Chapter 10 - Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan

Book 1 Chapter 10 – Dashing on bravely with no thought of personal safety

When the sky was still dark early the next morning, the two boys slung their bundles over their shoulders and set off on another journey.

It was precisely this sudden decision that would change their destiny. Not only theirs, but the Wulin’s as well as the world’s [tian xia] destiny.

Their destination was the Great Sui Dynasty’s eastern capital, Luoyang.

That day Song Lu said that after their business in Sichuan was done, they would go to Luoyang to look for the legendary Jade Annulus of the He Clan. Since it was not something that could be accomplished in ten days or half a moth, although it was already half a year ago, they were still thinking of going to Luoyang to try their luck, to see if they could still come across Song Lu.

The closer they got to Yangtze River, the more they felt the oppression and chaos of war. Along the way, from time to time they met groups of refugees. When asked, nobody could give them clear answer as to whom they were fleeing from; these people could not even tell the difference between Sui army and the rebels’ army.

One day they arrived at a small county town, and found a small hotel that was not busy. They slept until midnight when suddenly the street was like a boiling cauldron of voices, a total chaos. Realizing that something was amiss, the two boys hurriedly packed their bundles and rushed downstairs. Pulling aside another guest that was just about to run outside, they inquired of what was going on.

The man replied, “Du Fuwei crushed Sui army at Dongleng occupied Liyang. It’s just that nobody expected to see his army coming this soon.” Finished speaking, he ran away in fear.

The two boys were surprised that Liyang would fall this soon, which means their plan of going up north by boat to Liyang was disrupted.

When they got to the street, they saw people and carriages were fighting over the road, everybody was scrambling to escape to the south; people were screaming and calling out their child and their mothers, the cries of grief shook the heavens. Although the two boys’ courage was above average, at the end of the day, they were still big kids. Infected by this kind of terrible dooms-day-is-coming atmosphere, immediately their minds were on chaos, so they blindly followed the stream of people leaving the city.

The road was littered with clothes, furniture, household utensils, shoes, everything, that people simply abandoned; evidently the situation was extremely dire. The two boys were holding on to each other with dear life, afraid that they might get separated by this tidal wave of people.

Once they were outside the city, they saw covering the mountains and the plains were lanterns and torches of the people fleeing the war. They could not believe that such a small county town, which streets ordinarily were sparsely travelled, all of a sudden could produce these many people.

Kou Zhong pulled Xu Ziling aside to go to different direction, following another road away from the crowd. He said in subdued voice, “We still want to go north, worst case scenario it won’t be via Liyang.”

Xu Ziling nodded, “We should,” he agreed, “We’ll just have to be a bit more careful.”

The two boys turned; winding around the town, they proceeded to the north.

After leaving Cui Shan, this was the first time the traveled at night. To their surprise, they found out that under the faint starlight, they could still see the road clearly.

After walking for several hours, they saw blazing fire filling the whole sky ahead, and they heard shouting and killing noise. Panicked, the two boys ran without looking where they were going. They took a long detour, and because of this, they completely lost their sense of direction.

By daybreak they reached a small village. While they were thinking of asking for directions, suddenly they heard the sound of hoof beats. A group of riders were charging toward their direction from the hillside. The two boys were shocked, and quickly hid inside nearby bushes.

There were about sixty riders. But looking at their all mixed up and chaotic warrior outfits, it was clear that they were rebels’ army. Everyone had a green cloth tied on their arms. As soon as they entered the village, they shot dead several dogs that ran out toward them; and then they went from house to house to search, dragging several hundred villagers, men, women, young and old, out of their homes. In that instant chicken flew out and dogs ran away, parents called for their children and children cried out for their mother. The sound of wailing shook the heavens, making the two boys could not bear to watch much longer.

If they had matchless martial art skill, by this time they would have gone out to uphold justice. But they also remembered that even a tyrannical man with superb martial art skill, who ran amuck in the world such as Chu’s Overlord Xiang Yu[1], still required coordination and all kinds of favorable factors before he ended up cutting his own throat at Wu Jiang [lit. Black River]. In this turbulent time, the power of a single person was negligible.

The green cloth army divided the men and women into two separate rows, which were surrounded all around, to prevent anybody from escaping.

It was only then that the two boys understood why upon hearing the rebel army approaching, the entire city immediately fled clean. Tragic was the fate of these villagers who heard the news but waited here, who, until the troops entered their village they still did not know what was going on.

