The place of the negotiation was in the manor house of Wantong’s former governor . With the governor burnt alive and th…

Preoccupations

江苏夜网

Commander Ho’s decision to negotiate with the Head of the Northeastern Troops was made solely with the incentive to seek entertainment . The result of the negotiation was secondary, and the main focus was the search for a source of distraction . Otherwise the thoughts of Lan Bai-Shan filled his head until they virtually drove him insane .

The site of the negotiation was located in the County of Wantong near Tuolo Bay . The distance between Luyang and Wantong was only a little more than twenty miles, and since Commander Ho had recently secured a new supply of gasoline, he could travel by car, which made it all the more convenient .

The place of the negotiation was in the manor house of Wantong’s former governor . With the governor burnt alive and the members of his entire household chopped up, his residence was left empty to subsequently provide lodging for the occupying soldiers . In preparation for the meeting, Li Shih-Yao had two of the best rooms cleaned out and placed in them large round tables to be used for dinner . The stage outside in the courtyard was also set up, prompting a night of feasting and drinking, joy and merrymaking . When men are happy and entertained, their conflicts can easily be put aside .

Commander Ho arrived early . Instead of Lan, his was accompanied by Jin Hwan-Ran and Sun Wei-Ying . The regimental commanders were there exclusively for the party, and Jin had brought a companion—a male one—along with him . The companion wore a delicate prettiness, all tall and slender with a clear, melodious voice and a slightly effeminate look . They all knew he was once a Dan[1]actor called something along the lines of Fan Yü-Ch’ing . A worthless thing . Jin only brought him all the way from Hsian because in the military, using him was more convenient than taking women .

Commander Ho glanced sidelong at Fan Yü-Ch’ing from afar, his mind clicking again . Men . . . do men have to remain close like husband and wife?

This particular question occurred to him not because he was innocent or naïve in the matter . He had lost his virginity at the age of thirteen, and had played around with both genders over a period of time . However, he had been too young and his built too slight . Failing to take care of himself properly, he was diagnosed with a form of spermatorrhea, and found himself in a situation where he was quite willing in the spirit but helpless in the flesh . Forced to go into recuperation, he managed to hold back before things got too out of hand .

After all these years of recuperating like a celibate, the ailment still surfaced more or less at different times and remained cureless . Fortunately, he had already had his share of experiences, and though the pleasure had been extremely gratifying, even the most luscious delicacies had a satiation point . Ironically, Commander Ho didn’t suffer from suppressed sexual tension like most young men . His dissatisfaction with his pillow was not due to its lack of a hole for the emission of his desires . He merely needed a tinge of external warmth to dry off his damp and disturbed heart .

He thoughts jumped back to Lan Bai-Shan . This Fan looked neither like a man nor a woman, which was not to his tastes . He preferred people like Lan Bai-Shan, and it wasn’t about his gender . He purely liked him as a “person” .

Lan, in fact, did not possess any form of outstanding merit, his only virtues being his clean neatness and gentle smile . Yet when Commander Ho was stuffed inside the car with only a reeking Li Shih-Yao for comparison, the Chief of Staff Lan Bai-Shan who sat behind him and held him close in his arms seemed especially likable .

He rarely found anyone likable . But this time, for some unfathomable reason, he’d taken a fancy to Lan Bai-Shan .

“He can’t possibly want to be with me . . . ” Commander Ho thought indifferently . “He knows exactly what I want . He’s just teasing me!”

– : –

As the regimental commanders partied away and Commander Ho remained solitary, Ron Hsiang arrived .

Two regiments of cavalry were clustered around a black automobile as it came to a stop at the front gates . The car was brand new, the horses strong and the soldiers high-spirited . The side door opened and a tall man in a dinner jacket stepped out .

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The man stood by the car and looked about, removing his black top hat and passing it behind him, where an adjutant caught it with his hands . Without the visual obstruction of the hat, Commander Ho laid his eyes on the man’s true visage—which should have been quite well-favoured, if it hadn’t been so consumed by morphine overdose . His chalky face was tinged with blue, giving him an air of sickly lethargy .

Looking at Ron Hsiang, Commander Ho caught on to his contagious languidness and grew drowsy, and developed a strong urge to go home and have a good slumber . Ron Hsiang, though, glanced up at him with a smile and nodded . “Commander Ho, I’ve long been looking forward to meet you . “

Smiling, Commander Ho stepped forward and stretched out a feeble hand . “Knowing a man by repute is never as good as seeing him in the flesh, Commander Ron, you are truly striking . “

Their hands joined and bobbled weakly for a few of times, then the two men accompanied each other inside .

– : –

Commander Ho shared a few words with Ron Hsiang, and almost died of drowsiness .

This wasn’t to say that Ron’s speech was dull . In fact, Ron’s character is quite distinguished; for instance, though he was a man of few words, when he did speak his tone was bound to be terribly gentle, almost as if he was flirting .

In turn, Ron Hsiang found communication with Ho Bao-Ting an excruciating task . Ho’s mind seemed to function at a significantly slower speed then any normal man, and since he didn’t appear to suffer from any actual mental retardation, Ron could only deem that the commander’s thoughts were wandering elsewhere .

They yawned in unison and slowly guided the conversation toward their true topic . Before Commander Ho could finish refining his words, Ron smiled and interrupted him with a wave of his hand .

“There’s no need for this, brother{C}[2]Ji-Ch’ing,” Ron started to say . “To tell you the truth, my troops will be moving out to Hsian in less than a month . “

“Hsian?”

Ron smiled . “It wasn’t a permanent solution to have this many men garrisoned here to start with . Since Fu Yang-Shan just sent me his invitation, I naturally chose to accept it . “

Commander Ho’s features finally formed into an expression of surprise . “Oh, you are going to Hsian . “

Ron Hsiang continued to smile and couldn’t be bothered to waste another word with Ho . After a pause of contemplation, Commander Ho finally announced his opinion . “That’s great, going to Hsian . At least it’ll be more exciting and prosperous there . . . “

What he left out was, “I would like to go there as well . “

– : –

Ron Hsiang finished a listless dinner with Commander Ho, then left in a haste .

In front of the stage, Li Shih-Yao sat messing about with a pair of whores in his arms . They were performing a local Huaku opera onstage . Not understanding a single word, and therefore having no appreciation for its quality, Li was simply drawn to the deafening sound of the gongs and drums, which seemed to be cheering their liveliness right into people . To his left, an even more jubilant Colonel Sun grinned from ear to ear, gulping down endless liquor and biting at a girls’ cheeks with his alcoholic breath . Jin Hwan-Ran, on the other hand, acted in a more refined manner and whispered with the effeminate former boy-actor, his hands groping about as they chatted .

Just as the men were in the midst of their rapture, Hsiao-Hu made a sudden appearance and tapped on Li’s shoulder .

“Colonel Li, Commander Ho asked for you . “

Li turned his intoxicated head toward him, his hand closing around a girl’s breasts . “Now?”

“Yes,” Hsiao-Hu nodded .

Li mumbled out a curse, and let go of the girl . He stood and staggered behind Hsiao-Hu, who lead him into a room and shut the door behind him before retiring, leaving Li alone to face Commander Ho .

In his drunken state, Li’s usual reluctant respect for the Commander faded away . Casually, he pulled over a chair and sat down, looking up at Commander Ho .

“Commander, how did your negotiation with Ron Hsiang go?” he asked . “What’s his take?”

With a hand in his pocket, Commander Ho began pacing in front of Li . “There will be no need for an attack . He’s just about to pull away . “

Li stared at Commander Ho, noticing quite suddenly that tall and thin as the Commander was, his backside was in fact surprisingly perky and full . It filled out his trousers very nicely .

Commander Ho looked at Li, who had remained silent and was staring at him with a grin . He scowled before continuing . “They are moving out to Hsian . Once they’re gone, Tuolo Bay will be left unoccupied, and we will gain a large piece of land without a single bullet—all is well . “

Really, Commander Ho’s much finer-looking then that boy-actor of Jin’s, Li thought to himself . Quite fit as well . It will sure be interesting to get a hold of him and fuck him!

Both men were silent . Commander Ho continued to pace, while Li continued to envision the means of sodomizing Commander Ho, so engrossed in his thoughts that he was almost oblivious of himself .

How hard can it be to do him? The only hard part will be dealing with the aftermath, unless I fuck him to death . Or I can make everybody go at him once, so nobody stands out—then he can’t get anyone to do his revenge . To hell with it, I’m definitely taking that ass!

Li swallowed at this thought . Since he was seated, the tent that formed near his crotch went unnoticed . Commander Ho paid him no attention to begin with, but as he grew tired from his pacing, he took a seat across Li . “Do you have anything else to discuss? If not then get out . “

Li grinned . “I’ll sit with you for a bit . “

Commander Ho couldn’t help but scowl at Li, who reeked of liquor and tobacco . “There’s no need for that . You may leave!”

“Commander,” Li continued . “How about you stay over for the night? I’ll have your bedding prepared, all brand new . Just leave everything to me . “

Commander Ho sensed Li’s abnormal enthusiasm . “There’s no need . I have trouble sleeping in new places . “

Under the effects of alcohol, Li’s felt his cock swell painfully . Unable to do anything about it with the other man in the room, he could only try to hold still in his perturbation .

“It’s difficult to travel by night,” he said . “Especially the part right outside Wantong, where it’s all dirt roads with those huge pits . You’ve already seen those on your way here, haven’t you?”

Commander Ho shook his head . “Then I’ll let them drive slow . If it really ends up getting stuck, I can always ride a horse . “

Irritated, Li’s eyes were almost spitting fire . “Are you really this determined to go back?”

Having his breathing almost cease due to the smell, Commander ran out of his patience to continue a civil exchange . Rising from his seat immediately, he called out for Hsiao-Hu and stalked out of the room .

Unable to stand, Li could only sit there helplessly and leave him be .

– : –

While Li Shih-Yao wanted to lay his hands on Commander Ho and give him a bit of a fuck, Commander Ho wanted to lay his on Lan Bai-Shan and give him a bit of a fuck .

From the way things had been going, Li’s idea seemed more like a fantasy that didn’t really hold much of a possibility . Commander Ho’s, on the other hand, was far more realistic, but he was still somewhat reluctant to proceed .

Towards Lan, he didn’t really have any strong erotic feeling . Rather than to seek sexual relief, Commander Ho’s idea of to “give him a bit of a fuck” was more like a ritual, a way to say “I’ve fucked this man . He is mine . “

Then no matter how Lan would try to stir up trouble in the future, this fact will remain unchangeable . Rather like the brand of cattle .

– : –

Lan Bai-Shan’s life in the county-town of Luyang was not too bad .

He’d always been able to take things as they came at ease . His ease was superficial, and deep down, he naturally had his own mind, only he’d never let any of his thoughts wander to the surface . Hence, he was at ease yet uneasy .

Originally, he had served the Old Marshal and had served him well . As a result, he rose steadily from an orderly to an adjutant, then to a staff officer, then finally the chief of staff . When the Old Marshal had been alive, he enjoyed quite some prestige; now that the Old Marshal was gone and the Anguo Army governed each by his own, he found himself with neither men nor equipment, and had become a floating-duckweed sort of character . It was because of this that he had taken a very actively role in the Seventh Master’s abduction .

To be honest, Commander Ho was a bit of a disappointment . This wasn’t to say that the Commander was either weak or foolish . From what he had seen, Commander Ho was not only far from a fool but something of a conspirator, while his tantrums had a touch of the Old Marshal’s style . The problem was that though the commander was very close to him, they each seemed to have a different set of goals .

Commander Ho had his grand plans and wanted secure a designation to rectify his status . Then he would rule as the local despot and continue to play his little trick where he promoted one subject as he beat down another, slowly eliminating his dissidents in the process . Lan, on the other hand, wanted to seek shelter within the Central Government—the regimental commanders of the Anguo Army would never allow him the opportunity to develop his own forces, so rather than putting all of his eggs in one basket, he wanted to go out and explore the broader horizon . With talents like his, it couldn’t be hard to find help from a new master who would aid him to completely cleanse the Anguo Army .

At the moment, however, talks of cleansing seemed rather distant . In terms of more immediate matters, Commander Ho still had to be entertained . The entertaining wasn’t even completely against his will—in fact, Commander Ho proved to be quite an interesting man . Though normally he showed no lack of masculinity, he always seemed somewhat effeminate when he’s in a fit—perhaps it was because he had such a petty mind . And there was another thing—he could sense that the Commander’s feelings toward him obviously leaned toward the romantic .

Lan Bai-Shan had no intention of going into any romantic relationship with a porcelain doll, particularly one with a dick . But he could still humour him and tease him . Either way the porcelain man had fine looks—it would almost be like keeping a boy-actor for free .

[1]Ashizi,theDanwas a Peking opera performer who played female roles .

[2]“brother” was a form of address between men of equal rank .

Preoccupations

.

Commander Ho’s decision to negotiate with the Head of the Northeastern Troops was made solely with the incentive to seek entertainment . The result of the negotiation was secondary, and the main focus was the search for a source of distraction . Otherwise the thoughts of Lan Bai-Shan filled his head until they virtually drove him insane

The site of the negotiation was located in the County of Wantong near Tuolo Bay . The distance between Luyang and Wantong was only a little more than twenty miles, and since Commander Ho had recently secured a new supply of gasoline, he could travel by car, which made it all the more convenient

The place of the negotiation was in the manor house of Wantong’s former governor . With the governor burnt alive and the members of his entire household chopped up, his residence was left empty to subsequently provide lodging for the occupying soldiers . In preparation for the meeting, Li Shih-Yao had two of the best rooms cleaned out and placed in them large round tables to be used for dinner . The stage outside in the courtyard was also set up, prompting a night of feasting and drinking, joy and merrymaking . When men are happy and entertained, their conflicts can easily be put aside

Commander Ho arrived early . Instead of Lan, his was accompanied by Jin Hwan-Ran and Sun Wei-Ying . The regimental commanders were there exclusively for the party, and Jin had brought a companion—a male one—along with him . The companion wore a delicate prettiness, all tall and slender with a clear, melodious voice and a slightly effeminate look . They all knew he was once a Dan[1]actor called something along the lines of Fan Yü-Ch’ing . A worthless thing . Jin only brought him all the way from Hsian because in the military, using him was more convenient than taking women

Commander Ho glanced sidelong at Fan Yü-Ch’ing from afar, his mind clicking again . Men . do men have to remain close like husband and wife?.

This particular question occurred to him not because he was innocent or naïve in the matter . He had lost his virginity at the age of thirteen, and had played around with both genders over a period of time . However, he had been too young and his built too slight . Failing to take care of himself properly, he was diagnosed with a form of spermatorrhea, and found himself in a situation where he was quite willing in the spirit but helpless in the flesh . Forced to go into recuperation, he managed to hold back before things got too out of hand

After all these years of recuperating like a celibate, the ailment still surfaced more or less at different times and remained cureless . Fortunately, he had already had his share of experiences, and though the pleasure had been extremely gratifying, even the most luscious delicacies had a satiation point . Ironically, Commander Ho didn’t suffer from suppressed sexual tension like most young men . His dissatisfaction with his pillow was not due to its lack of a hole for the emission of his desires . He merely needed a tinge of external warmth to dry off his damp and disturbed heart

He thoughts jumped back to Lan Bai-Shan . This Fan looked neither like a man nor a woman, which was not to his tastes . He preferred people like Lan Bai-Shan, and it wasn’t about his gender . He purely liked him as a “person”

Lan, in fact, did not possess any form of outstanding merit, his only virtues being his clean neatness and gentle smile . Yet when Commander Ho was stuffed inside the car with only a reeking Li Shih-Yao for comparison, the Chief of Staff Lan Bai-Shan who sat behind him and held him close in his arms seemed especially likable

He rarely found anyone likable . But this time, for some unfathomable reason, he’d taken a fancy to Lan Bai-Shan

“He can’t possibly want to be with me . ” Commander Ho thought indifferently . “He knows exactly what I want . He’s just teasing me!”.

– : -.

As the regimental commanders partied away and Commander Ho remained solitary, Ron Hsiang arrived

Two regiments of cavalry were clustered around a black automobile as it came to a stop at the front gates . The car was brand new, the horses strong and the soldiers high-spirited . The side door opened and a tall man in a dinner jacket stepped out

The man stood by the car and looked about, removing his black top hat and passing it behind him, where an adjutant caught it with his hands . Without the visual obstruction of the hat, Commander Ho laid his eyes on the man’s true visage—which should have been quite well-favoured, if it hadn’t been so consumed by morphine overdose . His chalky face was tinged with blue, giving him an air of sickly lethargy

Looking at Ron Hsiang, Commander Ho caught on to his contagious languidness and grew drowsy, and developed a strong urge to go home and have a good slumber . Ron Hsiang, though, glanced up at him with a smile and nodded . “Commander Ho, I’ve long been looking forward to meet you . “.

Smiling, Commander Ho stepped forward and stretched out a feeble hand . “Knowing a man by repute is never as good as seeing him in the flesh, Commander Ron, you are truly striking . “.

