Translator: Foxs' Wuxia
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, talking and laughing as though nothing had happened, walked along the official road towards the East Gate. Naturally Xu Ziling was without any weapons. Kou Zhong, because he had hidden the Moon in the Well and the Piercing the Sun Bow inside the sheepskin robe that Chu Chu sewed for him, which had endured calamity, on the surface he also appeared to be empty-handed, there was not the slightest hint of murderous intent.
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “The most moving part of life is that no one can foresee what will happen in the next moment, and what change will occur? Like our current situation, how will Xie Hui deal with us after we enter the city, perhaps he will simply refuse us from entering the city; thinking about him, I feel it is interesting.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Your guts is getting bigger and bigger, could it be that you are overconfident? Under current circumstances, we are entering the city like this, we are forcing Xie Hui to kill us at all costs. Otherwise, how could his prestige survive?”
Kou Zhong disagreed, he said, “Xie Hui has mingled in Jianghu for a while. There’s common saying, ‘when two kingdoms are at war, they don’t execute envoys’, at least Xie Hui will meet with us first and listen to what we have to say.”
And then he smiled bitterly and said, “If I did not look at Yuzhi’s friendship, I surely would not venture into the city to take risks, therefore, as long as there is a bit of chance, I have to fight for it. I hope that I only need to use my mouth and not my hands.”
Xu Ziling spoke heavily, “It’s for the same reason that I am coming with you, becoming like a fool delivering two fat lambs into a tiger’s den. But I am still worried that one thing goes wrong, it might immediately trigger a civil war between Xie Hui and the four major tribes.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Kou Zhong said, “Xie Hui shouldn’t be that stupid, therefore, both danger and opportunity exist at the same time. It will depend on our response.”
The city gate was in sight. Looking in from the outside, they did not sense any unusual situation, the only thing making them feeling uneasy was that there was no civilian, common people coming and going, the whole official road was empty, only they, the two brothers were strolling leisurely.
Suddenly the sound of hoof beats arose, more than a dozen riders rushed out of the city gate and galloped straight toward the two boys.
Xu Ziling halted his steps and said, “The leader is Xie Wenlong.”
Kou Zhong stepped back to his side, looked ahead with rapt attention, and asked in heavy voice, “Do you see Xie Hui?”
Xu Ziling shook his head to indicate that he had not seen him.
The more than a dozen riders pulled the reins, their warhorses reared and neighed. Under Xie Wenlong’s leadership, the dozen or so riders dismounted at the same time in uniform movement. Everyone appeared to be young and strong, their build was big, sturdy and heroic, they were all the martial art masters of the younger generation of the Duzun Bao.
Xie Wenlong took two steps forward and came to about half a zhang from the two boys, he saluted and said, “Xie Wenlong, sincerely representing Duzun Bao, respectfully welcome Shaoshuai and Xu Gongzi’s honored selves.”
Hearing that, the two you looked at me, I looked at you, such a reception was greatly beyond their expectation. Of course, it was also possible that Xie Hui was using peaceful measures before using force, and when they sank into desperate straits, he would show his true colors.
Kou Zhong chuckled, returned the salute, and said, “Xie Xiong need not be too polite, Xiaodi does not deserve it! We turn up without being invited, abruptly and rudely, Xie Xiong, please don’t take offense.”
Xie Wenlong hurriedly replies, “No, no, no! Don’t say that.” Finished speaking, he ordered his men to bring out two empty horses and said, “My humble father is waiting respectfully for the two gentlemen’s honored selves inside the city. Please let Wenlong show the way.”
Both sides mounted their horses, Kou Zhong rode in the middle, Xu Ziling and Xie Wenlong rode on his left and right, respectively, escorted by more than a dozen riders, they slowly trotted to the East Gate.
Sitting on the horseback, Kou Zhong asked Xie Wenlong, “Is Saozi [sister-in-law] well?”