The two boys had never seen such troops movement; seeing how those saber-wielding, halberd-holding militia troops look fierce and ruthless as if they are ready to kill without blinking an eye, they did not even dare to breath too loud. Especially the closest militia troop was only about fifty steps away from their hiding place; it was indeed extremely dangerous.

One of the riders, who seemed to be the rebel leader, flanked by four escorts, urged his mount toward the row of village men. He picked several healthy, robust men, and drove them to the side, where some other riders immediately tied them with ropes. They appeared extremely harsh, brutal and inhuman. Anybody dared to resist, instantly horsewhip lashed down, beating him until he was half dead.

Watching the scene, the two boys’ faces turned green and their lips white, but their hearts were boiling with anger.

As those mothers and wives saw their sons and husbands being dragged away to be forced labor, they wailed and cried out miserably that those who hear it could not bear it anymore. But those so-called ‘righteous army’ maintained their fierce expression, without showing the least bit of compassion.

[Translator’s note: the word ‘volunteer army’ or ‘militia’ consist of two characters 义军 – yi jun, the first character literally means ‘righteous’.]

Finished selecting the men, the leader went through the womenfolk and the children. Suddenly he pulled the reins. Pointing toward the crowd with his horsewhip, he barked, “You, come out!”

It immediately provoked uproar among the villagers, which the rebels army quickly quenched, naturally not without several people fell down in injuries.

Watching this, Kou Zhong, two boys’ eyes were bloodshot with fury, but they knew that if they stepped forward bravely right now, they would suffer the same fate. It was this moment that they knew that their idea of joining the militia was a very ignorant and naïve.

The village woman was dragged out, sure enough, she looked rather pretty, with a well-developed figure; no wonder the rebel leader’s heart was moved.

While the rebel leader was laughing lecherously, from the side a young militia soldier coldly said, “Qi Laoda [boss, see Chapter 1], Du Zongguan [chief manager, also Chapter 1] has an order, we must not rape women. Qi Laoda right now is at the edge of a cliff, reining your horse; there’s still time.”

This man was brimming with righteousness, and he dared to confront his superior. The two boys were surprised that there was such man in the rebel army; in their hearts they cheered for him.

With a cold snort Qi Laoda said, “Li Jing[2], you mind your own business. Am I raping any woman now? I want to bring this pretty woman back home and marry her legally, making her my official wife. Ha! Do you think Du Ye [master Du] will also manage my marriage?” [reminder: ‘guan’ of Zongguan above means ‘manage’]

Li Jing was about to reply, the village woman suddenly bit the back of the green-cloth soldier’s hand. The green-cloth soldier was startled and let go his grip. With the strength that nobody knew where it came from, the woman dashed out wildly from the encirclement, and ran toward the direction where Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were hiding.

Immediately four green-cloth soldiers laughed and cursed while urging their horses to give chase.

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling saw the fear in the village woman’s pretty eyes, their hearts swelled with righteous indignation. Forgetting about their own safety, they picked stones from the ground, jumped out of their hiding place, and threw the stones at the green-cloth soldiers pursuing the village woman.

When they were still at Yangzhou, their most formidable martial art skill was throwing rocks. It is called with a lot of work, the art is perfected, their throw has become accurate. This time they made their move without hesitation, also it was a sudden attack that was not anticipated, two of the green-cloth soldiers were hit at the pit of their stomach and fell down from their horses.

By this time the village woman’s strength was finally exhausted, she tumbled down on the ground.

Kou Zhong suddenly felt his entire body was full of energy, the true qi inside him was surging, he felt as if he could beat two tigers to death, the strength with which he threw the rock was also doubled. With great excitement he called out, “Xiao Ling, snatch the horse and save her.”

The stones were thrown in rapid succession. Two other green-cloth soldiers were about to shoot with their arrows when suddenly their cheeks were hit. With a miserable cry they fell to the ground.

Hoof beats thundered as the rest of the green-cloth soldiers swarmed down to them.

In the meantime Xu Ziling has already pulled the village woman up. While he was worrying about how to ride a horse, he saw the crowd of soldiers was closing in. In his panic, he forgot that he did not know martial art; hastily he rushed forward toward a war-horse, while still dragging the village woman, who seemed to be as light as nothing, he leaped onto the horseback. To his surprise, he easily landed steadily on the saddle.

