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‘Two capitals, strategic places, a pair of land, the first pass of the Great Wall.’
Shanhai Pass was located at ‘Liao Ji Throat’, between the mountain and the sea [note: Shanhai means mountain and sea], a vital place, an important military strategic town east of the Great Wall.
During the Warring States period [475-221 BC], in order to resist the foreign tribes plundering the border and invading in, each kingdom, one after another, built walls on the border of their own country. After the Qin unified the world, they linked each country’s border wall, as well as repaired and fully expanded the wall, so that to the west it reached Lintao, to the east it reached Liaodong, winding along and reaching to ten thousand li long wall [note: the Great Wall in Chinese is ‘ten-thousand-li long wall’].
Later on, the Han [206 BC-220 AD], the Northern and Southern dynasties [420-589 AD] and the Sui dynasty [581-617 AD] continued adding towers and expanded it. Until the Sui dynasty, Shanhai Pass has not yet developed its peak phase of being city-to-city defensive function, but it already reached its scale as a strong defense of the Pass.
Presently, with the Tujue people’s increasingly growing momentum, although Shanhai Pass somewhat lost its importance in the military sense, it was still a choice thoroughfare connecting the inside and outside of the Pass, as well as a hub for commercial goods’ distribution.
The ancient city was built against the mountain and close to the sea; to the east, the extremity of the Bohai Bay was only fifteen li, to the north, ten thousand mountains were running together, imposing and majestic. The city wall was winding down from Mount Yan, along the mountain ridge and turning down the mountain, running through the sea to the north and south, equipped with several watchtowers, joined together, the construction became a complete defense system.
Shanhai county town conformed to the irregular square-shaped layout, with the south-north as the long axis, and the west-north [sic, I checked both sources, not west-east] as the short axis, with the city wall around as protection. The four open city gates were connected by main streets in cross-shaped layout. In the middle of the cross was a tall bell and drum tower, standing tall over the other buildings, corresponding to the four gates in straight lines.
Businesses were concentrated on both sides of the cross-shaped main streets; the shop at the front and the residence at the back. Most of the residential buildings were courtyard house with a fully enclosed courtyard [see footnote, Book 31 Chapter 11]. However, whether it was a shop or a house, all were constructed using green bricks, grey roof tiles, white stones, and so on, comparatively more durable building materials; plain, without anything fancy, unafraid of sandstorm, forming a distinct landscape compared to other cities in the Central Earth.
But the biggest distinguishing feature was the demographic distribution between the Han and the barbarians. As Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling, and Ren Jun were riding slowly along half of the main street, they encountered more foreign tribes people than Han people. And the people looked valiant; those walking on the streets, none did not carry some kind of weapon or bow and arrows. There were more people riding horse than walking; therefore, all the stores had a wooden frame hitching post in front of them for the people to tie their horses on.
After arriving at Shanhai county town everyone had deeper understanding why Du Xing was able to proclaim himself hegemon in this high-mountain, far-from-the-emperor place. In this situation where the foreign tribes had great momentum while local people’s momentum weak, the highest authority was neither unable to, nor they dare to, control this last county town in the northern territory.
On the streets, they did not see even half of Yan troops; there was no tax to enter the city either. In here, only the powerful could call themselves king. Also only the most powerful could maintain the loose and unwritten law and order in here. Everything was conducted according to Jianghu rules. Hence, Du Xing, this kind of local big hero, who had influence in providing protection both outside and inside the Pass, had enough strength to be chief and to preside over matters.
Shanhai county town was more bustling and prosperous than Yuyang.
Pointing ahead, Ren Jun said with a laugh, “We are here!”
The two boys’ eyes followed the direction of his finger, and saw a signboard with three characters ‘Yi Sheng Long’ painted in gold lacquer, and knew that this was the branch that Zhai Jiao opened here.
Ren Jun’s countenance changed, he said, “Without any reason, how could it close this early?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling noticed that the door was boarded up tight with wood planks. They have been rushing over without stopping, and right now it was still nearly half a sichen before sunset.
The three increased their speed toward the shop, and saw that the wood planks had a piece of paper stuck on it, with surprising four blood-red big letters ‘Dao Bi Feng Pu’ [lit. go bankrupt/close down sealed-up shop; basically ‘going out of business’].
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling felt that something was definitely afoot. Let’s not talk about Zhai Jiao’s branch here suddenly went bankrupt, even if it was indeed the case, the branch manager would have tactfully worded the announcement, and would not use words like ‘go bankrupt’ or ‘sealed up shop’. Evidently the situation was very unusual.
