Chapter 10 - The Second Month is Too Early for Spring in Luoyang

 Part 1

The second month, the twenty-second.



A horse sped through the snow, charging into Luoyang. The rider wore a dark blue cloak, and a wide conical felt hat of Luoyang style. The brim of the hat hung low, covering half of the rider's face.

This person rode with great skill, but as soon as he entered the border of Luoyang, he dismounted. It seemed he didn't want anyone to see his face or skills.

And yet, this was his first time in Luoyang, and no one in the city had seen him before.

The same year, the same month, the same day.


It was as bitterly cold in Chang'an as it was in Luoyang this early morning of the second month. Most people were still curled up in bed, but Zhuo Donglai was already up.

He was full of energy, but his face was very serious.

Sima Chaoqun had been sick for several days. His sickness had not improved, so naturally Zhuo Donglai's mood was not good.

He had not seen Sima at all. Every time he'd gone to visit, he'd been turned away by Wu Wan. The room room emanated the smell of medicines, and Wu Wan herself also looked thin and pale, but her stance was resolute. Other than herself and the doctors, no one was allowed in, not even Zhuo Donglai.

This was the first time she had ever treated Zhong Donglai rudely.

He didn't mind. What he told others was, "When a woman is caring for her husband's safety, anything she does can be forgiven."

Even though it was early morning, there were already two visitors waiting for Mr. Zhuo in the garden.

Two people. One, surnamed Jian, the other surnamed Shi. Both were famous doctors in Chang'an, with high positions and comfortable lives. For the most part, they never left their quilts and braziers in such cold weather.

But early this morning, Zhuo Donglai had sent people for them. They hadn't been led into the warm inner hall, but instead to this small, four-sided pavilion. There they waited, in the bitter cold.

Were it June, the pavilion would have been surrounded by lotuses and willows, filled with a gentle spring breeze. In those circumstances the two doctors would have been very happy.

But now, the cold wind cut through their bodies like a knife, and even though they wore heavy clothing and gloves, they were still turning blue from the cold. In their hearts, they wanted to give Zhuo Donglai a few doses of laxative medicine.

But no trace of such sentiment showed on their faces. Everyone in Chang'an knew which fate awaited anyone who offended Zhuo Donglai.

So when he arrived, wearing his violet marten coat, strolling down the small stone path, both men greeting him cheerfully, bowing deep with hands clasped.

Zhuo Donglai also treated them very courteously.

"The weather is so cold. Do you find it strange that I didn't ask you inside where it's warm, but instead invited you here?"

In their hearts they obviously thought it was very strange, but the words that came out were different.

"The snow makes everything so clear, and the plum blossoms are beautiful." Doctor Shi had an ability with words. "The Master is a person with refined taste. Could it be that he invited us here to see the snow and the flowers?"

"Actually, I did invite you to here to see something, but it's neither flowers nor snow."

If it wasn't flowers he wanted them to see, what was it?

"Madam Snow, who Doctor Shi keeps outside the city, has skin as white as snow," said Zhuo Donglai with a smile. "And Miss Flower Petal, who Doctor Jian payed for just last night, is more beautiful than the flowers here. If I wanted the two gentlemen to enjoy the snow and flowers, there would be no need to invite them here." (1)

The two famous doctors were sweating in their hearts. Their wives knew nothing about these matters, and yet Zhuo Donglai mentioned them casually.

In front of a person who could casually mention their deepest secrets, what could they dare say?

"Would the two gentlemen please come with me?"

Although Zhuo Donglai's smile seemed to harbour ill intentions, Doctor Shi and Doctor Jian followed him obediently.

They walked to a gutter, built from white cut rocks, that bordered the stone path. One of Zhuo Donglai's attendants lifted the slab cover off of the gutter. He turned to look at them. "Would the two gentlemen have a look. What is this?"

It was a gutter. Anyone could see that it was a gutter. Could it really be that Zhuo Donglai had called them out early in the morning to look at a gutter?

What about a gutter was worth looking at?

Doctor Shi and Doctor Jian were puzzled.

Zhuo Donglai stood there looking at the gutter, apparently absorbed, as if nothing in the world were more worthy of his attention.

Doctor Jian was somewhat short-tempered. Finally, he couldn't help but say, "It looks like it's just a gutter."

