The Crane Startles Kunlun, by Wang Dulu is being translated by Ret at Wuxiasociety.org, those who wants to try works of writers from the 1920s should go ahead and give Ret an encouragement
The Crane Startles Kunlun, by Wang Dulu is being translated by Ret at Wuxiasociety.org, those who wants to try works of writers from the 1920s should go ahead and give Ret an encouragement
I can post it here too, if you'd like.
In order to better my Chinese, I am working on a translation for Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun (The Crane Startles Kunlun) that I would like to share with you. He Jing Kunlun is the first book in Wang Dulu's He Tie series. It tells the story of Jiang Xiaohe (later named Jiang Nanhe) and Bao Aluan. Wang Dulu had a hard life, and wrote a lot of tragedies. This is one of them, so don't expect a very happy ending. It's a good story though. Here's the first chapter.
It's written in a very casual tone, and I haven't really made too much effort in making it sound better or flow in English (too much work!), so it's sometimes achingly literal. For that, forgive me.
If you find typos or grammatical errors, or if you have any suggestions or constructive criticisms, please let me know. I try my best, but I am only human, so mistakes are inevitable.
If you have any questions, also feel free to ask them.
I post updates on a blog: http://tu-shu-guan.blogspot.com/.
THE CRANE STARTLES KUNLUN
A disciple carries on an affair and breaks the great commandment.
The old xia regrets the killing and exercises his merciful heart.
In Zhenba County of Southern Shaanxi, there was a small city surrounded by a multitude of mountains. Its scenery and traditions closely resembled that of Northern Sichuan, but the customs were even fiercer here, and the temperament of the people was quite like that of barbarians. It was the middle of the Qing dynasty, when chaos had just begun to subside, and many thieves would hide in the underbrush and constantly rob merchants. Thus, travel was extremely difficult. The people who traveled didn't know any martial arts themselves, so they had to hire escorts to protect them. Otherwise, moving even an inch would be difficult. Since there was great demand for security firms, the number of those who studied the martial arts grew daily.
Outside Zhenba City there was an old martial arts master, Bao Zhenfei, whom people called "Bao Kunlun," because he was accustomed to using the Kunlun blade. It was not much different from an ordinary blade, except that it was especially heavy, and the style of his use was unlike most. When he was young, he served in the army and went on military exploits; in his middle years, he went into the bodyguard business, opening over ten branches of his security firm all over Southern Shaanxi and Northern Sichuan. Most of the famous escorts at his security firms were of a generation younger than he was. When he was sixty, he had earned enough for his family and handed his firm over to his sons and disciples to manage. He returned home to enjoy his fortunes.
At this time, Bao Zhenfei was already sixty-four years old. His beard was already white, and his body had already grown chubbier. Each day he was heavier than the one before. He was afraid of becoming too fat and getting a stroke, and he didn't want to give up his martial skill. Every day, in the early morning he performed a few blade exercises and a few fist exercises; in the evening, he rode his horse around the village a few times. This village was in fact called Bao Village and faced an emerald-green mountain range. To the east there was a small stream, to the west was mountain wilderness, and to the north was Zhenba City. The views were elegant, similar to those of South China, but they held a very healthy air about them.
Though Bao Zhenfei was the most famous person in the village, he didn't live in a particularly large house, nor did he keep any servants or workers. His disciples worked for him. Bao Zhenfei's disciples numbered over thirty, and a majority of them lived elsewhere. Six of them attended to him. These six, plus his second son, helped him take care of the housework, like cultivating, harvesting, herding the pigs, feeding the horses and so on. He had no need to hire any additional people.
Those who learned martial arts under him hadn't needed to offer him any introductory gifts, and they came daily to train. After five years, it was guaranteed that they could learn all his martial arts. However, the rules that Bao Zhenfei imposed on his disciples were of the utmost severity. There were six rules in all: first, killing or hurting the innocent was not permitted; second, taking part in debauchery was not permitted; third, stealing was not permitted; fourth, taking advantage of the helpless was not permitted; fifth, disrespecting the master was not permitted; and sixth, violating one's honor was not permitted. Of these, the most important one was the second, concerning lecherous behavior, because old master Bao believed that "of the myriad vices, lust is the worst."
He had traveled upon Jianghu for more than forty years and had killed twenty or thirty people, all of whom were licentious, none innocent. Because he discovered that his first disciple Chang Zhigao had loved the wife of a Jianghu performer, he immediately forced his disciple to cut off one of his own arms. Because he saw his fourth disciple Jiang Zhiyao flirting with a married woman during a community play, his left eye was immediately plucked out. Because he had found out that his twenty-third disciple Hu Zhikai was having an affair with the wife of his own sworn brother, he had someone send a letter to Hu. The letter contained not even a word, only the mark of his old master. Hu Zhikai then understood that his master was to punish him, and so he hanged himself to death.