Maybe Xie Wenlong has never thought that Kou Zhong would speak to him in such a cordial and friendly manner, he was slightly startled, then his expression turned dark, he spoke dejectedly, “Everything that happened in the past few days was something that she didn’t want to see. How would Shaoshuai expect she is doing now?”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “This is precisely the reason Ziling and I visited Chengdu, we are hoping to turn the hostility into peace. Honestly, until this moment Xiaodi still don’t understand how we all fell into this plight?”
Xie Wenlong looked straight ahead, he spoke with wooden expression, “There are some things that are not convenient for Wenlong to say, my humble father will make it clear to Shaoshuai.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong’s heart sank. Listening to the tone of Xie Wenlong’s voice, the chance that this matter with Xie Hui would end up amiably and in harmony was slim to none. The good thing was that Xie Hui was willing to talk to them, showing the magnanimity of the great martial art master of Bashu Wulin, who was equally famous with Song Que.
But when Xie Wenlong said those words, a strange and inexplicable feeling welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart, as if waiting for them inside the city was not just Xie Hui and his Xie Family Army, that simple, but somebody else as well. Yet as for who else, he was unable to pinpoint who the person was.
The three riders were the first to enter the gateway, the city defenders lined up on both sides of the road leading into the city gate. Each side had approximately fifty men. They raised their weapons and shouted aloud to salute, their voices echoed in the empty cavity of the gateway. However, compared to facing the Golden Wolf Army’s thousand troops ten thousand horses outside the City of Longquan, this kind of momentum appeared to be a trivial matter.
One tiny clue reveals the general trend [idiom: small beginnings show how things will develop], undeniably, the Xie Family Army was a strong contingent of elite troops, not a simple mob at all. It enabled Xie Hui to support the situation and to maintain peace in Bashu after the demise of the Sui Dynasty. No one dared to invade their territory, yet this situation was finally broken by Song Que, who originally had a close relationship with Xie Hui.
The main street connecting the exit of the city gate was without half a passerby, the shops closed their doors, the tense atmosphere was like the mountain rain was about to come.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s gazes went straight to the middle-age man, standing alone with his hands behind his back at the far side of the long street, who, although it was in the depth of winter, was still dressed in dark green clothes, with only a cloak to protect him against the wind. Compared to the fully armed soldiers standing on both sides, he had some kind of transcendence impression.
This person’s forehead high, his nose erect, with dark complexion, his expression tough, proud, cold and detach towards people. Although he was standing so casually in place, there was an inspiring-awe-to-the-eight-points-of-the-compass overbearing aura around him, although he was slightly inferior to Song Que’s kind of looking-disdainfully-at-the-world-out-of-the-corner-of-his-eyes, the-mother-earth-gives-free-rein-to-me-to-crisscross indignant air, so that anybody looking at him would feel respect, and would have deep impression. He did not bring any weapon on him, yet no one dared to doubt that he had swift and fierce destructive power.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cried, ‘Not good!’ inwardly. Xie Hui was precisely the kind of person who would not submit to any threat, by displaying this kind of battle array, it was clear that he had the will to fight and the confidence so that he was not afraid of hard battle.
From the distance, Xie Hui calmly said, “I am Xie Hui, welcoming Shaoshuai and Ziling for honoring Chengdu with your presence.”
His voice came leisurely, he did not raise his qi or increase his voice, yet every sentence and every word shook the two boys’ eardrums. Merely this kind of power was enough to make the two cautious, not daring to be careless and underestimate the enemy, even their confidence to be able to escape and retreat leisurely was swayed.
People have names, trees have shadow; Xie Hui was able to achieve the same fame with Song Que, naturally he was not some kind of idle person.
Sitting on the horseback, Kou Zhong cupped his fist and responded, “In your busy schedule, Baozhu [fort/castle master] is still willing to find the time to see us, two younger generation kids without any reputation, this is indeed our honor.”