Their hands joined and bobbled weakly for a few of times, then the two men accompanied each other inside

– : -.

Commander Ho shared a few words with Ron Hsiang, and almost died of drowsiness

This wasn’t to say that Ron’s speech was dull . In fact, Ron’s character is quite distinguished; for instance, though he was a man of few words, when he did speak his tone was bound to be terribly gentle, almost as if he was flirting

In turn, Ron Hsiang found communication with Ho Bao-Ting an excruciating task . Ho’s mind seemed to function at a significantly slower speed then any normal man, and since he didn’t appear to suffer from any actual mental retardation, Ron could only deem that the commander’s thoughts were wandering elsewhere

They yawned in unison and slowly guided the conversation toward their true topic . Before Commander Ho could finish refining his words, Ron smiled and interrupted him with a wave of his hand

“There’s no need for this, brother{C}[2]Ji-Ch’ing,” Ron started to say . “To tell you the truth, my troops will be moving out to Hsian in less than a month . “.

“Hsian?”.

Ron smiled . “It wasn’t a permanent solution to have this many men garrisoned here to start with . Since Fu Yang-Shan just sent me his invitation, I naturally chose to accept it . “.

Commander Ho’s features finally formed into an expression of surprise . “Oh, you are going to Hsian . “.

Ron Hsiang continued to smile and couldn’t be bothered to waste another word with Ho . After a pause of contemplation, Commander Ho finally announced his opinion . “That’s great, going to Hsian . At least it’ll be more exciting and prosperous there . “.

What he left out was, “I would like to go there as well . “.

– : -.

Ron Hsiang finished a listless dinner with Commander Ho, then left in a haste

In front of the stage, Li Shih-Yao sat messing about with a pair of whores in his arms . They were performing a local Huaku opera onstage . Not understanding a single word, and therefore having no appreciation for its quality, Li was simply drawn to the deafening sound of the gongs and drums, which seemed to be cheering their liveliness right into people . To his left, an even more jubilant Colonel Sun grinned from ear to ear, gulping down endless liquor and biting at a girls’ cheeks with his alcoholic breath . Jin Hwan-Ran, on the other hand, acted in a more refined manner and whispered with the effeminate former boy-actor, his hands groping about as they chatted

Just as the men were in the midst of their rapture, Hsiao-Hu made a sudden appearance and tapped on Li’s shoulder

“Colonel Li, Commander Ho asked for you . “.

Li turned his intoxicated head toward him, his hand closing around a girl’s breasts . “Now?”.

“Yes,” Hsiao-Hu nodded

Li mumbled out a curse, and let go of the girl . He stood and staggered behind Hsiao-Hu, who lead him into a room and shut the door behind him before retiring, leaving Li alone to face Commander Ho

In his drunken state, Li’s usual reluctant respect for the Commander faded away . Casually, he pulled over a chair and sat down, looking up at Commander Ho

“Commander, how did your negotiation with Ron Hsiang go?” he asked . “What’s his take?”.

With a hand in his pocket, Commander Ho began pacing in front of Li . “There will be no need for an attack . He’s just about to pull away . “.

Li stared at Commander Ho, noticing quite suddenly that tall and thin as the Commander was, his backside was in fact surprisingly perky and full . It filled out his trousers very nicely

Commander Ho looked at Li, who had remained silent and was staring at him with a grin . He scowled before continuing . “They are moving out to Hsian . Once they’re gone, Tuolo Bay will be left unoccupied, and we will gain a large piece of land without a single bullet—all is well . “.

Really, Commander Ho’s much finer-looking then that boy-actor of Jin’s, Li thought to himself . Quite fit as well . It will sure be interesting to get a hold of him and fuck him!.

.

Both men were silent . Commander Ho continued to pace, while Li continued to envision the means of sodomizing Commander Ho, so engrossed in his thoughts that he was almost oblivious of himself

How hard can it be to do him? The only hard part will be dealing with the aftermath, unless I fuck him to death . Or I can make everybody go at him once, so nobody stands out—then he can’t get anyone to do his revenge . To hell with it, I’m definitely taking that ass!.

Li swallowed at this thought . Since he was seated, the tent that formed near his crotch went unnoticed . Commander Ho paid him no attention to begin with, but as he grew tired from his pacing, he took a seat across Li . “Do you have anything else to discuss? If not then get out . “.

Li grinned . “I’ll sit with you for a bit . “.

Commander Ho couldn’t help but scowl at Li, who reeked of liquor and tobacco . “There’s no need for that . You may leave!”.

“Commander,” Li continued . “How about you stay over for the night? I’ll have your bedding prepared, all brand new . Just leave everything to me . “.

Commander Ho sensed Li’s abnormal enthusiasm . “There’s no need . I have trouble sleeping in new places . “.

Under the effects of alcohol, Li’s felt his cock swell painfully . Unable to do anything about it with the other man in the room, he could only try to hold still in his perturbation

“It’s difficult to travel by night,” he said . “Especially the part right outside Wantong, where it’s all dirt roads with those huge pits . You’ve already seen those on your way here, haven’t you?”.

Commander Ho shook his head . “Then I’ll let them drive slow . If it really ends up getting stuck, I can always ride a horse . “.

Irritated, Li’s eyes were almost spitting fire . “Are you really this determined to go back?”.

Having his breathing almost cease due to the smell, Commander ran out of his patience to continue a civil exchange . Rising from his seat immediately, he called out for Hsiao-Hu and stalked out of the room

Unable to stand, Li could only sit there helplessly and leave him be

– : -.

While Li Shih-Yao wanted to lay his hands on Commander Ho and give him a bit of a fuck, Commander Ho wanted to lay his on Lan Bai-Shan and give him a bit of a fuck

From the way things had been going, Li’s idea seemed more like a fantasy that didn’t really hold much of a possibility . Commander Ho’s, on the other hand, was far more realistic, but he was still somewhat reluctant to proceed

Towards Lan, he didn’t really have any strong erotic feeling . Rather than to seek sexual relief, Commander Ho’s idea of to “give him a bit of a fuck” was more like a ritual, a way to say “I’ve fucked this man . He is mine . “.

Then no matter how Lan would try to stir up trouble in the future, this fact will remain unchangeable . Rather like the brand of cattle

– : -.

Lan Bai-Shan’s life in the county-town of Luyang was not too bad

He’d always been able to take things as they came at ease . His ease was superficial, and deep down, he naturally had his own mind, only he’d never let any of his thoughts wander to the surface . Hence, he was at ease yet uneasy

Originally, he had served the Old Marshal and had served him well . As a result, he rose steadily from an orderly to an adjutant, then to a staff officer, then finally the chief of staff . When the Old Marshal had been alive, he enjoyed quite some prestige; now that the Old Marshal was gone and the Anguo Army governed each by his own, he found himself with neither men nor equipment, and had become a floating-duckweed sort of character . It was because of this that he had taken a very actively role in the Seventh Master’s abduction

To be honest, Commander Ho was a bit of a disappointment . This wasn’t to say that the Commander was either weak or foolish . From what he had seen, Commander Ho was not only far from a fool but something of a conspirator, while his tantrums had a touch of the Old Marshal’s style . The problem was that though the commander was very close to him, they each seemed to have a different set of goals

Commander Ho had his grand plans and wanted secure a designation to rectify his status . Then he would rule as the local despot and continue to play his little trick where he promoted one subject as he beat down another, slowly eliminating his dissidents in the process . Lan, on the other hand, wanted to seek shelter within the Central Government—the regimental commanders of the Anguo Army would never allow him the opportunity to develop his own forces, so rather than putting all of his eggs in one basket, he wanted to go out and explore the broader horizon . With talents like his, it couldn’t be hard to find help from a new master who would aid him to completely cleanse the Anguo Army

At the moment, however, talks of cleansing seemed rather distant . In terms of more immediate matters, Commander Ho still had to be entertained . The entertaining wasn’t even completely against his will—in fact, Commander Ho proved to be quite an interesting man . Though normally he showed no lack of masculinity, he always seemed somewhat effeminate when he’s in a fit—perhaps it was because he had such a petty mind . And there was another thing—he could sense that the Commander’s feelings toward him obviously leaned toward the romantic

Lan Bai-Shan had no intention of going into any romantic relationship with a porcelain doll, particularly one with a dick . But he could still humour him and tease him . Either way the porcelain man had fine looks—it would almost be like keeping a boy-actor for free

. .

[1]Ashizi,theDanwas a Peking opera performer who played female roles

[2]“brother” was a form of address between men of equal rank

“Colonel Jin, please have a seat . Bring in some tea!”There was no smile on Jin’s face . He sat down with disciplined p…

Good Men and Bad Men

江苏夜网

On the afternoon following the meeting, Jin Hwan-Ran appeared at the Ho Residence silently .

Only two years ago, Jin had still been a thoroughly handsome man . Unfortunately, shellfire of the battlefield knew no mercy, and a piece of shrapnel landed just below his eye and streaked all the way down to his chin, leaving behind a long, clean gash . The wound later healed and became a red line drawn abruptly across his face, disfiguring it effectively .

Commander Ho was very polite to him . “Colonel Jin, please have a seat . Bring in some tea!”

There was no smile on Jin’s face . He sat down with disciplined propriety and got straight to his point . “Commander, there’s no need for courtesy . I heard from Ma Ho-Tian that you’ve asked for me, please issue your orders . “

“This isn’t about me, it’s Li Shih-Yao . You should know what I mean . “

Jin Hwan-Ran jerked his head up . “Before seizing Wantong, he borrowed sixty carts of my provisions . Now that he’s in the county, why can’t I tag along for a small gain?” He said with disdain .

An orderly appeared with tea . Commander Ho took one of the cups and raised it to his lips ambiguously .

“You have a point . But Li Shih-Yao thinks otherwise . “

Jin Hwan-Ran sneered . “I know exactly what he thinks . He simply wants Wantong all for himself . But there’s no waythat will happen!”

“Nobody’s asking you to withdraw your troops . Wantong will be split equally between you and Li Shih-Yao . “

Jin Hwan-Ran sighed a bit with relief . “This is why I only bow to you, Commander . You are fair with your decisions, just like the Old Marshal . It is what they mean by ‘tigers do not sire dogs'”

Commander Ho sighed a bit as well . “Naturally, I must maintain fairness on my part . However, being fair is much easier said than done . I want to grant you fairness, but its actually success is not entirely up to me . Colonel Jin must try to understand my difficulties . “

Jin nodded . “I’m no fool, Commander . If Li Shih-Yao dares to cause any trouble, I won’t stand by . “

“You’re very straightforward,” Commander Ho chuckled, “it’s what I like about you . You are from the Academy, unlike Li Shih-Yao and his lot, so you must strive for the best in every aspect . A young man must not only take care of his interests, but also his name . It is the only way to wealth and glory later in life . “

Jin Hwan-Ran nodded his acceptance earnestly . “Commander, though you are young, your words are filled with invaluable wisdom . I thank you for your teachings, Commander, and shall remember every word by heart . “

Commander Ho decided that Jin had already given him enough face with his respectful attitude, and knew when to leave off: “I don’t have anything else for you, you may leave . “

Having received his dismissal, Jin promptly took his leave . Commander Ho remained in the drawing room, and for some incomprehensible reason, let his thoughts wander back to Lan Bai-Shan .

The hard wooden chair pressed uncomfortably against his backside as flames of jealousy burned his soul . Clenching his hands tightly around the arms of the chair, Commander Ho gritted his teeth and felt his body tense . The black clouds above his head gradually transformed in a dim figure of a schoolgirl .

In the end he could no longer remain seated . He stood up and strode toward the courtyard, only to discover that the air outside was too cold, and had to turn back to fetch a cloak .

With the newly added warmth, he walked on with remarkably more energy . Except when he emerged outside the main gate, an adjutant came running to him .

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“Commander, the car isn’t starting!”

“Why?”

“We’re out of gas . “

A sudden flare of rage engulfed him . A car without gasoline—life was indeed coming to an end!

He took a deep breath, quenching his anger in the process .

“Prepare me a horse!”

– : –

Commander Ho arrived at the Lan Residence at around five in the afternoon, almost as if he had come specifically to join him for dinner . Lan Bai-Shan was, in fact, having dinner at the time . The dinner consisted of white rice, stewed pork and dried vegetables . By Luyang standards, it was already bordering on luxury .

After his initial surprise at Commander Ho’s sudden arrival, Lan hurried to swallow his mouthful of dried vegetables and rinsed his mouth with tea . He rushed out and greeted Commander Ho with ebullience .

“Commander, please come in!” He said as he stole a glance outside . “You got here by horse? That’s too much trouble . If you wanted to speak to me, you could have sent someone after me . You didn’t have to travel here in person . “

Commander Ho still held his horsewhip in his hand . Staring at Lan Bai-Shan, he was at a loss of words .

“It’s nothing, I just wanted to see you,” he said when he finally conjured a sentence .

Lan beamed at him . “You came all the way here just to see me? I must thank you for your concern, Commander . It’s cold out, come inside . “

Commander Ho followed him in noncommittally . Lan smiled at him again . “Have you eaten?”

Commander Ho had no intention of cadging a meal at Lan’s, but slow as he was, he’d already muttered out a “No” before considering his reply .

Lan drew him in to an inner room that was half occupied by a heated brick bed . A small table was lying atop, bearing a feast of stewed pork, dried vegetables and half a bowl of rice .

Commander Ho realized that he had come at a bad time .

Sitting down at the edge of the brick bed, he tossed his whip away and lowered his head, then began to remove his gloves with wholehearted concentration . Lan filled him a bowl of rice and placed a pair of chopsticks in front of him .

“Ji-Ch’ing, I don’t have anything fancy here, but please have something to eat . “

Commander Ho didn’t have the appetite . He merely raised his eyes and scanned the table .

“You’re eating by yourself?” he asked .

“Of course I am,” Lan replied .

“What happened to the schoolgirl?”

Lan started laughing . “I sent her away . “

“To where?” Commander Ho stole him a glance .

“Hsian . Otherwise she kept making a fuss . Says there’s nothing here and the place isn’t humanly inhabitable . “

Commander Ho started to feel a little better, as if he’d just had a drink of iced plum juice during the hottest of the dog days .

“Oh . . . You sent her away . “

Lan fixed his gaze at Commander Ho and chuckled meaningfully .

“Ji-Ch’ing my Ji-Ch’ing, you’re such a child . “

Detecting the conversation’s digression towards the inappropriate, Commander Ho raised his head sharply .

Lan’s smile was warm and open, emitting a faint trace of elderly affection and resignation . “Why are you speaking in riddles with me? You don’t want me to bring along a woman, yet instead of talking to me about it, you throw a fit at the meeting . Why?”

Commander Ho felt that Lan Bai-Shan was ridiculing him, and wanted to give him a personal whipping, but . . .

Gathering his gloves and whip, an expressionless Commander Ho left the mansion . Come and gone like the wind—or a madman . But Lan Bai-Shan didn’t mind him at all . The fact that Commander Ho had allowed himself to play his temper out meant that only Lan could jolly him along . This, at the same time, testified for the intimacy of his relationship with the Commander . The term “to have the emperor in one’s power and order the dukes about in his name” would be referring the soldier-less and fund-less Chief Lan .

– : –

Back at his own place, Commander Ho felt as if his heart was being pinch by an invisible hand, relaxed for one moment and tense for the next, all without his consent . In his irritated depression, he wanted to set the house on fire and then go slaughter Lan Bai-Shan . Lan had been toying with him right from the start—he saw it now!

“Commander, do you want your dinner?” Chao Hsiao-Hu inquired behind him with great trepidation .

Commander Ho turned around and gave him a shove .

Hsiao-Hu stood slightly further away . “Do you want walnuts then?”

Commander Ho snatched off his army cap and hurled it at Hsiao-Hu’s face with all of his might . Hsiao-Hu saw that the weapon lacked lethality, so he merely stood there and allowed the light touch of a strike to land on him .

“What do you want to do then? Go to bed?”

Commander Ho sat on his old-fashioned chair and buried his head in his hands, muttering, “I don’t want to live . “

Hsiao-Hu wasn’t even slightly frightened . “Again? I know, Chief Lan must have offended you . “

Commander Ho gazed dramatically up at the sky and let out a long sigh .

“What’s he really thinking? Why don’t I have the slightest idea? Hsiao-Hu, do you think he’s a good man, or a bad man?”

“A bad man,” Hsiao-Hu answered squarely .

Commander Ho looked at him in surprise . “A bad man?”

“You’re friends with him, that’s why you can’t see any of his faults . Even if you do, you wouldn’t think they are faults . You really shouldn’t be asking me, I don’t like to talk behind people’s backs . “

“Good . Splendid . ” Commander Ho nodded . “Even you won’t speak the truth . ”

Hsiao-Hu curled his lips . He went forward the table to pour a cup of hot tea, and removed the lid to let it cool off .

A myriads of words stood at Commander Ho’s throat in a cluttered mess, rushing to emerge without any consideration for their lack of audience . Unable to repress them any longer, he rose up and seized Hsiao-Hu’s wrist, his lips trembling .

