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    The Black Horse

    Chapter 45

    Translated by Wook
    Edited by sienz


    A filled, medium-sized cargo ship was moving slowly on the river. A brightly lit lantern with a huge ‘Tao’ written on it was hung on the prow of the ship.


    The owner of the ship was surnamed Tao, he was a merchant who had his business along the Huai River. Recently, the increasing number of the pirates’ appearance had caused many ships to be destroyed and many crew members to be killed. Shipowners did not dare to sail in the river, so many had switched to do their business on land temporarily, while some others, like Merchant Tao, looked for capable people to be hired as bodyguards to accompany him in escorting the provision. 


    As night descended, Merchant Tao calculated that there were still two more days until they arrived with the goods for the client. With a sigh of relief in his heart, he invited the head of his escort inside.


    Tao Shuo was nearly forty years old, at the age where one was still young and vigorous. The bodyguards he hired this time were all introduced by a friend. The head was surnamed Su, a good-looking and fair-skinned youth whose face was filled with a smile. Nonetheless, the ten other people Su had brought over all had murderous expressions across their faces. Besides, since his friend repeatedly assured him that this person was capable, he let them escort the ship from Gaoyou County.


    After a while, the cabin door was knocked from the outside. Boss Tao went to open the door in person. Seeing Escort Su leaning lazily against the cabin door, his feeling that ‘this person looked unreliable’ returned, but on the surface, he was still very polite: “Head Escort Su, please come in.”


    Head Escort Su stood by the door, seemingly reluctant, and yawned: “Instead of resting in the dead of the night, the owner of the cabin has called for this humble Su instead. I wonder if there’s anything wrong?”


    Tao Shuo had been feeling very uneasy tonight, so he looked for Head Escort Su just to reassure himself. Seeing the person’s lazy appearance, he secretly thought about whether he had trusted the wrong person for the job. Now that they were already halfway through the trip, he regretted that he did not look for another bodyguard earlier. Since it was already too late, he could only treat the dead horse as a living horse: “Head Escort Su, I’m feeling anxious tonight. I feel that something is going to happen, so I had to trouble you to accompany me here.”

    [treat the dead horse as a living horse: to use something inferior as a substitute.]


    Head Escort Su spoke in a lowered voice: “Do escorts nowadays work part-time to solve the psychological problems of the shipowner too nowadays?”


    Tao Shuo: “What did Head Escort Su just say?”


    Head Escort Su: “… The night is long. Does the shipowner have something to do to pass the time?”


    Tao Shuo was a diligent person. Apart from his parents’ inheritance, his riches were also accumulated from his own effort. Since he turned ten years old, he had been following the ships around to do small businesses, and he was less than twenty years old when he took the burden of his whole family’s livelihood. Business depended on the word ‘to be cautious’, so he never developed the habit of drinking, gambling, or having fun with womankind. He was taken aback by Head Escort Su’s question. Then he skillfully played with the abacus he was holding: “Checking the accounts?”


    Head Escort Su: … .


    The two people sat in the inner room. Head Escort Su was bored to death, grew drowsy, and started leaning against the cabin wall to doze off.


    He did not know whether it was because of Head Escort Su’s calm expression that made him feel at ease, or was it because he was accompanied by someone. With that, Tao Shuo gradually felt calmer, and he opened his account book to check it slowly. When he was about to get immersed in it, he heard a slight noise outside. However, before he could react, Head Escort Su, who had been dozing against the cabin wall, sat up abruptly with sharp eyes, and said in a lowered voice: “They’re here.”


    The candlelight inside the cabin was blown out with a puff: “Boss Tao, take care of your servants and don’t run around.” Then Head Escort Su opened the window, leaped out quietly, and turned towards him and smiled before closing the window, like a fisherman itching to see their bounties.


    Uncertainty filled Tao Shuo’s heart and he quietly peeked through the window. Borrowing the white moonlight that was shining above Jiang River, he saw the shadows of several people flashing through and assembled by Head Escort Su’s side. They dispersed after exchanging a few words, and not too long after, a drenched head, still dripping with water, could be seen appearing from the side of the ship. However, as soon as the head started to look around to probe its surroundings, its neck was pulled up by Head Escort Su, and with a flash of light, the pirate fell to the ground before he could even make a sound.


    With sweat in Tao Shuo’s palms, he immediately looked at Head Escort Su with admiration—Don’t look at him as a very handsome young man who only lazed around since the moment he got on board. He is actually really quick to act.


    Perhaps because their accomplice who had gone first did not send back any news, the pirates climbed up from both sides of the ship one after another. Tao Shuo had gathered all of the crew on the ship in his room. Everyone held their breath and listened to the fight going on outside through the window. The sound was frightening, and a young man whispered: “In previous years, the pirates only showed up once in a while. Why is the number increasing this year?”


    Tao Shuo vaguely heard from a friend that there might be turmoil in the officialdom where Lianghuai area is concerned. As a result, strange incidents occurred frequently, salt prices soared, and many kinds of people appeared to fish in the troubled water. The number of pirates grew in various regions because the local law and order turned lax.

    [fish in the troubled water: to take advantage of a crisis for personal gain.]


    The people who lived by the coast of Lianghuai were strong in their beliefs. Many unemployed young people did not want to sell themselves as slaves, so in order to get food to eat, they either joined the salt groups or the shipping groups. There were also various side jobs along the river, and piracy could be considered as one of those with huge benefits. There were many who would gladly join them. Many of them brought dangerous weapons such as harpoons, axes, broadswords, etc. to commit the crime. Sometimes they attacked small-sized passenger boats and other times they attacked escort ships.