"Absolutely correct," said Zhuo Donglai coolly. "It looks like it's just a gutter, because it is only a gutter. What else could it look like?"

Doctor Shi and Doctor Jian said nothing.

"It's a very well-built gutter," Zhuo Donglai said causally. "It's smooth and level, never gets clogged. It flows straight from Mr. and Mrs. Sima's residence all the way to this flower garden, with nothing to impede it."

Even though the doctors were very familiar with medical texts, they had no idea what medicine was in Zhuo Donglai's proverbial medicine gourd.

And then there suddenly seemed to be the fragrance of medicine in the wind.

The stone path had already been swept clean earlier in the morning, including the gutter, which had no snow in it.

At the same time as they smelled the medicine, they saw some brownish sewage flowing down the gutter.

Zhuo Donglai waved his hand, and one of his attendants half-filled a small bowl with some of the sewage, and then carried it with both hands to the doctors.

"Would the two gentlemen please have a look? What is this?"

The two doctors didn't need to look. They already knew what it was. It wasn't sewage. Sewage wouldn't have medicine in it.

Zhuo Donglai stared at them coldly.

"I think the two gentlemen know what this is."

It seemed Doctor Jian wanted to speak. His lips quivered, but he said nothing.

Doctor Shi's lips were sealed as tight as if they had been sewn shut with thread.

"This is the medicine you two prepared for our chief two days ago. It's been simmering this entire time. From what I understand, this amount of medicine is worth about 50 pieces of silver."

The two doctor's faces twisted.

Zhuo Donglai continued, "This medicine should be sliding down Sima's throat. How could it be here in the gutter? I really don't understand." His eyes suddenly flashed. "Luckily there is someone who does understand."

"Who?" stuttered Doctor Shi. "Who understands?"


Doctor Shi looked as if he had been whipped. He could barely stand straight.

"If you don't understand, it must be because it's too hot here." Zhuo Donglai's tone suddenly became very soft again. "When someone is too hot, they can't remember things very well." He turned to his attendants. "Why don't you help the doctor out of his clothes."

Doctor Shi tightly clutched his fur coat. "There's no need," he said haltingly. "There's really no need. This coat is very comfortable."

Even with the fur coat he was freezing to death, without it he really would die from the cold.

Among the attendants were two large men who stepped forward to stand on either side of Doctor Shi.

"Are you sure you're not hot?" said Zhuo Donglai calmly.

Doctor Shi shook his head vigorously.

"So you must be able to remember. How could the medicine that should have been taken by the patient end up in the gutter? Is it because the patient isn't really sick?"

"I don't know."

Zhuo Donglai laughed coldly. The two large men had already placed their enormous hands on Doctor Shi's shoulders.

"I really don't know. I didn't even see him."

Zhuo Donglais' pupils suddenly shrank.

"You didn't see him? You didn't see Sima Chaoqun?"

"I didn't. I really didn't."

"His wife called for you to see him, but you actually didn't see him?"

"I didn't even see his shadow," said Doctor Shi nervously. "There was no trace at all of him in the room."

Zhuo Donglai stood there quietly, looking at the cold, gray sky. He stood there for a long time, before slowly turning his head and staring at Doctor Jian. Very slowly, he said, "And you? Did you see him?"

"I didn't see him either." Doctor Jian seemed to be slightly more composed. "Hero Sima wasn't in the room. Madam Sima asked us there just to see an empty room."

And then they heard Wu Wan's voice.

"If someone offers five hundred pieces of gold," she said coldly. "There are many doctors who would be willing to look at an empty room. Next time, though, I'll look for some who aren't afraid of the cold."

If there was someone here who really was sick, it would be Wu Wan.

Her face was yellow and sallow, her normally bright eyes bloodshot.

She stared at the two doctors. (2)

"I'm just a woman. I don't have the skills and abilities of Mr. Zhuo. And I won't make the two gentlemen shed their clothes." Her voice was as cold as ice. "But I suggest they check the door carefully before going to sleep. Otherwise they might wake in the middle of the night to find themselves sleeping outside in the snow."

The two doctor's faces turned green.

If looks really could kill, these two would already be dead in the snow.