This moment Kou Zhong already jumped onto another horse. He clamped his legs on the horse’s belly, but the horse reared on its hind legs and threw him down on the ground.

Xu Ziling’s horse was also going around in circles, he was unable to make the horse run or even move forward. The green-cloth soldiers were only about twenty steps away. The several soldiers at the front have already prepared their bows and arrows, but they were afraid of hurting the horse, hence they did not shoot.

“Zhong Shao(ye),” Xu Ziling called out, “Come quickly.”

Kou Zhong was at his wits’ end; hearing the call, he dashed madly and unexpectedly leaped high in the air and landed on Xu Ziling’s horseback. Wrapping his arms around Xu Ziling’s waist, he shouted, “Let’s go!”

[1] Xiang Yu the Conqueror (232-202 BC), warlord defeated by the first Han emperor.

[2] There was a real historical character Li Jing (570-649AD), Tang Dynasty general and purported author of ‘Duke Li of Wei Answering Emperor Taizong of Tang’, one of the ‘Seven Military Classics’ of ancient China; not sure if this Li Jing was the same one. I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

Chapter 10, Part 2

HPC, Zlack, Anh, Jaya, Weed, Jiraiyan, Janger, you are welcome.

In this critical moment, where one can have his black hair turns white, the village woman suddenly took over the reins, and then with a shout her tiny feet kicked on the horse’s belly. The horse neighed wildly and dashed forward like an arrow, carrying the three people on its back.

They saw that very soon they were about to enter a wooded area; who would have thought that there was a dirt path inside the woods? Turning to the left and winding to the right, in a flash they saw the thief soldiers were left far behind on this unfamiliar road.

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling cheered in their rather strange voice. The latter suddenly remembered that he was still embracing a stranger’s, the unfamiliar woman’s fragrant and soft body.

The good-looking, capable woman not only had consummate equestrian skill, she was also familiar with the local terrain like the back of her hand. Going into the woods, passing through the open fields, climbing mounds, going down the hills, wading the creeks, ascending the mountains, the pursuing enemy’s voice gradually quieted down.

When the three people were happy, the warhorse suddenly stumbled, throwing them into the underbrush in an unsightly heap. While they were crawling to get up, the village woman suddenly cried out in alarm and covered up her chest in panic. Turned out her clothes caught on something and was ripped, exposing a large part of her snow-white breasts. The two boys were frightened and busily turning their body around.

Noticing that she was about three, four cun [an inch, a thumb] shorter than they were, Kou Zhong tossed his bundle to her and said, “All clothes are clean, pick one and put it on, we won’t peek.”

Rustling noise ensued. Soon after the village woman’s bashful voice was heard, “I’m done!”

The two boys turned around and were momentarily stunned; both thought that unexpectedly she was so pretty.

The village woman was about twenty, her eyes were deep black, her skin was unusually fair. Wearing men’s clothing, she exuded some kind of spirited charm.

The village woman beckoned to them and said in low voice, “Follow me.”

The two boys looked at the foamy-mouth, about-to-die war-horse; they sighed inwardly, and dejectedly followed the village woman. After walking for about half a sichen, the village woman led them into a secluded cave on the mountain.

As the two boys sat down, the village woman said with her head hung low, “Thank you two heroes [the word here is ‘hao han’ – strong and courageous man] for offering help from a sense of justice. Xiao Nuzi [little/lowly woman] is extremely grateful.”

Addressed by her as ‘heroes’, the two boys were elated that they felt they were high in the clouds; while at the same time they were surprised, because not only this woman did not look like a village woman, from the way she talked, it did not appear like she grew up in some remote and desolate place.

The pretty village woman saw the two boys were staring at her with their big eyes, with a doubtful expression on their faces, and then she realized that although these two look tall and sturdy, they were in fact still big boys who were younger than she was, whose faces still looked naïve and childish. Involuntarily the bashfulness and fear in her heart subsided considerably.

“Nu jia [lit. servant/slave; yet another word for lowly woman, referring to self] is called Susu,” she said softly, “Really isn’t a Pujia Village resident, it’s just that I got separated from my master that I fled to this place and received Pujia Village people’s kindness in offering shelter to me!”

Relieved, Kou Zhong said, “Susu Jiejie [older sister, term of endearment] is so pretty, it doesn’t matter whether it was kindness or ill-intention, I am sure a lot of people will scramble to offer you shelter.”

Susu’s pretty face blushed as she protested, “It’s not like that!”