“Just wait and see . If he dares to reject me, I will kill him! Who does he think he is? Just another dog my father used to keep, yet now he comes to me and pretends—he fucking pretends to—”

Commander Ho couldn’t go on . The excessive amount of excitement was sending him to the verge of breakdown . Other than his firm grasp of Hsiao-Hu’s sturdy wrist, he could reach neither the heavens nor the earth, not single support to lean on . His expression remained dull, yet his eyes shone as if his entire soul was buried in there, clamouring for eruption .

Hsiao-Hu was becoming a bit frightened by his erratic display . He reached out and patted the Commander on the arm . “Commander, are you all right? Sit down, please sit down first . “

Commander Ho took a rigid step back and fell stiffly into the chair, his fingers still gripping Hsiao-Hu’s wrist .

“I don’t want to live anymore!” he said, and suddenly started screaming in an amplified volume . “I want to go home—sons of bitches, fuck all your mothers—I WANT TO GO HOME!”

His voice broke off at the last word . Hsiao-Hu stared at him, dumbstruck . He saw tears in the Commander’s eyes .

“Poor him,” Hsiao-Hu thought . “Nobody really cares for him . He sleeps with a pillow—he’s truly friendless and alone . ”

– : –

After his outburst, Commander Ho slumped back into his tall, rigid chair . His pallid face appeared even more lifeless than usual . Only the occasional tremor of his eyelashes indicated that he was still a living being of flesh and blood . He appeared to be either resting or impending death .

Carefully, Hsiao-Hu dislodged the fingers around his wrist and turned to fetch the hot tea . He tilted the cup toward Commander Ho’s lips . “Do you want a sip, Commander? Just open your mouth . “

Commander Ho opened his mouth and slowly drank half of the tea out of Hsiao-Hu’s hand . The slight warmth of the tea reanimated his body and mind . He sat up straight, his gaze moving across Hsiao-Hu’s face like a blade .

Hsiao-Hu curled his lips again . “Are you going to bed this time?”

“All right,” Commander Ho looked down tiredly . “There’s nothing else to do . “

– : –

Having discharged his madness, Commander Ho slept soundly through the night with his pillow . Late in the following morning, he rose out of bed languidly, stared, yawned, washed, got changed, and strode into the drawing-room, starting a new round of guest reception feeling quite refreshed .

Li Shih-Yao came .

Li was about to go to battle with the North-Eastern troops . Out of courtesy, he came to notify Commander Ho in advance . Commander Ho didn’t want him to fight the North-Easterners; he fantasized demoting him to a commoner—or even better, slaughtering him, had that been possible .

Realizing that the Commander was refusing to make a stand, Li wanted to pinch those porcelain cheeks and see if he could break them .

“Commander, why the—” he swallowed the “fuck” on his lips, and decided on a more civilized approach . “Why are you still hesitating? I barely laid my hands on those flocks at Wantong, and before our own brothers could even quit being vegetarians, they came and stole half of them . Now what kind of logic is that? If we don’t teach them a lesson, they’ll think I could be bullied!”

Commander Ho kept his head down, since he couldn’t be bothered to look at Li . “Those Tuolo Bay troops, what’s their designation again?”

“What designation? They were withdrawn from Mukden and somehow managed to end up here . They’re even more irregular than us!”

“Their commander is . . . “

“Ron Hsiang . “

Commander Ho lifted his head in sudden revelation . “Right, Ron Hsiang . There’s no need to go to war over something like this . The two parties can negotiate . If the negotiation fails, then we declare war . “

“Negotiate? With who?”

“Ron Hsiang . “

“You’ll do it?”

“I’ll do it . “

Li rubbed his bristled head . “You?”

Commander Ho pounded the table, about to lose his temper again . “What, you have a problem?”

Li rose to his feet and gave a frivolous bow . “I wouldn’t dare . Negotiate if you will, but I won’t take the loss in vain . “

Commander Ho couldn’t afford to rebuke him, so he held his anger back and lowered his head again . “You may rest assured . Refrain from screaming for bloodshed at every occasion . War has its expanses, after all . “

Li looked up, catching the sight of him seated upright, a hand still resting on the table . The hand was truly fine to look at . Tts snowy skin and long fingers clearly had never been subject to any physical toil . In comparison, his own palms felt like sandpaper .

Good Men and Bad Men

.

On the afternoon following the meeting, Jin Hwan-Ran appeared at the Ho Residence silently

Only two years ago, Jin had still been a thoroughly handsome man . Unfortunately, shellfire of the battlefield knew no mercy, and a piece of shrapnel landed just below his eye and streaked all the way down to his chin, leaving behind a long, clean gash . The wound later healed and became a red line drawn abruptly across his face, disfiguring it effectively

Commander Ho was very polite to him . “Colonel Jin, please have a seat . Bring in some tea!”.

There was no smile on Jin’s face . He sat down with disciplined propriety and got straight to his point . “Commander, there’s no need for courtesy . I heard from Ma Ho-Tian that you’ve asked for me, please issue your orders . “.

“This isn’t about me, it’s Li Shih-Yao . You should know what I mean . “.

Jin Hwan-Ran jerked his head up . “Before seizing Wantong, he borrowed sixty carts of my provisions . Now that he’s in the county, why can’t I tag along for a small gain?” He said with disdain

An orderly appeared with tea . Commander Ho took one of the cups and raised it to his lips ambiguously

“You have a point . But Li Shih-Yao thinks otherwise . “.

Jin Hwan-Ran sneered . “I know exactly what he thinks . He simply wants Wantong all for himself . But there’s no waythat will happen!”.

“Nobody’s asking you to withdraw your troops . Wantong will be split equally between you and Li Shih-Yao . “.

Jin Hwan-Ran sighed a bit with relief . “This is why I only bow to you, Commander . You are fair with your decisions, just like the Old Marshal . It is what they mean by ‘tigers do not sire dogs'”.

Commander Ho sighed a bit as well . “Naturally, I must maintain fairness on my part . However, being fair is much easier said than done . I want to grant you fairness, but its actually success is not entirely up to me . Colonel Jin must try to understand my difficulties . “.

Jin nodded . “I’m no fool, Commander . If Li Shih-Yao dares to cause any trouble, I won’t stand by . “.

“You’re very straightforward,” Commander Ho chuckled, “it’s what I like about you . You are from the Academy, unlike Li Shih-Yao and his lot, so you must strive for the best in every aspect . A young man must not only take care of his interests, but also his name . It is the only way to wealth and glory later in life . “.

Jin Hwan-Ran nodded his acceptance earnestly . “Commander, though you are young, your words are filled with invaluable wisdom . I thank you for your teachings, Commander, and shall remember every word by heart . “.

Commander Ho decided that Jin had already given him enough face with his respectful attitude, and knew when to leave off: “I don’t have anything else for you, you may leave . “.

Having received his dismissal, Jin promptly took his leave . Commander Ho remained in the drawing room, and for some incomprehensible reason, let his thoughts wander back to Lan Bai-Shan

The hard wooden chair pressed uncomfortably against his backside as flames of jealousy burned his soul . Clenching his hands tightly around the arms of the chair, Commander Ho gritted his teeth and felt his body tense . The black clouds above his head gradually transformed in a dim figure of a schoolgirl

In the end he could no longer remain seated . He stood up and strode toward the courtyard, only to discover that the air outside was too cold, and had to turn back to fetch a cloak

With the newly added warmth, he walked on with remarkably more energy . Except when he emerged outside the main gate, an adjutant came running to him

“Commander, the car isn’t starting!”.

“Why?”.

“We’re out of gas . “.

A sudden flare of rage engulfed him . A car without gasoline—life was indeed coming to an end!.

He took a deep breath, quenching his anger in the process

“Prepare me a horse!”.

– : -.

Commander Ho arrived at the Lan Residence at around five in the afternoon, almost as if he had come specifically to join him for dinner . Lan Bai-Shan was, in fact, having dinner at the time . The dinner consisted of white rice, stewed pork and dried vegetables . By Luyang standards, it was already bordering on luxury

After his initial surprise at Commander Ho’s sudden arrival, Lan hurried to swallow his mouthful of dried vegetables and rinsed his mouth with tea . He rushed out and greeted Commander Ho with ebullience

“Commander, please come in!” He said as he stole a glance outside . “You got here by horse? That’s too much trouble . If you wanted to speak to me, you could have sent someone after me . You didn’t have to travel here in person . “.

Commander Ho still held his horsewhip in his hand . Staring at Lan Bai-Shan, he was at a loss of words

“It’s nothing, I just wanted to see you,” he said when he finally conjured a sentence

Lan beamed at him . “You came all the way here just to see me? I must thank you for your concern, Commander . It’s cold out, come inside . “.

Commander Ho followed him in noncommittally . Lan smiled at him again . “Have you eaten?”.

Commander Ho had no intention of cadging a meal at Lan’s, but slow as he was, he’d already muttered out a “No” before considering his reply

Lan drew him in to an inner room that was half occupied by a heated brick bed . A small table was lying atop, bearing a feast of stewed pork, dried vegetables and half a bowl of rice

Commander Ho realized that he had come at a bad time

Sitting down at the edge of the brick bed, he tossed his whip away and lowered his head, then began to remove his gloves with wholehearted concentration . Lan filled him a bowl of rice and placed a pair of chopsticks in front of him

“Ji-Ch’ing, I don’t have anything fancy here, but please have something to eat . “.

Commander Ho didn’t have the appetite . He merely raised his eyes and scanned the table

“You’re eating by yourself?” he asked

“Of course I am,” Lan replied

“What happened to the schoolgirl?”.

Lan started laughing . “I sent her away . “.

“To where?” Commander Ho stole him a glance

“Hsian . Otherwise she kept making a fuss . Says there’s nothing here and the place isn’t humanly inhabitable . “.

Commander Ho started to feel a little better, as if he’d just had a drink of iced plum juice during the hottest of the dog days

“Oh . You sent her away . “.

Lan fixed his gaze at Commander Ho and chuckled meaningfully

“Ji-Ch’ing my Ji-Ch’ing, you’re such a child . “.

Detecting the conversation’s digression towards the inappropriate, Commander Ho raised his head sharply

Lan’s smile was warm and open, emitting a faint trace of elderly affection and resignation . “Why are you speaking in riddles with me? You don’t want me to bring along a woman, yet instead of talking to me about it, you throw a fit at the meeting . Why?”.

Commander Ho felt that Lan Bai-Shan was ridiculing him, and wanted to give him a personal whipping, but

Gathering his gloves and whip, an expressionless Commander Ho left the mansion . Come and gone like the wind—or a madman . But Lan Bai-Shan didn’t mind him at all . The fact that Commander Ho had allowed himself to play his temper out meant that only Lan could jolly him along . This, at the same time, testified for the intimacy of his relationship with the Commander . The term “to have the emperor in one’s power and order the dukes about in his name” would be referring the soldier-less and fund-less Chief Lan

– : -.

Back at his own place, Commander Ho felt as if his heart was being pinch by an invisible hand, relaxed for one moment and tense for the next, all without his consent . In his irritated depression, he wanted to set the house on fire and then go slaughter Lan Bai-Shan . Lan had been toying with him right from the start—he saw it now!.

“Commander, do you want your dinner?” Chao Hsiao-Hu inquired behind him with great trepidation

Commander Ho turned around and gave him a shove

Hsiao-Hu stood slightly further away . “Do you want walnuts then?”.

Commander Ho snatched off his army cap and hurled it at Hsiao-Hu’s face with all of his might . Hsiao-Hu saw that the weapon lacked lethality, so he merely stood there and allowed the light touch of a strike to land on him

“What do you want to do then? Go to bed?”.

Commander Ho sat on his old-fashioned chair and buried his head in his hands, muttering, “I don’t want to live . “.

Hsiao-Hu wasn’t even slightly frightened . “Again? I know, Chief Lan must have offended you . “.

Commander Ho gazed dramatically up at the sky and let out a long sigh

“What’s he really thinking? Why don’t I have the slightest idea? Hsiao-Hu, do you think he’s a good man, or a bad man?”.

“A bad man,” Hsiao-Hu answered squarely

Commander Ho looked at him in surprise . “A bad man?”.

“You’re friends with him, that’s why you can’t see any of his faults . Even if you do, you wouldn’t think they are faults . You really shouldn’t be asking me, I don’t like to talk behind people’s backs . “.

“Good . Splendid . ” Commander Ho nodded . “Even you won’t speak the truth . ”.

Hsiao-Hu curled his lips . He went forward the table to pour a cup of hot tea, and removed the lid to let it cool off

A myriads of words stood at Commander Ho’s throat in a cluttered mess, rushing to emerge without any consideration for their lack of audience . Unable to repress them any longer, he rose up and seized Hsiao-Hu’s wrist, his lips trembling

“Just wait and see . If he dares to reject me, I will kill him! Who does he think he is? Just another dog my father used to keep, yet now he comes to me and pretends—he fucking pretends to—”.

Commander Ho couldn’t go on . The excessive amount of excitement was sending him to the verge of breakdown . Other than his firm grasp of Hsiao-Hu’s sturdy wrist, he could reach neither the heavens nor the earth, not single support to lean on . His expression remained dull, yet his eyes shone as if his entire soul was buried in there, clamouring for eruption

Hsiao-Hu was becoming a bit frightened by his erratic display . He reached out and patted the Commander on the arm . “Commander, are you all right? Sit down, please sit down first . “.

Commander Ho took a rigid step back and fell stiffly into the chair, his fingers still gripping Hsiao-Hu’s wrist

“I don’t want to live anymore!” he said, and suddenly started screaming in an amplified volume . “I want to go home—sons of bitches, fuck all your mothers—I WANT TO GO HOME!”.

His voice broke off at the last word . Hsiao-Hu stared at him, dumbstruck . He saw tears in the Commander’s eyes

“Poor him,” Hsiao-Hu thought . “Nobody really cares for him . He sleeps with a pillow—he’s truly friendless and alone . ”.

– : -.

After his outburst, Commander Ho slumped back into his tall, rigid chair . His pallid face appeared even more lifeless than usual . Only the occasional tremor of his eyelashes indicated that he was still a living being of flesh and blood . He appeared to be either resting or impending death

Carefully, Hsiao-Hu dislodged the fingers around his wrist and turned to fetch the hot tea . He tilted the cup toward Commander Ho’s lips . “Do you want a sip, Commander? Just open your mouth . “.

Commander Ho opened his mouth and slowly drank half of the tea out of Hsiao-Hu’s hand . The slight warmth of the tea reanimated his body and mind . He sat up straight, his gaze moving across Hsiao-Hu’s face like a blade

Hsiao-Hu curled his lips again . “Are you going to bed this time?”.

“All right,” Commander Ho looked down tiredly . “There’s nothing else to do . “.

– : -.

Having discharged his madness, Commander Ho slept soundly through the night with his pillow . Late in the following morning, he rose out of bed languidly, stared, yawned, washed, got changed, and strode into the drawing-room, starting a new round of guest reception feeling quite refreshed

Li Shih-Yao came

Li was about to go to battle with the North-Eastern troops . Out of courtesy, he came to notify Commander Ho in advance . Commander Ho didn’t want him to fight the North-Easterners; he fantasized demoting him to a commoner—or even better, slaughtering him, had that been possible

Realizing that the Commander was refusing to make a stand, Li wanted to pinch those porcelain cheeks and see if he could break them

“Commander, why the—” he swallowed the “fuck” on his lips, and decided on a more civilized approach . “Why are you still hesitating? I barely laid my hands on those flocks at Wantong, and before our own brothers could even quit being vegetarians, they came and stole half of them . Now what kind of logic is that? If we don’t teach them a lesson, they’ll think I could be bullied!”.

Commander Ho kept his head down, since he couldn’t be bothered to look at Li . “Those Tuolo Bay troops, what’s their designation again?”.

“What designation? They were withdrawn from Mukden and somehow managed to end up here . They’re even more irregular than us!”.

“Their commander is . “.

“Ron Hsiang . “.

Commander Ho lifted his head in sudden revelation . “Right, Ron Hsiang . There’s no need to go to war over something like this . The two parties can negotiate . If the negotiation fails, then we declare war . “.

“Negotiate? With who?”.

“Ron Hsiang . “.

“You’ll do it?”.

“I’ll do it . “.

Li rubbed his bristled head . “You?”.

Commander Ho pounded the table, about to lose his temper again . “What, you have a problem?”.

Li rose to his feet and gave a frivolous bow . “I wouldn’t dare . Negotiate if you will, but I won’t take the loss in vain . “.

Commander Ho couldn’t afford to rebuke him, so he held his anger back and lowered his head again . “You may rest assured . Refrain from screaming for bloodshed at every occasion . War has its expanses, after all . “.

Li looked up, catching the sight of him seated upright, a hand still resting on the table . The hand was truly fine to look at . Tts snowy skin and long fingers clearly had never been subject to any physical toil . In comparison, his own palms felt like sandpaper

.

.