"At this point, the two gentlemen should be able to get the out of here," said Wu Wan. "Please, get the hell out of here."

She was a gentle woman, mild and refined, who would always say "please" before making a request.

After the doctors had left, she said, "Mr. Zhuo, I very much want to ask you to do something."

"Do what?"

"Please get the hell out of here along with them."

There was no reaction from Zhuo Donglai, none at all. There was absolutely no expression on his face whatsoever.

"Sadly, I know you won't get the hell out of here," she sighed. "Your'e Sima Chaoqun's good friend, his brother. You could never find a better friend and brother if you looked everywhere under heaven."

Derision filled her voice, just as Die Wu's had been.

"And Sima Chaoqun made his name only by relying on you. He's just a simple-minded puppet. Without you, how could he be where he is today?" She laughed coldly. "At least, that's what you think, isn't it?"

Zhuo Donglai still showed no reaction. It was as if he was watching an actor sing on the stage.

"You're an extraordinary person, an extraordinary friend. You sacrifice everything for him, you live your whole life for him. You made him famous, you made him the chief of the Great Protection Agency. You made him into the great hero of the masses."

Wu Wan's cold laughter was beginning to sound crazed.

"But do you know what the great hero's life is like?" Her laughter was laced with venom. "He has a wife and sons and daughters. He has a family. But it's like he's not part of the family. There hasn't been a day in his life that he's lived for himself, because you arrange everything for him. Whatever you want him to do, he does, so much so that even if he wants to have a drink, he has to do it secretly."

Zhuo Donglai suddenly interrupted her. "Enough," he said. "You've said enough."

"Yes, I've said enough," she lowered her head. Tears covered her cheeks. "Is there something you want to say?"

"I only have one or two things to say."

"I won't let you treat me the way you treat other people." Her voice seemed to be hard and soft at the same time. "Everyone in Jianghu knows that 'Eastern Violet Clouds' Zhuo Donglai has at least a hundred methods to shut people up."

"It's good that you understand that," he said coldly. "Sima has left Chang'an, hasn't he?"


"Why did you hide the truth from me?"

"Because I want him to go do something that he wants to do. I'm his wife. I think every wife wants her husband to be independent, to be a real man."

"When did he leave?"

"On the night of the seventeenth. He probably already reached Luoyang."


Zhuo Donglai's gray, wolf-like eyes were suddenly shot through with blood. "You sent him alone to Luoyang? Are you trying to get him killed?"

"We are husband and wife. Why would I want him to get killed?"

Zhuo Donglai stared at her. After a long time, he spoke, one word at a time. His voice was unique, sharper than a knife, and more venomous than a serpent. "Because of Guo Zhuang." (3)

Whenever Zhuo Donglai's spoke in this way, it meant that someone in the world would would fall victim to one of his injurious, fatal attacks.

"Because of Guo Zhuang."

Most people would not think much upon hearing his, but Wu Wan looked as if she had suddenly been stabbed by a poisonous scorpion, or had suddenly fell off the top of a tower. She could barely stand. Her yellow, pallid face suddenly with indescribable fear.

Of course Zhuo Donglai would not miss this opportunity to take advantage in change of state.

"The past few years, Sima sleeps separately from you," he said, his voice cruel and cold. "He hasn't even touched you. You're at the age where your sexual desire is at its peak, and suddenly you have a young, strong beautiful young man at your side, who knows how to please women. Sadly, he died at the Red Flower Bazaar, dead under Zhu Meng's blade, and his head ..." (4)

"Enough," said Wu Wan hoarsely. "You've said enough."

"I didn't want to talk about these things, because I didn't want to hurt Sima. "I'm only talking about it now so that you understand that you can conceal nothing from me. In the future you should be extremely careful and cautious in everything you do."

Wu Wan's body trembled.

"I understand now," she said, her eyes filled with hatred and venom. "You sent Guo Zhuang to Red Flower Bazaar so that he would be killed, because you already knew about me and him."

She threw herself toward him and grabbed his coat. "It's true isn't it? That's what happened?"

Zhuo Donglai looked at her coldly. He very gently used two fingers to tap her wrists.

Her arms slackened, and she fell to the ground. But she kept asking. "It's true, isn't it? Isn't it? That's what happened?"

