Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan Book 49 Chapter 9 – Genuine Painting, Counterfeit Painting

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Book 49 Chapter 9 – Genuine Painting, Counterfeit Painting

Inside the Pa.s.sionate Nest, in the dark, the three you look at me I gaze at you; after listening to both sides’ story, they were still frightened and could not make up their mind.

Kou Zhong spoke dejectedly, “Our trip to Chang’an this time is a complete failure, all the bargaining chips in our hands have been won by Shi Zhixuan, the Senior, and we still don’t know how to clear up the mess.”

Xu Ziling said, “We still can’t say that he achieved total victory; at least at the Taiji Palace Hall, he was helpless to kill you before Li Yuan rushing over.”

Knitting his brows in deep thought, Hou Xibai said, “Really strange! If he wanted to deal with you two, it could be said as easy as a hand’s turn; for example, he could reveal Situ Furong affair to Yin Zuwen, and then you would have to pack your food and leave before you finish eating, so why didn’t he do that? Even more, it seems like he is not planning on doing so.”

His spirit was aroused, Kou Zhong said, “This is called love the house and its cow [idiom: love me, love my dog].”

Xu Ziling angrily said, “That being the case, why did he harm us really bad tonight? We nearly lost our lives.”

Kou Zhong a.n.a.lyzed, “That is precisely the contradiction; it revealed the true contradiction in his heart, which is the struggle between good and evil, which is also his flaw, his only flaw, and Shi Qingxuan is precisely the crucial key at the core of this contradiction. Each time, before he attacked me, it always looked like there was a struggle in his heart; otherwise, we would have been finished early on.”

Kou Zhong reached across the small table to grab Xu Ziling’s shoulder; restraining his laughter, he said, “Your future father-in-law is unwilling to tie an unresolvable deep enmity with Ling Shao; in his heart, he has never been able to let go of Shi Qingxuan. That saying ‘love the house and its cow’ is just an iron-clad fact.”

Shaken, Xu Ziling said, “Your remark awakened people from their dream; at least he can’t be unmoved toward the Yong’An Ca.n.a.l, because that was the place where he repented and remembered Bi Xiuxin.”

Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, “Good kid! You are finally willing to admit him as your father-in-law.”

Xu Ziling glowered crossly at him, but he spoke to Hou Xibai, “I wonder if people of holy school only talk about self-interest?”

Hou Xibai nodded and said, “That is the inevitable result of holy school’s not-recognizing-one’s-family style; everybody only gives consideration to himself, working together with others is for the benefit of working together, who could give you the most benefit, then you would regard him as your friend. This kind of working together is obviously more harmful than good, so that the holy school lacks genuine cohesion. Therefore, since the decline of the House of Han, holy school repeatedly sit and waste a good opportunity; the real reason is precisely this.”

Xu Ziling spoke indifferently, “That may be the reason, but the other possibility is that although within the holy school Shi Zhixuan’s prestige cannot be doubted, yet Zhao Deyan, Yin Zuwen, even Yang Xuyan, n.o.body needs to rely on him. The former can rely on the Tujue people to support him to be the Central Earth’s puppet emperor, just like Liu Wuzhou or Liang Shidu’s situation. Yin Zuwen and Yang Xuyan can manipulate Li Yuan, while there is internal strife within the Li Clan, he could achieve his ambition step-by-step, the ultimate goal is naturally to remove and replace him. Just look at Xiang Yushan and Zhao Deyan’s relationship, or even Chi Shengchun and Yin Zuwen’s close relationship. Based on Shi Zhixuan’s ability and wisdom, I am certain that he is able to see through and understand all these things very clearly. Therefore, whether it is the condition submitted by Zhao Deyan or Yin Gui Pai, either one might make Shi Zhixuan being caught in a consigned-to-eternal-d.a.m.nation situation. For example, by killing you, Kou Zhong, he might provoke the ‘Heavenly Saber’ Song Que. Killing his own daughter might make Shi Zhixuan’s old illness to relapse even more. Shi Zhixuan definitely will not fall into the trap that easily.”

Turning to Kou Zhong, he said, “I am not trying to explain myself at all, but to lay out the fact. We cannot make another mistake, otherwise none of us can leave Chang’an alive.”

Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Ling Shao, no need to be so serious. His Niang’s! Why would Old Shi want the ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’? Can’t be like Xiao Hou, he only wants it for his collection, for his own enjoyment, can it? If he gives the ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’ to Chi Shengchun, what might happen then?”

