Chapter 2: An Important Head
The sixteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar.
Red Flower Bazaar.
Blowing snow filled the sky.
A galloping horse braved the snow gusts to charge toward the Red Flower Bazaar, which lay approximately fifty miles to the southwest of Chang’an city.
Lantern Festival had ended, the happy days had passed.
A dilapidated lantern rolled down the snow-filled street, pushed along by the never-ending cold wind. Even though it carried with it some of the feeling of the festivities of the previous night, at this point no one even glanced at it. It was like a woman doted upon for a night, then abandoned the next day.
The rider on the horse stopped outside of the bazaar and tied his horse to an old tree. He threw off his cloak, which was stitched from fine, expensive material, to reveal a padded jacket of blue brocade. He pulled out a hemp sack out from the saddle, along with an oilpaper umbrella and a set of cleats.
He donned the cleats, opened the oilskin umbrella and hoisted the hemp sack. He looked just like any other rich country folk.
Taking one careful step at a time, he entered the Red Flower Bazaar.
The hemp sack held a great secret inside, something that could shake heaven and earth. He knew what the secret was, only him.
He’d come here to deliver the item in the sack to a brothel in the Red Flower Bazaar, and to a specific person.
—What was in this sack? Who was it for?
If anyone knew the nature of this secret, he would in a split second be torn to pieces by blades, his father and mother, wife and children, all relatives, would be slaughtered within three days. His entire family would be wiped out.
Luckily, the secret would not be revealed. He would not reveal it, nor could anyone find out the secret.
Because no one could possibly have guessed that “Fierce Lion” Zhu Meng would have left his heavily fortified headquarters in Luoyang to charge alone into Sima Chaoqun’s territory.
Even Zhuo Donglai, who always thought of and planned for everything, would never imagine that Zhu Meng would dare to take such a risk.
An unsophisticated little town, a simple and crude brothel.
Zhu Meng (1) sat bare-chested on the kang (2), wearing a pair of calf skin trousers, holding a large drinking bowl filled with the establishment’s finest wine. He was playing drinking games with seven or eight of the finest women, matching everyone bowl for bowl.
He was drinking fenjiu, and had already had already downed forty-three bowls (3). And yet, his face had not changed color at all.
This petrified the onlookers.
This burly, thickly-bearded man seemed to be forged from iron. Even his belly seemed to be forged from iron.
“Whose turn is it to drink?” Zhu Meng filled another bowl. “Who’s going to go up against me this time?”
No one was willing to compete with him. Even one of the bravest girls, who was from Shandong Province and had the nickname “Sea Bottle,” wasn’t willing to have another drink. (4)
Drunk customers were usually more generous, so the girls here were obviously expert drinkers.
“But this man…” Sea Bottle would later tell people. “He was simply inhuman! A wine keg, a bottomless wine keg.”
Zhu Meng tilted his head back and laughed, then drank down three large bowlsful. Suddenly, he took the thick, porcelain bowl and threw it to the ground, where it shattered into pieces. His copper-colored eyes shone with a look as sharp as a blade as he stared at a male slave who had just entered. The man stood with legs quivering.
“Is there someone outside?”
“Looking for me?”
“Yes.” The slave’s voice was shaking. “He has a very strange name.”
“What’s his name?”
“His name is Cleats.”
Zhu Meng clapped his hands together. “Good boy. You’re finally here. Tell him to get the f*ck in here!”
“Cleats” took off his cleats and entered the room, carrying the hemp bag. The kang was full of fuel, and the room felt as warm as if it were springtime. (5)
As soon as he entered, someone grabbed the bag from his hands and shook it. Something tumbled out, and rolled across the kang. A human head!
The girls were frightened to death, and the male slave urinated himself.
Zhu Meng laughed loudly.
“Good boy. I knew I hadn’t misjudged you. You really can take care of business for me. When we get back I’ll reward you with two concubines.” (6)
His laughter stopped suddenly, and he stared at Cleats. In a low voice, he asked, “Did he say anything to you?”
“No,” replied Cleats. “The only thing I noticed was that he had some sort of box in his hand. I couldn’t even see his face clearly.”