Seeing Kou Zhong was starting to flirt, Xu Ziling gave him a rebuking stare as he asked, “How long have Jiejie lived there? How did you become so familiar with this area?”

Kou Zhong added with a laugh, “Jiejie’s equestrian skill is so formidable.”

The two boys were used to be despised and scorned by others, so if anybody was a bit kind to them, they were easily touched. And now suddenly there was this pretty older sister who regarded them as hero [now the word is ‘ying xiong’ – hero], it was obvious that they felt a novel excitement. Yet for some unknown reason, Susu’s pretty face blushed even deeper.

“I only lived in Pujia Village for a month,” she whispered, “But I have come with the villagers to go hunting in this area. As for equestrian skill, why, it was my master’s Miss who taught me. Don’t the two of you know how to ride?”

The two boys were greatly embarrassed. Inwardly they thought how could there be any heroes [this time it’s the combination of two: ying xiong hao han, which in English usually is being translated simply as ‘heroes’] who didn’t know how to ride?

Kou Zhong cleared his throat, and then, not even dare to look at her he asked, “Jiejie’s Miss, where does she live?”

Being called Jiejie this and Jiejie that by these two boys, Susu was also sighing in happiness in her heart. With a tender voice she said, “My Miss is Zhai Rang Laoye’s [old master] only daughter, Zhai Wuxia [FYI, her name means ‘without flaw’]. That day our troops were under surprise attack, in the confusion we got separated from each other. But my Miss has an outstanding martial art skill, so she should be alright. Now I ought to return to Rongyang.”

The two boys were moved immediately. These past three months when they worked at the restaurant, everyday they heard all kinds of news and rumor from the traveling merchants. One of the often-mentioned information was precisely about Zhai Rang and his top general Li Mi. Zhai Rang was known as ‘Great Dragon Head’ [i.e. big boss], the leader of the Wa Gang army. Six years ago, along with his subordinate, another valiant general Xu Shiji, rose up in rebellion at Fort Wa Gang, seizing that territory and proclaimed himself king. Time and again they defeated the Sui army, but was then subdued by Sui general Zhang Xutuo, and since then he was unable to expand his influence anymore.

Last year, Li Mi threw his lot with Zhai Rang, thus doubling Zhai Rang’s strength. Li Mi attacked and crushed Sui army at Dahai Temple [lit. big ocean] in Rongyang, in which battle Zhang Xutuo was killed. Since then Wa Gang army’s prowess was greatly flourishing, and implicitly became the chief of the world’s militias, and thus by ‘men and horses of various paths’ he was honored as the ‘big boss’. Indeed he was not a nobody. It had not occurred to the two boys that the beautiful Jiejie was Zhai Rang’s daughter’s maid.

The astonished Kou Zhong asked, “Isn’t Rongyang lies about a hundred li east of the eastern capital Luoyang? It’s really far away from here. How did Jiejie end up here?”

Susu replied, “Miss wanted to go to Liyang to listen to the world’s number one talented lady Shang Xiufang’s singing; who would have thought that our itinerary was leaked out, and before reaching Liyang something bad happened. If not for Jiejie’s horse was fast, I would not have the fortune to come across you here.”

Unwittingly she also considered herself to be their Jiejie.

Just then, there was a light cough from the cave mouth.

The three people were greatly startled; they all looked to the cave mouth, and saw a tall, majestic looking, sturdy man of about twenty-three or twenty-four, was coming into the cave.

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling sprang up, and both stood in front of Susu to shield her. Kou Zhong took a closer look, and his countenance fell, “Aren’t you the one they called Li Jing?”

The newcomer was indeed Li Jing who reprimanded the green-cloth army leader just now. He did not look handsome at all, but his countenance looked forthright, the bridge of his nose was high, his forehead wide, his eyes were sparkling with spirit, giving other people the impression of poise and resourcefulness.

Li Jing smiled, revealing two rows of white teeth, a strong contrast with his dark, rough complexion. He nodded in astonishment and said, “I am indeed Li Jing. This Xiao Xiongdi’s vision is really formidable. At that time you and I were separated by at least a distance of 150 steps, unexpectedly you are able to recognize Ol’ Li’s appearance, so that in just one look you can call out my name correctly. But looking at your skill, you don’t look like someone who had trained martial art. This is very strange.”

The two boys trembled with fear inwardly. Just based on one sentence from Kou Zhong, he was able to deduce so many things. It was clear that he had vast knowledge, experience and wisdom.