Xie Hui laughed aloud and said, “From generation to generation, the rivers and mountains produce talented people. Shaoshuai is too modest! Nowadays, who in the world does not know two gentlemen’s great name?”
To express his respect, Kou Zhong dismounted about five zhang away from Xie Hui, the others hurriedly followed.
In itself, the empty street had its own silent pressure, which makes people feel their breathing could not flow freely. The dialogue between the two sides resounded along the long street, the atmosphere was grave, brimming with inherent tension of the war could happen at any moment.
Xie Hui did not show the slightest sign of one word goes wrong, he would immediately move the weapons of war. His pair of eyes emitted complicated, difficult-to-understand expression, as he fixed his eyes on Kou and Xu, two boys, with Xu Ziling attracted most of his attention. The others were still standing at the place where they were dismounted, only Xie Wenlong accompanied the two boys to walk toward Xie Hui.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were accustomed to be in all kinds of situation, although they were in a dangerous place where danger lurks on every side, they still carried a calm and unhurried manner.
Xie Hui’s two eyes shot admiring expression, which greatly diminished the originally hostile atmosphere and the austere look in his pair of eyes; he smiled and said, “Two gentlemen came from a thousand li, Ol’ Xie has prepared a table of green tea and vegetarian dishes to wash away the two gentlemen’s dust.”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling you looked at me, I gazed at you. They were already surprised that Xie Hui was willing to sit down and talk to them, furthermore, his remark about green tea and vegetarian dishes instead of fine wine and fine food made them think a hundred times without being able to understand.
Inwardly, Kou Zhong was feeling uneasy, but he was unable to pinpoint what exactly was inappropriate; he hurriedly said, “We are indebted by Baozhu preparing a feast to entertain us, we all can sit down and drink green tea and talk about anything under the sun, what could be more favorable than this in life?”
Completely beyond his control, Xu Ziling’s heart was severely shaken, he had a vague feeling that something that was completely beyond their imagination was waiting for them on the road ahead.
Showing a hint of pained smile, Xie Hui nodded slightly and called out lightly, “Open the door to welcome the guests!”
At the place where the four were standing, to their left was the main door of a restaurant, which was originally tightly closed. The double door opened in the middle, two Xie Family warriors, in respectful manner, pushed the door from the inside. Their movement was slow and steady, thereupon the space inside the restaurant’s main hall was revealed cun by cun.
The restaurant’s main hall, which should have been full of tables, seemed to have only one table in the middle, giving people an unusual feeling.
However, what attracted the two boys’ attention was the sitting-peacefully-on-the-chair-at-the-other-side-of-the-table-facing-the-street, not-tainted-by-a-speck-of-dust, moving fairy. She was, using a still, without-any-ripple, clear expression in her eyes – staring fixedly at Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling on the street.
Xu Ziling lost any Moon in the Well, Heart of the Sword Brightly Lit, or whatever, his tiger-body was severely shaken.
Kou Zhong was not much better than him, he trembled violently and blurted out crying, “Feixuan!”
Unexpectedly, it was the Shi Xianzi [fairy] returning to the world of the living.
She appeared so suddenly, beyond anybody’s expectation! Just like her Color Empty Sword, difficult to ward off.
No matter how meticulous their consideration, without missing any possibility, yet they never expected to see Shi Feixuan in the city.
Xu Ziling’s entire body grew hot, his mind exploded, the ocean of his heart was turned into an overflowing-the-sky huge wave that no power could restrain.
Not so long ago, he was so longing to be able to meet again with her, to confide to her the contradictions and pains in his heart, the contradictions and pains that only she could understand, and to plead with her to use her immortal method to rescue him.
Not so long ago, he had lost all self-control, painfully thinking of her, so much so that he thought of leaving everything behind, and go to the located-in-unknown-deep-cloud Jingzhai, just so he could take a glance at her one more time.
Without her, his life dragged away that one day felt like a year, but the cruel reality forced him to endure silently, because he was afraid of disturbing her sacred and inviolable clear cultivation.
