the village would not bring any result, but would provoke unnecessary misunderstanding instead, Kou Zhong felt that perhaps it would be better for him to rely on his own 'natural senses of geographical acuity' to find his way.
He was just turning around, ready to leave, when a pleasant female voice rang out behind him, "Kou Zhong! What are you doing here?"
Shaken, Kou Zhong turned back. He could not believe his eyes for, standing at the village entrance, wearing tight warrior outfit, facing the wind awe-inspiringly, was Song Yuzhi, the beauty he yearned for day and night these past few days.
When Xu Ziling was returning to his cabin, Little Jie's dad was talking with Lin Lang. The latter did not stop shaking his head.
Without thinking, Xu Ziling asked, "What's the matter?"
Little Jie's dad shot a wary glance at him; evidently he did not like Xu Ziling being meddlesome and interrupted their discussion.
Lin Lang said, "Gong Ye, please help me speak reasons. When all is said and done, this ship is going to Jiujiang; which route to take, which harbor to dock, everything has been predetermined, how could we change it arbitrarily? This Mr. Han Zenan does not want to understand."
Han Zenan spoke in distress, "It's not that Zaixia did not understand, I am just asking Lin Dage for a favor to let us disembark at Bashao; that's all!"
Displeased, Lin Lang said, "How many times do I have to tell you, Ba County is Chang Jiang Lian's [Yangtze River Alliance] territory. We, Wu Jiang Bang recently have some disagreement with them. If we suddenly cast anchor on the shore, there will be trouble."
Inwardly Xu Ziling was aware of what's going on, but he also knew what trick Lin Lang, this seasoned Jianghu man, was playing. In just one glance anybody would know that the riders last night were not benevolence people at all. If they caught up with them later and knew that Wu Jiang Bang had let some people off midway, they might not be willing to let the matter drop. But if Han Zenan, husband and wife, left after they cast anchor at Badong County, then Lin Lang would be able to wash his hands clean.
This was the established rule of Jianghu; no one could refute it.
Xu Ziling said, "Let me talk to Han Xiong."
Lin Lang respectfully said, "Gong Ye is indeed very understanding."
Finished speaking, he simply left.
Han Zenan was so disappointed that he seemed to be losing his mind.
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Han Xiong, can we talk?"
Han Zenan glared at him angrily, and spoke coldly, "There is nothing to talk."
Just like that, he returned to his cabin.