    At this time, there were already several pirates that had been brought down on the ship. In the end, the information got leaked, and someone shouted: “Brothers, move faster! We’ve experienced some losses onboard! Since we can’t use this cargo, we shouldn’t let them go ashore as well!”


    Tao Shuo felt cold in his heart. He stroked the silver banknotes and the other valuable things wrapped in oilcloth around his waist as his heart grew even more anxious. He spoke in a low voice: “If Head Escort Su and his group cannot protect us anymore, you guys should escape immediately.” They were the people who had been following him to drift aimlessly on the river all year round for a living. They did not fear drowning, but they feared being hacked to death by pirates.


    Suddenly, someone yelled: “Young Leader, they’re going to bore a hole under the ship—”


    Tao Shuo still did not understand who the young leader was, and he suddenly trembled in fear. Then he saw Head Escort Su take off the outer robe, leaving only a skin-tight garb for swimming. Following the two subordinates who had gone first, Head Escort Su jumped into the river. Tao Shuo had some suspicions in his heart: Don’t tell me Head Escort Su is actually the young leader of some group?


    After clamoring for more than half an hour, the noise finally calmed down. Tao Shuo took the lead to leave the cabin and ordered the crew on the ship to investigate. The people who were still frightened were given a choice whether to follow, to head back to their own cabins, or to head to the cargo hold at the bottom of the ship. He himself decided to head to the deck. Under the dim light, the deck seemed to be in a huge mess. There were more than a dozen corpses insight, they were either lying flat or slanted in a pool of blood. He still did not know whether there were any subordinates of Head Escort Su among those corpses.


    There were two people with knives standing on the deck. Tao Shuo’s feet weakened. He thought they were the remnants of the pirates, however, one of them suddenly spoke: “Shipowner Tao, the pirates are gone. Tell them to put off the torches and clean the mess.”


    It turned out to be the people of Head Escort Su.


    He finally breathed a sigh of relief and greeted: “Where’s Head Escort Su?”


    Suddenly, there was a sound of water splashing, and the man who stood by the side of the ship smiled: “Is he not here?”


    Tao Shuo walked a few steps closer and saw someone’s head popping out in the water beside the grappling hook that was thrown by the pirates, with a dagger in mouth and a smiling face. The person quickly grabbed the rope and rushed up nimbly, just like walking on the ground. In the blink of an eye, the person had climbed up and sat on the ship’s side.


    At the end of the year, the river was cold. Head Escort Su was drenched but did not seem to feel the cold. The dagger in hand was being wiped carefully in the meantime: “Boss Tao must be terrified, right?”


    Tao Shuo mumbled: “It was still tolerable.” He recalled the swift method the person before him used to kill the pirates before and became frightened. If at this moment, the group decided to kill everyone onboard to snatch his goods and push their wrongdoings to the pirates, he feared that… He did not even know the origin of Head Escort Su.


    One man stepped forward: “Young Leader has worked hard! What’s the situation underwater?”


    Soon after, one of the guys who had also jumped into the river smiled and said: “After that group of bastards realized they wouldn’t be able to beat us, they resorted to bore a hole under the ship. There were seven or eight of them down there, but they fell under the hands of our young leader. Now they’re just food to the fish!”


    So the pirates were all killed?


    Tao Shuo was alarmed: “Young… Young leader?”


    “I’m surnamed Bai, a member of the shipping group. Because I’m afraid of information leakage, in a panic I told you that I’m surnamed Su. May the shipowner please forgive me.”


    Tao Shuo traveled by the water all year round, but compared to many wealthy businessmen who make a lot of money in the water, he could only be regarded as a small shrimp. He also sailed his own ship and did not need to borrow the shipping group’s service. Furthermore, he was from Gaoyou County, which was pretty far away from Suzhou. However, he was aware that the leader of Jiangsu Shipping Group was surnamed Bai, even though he had never met in person before.


    He never expected that his friend would recommend the young leader of a shipping group to escort him, so he was moved emotionally: “Young Leader Bai, many thanks for saving my life! If not for your esteemed self, perhaps the lives of everyone on this boat would have perished!” His babbling of polite words was cut off by the impatient Bai Shiqi: “Boss Tao, recently I’ve been tracking the coastal pirates with my subordinates, and found that many of them have colluded with inside people, so I paid extra attention to the news of ships that were going to set sail. Since we still have some doubts, why don’t we gather everyone and investigate further?”


    Tao Shuo was just a merchant and had never experienced this kind of situation before. He immediately asked for her help: “Young Leader Bai, regarding this matter… Can I just entrust them to you?”


    Bai Shiqi smiled slightly in reply: “Alright then since I’m idle. I’ll go back to my room first to change clothes.”


    After she went to change clothes, her subordinates were divided into two groups. Those who had gone into the water went to change their soaked clothes, those who had not gone into the water went to call the ship crew, and one other person was sent to the kitchen to make ginger soup. Disposing of the pirates was a matter where one’s life was put at stake because once done, they still had to worry if the pirates who managed to escape would later retaliate. Even when eating, they had to be cautious.


    All of Bai Shiqi’s manpower was dispatched. Tao Shuo was the only one still standing on the deck in the cold wind. Recalling the strange situation of the crew, he was confused and also wondered if there was a traitor amidst them who could be leaking their movements to the outside, which attracted the pirate group and nearly cost the crew their lives.


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    Wook's notes:

    Bai Shiqi and gang are so cool *__*


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