In the Battle of Luoyang, when he thought that he was surely going to die, he could not help taking the time to pay Liao Kong a visit, to have Liao Kong pass on his heartfelt message to her from far away, hoping that she would show understanding to his secret trouble in going against her wish.
After being severely injured by Yang Xuyan, Xu Ziling met Shi Qingxuan again. When his mind gradually shifted to her, he was finally succeeded in turning his thoughts toward Shi Feixuan from intense to indifferent, and buried it deep at the bottom of his heart. But then she appeared at this dreadful moment, which was also related to the grand plan of Kou Zhong acquiring the final victory.
Nature [as the mother of all things] was messing with people, it was surely no more than that.
Shi Feixuan was still dressed in men’s clothing, with a piece of cloth wrapped around her head, coarse linen cloth, cotton outer coat, plain white with plain yellow lining, soft leather boots on her feet, and the Color Empty Sword hanging on her back. Her expression gentle, so that others were unable to sense the mystery inside her fragrant heart. Seeing the two boys staring blankly at her, tranquil and calm, she stood up gracefully and leisurely, a smiling expression, which appeared to be there yet not exactly there, floated from the corners of her lips, as she spoke softly, “Shaoshuai, Ziling, please!”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, like puppets being controlled by invisible strings, forgetting Xie Hui and his son, started to walk over to the restaurant together, as if they agreed by chance – in a daze.
The originally ordinary restaurant was immediately transformed from the mundane world into the world of the immortals, all because of the immortal footprint suddenly appeared.
Xie Hui and his son followed behind them and called out to them to take their seats.
Like foolish-headed bird, the two followed Xie Hui’s direction to sit down opposite Shi Feixuan, with Xie Hui, father son, accompanied them sitting on either side.
Shi Feixuan personally poured tea for everyone, and then she sat down.
In the restaurant, apart from the five people sitting around the table of vegetarian dishes, whose relationship was so complicated that it was beyond explanation, there was no one else. The soldiers who opened the door quietly closed the door for them and withdrew out of the restaurant.
Xie Hui raised his cup and said, “No matter what business the two gentlemen coming to Chengdu for, one day we have not fallen out and used forced against each other, you are still my, Xie Hui’s guests. Therefore, Xie Hui is offering a cup of hot tea to salute the two gentlemen.”
Xu Ziling avoided Shi Feixuan’s seemingly-able-to-see-through-everything-in-the-secular-world limpid gaze, and cast his eyes toward the green tea, while sighing inwardly and raised his cup to return the salute.
Kou Zhong, without blinking at all, met Shi Feixuan’s gaze. He slowly raised his cup, and then moved his eyes to Xie Hui. He replied calmly with heavy voice, “I, Kou Zhong, am hoping that the next time I see Baozhu, we can still sit down and drink tea like right now.”
The four men all drank the cup of hot tea at one go, while Shi Feixuan sipped daintily, and then put down the tea cup leisurely. Her manner was calm and at ease, as if what happened before her eyes had nothing to do with her.
Xie Wenlong said, “These vegetarian dishes are made by Jiannei‘s [my humble wife] own hands, please don’t be polite.”
Kou Zhong raised his chopsticks and said with wry smile “I can’t hardly eat, but since Xie Furen [Madam Xie] personally prepared it, how could I dare to let her down? Ziling, come! Let’s praise Shao Furen [young madam] together.”
After the two ate without tasting the food, sampling two kinds of vegetarian dishes, Xie Hui sighed and said, “Aside from our opposite standpoints, two gentlemen are the people that Ol’ Xie value the most in the world today. Merely you guys won an honor for us, Han people, outside the Great Wall, anybody ought to be sincerely appreciative.”
Shi Feixuan did not have the slightest intention to speak; fascinated, she looked at Xu Ziling, who was chewing with weird expression and eating, her pretty eyes emitted tender expression.