Because the old master treated his students so harshly, all of them were respectful and cautious, bowing their heads as they exited and bowing their heads as they entered. When they encountered a married woman on the street, they didn't even dare look at her, just as if they were all Confucian students.
On this spring day in the second month, the willow trees near the village huts were all green, the grass had developed young sprouts, all the wheat had already grown to a little more than half a foot, and the chirping birds were especially loud and clear. The horses seemed to have gone crazy, neighing day and night, as if they wanted to find their mates. Old master Bao woke up at the crack of dawn. The eastern sky was already purple, but the door of his second son Bao Zhilin's house wasn't open yet. This didn't make old master Bao happy. His second son hadn't been married two months, and his wife had already corrupted a virile man. If he hadn't woken up by this time, could it be that he was actually going to throw away three or four years of martial arts training? Old master Bao thought about this angrily and coughed loudly so that his second son might hear him from inside.
He walked to the flat area in front of the gate and saw six of his disciples practicing their fists and kicks, and training with their blades and staffs. Old master Bao strolled over with his hands behind his back, first to the front of his twenty-seventh disciple, Chen Zhijun. At the moment, Chen Zhijun was using the "Whole-arm Fist" to its last move, called the "Two-wing Flap." Old master Bao held out his hand and said, "Incorrect!" He then proceeded to form a stance, swaying his two hands and standing firmly with his two feet. He performed the horse-riding steps with his two fists flat against his chest. First, he extended his right hand until it was straight like a wing, and then he retracted it to his chest, and did the same with his left hand. After performing it twice in a row, the old master was already a little out of breath, so he went to one side and told Chen Zhijun to try it again.
Chen Zhijun practiced according to his master's demonstration another four or five times, and old master Bao nodded his head. He turned to go look at his fourteenth disciple, Lu Zhizhong and his twenty-fifth disciple, Qin Zhibao sparring with blades. Old master Bao was satisfied with Lu Zhizhong's skill, since his bladework was fairly good, but Qin Zhibao's was not. Master Bao had not been watching five minutes from the sidelines when Qin Zhibao exposed six or seven weak points. Moreover, the more his master watched, the more flustered his movements became. Old master Bao got angry and moved in with his foot. A clang rang out as master Bao kicked the metal blade from Qin Zhibao's hand onto the floor. Qin Zhibao's face turned completely red. His right hand was hurt too much to hold anything, so he reached out with his left hand to pick the metal blade off of the floor and handed it to the old master.
Without first looking his way, old master Bao began sparring with Lu Zhizhong. Only the glimmer of the blade was visible. Even though the old master's body wasn't as quick and strong as it used to be, his bladework was flawless. After an exchange of over twenty moves, Lu Zhizhong was afraid that his master's strength would not be able to keep up, so he retracted his blade and jumped to one side. Old master Bao tossed the blade toward Qin Zhibao and said, "If you ran into someone like the leper Sun while traveling upon Jianghu with that bladework you just displayed, you'd definitely lose!" Qin Zhibao lowered his head and was so ashamed, he didn't dare say anything.
Old master Bao left and went to watch his twenty-first disciple, Ma Zhixian train with double hooks. At this time, Bao's second son Bao Zhilin, who called himself "Little Kunlun," came out from the gate. Once old master Bao saw his son's long and skinny yellow face with no energy in it, he got even angrier. He didn't bother acknowledging his son and went to instruct Ma Zhixian on how to use the double hooks. Bao Zhilin gave a perfunctory sequence of fists and went to rest on one side. Old master Bao didn't pay him any attention, and turned to watch Jiang Zhisheng use the sword.
Jiang Zhisheng was the old master's thirtieth disciple. Though he had only been learning the martial arts for less than three years, his technique had already surpassed those of his brother-disciples. After a round with the sword, he went back to the weapon rack and picked up a blade, and did two rounds with it. His body was swift and his knife quick; he didn't make any mistakes. Also, his posture was exceptional. Old master Bao saw him and couldn't help but nod his head subtly, and in his heart, he felt a little envious. He thought to himself, How honorable would it be to have a son like this? At least I'll have someone to whom I can teach my 14-part secret Kunlun blade technique. Bao noticed furthermore that Jiang Zhisheng was wearing green and his sleeves were lined with white satin trim. His jet-black queue was resting on his head in three loops, and above his shirt was a long, clean, white face with thin eyebrows and bright eyes. He almost looked like a young wife with a pretty face.
Old master Bao looked at Jiang's appearance and didn't like it. With his hands behind his back, he walked over to his son. Bao Zhilin performed a couple fist moves and then jumped about a foot high, as if he was training to jump onto the roof. Old master Bao was so angry he wanted to grab Jiang Zhisheng's blade and give his son a few slashes. But just then, an old matter from 30 years ago surged into his heart, and he couldn't help but sigh. He hurriedly turned around and went to watch his twentieth disciple Liu Zhiyuan use the spear, and then returned to the house.