A strange look shone in Zhu Meng’s eyes. He let out a soft sigh, and muttered, “You don’t owe me anything anymore. I just hope that you never come looking for me later to drink together.”
He obviously wasn’t talking to Cleats. And he obviously wasn’t used to heaving sighs.
So he laughed loudly again. “Zhuo Donglai, Zhuo Donglai. Everybody says you’re a freaking Zhuge Liang (7). Did you ever imagine I would be right next to your doghouse of a headquarters, drinking all night?” (8)
“Clan Leader, you always appear and disappear mysteriously when you have a mission. How could Mr. Zhuo possibly plan against you?” Cleats lowered his hands. “But he can surely figure out which path we will use to take Yang Jian’s head back to Luoyang. He’ll definitely arrange for ambushes and traps.”
“He might as well fart.” Zhu Meng glared at him. “If he doesn’t know that I’m right here, will he send his main force here?”
“Will he and Sima Chaoqun come?”
“So at the most, he might send along those two beardless brats. And he definitely wouldn’t send Guo Zhang, but Sun Tong.”
“Yes.” Cleats lowered his head. “It’s definitely him.”
He lowered his head because he didn’t want Zhu Meng to see the look of dread in his eyes.
He suddenly realized that this bearded, foul-mouthed man might appear to be crude and uneducated, but he was actually much more intelligent, and frightening, than anyone could imagine.
Zhu Meng suddenly jumped up, standing on the kang like some kind of celestial warrior. “Do you know who I am?” he shouted at the already terrified girls and the male slave.
No one dared to respond. No one dared even to open their mouth.
“I’m Great Granddaddy Zhu Meng!” He pointed at his nose with his thumb. “I’m Sima Chaoqun’s archenemy!”
He suddenly charged out into the next room and grabbed a bowl of ink from the counter. He dipped a brush into the ink until it was soaked through. In a flash, he had written ten characters onto the freshly white-washed wall, each character as large as a human head:
“Zhu Meng, the great hero of Luo Yang, was here!”
Ink dripped down the white-washed wall. Zhu Meng threw down the brush, laughing heartily.
“I’m here now, but it’s time to leave.” He thumped Cleats on the shoulder. “Let’s slaughter our way back, see if anyone can block our way.”
Sun Tong actually shouldn’t be called Sun Tong.
He should be called Sun Dang. (9)
Zhuo Donglai had praised him in front of people saying, “Even though Sun Tong is young, he can block the path of anyone. No matter what happens, he can block the path and keep it blocked.”
On the main road leading out of Red Flower Bazaar, was a teahouse. If you sat at the table by the door of the teahouse, you could clearly see everyone passing by on the road.
Sun Tong sat in that exact position.
On either side of the road, standing underneath the eaves where the snow wasn’t blowing, were two men wearing black clothes. They were older than Sun Tong, and had been working in the agency longer than him, yet they were his subordinates. These two men had been specially selected for this assignment. They had sharp gazes, and were experienced experts, yet Sun Tong was their superior in every way. Even they were thoroughly convinced of this.
They had been sent here because Sun Tong needed their sharp eyes and their experience to help him inspect every person coming and going from Red Flower Bazaar.
No matter who it was, if they looked even the slightest bit suspicious, or carried in their hand anything that seemed like it could contain a human head, or rode any type of vehicle that could hide a head, they would be stopped and thoroughly searched. Sometimes this type of search was embarrassing, but no one dared to refuse. This was because everyone knew that people sent by the “Great Protection Agency” were not to be offended.
Contrariwise, Sun Tong was not afraid to offend anyone.
He had received orders from Zhuo Donglai that regardless of the situation, he was not to allow Yang Jian’s head to leave the vicinity of Chang’an.
Whenever carrying out Zhuo Donglai’s orders, he was thorough and effective.
Sun Tong didn’t pay the slightest attention to Little Gao as he left the Red Flower Bazaar,
After all, there was nowhere for him to conceal a head.
But Little Gao walked up to him and sat down across from him at the table, laughing. “What’s your surname? What’s your given name?”
Sun Tong didn’t laugh, and yet didn’t refuse to answer. “I’m surnamed Sun. Sun Tong.”
“How are you?”
“Not very good, but not very bad,” said Sun Tong coolly. “At least my head is still on my neck.”
Little Gao gave a loud laugh.
“Knowing that your head is still on your neck really is something to be happy about. If you knew where Yang Jian’s head was, you’d be even more happy.”
“Do you know?”
“I only know that Mr. Zhuo won’t want Yang Jian’s head to fall into Zhu Meng’s hands. He would definitely use it to show off to all his friends in Jianghu. And that’s why you’re here.”
“It seems you know quite a bit.”
“Unfortunately I still don’t really understand. People going to Luo Yang might not necessarily take the main road. Even an out-of-towner like me knows of at least two or three side roads to take.”
“I’m only watching the main road, not the side roads.”
“People who take the side roads don’t have guts. They wouldn’t need me to handle them.”
“Well said! Very well said!”
Little Gao poured himself a cup of tea from Sun Tong’s teapot. He suddenly lowered his voice. “Have you seen anyone suspicious?”
Little Gao laughed again. “If it was me, it wouldn’t bode well.”
“Bode well for who?”
“You!” Little Gao looked at Sun Tong. “If I was trying to escape with Yang Jian’s head, his Excellency would suddenly find that his Excellency’s head was not on his Excellency’s neck anymore.” He suddenly felt the need to explain. “When I say his Excellency, I mean you.”
Sun Tong wasn’t angry, and his facial expression didn’t change. He didn’t even blink.
“I can see that you don’t have Yang Jian’s head! But I can also see that you are carrying a sword.”
“Why don’t you draw your sword and test it out?”
“What do you mean test it out?”
“Test out whose head will fall off.”
Little Gao gently stroked the rough material that never left his side. He smiled and shook his head. “I can’t test it out. I definitely can’t.”
“It’s not that I’m scared, it’s that I can’t.”
“Because this sword isn’t made to use on you.” With a very respectful tone of voice, he continued, “Because you aren’t worthy.”
Sun Tong’s expression still hadn’t changed, but his eyes had suddenly filled with red.
Many people look like this before they kill someone.
His hand had lowered, grasping the hilt of his sword, which rested on a stool next to him.
Little Gao stood up and turned away, preparing to leave. If he wanted to make a move, no one could stop him. If he didn’t want to make a move, no one could force him to.
But before he could walk off, the thunderous sound of a galloping horse could be heard.
Another sound could be heard amidst the sound of the horse hooves, a sound that might be made by someone wearing cleats, running along ice and snow.
He had just differentiated between these two sounds when suddenly he caught sight of a horse charging down the street.
On the horse was a rider with a thick beard, wearing an unfastened sheepskin coat. The sharp, icy wind battered his chest, yet he seemed not to notice.
Behind the horse was another person, wearing a pair of oilskin cleats. With one hand he grasped the horse’s tail, and in the other he held a bamboo pole, affixed to the end of which was a hemp sack. He dashed along behind the horse, shouting, “Yang Jian’s head is right here. This is the end fate of a traitor!”
The man on the horse laughed, a crazy laugh, so loud that the eaves shook, dropping sheet after sheet of snow onto the ground.
Little Gao definitely wasn’t going to leave.
He had never seen Zhu Meng before, but he knew this was him.
Other than “Fierce Lion” Zhu Meng, who else could be so impressive and awe-inspiring?
He had never imagined that Zhu Meng would appear here, but he really hoped that Sun Tong would let him pass.
Because he saw that in Zhu Meng’s hand was an enormous gold-inlaid broadsword. (10)
The broadsword was nearly five feet long and was wider than a butcher’s chopping block. The blade tip was thinner than paper.
Sun Tong was still young.
Little Gao really didn’t want to see someone so young beheaded and trampled by a horse.
But sadly, Sung Tong had already begun moving forward, his sword shining like white snow. He leaped up from behind the table, the light from his sword glimmering like a rainbow as it flew toward Zhu Meng’s throat.
This attack was like a gambler’s last gambit, in which you put everything on the line in one move.
It was a fatal attack, fatal either to your opponent, or yourself.
Zhu Meng laughed wildly. “You’ve really got guts, kid.”
As he laughed, he raised his broadsword high. The gold glowed, the blade edge shone like the moon. The dazzling brightness of the reflected snow pierced the eyes like needles.
Little Gao saw the blade flash, and then suddenly everything turned scarlet.
Bright red droplets of blood spattered everywhere, as if fireworks had splashed out from within the shining light of the sword and intermixed with the silvery, white snow to create a painting that once gazed upon could never be forgotten.
The beauty was indescribable. It was a beauty filled with sadness, filled with cruelty, filled with heroic tragedy.
In this moment, it seemed as if all the living creatures in the world were shocked into motionlessness from the beauty of it.
Little Gao felt as though his heart had stopped beating, and that he couldn’t breathe.
Even though it had only taken a split second to happen, it seemed as if that split second lasted an eternity.
In heaven and on earth, only “death” lasts an eternity.
The horse continued galloping, and Cleats still ran along behind it. They had gone nearly sixty meters before Sun Tong’s corpse landed on the frozen ground, ground as cold and unfeeling as the blade of the broadsword.
Hundreds of thousands of tiny drops of blood slowly descended along with the snowflakes.
Bright red droplets of blood, shining white snowflakes.
The galloping horse let out a long neigh and reared up. Cleats seemed to float up as well.
Zhu Meng reigned in the horse, spun it around, and galloped back. Cleats flew along behind the horse like a kite.
The two black-clothed men stood on either side of the road, their broadswords drawn. The blades glinted as brightly as Zhu Meng’s, but their eyes and their faces were the color of dead ashes.
Zhu Meng laughed.
“Look closely. I’m Zhu Meng. I’m leaving you with your heads so that you can have a good look at me, then go back and tell Sima and Zhuo Donglai that I was here. I’m going now. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a dragon’s cave or a tiger’s den, if I feel like coming, I’ll come, if I feel like going, I’ll go.” Then he shouted, “Why haven’t you gotten lost yet?”
The black-clothed men were already falling back. As soon as they heard him start to shout, they began running away, running faster than horses.
Zhu Meng was about to laugh, but didn’t, because he suddenly heard someone sigh and say, “I have to say, there really are not very many people in the world like Sun Tong who aren’t afraid to die.”
Little Gao had already sat down in the seat moments ago occupied by Sun Ping. He picked up the scabbard Sun Ping had dropped and put it onto the table along with his own cloth-wrapped sword. He didn’t look directly at Zhu Meng, but he could tell that Zhu Meng’s expression had changed.
Then he found that Zhu Meng was in front of him, perched high on the horse, staring at him with his sharp, copper-colored eyes.
Little Gao didn’t look at him.
He took a drink of tea.
But the tea in the cup was cold, so he emptied the cup and poured another. He emptied that one onto the ground too. The tea in the teapot was cold, yet he unexpectedly poured another cup.
Zhu Meng continued to stare at him, and then asked in a loud voice, “What are you doing?!”
“I’m drinking tea,” said Little Gao. “I’m thirsty, so I want to drink tea.”
“But you’re not drinking.”
“Because the tea is cold,” said Little Gao. “I never drink cold tea.” He sighed. “If I’m drinking alcohol I don’t care. I can drink any type of alcohol, but with tea I’m very picky. Cold tea is absolutely undrinkable. I would rather drink poisoned wine.”
“Don’t tell me you think that you’re going to get hot tea from that pot?” asked Zhu Meng.
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking.”
“Can’t you tell that the tea in the pot is completely cold?”
“I know. Of course I know.”
Zhu Meng looked at him as if he were some type of freak. “You know that the tea in the pot is cold, but you still think you can pour a cup of hot tea out of it?”
“Not just hot, scalding hot. The more boiling hot it is, the better the tea tastes.”
Zhu Meng suddenly laughed, then turned and looked at Cleats. “At first I wanted to chop this kid’s head off, but now I can’t.” He laughed loudly. “He’s crazy, and I never chop off the heads of crazy people.”
Cleats didn’t laugh, because just now he caught sight of something very strange.
He saw Little Gao pouring a cup of hot tea from the cold teapot. It was so hot that it bubbled and steamed.
Zhu Meng’s laughter suddenly ceased as he saw the same thing.
Not many people could laugh after seeing something like this. And not many people could control their internal force and heat to warm a pot of cold tea.
Zhu Meng looked back at Cleats. “Is this kid crazy or not?”
“Looks like he’s not.”
“It looks like he has some freaking kung fu, after all. At least a little.”
“Looks like he does.”
“Who would ever have thought he was a good kid? I almost missed it.” When he was finished speaking, he did something no one could ever have imagined that he would do.
He suddenly dismounted, stuck his broadsword into the ground, and walked up to Xiao Gao. Cupping one fist in the other, he saluted him in dead earnest and said, “You’re not crazy. You’re a true man. If you’re willing to be brothers, and you’re willing to go back with me to Luoyang and drink for a few days, I will kneel in front of you and kowtow three times.”
Experts filled the “Lion Clan” like clouds filled the sky. Fierce Lion Zhu Meng had won fame throughout the region of Luoyang. Considering his position, how could he kiss the butt of a nameless, down-and-out youth? And yet, it seemed he was not joking at all.
Little Gao looked shocked. He stared for a long time before finally sighing and smiling wryly. “Now I can finally believe that what people say in Jianghu is real. Fierce Lion Zhu Meng really is an extraordinary character. No wonder so many people admire you and are willing to die for you.”
“And you?” asked Zhu Meng. “Are you willing to make friends with Zhu Meng?”
Little Gao slapped the table. “Ah what the hell?” he said loudly. “Let’s be friends. What’s the big deal?” His voice was even louder than Zhu Meng’s. “I’m Gao Jianfei, and in my months of wandering Jianghu, I haven’t met anyone who treats me with respect. Why shouldn’t I make friends with you?”
Zhu Meng turned his head back and laughed. “Great! Very well said!”
“But, as for the kowtowing, let’s scrap that part. If you kneel in front of me, I couldn’t stay standing. If both of us kneel and kowtow, you kowtow to me, I kowtow to you, then doesn’t that make us a pair of click beetles?(11) I don’t want to do that.”
Zhu Meng agreed. “If you say we don’t do it, then we don’t do it.”
“I also can’t go back with you to drink, because I have an appointment with death in Chang’an.”
“Well, let’s drink here, then! Drink it up!”
“Drink here?” Little Gao frowned. “Aren’t you afraid Sima might show up?”
Zhu Meng slapped the table hard.
“Aw hell, even if he does show up, what’s the big deal? At the most I might lose my life in a fight to the death. What else could he do? But as for this round of drinks between us, we have to drink them. Not drinking will be worse than dying!”
“Ok! Let’s drink,” said Little Gao. “If you’re not scared, what the hell do I have to be scared of?”
The teahouse not only was devoid of customers, the wait staff had also left.
Thankfully, the wine jugs were still there.
Zhu Meng and Little Gao drank together. Cleats poured the wine. They drank faster than he could pour, and yet before they could finish the jug, the sound of horse hooves drifted in from outside.
The hoofbeats sounded like the beating of drums. There were at least sixty or seventy horses.
Red Flower Bazaar was within Sima Chaoqun’s sphere of influence. If someone received orders from Sima to tear the entire place to the ground, it would happen in an instant, and that was not an exaggeration.
But Zhu Meng didn’t even blink. He had a full bowl of wine in his hand, and not a drop spilled out.
“Let me toast you three more times,” he said to Little Gao. “I wish you health, happiness and longevity!” (12)
He drank quickly, but the hoofbeats seemed to sound out ever more urgently. By the third bowl, it was like thunder.
Cleats’ hands, which held the wine jug, seemed to be weakening, but Zhu Meng’s expression hadn’t changed.
“Now it’s time for you to toast me,” he said to Little Gao. “You have to toast me at least three times.”
Cleats suddenly interrupted, “Clan Leader, I’m afraid you won’t be able to finish all three bowls.”
“Why not?” Zhu Meng was furious. “Why can’t we?”
“Clan Leader, if you keep drinking, the life of young master Gao as well as your life will be at risk.”
Zhu Meng’s anger dissipated and he let out a long sigh. “What he said is true. Risking my life isn’t a big deal, but why involve you?”
He made to stand up, but Little Gao grabbed his shoulder and casually said, “My life isn’t worth as much as yours. If you’re willing to risk yours, why can’t I? Besides, who’s to say we might not come out on top?”
Zhu Meng laughed heartily. “True. What you said is even more true.”
“So, let me toast you these three bowls. I also wish you health, happiness and longevity.”
They laughed together, and as they laughed the sound of horses had reached the tea house and completely surrounded it. It sounded like a thunderstorm.
And then the sound of hoofbeats suddenly ceased. There were a few neighs, and then complete silence.
Everything was suddenly as quiet as death. The teahouse seemed like a tomb. Cleats suddenly sat down. With a bitter laugh, he said, “Clan Leader, I’d like to have a little wine.”
There was no sound of blades, no sound of swords, no sound of people, no sound of horses.
Because every person and every horse had been through years of rigorous training, and when necessary, could be completely noiseless. Even if their head were chopped off, they wouldn’t utter a sound.
Within the deathlike silence a man walked in, his hands clasped behind his back. He wore a violet crown and a violet, sable cloak.
“Eastern Violet Clouds” Zhuo Donglai had arrived. (13)
His bearing was extremely calm and collected. Only a person who knows that they are in complete control and have the upper hand, could display this level of calmness.
The lives of the three people in the teahouse were definitely under his control.
But Little Gao and Zhu Meng didn’t even look at him.
“I have to toast you three more times,” said Little Gao. “For these three, I wish you long life and riches, many sons and grandsons.” Before he had finished pouring the wine, Zhuo Donglai was standing in front of them.
“Shouldn’t these three bowls be mine to toast with?” he said calmly.
“Clan Leader Zhu has traveled from far away. We haven’t fulfilled our duty as a host at all. These three bowls should definitely be mine to toast with.”
Zhu Meng said nothing. He simply downed the three bowls. Zhuo Donglai downed his just as quickly.
“I must toast Clan Leader Zhu three more. These three are an absolute necessity.”
“Because after these three bowls, there’s a matter I need to consult with Clan Leader Zhu about.”
Zhuo Donglai first drank three bowls. “Clan Leader Zhu’s whereabouts are always uncertain. He comes and goes like a shadow. As far as he’s concerned, this place is completely deserted.” He sighed. “So, if Clan Leader Zhu had left just now, we would have been powerless to stop him.” He lifted his head up and looked at Zhu Meng coldly. “And yet, Clan Leader Zhu didn’t leave just now.”
“You didn’t anticipate that?”
“Not at all!”
“Actually, neither did I. Because before, I hadn’t made this new friend.” Zhu Meng slapped Little Gao’s shoulder. “But now we’re friends. Of course I have to have a few drinks with him. He couldn’t go with me back to Luoyang, the least I could do is stay behind to accompany him.” Zhu Meng laughed. “It’s really very simple. I’m just afraid people like you won’t be able to understand.”
Zhuo Donglai didn’t say anything. He didn’t make a sound, didn’t move, didn’t sigh, didn’t drink.
It suddenly seemed as if he turned into a piece of wood. Even his eyes had no expression in them.
There was no movement from outside. Without orders from Zhuo Donglai, no one would be willing to move.
As the time passed, what were Little Gao and Zhu Meng doing? Zhuo Donglai didn’t seem to know, or care.
As the time passed, only Little Gao’s face had any expression on it. It was a very strange expression.
From the expression on his face, it seemed as if a handful of scorpions or bedbugs were wriggling around in his clothes, and that he couldn’t hold back from moving.
Actually, he had caught sight of something no one else could see. Because of the direction his seat was facing, he could look directly at a window in the back of the room. And that window happened to be open.
Outside this window could be seen the horses brought along by Zhuo Donglai. But from Little Gao’s angle, he could see through a small space between the men and horses and blades and arrows. He could see a tree.
It was a dead, withered poplar tree, and standing beneath it was a person.
From his seat, Little Gao could clearly see the person.
It was a quiet, ordinary person, carrying an old-fashioned, ordinary box.
Little Gao felt the urge to charge out the door, felt multiple urges, but he didn’t move.
Because he knew that now was a decisive moment. The lives and fates of all of them would be decided in just a moment, and anything he did could cause harm to his friend.
So he didn’t move.
But he really hoped that the box-carrying man under the tree wouldn’t leave.
A long time passed, and then he saw another very strange thing.
He suddenly saw Zhuo Donglai smile.
And he suddenly realized that Zhuo Donglai’s smile was actually very charming.
He saw Zhuo Donglai smile and stand up, then give an elegant and formal bow to Zhu Meng.
“Clan Leader Zhu, I won’t toast you anymore. It’s a long way back to Luoyang, and it’s not good to drink too much.”
Little Gao was shocked, as was Zhu Meng.
“You’re letting him go?” asked Little Gao. “You’re really letting him go?”
Zhuo Donglai smiled coldly. “If you’re able to make friends with him, why can’t I? He’s willing to risk his life to drink with you, why can’t I let him go?”
And then he personally led Zhu Meng’s horse over by the reigns. “Clan Leader Zhu, we’ll part here. We’ll meet again someday. Please forgive me for not seeing you further along.”
Dust roiled. A horse, a horsetail, a pair of cleats, and two people raced away.
Little Gao watched them leave, then turned and asked Zhuo Donglai, “Now I can finally believe that what people say in Jianghu is real. ‘Eastern Violet Clouds’ Zhuo Donglai really is an extraordinary character.”
Zhuo Donglai sighed again. “Unfortunately, you’re not going to make friends with me. Because you want to become famous, you want Sima Chaoqun to die by your sword.”
Little Gao was silent for a long time before saying, “Maybe the person to die won’t be him, but me.”
“Yes. The person to die will very likely be you,” Zhuo Donglai said coldly. “If I was going to place a bet, I would bet ten to one that you’ll die.” He looked at Little Gao. “If you want to place a bet with me, I’m willing.”
“Because I can’t afford to lose.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, he dashed out. All of a sudden, he had noticed that the man standing beneath the tree had disappeared.
This time, Little Gao was determined to pursue him.
(1) The “meng” character in Zhu Meng’s name is the character for “fierce, violent, energetic, vigorous.”
(2) A kang is a traditional sleeping bed made of bricks or clay. It has a type of furnace or oven underneath that can be heated up during winter to make the bed and the room warm.http://goo.gl/ad6oSn
(3) Fenjiu is a relatively famous type of bai jiu from Shanxi. http://goo.gl/T7Xrt0
(4) Her name implies that she can drink a lot.
(5) The original text includes the tidbit that the fuel being used is horse manure.
(6) In this part of the story, Zhu Meng consistently refers to himself as 老子 laozi. This literally means “old man” or “daddy,” and it is something that tough guys will often say to their inferiors (or to others, when trying to make themselves sound tough, or to insult people). But it’s not very common to refer to yourself in the third person in English, and even the common translation “daddy,” just doesn’t sound right in my opinion, so I’m going to leave it out. However, throughout the story, I will clarify as necessary whether or not it is being used.
(7) Zhuge Liang is of course the most famous strategist in the history of China. http://goo.gl/gZfi
(8) He literally just says the word “doghouse,” but he’s referring to their organizations base of operations, so I added “headquarters” to make if flow a bit smoother.
(9) This is a play on the two Chinese character 通 tong and 挡 dang. Tong means to pass, or to let pass, and dang means to block or stop.
(10) This type of weapon is a 砍刀 kan dao, which could also be translated as chopper or chopping sword.
(11) The name for click beetle in Chinese is literally “kowtowing bug.” http://goo.gl/1jKYYG
(12) As I mentioned before, Zhuo Donglai’s given name means “from the east.” So his Jianghu nickname actually contains the same two characters as his given name. “紫气东来” 卓东来 or “ziqi donglai” zhuo donglai. And as I mentioned before I’m going to continue to use violet instead of purple. Even though the Chinese character is the same throughout the story, the things being described are often not purple. Furthermore, I think violet sounds more cool than purple. Haha.
(13) At this point, until further notice, Zhu Meng has stopped referring to himself as “laozi” and is now using the normal word for “I” or “me.”