Kou Zhong spoke dejectedly, “Frankly speaking, I originally had thousands of words, I wanted to lay out the pros and cons clearly to Baozhu, to avoid us raising the weapons of war against each other, until both sides suffer, while also saving the innocent people of Bashu. However, Feixuan immortal-self arrived suddenly, so that I am now out my wits, not knowing what to say. It would be better to ask Feixuan and Baozhu to bestow instruction.”
Shi Feixuan’s cherry-lips smiled, but she declined to comment, her gaze turned toward Xie Hui.
Xie Hui did not look at anybody in particular, he fell into deep thought, his pair of eyes emitted grim and cold expression, he looked out the door, and then, sighing with sorrow, he said, “I, Xie Hui, have crisscrossed the world for decades, and I’ve never feared anyone; furthermore, I have never given a damn to anybody, except for two persons.”
Xie Wenlong hung his head low and said nothing, as if he was sharing the pain in Xie Hui’s heart.
Kou Zhong asked in astonishment, “May I venture to ask, who are these two persons that are able to make Baozhu have no choice but to regard them?”
Xie Hui’s gaze moved to Kou Zhong, it became as sharp as a knife. He spoke heavily, “I have to declare one thing first, so that Shaoshuai will not misunderstand. Whether the two gentlemen believe it or not, to me, power, riches and honor is nothing more than passing smoke and fleeting cloud, not enough to be cherished at all. If it were not for the whole country in rebellion, I would have retreated to the mountains and forests early on, and handed over the familial property to Wenlong to be taken care of, and then I would no longer get involved with the things of the world. Therefore, when Yang Guang died, I signed an agreement with the Ba Meng [Bashu/Sichuan Alliance] to maintain Bashu’s neutrality, to avoid the common people from being ravaged by the fire of war, while quietly waiting for the appearance of the Bright Lord who will unify the world.”
Hearing what Xie Hui said, Xu Ziling could not help turning his gaze to Shi Feixuan. As if she generated a reaction, the fairy met his gaze. She gently nodded her cicada head, indicating that Xie Hui spoke sincerely.
However, when he heard it, Kou Zhong’s eyebrows were deeply knitted. Puzzled, he asked, “Since that is the case, why don’t Baozhu continue to remain neutral?”
Xie Hui did not answer him, showing reminiscing look on his face, he returned to the previous topic, speaking as if he was mumbling to himself, “It was a sizzling hot summer day more than forty years ago, at that time I was a young man who didn’t know the immensity of heaven and earth. On behalf of his family, Song Que escorted a batch of salt goods to Shu, and on behalf of my clansmen, I received the salt goods. I have never seen such an outstanding heroic, considering himself unexcelled in the world – figure like Song Dage, which made me admire from the heart at first sight. We formed a close friendship, and joined hands to wipe out the violent horse thieves wreaking havoc within the Shu border at that time, going through the fire and water together for a while, fighting side by side. Song Dage had repeatedly protected me in extremely dangerous situations, disregarding his own life and death. And the reason why I, Xie Hui, am able to be what I am today is entirely thanks to Song Dage supporting me. No matter how chaotic the world outside, no one dared to offend my territory even for half a step, all because everyone in the world knows that violating me, Xie Hui, will definitely incur Song Que’s fury. Who in the world dares to offend Song Que?”
Speculation and facts could be this far apart; it was only now that Kou Zhong heard with his own ears Xie Hui explaining himself about his relationship with Song Que that he knew that he had misunderstood Xie Hui. This most powerful leader of Bashu clans of this age did not turn his back to Song Que and welcome the Li Family because he was reluctant to give up his power and position, but for another reason. The key must lie in the other person whom, other than Song Que, Xie Hui held in high regard.
Who might that person be?