From behind, Susu’s trembling voice spoke up, “At most I’ll come with hero [hao han] back, but you must not harm them.”

Li Jing laughed aloud and said, “Just based on Miss’ compassionate and righteous sentence, even if I, Li Jing, have to risk my life, I will definitely protect you. The three of you may set your heart at ease. I came here alone. That Qi Laoda has been shot to death by me, the Ol’ Li. If that rapist, evil man were allowed to live in this world, he might harm several more people.”

Looking at his posture and bearing, Kou Zhong knew that even he and Xu Ziling fought together, they were still not the opponent’s match; much less he was armed with long saber and bow and arrow. But he did say that he shot Qi Laoda to death, and he did say that he was going to protect them, so he had no reason to deceive them. Thereupon he relaxed his guard and said, “Li Dage [big brother], please sit down.”

Li Jing took off the bow and arrows on his back, and put down the saber on his waist before coming over and sat down in front of the three. After everybody was seated, he smiled and said, “I ought to arrive earlier, but because I had to erase your tracks first, I spent quite a bit of time.”

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling looked at each other, they said with regret, “We did not think about that.”

Li Jing happily patted his shoulder, while raising the thumb of his other hand. “To see what is right and act courageously, to defy the strong, is the conduct of a real man,” he said, “Rarer still, you two are not fully grown men, yet you have this kind of guts, wisdom and skill. In the future, you will definitely be outstanding men.” And then turning to Susu he said, “Miss’ horsemanship is superb.”

Being praised by him, the three people were blushing, but they also grew favorable impression toward him.

Susu asked, “Could those green-cloth troops take their anger out on Pujia village people?”

Li Jing nonchalantly said, “That’s the second reason I was late. I had to set those innocent villagers free. Killing Qi Laoda and those sidekicks and hunting dogs of his only took the time needed to drink several sip of hot tea.”

Although Susu was glad, she was also aghast that he considered killing all those men as not a big deal.

Li Jing indifferently said, “Only by killing them I could seize their horses. But I only brought two horses, because I did not anticipate that Miss is not Pujia Village native. But now that I see Miss, I know that we are still one horse short.”

Listening to him, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s hearts swelled with respect. This Li Jing was definitely a person of wisdom and valor; but they also could not help feeling a bit afraid of him.

Chapter 10, Part 3

Jaya, Anh, Zlack, Ms. Dongfang, HPC, you are welcome. Ms. Smurf, welcome back! How's baby Fable? Hope everybody is well. You did not miss much because I also took a break and was only back early November. Strawberry, hope you feel better. It's that time of the year. May I ask which area do you live? Here, Pacific Norhwest, has been crazy: cold, rain, and then warm, but I think the cold will be back next week.

After seizing the two boys up and down several times, Li Jing said in earnestness, “This is the period when the whole country is in rebellion. When armed troops are against each other, it’s either you are dead or I perish. Those who are not vicious and merciless enough will be wiped out. As long as we can see our goal clearly and fix our own principle, distinguishing thoroughly between right and wrong, black and white, friends or foe in righteousness, we will be able to face the heaven and the earth with clear conscience.”

The two boys nodded, indicating they accepted the instruction.

Susu asked, “Those you did not kill, could they still be looking for us?”

Li Jing smiled and said, “The most important thing for them is looking for me to settle the account. Although Du Fuwei’s fame for fighting prowess is great, he is not a good material for vying over the world [tian xia]. Not only he condones his men, he is greedy of short-term small benefit; he enlists people into his army by force, and thus provoking the heaven’s anger and the men’s blame, causing villages and towns to be abandoned. It’s really like drinking poison to quench thirst. I originally considered him as an important character, but now I can see everything clearly.”

Kou Zhong loved to talk about ‘militia matters’, too bad Xu Ziling was not too interested, so he did not have anybody to talk about it with. Right now he met Li Jing, someone with ‘inside information’, so he happily asked, “Li Dage, in your opinion, which rebel army is the most promising?”

Xu Ziling’s thought was more thorough; recalling that Susu could be considered as Zhai Rang’s people, he reminded him, “Zhong Shao, don’t talk nonsense.”

Li Jing noticed how Xu Ziling seemed to be incessantly making eye signals to Kou Zhong while referring to Susu; he was astonished and asked, “Which party does Miss belong to?”