Ren Jun jumped down the horse; visibly upset, he said, “I’ll go to the back to look for them.” Finished speaking, he quickly left.
After looking closely for half a day, Kou Zhong said, “This notice was posted only today, the ink is still fresh.”
Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “Du Xing knew we were coming, hence he is sending us a first-time-meeting gift, to show off his stand.”
Kou Zhong nodded in agreement. He spoke heavily, “Du Xing’s only source of information is Xu Kaishan’s Cui Wang. This move is unwise; it adequately exposes his relationship with the wolf-bandits. It can clearly be seen that in his anger, he had no other choice but to vent his anger at Yi Sheng Long people, while testing our reaction at the same time. Ling Shao, what do you think we should do in this matter?”
Xu Ziling said, “Du Xing must have captured everybody in the branch office as hostages, to make us refrain from shooting the rat for fear of breaking the vases [idiom]. If we act blindly without thinking [another 4-character idiom], we would fall into his scheme. We should find out first what kind of scare tactic he is implementing here, and only then will we be able to formulate the countermeasure. Due to the fact that on the surface Du Xing poses as a great hero, the embodiment of righteousness, the upholder of justice, he can’t possibly, under ten thousand staring eyes, publicly move his saber, move his spear.”
This moment Ren Jun returned, flustered and exasperated; he said, “Inside, everything has been smashed into pulp, plus there was red paint everywhere, but I did not see a single soul. Let me ask around the neighboring shops to see what exactly has happened.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “When you have a problem and you are losing your mind, you’ll only make it worse. This is called fierce tiger cannot surpass local worm. Right now we should maintain the moon-in-the-well cool-headedness. Come, let’s find a decent hotel and settle down first before talking about this.”
They went to several hotels in succession, but as soon as the receptionists at the door saw the three arrived, they immediately put up the ‘No Vacancy’ sign, and so they were refused entrance immediately.
Ren Jun was so angry that he nearly wanted to move his saber to kill and burn, but Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling simply dismissed it with a laugh.
Ren Jun angrily said, “Let’s go find Jing Kang, he has a headquarter in here.”
Jing Kang was the Gang Leader of the Sai Mo Bang, one of the Three Gangs One Society. He has always had a bit of friendly relations with Dou Jiande, hence Zhai Jiao’s opening up a place in his territory has always been under his care.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Xiao Jun, you haven’t been too deep into the world, Jing Kang can’t possibly provoke Du Xing, this kind of formidable opponent – for Da Xiaojie’s sake. And we must not make it more difficult for Old Jing to conduct himself left and right.”
Xu Ziling took the lead to trot slowly toward the southern gate, he said, “There is no place to stay here, there will be places to stay elsewhere. Du Xing is sounding us out, why don’t we sound him out instead? I want to see him staring blankly at us leaving the county town.”
Kou Zhong smiled and said, “Even if he has guts as high as the sky, I presume he won’t dare to stop us. I dare say that because we are arriving so suddenly, he did not have time to amass enough power to lie in ambush to kill us, so kidnapping several people from Yi Sheng Long branch is some kind of delaying tactics.”
Ren Jun said, “If they are murdered as a result, Da Xiaojie will be extremely grieved.”
Xu Ziling said, “Therefore, we must ascertain Du Xing’s foundation first; for example, who is the person important to him? We could apprehend that person in our hands, and then use him in hostage exchange; how could Du Xing not surrender?”
Kou Zhong laughed aloud and said, “Du Xing wants to come and play with us, I am afraid he won’t have any chance until he is reincarnated.”
The remark openly mentioned surname and stated the given name, plus it was spoken in loud voice and deliberate brassiness, immediately it provoked the hurriedly-walking-along-the-street people to raise their eyebrows.
The two stirring up his heroic spirit, Ren Jun’s guts was aroused as well; he shouted loudly, “Du Xing is just as timid as a mouse, he can only do some shrinking-head, tail-between-his-legs things; how could he possibly dare to provoke two Ye’er?”
Those who heard this exchange turned pale; Du Xing was a hegemon in here, not just in name only, but also in reality, who would dare to openly provoke his tiger-whisker?
Kou Zhong might as well thundered, “Du Xing, if you are nearby, quickly roll out to see me.”
His voice traveled far and wide, overwhelming the voices of the people along the street, even the people in the neighboring streets and alleys could hear him loud and clear, immediately arousing a burst of commotion.
Suddenly a very familiar voice, which they had not heard for a long time, came from a restaurant to their left, saying, “What kind of pain-in-the-posterior-end thing Du Xing is, anyway? Unexpectedly he provoked Shaoshuai, whose name shook the inside and outside of the Central Plains – to be this angry?”
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling’s tiger-body shook severely, they both revealed disbelief expression, and quickly looked at the direction where the voice came from. A man slyly stepped out of the restaurant, his majestic-as-a-mountain figure was as straight as a spear, he had a long sword hanging on his back, his outline distinct, his long and narrow face, which was as perfect as if it was sculpted in Dali, carried a brilliant smile that was as bright as the sun. There was a lord-overlooking-the-world overbearing lofty quality in him. Who else but Ba Fenghan, whom they have not seen for a long time?
Kou Zhong somersaulted down his horse, ran toward Ba Fenghan, and embraced him tightly. The two burst out in loud laughter together, with intense emotion in their hearts, delighted, carefree to the extreme point. Who would have thought that Ba Fenghan, who was going far away outside the Great Wall – would unexpectedly appear in this place?
Xu Ziling smiled and told Ren Jun, “This gentleman is Ba Fenghan.”
Finished speaking he dismounted from the horse and walked over to the two men, who were hugging each other.
Overflowing-to-the-sky huge waves were surging in Ren Jun’s heart. It could be said that other than the ‘Wu Zun’ Bi Xuan, Ba Fenghan was the most prominent martial art master in the Wulin world of both inside and outside the Central Plains, acclaimed as the most outstanding grandmaster of martial art study of foreign land after Bi Xuan. Together with Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, they were known as the most outstanding up-and-coming young men of the new generation both inside and outside the Central Plains.
Now that these three men were together again, what kind of earth-shattering things would emerge? Who could possibly guess?
Kou Zhong’s voice came back, “Xiao Jun, tie the horses well, we are going to drink our fill first before dealing with other his mother’s things.”
Ren Jun came to his senses; hastily he climbed down his horse to take care of the horses.
On the streets, those who stand in a circle and watch were increasing without letup. Naturally they only dared to watch from afar; anybody knew that Kou Zhong and the others were not benevolent men, virtuous women at all. And now they bluntly and openly declared war against Du Xing, naturally there would be a good show coming on the stage.
By the time Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan hugged each other, all the diners in the restaurant, as well as the waiters and even their boss, have already slipped away quietly from the back door to avoid bringing disaster to the fish in the moat.
Ba Fenghan moved away a little, with both hands he grabbed Xu Ziling’s shoulders tightly, he cast a glance toward Kou Zhong by his side, his pair of eyes emitted intimidatingly bright expression, he shouted, “Great! Two gentlemen’s cultivation has made an even bigger breakthrough; it is certainly worthy of celebration.”
Kou Zhong excitedly said, “You, this kid, seem to be accurate to perfection as well. Based on the bearing and spirit before your eyes, perhaps the two of us fighting together still cannot besiege you. Ha!”
Laughing involuntarily, Ba Fenghan said, “Xiaodi has not heard such a funny joke for a long time.”
His eyes fell on Ren Jun, he smiled and said, “This Xiao Xiongdi looks pretty good; your future outlook is unlimited.”
Receiving Ba Fenghan’s praise, the blood in Ren Jun’s entire body was boiling. Raising his cupped fist to salute, he deferentially said, “It was entirely due to Zhong Ye, Ling Ye’s giving directions and promoting me to a higher level. Ren Jun pays his respect to Ba Ye.”
Ba Fenghan took his hands off Xu Ziling’s hand, and then wrapping his arms around the two boys’ shoulders, he led them into the restaurant’s door, and cheerfully said, “Those two horses must be Gaochang’s highest quality warhorses; you two managed to swindle them out of that place, if you had not met me, I guarantee that when you get out of the Pass, someone will steal them.”
Ren Jun deeply felt the sincere emotion between the three, his heart warmed up; no longer considered the onlookers worthy in his eye, he closely followed the three into the restaurant.
Because all the waiters and cooks responsible to serve the food and drink had all escaped with not a single one remaining, Ren Jun had no choice but to take both jobs, to cook and wait on the three, to give them the opportunity to chat freely about everything that happened after they parted.
After three rounds of wine, Kou Zhong already forgot about Du Xing, he said, “Good kid, unexpectedly you can appear and disappear unpredictably. Earlier in Chang’an we heard the news that you got rid of several big thieves, yet today you appear in the flesh in here.”
Ba Fenghan could not maintain his usual icily arrogant bearing in front of these two; smiling widely, he said, “I came for a particular reason, which is to sincerely waiting here for the two gentlemen’s good selves to arrive.”
Xu Ziling asked in surprise, “How did Fenghan Xiong know we are coming to Shanhai Pass?”
Ba Fenghan replied, “Even if I didn’t go out, I would still know what’s happening in the world, much less I am a homeless duckweed floating over the four seas. Quite by accident I learned about Xieli forming alliance with Kuge of Qidan, they are doing everything they can to lure you out of the Pass and put you to death. Since Xiaodi did not have anything to do anyway, plus I want to get first-hand experience on Du Xing’s ‘Ba Wang Fu’ [lit. hegemon’s axe], thereupon I thought I’d look for you along the way to drink wine and chat. Even if I could not see you, I would have gotten rid of Du Xing to dispose of this matter.”
Kou Zhong laughed to his heart’s content and said, “Good kid! Let me toast you a cup.”
The three boisterously raised their cups to drink. Ren Jun came to serve them a plate of steaming hot beef. The three were not bashful, they gorged themselves on this unexpected free dinner.
As the night wore on, the people on the street still saw that there was no visible reaction from Du Xing’s side, most of them dispersed.
In a splitting-the-rock-startling-the-heaven manner Kou Zhong suddenly spoke in Tujue language toward Ba Fenghan, “How’s your old sweetheart?”
Ba Fenghan was greatly astonished “What did you say?” he asked.
Kou Zhong’s old face turned red, he said in embarrassment, “Did I not pronounce it correctly?”
Ba Fenghan roared in laughter and said, “I was just teasing you. Who taught you? The pronunciation is not bad, but it can still be significantly improved.”
“Xiao Jun,” Kou Zhong thundered, “Didn’t you say that the Tujue language you taught us can fool even Tujue people?”
Terrified, Ren Jun said, “I am exaggerating a little bit, Zhong Ye, please don’t take offense.”
Hearing that, the three nearly split their sides laughing. For some reason, after meeting again, their power to refrain from laughing had suffered substantial setback.
Ren Jun came to the table and spoke in low voice, “Maybe Du Xing is here; the pedestrians outside are completely gone, I did not see even half a shadow.”
Kou Zhong turned his head around to look outside, he said, “You go outside and get the horses into the shop. Also take a look if they have some fodder inside? Feeding the horses until they are full is more important than slaughtering Du Xing.”
Ren Jun received the order and left.
Ba Fenghan practically did not consider Du Xing to be worthy in his eyes; remaining calm and unruffled in the midst of chaos, he said, “Our Tujue words are multi-syllables, divided into tight vowels and loose vowels. Tight and loose are referring to tightening and relaxing pharynx muscles. Only when you know how to use these tight and loose vowels will your speaking have both shape and spirit.”
“In that case, let us switch to you as our master,” Kou Zhong said.
Ba Fenghan said, “Frankly speaking, I am coming to Shanhai Pass this time, it’s just a stop along the way; my true destination is Longquan Fu.”
Xu Ziling said, “Fenghan Xiong wants to participate in the founding ceremony of the Jie Kingdom.”
A hint of grim smile floated out of the corner of Ba Fenghan’s mouth; copying Kou Zhong’s intonation, he said, “Bai Ziting founding a country is none of my, Ol’ Ba’s goddamn business; I just want to see martial art masters from all parts of the country coming to participate in the ceremony, I want to select several as sacrifices for the sword. If Bi Xuan is willing to bestow him some face, nothing can be more ideal than that.”
Kou Zhong happily said, “We are thinking of going to gain some experience too.”
Ba Fenghan laughed heartily and said, “To be able to gallop side by side with two gentlemen on the prairie outside the border is certainly a delight in one’s life. What exactly is your animosity against Du Xing?”
Xu Ziling seized this opportunity to ask, “Have you heard about Da Ming Zun Jiao?”
Stunned, Ba Fenghan asked, “What does Du Xing have to do with Da Ming Zun Jiao? I heard they are one kind of mysterious sect that came from Persia. It flourishes after spreading to Huihe, but after it combined with an evil sect in Huihe, it gradually deteriorates. Not only the people of the Cult have outstanding martial art skill, they are also proficient in astronomy and in the use of poison. Not many people dare to provoke them. As for who the Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] is, I have no idea.”
Kou Zhong was about to speak, a voice was speaking outside, “Bei Ba Bang’s Bangzhu Du Xing came to seek audience. I wonder if Kou Xiong, Xu Xiong are willing to let Ol’ Du to come in to talk?”
Hearing that, Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling you looked at me I looked at you, they never thought that ‘Ba Wang’ Du Xing could be this polite and modest, and have such courtesy.
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