After Shi Feixuan’s reappearance, Xu Ziling could only explain his mood in four characters ‘xin luan ru ma’ [have his thoughts in a whirl, lit. heart in chaos like on pins and needles]. It turned out just as Shi Zhixuan predicted, when Li Shimin was caught in a matter of life and death, Fan Qinghui could not possibly sit back and watch.
Outside Kou Zhong and Song Que’s camp, only Shi Feixuan understood that Bashu should not be lost. If Hanzhong fell, Kou Zhong could directly enter the Pass and attack Chang’an, and Duke Yang’s Treasure-house would make Li Yuan lose Chang’an’s greatest advantage.
Shi Feixuan showing her footprint here was a move after going through careful deliberations.
Kou Zhong’s voice was heard, “I understand! May I venture to ask Baozhu, who is the other person that Baozhu hold in high regard?”
Still immersed in the memories of the past, Xie Hui could not help sighing gently and said, “There are many things I dare not think of, and now, I don’t want to talk about it even more. For a long time, Song Dage is the person Xie Hui admires most, and it hasn’t changed. If I have a choice, I definitely would never go against his will, not to mention Yuhua is the good daughter-in-law I am most fond of.”
Shaken, Xie Wenlong cried out, “Die!”
Xie Hui raised his hand to stop him from continuing, he spoke calmly, “The other person is precisely Feixuan’ Shizun [revered master], Fan Zhaizhu [monastery master]. Because of Xiuxin and Shi Zhixuan’s affair, she set foot in Jianghu, and Song Dage and I, also because of Xiuxin, wanted to look for Shi Zhixuan to give him bad luck. We all met by chance on the left way [not sure, perhaps a typo], as if accidental, but was actually destined. She and Dage sat over a meal, discussing opportunities and advantages. Although I was only sitting on the side and listening, I remember every word they said, moreover, I felt the content of her heart in bemoaning the state of the universe and pitying the fate of mankind, her huge sympathy in giving thought to all the people, which I dare not forget even for a moment.”
And then he looked at Shi Feixuan, his pair of eyes revealed a gentle expression, he spoke kindly, “Therefore, when Feixuan came to me to talk to me on behalf of Li Shimin and explained the cause effect of her choice of Li Shimin, it was the first time that I did not agree with Dage in important matters, and decided to agree to the conditions set out by Feixuan, not for the honor and disgrace of my Xie Family, but for the well-being of all the people of the world. To this day, I still don’t regret it, only I am grieved that I cannot obtain Dage’s understanding. I really don’t want to be his enemy for this matter, yet today he is my enemy. However, in my heart, I do not have the slightest blame toward Dage. He has his standpoint and view, no one can sway his conviction, I of course can’t, and Qinghui is also unable to accomplish it. The situation that I don’t want to witness the most has become a dreadful reality.”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling finally understood that although Xie Hui did not speak clearly about his relationship with Fan Qinghui, apparently both he and Song Que had an adoring heart toward Fan Qinghui. However, because of Fan Qinghui’s status of withdrawing from worldly affairs, naturally nothing would come out of it. Just like the relationship between Xu Ziling and Shi Feixuan. Imagine that Xu Ziling were on Xie Hui’s shoes, many years later Shi Feixuan’s disciples came to ask for Xu Ziling’s help, would he be able to refuse?
Both Xu Ziling and Kou Zhong have greatly changed their perceptions of Xie Hui, they felt that he was a great master of the older generation worthy of respect.
From Xie Hui, Kou Zhong shifted his gaze to Shi Feixuan, he sighed and said, “Feixuan ought to know that things have reached a point of once it gets started there’s no stopping it. Although I understand Baozhu’s difficulties, but I already developed deep, unresolvable enmity with Li Shimin, it’s no longer my, Kou Zhong’s business alone, but the Song Family and the Shao Shuai allied army’s wish. Hence everything can only be solved by military [or martial] force, there is no other possibility.”
Shi Feixuan smiled and said, “Since that is the case, let’s just solve it by martial force!”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were stunned; they lacked the words to respond.