Towards the Commander, he was respectably loyal, though he back-talked and slacked off regularly . Towards him, the Com…

Lan Bai-Shan

江苏夜网

Like his name, Chao Hsiao-Hu looked tigerishly simple and upright . With his roundish face, wide eyes, and well-built physique, he would make a good lad anywhere .

Li Shih-Yao claimed to have dug him out of a corpse pile, but this description wasn’t entirely accurate . True, he had been the one doing the digging, but it was under the direct command of Commander Ho who stood ten meters away .

Ever since then, Hsiao-Hu had regarded the Commander as his personal saviour . Towards the Commander, he was respectably loyal, though he back-talked and slacked off regularly . Towards him, the Commander was exceptionally kind, and for the most part just let him be . On the rare occasions when he didn’t, he would hang Hsiao-Hu by the ceiling and flog him up with a horsewhip .

After a couple of whipping sessions soaking in freezing water, Hsiao-Hu learned his lesson . So every now and then when he caught the strange glint in Commander Ho’s gaze, he would reflexively start to run for his life, only daring to return after the sky had turned completely dark .

– : –

To Chao Hsiao-Hu, Commander Ho clearly led a very boring life . He had an entire army under his command, yet he neither led nor fought with it . He merely sat about without any form of entertainment, not a glimpse of women in his courtyard since the start of the century, and practiced the art of debate with his subordinate officers, pleasant for one moment and furious the next, as if it were all—though not nearly as entertaining as—acts in a play .

One night, he carried a basin of hot water to the Commander’s bedroom as usual . Commander Ho sat at the edge of his bed, his long legs stretched out before him on the floor, and appeared to be, once again, in a trance .

Used to this particular look on his master’s face, Hsiao-Hu didn’t comment . He simply placed the basin in front of the bed and bent down to take off the commander’s shoes and socks .

Commander Ho rarely walked . After a life in clover, his feet almost had a delicate tenderness . Washing another man’s feet was by no means a pleasant task, yet Hsiao-Hu had a certain investigative interest in Commander Ho’s . In other words, he’d always wanted to take a bite at them!

Commander Ho’s feet too, were made of fine porcelain, and would shatter at once with a bite .

– : –

After he was done soaking his feet, Commander Ho went to bed . Lying under the white linen and red satin quilt, he started muttering to himself all of a sudden . “Why isn’t he back yet?” he said with a sigh .

Carrying the basin, Hsiao-Hu nudged the door open quietly with his feet and left . He knew that Commander Ho was talking about Lan Bai-Shan .

Lan Bai-Shan, Chief of Staff, was a medium sized man, sharply dressed at all times and wore his uniforms with exceptional elegance . When he smiled his eyes would turn crescent-shaped, and his thin lips knew how to talk, amuse, and coax .

In addition to these talents, Chief Lan also made a close acquaintance with Commander Ho . He had been one of the kidnappers back at the school, and after Ho Ch’i-yeh was stuffed inside the car, it was Lan who held Ch’i-yeh in his arms and carried him all the way from Peking to Tientsin .

Ho Ch’i-yeh might have gotten too comfortable in Lan’s arms . When he got off the car and became Commander Ho, though expressionless, he showed no sign of anger . He even asked Lan rather unnecessarily: “You must be exhausted, carrying me all the way here . “

Lan Bai-Shan wore a smile . “Not at all . I could have held you all the way to Mukden . “

Commander Ho smiled and said nothing more .

– : –

Commander Ho slept well—or at least made it appear so . He never wasted the lamp oil to stay up like a night owl, nor did he get up before the sun shone high in the sky . Since he cared nothing for his appearance, he didn’t waste any time grooming himself—at this point in life, appearance was the last thing that mattered . Nobody was around to appreciate or criticize it anyway, so he simply made himself as comfortable as possible .

After finishing a breakfast of noodle soup, he sat back on his bed and began his contemplations for the day .

“I must get a designation,” he thought to himself . “Even if it means bowing to Fu Yang-Shan! That title is the only way to be considered a regular army and have a future career . Otherwise I’ll be stuck here marauding, and if things continue this way, we’ll become actual bandits . Li Shih-Yao and his ignorant, short-sighted likes see only the benefits at hand, never the larger picture . After all, they came from peasant stock, none of this matter to them . But I’m not like them…I can’t stay in this hellhole and play the local despot forever!”

He had unwittingly knitted his brows . His fingers were gripping the hem of his shirt, his hands clutched into tight fists .

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Hsiao-Hu’s sudden yell came through the window . “Commander! Chief Lan’s back!”

Lost in his thoughts, Commander Ho jumped at the abrupt noise .

“What?”

“Chief Lan is back,” Hsiao-Hu repeated himself out of habit . “Just got off the car outside the courtyard . He’s waiting to see you in the front hall . “

Commander Ho stood up and took a few steps forward, but stopped in his tracks .

“Tell him to come in here,” he ordered .

Hsiao-Hu sounded his affirmation and ran out with heavy thuds, leaving Commander Ho in his room to undo his belt in a frantic rush and tuck the bottom of his shirt into his trousers . He did most of the buttons on his army coat—the coat was fairly wrinkled, but fortunately, he’s figure could be decked in anything and still look like an untainted porcelain statue .

He’d wanted to comb his hair as well, but didn’t have the time . A moment later, Lan Bai-Shan had already helped himself in and saluted him in his straightest posture .

“Commander! Bai-Shan reports back!” he declared in a clear voice .

Commander Ho was trying to find his comb at a dresser, his back to Lan . He turned his head and threw him a glance, his face without any visible sign of joy .

“When did you come back?” he inquired flatly .

Lan shut the door behind him and took a few steps forward .

“Just now, and I came straight here,” he said cheerfully .

Commander Ho threw him another glance . Lan Bai-Shan stood erect in his unruffled uniform and appeared to be in high spirits . His eyes were shining with laughter .

Under their influence, Commander Ho decided to say some kind words, though his tone always counteracted his intentions .

“You must be tired from your journey . “

Lan stepped in closer to him . “Not at all . Don’t worry, it’s not like I walked there on foot, nothing to really tire me . How about you? I was worried about leaving you here all by yourself . “

Commander Ho walked to his bed and sat down, his hands tucked into his pockets . He started to say “I’m fine—” before realizing that something wasn’t quite right . He glanced up at Lan and thought to himself, what have you got to worry about? A staff officer worrying about his commander? How odd!

Lan Bai-Shan met his gaze and gave him a calm smile . “Ji-Ch’ing, I’ve gotten you some presents from Hsian . Had them brought back with the trucks and unloaded in the courtyard . I promise you’ll be pleased once you see them . “

Commander Ho stared down at the floor, savouring over the “Ji-Ch’ing” with amusement .

“I’ll trust your taste . “

Lan didn’t answer and dug out an ivory comb from his pocket instead . He steadied the Commander’s shoulder with one hand and with the other, started to comb through his dishevelled hair .

“How can a young man like you treat yourself this way,” he muttered .

Commander Ho let him fiddle with his head . “Haven’t got an audience . “

“Well! What about me?” Lan laughed .

“You?”

“Am I not worthy?”

Commander Ho let out a sudden laugh . “Sure you are, but why would you be looking at me?”

Lan put away his comb and bent down in front of Commander Ho as if he were a child . He looked straight at Commander Ho’s snowy forehead .

“I find you rather good-looking . “

Commander Ho couldn’t find a reply and didn’t feel like discussing the matter any further, so in his panic, he gave a little chuckle and changed the subject .

“How did they respond in Hsian?”

Lan Bai-Shan paced before him with a hand in his pocket . “Fu Yang-Shan still isn’t taking a clear stand . He probably knows we need him, so he plays indecision . But that doesn’t matter . He’s now on terrible terms with Chao Chen-Sheng . Before they openly declare war, all we have to do is go to Chao for a visit and put out some rumours, then he’ll be the one running to us for incorporation . And if we’re lucky…” Lan smiled and sat down beside the Commander . “We might even earn some extra cash . “

A very good idea indeed, but Commander Ho wasn’t smiling .

His mind wasn’t on Fu Yang-Shan . Lan Bai-Shan had a faint trace of perfume on him—where did it come from?

Meanwhile, Lan was still softly prospecting their bright future . Commander Ho forced himself to listen, but the scent was becoming stronger by every second and ascended to a point where it was almost irritating his nose .

Reaching the end of his forbearance, he finally leapt to his feet . He cut Lan off mid-sentence and pointed a finger at the door .

“Get out,” he said through gnashed teeth .

Lan Bai-Shan was enraptured in his animated speech, never suspecting the sudden change in the Commander’s demeanor . He froze for a moment, and rose slowly to his feet .

“Ji-Ch’ing, what’s wrong?”

Commander Ho was indeed a man of few words, but his mind raced . The more he thought about it the odder it seemed, and eventually he almost killed himself with self-inflicted rage . When he looked up at Lan his eyes shone dangerously, which in fact made him look more alive than usual .

“Out!”

Lan wasn’t any dumber than Hsiao-Hu . Once he saw the Commander’s transformation—though he had no idea where the madness came from—he knew it wouldn’t do him any good to antagonize the Commander any further . Thus after a brief moment of hesitation, he turned away awkwardly and left with a crestfallen look .

– : –

After kicking Lan Bai-Shan out, Commander Ho brooded in depression and almost wished he could cough up blood . His hands clasped behind his back, he strolled to the front yard and saw a group of orderlies transporting all sorts of packages to a spare room . Chao Hsiao-Hu was standing in command . He ran up to Commander Ho and flashed a blandish smile .

“Commander, Chief Lan brought these fabrics back from Hsian, and there’re two more bags of foreign sweets and cigarettes . I already had those moved to the inner yard . Do you wish to see them right now?”

Commander Ho let out a deep breath .

“Get your men and go check if Lan Bai-Shan’s brought back a woman,” he ordered with a troubled look .

“Huh?” Hsiao-Hu asked in surprise .

Commander Ho raised his hand and gave him a resounding slap across his face . His expression was almost ferocious .

“‘Huh’ your mother’s fucking cunt!”

That effectively ended Hsiao-Hu’s “huhs” . Rubbing his face, Hsiao-Hu called a couple of his mates and ran out of the courtyard .

– : –

The county-town of Luyang was a small place, so Ho Residence wasn’t very far from anywhere . Hsiao-Hu led his squad to Lan’s front gates and chatted the guards up for a while . It didn’t take very long before he got his answer, but he wasn’t in a hurry to report back . He brought his boys to a small local restaurant and dug leisurely through a plate of stewed beef and fried peanuts, perfectly at ease . Only when he had filled his satiety did he wipe his mouth clean, and started a sprint from the restaurant’s front door . He arrived at the Ho Residence just in time to run short of breath, his face appropriately flushed to convey his fatigue caused by the mission .

“Commander! I’ve got it figured out!”

Commander Ho was still standing in the front yard . He gave him a vicious stare .

“Speak!”

“Chief Lan did bring back a schoolgirl from Hsian . Said she’s only about seventeen, all dressed in Western clothes with leather shoes and bare thighs . And she’s real pretty . “

Commander Ho nodded and looked as if he was about to become red in the face .

“Well, well . Go on!”

Hsiao-Hu blinked . “That was it . “

Commander Ho spun around and began to head inside .

“Tell Adjutant Chang to deliver a message, I’m holding a meeting this afternoon . “

Hsiao-Hu nodded a yes, and rushed off again cheerfully .

– : –

Commander Ho took a very brief nap, got up—this time dressing himself properly—and left the house .

The Anguo Army Headquarters was located at what was once a small school in Luyang . Over ten regimental commanders and a number of staff officers sat scattered in a classroom as they listened to Commander Ho’s lecture in silence .

Commander Ho stood in front of the mass, his downcast eyes looking at no one but glaring angrily at the floor . He first went over the situation in Hsian concerning Fu, then immediately switched the subject .

“The Anguo Army was once known for its excellent reputation back in the Old Marshal’s days, and as his son, it is partly my failure that it’s came to what it is today . But since we are now heading back onto the right track, it is important that from now on, everyone here corrects his body and soul and behave like a soldier, not some bandit! For example, when travelling in the army, one must never bring women! When your soldiers are sleeping alone in their cold beds, how can you officers have the face to seek entertainment with your women? If you continue to lack this sort of self-discipline, we might even lose our morale one day . Without morale, who’s going to fight and die for you? Where are you going to get your money?”

He looked up suddenly and glanced around the room . Without warning, he changed his subject again .

“Where is Jin Hwan-Ran?”

“Still in Wantong,” Li Shih-Yao answered wearily . “He finally managed to find a place to stay . Why would he sacrifice it to come back? He’d rather die there!”

Commander Ho pounded the ramshackle desk . “You scoundrels! Only a few days of peace and you’re all fighting with each other! Go ahead, kill yourselves in battle, and then get wiped out by those Tuoluo Bay Northeasterners, so we can all be finished for good! Damn it, Officer Ma! Go deliver a massage to Jin Hwan-Ran and tell him to come back here this instant! I have something to say to him!”

Officer Ma—Aunt Ma gave his reply immediately and carefully . “Yes sir, I shall go to Wantong tonight . “

Commander Ho pounded the desk again as if something else in him was triggered . His eyes gleamed .

“Just what the hell is this place? There isn’t even a telephone around! You hopelessly unambitious fools, how can you be so content with yourselves in this stinking valley? You lot are fit for nothing but bandits! All in all, I only have two points to make in this meeting: One, no infighting! Two, no women! That’s all, meeting dismissed!”

After that announcement, Commander Ho left the room by himself in rage . The rest of the crowd, however, were in no hurry . Colonel Sun turned around and whispered to Li Shih-Yao . “What was he getting at? Am I the only one thrown off?”

Li laughed as he turned back to look at Lan Bai-Shan . “Chief Lan, you’re on the friendliest terms with the Commander, why don’t you give us an analysis of the Commander’s intentions?”

“Don’t ask me,” Lan smiled . “I’ve no more idea about what’s going on than the rest of you . “

Li Shih-Yao turned to Chief Ma . “What do you think, Auntie?”

Ma was smiling as well . “I don’t know about anything else, but the thing about women was definitely for Chief Lan . “

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Li asked . “Chief Lan, you went to Hsian and brought back some lass?”

Lan Bai-Shan smoothed his well-greased hair and smiled good-temperedly . “I did bring one . “

Colonel Sun gave a clap . “Good for you, Old Lan!”

“Not only that,” Ma added . “It’s a schoolgirl! Is that right?” he turned to Lan .

Lan Bai-Shan simply smiled and remained silent .

Li Shih-Yao started to laugh . “So we’ve found the key to the problem! Our young commander has to sleep with a pillow every night—did you know that? He sleeps holding a pillow—while Chief Lan gets to spend his nights with a schoolgirl . Ha, Ch’i-Baoshaoyehis jealous!”

“Colonel Li, you can’t throw things like that around,” Lan warned immediately . “With Commander Ho’s narrow mind, he’d bite your head off if he ever hears about this . “

Li Shih-Yao gave a defiant snort . “And I should be scared? He’s nothing but Ho Ch’i-Bao . “

Colonel Sun detected that the conversation was heading off the rails and quickly interrupted: “Come on, Old Li! We haven’t even congratulated Chief Lan for winning his schoolgirl yet, why are you going on about the Commander? Schoolgirls are rarities, Old Lan, you must buy us dinner!”

“Dinner?” Lan replied distractedly . “Commander Ho’s still on my case, and you expect me to be in the mood for dinner?”

Li Shih-Yao wanted the whole world to be free of fear for Commander Ho, and frowned disapprovingly at the comment . “Why the hell are you all scared of him? So what if he has a problem with you? You fellows make no sense! Not scared of enemy bullets but afraid of Ho Ch’i-Bao!”

The crowd fell silent .

Li was exasperated at their cowardice . What he didn’t know was that he and these men shared the same concerns . While Commander Ho certainly didn’t bite, it was better not to provoke him if it could be avoided in any way .

Lan Bai-Shan

Like his name, Chao Hsiao-Hu looked tigerishly simple and upright . With his roundish face, wide eyes, and well-built physique, he would make a good lad anywhere

Li Shih-Yao claimed to have dug him out of a corpse pile, but this description wasn’t entirely accurate . True, he had been the one doing the digging, but it was under the direct command of Commander Ho who stood ten meters away

Ever since then, Hsiao-Hu had regarded the Commander as his personal saviour . Towards the Commander, he was respectably loyal, though he back-talked and slacked off regularly . Towards him, the Commander was exceptionally kind, and for the most part just let him be . On the rare occasions when he didn’t, he would hang Hsiao-Hu by the ceiling and flog him up with a horsewhip

After a couple of whipping sessions soaking in freezing water, Hsiao-Hu learned his lesson . So every now and then when he caught the strange glint in Commander Ho’s gaze, he would reflexively start to run for his life, only daring to return after the sky had turned completely dark

– : -.