She would never know if the matter had transpired in that way. Because Zhuo Donglai had left, and didn't looked back, not even to glance at her. It was as if she were a bug that he had flicked off his coat, beneath his notice.


A long rope.

The long rope was in Wu Wan's hand. Wu Wan was beneath the crossbeam of the house. Wind blew in through the window. Cold, so cold.

"What day is it today? I think it's a good day." She talked to herself crazily, and slowly began tying the rope.

Tying it into a noose. (5)

Part 2

The same day, Luoyang.

This street had once bustled with noise and excitement, the sounds of food markets, teahouses, morning bazaars and flower markets.

But now there was nothing.

Just as if a strong and healthy person suddenly dropped dead, so too had this street died.

The doors of the teahouses had not been opened for days, and the only thing on the mottled butcher blocks in the food markets were faint knife marks. Not a single person could be seen on the street.

No one was willing to come here. Too many tragic calamities had occurred.

A stray dog, tail tucked between its legs, licked at the bloodstains left behind in the cracks between the stone slabs of the street.

The stray dog would never know whose blood it was.

The stray dog didn't know, but Oxhide knew.

Part 3

On another small street, in a small establishment called "Old Zhang's Mantou Shop," Oxhide was shooting off his mouth.

"Oxhide" was the nickname of a young man. Fond of the bottle, he not only could shoot off his mouth, the skin of his face was extremely thick. Thicker than oxhide. (6)

He was shooting off his mouth to a stranger from another part of China, because the stranger had already treated him to more than a few drinks.

He went on and on about the tragic events that day in Copper Camel alley.

"That kid was really a freaking good kid. I truly admire him from the bottom of my heart. He had freaking guts, and he was freaking fearless." (7)

The stranger listened quietly and poured him more wine.

"Later I heard that the kid's surname is Gao, and that he's the old lion's friend. Dragons befriend dragons, phoenixes befriend phoenixes, the friends of rats dig holes in the ground. This saying is really freaking true. Only a true man like the old lion could make that kind of a friend."

The stranger's eyes suddenly seemed to flash, but just as quickly he lowered his head. "You were there that day on the street?"

"How could I not be? How could I miss it?" Oxhide seemed very excited. "That day I wanted to go have a morning drink at Old Hu's teahouse, when I saw that kid swaggering down the street. It's the second month, but he only wore his short inner garment. His upper garment he carried in his hand. Later I realised that he had a sword hidden underneath."

Oxhide suddenly stood up and, gesturing with his chopsticks, said, "Just like this, he stabbed Boss Cai through the heart. It was so fast you couldn't even see clearly what happened." He shook his head and sighed. "No one thought that kid would be so gutsy, even I was shocked silly."

"And then what?"

"Everyone assumed that the kid was ready to be chopped to bits. No one imagined that at that critical moment, someone would fly down out of mid-air. It was just like ... just like the Flying General Li Guang descending from heaven." (8)

Hearing such fine words come out of his own mouth, Oxhide felt extremely pleased. So he downed another bowl of wine, and then asked the stranger, "Take a guess. Who do you think it was that dropped from the sky?"

"The old lion?"

Oxhide slapped his thigh. "Absolutely correct, it was him." The more he talked the more enthusiastic he became. "The old lion really is an old lion. His luck lately hasn't been very good, and he's lost some weight, but as soon as he appeared, he really looked exactly like a fierce lion."

Oxhide stuck out his chest and slapped it, and in his best imitation of Zhu Meng, said, "He's my friend. Anyone who wants to touch him has to kill me first."

"Don't tell me," asked the stranger calmly. "Boss Cai's brothers weren't willing to make a move."

"If anyone made a move, the old lion's lion spirit would erupt. Who would dare do anything?"

Oxhide suddenly sighed. "At first there really was no one willing to make a move. We never imagined that one of those out-of-town bastards would not know the difference between life and death, and suddenly attacked with him." (9)

"An out-of-towner?"

Oxhide nodded. "Later I found out that Boss Cai had actually hired all those bastards."

"But Boss Cai was already dead. If they cut down the old lion, no one would be able to pay them. Why would they be willing to risk their life for a dead man?"

"They definitely had a plan," said Oxhide, bursting with pride. "Even if you, my brother, can't figure it out, I know exactly what was going on."