Susu hurriedly told him about her past, and then said, “Xiao Bi [lowly maid servant/slave girl] has never been familiar with the matter of the world’s great powers; you must not have any misgivings on account of me.”

Apparently Li Jing had high respect toward Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling; he seriously said, “Looking at today’s situation, although rebels army are everywhere, but those who can be considered excellent characters are not many. Right now the prime example of one with most fame and power is ‘Great Dragon Head’ Zhai Rang; however, Zhai Ye’s [master] subordinate Great General Li Mi’s fame and power is actually above his, plus he is extremely well-versed in military strategy and tactics. Hence the relationship between master and subordinate is not clear. This will bring trouble in the future.”

Susu’s countenance changed, “What should we do then?” she asked.

Li Jing grimly said, “If Miss will trust the Ol’ Li, from now on you need to distance yourself from the Zhai family, to avoid ‘the boat capsize the people perish’ disaster in the future.”

Susu said in sad voice, “Since childhood Xiao Bi has been sold to the Zhai Family. At that time Laoye [old master] was still a court of law officer at Shujun [lit. Shu county(?)]. Later on because he killed the son of an influential official, he was condemned to death; hence he rose in rebellion and declared his independence. Not only that, Miss has always been treating me like a sister; how could I abandon her at this point?”

Kou Zhong was tongue-tied. He then said, “Turns out Zhai Rang is still considered the most formidable. But is Li Mi the most promising?”

Li Jing could not stop himself from laughing. “The way you use ‘most promising’ [zui you qian tu], these four characters are very interesting. I can see that in the future Xiao Xiongdi will become an eloquent orator. What you said is correct; not only Li Mi nowadays has several Wulin martial art masters under his command, he is skilled in the art of war and is able to move the troops like a deity, he is also a charismatic leader. In short, he is a figure with grand ambitions to win the world [orig. to inquire of the tripods]. Problem is, his rivals are simply too many. First and foremost are the Four Powerful Clans, who have a large number of talents within their ranks. They would not sit still watching the Sui’s world [tian xia] fall into someone of common family name. Such powerful clans’ opinion is deep-rooted; nobody can change it. Moreover, the biggest advantage of the Four Powerful Clans is that time and again the members of their Clan have held high positions in the imperial court, they are skillful in governing the country. This is something that ordinary citizens of mountain and fields who rise in rebellion cannot match. Du Fuwei is the best example. Even if his martial art skill is outstanding, it’s difficult for him to accomplish big things.”

The two boys remembered Yuwen Huaji immediately, their faces revealed deep hatred. Li Jing noticed this and asked in bewilderment, “Ol’ Li has not inquired two Xiao Xiongdi’s names.”

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling knew that he has seen through the load in their mind, hence they thought that from their names, he could speculate their background. Xu Ziling then told him their names, and calmly added, “Yuwen Huaji killed our Niang, therefore, we want to look for him for revenge.”

Naturally Li Jing could not figure out the twists and turns of this matter, he thought Yuwen Huaji really killed their Niang just like Yang Guang implicated a lot of common people, making family bankrupt and the people dead; that kind of tragedy.

And then Xu Ziling narrated to him thoroughly, and so he understood the details. He could not refrain from speaking solemnly, “Obviously the two Xiao Xiongdi have not entered the world too deeply. There are rules that must be known before you started. Jianghu has a saying, ‘Meeting people by chance, speak only three-tenth.’ There are too many people who on the surface look reliable, but in certain situation may become an enemy. Every word you said could potentially become the cause of your demise.”

The two boys nodded their head indicating they accepted the advice.

Susu was touched. “Li Dage is really good to them,” she said.

Li Jing replied seriously, “Very few people can hit it off with the Ol’ Li as soon as we meet; those who have dead hearts are unbearably many. There are a lot of things in the world that seem to be impossible, but can be done single-handedly by ambitious people. Commoners can be bestowed the title marquis or revered as prime minister, so much so that they can reach the top to the emperor’s throne. People who have nothing at all also can become rich merchant wealthy tycoons. This kind of matter is not without any precedence, so you can greatly encourage yourselves with this.”

Listening to this, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were radiant with delight. This conversation with Li Jing has been like encountering bright beacon light in the dark night at the angry sea; making them see hope and giving them goals to achieve, and reignited the ambition that was hit hard by Fu Junchuo’s death.

Li Jing continued, “Other than Zhai Rang and Li Mi, those with most fame and power are Wang Bo, Dou Jiande and Du Fuwei. These three top powers are the most, hey, the most promising.”