To Chao Hsiao-Hu, Commander Ho clearly led a very boring life . He had an entire army under his command, yet he neither led nor fought with it . He merely sat about without any form of entertainment, not a glimpse of women in his courtyard since the start of the century, and practiced the art of debate with his subordinate officers, pleasant for one moment and furious the next, as if it were all—though not nearly as entertaining as—acts in a play

One night, he carried a basin of hot water to the Commander’s bedroom as usual . Commander Ho sat at the edge of his bed, his long legs stretched out before him on the floor, and appeared to be, once again, in a trance

Used to this particular look on his master’s face, Hsiao-Hu didn’t comment . He simply placed the basin in front of the bed and bent down to take off the commander’s shoes and socks

Commander Ho rarely walked . After a life in clover, his feet almost had a delicate tenderness . Washing another man’s feet was by no means a pleasant task, yet Hsiao-Hu had a certain investigative interest in Commander Ho’s . In other words, he’d always wanted to take a bite at them!.

Commander Ho’s feet too, were made of fine porcelain, and would shatter at once with a bite

– : -.

After he was done soaking his feet, Commander Ho went to bed . Lying under the white linen and red satin quilt, he started muttering to himself all of a sudden . “Why isn’t he back yet?” he said with a sigh

Carrying the basin, Hsiao-Hu nudged the door open quietly with his feet and left . He knew that Commander Ho was talking about Lan Bai-Shan

Lan Bai-Shan, Chief of Staff, was a medium sized man, sharply dressed at all times and wore his uniforms with exceptional elegance . When he smiled his eyes would turn crescent-shaped, and his thin lips knew how to talk, amuse, and coax

In addition to these talents, Chief Lan also made a close acquaintance with Commander Ho . He had been one of the kidnappers back at the school, and after Ho Ch’i-yeh was stuffed inside the car, it was Lan who held Ch’i-yeh in his arms and carried him all the way from Peking to Tientsin

Ho Ch’i-yeh might have gotten too comfortable in Lan’s arms . When he got off the car and became Commander Ho, though expressionless, he showed no sign of anger . He even asked Lan rather unnecessarily: “You must be exhausted, carrying me all the way here . “.

Lan Bai-Shan wore a smile . “Not at all . I could have held you all the way to Mukden . “.

Commander Ho smiled and said nothing more

– : -.

Commander Ho slept well—or at least made it appear so . He never wasted the lamp oil to stay up like a night owl, nor did he get up before the sun shone high in the sky . Since he cared nothing for his appearance, he didn’t waste any time grooming himself—at this point in life, appearance was the last thing that mattered . Nobody was around to appreciate or criticize it anyway, so he simply made himself as comfortable as possible

After finishing a breakfast of noodle soup, he sat back on his bed and began his contemplations for the day

“I must get a designation,” he thought to himself . “Even if it means bowing to Fu Yang-Shan! That title is the only way to be considered a regular army and have a future career . Otherwise I’ll be stuck here marauding, and if things continue this way, we’ll become actual bandits . Li Shih-Yao and his ignorant, short-sighted likes see only the benefits at hand, never the larger picture . After all, they came from peasant stock, none of this matter to them . But I’m not like them…I can’t stay in this hellhole and play the local despot forever!”.

He had unwittingly knitted his brows . His fingers were gripping the hem of his shirt, his hands clutched into tight fists

Hsiao-Hu’s sudden yell came through the window . “Commander! Chief Lan’s back!”.

Lost in his thoughts, Commander Ho jumped at the abrupt noise

“What?”.

“Chief Lan is back,” Hsiao-Hu repeated himself out of habit . “Just got off the car outside the courtyard . He’s waiting to see you in the front hall . “.

Commander Ho stood up and took a few steps forward, but stopped in his tracks

“Tell him to come in here,” he ordered

Hsiao-Hu sounded his affirmation and ran out with heavy thuds, leaving Commander Ho in his room to undo his belt in a frantic rush and tuck the bottom of his shirt into his trousers . He did most of the buttons on his army coat—the coat was fairly wrinkled, but fortunately, he’s figure could be decked in anything and still look like an untainted porcelain statue

He’d wanted to comb his hair as well, but didn’t have the time . A moment later, Lan Bai-Shan had already helped himself in and saluted him in his straightest posture

“Commander! Bai-Shan reports back!” he declared in a clear voice

Commander Ho was trying to find his comb at a dresser, his back to Lan . He turned his head and threw him a glance, his face without any visible sign of joy

“When did you come back?” he inquired flatly

Lan shut the door behind him and took a few steps forward

“Just now, and I came straight here,” he said cheerfully

Commander Ho threw him another glance . Lan Bai-Shan stood erect in his unruffled uniform and appeared to be in high spirits . His eyes were shining with laughter

Under their influence, Commander Ho decided to say some kind words, though his tone always counteracted his intentions

“You must be tired from your journey . “.

Lan stepped in closer to him . “Not at all . Don’t worry, it’s not like I walked there on foot, nothing to really tire me . How about you? I was worried about leaving you here all by yourself . “.

Commander Ho walked to his bed and sat down, his hands tucked into his pockets . He started to say “I’m fine—” before realizing that something wasn’t quite right . He glanced up at Lan and thought to himself, what have you got to worry about? A staff officer worrying about his commander? How odd!.

Lan Bai-Shan met his gaze and gave him a calm smile . “Ji-Ch’ing, I’ve gotten you some presents from Hsian . Had them brought back with the trucks and unloaded in the courtyard . I promise you’ll be pleased once you see them . “.

Commander Ho stared down at the floor, savouring over the “Ji-Ch’ing” with amusement

“I’ll trust your taste . “.

Lan didn’t answer and dug out an ivory comb from his pocket instead . He steadied the Commander’s shoulder with one hand and with the other, started to comb through his dishevelled hair

“How can a young man like you treat yourself this way,” he muttered

Commander Ho let him fiddle with his head . “Haven’t got an audience . “.

“Well! What about me?” Lan laughed

“You?”.

“Am I not worthy?”.

Commander Ho let out a sudden laugh . “Sure you are, but why would you be looking at me?”.

Lan put away his comb and bent down in front of Commander Ho as if he were a child . He looked straight at Commander Ho’s snowy forehead

“I find you rather good-looking . “.

Commander Ho couldn’t find a reply and didn’t feel like discussing the matter any further, so in his panic, he gave a little chuckle and changed the subject

“How did they respond in Hsian?”.

Lan Bai-Shan paced before him with a hand in his pocket . “Fu Yang-Shan still isn’t taking a clear stand . He probably knows we need him, so he plays indecision . But that doesn’t matter . He’s now on terrible terms with Chao Chen-Sheng . Before they openly declare war, all we have to do is go to Chao for a visit and put out some rumours, then he’ll be the one running to us for incorporation . And if we’re lucky…” Lan smiled and sat down beside the Commander . “We might even earn some extra cash . “.

A very good idea indeed, but Commander Ho wasn’t smiling

His mind wasn’t on Fu Yang-Shan . Lan Bai-Shan had a faint trace of perfume on him—where did it come from?.

Meanwhile, Lan was still softly prospecting their bright future . Commander Ho forced himself to listen, but the scent was becoming stronger by every second and ascended to a point where it was almost irritating his nose

Reaching the end of his forbearance, he finally leapt to his feet . He cut Lan off mid-sentence and pointed a finger at the door

“Get out,” he said through gnashed teeth

Lan Bai-Shan was enraptured in his animated speech, never suspecting the sudden change in the Commander’s demeanor . He froze for a moment, and rose slowly to his feet

“Ji-Ch’ing, what’s wrong?”.

Commander Ho was indeed a man of few words, but his mind raced . The more he thought about it the odder it seemed, and eventually he almost killed himself with self-inflicted rage . When he looked up at Lan his eyes shone dangerously, which in fact made him look more alive than usual

“Out!”.

Lan wasn’t any dumber than Hsiao-Hu . Once he saw the Commander’s transformation—though he had no idea where the madness came from—he knew it wouldn’t do him any good to antagonize the Commander any further . Thus after a brief moment of hesitation, he turned away awkwardly and left with a crestfallen look

– : -.

After kicking Lan Bai-Shan out, Commander Ho brooded in depression and almost wished he could cough up blood . His hands clasped behind his back, he strolled to the front yard and saw a group of orderlies transporting all sorts of packages to a spare room . Chao Hsiao-Hu was standing in command . He ran up to Commander Ho and flashed a blandish smile

“Commander, Chief Lan brought these fabrics back from Hsian, and there’re two more bags of foreign sweets and cigarettes . I already had those moved to the inner yard . Do you wish to see them right now?”.

Commander Ho let out a deep breath

“Get your men and go check if Lan Bai-Shan’s brought back a woman,” he ordered with a troubled look

“Huh?” Hsiao-Hu asked in surprise

Commander Ho raised his hand and gave him a resounding slap across his face . His expression was almost ferocious

“‘Huh’ your mother’s fucking cunt!”.

That effectively ended Hsiao-Hu’s “huhs” . Rubbing his face, Hsiao-Hu called a couple of his mates and ran out of the courtyard

– : -.

The county-town of Luyang was a small place, so Ho Residence wasn’t very far from anywhere . Hsiao-Hu led his squad to Lan’s front gates and chatted the guards up for a while . It didn’t take very long before he got his answer, but he wasn’t in a hurry to report back . He brought his boys to a small local restaurant and dug leisurely through a plate of stewed beef and fried peanuts, perfectly at ease . Only when he had filled his satiety did he wipe his mouth clean, and started a sprint from the restaurant’s front door . He arrived at the Ho Residence just in time to run short of breath, his face appropriately flushed to convey his fatigue caused by the mission

“Commander! I’ve got it figured out!”.

Commander Ho was still standing in the front yard . He gave him a vicious stare

“Speak!”.

“Chief Lan did bring back a schoolgirl from Hsian . Said she’s only about seventeen, all dressed in Western clothes with leather shoes and bare thighs . And she’s real pretty . “.

Commander Ho nodded and looked as if he was about to become red in the face

“Well, well . Go on!”.

Hsiao-Hu blinked . “That was it . “.

Commander Ho spun around and began to head inside

“Tell Adjutant Chang to deliver a message, I’m holding a meeting this afternoon . “.

Hsiao-Hu nodded a yes, and rushed off again cheerfully

– : -.

Commander Ho took a very brief nap, got up—this time dressing himself properly—and left the house

The Anguo Army Headquarters was located at what was once a small school in Luyang . Over ten regimental commanders and a number of staff officers sat scattered in a classroom as they listened to Commander Ho’s lecture in silence

Commander Ho stood in front of the mass, his downcast eyes looking at no one but glaring angrily at the floor . He first went over the situation in Hsian concerning Fu, then immediately switched the subject

“The Anguo Army was once known for its excellent reputation back in the Old Marshal’s days, and as his son, it is partly my failure that it’s came to what it is today . But since we are now heading back onto the right track, it is important that from now on, everyone here corrects his body and soul and behave like a soldier, not some bandit! For example, when travelling in the army, one must never bring women! When your soldiers are sleeping alone in their cold beds, how can you officers have the face to seek entertainment with your women? If you continue to lack this sort of self-discipline, we might even lose our morale one day . Without morale, who’s going to fight and die for you? Where are you going to get your money?”.

He looked up suddenly and glanced around the room . Without warning, he changed his subject again

“Where is Jin Hwan-Ran?”.

“Still in Wantong,” Li Shih-Yao answered wearily . “He finally managed to find a place to stay . Why would he sacrifice it to come back? He’d rather die there!”.

Commander Ho pounded the ramshackle desk . “You scoundrels! Only a few days of peace and you’re all fighting with each other! Go ahead, kill yourselves in battle, and then get wiped out by those Tuoluo Bay Northeasterners, so we can all be finished for good! Damn it, Officer Ma! Go deliver a massage to Jin Hwan-Ran and tell him to come back here this instant! I have something to say to him!”.

Officer Ma—Aunt Ma gave his reply immediately and carefully . “Yes sir, I shall go to Wantong tonight . “.

Commander Ho pounded the desk again as if something else in him was triggered . His eyes gleamed

“Just what the hell is this place? There isn’t even a telephone around! You hopelessly unambitious fools, how can you be so content with yourselves in this stinking valley? You lot are fit for nothing but bandits! All in all, I only have two points to make in this meeting: One, no infighting! Two, no women! That’s all, meeting dismissed!”.

After that announcement, Commander Ho left the room by himself in rage . The rest of the crowd, however, were in no hurry . Colonel Sun turned around and whispered to Li Shih-Yao . “What was he getting at? Am I the only one thrown off?”.

Li laughed as he turned back to look at Lan Bai-Shan . “Chief Lan, you’re on the friendliest terms with the Commander, why don’t you give us an analysis of the Commander’s intentions?”.

“Don’t ask me,” Lan smiled . “I’ve no more idea about what’s going on than the rest of you . “.

Li Shih-Yao turned to Chief Ma . “What do you think, Auntie?”.

Ma was smiling as well . “I don’t know about anything else, but the thing about women was definitely for Chief Lan . “.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Li asked . “Chief Lan, you went to Hsian and brought back some lass?”.

Lan Bai-Shan smoothed his well-greased hair and smiled good-temperedly . “I did bring one . “.

Colonel Sun gave a clap . “Good for you, Old Lan!”.

“Not only that,” Ma added . “It’s a schoolgirl! Is that right?” he turned to Lan

Lan Bai-Shan simply smiled and remained silent

Li Shih-Yao started to laugh . “So we’ve found the key to the problem! Our young commander has to sleep with a pillow every night—did you know that? He sleeps holding a pillow—while Chief Lan gets to spend his nights with a schoolgirl . Ha, Ch’i-Baoshaoyehis jealous!”.

“Colonel Li, you can’t throw things like that around,” Lan warned immediately . “With Commander Ho’s narrow mind, he’d bite your head off if he ever hears about this . “.

Li Shih-Yao gave a defiant snort . “And I should be scared? He’s nothing but Ho Ch’i-Bao . “.

Colonel Sun detected that the conversation was heading off the rails and quickly interrupted: “Come on, Old Li! We haven’t even congratulated Chief Lan for winning his schoolgirl yet, why are you going on about the Commander? Schoolgirls are rarities, Old Lan, you must buy us dinner!”.

“Dinner?” Lan replied distractedly . “Commander Ho’s still on my case, and you expect me to be in the mood for dinner?”.

Li Shih-Yao wanted the whole world to be free of fear for Commander Ho, and frowned disapprovingly at the comment . “Why the hell are you all scared of him? So what if he has a problem with you? You fellows make no sense! Not scared of enemy bullets but afraid of Ho Ch’i-Bao!”.

The crowd fell silent

Li was exasperated at their cowardice . What he didn’t know was that he and these men shared the same concerns . While Commander Ho certainly didn’t bite, it was better not to provoke him if it could be avoided in any way

At the moment, the Staff Division was at a lack of things to staff . The Army had long stopped issuing them pays, and w…

Li Shih-Yao

江苏夜网

There was a staff officer from the Anguo Staff Division by the name of Ma Hao-Tian . A man of womanly appearance .

This was by no means an implication that he was in any way dainty looking . His womanly looks were roughly the ones of a middle-aged farm-wife, and in his uniforms, he looked more like an old maid in drag . For this reason, Ma was given a nickname: Aunt Ma .

At the moment, the Staff Division was at a lack of things to staff . The Army had long stopped issuing them pays, and while the troops found their own sources of income elsewhere, the staff officers could hardly go plunder around with their pistols . Faced with a very real possibility of going hungry, Chief Ma forced himself to come imploring Commander Ho for advice .

Commander Ho listened and drank his tea . He was silent for a long moment .

Ma stole a glance at him from the right-hand seat . He knew well enough that Commander Ho was nothing but a young former student with neither any military power nor experience to speak of, maneuvered into place only as a puppet of sorts . Yet for some incomprehensible reason, he felt a bit uneasy . Ho Bao-Ting had an air of dankness about him, looking contemplative all year round and mulling perpetually over some undisclosed matter . In his dealings with mysterious characters, Ma always kept his distance .

For a while, they sat facing each other in silence, then Commander Ho finally spoke, his tone gentle . “Li Shih-Yao has captured the County of Wantong recently . He’s got money . “

“Even if he does, he won’t be sharing any of it with the staff division,” Ma laughed wryly .

Commander Ho smiled as well . “Then why don’t you go talk to him?”

Ma stuck out his tongue . “Commander, I wouldn’t dare!”

Commander Ho put his tea down and withdrew his pleasantness . “More scared of Li Shih-Yao than of me?”

Ma was somewhat thrown off . “No, no no, of course not! What I was trying to say, Commander, is that because you’re so generous and show such solicitude to those beneath you, every one of our men bears witnessed to your nobility . So the Division have elected me to come for your advice . “

“It’s a difficult time,” Commander Ho began icily . “People are dying in famines . The Staff Division may be on a tight budget at the moment, but you ought to find ways to make do . “

“Commander,” Ma begged . “You’ve no idea . Our men of every rank are practically living on millet . “

Commander Ho nodded slightly . “Millet is extremely nutritious . Daily consumption can improve mental sharpness, making them the perfect staple for your division . “

At this point there was nothing more Ma could say . Sulking, he turned to leave .