Once the old master was inside, all of his disciples outside relaxed. Liu Zhiyuan dropped his spear, untied the horse from a scholar tree, and sped off into the east to enjoy himself. Jiang Zhisheng put his blade back onto the weapon rack and went to chat with Chen Zhijun, who had just finished practicing his fists. Bao Zhilin smiled and asked Ma Zhixian, who had been training with the hooks, "Hey! I saw your waistband. Did your wife embroider it for you?"
Ma Zhixian laughed and said, "Since when was my wife so skilled at needlework? Her cousin embroidered this for me." Bao Zhilin praised him, "Hey! Not bad. She must have very skillful hands!" Ma Zhixian pointed to Jiang Zhisheng with his lips and whispered to Bao Zhilin, "Her cousin is Jiang Zhisheng's wife."
Bao Zhilin said, "Heh! So you two are brothers-in-law!" Standing beside them still red in the face, Qin Zhibao, said, "Master is coming out again." At this comment, they immediately stopped their bantering. Some sat on the ground to rest, while others practiced with their blades and fists.
Bao Zhilin saw his father coming out once again, carrying in one hand a smoking bag, and holding the hand of his 10 year old granddaughter in the other. The old master was pacing in front of the door with a look of content on his face. The little girl hummed a mountain tune, as she walked and ran around joyfully, every now and then looking up at her grandfather with her bright little eyes.
Suddenly, the old master stopped and called out, "Zhizhong!" Lu Zhizhong hurriedly put down his blade and walked to his master, politely asking, "Master, what would you like me to do?" Old master Bao said, "I need you to go to Hanzhong tomorrow to go see your big brother. The last time your sixth brother came, he said his leg was hurting again. I don't know if it's healed yet."
Lu Zhizhong nodded his head in compliance and said, "I'll go tomorrow! I don't think big brother's leg wound is that serious." Old master Bao nodded and said, "Okay, I'll give you travel money later. You can go tomorrow!" After he said this he went back to strolling about the grounds. He pulled the little granddaughter along with him. She bent her head to smile at Jiang Zhisheng, because he usually liked to play with her.
After a little bit, the old master took the little girl back into the house. At this, the group put away their weapons and brought the weapon rack inside. Chen Zhijun and Ma Zhixian swept up the training grounds, and Liu Zhiyuan went to feed the horses. Jiang Zhisheng finished a couple light chores and went back home. Bao Zhilin squatted on the ground for a little bit and then also went back inside. Lu Zhizhong went to go get travel money from his master.
Old master Bao lived in the northern house, which had three spacious rooms. At this time, the old master was eating breakfast at the same table as his granddaughter, as served by his eldest daughter-in-law. The old master's eldest son, Bao Zhiyun, was already 40-some years old. His wife, Fang-shi, was also about 40 years old now. She had only given birth to a daughter, whose childhood name was Aluan. She was this little granddaughter that the old master adored most.
Bao Zhiyun was currently setting up a Kunlun Security Firm in Hanzhong, where trade was flourishing. However, while traveling as an escort on the roads through the Qinling Mountains three years ago, he encountered the mountain bandit Hu Li the Silver Dart, who wanted to rob his caravan. At the time, Bao Zhiyun had brought with him two bodyguards. The three of them fought with Hu Li, but in the end, all three were wounded by Hu Li's silver darts, and the caravan was ransacked. Bao Zhiyun had to repay over a thousand taels of silver. Though the wound on his thigh had healed, whenever the weather was dark and rainy, the pain would return. A few days previous, someone from Hanzhong had delivered a letter from him to the old master. He had said that his dart injury was flaring up again, and that he was already unable to get out of bed. That was the reason the old bodyguard Bao had sent Lu Zhizhong to check up on him.
Old bodyguard Bao gave Lu Zhizhong a few taels to cover the travel expenses, and Fang-shi asked Lu Zhizhong to take a bundle to her husband of medicinal powder from Yunnan used especially on cuts. Moreover, the little girl Aluan pulled on Lu Zhizhong's hand and said, "Uncle Lu, give these dolls to my dad to play with!" Lu Zhizhong looked at what she had given him and saw that they were little cloth dolls that she had made herself. She had even used ink to draw eyes and a nose. Lu Zhizhong laughed. At her side, old master Bao told his granddaughter, "Right now your dad's hurt. It probably hurts so much he doesn't care about anything. How do you expect him play with your dolls!" Aluan asked Lu Zhizhong if he could take them for her anyway.