Seeing a person with a lot of insight and vast experience like Li Jing was also willing to adopt his phrase, Kou Zhong was very proud of himself.

“Du Fuwei, you have already commented,” he said, “Wang Bo and Dou Jiande, what’s so formidable about these guys?”

“Pfft!” Susu broke into laughter as she spoke up, “How can you casually call people ‘guys’?”

Smiling, Li Jing said, “Kou Xiao Xiong still has naiveté! Wang Bo is the number one master of the Chang Bai Sect, he is known in Wulin world as the ‘Whip King’, but he calls himself ‘Zhi Shi Lang’ [it’s hard to translate succinctly, it basically means ‘the minister/official/youth who understood the world/lifetime/era]. He composed the song ‘Don’t Go Toward Liaodong [peninsula, between Bohai and Yellow Sea] and Wasted in Death’, which penetrated deeply into the people’s heart. He also knows how to grasp the popular sentiment; hence he receives great support from Shandong [province, northeast China] populace, far surpasses Du Fuwei.”

After a short pause he continued, “If internal strife arose between Zhai Rang and Li Mi, I have no doubt that the one reaping the benefit must be Qinghe [county, Hebei] man Dou Jiande. This man is the overlord of the dark road [criminal/underworld] in Hebei. He has been absent for a long time. Later on, because his family and relatives were wiped out by men who were sent by Yang Guang, in his anger he joined Gao Shida’s militia. When Gao Shida died in battle, the leadership of the militia then fell into his hands. This man’s martial art skill already reached the state of perfection, his men numbered in hundred thousand. They occupied Gao Jibo and made it the base of their operations, their influence reached the Yellow River. This man cannot be ignored.”

Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Listening to Li Dage’s analysis sure beats listening to his mother’s at the restaurant for three months. Those Yang Xuan’gan, Song Zixian, Wang Xuba, Wei Dao’er, Li Zitong, Lu Mingyue, Liu Wuzhuo, and what have you. Listening about that bunch of names my head was swollen. Turns out the most formidable ones are only these few.”

Li Jing took out dry rations for everyone to share. He said, “We must stay here until late into the night before we can leave. By that time the pursuing troops would have been weary and their horses tired from the earlier commotion. Even if we come across them, we won’t have anything to worry.”

The two boys already regarded Li Jing, they simply nodded their heads vigorously.

Susu asked, “Now that Li Dage has left Du Fuwei, what’s your plan for the future?”

Li Jing did not answer. He asked them instead, “What about the three of you? What’s your plan?”

Hanging down her head, Susu said, “I am thinking of returning to Rongyang to look for Miss, asking her to warn Laoye to guard against Li Mi.”

Kou Zhong replied, “We want to go to Luoyang to find a friend.”

Li Jing nodded. “I am thinking of going to the Capital to see what will be the destiny of the Sui people,” he said, “Since we all are going to the north anyway, let me see the three of you off for a while! Along the way I can teach two Xiao Xiongdi some horseback riding and archery, as well as some basic martial art skills.”

“Shifu!” the two boys called out in great delight.

Li Jing laughed in spite of himself, “By all means you must not call me Shifu,” he said, “We are of the same generation who happen to make friends and exchange pointers. Besides, the basic internal training your Niang has laid down for you is indeed deep and immeasurable, plus the two of you have extremely fine bones, and are quick-witted and adaptable. In the future you will definitely become people of great power and influence or at least martial art experts of this age. Perhaps right now you don’t even believe in yourselves, but future facts will definitely confirm the truth that I did not make any error in judgment.”

While the two boys ‘you look at me, I look at you’, Li Jing already straightened up and rose up. “Let me teach you how to ride first,” he said, “Later on I will teach you saber technique. Back and forth my saber technique only consists of about a dozen styles. It will be most beneficial to be used to charge into thousand troops ten thousand horses, but to contend for supremacy in Jianghu, I am afraid it will be inadequate. Only in rushing headlong in the battlefield will it shows its infinite power, you won’t have to fear the enemy’s many men and great force. As for the Ol’ Li’s archery skill, it originated from Hu people’s [generic name for non-Han people] equestrian archery technique, hence I rather have confidence in myself.”

The two boys have never imagined that they would have this fortuitous meeting; hence they promptly prostrated themselves to express their gratitude.

Li Jing roared in laughter and led them out of the cave.