– : –

Ma didn’t get very far from the Ho Residence before he ran straight into Colonel Li Shih-Yao . Li had just turned thirty this year and stood tall and imposing with a distinct ruffianly air . He laughed loudly when he spotted Chief Ma . “I say, Auntie Ma, did you go begging for alms at the Commander’s?”

Ma had always looked to Li Shih-Yao with some measure of fear and dared not to say much at the jest . “Colonel Li is very astute,” he chuckled obsequiously . “Our division is indeed… We won’t be able to hold out for much longer . “

Li Shih-Yao laughed out a “Ha” . “So what did the Commander say?”

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“He wouldn’t help,” Chief Ma grimaced .

Li tried to give him advice . “Let Old Lan do the talking, the Commander would listen to him . “

“Chief Lan’s already gone to Hsian . He’s the one with the plans . Did you expect him to stay behind with us and live on millet?”

Li Shih-Yao let out another “Ha” . Without another word, he walked past Ma and swaggered on .

Once he entered the courtyard, he feigned a kick at an orderly with a little hammer . “Little imperishable brat . What are ya doing?”

The young orderly dodged the kick nimbly . “Don’t you push me around, Colonel Li,” he said indignantly . “I have a name . Why do you keep calling me little brat?”

Li Shih-Yao laughed in spite of the offence . “All right,” he gave a wave with his hand . “So Chao Hsiao-Hu, I see you’ve been dawdling around with that hammer all day . Enjoying life, eh?”

Chao Hsiao-Hu shook a heavy looking cloth sack at him . “I was going to prepare walnuts for Commander Ho . I wasn’t slacking off!”

Li stepped toward him and wrapped an affectionate arm around his shoulders . “You little tigerling[1] . Where’s the Commander?”

“Commander Ho’s in bed, taking a nap,” Hsiao-Hu answered . “You can’t disturb him right now!”

“You little fucker,” Li whacked him across the head, “I was the one who dug you out of a corpse pile, but look at you now! A watchdog for the Commander!”

Awkwardness filled Hsiao-Hu’s face; he was only a sixteen-year-old boy after all . “If you go wake up the Commander now, I would be the one on the receiving end of the punishments . Actually, Colonel Li, Commander Ho will only be asleep for half an hour at most, so why don’t you sit down and relax for a bit, and I’ll get you some walnut . By the time you’re done, the Commander should be awake . How’s that?”

Li knew all about Commander Ho’s temper, and since he hadn’t come with urgent business, he had no intention of provoking the Commander—not that he couldn’t afford to . It just wasn’t worth the trouble . But the October weather wasn’t exactly suitable for a picnic in the courtyard either .

Hsiao-Hu had already carried out a wooden chair and wiped its seat carelessly with his sleeves . “Do have a seat, Colonel Li . I heard you seized Wantong and made a grand fortune! Tell me all about it!”

“Well…” Li Shih-Yao rubbed his chin and hesitated elatedly . “There isn’t really much to tell . Haven’t you seen a capture before?”

“I heard Wantong was a real large county . And you burned the governor alive like a lantern!”

“That’s what you call a show of authority,” Li laughed . “And it lets any by-looking commoners know the consequence of disobedience . “

Hsiao-Hu was curious . “I heard the governor was real fat, all dripping with grease . Is it true that he almost burned for an entire day?”

“Not just an entire day!” Li bragged animatedly . “Goodness, I don’t know what that old brat fed himself with . He was meatier than three grown pigs combined!”

Hsiao-Hu crouched down and took out a single walnut from his cloth bag, setting it on the brick floor and hammered it open with a couple of casual strikes . He handed its content, perfectly intact, to Li .

Li ate his walnut . “What’s the Commander up to these days?”

Hsiao-Hu was thoughtful for a moment . “Nothing much,” he replied . “Mutters something about Chief Lan once in a while . “

That got Li interested . “What’s he muttering about Lan for?”

“Dunno,” Hsiao-Hu continued to hammer his walnuts with his head down .

“How can you not? You follow him around all day . “

Hsiao-Hu was deeply absorbed in his hammering . “If you ask me how much walnut Commander eats a day, I would know then . “

– : –

Li Shih-Yao wasn’t too fond of walnuts . Fortunately, after his third one, Commander Ho woke up .

After his awakening, the Commander had yet to go through his yawning, absently gazing, dressing, and face-washing . Though the process wasn’t overly complex, it lasted a good twenty minutes due to the pace of his movements . Li waited with the uttermost patience until Commander Ho stole silently into the drawing room and sat down on the wooden chair regally .

Li Shih-Yao didn’t stand up and merely flashed a wide grin at the commander . “I’m here, Commander! How was your nap?”

Commander Ho lowered his eyelids, his short hair sticking out in every direction . “Fine . “

“See, I just got back from Wantong,” Li continued . “The place was impoverished . Weren’t anything of value there, but I did get you some Tar . Prime quality stuff . “

“The consumption of opium,” Commander Ho said quietly, “is unhealthy . “

As if the Commander’s presence was influencing him, Li couldn’t help but adopt a more civilized manner as well . “Just a puff or two once in a while, that can’t hurt!”

Commander Ho wore army trousers with riding boots, a brown tweed army-coat hanging open to reveal a white shirt tucked loosely into his belts . As he listened to Li Shih-Yao, he looked down abruptly and started buttoning his coat .

After the third button, he steered his eyes back to Li . “You get addicted easily . “

Li burst out laughing . “So? It’s not like we can’t afford it!”

Commander Ho gave a faint smile and said nothing more .

They sat facing each other in silence . Feeling a bit awkward, Li dug a wrinkled pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and stuck a cigarette between his lips . When he searched again for matches, he found none .

He spotted a box of them on the small table beside Commander Ho . The commander didn’t offer him any, and he didn’t really have the nerve to reach for it himself . After a moment of hesitation, he suddenly gritted his teeth and asked himself: why the fuck should I be scared of him?

With that, he drew up his courage, got to his feet and made his way to the Commander, picking up the box of matches in the process . Meanwhile Commander Ho kept his eyes downcast, his gaze hollow .

Li lit his cigarette and took a deep drag, feeling markedly more relaxed . With his face hidden behind the pale blue smoke, his expression became more animated .

“Commander, I heard Lan Bai-Shan went to Hsian? When did he leave? And how come I haven’t heard anything all this time?”

Commander Ho was still thinking: “the wealthiest county of Wantong…fooling me with some Tar…these bastards…” when he noticed Li Shih-Yao staring straight at him . Startled, he asked: “What?”

Li flashed his white teeth with a smile . “Commander, you really awake? I was just asking, when did Lan Bai-Shan go to Hsian? And why didn’t I get the word of that?”

“About half a month ago . He went to see Chairman Fu . “

“Fu Yang-Shan?”

“Yes . “

“What’s he seeing him for? We have the men and the guns, we can occupy this place permanently, shoot whoever we want . Live like emperors for a few days, isn’t that all good and well? If that Fu were to take us in, wouldn’t it just impose more restrictions on our men?”

“The newspapers outside are calling us bandits,” Commander Ho explained .

Li laughed out loud . “Who cares! Soldiers and bandits are essentially family! Again, we have the men and we have the guns, why put ourselves under Fu’s service?”

“It’s just a title . We need him to assign a designation . “

Li suddenly sat up straight . “Will we get paid?”

Commander Ho shook his head .

“Dammit!” Li sat back . “Then what’s the fucking point? We’ll still have to fend for ourselves!”

Commander Ho thought again, “you’ve gathered tens of thousands of tax money . . . and you’re only giving me a bit of dope…”

Commander Ho had an extremely petty mind . Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to find enough things to brood over all day and night .

Li raised a hand to rub at his short bristles of hair and steered the conversation toward his true intention . “Commander,” he said . “Jin Hwan-Ran said he was on your orders when he led his troops into Wantong, what’s that all about? I was the one that took down the city, just who the hell did he think he was? He did nothing during the fight yet came running for the loot—there’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world!”

Commander Ho looked up, his impassive face showing very faint traces of surprise . “Colonel Jin said he was going to aid you . Why, did the two of you get into another quarrel?”

“Jin’s full of it!” Li rolled up his sleeves . “How can you believe anything he says?”

“Colonel Li,” Commander Ho’s face fell . “I beg your pardon . “

Li saw anger fill the porcelain face and knew his last comment had gone over the line, so he grinned and tried to turn his words around . “Commander, Jin Hwan-Ran is a sly one, likes nothing better than bullying around under your name . You’re too honest and kind to know about this sort of underhanded businesses . “

Commander Ho had always disliked Li Shih-Yao, and now his face visibly paled in rage at Li’s disrespect . He paid no attention to Li’s explanations, and merely reached for the teacup on the table and smashed it back down with force .

“If Colonel Li has a problem with me, he’s more than welcome to take his troops with him and leave! To come to me and throw wild accusations around—what is your meaning? “

He was angry . Li Shih-Yao, on the other hand, was not . He just found the situation very tricky .

“Commander,” he began, “why do you have to be so short-tempered? How can I possibly have any intention of leaving? I was just ranting, nothing more to that . All right, it was just my filthy mouth emitting barks . Don’t be angry . “

Commander Ho had only dared to suggest Li’s dismissal because he was confident that it would never happen . He knew that at the moment, if Li’s Regiment were to declare independence, they would probably get mass-annihilated by the next day—there were a unit of some ten thousand soldiers who had moved out from the Northeast garrisoned fifty miles away in Tuolo Bay . A few days ago, Li Shih-Yao had strafed one of their squads for no apparent reason, and the Northeasterners were not known to just bend over . If it wasn’t for the fact that he served under the Anguo Army, he would have been swarmed and eaten alive by now .

Commander Ho was a very practical man . For him Li’s apologies were nothing more than the bumping of his upper and lower lips and had no significance . Lifting a hand to feel his disheveled hair, he forced down his anger and spoke . “The Staff Division is almost going into starvation . You should at least help them out . “

“All right, all right,” Li nodded . “Tomorrow I shall…” his eyes shifted, “send them some grains to replenish their supply . Well . . . Since Chief Lan isn’t around, there’s no one in charge over at their division . How about I simply send the stuff to you, and when Lan comes back, he can take care of the rest?”

“So he refuses the toast and would rather drink a penalty . Despicable!” Commander Ho thought . “He wouldn’t know his place until I beat him to it! The crude and ignorant thing! Warmonger! Took over an entire county and only gives me some dope! Damn it all…”

After a taking a chaotic tour inside his head, Commander Ho returned to reality . His expression calmed and he turned to face Li Shih-Yao . “You were the main force in the capture of Wantong, there’s no question about that,” he pacified . “If Jin Hwan-Ran ever tries anything out of line, I will be the one to scold him, so don’t worry about it . Furthermore, I have very limited space . Where do you expect me to store all those grains? Convert them into silver dollars and send those here instead!”

– : –

Li Shih-Yao had come to see Commander Ho full of enthusiasm, only to have it crushed as he retreated from the Residence ashen-looking . Yet he still wasn’t angry . Just a bit depressed, as if he had done something horribly wrong and hadn’t been able to make amends .

Stepping out of the front gates, he strode down a couple of steps and felt increasingly upset as he dwelt on it . Suddenly he smacked himself on the head . “Hey,” he blurted out . “Why the fuck should I be scared of him?”

– : –

Having said that, he still sent someone to deliver five-hundred silver dollars to the Ho Residence the following morning . As Commander Ho sat alone in his Guanxu palace chair and counted his silver dollars, a sudden sadness washed over him . He felt like a beggar .

[1]Hsiao-Hu literally means “little tiger” .

Li Shih-Yao

.

There was a staff officer from the Anguo Staff Division by the name of Ma Hao-Tian . A man of womanly appearance

This was by no means an implication that he was in any way dainty looking . His womanly looks were roughly the ones of a middle-aged farm-wife, and in his uniforms, he looked more like an old maid in drag . For this reason, Ma was given a nickname: Aunt Ma

At the moment, the Staff Division was at a lack of things to staff . The Army had long stopped issuing them pays, and while the troops found their own sources of income elsewhere, the staff officers could hardly go plunder around with their pistols . Faced with a very real possibility of going hungry, Chief Ma forced himself to come imploring Commander Ho for advice

Commander Ho listened and drank his tea . He was silent for a long moment

Ma stole a glance at him from the right-hand seat . He knew well enough that Commander Ho was nothing but a young former student with neither any military power nor experience to speak of, maneuvered into place only as a puppet of sorts . Yet for some incomprehensible reason, he felt a bit uneasy . Ho Bao-Ting had an air of dankness about him, looking contemplative all year round and mulling perpetually over some undisclosed matter . In his dealings with mysterious characters, Ma always kept his distance

For a while, they sat facing each other in silence, then Commander Ho finally spoke, his tone gentle . “Li Shih-Yao has captured the County of Wantong recently . He’s got money . “.

“Even if he does, he won’t be sharing any of it with the staff division,” Ma laughed wryly

Commander Ho smiled as well . “Then why don’t you go talk to him?”.

Ma stuck out his tongue . “Commander, I wouldn’t dare!”.

Commander Ho put his tea down and withdrew his pleasantness . “More scared of Li Shih-Yao than of me?”.

Ma was somewhat thrown off . “No, no no, of course not! What I was trying to say, Commander, is that because you’re so generous and show such solicitude to those beneath you, every one of our men bears witnessed to your nobility . So the Division have elected me to come for your advice . “.

“It’s a difficult time,” Commander Ho began icily . “People are dying in famines . The Staff Division may be on a tight budget at the moment, but you ought to find ways to make do . “.

“Commander,” Ma begged . “You’ve no idea . Our men of every rank are practically living on millet . “.

Commander Ho nodded slightly . “Millet is extremely nutritious . Daily consumption can improve mental sharpness, making them the perfect staple for your division . “.

At this point there was nothing more Ma could say . Sulking, he turned to leave

– : -.

Ma didn’t get very far from the Ho Residence before he ran straight into Colonel Li Shih-Yao . Li had just turned thirty this year and stood tall and imposing with a distinct ruffianly air . He laughed loudly when he spotted Chief Ma . “I say, Auntie Ma, did you go begging for alms at the Commander’s?”.

Ma had always looked to Li Shih-Yao with some measure of fear and dared not to say much at the jest . “Colonel Li is very astute,” he chuckled obsequiously . “Our division is indeed… We won’t be able to hold out for much longer . “.

Li Shih-Yao laughed out a “Ha” . “So what did the Commander say?”.

“He wouldn’t help,” Chief Ma grimaced

Li tried to give him advice . “Let Old Lan do the talking, the Commander would listen to him . “.

“Chief Lan’s already gone to Hsian . He’s the one with the plans . Did you expect him to stay behind with us and live on millet?”.

Li Shih-Yao let out another “Ha” . Without another word, he walked past Ma and swaggered on

Once he entered the courtyard, he feigned a kick at an orderly with a little hammer . “Little imperishable brat . What are ya doing?”.

The young orderly dodged the kick nimbly . “Don’t you push me around, Colonel Li,” he said indignantly . “I have a name . Why do you keep calling me little brat?”.

Li Shih-Yao laughed in spite of the offence . “All right,” he gave a wave with his hand . “So Chao Hsiao-Hu, I see you’ve been dawdling around with that hammer all day . Enjoying life, eh?”.

Chao Hsiao-Hu shook a heavy looking cloth sack at him . “I was going to prepare walnuts for Commander Ho . I wasn’t slacking off!”.

Li stepped toward him and wrapped an affectionate arm around his shoulders . “You little tigerling[1] . Where’s the Commander?”.

“Commander Ho’s in bed, taking a nap,” Hsiao-Hu answered . “You can’t disturb him right now!”.

“You little fucker,” Li whacked him across the head, “I was the one who dug you out of a corpse pile, but look at you now! A watchdog for the Commander!”.

Awkwardness filled Hsiao-Hu’s face; he was only a sixteen-year-old boy after all . “If you go wake up the Commander now, I would be the one on the receiving end of the punishments . Actually, Colonel Li, Commander Ho will only be asleep for half an hour at most, so why don’t you sit down and relax for a bit, and I’ll get you some walnut . By the time you’re done, the Commander should be awake . How’s that?”.

Li knew all about Commander Ho’s temper, and since he hadn’t come with urgent business, he had no intention of provoking the Commander—not that he couldn’t afford to . It just wasn’t worth the trouble . But the October weather wasn’t exactly suitable for a picnic in the courtyard either

Hsiao-Hu had already carried out a wooden chair and wiped its seat carelessly with his sleeves . “Do have a seat, Colonel Li . I heard you seized Wantong and made a grand fortune! Tell me all about it!”.

“Well…” Li Shih-Yao rubbed his chin and hesitated elatedly . “There isn’t really much to tell . Haven’t you seen a capture before?”.

“I heard Wantong was a real large county . And you burned the governor alive like a lantern!”.

“That’s what you call a show of authority,” Li laughed . “And it lets any by-looking commoners know the consequence of disobedience . “.

Hsiao-Hu was curious . “I heard the governor was real fat, all dripping with grease . Is it true that he almost burned for an entire day?”.