Old master Bao's color deepened, and he revealed a killing spirit. He instructed Lu Zhizhong, "Go tell them to ask around and find out where Hu Li the Silver Dart is right now. At some point, I want to find him and take my revenge! Also, the other day I heard people saying that Yuan Zhiyi's behavior hasn't been quite proper. Tell him to be careful, because I'll be going to Hanzhong before long!" Lu Zhizhong agreed to this and set off, taking the cloth dolls and silver taels with him.
Lu Zhizhong lived rather poorly in the city with his wife and two girls. He could have done a bit of work at the security firm based on his martial skill, but unfortunately, old master Bao thought him reliable when it came to errands, so he was always left at home. It was therefore a waste of his potential. However, he frequently thought about finding some work at the security firm, because he felt that he shouldn't rely on his brothers forever and that he had to look elsewhere to progress. He was figuring this out in his head just as he entered the city. He went to the carriage station and reserved a wagon to Hanzhong. Then, when he went home, he told his wife about going to see his brother in Hanzhong and asked her for a pawn slip so that he could redeem it.
Just as he was leaving, he saw someone coming in. It was none other than his brother, Jiang Zhisheng. He hurriedly said, "Brother, have you come to see me off? I'm not going 'til tomorrow!" Jiang Zhisheng's white face was bearing a smile, as he said, "I know you're not going until tomorrow. I'm here to ask you if you can get some things for me." Lu Zhizhong let Zhisheng into his house, and Jiang Zhisheng bowed deeply to his sister-in-law.
Lu Zhizhong said, "Sit down, brother. What do you want me to get for you?" Jiang Zhisheng laughed and said, "Oh, it's not that pressing." He then took out a few silver taels and a sheet of paper, on which was written: "Please buy ten feet of red satin, four cases of facial powder, twenty squares of rouge, and some wool of various colors." He gave everything to Lu Zhizhong and said, "Brother, I'll leave it up to you. If there's money left over, then buy more, and if there isn't enough, then buy less. Except, don't buy less of the rouge. The stuff that's made here isn't very good, but in Hanzhong, Yuxiang is famous for it."
After Lu Zhizhong took the list and looked it over, he knitted his brow and said, "Brother, you should know better. The master's old, and he hates this sort of thing the most!" Jiang Zhisheng waved his hand, saying, "Brother, you don't need to worry. There's nothing silly going on here. These are all things that your sister-in-law wants to buy." Lu Zhizhong scoffed, "I know my sister-in-law too. She already has two kids. Why would she still need to be so done up with rouge?"
Jiang Zhisheng replied with a straight face, "Brother, if you don't believe me, you can come to my place and ask her yourself!" Lu Zhizhong put the taels and list away and waved his hand, saying, "Nevermind, I'll get it for you! But I'm warning you, you need to be more responsible, because for someone young and handsome like you, it's easy to play around with women. A lot of our brothers are spiteful. Any little thing and they'll go tell master about it. And if our master hears about just one of his disciples doing something improper, then that disciple is as good as an enemy to him. He's not a very compassionate person!"
Jiang Zhisheng nodded and said, "I know. Don't worry, brother. I live in the same village as our master. Don't you think I would know about his old-fashioned temper? Not to mention I have a wife and children, and I'm almost 30 years old. Why would I still be out there doing stupid things?" He laughed as he left and said goodbye.
Afterwards, he felt uneasy and thought, The rouge really is for my wife, but Lu Zhizhong was suspicious that I was having an affair with some other woman! Even if I was having an affair, what could anyone do about it? Even if the master was my father, he wouldn't be able to do anything about it! I'm just learning martial arts from him, not how to be a monk or a eunuch. He proceeded angrily and arrived at an intersection. Suddenly, he heard someone called to him loudly, "Sir Jiang! Sir Jiang!" Jiang Zhisheng looked over and saw that it was Third Chu, the donkey driver.
Third Chu also lived in the village and kept a powdery-lipped and powdery-eyed little donkey with a white belly. He made a living by driving this donkey around, so people called him "Donkey Chu." As he pulled the donkey along, he asked, "Sir Jiang, what brings you to the city? Did you not go to old man Bao's place to learn some moves?"
Jiang Zhisheng said, "I already went. How could I not? Who told me to find such an unfortunate master!" Donkey Chu grinned and said, "You sought out hardship by acknowledging such a master. You might as well have gone to work for some rich family! You're an educated man. How could you fit in with those people!" Hearing this, Jiang Zhisheng became even more annoyed and asked, "So what are you doing here? Are you waiting for customers?"