"You, my brother, don't know what kind of person the old lion is, but I do. And that bunch of bastards also knew."

"Knew what?"

"That the old lion wouldn't let them go."


"Those bastards are hired killers, and their hands reeked with blood. Plus, they weren't brothers of the Lion Clan. If the old lion once again regained control of the clan, how could he leave their heads on their necks?"

"Good point," admitted the stranger. "It makes sense."

"And if they really could cut down the old lion, who knows how much they could squeeze out of Boss Cai's underlings? So, they decided to fight."

Oxhide was extremely proud of himself for being able to clearly analyze such a complicated situation. So he drank another bowl. "This is called, 'he who strikes first gains the advantage, he who strikes next meets disaster.'"

"Who was it that met disaster?"

"At first it was difficult to tell. The battle shook the heavens and the earth. The spirits weeped and the gods shouted. Eight out of ten people on the street were so frightened they couldn't even piss."

A look of fear shone on Oxhide's face, as if he had once again seen the heaps of blood and flesh flying in every direction, heard the sound of blades cleaving bones.

"I'm not a weakling, but after seeing that battle, I couldn't even eat or sleep for two or three days."

His voice hoarse, it seemed like he didn't want to say anything more. But the stranger poured him another bowl of wine.

This bowl brightened his spirits immediately.

"At first, the old lion and the Gao kid had the upper hand, but then things changed."


"The saying is true, 'two fists can't resist four hands, a true man can't stand up against a crowd.' Even though the old lion was as awe-inspiring as ever, they were only two people. Even if people stuck out their necks to be chopped, their hands would get tired sooner or later. Seeing this situation, some of the brothers of the Lion Clan who at first were shocked by his power, suddenly wanted to make a move, take the opportunity to knock down the sick old lion."

The stranger nodded.

He had been thinking the same thing, that the situation would inevitably end up that way. "As soon as those people made their move, the old lion and the Gao kid would definitely be chopped into mincemeat."

Oxhide sighed. "At that time, I was hoping that they would get out of there. It's not that they didn't have the opportunity to flee. If it had been me, I know exactly where I would have fled to."

"The old lion didn't flee?"

"Of course he didn't." Oxhide stuck out his chest again. "The old lion isn't a nobody like me. Because of his status and temperment, he wouldn't flee even if you killed him."

"So he didn't flee."

"He didn't."

"But I know he didn't die."

"Of course he didn't die. How could the old lion die?" Oxhide sighed. "But Cleats died."

"Cleats?" said the stranger. "Who is Cleats?"

"A true man. An amazing man." Oxhide's face was red with excitement. "In my whole life, I've never seen a better man than him. If he hadn't died, I would be willing to wash his feet every day. Not only do I admire him, anyone who is a person couldn't not admire him."

"Why?" asked the stranger.

"Originally he was just one of the old lion's footmen. He always seemed to be just like a little kid, always getting bullied by others." Oxhide's face was flushed. "But now I know, the people who acted like heroes in front of him before, are really just sons of b*tches.(10) He is the real hero and true man."

At this point it seemed Oxhide's blood was boiling. He ripped open his tattered padded cotton jacket and shouted, "That day I saw clearly, his body was slashed nineteen times by blades, and his nose was half cut off. The remaining half of his nose hung from his face swinging back and forth as he moved."

"What did he do?"

"He ripped off his nose, skin and all, and swallowed it. Then he swung his sword and chopped down another person."

When he heard this, the stranger, who up to now had seemed indifferent, couldn't help but drink a bowl of wine and shout, "A true man. Really a true man."

Oxhide slapped the table. "It's sad that a true man like this would die in the battle. He didn't fall down until both of his arms and one of his legs had been chopped off. And even when he fell down, he still bit a chunk of flesh off of another person."

"Then what happened?"

"Seeing such a heroic and miserable death, we all couldn't help but weep. Even the Lion Clan brothers who had wanted to stage a revolt were shedding tears because they were so moved." Oxhide continued, "The old lion shed no tears, he only shed blood. His eyes had been cut, and blood flowed down his face just like tears. Even though he was almost to the point where he couldn't continue any more, he summoned his final burst of power to cut a path to Cleats side. Then he picked up his faithful companion." (11)

He blew his nose and wiped the tear stains from his face. Tears filling his eyes, he said, "Cleats wasn't dead yet, and he only had one breath left."

Blood flowed down the long street, and Little Gao continued to battle on.

Zhu Meng lifted Cleats into his arms, wanting to speak, but unable to. Blood poured from his eyes onto Cleat's face.

Cleats suddenly opened his blood-stained eyes, and uttered his final words.

"Reporting to Clan Leader. Your humble servant is not able to look after the Clan Leader any more. Your humble servant has to die now."

The cold wind blew unceasingly, causing sheets of snow to fall from the eaves outside of the mantou shop. Tears dripped down Oxhide's face.

The stranger shed no tears, and didn't speak. But his hands were clenched into fists, as if he were fighting to control himself, afraid tears would fall from his eyes.

After a long time, Oxhide spoke again. "After Cleats said this, he stopped breathing. And then, the whole street was filled with a mighty, thunder-like roar. Not only could the brothers of the Lion Clan not repress it, I myself couldn't repress it. Everyone charged," he said, loudly, "and chopped those murderous bastards down. Even I killed a few."

Suddenly, the stranger slammed his palm down onto the table. "Good. A good kill." He downed another bowl of wine. "I, Sima Chaoqun, drink a cup to you."

A crashing sound rang out as Oxhide's bowl of wine fell to the grown and shattered.

"What?" he said, looking at the stranger, shocked. "What .... what did you say?"

"I said that I drink to you."

"Who are you? Who is it that's drinking to me?"

"It's just me, Sima Chaoqun."

"You're Sima Chaoqun?"

"Yes, I am."

Oxhide's body suddenly became weak and it looked like he might collapse to the ground. Stuttering, he said, "Your humble servant didn't know that you were the greatest true man under heaven, Master Sima. Your humble servant doesn't dare let you drink to me."

"I want to drink to you, and I must. Because you are also a courageous and upright man. In fact, drinking one cup is not enough. I must drink a whole jug to you."

Then he actually picked up the jug with both hands, tilted his neck back and drank it down. Then he looked up to the heavens and sighed. "All Jianghu friends under heaven say that I am a true man and hero unequalled in our time, but how can I compare to Cleats? How can I compare to Zhu Meng?"

The wind outside blew more and more urgently.

Even though it was already the second month, it seemed that Spring was very far away from Luoyang.


(1) Miss Flower Petal's Chinese name literally means "stamen" or "pistil" of a flower, but neither of those sound very pleasing to the ear in English so I'm tweaking it a bit. And when it says he "payed" for her, it implies that he is supporting her long-term.

(2) It literally calls them "cold-fearing" doctors

(3) This Guo Zhuang is apparently different from the Guo Zhuang who Zhuo Donglai sent to Luoyang. The "Zhuang" character is different. Also, the character who died while attacking Zhu Meng was Sun Ping, and Zhu Meng specifically mentioned that he expected Zhuo Donglai to send Sun Ping instead of Guo Zhuang. So regarding the true circumstances of Guo Zhuang's death, I think perhaps we are supposed to be left wondering.

(4) Regarding his comments on her sexual desire, what he actually says is "You've reached the 'wolf and tiger years.' This is based on a phrase in Chinese that is something like 'thirty years a wolf, forty years a tiger.' It means that women are at the peak of sexual desire between the ages of 30-40.

(5) The actual Chinese says "she was tying a knot, a knot of death."

(6) There is some play on words going on here. First of all, the word oxhide or cowskin can in and of itself have the meaning of bragging to boasting. Furthermore, what i'm translating as shooting off his mouth is or "to blow the cow." It means to boast, brag, shoot off your mouth.

(7) He is using some common dialect words that make his speech sound relatively uneducated.

(8) Flying General Li Gang is a real person:

(9) This is a twist on an expression which means "to break the ground where a god presides." Except he replaces "a god" with "the old lion."

(10) As usual, I'm translating the cussing into colloquial english. The original Chinese curse is "grandsons of turtles."

(11) Here it likens Cleats to a dog, in a good way. It calls him his "his friend who follows him around like a dog." It's supposed to invoke the feeling of a loyal dog who follows his master to death. But in English it sounds a bit derogatory, so I'm going to leave out the dog reference.