“Not just an entire day!” Li bragged animatedly . “Goodness, I don’t know what that old brat fed himself with . He was meatier than three grown pigs combined!”.

Hsiao-Hu crouched down and took out a single walnut from his cloth bag, setting it on the brick floor and hammered it open with a couple of casual strikes . He handed its content, perfectly intact, to Li

Li ate his walnut . “What’s the Commander up to these days?”.

Hsiao-Hu was thoughtful for a moment . “Nothing much,” he replied . “Mutters something about Chief Lan once in a while . “.

That got Li interested . “What’s he muttering about Lan for?”.

“Dunno,” Hsiao-Hu continued to hammer his walnuts with his head down

“How can you not? You follow him around all day . “.

Hsiao-Hu was deeply absorbed in his hammering . “If you ask me how much walnut Commander eats a day, I would know then . “.

– : -.

Li Shih-Yao wasn’t too fond of walnuts . Fortunately, after his third one, Commander Ho woke up

After his awakening, the Commander had yet to go through his yawning, absently gazing, dressing, and face-washing . Though the process wasn’t overly complex, it lasted a good twenty minutes due to the pace of his movements . Li waited with the uttermost patience until Commander Ho stole silently into the drawing room and sat down on the wooden chair regally

Li Shih-Yao didn’t stand up and merely flashed a wide grin at the commander . “I’m here, Commander! How was your nap?”.

Commander Ho lowered his eyelids, his short hair sticking out in every direction . “Fine . “.

“See, I just got back from Wantong,” Li continued . “The place was impoverished . Weren’t anything of value there, but I did get you some Tar . Prime quality stuff . “.

“The consumption of opium,” Commander Ho said quietly, “is unhealthy . “.

As if the Commander’s presence was influencing him, Li couldn’t help but adopt a more civilized manner as well . “Just a puff or two once in a while, that can’t hurt!”.

Commander Ho wore army trousers with riding boots, a brown tweed army-coat hanging open to reveal a white shirt tucked loosely into his belts . As he listened to Li Shih-Yao, he looked down abruptly and started buttoning his coat

After the third button, he steered his eyes back to Li . “You get addicted easily . “.

Li burst out laughing . “So? It’s not like we can’t afford it!”.

Commander Ho gave a faint smile and said nothing more

They sat facing each other in silence . Feeling a bit awkward, Li dug a wrinkled pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and stuck a cigarette between his lips . When he searched again for matches, he found none

He spotted a box of them on the small table beside Commander Ho . The commander didn’t offer him any, and he didn’t really have the nerve to reach for it himself . After a moment of hesitation, he suddenly gritted his teeth and asked himself: why the fuck should I be scared of him?.

With that, he drew up his courage, got to his feet and made his way to the Commander, picking up the box of matches in the process . Meanwhile Commander Ho kept his eyes downcast, his gaze hollow

Li lit his cigarette and took a deep drag, feeling markedly more relaxed . With his face hidden behind the pale blue smoke, his expression became more animated

“Commander, I heard Lan Bai-Shan went to Hsian? When did he leave? And how come I haven’t heard anything all this time?”.

Commander Ho was still thinking: “the wealthiest county of Wantong…fooling me with some Tar…these bastards…” when he noticed Li Shih-Yao staring straight at him . Startled, he asked: “What?”.

Li flashed his white teeth with a smile . “Commander, you really awake? I was just asking, when did Lan Bai-Shan go to Hsian? And why didn’t I get the word of that?”.

“About half a month ago . He went to see Chairman Fu . “.

“Fu Yang-Shan?”.

“Yes . “.

“What’s he seeing him for? We have the men and the guns, we can occupy this place permanently, shoot whoever we want . Live like emperors for a few days, isn’t that all good and well? If that Fu were to take us in, wouldn’t it just impose more restrictions on our men?”.

“The newspapers outside are calling us bandits,” Commander Ho explained

Li laughed out loud . “Who cares! Soldiers and bandits are essentially family! Again, we have the men and we have the guns, why put ourselves under Fu’s service?”.

“It’s just a title . We need him to assign a designation . “.

Li suddenly sat up straight . “Will we get paid?”.

Commander Ho shook his head

“Dammit!” Li sat back . “Then what’s the fucking point? We’ll still have to fend for ourselves!”.

Commander Ho thought again, “you’ve gathered tens of thousands of tax money . and you’re only giving me a bit of dope…”.

Commander Ho had an extremely petty mind . Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to find enough things to brood over all day and night

Li raised a hand to rub at his short bristles of hair and steered the conversation toward his true intention . “Commander,” he said . “Jin Hwan-Ran said he was on your orders when he led his troops into Wantong, what’s that all about? I was the one that took down the city, just who the hell did he think he was? He did nothing during the fight yet came running for the loot—there’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world!”.

Commander Ho looked up, his impassive face showing very faint traces of surprise . “Colonel Jin said he was going to aid you . Why, did the two of you get into another quarrel?”.

“Jin’s full of it!” Li rolled up his sleeves . “How can you believe anything he says?”.

“Colonel Li,” Commander Ho’s face fell . “I beg your pardon . “.

Li saw anger fill the porcelain face and knew his last comment had gone over the line, so he grinned and tried to turn his words around . “Commander, Jin Hwan-Ran is a sly one, likes nothing better than bullying around under your name . You’re too honest and kind to know about this sort of underhanded businesses . “.

Commander Ho had always disliked Li Shih-Yao, and now his face visibly paled in rage at Li’s disrespect . He paid no attention to Li’s explanations, and merely reached for the teacup on the table and smashed it back down with force

“If Colonel Li has a problem with me, he’s more than welcome to take his troops with him and leave! To come to me and throw wild accusations around—what is your meaning? “.

He was angry . Li Shih-Yao, on the other hand, was not . He just found the situation very tricky

“Commander,” he began, “why do you have to be so short-tempered? How can I possibly have any intention of leaving? I was just ranting, nothing more to that . All right, it was just my filthy mouth emitting barks . Don’t be angry . “.

Commander Ho had only dared to suggest Li’s dismissal because he was confident that it would never happen . He knew that at the moment, if Li’s Regiment were to declare independence, they would probably get mass-annihilated by the next day—there were a unit of some ten thousand soldiers who had moved out from the Northeast garrisoned fifty miles away in Tuolo Bay . A few days ago, Li Shih-Yao had strafed one of their squads for no apparent reason, and the Northeasterners were not known to just bend over . If it wasn’t for the fact that he served under the Anguo Army, he would have been swarmed and eaten alive by now

Commander Ho was a very practical man . For him Li’s apologies were nothing more than the bumping of his upper and lower lips and had no significance . Lifting a hand to feel his disheveled hair, he forced down his anger and spoke . “The Staff Division is almost going into starvation . You should at least help them out . “.

“All right, all right,” Li nodded . “Tomorrow I shall…” his eyes shifted, “send them some grains to replenish their supply . Well . Since Chief Lan isn’t around, there’s no one in charge over at their division . How about I simply send the stuff to you, and when Lan comes back, he can take care of the rest?”.

“So he refuses the toast and would rather drink a penalty . Despicable!” Commander Ho thought . “He wouldn’t know his place until I beat him to it! The crude and ignorant thing! Warmonger! Took over an entire county and only gives me some dope! Damn it all…”.

After a taking a chaotic tour inside his head, Commander Ho returned to reality . His expression calmed and he turned to face Li Shih-Yao . “You were the main force in the capture of Wantong, there’s no question about that,” he pacified . “If Jin Hwan-Ran ever tries anything out of line, I will be the one to scold him, so don’t worry about it . Furthermore, I have very limited space . Where do you expect me to store all those grains? Convert them into silver dollars and send those here instead!”.

– : -.

Li Shih-Yao had come to see Commander Ho full of enthusiasm, only to have it crushed as he retreated from the Residence ashen-looking . Yet he still wasn’t angry . Just a bit depressed, as if he had done something horribly wrong and hadn’t been able to make amends

Stepping out of the front gates, he strode down a couple of steps and felt increasingly upset as he dwelt on it . Suddenly he smacked himself on the head . “Hey,” he blurted out . “Why the fuck should I be scared of him?”.

– : -.

Having said that, he still sent someone to deliver five-hundred silver dollars to the Ho Residence the following morning . As Commander Ho sat alone in his Guanxu palace chair and counted his silver dollars, a sudden sadness washed over him . He felt like a beggar

. .

[1]Hsiao-Hu literally means “little tiger”

The First Wife acted as the overseer of the Ho Household, and like any wife, her affections for a concubine’s son were …

Commander Ho and His Deeds

江苏夜网

Commander Ho was the seventh child of his family . He was preceded by six older sisters: Chao-Di (Beckoning Brother), Nian-Di (Thinking of Brother), Hsiang-Di (Wishing for Brother), Pan-Di (Hoping for Brother), Deng-Di (Waiting for Brother), and Yin-Di (Drawing Brother) . Judging by just the nature of their names, one could form a general speculation of Commander Ho’s status within the household—in theory, he should have been fairly well-respected .

In practice, no one could say for certain how respected he actually was . After all, all six of the young mistresses were of the First Wife’s own brood, while our Commander Ho was bore by the Fifteenth Concubine . The First Wife acted as the overseer of the Ho Household, and like any wife, her affections for a concubine’s son were limited . Nonetheless, since Master Ho—or Marshal Ho, as most people referred to him—doted on the boy dearly, Lady Ho was hardly in a place to interfere . But then again, the Old Marshal had his own great deeds to attend to and couldn’t sit home and amuse his son all day, so ultimately, it was most likely that Commander Ho ended up in Lady Ho’s hands for the better part of the time…

The situation was a bit complicated to speak of, but that could be overlooked for now . By this time, Commander Ho was already a grown man and had celebrated his twenty-second birthday last May . His childhood incidents were as ephemeral as fading smoke and fleeting clouds; he had long grown past them .

For now, we shall continue with the introduction of Commander Ho’s names .

As the seventh young master, Commander Ho was known in public as Ho Ch’i-yeh, or the “Seventh Master” . In a more domestic setting, Lady Ho referred to him as the Seventh Son while his sisters called him Little Brother . Marshal Ho’s approach was much more original—he called him Ch’i-Bao, the Seventh Precious .

Of course, when he eventually reached the age of eight, he followed the trend of the time and abandoned his family school to seek new knowledge at private institutions such as Marianne Elementary, where he started going by his formal name, Ho Bao-Ting .

In addition to that, he had a courtesy name—Ji-Ch’ing .

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Ho Bao-Ting, Ho Ji-Ch’ing . Both of these names seemed becoming and appropriate enough for the young untrammelled commander-in-chief . But regrettably, due the Old Marshal’s influence, the world knew only of the “Seventh Precious” .

Commander Ho didn’t like being called Ch’i-Bao . He didn’t like it one bit .

– : –

At the age of sixty-two, Marshal Ho died in the bed of his Twenty-First Concubine, leaving the hundreds of thousands of his men guarding Jehol in total chaos . A number of the regimental commanders, young and bright, possessed considerable egos and believed themselves capable of replacing the Old Marshal . However, after a period of internal conflict and heavy casualties, they found themselves in a deadlock . The remaining young “gallants” agreed to make peace, and decided they would politely invite the Old Marshal’s son over for succession, so that instead of nurturing the possibility of regimental war and collective doom, they could remain unified under the Army .

Consequently, Ho Ch’i-yeh, still preparing for university and studying the Sciences at a missionary school, was tracked down and carried off to lead an army in quite some confusion .

– : –

Ho Ch’i-yeh was an attractive man by nature . When he had been younger, his complexion and features—with those elegant upturned eyes and lengthy eyelashes—were reminiscent to those of a fine porcelain doll . His inert expression and dull gaze only added to the effect .

After more than twenty years of maturing, the porcelain boy became a tall, slender porcelain young man . From an aesthetical perspective, being comparable to a work of art shouldn’t be any hindrance, but as for the state of affairs, the Seventh Master was to be the commander-in-chief of the Anguo Army, in which case looking porcelain would seem somewhat absurd, or inconsistent with his standings, at the very least .

But nothing could be done about that, since the Old Marshal had only one Ch’i-Bao . Despite his resemblance of porcelain dolls, the “gallants” barely managed to snatch him away—Lady Ho refused to let the family’s only son associate with some warmongers her late husband left behind . Having no alternatives, the gallants resorted to liberating the Seventh Master from school through the means of abduction, coaxing and hauling until he was securely stuffed inside their car, which then drove off to Tientsin in a trail of smoke . Before they had even reached their destination, Ho Bao-Ting’s succession as the Commander-In-Chief of the Anguo Army was telegrammed .

After that, Ho Ch’i-yeh never returned to his home in Peking .

– : –

As lifeless as he may have seemed, Ho Ch’i-yeh was in fact quite haughty and bad-tempered due to the Old Marshal’s conditioning . The gallants coaxed and tickled him in hopes of making him their permanent puppet, unaware that peace would end abruptly within the year . War was upon them .

When Ho Ch’i-yeh left school, he didn’t even know how to handle a brawl, let alone a full-scale war . He retreated with the gallants in befuddlement, barely aware of their whereabouts . Anyhow, by the time they finally made settlement, he discovered that the richly-feathered phoenix he was—before having a chance to take off—had fallen into a stinking little valley in the middle of absolutely nowhere .

Ho Ch’i-yeh had never passed his Geography; he only had a very vague sense of his current location . Perhaps they were in a small county-town on the Honan-Shensi border—or was it the Shensi-Kansu border?

He gave up on naming the specific border, but the small county-town part was true enough .

There were no opera houses, no Peking Restaurant, no Beihai Park… There was nothing except for an excess of cow droppings and dust .

The Seventh Master was deeply dissatisfied with his current circumstances . He had grown up in the sumptuous luxury of Ho Mansion, and if he had the time, he would happily embark on vacations in the most prosperous places of China, taking his time to spend away his gold like water, absorbing the best of the Modernism that had newly reached the country . As a Modern Man, he had his share of roseate dreams; for example, as he cheated his way through his final exams, he too thought about studying abroad and pursuing further education, and when he had tea at the local brothel, he too pondered over the sacredness of love and the freedom of marriage… His mind was all-embracing, and could incorporate reality and fantasy seamlessly .

But at the moment, he seemed to believe that his abilities were in fact limited, and was quite unable to associate the rotten dust-road outside his door with the bright and glorious future he was meant to fulfil .

Since there was always something going on inside his head, he appeared absent-minded most of the time . When a man was distracted, his reaction time slowed down remarkably .

Absent-minded, slow, porcelain-like . It was almost against the gallants’ conscious to even call him “Commander” .

– : –

Since the Seventh Master had been promoted from Ho Bao-Ting to Commander Ho, the accompanying ostentation and extravagance of a commander was only reasonable . Currently, he made residence in the strongest and grandest courtyard cottage of blue bricks and tiles, with one administrative squad, one guard squad, six adjutants, a cook who made pastries, plus a maid who did an exceptional job with the laundries .

Commander Ho’s daily routine consisted of sitting at home and accommodating the few regimental commanders in the Army . These commanders’ varied in age, but were consistent in their crudity and difficulty . Since the area wasn’t under anyone’s jurisdiction, their modernized equipment made them nearly invincible, and left them with no battles to go to and too much time to pick fights amongst themselves .

Commander Ho positioned himself in a stately Guangxu palace chair where he listened to the colonels’ complaints and instigations with the uttermost patience and a blank face . When they finished said complaints and instigations, the Commander’s pale visage would then, according to its particular beholder, reveal the appropriate expression . Commander Ho was indeed of scholarly origins, yet his berating possessed the might of ten thousand thunderbolts, its roar of rage becoming quite an attraction in the Army .

On an average day, he would kick one person out with his berating, beat one away with a horsewhip, and gently persuade another into departure . The ones who received the gentler versions were usually the gallants who were involved in his own abduction a while back . Commander Ho knew he was clueless when it came to military affairs, and would likely remain clueless since he had no interest in the subject whatsoever . Hence he relocated his field of concentration . Instead of warfare management, he would focus on personnel management!

Other than the yelling and humouring, he had no other work to do . The days were long, so Commander Ho idled about in his room with a simple looking orderly squatting beside him, cracking open walnuts on the brick floor with a little hammer .

Walnuts were a local specialty . Commander Ho had consumedjinsof them since his arrival—he could almost skip his meals .

Walnuts were supposedly good for the brain . Commander Ho was nearly becoming aYaojing[1] .

[1]Yaojing – “a Chinese term that generally means ‘demon’ . Yaoguai are mostly malevolent animal spirits or fallen celestial beings that have acquired magical powers through the practice of Taoism . ” (Wikipedia) Yaojings are believed to be highly intelligent and cunning .

Commander Ho and His Deeds

.

