Conversations at night in Fengling.
The Song Emperor Li Zong celebrated the start of the year, the ninth year after Mengke (or Meng-ge) became the Mongolian Khan. In the early February spring on the tumultuous north bank of the Yellow River’s Fenglingdu area, the donkeys and the horses called out mixed with the sounds of people and carts. The weather was cold then warm, the Yellow River had just thawed, but the north wind blew on this day and it started snowing, freezing the river’s water. The water surface did not permit the movement of boats while the carts could not travel on the ice, forcing many visitors heading south to be stranded in the Fenglingdu area. They would be unable to continue their journeys. Although the Fenglingdu area has several inns, travelers arrived from the north continuously and in less than half a day, the inns were already fully occupied and the travelers who arrived later had no place to stay.
In the town the biggest inn was the “An Du Old Inn”, occupying a location supposedly bringing good luck. In this inn the guest-quarters were spacious, all travelers who could not find any accommodations came here, and therefore the inn was particularly crowded. The innkeeper tried his best to arrange matters and so each room was packed with three to four individuals. Around twenty people who were waiting to get a room had to sit in a circle in the great hall. The inn assistants moved the furniture and lighted a fire. Outside, the north wind howled, the cold wind together with the snow managed to enter through a crack in a door, causing the fire to flicker continuously. It looked like the many visitors still would not be able to continue their journey the next day and they were full of worries.
The sky became darker, the snow got heavier and heavier. Suddenly horses’ hoofs were heard. Three riders anxiously rushed up and stopped at the inn entrance. In the hall an old guest frowned, saying, “Yet another visitor has come.”
A female voice said, “Innkeeper, prepare two good spacious and clean rooms.”
The innkeeper greeted her with a smile and said, “Sorry, the inn is already fully occupied. I really cannot prepare rooms for you.”
That female said, “OK, then one room will do.”
The innkeeper said, “Really sorry, honored guest, but the inn must also please others and now visitors really have filled the inn’s rooms.”
That female swung her horse whip, making a “Pa!” sound and scolded, “Rubbish! You run the inn, but will not prepare rooms, what kind of inn is this? Can’t you ask someone to give way? I’ll pay you more.” After saying that, she then rushed into the hall.
The crowd saw this female figure become clearer and she looked around 30 years old, with a peach colored cheeks, elegant appearance and wearing an expensive blue colored fur-lined coat. The neckband revealed smooth skin; all the clothing looked quite expensive. Behind this young woman was a male and female of around fifteen or sixteen years old. The male had thick eyebrows and big eyes, and had a straightforward facial expression. The female was lively looking, elegant and beautiful. The two youths wore light green satin fur-lined coats. Around the young girl’s neck hung a string of pearls, with each one around the size of a small finger nail and showing a light halo. The many guests saw these three people’s imposing manner and although they had chatted all day they stopped talking and stared silently at the three people.
The inn assistant bowed with a smile, saying, “Madam, look, these guests cannot find any accommodations. If you three do not mind the discomfort, I will let everybody occupy this space and keep warm by the fire, comfortably passing the night. If the river melts tomorrow, you can cross the river.”
The young woman got impatient, but it looked like this was reality, so she frowned wordlessly. A middle-aged woman sitting near the fire said, “Madam, sit here, keep warm by the fire, get rid of the cold air then talk about this again.” The beautiful woman said: “Good, many thanks to you.” A male guest to the side of that middle-aged woman hurriedly moved away, giving up his place.
The three people sat down, and soon the inn assistant delivered their meals. The food was sumptuous, with chicken and pork, and a big pot of wine. That beautiful young woman’s alcohol capacity was very good, having drunk bowl after bowl. The youth and the refined young girl also accompanied her in drinking; the three of them addressed each other as brother and sister. The youth looked older than the refined girl, but called her “elder sister”.
The people sat in a circle around the fire, listening to the wind whistling outside, none feeling sleepy at the moment.
A man with a Shanxi accent said, “This weather really is unfavorable; it changes rapidly. God doesn’t allow man to have even one good day.”
A short person with a Hubei accent said, “You can’t blame Heaven and Earth; we have in here a fire to keep warm, food to eat, what else do you want? If you have lived in the besieged city of Xiangyang, even the world’s most bitter places will seem a cozy nest.”
That beautiful young woman upon hearing “besieged city of Xiangyang “, exchanged glances with her brother and sister.
A visitor with a Guangdong accent asked, “Excuse me, elderly friend, that besieged city of Xiangyang – how is life there?”
The Hubei visitor said, “The Mongolians’ cruelty, of which all of you know, need not be mentioned. The year the Mongolians’ 100,000-strong army attacked Xiangyang fiercely, the garrison was controlled by Governor Lu, a stupid and incompetent person. Fortunately the heroic couple Mr. and Mrs. Guo bravely repelled the enemy forces…” The young woman, upon hearing “heroic couple Mr. and Mrs. Guo”, started paying attention. Listening to that Hubei visitor continue, “Xiangyang City’s hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians also defended the city with their lives and none cowered from their duty. A small-time merchant like me, though only able to move earth and stones, also helped to defend the city. This old arrow scar on my face was caused by a Mongolian’s arrow.” The people looked at his face simultaneously, saw that under his left eye there really was a teacup-size arrow scar and could not help but respect him.
That Guangdong guest said, “Our great Song has much land and many people; if everybody acts like the old friend here, even if the Mongolians were ten times fiercer, they couldn’t conquer our lands.”
The Hubei man said, “Yes. Look, the Mongolian army has been attacking Xiangyang for more than ten years, but can’t take the city, while other cities fall easily. I heard dozens of countries in the western region got destroyed by the Mongolians, while our Xiangyang, throughout, stood erect like a mountain. The Mongolian prince Khubilai Khan personally directed the combat, but also could not overcome our Xiangyang people.” After saying that, he greatly felt satisfied.
The Guangdong guest said: “The common people will fight the Mongolians with their lives; if the Mongolians come to Guangdong, our Guangdong men will also fight them with all our might.”
The Hubei man said, “Even if we don’t go all out with the Mongolians, we will still die. The Mongolians cannot take Xiangyang, so they seized the Han people outside the city, tied them up next to each other and beheaded them near the city. Even some four or five year-old or six or seven year-old children were tied up, then pulled by horses in circles under the city wall, and usually in less than half a circle, the children would die. We could hear the children crying loudly from the top of the city wall, and it hurts the heart greatly. The Mongolians use such cruel methods, trying to frighten us into surrendering, but the more vicious they are, the harder we defend the city. That year all of Xiangyang’s grain was eaten, the water supply used up, we even had to drink the water condensed on tree bark, but the Mongolians could never force their way in. Afterwards the Mongolians gave up and withdrew the army.”
The Guangdong man said, “After more than ten years fighting, if Xiangyang didn’t persevere unyieldingly, I fear half of the great Song Empire would have already disappeared.”