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 Book 23 Chapter 10 - Lantern Festival in Chengdu

One year became a city, two years became a capital, [Orig. 'Chengyi' and 'Chengdu', respectively. Not sure if 'Chengyi' is a place's name, Google did not give me good information.] hence the origin of the name Chengdu [capital of Sichuan, lit. 'becomes capital'].

During the Warring States period [475-221 BC], in the autumn of the ninth year of his reign, King Huiwen of Qin [reigned 338-311 BC] dispatched senior official Zhang Yi [political strategist, born before 329 - 309 BC] and Sima Cuo to lead large army to attack Shu [short name for Sichuan], annexing it and called it Shu Jun [county], with Chengdu as the junzhi [seat of the principal county magistrate].

The following year King of Qin accepted Zhang Yi's proposal to build Chengdu county seat.

Based on comprehensive survey of the successive dynasties in the establishment of the city, whether in term of the rugged mountain, or the possession of water conservation system, only Chengdu had no danger threatening its existence, but there was no benefit of the waterway either. Furthermore, the town site was on the low-lying areas of the plains; it was wet and rainy, and there were a lot of marshes nearby, which requires manpower to improve it.

In order to build the city, the people of Shu have been digging around a lot. The areas where the dirt was removed became large ponds. The well-known ones included Liu Chi [lit. willow pond] at the west side of the city, the Tianjing Chi [lit. 'sky well' (courtyard) pond] at the northwest side of the city, the Ximo Chi [lit. washing the ink stick], Wansui Chi [lit. ten-thousand years (i.e. long live)] at the north side of the city, and the Qiansui Chi [lit. thousand years] at the east side of the city. These ponds could irrigate the good agricultural land, to raise fish and produce grains, but could also serve as natural barrier in the east, west, and north, three sides, during wartime.

On top of that, during King Zhao of Qin, the defender of Shu, Li Bing [c. 230 BC, historical hydraulic engineer] built Dujiangyan, forming a unique water conservation system, which solved flood disaster, irrigation, and water transport, three major problems of the Chengdu Plains.

Chengdu's city wall had twelve li perimeter, seven zhang high walls, and was divided into two sections: Tai Cheng and Shao Cheng [major and minor city, respectively]. Tai Cheng was on the east, about seven li wide, Shao Cheng on the west, not even five li wide.

At the beginning of Sui dynasty, Chengdu was the seat of Yizhou [name of old state in modern Sichuan] Zongguan Mansion [it's a generic name for governmental office buildings], which then reverted back to its former name, Shu Jun.

Tai Cheng was the seat of government agencies and residential areas; it was the center of politics. Shao Cheng was mainly business district, the most famous was Nan Shi [south market], where skillful artisans of a hundred arts, rich merchants and huge traders, as well as peddlers and carriers engaged in business, do their work and live peacefully.

Before setting off in his journey, Xu Ziling has inquired from Bai Wenyuan about Chengdu's current situation.

As it turned out, when the Sui government collapsed, the leaders of the three major powers of Sichuan, Duzun Bao's [see Book 22 Chapter 6] Xie Hui, Chuan Bang's [lit. Sichuan Gang] Fan Zhuo, who was known as 'Spear Hegemon' or 'Spear King', and Ba Meng's [East Sichuan Alliance] 'Monkey King' Feng Zhen, held a meeting to decide the fate of the Shu people. They decided to retain the original former Sui dynasty's officials and governmental structure, and changed the name of Shu Jun to Yizhou [see above]. In order to show the difference between the old and the new, the new policy was backed by the three major powers; neither one declared himself king, nor proclaimed himself hegemon, they decided to wait for the advent of the 'Bright Ruler'.

It was said that all of these were facilitated by the 'Wulin PanGuan' Xie Hui [magistrate/judge of Wulin, Book 22 Chapter 3]. Thus, it was clear that this man had an outstanding insight, he knew that Sichuan received protection from the mountain and the water, plus the people were simple and honest, they ardently loved the self-sufficient life, and wished to hold a small part of the territory; therefore, they had no place in the power struggle.

After hastening in his journey for three days straight, Xu Ziling paid the tax to enter the city just before nightfall. He wanted to take a rest for one night, and continued on to Huanglong [lit. yellow dragon] in the morning to look for Shi Qingxuan's secluded forest in the small valley.

The fact was that his internal injury has not been completely healed; he still needed a good night's rest to preserve and nurture his spirit in order to deal with any danger that might happen suddenly.

As soon as he entered the gate, Xu Ziling felt Shu people's relative ignorance of the chaos of war in the Central Plains; the rising and peaceful prosperity, the extravagant of the rich and powerful, have made them stand aloof from worldly affairs.

The first thing that caught his eyes was countless colored lanterns; some were hanging outside the door of the businesses and residential buildings, some were brought by the pedestrians. Children were flocking together, frolicking with portable lanterns in their hands, in all kinds of colors, shapes and sizes, strange, skillfully made, glorious and dazzling.

Girls were dressed in lovely scene of blossoming plants swaying in the breeze [or simply: gorgeously]; Qiang [ethnic group] girls' magnificent clothes and beautiful dresses were brimming with exotic romance. Charming laughs and playful noises rose and fell in succession, overflowing shops stood in great numbers along the main street leading to the city gate. On the crowded street [orig. not one drop can trickle through], firecrackers noise was unending, green smoke rose up everywhere; the city was full of holiday atmosphere.

Xu Ziling counted the day, and suddenly realized that it was the Mid-Autumn Festival [15th day of the 8th month, lunar calendar]; he could not help looking up at the full moon, which light was somewhat hidden by the smoke and the fire. A familiar feeling welled up in his heart, but there was also a little bit of out-of-place feeling with the warm atmosphere around him.

After leaving Yangzhou, he and Kou Zhong had lost the mood to celebrate any holiday; this was perhaps the price of contention over the world!

Peace and prosperity ought to look like the scene before his eyes. His heart could not help being touched.

If Susu were still alive, she would be very happy to join him in the fun.

Suddenly, he was sucked into the city market, which was brimming with life of passion, lantern shadows and candlelight, as he rubbed shoulders with the tide of people slowly moving along the street. Multistoried buildings and pavilions stood on both sides of the street, none was not decorated with lanterns and colored banners; all were opening their door to let the people enjoy the gaiety. Richer households invited musicians and performing artists to liven things up; elated, extravagant, and delightful. There was the surreal feeling of morning-exhausted-for-an-extreme-evening, falling-forward-in-bewilderment and losing-consciousness-because-of-the-wine.

For a time, Xu Ziling did not know where to go.

In the bustling and fiery festive atmosphere, suddenly there was something thrown at him from who-knows-where. Xu Ziling easily caught it. Turned out it was an embroidered ball. Stunned, he looked up to see, and in the depths of the lights, he saw a woman standing on the opposite street among a group of children burning firecrackers, staring at him through the gauzed veil covering her face.

Even in the night when the girls dressed like butterflies contending to be the most beautiful, she did not reveal her pretty face, jade countenance. Yet her graceful and amazingly handsome figure still made her stand out like a crane among a flock of chicken.

It was that kind of familiarity.

In just this one glance, he already recognized Shi Qingxuan.

More than a dozen Qiang maidens walked by hand-in-hand while laughing tenderly between he and she. Seeing Xu Ziling's elegant appearance and tall, well-built stature, their pretty eyes lit up while sending him repetitious amorous glances.

While Xu Ziling was hindered that he was unable to move a single step, Shi Qingxuan lifted her delicate hand to slowly remove the gauzed veil covering her face, exposing the lower part of her nose. Suddenly, the cacophony of playful laughter around him seemed to be rapidly fading; although the crowded thoroughfare and overflowing alleys in the surrounding area were filled with hundreds and thousands of tourists taking advantage of the festival, he felt that between the Heaven and the Earth, there was no third person apart from him and Shi Qingxuan. Although the two were separated by a four-zhang wide street filled with people and passing carriages, yet in his eyes, there was no barrier at all.

It was an indescribable feeling. Although he was still unable to get a full view of her, yet this slight revelation of her could make him feel even more familiar and comfortable. It was as if by her action, she was telling him, "Here you go! I am showing you some!" in a touching manner. Compared to her deliberately putting on an ugly nose or disguising herself in rough, swarthy complexion, the beautiful scenery before his eyes was indeed an extremely pleasant surprise.

The first thing that impressed him the most was her slender, delicate and clean, smooth-like-satin-brocade neck, which extended out like a swan's neck of her plain yellow gown, which made her appeared even more delicate and pretty beyond human comprehension. It was a totally different kind of beauty; it was some kind of extraordinary beauty.

It was precisely because the top half of her face was hidden behind the veil that he paid particular attention to the previously overlooked part. In fact, he never tried to look at her from a male's perspective.

By the time his gaze shifted from her exquisitely charming chin to her two fragrant lips, which appeared to store abundant feelings inside - except that she had never been willing to reveal the feelings, but merely appeared a little bit happy and a little bit angry, it looked like her lips were moving. Although there was no audible sound, from the way the mouth was moving, Xu Ziling could read her loud and clear, "You finally came."

Xu Ziling was about to squeeze his way through the crowd, Shi Qingxuan suddenly put down her veil, while his line of sight was also blocked by a big and tall man.

"Xu Xiong, how are you?"

Startled, Xu Ziling looked up. Turned out it was the 'Mad Scholar of Henan' Zheng Shiru. And then, when he tried to look over his shoulders across the street, Shi Qingxuan had disappeared in the crowd without a shadow, just as sudden as her appearance.

Astonished, Zheng Shiru looked back following his gaze, and asked in surprise, "Did Xu Xiong see your acquaintance?"

Having an extremely close miss, Xu Ziling nearly wanted to give Zheng Shiru a good beating, but naturally he must not let him know about Shi Qingxuan. Frowning, he said, "Nothing! I was just looking around!"

Acting friendly, Zheng Shiru pulled his arm; without asking whether Xu Ziling wanted to go or not, he spoke like an old friend, as they were walking together, "Why did Xu Xiong arrive so late? This morning I sent someone to meet you at the gate."

Not in a good mood, Xu Ziling said, "When I left, Zheng Xiong was still in Shangyong, how did you arrive here earlier than Xiaodi?"

Zheng Shiru let go of his arm and said with a laugh, "Xu Xiong left too hastily! Zaixia and Zheng Dangjia actually wanted to invite you to take the boat and come here via the waterway. While saving our legs, we can also feast our eyes on the beautiful scenery of the Three Gorges, the magnificently steep Qutang Gorge, the serenely beautiful Wuxia Gorge, and the rapids on the shore of Xiling Gorge. Each one has its distinguishing feature; there is no road beyond the rocks, no sky when the clouds open, they could be considered the wonders of the Great River."

He spoke powerful, resounding words, to the point of with embellishing power, combined with the haughty air that arbitrarily emerged from beneath the surface; although Xu Ziling was sure that he was a Yin Gui Pai demon, or at least had a close relationship with Zhu Yuyan, Xu Ziling still found it difficult to think of malicious thing about him.

Xu Ziling was still thinking about how to get away from Zheng Shiru so that he could look for Shi Qingxuan, when Zheng Shiru suddenly produced a pot of wine seemingly out of nowhere, took a couple of mouthful first, and then stuffed it into Xu Ziling's hands.

This moment, because the mention of the Three Gorges brought to his mind Shi Feixuan and Hou Xibai traveling together, plus he smelled the wine aroma permeating the whole place, he reckoned that Zheng Shiru would not play a trick in poisoning him; besides, poison could not harm him anyway, thereupon he resolutely took a big mouthful. When returning the wine pot to Zheng Shiru, the fragrant, thick and burning liquor passed through his throat and went straight to his intestines and viscera. "Good wine!" he could not help praising.

Zheng Shiru raised the wine pot again and drank another mouthful; letting out a loud burb, he put his hand on Xu Ziling's shoulder and sang, "Returning very late at night heavily intoxicated, needing help to enter the chamber as if not yet awake, helplessly drunk, brewing musk-deer-mixed-with-orchid-scent wine. Frightened to sleep, chuckling gently. How long can the road of life be?"

Tipsy feeling burst forth, when this kind of decadent song lyric that for generations came spontaneously out of the wine - one time drunk solved a thousand anxieties, entered his ears, Xu Ziling modestly felt that within his singing voice, there was a faint desolate, solemn and stirring feeling. He could not help feeling his ill will toward this man was reduced by thirty-percent.

With heroic, fervent air, Zheng Shiru said, "I don't know why, but when I see Xu Xiong, I feel like we are kindred spirits. Tonight, we won't go home before we are drunk. Let us go up to the San Hua Lou, the most famous in Chuan Shu, equally famous with Shanglin Yuan of Chang'An, Guanzhong, to the top floor where we can gaze afar, accompanied by beauties, to enjoy the bright moon of the Mid-Autumn."

Recalling that he and Kou Zhong were doomed to have bad luck whenever they visited a brothel, Xu Ziling was startled, "Zheng Xiong is too polite!" he said, "Please forgive Xiaodi for not able to accompany you."

Pulling him to the side of the road to avoid a group of children running around with lanterns in their hands, Zheng Shiru asked in astonishment, "Does Xu Xiong have an important matter to attend to?"

Feeling a bit guilty, Xu Ziling did not want to lie to him, thereupon he replied honestly, "Tomorrow I do, but the road is long and hard, so I want to rest a bit early today. When I have the opportunity some other day, I will accompany Zheng Xiong."

Zheng Shiru smiled and said, "If Xu Xiong wants to have a good rest, you ought to let Zaixia take care of it even more. I can guarantee that everywhere you go in the city, you won't find an inn or a hotel where you can sleep tonight."

Xu Ziling only need to look at the people constantly bumping arms and knocking shoulders with them, and he already believed him 90%. Without any better option, he said, "Zheng Xiong, please don't worry, someone already reserved a room for me in advance. Therefore, tonight's lodging shouldn't be a problem."

By now he was bent on leaving Zheng Shiru so that he could go look for beautiful Shi; thereupon he had to casually invent some crazy nonsense.

Zheng Shiru laughed aloud and said, "Exactly which inn is that?"

Xu Ziling cursed him inwardly. Having no other choice, he mentioned the name that Shi Feixuan gave him, the Yuelai Inn in the south side of the city, because that was the only hotel he knew by name in Chengdu.

Zheng Shiru was slightly startled. Shrugging his shoulders, he said, "Since that's the case, let Zaixia take Xu Xiong there. If there is any problem, this humble brother can make other arrangement."

Xu Ziling was quite surprised, as well as puzzled, by his cordiality. Thinking that a bit later he might have to suffer embarrassment when his lie was uncovered, he smiled wryly and said, "Zheng Xiong is indeed a true friend."

Zheng Shiru led him in the direction of the south market. Pointing to a tall building towering under the bright moonlight in the southwesterly direction, he said, "That is Zhangyi Lou [reminder: lou - multistory building], built to commemorate Zhang Yi building the city in the past. From the top floor we can see the permanently snow-capped Yulei Mountain about a hundred li away, as well as the Neijiang and Waijiang [inner and outer rivers, respectively] flowing out of the Dujiangyan and winding around the city. The scenery is extremely beautiful."

Astonished, Xu Ziling said, "Zheng Xiong is very familiar with Chengdu."

Zheng Shiru suddenly sighed and said, "I was wondering if Xu Xiong is extremely wary toward me, Zheng Shiru?"

Xu Ziling has never expected that from introducing Chengdu's scenic spot, he would suddenly change subject to such a sensitive question. "Why would Zheng Xiong say such thing?" he asked indifferently.

"To tell you the truth," Zheng Shiru began, "This time Shiru came here specifically to find Xu Xiong, because I want to have a good chat with Xu Xiong, to clarify some unnecessary misunderstanding; would Xu Xiong be willing to listen to me?"

Xu Ziling sneered inwardly; when he was impersonating Yue Shan, he had personally seen that Zheng Shiru and Zhu Yuyan had some kind of relationship. If right now, with graceful words, flowery speech he denied that he belonged to Yin Gui Pai, then Xu Ziling might as well shed all pretense of cordiality by scolding him directly and driving him away, so that he would not follow him and be a hindrance. Xu Ziling was already tired of being hopelessly muddled with Zheng Shiru like this; he just hated to punch a smiling person like that in anger!

Cold and indifferent, he replied, "Xiaodi is listening with respectful attention."

Zheng Shiru lowered his head. While continued walking, he appeared to be deep in thought. Finally, half a day later he shook his head and said with a wry smile, "I am the kind of person who, one, have a bad name, two, do not seek favor. But for my love of wine and beauty, some people jokingly call me 'mad scholar of wine and women'. Although it has derogatory meaning, to me, it is as sweet as syrup [idiom, from Book of Songs: to endure hardship gladly]."

The two turned into a side alley. Obviously there were a lot less pedestrians, but there was a group of foreign girls coming over, singing and dancing, wearing buttoned Chinese jacket without collar and short-sleeved gown on the top, plus several items of covering garments. The hem of their skirt was semi-circular, with streamer girthed their waist, while the back of their waist was folded into a pair of triangular floating ribbon hanging behind their back, in embroidered silk with decorative design, beautiful and dazzling to the eyes, linked to the pleated skirt on the lower part of their body, flared like morning glory flower, which emphasized their prominent and well-developed figure when they were walking. The pleated skirt swayed as if the lower garment was treading on clouds; what is true and what is false complimented each other. There was an extremely implicit charm, enhanced by the dazzling headdress, earrings, and breast ornaments. Xu Ziling's eyes could not take it all in; he found it mesmerizing and amusing.

Zheng Shiru said, "They are Yi girls. The skirts they are wearing could not be considered wide. The skirts of Nakhi and Pumi girls in Bashu's Lugu Lake region are wider than you ever thought. Don't imagine that you could make it without several zhang of fabric folded together."

Xu Ziling pulled his eyes away from the girls' full of dynamic alluring back, and asked in bewilderment, "Such a wide skirt, how are they wearing it?"

Putting on an air of the expert, Zheng Shiru said, "Wrapping it several times around their body is a common thing, the rest of it will be tucked behind their waist, so that it will look like they are carrying something behind their back, very distinctive. Ha! Xu Xiong is so handsome, tall and straight, when you pass through the road where Yi people live, you must be careful. Yi women are beautiful; even more so, they are bold and passionate. Once they entangle you, they will never let you go, it's not something that you can solve by walking away."

Inwardly Xu Ziling blew out a mouthful of cold air; thinking that fortunately when that group of Yi girls was throwing flirtatious glances at him, he did not respond by smiling. Otherwise, he might not be able to get away, just like Zheng Shiru's current wretched state.

Zheng Shiru silently led him turning to the left and branching to the right along the streets where people were coming and going, until they reached a more secluded side street. He spoke in heavy voice, "Please forgive Zaixia for one thing I'd like to ask about: why did Xu Xiong and Kou Xiong arbitrarily assert that Qian Duguan's favorite concubine Bai Qing'er is a Yin Gui Pai person?"

Xu Ziling thought the time has come; halting his steps, he spoke indifferently, "Have we read wrong?"

From a house somewhere came the sound of drums and happy music, while a group of children parading along the street with lanterns in their hands was coming straight toward them, full of festive pomp.

Contrary to Xu Ziling's expectation, Zheng Shiru said, "Not only she is Yin Gui Pai person, she is also Wanwan's Shimei, her position is very high. Her husband-concubine relationship is just a pretense, but this is a top secret. However, Xu Xiong and Kou Xiong seem to be able to see it through quite effortlessly."

Stunned, Xu Ziling looked at him. Straight to the point [orig. to open the door and see the mountain] he asked, "In that case, which position and what responsibility does Zheng Xiong have within the Yin Gui Pai?"

He has finally reached the limit of his patience, and did not wish to beat around the bush any longer.

※ ※ ※

Kou Zhong unleashed three saber strikes in a row, hacking his subordinates that they were falling to the east and tumbling to the west. This moment, Chen Changlin, Luo Qifei, Chen Laomou, and Bu Tianzhi, four men, were coming to see him. Hurriedly he shouted his order, "You guys continue to practice."

He came into the hall with the four and sat down. "Are you here to invite me to enjoy the Mid-Autumn moon?" he said with a laugh.

Chen Laomou looked out the window at the saber and sword coming and going outside. Kou Zhong had personally picked ten young men from the Jiangnan Army to be trained as his personal bodyguards. He said, "Shao Shuai indeed have a skill in training the army."

Looking at the inner courtyard sprinkled with the moonlight, Kou Zhong recalled four of his men who came with him transporting salt to the north, where three of them met with a violent death under Yin Gui Pai's hands, and one's whereabouts was unknown; his heart turned intensely cold and aching, he only nodded slightly in response.

Luo Qifei, who had hastened back recently, spoke heavily, "After returning to Qingliu, Du Fuwei sent people to summon Shen Lun to see him. Shen Lun is aware that Du Fuwei suddenly withdrew the large-scale operation of besieging Jiangdu; hence he was overly suspicious. Not daring to personally see Du Fuwei, he only sent his man to inquire. After chatting with Shen Lun's emissary for a while, Du Fuwei drove him away."

Slapping the table, Kou Zhong said, "Shen Lun, this kid, really helps us succeeding."

And then he asked in astonishment, "Qifei, how did you know what happened in Old Du's Command Mansion so clearly?"

Luo Qifei laughed and said, "With money, even the ghosts will be worn down. I have someone from my hometown working for Du Fuwei; a few words in exchange for a bag of gold, who can refuse?"

"What should we do next?" Chen Changlin asked.

Leaning back in his chair, Kou Zhong slyly said, "We don't need to pay attention to how Du Fuwei will gain the initiative by striking first to take care of Shen Lun; we only need to mobilize our entire forces to keep watch along Shen Lun's retreating path. The time he is fleeing back to Jiangnan will be the time we will ambush him, so that Changlin Xiong can take revenge and erase humiliation. We will retreat as soon as we succeed, and let Li Zitong clear the mess. Tonight, we won't care about anything except admiring the full moon and drinking some wine. Tomorrow morning, we will immediately set out on our journey. I am very clear of Old Du's temperament; he will definitely resolve this matter in the shortest time possible."

The crowd agreed in unison.

Chen Changlin's eyes lit up; he seemed to already see the desperate situation where Shen Lun was being ambushed and killed.

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