Third Chu laughed, "Oh, no. I'm going to the east side to pick someone up. The second widow Lu found her son a wife last year, the daughter of cripple Gong from Gong Hamlet. Hey, she's only 18 years old this year, and she's exceptionally pretty. But not even ten days had passed before her husband went to Xing'an to learn business, leaving his young wife at home as if she were a widow. Plus, she and her mother-in-law don't get along. How imposing that second widow Lu can be! But the young wife isn't all without fault, since she goes back to her mother's house very often. On the 17th, I picked her up from there. Now, it's not even the 20th, and she wants me to take her back again. She'll probably spend half the month at her mother's house."
Jiang Zhisheng laughed, "Asking you to take her back and forth like this, you might just kidnap her." Third Chu grinned, "With this head of mine? Even if I wanted to kidnap someone, they wouldn't want to come with me! I'd have to switch your face with mine to get it to work!" Jiang Zhisheng laughed and said, "You'd better get going! Don't make the young wife wait." After he said this, he turned to leave. Third Chu led his donkey towards Jiang and shouted, "Sir Jiang!" Jiang Zhisheng stopped and turned to ask, "What is it?"
Third Chu the Donkey entreated him, "After a couple days, could you lend me some money!?" Jiang Zhisheng stared at him and said, "With your business doing this well, why do you need to borrow from me?" Third Chu laughed apologetically and said, "Heh! Don't you know about what's going on in my house? My dad's over 80 years old and my old mom's over 70. They're both relying on my donkey here to live. I only earn about ten coppers a day, which is enough to eat with. It's getting warm now, and I still can't take off this ratty old coat. Sir Jiang, lend me some cash in a couple days, so I can get new clothes!" Jiang Zhisheng replied, "Well, we'll talk about it again in a couple days!" After he finished talking, he turned around and walked off.
After passing by a few small lanes, he reached an old classmate's house. This friend and classmate's name was Fan Dianqing, and some time ago, they had once studied together diligently. Jiang Zhisheng wasn't even able to earn the Xiucai degree, though last autumn, his friend had earned the Juren degree. He had originally come here to pay a visit to Lady Fan, Dianqing's mother, but he unexpectedly saw only an old servant, who said that his young master had been assigned to be a prefect in Henan and had sent for her to enjoy the fortunes.
Jiang Zhisheng felt even more dissatisfied, secretly thinking that perhaps he had taken the wrong path. In these two years or so, had I not learned martial arts from old Bao, I might have already earned the Juren degree by now and become an official. Now that's over for me. At most, I'll be able to find work at a security firm in which to muddle about, squandering my whole life in Jianghu. Thus, he started thinking about severing the master-disciple relationship with Bao Zhenfei, throwing down his sword, and studying hard. After three to five years, wouldn't it be honorable if he could obtain an official title? After departing from the gate of the Fan home, he thought about this as he walked and didn't even notice when he exited through the gates of the city. He planned to go home as he followed the road heading south.
Having walked not even half a mile, he suddenly heard Third Chu's voice calling him from behind, "Sir Jiang!" Jiang Zhisheng looked back hurriedly and saw Third Chu rushing his donkey along, with the young wife of Lu on its back. Lu's wife was indeed very pretty, wearing a red satin coat, green satin trousers and red satin shoes embroidered with silk flowers. On her head was wrapped a thin blue handkerchief. Though he couldn't see her hair bun, he knew that her hair was very nice. Her face was very round and plump and was made up with a lovely rouge. It was especially pretty on her lips, which were the color of freshly ripe cherries. If speaking of the extraordinary, she wasn't that sort of exceptional beauty, but Jiang Zhisheng was immediately entranced with her.
Ordinarily, whenever he encountered a married woman on the street, he would purposefully avert his eyes, but today was otherwise. He turned his head back, and it was as if he wasn't able to turn it away. He looked straight at her with his two eyes. She was not bashful at all and looked Jiang Zhisheng up and down a few times with her soulful eyes. At this time, Third Chu swung his whip and drove the donkey towards him. He laughingly said, "Sir Jiang, you haven't eaten breakfast yet, have you?"
Jiang Zhisheng replied, "I ate before I went into the city." Third Chu said, "Mrs. Jiang must have quick hands to be able to look after the kids and take such good care of her husband all by herself. The food must be cooked right when it touches her hands." Jiang Zhisheng laughed a little but didn't say anything, and glanced over at the young wife again.
Third Chu spoke more, "However, a good wife goes with a good husband. Sir Jiang, you're well-versed in both words and weapons, good-looking, of a good temperament, and able to support your family. A guy like you, you're one-in-a-hundred. No wonder Mrs. Jiang is so happy all day." Jiang Zhisheng heard this and felt very satisfied with himself. He looked toward Lu's wife and said, "She may be happy, but I'm not entirely happy!" After he said this, he turned to walk alongside with Third Chu and continued to chat.
After not even a few steps, the young wife riding on the donkey turned to Jiang Zhisheng with a charming smile and said, "Is this Sir Jiang from East Village?" Jiang Zhisheng was taken aback, and at the same time felt even more attracted to her. Before he could reply, Third Chu did it for him, "This isn't Sir Jiang from East Village. He's Sir Jiang from Bao Village." The young wife laughed and nodded her head.
Jiang Zhisheng got closer and said, "Mrs. Lu, I don't know your husband's family, but I do know about yours. There's someone with a problem with his leg..." The young wife didn't wait for him to finish. She smiled charmingly and said, "That's my father." Jiang Zhisheng said, "Way back when he opened a smoke shop in the city, I often went to sit at his counter."
The young wife held her red handkerchief over her mouth and said, "That's not right! That's our village's cripple Li. My dad's not as lame as him!" She lowered her head and couldn't hold in her laughter, while constantly sneaking glances at Jiang Zhisheng. Jiang Zhisheng blushed because of his incorrect guess.
Third Chu said, "Anyways, the surrounding area of Zhenba is 30 miles or so. Not everyone knows everyone else." Lu's wife laughed and said, "That's not true! If I go back to my mother's house and mention Sir Jiang, I guarantee you that my dad will know him. Sir Jiang, when you have the time, you should come and visit. My house is right at the base of Nanshan, the Southern Mountain. We have peach trees, and when they blossom, it's completely red."
Jiang Zhisheng hurriedly laughed, and said, "All right, all right. In the next couple days, I'll definitely go see your old father." He talked as he walked, and Bao Village came into view. Jiang Zhisheng stopped, and after the young wife gave him another suggestive smile, she rode the donkey away on the other branch of the path. From behind the donkey, Third Chu turned and made a face.
Jiang Zhisheng stood there in a daze as he watched the young wife in her red coat as she rode away on the donkey, disappearing into the boundless fragrant grasses. Jiang Zhisheng suddenly recalled a line from a poem that could describe this scene in front of him. It was, "A bit of red in a vast thicket of green." He stood there in awe for a while, before he slowly made his way to the village. It was like he had lost something when he went to the city this time. He was so absent-minded, it was almost as if he didn't recognize his own door.
Afterwards, he didn't even realize when he had entered his own home. After only a couple steps, he saw a flash of white light. He turned to look and saw that it was his son, Jiang Xiaohe, who was only twelve years old this year. However, he was brandishing his father's metal blade as he flew around the yard. Jiang Zhisheng stopped him and said, "Hey, hey, don't do that, don't do that! You can hurt yourself with this blade if you're not careful. If you like playing with swords, I'll fashion one for you out of bamboo." Still holding the blade with his two little hands, Jiang Xiaohe said, "I don't want a bamboo one! I want to use a real one! I want great skill! I want to beat your master! No one will be able to defeat me!" Jiang Zhisheng laughed.
Just then, his wife Huang-shi ran outside, carrying the month-old Xiaolu, and anxiously said, "When you're not here to watch him, he'll take advantage of the time when I'm nursing Xiaolu, and climb on top of a bench to get at your blade. If he fell on his head, he could die!" Jiang Zhisheng hurried over to his son to take away the blade. After a lot of noise and effort, in the end he used a stick from inside the house to exchange for the blade in his son's hand.
Xiaohe played with the stick in the yard, running around and shouting. Jiang Zhisheng followed his wife into the house. Huang-shi asked, "Did you get to see Brother Lu when you went into the city? Did you ask him to get those things for you?" All Jiang Zhisheng could do was nod, as if he did not have the energy to talk to his wife. Ordinarily, his wife was quite the beauty in his eyes, but today it wasn't so. There was another pretty woman occupying his mind. He felt like his spirit had gone far away with that pretty woman in the red coat.
He was thusly occupied until Third Chu came to pay him another visit in the evening. He lent Third Chu a tael, and it wasn't until after they secretly joked with each other for a while that Third Chu left. Jiang Zhisheng would often look away and think fondly about the woman. Because Huang-shi was continuously busy with cooking meals, nursing the baby, and mending clothes, she didn't notice anything suspicious in her husband's appearance.
On the second day, Jiang Zhisheng got out of bed very late, and listlessly went to old master Bao's house. This time, Chen Zhijun, Ma Zhixian, Qin Zhibao, Liu Zhiyuan, as well as Bao Zhilin were there practicing blade and sword exercises. Again old master Bao was patrolling back and forth with his hands behind his back. When he saw Jiang Zhisheng, he sternly asked him, "Why are you late today?" Jiang Zhisheng replied, "I'm sick! My head aches and my legs are weak." Old master Bao said, "Then don't train today. Feed those three horses and go home!"
Jiang Zhisheng grunted an assent and walked lazily over to feed the horses. Though he didn't dare disobey the instructions of his master, he still felt extremely impatient. At the same time his brothers kept sneaking glances over at him. Liu Zhiyuan smiled at him and Jiang Zhisheng felt a little scared. He thought, If they'd seen what happened yesterday, who knows what kind of nonsense they could be thinking up. It would be no joke if they told master about it! When he thought this, he felt a little chill. However, as he mixed the hay in the bamboo basket for the horses' feed, he was thinking about the young wife wearing red that he had met the day before. She was so elegant, so gentle; it was really hard for him to stop thinking about her.
After he finished feeding the horses, he stood at the margin and watched his brothers practice their martial arts. They had all been studying for longer than he had, but in his eyes, each and every one of them was useless, including even old master Bao! Though his skills were very powerful, he was old and his strength was failing, not to mention the fact that he had gotten rather fat. At this time, Jiang Zhisheng looked down on them, thinking, Who could handle me? Not even my master could do it! I'll do whatever I want to do. The most old man Bao could do is expel me as a disciple. That'd be perfect! I'll start studying once more and take the exams again; I'll earn a Juren degree and become an official, and I could make the Lu wife my own.
At this point, the old master had already gone back inside. Jiang Zhisheng gave his clothes a shake and left. Liu Zhiyuan and Bao Zhilin caught up to him and asked, "Hey! Why are you leaving when you just got here? Are you sure you're done with what our master told you to do?" Liu Zhiyuan added, "Who's that young woman you were laughing and walking with yesterday?"
Jiang Zhisheng said, "She's my little sister. She was going back to our mother's house. Don't kid about that. I'm sick right now, and I've already asked the master for a day off. I've already fed the horses, so I'm going home to rest." After he finished saying this, he turned and continued walking. Bao Zhilin caught up to him again, grabbed onto him and shouted, "Boy, you need to watch yourself! My dad despises adulterers the most. If my dad found out that you were flirting with that woman, he'd ask for your life immediately!" Hearing this infuriated Jiang Zhisheng and he said angrily, "Nonsense! You say I was flirting, but what proof have you got?"
As he said this, he flung his arm, nearly causing Bao Zhilin to fall down. He couldn't help but take three steps back. He angrily straightened out his sleeves and approached Jiang Zhisheng to grab onto him again. Ma Zhixian threw down his double hooks and ran over. He pulled Bao Zhilin away and urged him for a long time to stop. But Bao Zhilin stamped his feet and uttered a great deal of curses before he finally let Jiang Zhisheng go.
Jiang Zhisheng was incensed and decided to break off his master-disciple relationship with old master Bao; starting tomorrow, he would never come back here to study martial arts. No matter what he did, it was no longer their business. He thought this angrily as he walked. When he reached his door, he suddenly noticed a small donkey tied to the tree in front of it. Third Chu was squatting at the corner of the wall facing the sun. As soon as he saw Jiang Zhisheng returning, he smiled directly at him, "Mister Jiang, you've come back. I've been waiting here for you for a long time!" Jiang Zhisheng hurried forward and quietly asked, "Well?"
Third Chu looked up at Jiang Zhisheng and grinned as he untied the donkey, saying, "Mister Jiang, you'd better go early. Don't let people wait for you!" Jiang Zhisheng smiled and nodded. After he went inside, he urged his wife to hurry with the cooking, while he opened a chest and selected some brand-new clothes. He said to his wife Huang-shi, "After I eat, I have to go out again. There's a new brother coming in from Xi'an, so we're all pooling our money together for a banquet in the city."
Huang-shi said, "Since you're going into the city with your brothers for a banquet, why are you tell me to rush my cooking?" Jiang Zhisheng's face turned red and he hastily changed what he had been saying, "The banquet is for dinner, but we have to go to the city right now. A new performing troupe's arrived in the city that I've heard is very good, so we're going to watch them." After Huang-shi heard her husband say this, she didn't ask for any further details and proceeded to busy herself with cooking. Jiang Zhisheng changed into a green-trimmed outfit with a purple-trimmed robe, on top of which there was a green shoulder ribbon. He also changed into a pair of green-soled boots. After he finished dressing, he ate hurriedly.
His son Jiang Xiaohe looked at his dad's new clothes and thought them special, so he asked, "Daddy, where are you going? Are you going to help someone get their new bride?" Jiang Zhisheng waved his hand and said, "It's not your business!" He finished his meal very quickly and put on a green cap as he said to his wife, "I may be back before evening." He then left happily.
Huang-shi stayed at home and did what she always did. She didn't think anything suspicious of her husband changing his clothes to go out. Xiaohe played in the yard with his stick. At around two or three in the afternoon, there was a sudden knocking at the door. Xiaohe swung the stick towards the door and asked the person outside boldly, "Who are you looking for?" The person outside replied, "Open the door! I'm looking for your dad." Xiaohe opened the door and saw that it was his uncle Ma Zhixian, so he said, "My dad left. He changed into new clothes and went to escort a bride to her wedding."
Ma Zhixian was stunned when he heard this and quickly called out "Zhisheng" as he walked towards the house. Ma Zhixian's wife was Huang-shi's cousin, and he and Jiang Zhisheng were also brother-disciples, so the two families had a very close relationship. At that moment, Ma Zhixian entered the house and asked Huang-shi, "Zhisheng went out? Where did he go?"
Huang-shi answered, "Cousin-in-law, don't you know? He said there was a brother coming in from Xi'an and that you were all going to treat him to dinner. But first you were going into the city to watch a show before a banquet later this evening."
Ma Zhixian was astonished, saying, "What are you talking about...?" He regretted saying this immediately after he did so, and thought, Zhisheng and I are family. If I exposed his business, causing him marital discord, that wouldn't be very good either. Thereupon, he swallowed half of his words and changed what he had been saying. "I don't know about anyone coming from Xi'an, but perhaps they didn't invite me. When did Zhisheng leave? When did he say he would get back?"
Huang-shi said, "After he got back from your master's house, he rushed me to cook for him, and after he finished eating, he changed his clothes and left. At first he said he wouldn't be back until after dinner, but just before he left, he said that he may just stay a little bit and come back!"
Ma Zhixian stood stunned for a while and then said, "I'll be back in a bit, because I have some urgent things I need to talk over with him." Ma Zhixian left after he said this. Ma Zhixian lived in the city and had established a smithy to make a living, so he hurried home to work metal. He didn't come back for three or four hours after he left.
It wasn't until it was almost night time that Jiang Zhisheng returned. He was cheerful as he entered his house, and when he saw his wife, he rolled his eyes around. Huang-shi asked her husband if he had eaten yet. Jiang Zhisheng shook his head and said, "Not yet!" After he said this, he sat down on a stool and was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't even take off his green hat. Huang-shi said, "You should change out of those clothes. If you get them dirty, what else could you wear?" Jiang Zhisheng laughed and said, "What are clothes worth anyway? If I wear them out, we'll just make new ones."
Huang-shi saw her husband's appearance change so suddenly, and though she wasn't sure why, it made her very unhappy as she brought food to him. She saw that as he was eating, he would stop and think about something. She had just decided she would ask him about why he was not acting like himself after he was finished eating, when someone outside knocked on the door. Huang-shi said, "That must be Zhixian. Today, he came for a visit right after you left, and he said he had something urgent he needed to talk to you about. I'd forgotten to tell you!" Having said this, Huang-shi went outside.
At this time, Xiaohe who had been playing in the yard with his stick, had already opened the door and let Ma Zhixian in. As soon as Ma Zhixian entered and saw Zhisheng, he said, "You're back." Zhisheng asked him to sit and told his wife to light a lamp. Then, he took off his green hat and addressed his relative, asking, "Brother-in-law, what did you need me for?"
Because Huang-shi was there, Ma Zhixian found a lot of things too inappropriate to say, so he just smiled and said, "Nothing much. It's just that today... Ahem! Well, you already know that our master doesn't have a very good temper. If you anger him, he will not be very forgiving. I've come to tell you this, since we're relatives and also disciple-brothers. You have no idea how I've been worrying about you the entire day!"
Jiang Zhisheng held in his hand a bowl of rice and pretended that nothing was wrong. He laughed coldly and said, "That's really strange! What did I do to offend our master?" Ma Zhixian quickly waved it away and said, "Real or not, I don't know, but earlier today, Liu Zhiyuan and all of them were saying that yesterday, you..." Jiang Zhisheng was afraid that Ma Zhixian would bring that matter up and antagonize his wife, so he slammed his chopsticks down and angrily said, "What are they making up about me? I'll go ask them about it tomorrow!"
Ma Zhixian waved his hand and said, "You don't need to ask them about anything. But, you should be on your best behavior. The master's getting old, and his temper is getting more and more peculiar. In addition to that, his eldest son hasn't yet recovered from an injury he got on the job, and his second son isn't amounting to much, so it's very easy to aggravate him. If these things reached his ear somehow, then it won't be fun for anyone!" From the side, Huang-shi butted in with a question of her own, "What are you talking about? Tell me, Brother-in-law Ma!" Ma Zhixian waved it away and said, "Cousin, you don't need to inquire! It's nothing pressing."
Jiang Zhisheng said to his wife angrily, "What does this have to do with you? I don't get along with those guys, so they bad-mouth me in front of the master. They're jealous of me because I've trained for less time and yet I'm more skilled. Those bastards, including Lu Zhizhong, I don't acknowledge any of them! I'm not even afraid of old man Bao! That's even better if he doesn't want me. I no longer want to train with him anyhow! