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Kou Zhong and Chang He urged their horses to gallop toward the Imperial Palace. “Did you sleep well last night?” the latter casually asked.
Kou Zhong mused inwardly that it was not that he did not sleep well last night, but he did not sleep at all. Sighing inwardly, he replied, “Not too bad! I made an appointment with Liu Shangshu that after treating Niangniang’s illness, I would go to the Ministry of Works to visit him. I would have to trouble Chang Daren to show me the way.”
“What do you mean Chang Daren this and Chang Daren that?” Chang He said, “Although Mo Xiong and I only know each other for a short period of time, I really regard you as a good friend whom I should treat with absolute sincerity. If you want, you could even call me Lao He [Old He].”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Calling you Chang Xiong is a bit more pleasant to the ears. Actually, Niangniang’s illness is gone; today is only a follow up visit to tell Niangniang that she is not sick anymore. After this, we can get out of bed a bit later.”
Chang He laughed and said, “I actually think that taking you to the Palace early in the morning is some kind of unprecedented delight; it is both nerve-wracking and exciting, just like a battle on the gambling table, before the lid is lifted, we won’t know the outcome. You know that if you failed in treating Niangniang’s illness, I would not have good future either. Feng Deyi Daren has just told me that after the New Year, he would let me take the Xuanwu Gate’s Zheng Tun Jiangjun [Station Principal General] position. There are at least ten people competing for this position. Qin Wang and Qi Wang both wanted to have their man in this position. Originally I did not have much hope; it was all due to you healing Niangniang that Xiaodi has such a good opportunity.”
“Congratulations Chang Xiong,” Kou Zhong spoke in delight, “Why is this position important?” he asked.
“Of course it is,” Chang He replied, “The City Guard headquarters is located at the Xuanwu Gate; it is where heavy military force are being stationed for long term, and is under Huangshang’s personal command. There are four Zheng Tun Jiangjun and eight Fu Tun Jiangjun [Station Deputy General] working on shifts in charge of the Palace City’s defense. Yuefu [father-in-law] spent a lot of money on my behalf, and only then did I get the opportunity to be a Fu Tun Jiangjun. But to be a Zheng Tun Jiangjun, Huangshang himself must give us a nod. Using money will not work.”
Kou Zhong secretly thought that Chang He really regarded him as a close friend; otherwise, he would definitely not disclose such a confidential matter to him.
This moment the two galloped into the Vermillion Bird Main Gate. Both sides were full of colorful hanging lanterns, brimming with the atmosphere of the Spring Festival Eve.
The two no longer spoke. When they reached the Taiji Palace Gate, they dismounted their horses and continued on foot to see Zhang Jie Fei.
Zhang Jie Fei received Kou Zhong in the inner hall, while Chang He remained in the reception hall to wait for him.
This beauty, whom Li Yuan favored deeply, was in great spirits; her amorous glow radiated all around, without showing the slightest bit of sickly look, so that Kou Zhong also felt proud.
The court eunuchs and palace maids were serving her left and right. Having his desire accomplished and his aspiration fulfilled, Kou Zhong pushed back Zhang Jie Fei’s hand, which pulse he already examined, and said respectfully, “Congratulations Niangniang, the illness has completely gone; no need to use the needle or take any medicine anymore!”
Greatly delighted, Zhang Jie Fei said, “This time I can break away from the illness, it was entirely due to Xiansheng’s magical hands that bring the dying back to life. I am sure Huangshang will reward you handsomely.”
Standing on the side, flattering and fawning, Zheng Gonggong said, “Is it possible for Mo Xiansheng to write a prescription to help Niangniang overcome any aftermath of the illness, so that she will recover her original vitality?”
Kou Zhong cursed inwardly; why did he insist on Kou Zhong making a fool of himself on the spot? Fortunately he learned some unexpected tricky move as a last resort from Wei Zhengxing last night. Thereupon he calmly said, “Too much is as bad as not enough [idiom from the Analects]. Right now Niangniang’s face is glowing, her meridians and qi are neutral. It is really inadvisable to take tonic or something like that. Zheng Gonggong, please understand.”
Zheng Gonggong wanted to pat the horse’s butt but patted the horse’s leg instead [note: ‘pat the horse’s butt’ = boot-licking]; he was greatly embarrassed. Clearing his throat, he said, “Of course, Xiansheng’s diagnosis prevails.”
Zhang Jie Fei suddenly said, “All of you, withdraw for me. I have something I’d like to talk to Xiansheng.”
None of Zheng Gonggong and the others was not stunned. They had no choice but to follow the order and withdraw.
Kou Zhong said inwardly, ‘Here it comes’. Sure enough, when only the two of them remained in the hall, this thousand-tender, hundred-charm imperial concubine beloved by the Great Tang Emperor spoke in low voice, “Xiansheng, I want you to speak boldly; I will take the responsibility for you. This time I suddenly contracted strange illness, did someone secretly poison me?”
Kou Zhong cursed Li Jiancheng in his heart for putting him in such a situation where there was no room to advance or to retreat.
If his answer was affirmative, the guilt would definitely fall into Li Shimin. If the answer was negative, he would offend Li Jiancheng.
What was he supposed to do?
After making himself presentable, Xu Ziling was contemplating whether he ought to immediately enter the Palace to see Li Yuan, but he also felt that it would not fit the intertwining gratitude and grudges relationship between Li Yuan and Yue Shan, not to mention it would not resemble Yue Shan’s reclusive nature and his doing-it-my-way style.
While he was having a headache, outside the room, someone called out, “Is Yue Shan Qianbei in? Wanbei Qin Chuan, seeking an audience.”
Xu Ziling’s tiger body shook. A burst of hard-to-describe feeling went straight into his head, immersing him into some kind of mood that even he himself did not understand. He pulled the door open.
Shi Feixuan, wearing men’s clothing, still carrying the graceful and elegant, touching appearance – brushed past him and entered the room. With a smile on her face, she said, “This ought to be the most gorgeous room in Chang’an; it has a hall on the outside and bedroom in the inside, both are spacious and cozy, plus it is separated from other guest rooms. Who would have thought that Yue Qianbei would receive such courtesy in Chang’an?”
Xu Ziling closed the door. He took a deep breath to suppress all kinds of indescribable mood swings in his heart, and spoke indifferently, “When did Shi Xiaojie arrive?”
Shi Feixuan turned her tender body around; she scrutinized his Yue Shan’s disguise with rapt attention, and said with a sigh, “You were able keep Zhu Yuyan in the dark, I was not surprised. But how could you keep even Li Yuan in the dark?”
Mischievous thought appeared in Xu Ziling’s heart; putting on the Yue Shan act, he swaggered and sat down pompously in a chair, and then pointing to another chair across the small table by his side, he said, “Feixuan, please sit down. This time Laofu is returning to the fray after a period of inactivity, practically I do not have anything to hide from anybody.”
Seeing this, Shi Feixuan was dumbstruck. A rarely seen displeased and helpless touching expression floated on her face. But she followed his bidding and sat on his right side.
Using Yue Shan’s expression and intonation Xu Ziling said, “Ol’ Yue came to Chang’an not for Li Yuan’s sake, but for that everything-that-is-evil, the unpardonable traitor [a couple of gibberish here]. Were it not for him, how could Xiuxin leave this world one step earlier than Laofu?”
Shi Feixuan spoke gently, “Feixuan understands! But I still prefer your original look and mannerism.”
Shaken, Xu Ziling turned to look at her.
Shi Feixuan acted as if she was speaking about some trivial matter; with frank and natural expression she met his gaze, and said with a smile, “Where is your good brother?”
Xu Ziling felt that it was so difficult not to tell her the truth. He calmly said, “He is now the mightiest figure that no-one dares to approach in Chang’an [orig. burn your hand, feel the heat], the Divine Doctor who helps people and aids the world.”
Greatly astonished, Shi Feixuan said, “When did he ever learn medical knowledge? Even illnesses that the ‘Living Hua Tuo’ Wei Zhengxing was unable to cure, he is able to perform ‘the medicine arrives, the disease gone’ act.”
“How long have Shi Xiaojie been in Chang’an?” Xu Ziling asked in surprise.
Shi Feixuan explained, “I only came last night, but I have seen Qin Wang, and had a chat with him for nearly one sichen. You and Mo Shen Yi are among the names that he mentioned.”
Xu Ziling sighed and said, “Kou Zhong does not have any medical expertise. He was acting before thinking when he cured Sha Tiannan’s illness using acupuncture and moxibustion, along with the true qi from the ‘Secret to Long Life’, hence he was compelled to climb the sedan chair and become a divine doctor. As for how he was able to cure Zhang Jie Fei’s strange illness, there is another ulterior motive, which is hard to narrate completely. Actually, Shi Xiaojie came in time; there is one trivial matter that I’d like to ask for a guidance.”
Shi Feixuan nodded, indicating that there was no harm in him to speak forthrightly.
Xu Ziling said, “Supposing Wanwan acquired the Demonic Emperor Relics, what will the consequences be?”
Shi Feixuan, with tranquil expression, replied, “I am afraid that even if Xiang Yutian came back to life, he would not be able to answer your question, so much so that either lucky or inauspicious, it will be difficult to tell.”
After a short pause, her pretty eyebrows lightly knitted, she asked, “Did she see you through?”
Xu Ziling admiringly said, “Xiaojie’s guess is extremely accurate; it was Kou Zhong that she saw through. Now she is threatening us that after finding the treasure, we must hand over the Demonic Emperor Relics to her.”
Shi Feixuan asked indifferently, “And how are you going to deal with this matter?”
Xu Ziling replied, “Kou Zhong originally proposed for us to immediately retreat and leave, and come back another time. But I opposed him for doing so.”
Shi Feixuan was surprised, “Why did Ziling Xiong oppose him?”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “There are slight or important, urgent or non-urgent differences in this matter. Compared to the disastrous turn that is about to happen, Demonic Emperor Relics is no more than an insignificant thing.”
Emotionally moved, Shi Feixuan said, “Feixuan would like to hear the details.”
Kou Zhong muttered to himself irresolutely for a moment. He asked instead, “Why did Niangniang have this suspicion?”
Zhang Jie Fei’s phoenix eyes narrowed, she spoke heavily, “This strange illness of mine was without rhyme or reason at all. Even if no one warned me, I still want to investigate to the bottom of it.”
Hardening his heart, Kou Zhong said, “Xiaoren does not dare to confirm whether Niangniang was really poisoned or not, but the possibility is definitely there.”
Zhang Jie Fei’s tender body severely shaken, she said, “Why does Xiansheng not dare to confirm? Crown Prince Jiancheng took the prescription that Xiansheng wrote to renowned experts in Chang’an to be studied. They all believe that the medicine’s principal usage is in detoxification. But because the way it was formulated does not comply with common practice, they do not dare to be sure.”
Inwardly Kou Zhong cursed Li Jiancheng. Smiling bitterly, he said, “Niangniang, please note clearly: one time Taizi Dianxia also inquired of Xiaoren deeply about this matter. Ay! I was wondering if Niangniang could do Xiaoren a favor? Otherwise Xiaoren would have to urgently pack and quit and flee from Chang’an.”
Displeased, Zhang Jie Fei said, “Xiansheng is the benefactor who saved my life; who’d dare to bully you? Speak up, let me report it to Huangshang.”
Pretending to be horrified, Kou Zhong said, “Absolutely not! Otherwise it would even be more difficult for Xiaoren to conduct myself.”
Slightly annoyed, Zhang Jie Fei said, “Xiansheng may speak forthrightly without any scruple with me; don’t hum and haw, wanting to say something but then hesitate like this.”
Lowering his voice, Kou Zhong said, “Although Xiaoren is an expert in treating illnesses, I have no expertise in using poison at all. I only know how to use needles and apply medicine according to the Four Great Laws that I observed, heard, and asked. Therefore, whether Niangniang was poisoned or not, I do not dare to speak untrue to my convictions. Ay! But Taizi Dianxia seems to already decided that this is the case. If Xiaoren … ay! I think it would be better if I leave earlier and be done with it!”
Zhang Jie Fei understood. She said, “Xiansheng must never speak about leaving too lightly. I already understand Xiansheng’s situation, naturally I know how to speak in front of Huangshang.”
Kou Zhong did not feel relaxed as if he was relieved from a burden at all, simply because he knew that Zhang Jie Fei and Li Jiancheng would definitely unite to accuse Li Shimin falsely. But this was something that he could not control, also something that was out of his control.
With nothing else to say, he took the opportunity to ask to be excused.
Shi Feixuan revealed a grave expression that has never been seen before. She nodded and said, “Ziling Xiong is right. Compared to this, Demonic Emperor Relics is only an insignificant thing. If we let Shi Zhixuan and Zhao Deyan’s conspiracy prevails, not only it would be difficult for the world to be unified, it would also repeat the foreign invasion situation of the past.”
Xu Ziling said, “Currently, the key person is Yang WenGan; I am hoping that I could get all information pertaining to him, especially the intelligence about his latest activities. Would Shi Xiaojie be able to help in this regard?”
Shi Feixuan’s bright eyes revealed an intelligent light; it was deeply moving. She spoke indifferently, “The two of you are always beyond expectation; you barely arrived in the capital, and already you see through Shi Zhixuan’s startling-the-heavens method. But this is akin to helping Li Shimin for justice’s sake; does Kou Zhong agree?”
Xu Ziling smiled and said, “Justice is to be found everywhere; Kou Zhong definitely will not argue about who is being helped.”
Shi Feixuan asked, “Do you still want to get the treasure out?”
Smiling ruefully, Xu Ziling said, “Whatever I promised Kou Zhong, I will do my best to accomplish it for him. Frankly speaking, although Kou Zhong has ample confidence, I feel that the chances of finding the treasure are extremely slim.”
Shi Feixuan stood erect. Her beautiful eyes shot a glance at the dark sky outside the window. “It’s going to snow soon!” she spoke softly.
Xu Ziling stood up to accompany her; he spoke in low voice, “How can I contact you?”
Shi Feixuan turned to face him. She softly said, “Feixuan is staying at the Yu He An [jade crane nunnery] by Dong Da Si. You only need to say ‘Buddha have mercy’ four words [Fo Zu Ci Bei], the Shifu of the temple will know that you are looking for me. If I am not there, you can just tell Zhuchi [Abbess, lit. manager] Chang Shan Shitai everything.” [Reminder: Shitai is the counterpart of Dashi, a term of respect to address Buddhist nun.]
A peculiar feeling welled up in Xu Ziling’s heart; it was as if she was promising him a date. Anytime he wanted to, he could go looking for her.
Of course it was just some kind of misperception.
Shi Feixuan walked toward the door. Suddenly she halted her steps and said with a laugh, “Why is it that although I know that you have become the target that Shi Zhixuan wants to get rid of soon, I am not worried for you at all?”
Stepping toward the door, Xu Ziling said, “Frankly speaking, against Shi Zhixuan, although Xiaodi stake everything, I am still not his match at all. Therefore, I am not going to give him another chance to kill me.”
Shi Feixuan smiled and said, “That is precisely the reason I am not worried about you. May I ask, when Ziling Xiong is not being Yue Shan, what identity are you using?”
Xu Ziling hesitated for a moment before awkwardly replying, “I might become a gambler by the name of Yong Qin.”
Shi Feixuan repeated the name ‘Yong Qin’ twice in low voice. Suddenly she remembered her own alias ‘Qin Chuan’ [same ‘qin’ character]; unexpectedly two clumps of red cloud rose up on her pretty face. She cast him a scolding look.
Behind the mask, Xu Ziling’s old face has already turned beet red. He wanted very much to explain that it was because Lei Jiuzhi found a pair of arm protectors, which had two characters ‘Yong Qin’ engraved on it – by accident that he wanted him to use this name. But he also knew that in this kind of matter, the more he wanted to explain, the more it would sound awkward. He had no choice but to freeze on the spot.
The expression in Shi Feixuan’s eyes suddenly became complicated; it seemed to contain countless emotions that have been hidden deep within her heart. She sighed softly and said in a low voice, “Be careful!”
Xu Ziling pulled the door open. He looked at her back gradually moving away, until it disappeared at the end of the corridor.
Snowflakes were starting to rain down again.
He was about to close the door when his heart was moved. He stepped into the corridor and stood with his hands behind his back to watch the beautiful scenery of the snow slowly covering the flower garden. His heart was a piece of haziness. Whenever he was interacting with Shi Feixuan, time seemed to be slipping away very fast; life also seemed to be escalating to its most intense realm because of her. Was this a romantic love between a man and a woman?
Even if the answer was a resounding yes, he could only grow the wrong root of romantic love, there would be definitely no good outcome in the future.
Since the first time he saw Shi Feixuan at the Tian Jin Bridge in Luoyang, he knew that he would never forget her. In this tumultuous era of killing or be killed, the time where everybody was tired of constantly running around for his life, the time where you hoodwink me and I cheat you, all to obtain the benefit for oneself by fair means or foul, where people reject everybody that was different from themselves, Shi Feixuan was like a stream of clear spring that trickled to change the human world, which enabled him to feel the true meaning of life.
Footsteps came from behind. Xu Ziling was awakened from his contemplation. “Is it Xiao Dao?” he said in heavy voice, “I just exchanged blows with Shi Zhixuan last night.
Coming alone, wearing civilian clothes, Li Yuan’s dragon-body was shaken. “What?” he blurted out.
Extremely cordial, Liu Zhenghui personally came to the main entrance of the Ministry of Works to welcome Kou Zhong. Accomplishing his task, Chang He withdrew, gladly handing over the heavy responsibility of taking care of Kou Zhong to Liu Zhenghui, his successor, while he himself returned to the Guards Headquarters at the Xuan Wu Gate.
Liu Zhenghui entertained Kou Zhong at the lobby first with a couple cups of hot tea and some pastries, before taking him to the archive room. Ordering his men to unroll a giant scroll painting of Chang’an city map, he cheerfully said, “At the beginning of the old Sui dynasty, the old Han’s Chang’an was still used as the capital. Afterwards, because it was no longer suitable, plus there were too much damages, Yang Jian, beginning in the second year of his reign, appointed the Crown Prince and a commoner Yuwen Kai to build the new capital.”
This moment Kou Zhong had just found the Yue Ma Bridge on the map. He casually asked, “Was Yuwen Kai from the Yuwen Clan?”
Liu Zhenghui replied, “Yuwen Kai was precisely the current Yuwen Clan’s Fazhu’s [Clan Master] uncle.”
Pointing to the scroll, he said, “Based on the geography and the terrain of the land, Yuwen Kai divided the new city into six slopes just like in the ‘Zhouyi’ [another name for Book of Changes (yi jing/I Ching)] Qian’s [from Ba Gua, symbolizing heaven/male] six stages, hence in the nine-two palace is the Diwang’s [lit. emperor and king; monarch] residence; the nine-three place a hundred department, in accordance with the number of noblemen; the nine-five noble positions are not for common folks to live, because that is where Xuan Du Guan [lit. black/mysterious capital Taoist monastery] and Xing Shan Si [lit. flourishing benevolence Temple (usually Buddhist)] are located. The essence is to have control over the high elevations of the city, to have the major buildings occupy the highland.” [Sorry, this part is beyond me. Please also refer to Akolaw’s comment on Book 31 Chapter 1.]
Listening to this, Kou Zhong only knew one and understood half; he could not but admiring Liu Zhenghui for his wise opinion and knowledge in this aspect. “At that time,” he asked, “Did Yang Jian personally supervise the construction of the new city?”
Liu Zhenghui replied, “In name, it was under Yang Jian’s supervision, but in fact, it was Yuwen Kai who worked on it hands and feet. Whatever material he required, he only needed to report to Yang Su for approval.”
Hearing Yang Su’s name, Kou Zhong’s spirit was immediately aroused. He wanted very much to ask Liu Zhenghui directly which buildings originally belonged to Yang Su, but he was afraid that being so open and fearless like that, he might provoked Liu Zhenghui’s suspicion. Without any better option, he took an indirect approach, asking, “The buildings in the city, were they built at the same time as when the new city was constructed?”
Liu Zhenghui replied, “They were built within the twenty years’ period after the new city was constructed. After Yang Guang ascended the imperial throne, he rejoiced in grandiose deeds; not liking certain buildings for their looks, he gave an order to demolish and rebuild them. It was an extreme waste of manpower and resources.”
Kou Zhong started to realize that his effort in examining particular year was not a simple matter at all. His scalp went numb, he said, “Xiaoren is particularly interested in the buildings around the Yong An Canal area as seen from Fu Ju Lou. I wonder if Liu Daren could give me brief introduction.”
Liu Zhenghui gladly said, “I have done some work on Xiansheng’s behalf. Xiansheng, please.”
Kou Zhong followed him into the neighboring room. He saw the four walls were covered in large bookcases from floor to ceiling, full of scrolls. Two Ministry of Works staffs were standing respectfully on the side; they appeared to be waiting there to serve Kou Zhong.”
There was a huge rectangular table in the middle of the room, with several scrolls of painting laid out on top of it.
Liu Zhenghui said, “This is a detailed map of the area several li square around the Yong An Canal. Just the Yan Kang, Chong Xian, Yan Shou, Guang De neighborhoods of the east bank of the Yue Ma Bridge alone have nearly ten thousand buildings. Which courtyard house Xiansheng is interested in, you may ask to have the plan drawing available for your inspection. Xiaodi still have some business to attend to. Later on I will come back to take Xiansheng to Fu Ju Lou for lunch.”
Kou Zhong called for his Niang inwardly. For the first time he thought about giving up the idea of treasure hunting, because it was simply too hard.
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