Smiling bitterly, Hou Xibai said, “After what happened tonight, I already reconciled myself to forget about the ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’. What is Cao San doing inside Li Yuan’s imperial study room? Since Li Yuan already knew that Cao San wants to steal the ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’, he will certainly deploy ma.s.sive military force to guard the place where he keeps the painting; I no longer have any hope of stealing the painting. Ay!”

Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Even if we knew where the painting is hidden, or even if we could grab the painting by force, I am certain we won’t be able to leave alive. This is my personal experience just now. Were it not for the fact that Li Yuan was in the Ning Bi Pavilion to welcome Meiren’er Changzhu, so that most of the martial art masters should be concentrated over there, Xiaodi freely admits that I do not have the ability to charge my way out of the palace.”

“I wonder whether they thought you were Shi Zhixuan or Cao San?” Kou Zhong pondered aloud.

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Xu Ziling said, “Very hard to say. The most plausible explanation is that Cao San is just a cover, it could be Shi Zhixuan in disguise, it could be someone else, the purpose was to hide his real ident.i.ty. One might well ask, did the real Cao San have that kind of ability?”

And then he sighed and said, “By dusk tomorrow, how are we going to hand over the ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’?

Kou Zhong spoke heavily, “We must be clear about three things first. One, does Shi Zhixuan know that the treasured painting is in Li Yuan’s hands? Two, why does Shi Zhixuan want to get the treasured painting? Three, if we don’t have the painting for Old Shi, will he really uncover the shady business of Situ Furong? If we can figure these things out, then we’ll know how to advance and attack, or to retreat and defend.”

Hou Xibai said, “I can give you the answer to the first question. Since Shi Shi has been following us into the imperial study room, I’m sure he eavesdropped our conversation. With his ability and wisdom, by only hearing a few words, he can infer the rest. Therefore, he is now clear that the one stealing the painting was not Ziling but Li Yuan. He wants us to hand the painting over to him, he deliberately wants to give us trouble, or he wants that when we are stealing the painting, Li Yuan would kill us, so that once the main problem is solved, all troubles are solved, while he could push all the blames neat and clean, at least Qingxuan would not put the blame on him.”

Kou Zhong agreed; he said, “Just consider him knowing about it then! But in my opinion, the chance that he wanted to force us to steal the painting to harm us is quite small. There are two possibilities on why he wanted us to hand over the painting by dusk tomorrow. The first possibility is to force us to leave before dusk tomorrow. The other possibility is that he wanted to borrow the painting to harm Chi Shengchun, to bring trouble to him.”

Astonished, Hou Xibai said, “Forcing us to leave is reasonable and fair, because we won’t be a hindrance to Shi Shi anymore; he would then have a free hand to deal with Wanwan, to acquire the ‘Tianmo Jue’ in her hands. But to bring harm to Chi Shengchun does not make much sense; would he pick a stone to smash his own foot?”

Xu Ziling appeared to be deep in thought.

Kou Zhong spoke to Xu Ziling, “Ling Shao, the first time you heard Yin Zuwen’s voice, who was Yin Zuwen with? It was Zhao Deyan, wasn’t it? Just from the fact that Yin Zuwen was willing to obey Zhao Deyan to put the ‘Seven Needles to Control the Mind’ to be used to deal with Lei Dage, it is clear that Yin Zuwen and Zhao Deyan have a very close relationship. And now Yin Zuwen even submitted Zhao Deyan’s conditions to Shi Zhixuan. Based on these couple of points, it could be inferred that Zhao Deyan and Yin Zuwen have an inseparably close relationship, so much so that they are forging a secret alliance. Frankly speaking, due to Zhao Deyan has Xieli and Bi Xuan’s support behind his back, compared to Shi Zhixuan, whose old illness has just been healed, while the people are rebelling and friends deserting, his power is considerably greater. Even if Yin Zuwen managed to break down the Li Clan and took their place, once the Tujue lead the coalition army of the tribes beyond the Great Wall to come to the south, his emperor dream would turn into froth and shadows [fig. illusion]. Therefore, for his own benefit, Yin Zuwen has no choice but to attach himself to Zhao Deyan. Plus Zhao Deyan’s so-called conditions to acknowledge allegiance to Shi Zhixuan, on one hand, it’s merely a scheme to kill with borrowed knife, on the other hand, he wants Shi Zhixuan to be caught in a consigned to eternal d.a.m.nation situation. Ha! Old Zhao and Old Yin made the same mistake of offending their superior as Ling Shao and me, which is underestimating Shi Zhixuan.”