Commander Ho was the seventh child of his family . He was preceded by six older sisters: Chao-Di (Beckoning Brother), Nian-Di (Thinking of Brother), Hsiang-Di (Wishing for Brother), Pan-Di (Hoping for Brother), Deng-Di (Waiting for Brother), and Yin-Di (Drawing Brother) . Judging by just the nature of their names, one could form a general speculation of Commander Ho’s status within the household—in theory, he should have been fairly well-respected

In practice, no one could say for certain how respected he actually was . After all, all six of the young mistresses were of the First Wife’s own brood, while our Commander Ho was bore by the Fifteenth Concubine . The First Wife acted as the overseer of the Ho Household, and like any wife, her affections for a concubine’s son were limited . Nonetheless, since Master Ho—or Marshal Ho, as most people referred to him—doted on the boy dearly, Lady Ho was hardly in a place to interfere . But then again, the Old Marshal had his own great deeds to attend to and couldn’t sit home and amuse his son all day, so ultimately, it was most likely that Commander Ho ended up in Lady Ho’s hands for the better part of the time….

The situation was a bit complicated to speak of, but that could be overlooked for now . By this time, Commander Ho was already a grown man and had celebrated his twenty-second birthday last May . His childhood incidents were as ephemeral as fading smoke and fleeting clouds; he had long grown past them

For now, we shall continue with the introduction of Commander Ho’s names

As the seventh young master, Commander Ho was known in public as Ho Ch’i-yeh, or the “Seventh Master” . In a more domestic setting, Lady Ho referred to him as the Seventh Son while his sisters called him Little Brother . Marshal Ho’s approach was much more original—he called him Ch’i-Bao, the Seventh Precious

Of course, when he eventually reached the age of eight, he followed the trend of the time and abandoned his family school to seek new knowledge at private institutions such as Marianne Elementary, where he started going by his formal name, Ho Bao-Ting

In addition to that, he had a courtesy name—Ji-Ch’ing

Ho Bao-Ting, Ho Ji-Ch’ing . Both of these names seemed becoming and appropriate enough for the young untrammelled commander-in-chief . But regrettably, due the Old Marshal’s influence, the world knew only of the “Seventh Precious”

Commander Ho didn’t like being called Ch’i-Bao . He didn’t like it one bit

– : -.

At the age of sixty-two, Marshal Ho died in the bed of his Twenty-First Concubine, leaving the hundreds of thousands of his men guarding Jehol in total chaos . A number of the regimental commanders, young and bright, possessed considerable egos and believed themselves capable of replacing the Old Marshal . However, after a period of internal conflict and heavy casualties, they found themselves in a deadlock . The remaining young “gallants” agreed to make peace, and decided they would politely invite the Old Marshal’s son over for succession, so that instead of nurturing the possibility of regimental war and collective doom, they could remain unified under the Army

Consequently, Ho Ch’i-yeh, still preparing for university and studying the Sciences at a missionary school, was tracked down and carried off to lead an army in quite some confusion

– : -.

Ho Ch’i-yeh was an attractive man by nature . When he had been younger, his complexion and features—with those elegant upturned eyes and lengthy eyelashes—were reminiscent to those of a fine porcelain doll . His inert expression and dull gaze only added to the effect

After more than twenty years of maturing, the porcelain boy became a tall, slender porcelain young man . From an aesthetical perspective, being comparable to a work of art shouldn’t be any hindrance, but as for the state of affairs, the Seventh Master was to be the commander-in-chief of the Anguo Army, in which case looking porcelain would seem somewhat absurd, or inconsistent with his standings, at the very least

But nothing could be done about that, since the Old Marshal had only one Ch’i-Bao . Despite his resemblance of porcelain dolls, the “gallants” barely managed to snatch him away—Lady Ho refused to let the family’s only son associate with some warmongers her late husband left behind . Having no alternatives, the gallants resorted to liberating the Seventh Master from school through the means of abduction, coaxing and hauling until he was securely stuffed inside their car, which then drove off to Tientsin in a trail of smoke . Before they had even reached their destination, Ho Bao-Ting’s succession as the Commander-In-Chief of the Anguo Army was telegrammed

After that, Ho Ch’i-yeh never returned to his home in Peking

– : -.

As lifeless as he may have seemed, Ho Ch’i-yeh was in fact quite haughty and bad-tempered due to the Old Marshal’s conditioning . The gallants coaxed and tickled him in hopes of making him their permanent puppet, unaware that peace would end abruptly within the year . War was upon them

When Ho Ch’i-yeh left school, he didn’t even know how to handle a brawl, let alone a full-scale war . He retreated with the gallants in befuddlement, barely aware of their whereabouts . Anyhow, by the time they finally made settlement, he discovered that the richly-feathered phoenix he was—before having a chance to take off—had fallen into a stinking little valley in the middle of absolutely nowhere

Ho Ch’i-yeh had never passed his Geography; he only had a very vague sense of his current location . Perhaps they were in a small county-town on the Honan-Shensi border—or was it the Shensi-Kansu border?.

He gave up on naming the specific border, but the small county-town part was true enough

There were no opera houses, no Peking Restaurant, no Beihai Park… There was nothing except for an excess of cow droppings and dust

The Seventh Master was deeply dissatisfied with his current circumstances . He had grown up in the sumptuous luxury of Ho Mansion, and if he had the time, he would happily embark on vacations in the most prosperous places of China, taking his time to spend away his gold like water, absorbing the best of the Modernism that had newly reached the country . As a Modern Man, he had his share of roseate dreams; for example, as he cheated his way through his final exams, he too thought about studying abroad and pursuing further education, and when he had tea at the local brothel, he too pondered over the sacredness of love and the freedom of marriage… His mind was all-embracing, and could incorporate reality and fantasy seamlessly

But at the moment, he seemed to believe that his abilities were in fact limited, and was quite unable to associate the rotten dust-road outside his door with the bright and glorious future he was meant to fulfil

Since there was always something going on inside his head, he appeared absent-minded most of the time . When a man was distracted, his reaction time slowed down remarkably

Absent-minded, slow, porcelain-like . It was almost against the gallants’ conscious to even call him “Commander”

– : -.

Since the Seventh Master had been promoted from Ho Bao-Ting to Commander Ho, the accompanying ostentation and extravagance of a commander was only reasonable . Currently, he made residence in the strongest and grandest courtyard cottage of blue bricks and tiles, with one administrative squad, one guard squad, six adjutants, a cook who made pastries, plus a maid who did an exceptional job with the laundries

Commander Ho’s daily routine consisted of sitting at home and accommodating the few regimental commanders in the Army . These commanders’ varied in age, but were consistent in their crudity and difficulty . Since the area wasn’t under anyone’s jurisdiction, their modernized equipment made them nearly invincible, and left them with no battles to go to and too much time to pick fights amongst themselves

Commander Ho positioned himself in a stately Guangxu palace chair where he listened to the colonels’ complaints and instigations with the uttermost patience and a blank face . When they finished said complaints and instigations, the Commander’s pale visage would then, according to its particular beholder, reveal the appropriate expression . Commander Ho was indeed of scholarly origins, yet his berating possessed the might of ten thousand thunderbolts, its roar of rage becoming quite an attraction in the Army

On an average day, he would kick one person out with his berating, beat one away with a horsewhip, and gently persuade another into departure . The ones who received the gentler versions were usually the gallants who were involved in his own abduction a while back . Commander Ho knew he was clueless when it came to military affairs, and would likely remain clueless since he had no interest in the subject whatsoever . Hence he relocated his field of concentration . Instead of warfare management, he would focus on personnel management!.

Other than the yelling and humouring, he had no other work to do . The days were long, so Commander Ho idled about in his room with a simple looking orderly squatting beside him, cracking open walnuts on the brick floor with a little hammer

Walnuts were a local specialty . Commander Ho had consumedjinsof them since his arrival—he could almost skip his meals

Walnuts were supposedly good for the brain . Commander Ho was nearly becoming aYaojing[1]

. .

[1]Yaojing – “a Chinese term that generally means ‘demon’ . Yaoguai are mostly malevolent animal spirits or fallen celestial beings that have acquired magical powers through the practice of Taoism . ” (Wikipedia) Yaojings are believed to be highly intelligent and cunning

May signals Johnson could be sacked

British Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled that she could sack Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a newspaper says, as she tries to reassert her authority after a series of political disasters.

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The Sunday Times said it asked May about her plans for Johnson, who has professed loyalty but is accused by some of the prime minister’s allies of undermining her by putting forward his own vision for Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“It has never been my style to hide from a challenge and I’m not going to start now,” it quoted May as replying, in what it called a signal that she was prepared to bring in new ministers to her cabinet and axe those who had caused her problems.

“I’m the PM, and part of my job is to make sure I always have the best people in my cabinet, to make the most of the wealth of talent available to me in the party.”

May has seen her authority over her Conservative Party erode since she called a snap election in June in which she lost her majority in parliament.

Johnson, seen as a potential successor to May, said Conservative MPs pushing to unseat her were “nutters”, adding that a change would lead to demands for another election that could bring a resurgent Labour party back to power.

“Are we really going to be stampeded myopically over the edge of the gorge, with an election that no one wants?” he said in the Sunday Telegraph.

Johnson wrote a newspaper article last month outlining his vision of Brexit just days before May made a major speech on the subject.

While professing loyalty, his interventions have been seen as undermining May and causing unnecessary unrest ahead of the party’s conference last week that culminated in a disastrous speech by the prime minister, marred by a coughing fit and letters falling off the slogan on the set behind her.

Johnson made a plea for loyalty with a typical rhetorical flourish on Sunday.

“‘Quo quo scelesti ruitis?’, as Horace put it at the beginning of a fresh bout of Rome’s ghastly civil wars, and which roughly translates as: “What do you think you are doing you nutters?”

Britain’s Sunday newspapers were brimming with briefings from unnamed Conservative figures suggesting May’s days in Downing Street were numbered.

Thousands protest Catalan independence

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Catalonia’s capital Barcelona to express their opposition to any declaration of independence from Spain, showing how divided the region is on the issue.

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The protesters rallied in central Barcelona on Sunday, waving Spanish and Catalan flags and banners saying “Catalonia is Spain” and “Together we are stronger”, as politicians on both sides hardened their positions in the country’s worst political crisis for decades.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Saturday he would not rule out removing Catalonia’s government and calling a fresh local election if it claimed independence, as well as suspending the region’s existing autonomous status.

The stark warning came days before Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is expected to address the region’s parliament, on Tuesday, when he could unilaterally declare independence.

“We feel both Catalan and Spanish,” Araceli Ponze, 72, said as she rallied in Barcelona. “We are facing a tremendous unknown. We will see what happens this week but we have to speak out very loudly so they know what we want.”

The wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million people, which has its own language and culture, held an independence referendum on October 1 in defiance of a Spanish court ban.

More than 90 per cent of the 2.3 million people who voted backed secession, according to Catalan officials. But that turnout represented only 43 per cent of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters as many opponents of independence stayed away.

The Spanish government sent thousands of national police into the region to prevent the vote. About 900 people were injured when officers fired rubber bullets and charged crowds with truncheons in scenes that shocked Spain and the world, and dramatically escalated the dispute.

Losing Catalonia is almost unthinkable for the Spanish government.

It would deprive Spain of about 16 per cent of its people, a fifth of its economic output and more than a quarter of its exports.

Sunday’s demonstration in Barcelona was organised by the anti-independence group Catalan Civil Society under the slogan “Let’s recover our senses” to mobilise what it believes is a “silent majority” of citizens in Catalonia who oppose independence.

It was a second day of protests after tens of thousands of people gathered in 50 cities across Spain on Saturday, some defending Spain’s national unity and others dressed in white and calling for talks to defuse the crisis.

Until this weekend, Rajoy has remained vague on whether he would use article 155 of the constitution, the so-called nuclear option which enables him to sack the regional government and call a local election.

Asked if he was ready to trigger article 155, Rajoy told El Pais newspaper: “I don’t rule out anything that is within the law … Ideally, we shouldn’t have to take drastic solutions but for that not to happen there would have to be changes.”

Giant Big Mac to give sick kids a smile

Australian mother Jessica Turner says if it wasn’t for Ronald McDonald House, the financial pressure would have forced her to sell their family home.

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Ronald McDonald House has given the family a home while six-year-old daughter Eden was in the children’s hospital located two hours from where they live in rural Western Australia.

Eden was born prematurely with scarring on her airways that has meant lengthy hospital stays, including six months in intensive care when she turned one.

During this time, her parents and three siblings have lived in Perth’s Ronald McDonald House for a total of about nine months.

“It gives us a family environment,” Turner told AAP.

“It’s scary, overwhelming and confusing, and her life has been in the balance so many times so I wanted to make sure we stayed together.”

The Turners are among thousands of families who the Ronald McDonald House has helped since they first opened their doors in 1981.

This year a 2.4 metre foam Big Mac will be auctioned on eBay to help reach McDonald’s fundraising target of $4.1 million by McHappy Day on October 14.

All money raised will go towards giving families like the Turners a place to stay while their seriously ill child seeks treatment in a nearby hospital.

The Big Mac is a replica of the iconic burger, complete with buns, cheese, pickles, tomato sauce and even those Aussie beef patties.

Auctioneers will have until 8pm on McHappy Day to place a bid for Macca’s massive burger.

An overnight stay in one of the 16 RMHC houses in Australia costs about $132, and the $4.1 million would provide at least 31,000 nights of accommodation.

Two dollars from every Big Mac will also go towards the charity’s fundraising target.

Gilmore eliminated by Moore in France

An all-Australian showdown in the final of France’s Roxy Pro remains a possibility despite championship leader Stephanie Gilmore losing an epic quarter-final to Hawaii’s Carissa Moore.

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Both Sally Fitzgibbons and Tyler Wright advanced to the last four where they will face off against Moore and American Lakey Peterson respectively.

With nine world titles between the pair, Moore and Gilmore went back and forth with the lead, slowly improving their respective scores before Moore bagged an incredible 9.10 as the clock wound down to take the win.

“Surfing against Carissa you have to get two nines to win basically and I knew that,” Gilmore said.

“I had one semi-decent score but I never really felt comfortable. It’s really disappointing to get that score and feel good about it and to paddle back out and just see Carissa stroke into the dreamiest wave. I knew it was over, she doesn’t falter under pressure like that.”

Gilmore recorded 6.50 and 7.67 for a total of 14.17 while Moore’s decisive wave gave her a total of 16.13.

An opening 7.50 proved pivotal for Fitzgibbons against South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag.

Buitendag had the highest-scoring wave of the tie but her 8.67 wasn’t enough to overhaul the Australian, who had followed up with a 6.27.

Despite a knee injury, Wright was dominant against Hawaii’s Malia Manuel, warming up to a 7.50 before recording 8.17 and 8.30; her total of 16.47 easily beat Manuel’s 13.30.

“I do want to get rid of the brace but I’ve been advised that I can’t just yet,” Wright said.

“I feel good, I’m competing sharp again and putting heats together. I’ve been absolutely loving this week.”

Peterson qualified for the semi-finals with victory over countrywoman Courtney Conlogue in a close match-up.

The semi-finalists will enjoy a belated weekend in France’s southwest after the decision to delay further competition.

Weather forecasts show little swell for Monday or Tuesday with the next call coming at 8am on Wednesday, when the men’s event will also kick off, headlined by a second heat featuring Australians Owen Wright and Bede Durbridge up against Nat Young of the US.

Supercars joker Reynolds a serious threat

At last, cult hero David Reynolds can be taken seriously as a Supercars driver after claiming his maiden Bathurst 1000 title.

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Still, it was hard to tell.

Reynolds still very much looked like the joker of the pack with his wild celebrations after claiming his maiden Great Race on Sunday in treacherous conditions.

After crossing the line in the seven hour-plus epic almost four seconds ahead of fellow Holden gun Scott Pye, the 32-year-old lit up the miserable conditions at Mount Panorama off the track.

He pretended to fall asleep on top of his car after triumphantly getting out of his Holden following the 161-lap classic.

Then he emerged on the winner’s podium wildly piggy-backing co-driver Luke Youlden.

He thanked “baby Jesus” while raising the winners’ Peter Brock Trophy.

And of course there was the trademark “shoey” celebration that he helped make a household name.

Still, nothing quite prepared anyone for what was to come in the press conference.

Punters may wish to seek a full transcript considering little was printable without earning Reynolds another $25,000 fine similar to his now infamous 2015 “P***y Wagon” description of an all-female Bathurst team.

At one stage Reynolds started describing how he caught a glimpse of a nude entertainer trackside while waiting for one of the six re-starts in the epic enduro before being cut off by the press conference MC.

Yet in a brief break to the silliness, Reynolds managed to reflect on announcing himself as a serious Supercars contender.

“I think we have been raising the bar,” he said.

“Every race track we rock up to we are a better team – that is how quickly we are evolving.

“But I think I have always been taken seriously as a racer.

“I always do the best job I can and be the most professional I can in the car, but outside …”

Co-driver Youlden – who claimed his first Bathurst title at his 18th attempt – did his best to explain his Jekyll and Hyde teammate.

“Dave can switch on pretty quick,” he said.

“Obviously a lot of guys need to zen out before they get in but Dave is master of joking around and then getting into the car and knocking out fast laps.”

Asked if the landmark win would change his personality, Reynolds responded in what could only be described as classic Reynolds.

“A zebra never changes its spots, brother,” he said.