Hou Xibai nodded and said, “Listening to your, LaoGe’s a.n.a.lysis, it certainly makes a lot of sense. Supposing Shi Zhixuan gave the painting that we steal back from Li Yuan’s hands to Chi Shengchun, and Chi Shengchun, being unaware of the inner workings, presents the painting as a betrothal gift to the ‘Da Xian’ Hu Fo, what would Li Yuan do to Chi Shengchun? However, Shi Shi ought to know that there is no way that we could s.n.a.t.c.h the painting back from Li Yuan’s hands. Therefore, forcing us to leave is still the greater possibility. After all, the Xiang Family’s threat to Shi Shi is not that great, destroying Chi Shengchun does not bring much benefit to him.”

Shaking his head, Kou Zhong said, “Xiaodi thinks it is very hard to say. Shi Zhixuan’s immediate priority is to unify the holy school, and the Xiang Family is Zhao Deyan’s important eyes and ears in the Central Earth, their role is too big to estimate. Naturally Shi Zhixuan will not let anybody know that it was he who destroyed Chi Shengchun; he could simply bestow the painting to Chi Shengchun via other people’s hands. This will be the most serious blow to the Xiang Family, while also be a big blow to Zhao Deyan. Moreover, it will be a warning to Yin Zuwen, to tell him that he, Shi Zhixuan, is able to destroy him at any time.”

Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “The ones who don’t want Chi Shengchun to be destroyed the most are us, and not Zhao Deyan and Yin Zuwen at all. To us, these several idiots, that will break an important trail to the Xiang Family. Looks like our Furong Ye must leave before dusk tomorrow, because we practically have no way of guessing the answer to your third question, which is whether Shi Zhixuan will uncover our secret or not.”

Kou Zhong’s pair of eyes flashing brightly, he spoke slowly, “If we give Shi Zhixuan the convenience of us stepping down the stage, he will definitely not uncover us. Because if we die, he would no longer have his value to be useful in Zhao Deyan’s eyes. Shi Zhixuan can’t possibly be unaware of this fact. Besides we are now like if you ride a tiger, it’s hard to get off; we can’t simply leave as soon as we say we want to leave. Even if we leave, we must retreat in honor and glory. Otherwise, not only Chen Fu will be in trouble, it will also be difficult for Ou Liangcai and his entire family and clan to escape disaster.”

Xu Ziling nodded and said, “Furthermore, we must resolve Shen Luoyan’s crisis before we can leave. This is the operation that Yang Xuyan and the Dugu Clan meticulously deploy; I am sure there’s still Li Yuanji behind them. Their ultimate goal is to implicate Li Shiji, in order to render a blow toward Li Shimin.”

The other two nodded in agreement.

Although the Heavenly Policy Mansion had fierce generals as numerous as the clouds, yet only Li Jing and Li Shiji, two men who were the most outstanding. If the latter met the misfortune of being charged with guilt by a.s.sociation, it would be akin to injuring one of Li Shimin’s arms; moreover, it would have a serious impact on the attack of Luoyang. Yin Zuwen and Yang Xuyan surely worked with a common purpose on this matter.

Xu Ziling continued, “Yang WenGan advised and urged Li Mi to personally submit a request about leaving the Pa.s.s to Li Yuan during the polo match tomorrow. It can clearly be seen that Li Yuan also has the heart to kill Li Mi. When that time comes, he only has to give a nod, and afterwards ambush and kill Li Mi on the road. After the fact, he could claim that Li Mi have betrayed him. Shen Luoyan is summoned into the palace, it is precisely so that she will be unable to contact Li Mi. If, at an appropriate time, Shen Luoyan is made aware of this matter, she would disregard everything to rush to stop Li Mi, then she would fall into the enemy’s evil schemes, to be charged with great treason of escaping together with the rebelling Li Mi.”

Kou Zhong laughed and said, “In the end, we still have to reenter the Tang Palace.”

Drawing out a mouthful of cold air, Hou Xibai blurted, “What?”

Kou Zhong patted his shoulder and said, “No need to be confused. This is a bit like when we were in Luoyang in the past, where we went to Jing Nian Chan Yuan to steal the Jade Annulus of He Clan. The first time we were scared and escaped with the tail between our legs, the second time as soon as we made our move to steal, it was a success. Ay! I’m just saying! The problem is that now Li Yuan must have hidden the painting elsewhere. Even if there is no guard in the Great Tang Palace and we come to overturn trunks and boxes to search, without ten days, half a month, we won’t be able to find it. But what if we get a fake painting? Didn’t Song ErGe say that among the paintings that Xiao Yu brought, there were two Zhan Ziqian’s reproductions?”

Hou Xibai said, “If there is any ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’ reproduction, I’m sure it will be inside the Dugu house, because only people who have seen this painting can make an imitation.”

Xu Ziling’s spirit greatly aroused, he asked, “How high is that possibility?”

Full of confidence, Hou Xibai said, “I’ll say 90%. All those families influential for generations and big clans have painting craftsmen to draw portraits of important figures in the Clan, in order to be family heirloom or for the future generations to admire. If they have masterpiece like ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’ or the like as family heirloom, they will certainly have their people copying it. The real painting is in their collection, the imitation is to be hung on the wall. This is a fashionable common practice, plus it is also to preserve the real painting. Usually, only during special moments, such as entertaining important people, or perhaps deliberately wanted to show off – will the real painting be hung on the wall.”

Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Why didn’t you say so earlier? Stealing the fake painting is naturally a hundred times easier than stealing the real painting, not to mention You Pozi [old woman] and Dugu Feng [phoenix], these two women with highest martial art skill, are staying in the palace, the fake painting should be something that they would casually put anywhere, your Shi Shi is not a connoisseur or a renowned expert like Hu Fo or Song ErGe. Come, let Xiaodi show the way, Xiaodi is most familiar with the Dugu Family’s Dong Ji Yuan!”

Xu Ziling said, “If we have another chance to steal the real ‘Han Lin Qing Yuan Tu’, Old Shi will have no way of knowing which scroll is the real one, which scroll is the fake one.”

Smiling wryly, Hou Xibai said, “You seem to be forgetting that if Shi Shi gives the painting to Chi Shengchun, Chi Shengchun might give the painting to Hu Fo. With Hu Fo’s expert eyes, there is no way the fake painting can be hidden from him. At that time. Shi Shi will be so angry at being deceived, and then we will have to pack our food and leave before we finish eating.”

Kou Zhong said, “We’ll think about that later, at least we won’t have to slip away before dusk tomorrow. Now that there are still a couple of sichen before daybreak, we should have enough time to turn Dugu Feng’s [peak] study room upside down.”

And then the turned to Hou Xibai and said with a laugh, “In any case, to be able to enjoy the imitation painting is a bit better than quenching one’s thirst by thinking of plums [idiom: to console oneself with illusions]. Nearly forget to tell you, we have another secret way to withdraw in secret, with which we could come in and out of Chang’an while the G.o.ds do not know, the ghosts do not perceive. But naturally not to use that secret way is more wonderful than to use it! Ha!”

Song Shidao’s voice came from inside the room, “Who’s there!”

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling, two boys pushed the door and entered the room. They saw Song Shidao, with blank expression on his face, was sitting in a corner of the bedroom; he appeared to be stupefied.

Kou Zhong took the two scrolls of painting he clasped under his arm and presented them to Song Shidao. “Shen Ye, please look over,” he respectfully said.

Song Shidao took the two scrolls of painting, focused his attention to look, and noticed that the two brocade cases were of the same style, and the marking on the cases were identical, ‘Zhan Ziqian Han Lin Qing Yuan’. Shocked, he asked, “What’s going on?”

The two boys separately sat down on Song Shidao’s left and right. Kou Zhong said, “Shen Dashi [great master], please see which one is real, which one is fake.”

Song Shidao pulled open the scrolls of painting one by one, and then he carefully examined the marking hidden on the painting, the paper, as well as the workmanship. Frowning, he said, “Both are imitations of the original painting; however, they seem to be almost genuine. How did you get them? How could there be this many? These are very valuable reproductions; you could easily sell them for several hundred [taels of] gold.”

Kou Zhong sighed and said, “This matter is hard to explain in a few words, let Ziling explain to you in details, I have to go to see Wanwan, I wonder if she is sleeping in my dragon bed [the Emperor’s bed]?”

Xu Ziling glowered at him, blaming him for not forgetting to talk nonsense. And then he turned to Song Shidao and asked, “ErGe has not even seen the original article, how could you be so sure that these are reproductions of the real work?”

Song Shidao smiled and said, “Because I am well acquainted with Zhan Ziqian’s painting style and the way he wielded the pen and used the ink, hence I know it at a glance. These two paintings came from the same master, he even used the same thick hemp tough silk fabric that is being used in the ‘You Chun Tu’ in our family’s collection, only the seal [i.e. signature seal] and the vigor of strokes appear to have some problem. However, laymen shouldn’t be able to see these flaws.”

Greatly delighted, Kou Zhong said, “Laotianye bless and protect us. Ziling, explain it to ErGe, I am going to look for the beauty to talk to her.”

Like a whirlwind he stormed out of the door, and then they heard Lei Jiuzhi’s voice, who was rushing over toward the room, as he grabbed Kou Zhong and shouted, “What a fine thing you guys did at the palace last night! We could even hear the sound of battle cry at the imperial palace clearly from here.”

Kou Zhong said, “Ziling is telling the story inside, I have to trouble you, LaoGe, to move your honorable steps aside a little. Where’s Xiao Jun?”

Smiling wryly, Lei Jiuzhi replied, “He is having his spirit and soul turned upside down by Hu Xiaoxian.”

And then he leaned closer and whispered in his ear, “This time it’s his turn to go to the pavilion in the garden, looking foolishly at the Zhu Lian Pond. In my opinion, this house must have violated the peach blossom fiend of feng shui.”

Stunned, Kou Zhong looked at him. Scratching his head, he said, “Before the first wave subsides, a new wave rises [idiom]. We’ll talk some more later.”

By the time Kou Zhong returned to his own bedroom, the sky was starting to brightened. Wanwan, with an entirely free from worry expression, was wrapped in the quilt on the bed, sleeping soundly in the cherry-apple sea, the room was filled with the feeling of spring.

Kou Zhong sat down at the head of the bed, he reached out to stroke her l.u.s.trous and black, soft beautiful hair spread out over the pillow lightly, and spoke gently, “It’s dawn!”

Inside the quilt, Wanwan stretched out her lethargic, tired limbs, her beautiful eyes opened, she whined, “So early in the morning coming to disturb other people’s clear dream, next time I won’t sleep in your bed again; I’ll sleep in Ziling’s bed next door instead.”

Kou Zhong could not help pinching her puffing cheek and said, “Tell me honestly, what is the relationship between Yin Zuwen and Bai Qing’er? Why is Yin Zuwen supporting her?”

Wanwan stared blankly at the ceiling, she spoke indifferently, “Why do you ask?”

“Because I want to have clear understanding of your holy school,” Kou Zhong replied, “I want to know what Shi Zhixuan’s odds of success is.”

Wanwan said, “Yin Zuwen is the most slick and sly person within the holy school, he maintains good relation with people from all sides. Himself can be considered a first-cla.s.s martial art master within the holy school, it’s just that he always hides it deep and does not reveal it, moreover, he never seems to fight with anybody, hence his name is not listed among the Eight Major Martial Art Masters of the Holy School. Ay! What’s Eight Major Martial Art Masters anyway? It’s just the t.i.tle that outsiders, who fail to understand the inside story, impose on us, without much substance in it, otherwise, Zhu Shi, who ranked at the top of the list would not have lost her life in Shi Zhixuan’s hands.”

Kou Zhong said, “We know that Yin Zuwen is formidable, he is the real favored minister in Li Yuan’s eyes. You haven’t answered my question.”

Wanwan sat up from inside the quilt. She lightly tied together her beautiful hair, putting the graceful lines of her upper body in full display; rolling her eyes at him, she said, “Bai Qing’er became Zhu Shi’s disciple upon Yin Zuwen’s recommendation, Zhu Shi had never trusted her. Did I answer your question?”

Satisfied, Kou Zhong replied, “Understood! That being the case, why doesn’t Wen Caiting support you, but she supports Bai Qing’er instead?”

Letting out a cold snort, Wanwan replied, “Wen Caiting and Yin Zuwen have close relationship, naturally toward Yin Zuwen she sees, hears and obeys. Bian Bufu knew that I loathe him, hence he used supporting Bai Qing’er as a pretext to coerce me; furthermore, he is scheming to s.n.a.t.c.h my ‘Tianmo Jue’. As for Pi Shouxuan, the candidate in his heart is Lin Shihong and not Bai Qing’er at all, only because currently Yin Zuwen’s power is too great that he does not reveal his intention. Don’t underestimate Lin Shihong. He has already laid the foundation in the south. If in the future we can take over from the Li Clan, Lin Shihong will be the Song Family’s most important chess piece in the fall of the empire.”

Astonished, Kou Zhong said , “Why did Dajie suddenly become so forthcoming? By the way, is Yin Zuwen leaning toward Shi Zhixuan, or toward Zhao Deyan?”

Wanwan looked at him up and down with rapt attention for a moment. She spoke heavily, “You are able to come up with this question, it is really not simple; however, it must be Yin Zuwen himself who could answer it. My guess is that everything that Yin Zuwen did was for his own benefit; whoever can give him the best benefit, he will lean toward that side.”

Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, “Soonest will be tonight, latest will be tomorrow night, we will launch a ten-thousand-jun-thunderbolt attack toward Shi Zhixuan. It would be best if Wan Dajie don’t run around everywhere, lest when we need you, we cannot find you.”

Wanwan’s pair of beautiful eyes lit up immediately, it emitted an intimidating extraordinary splendor.

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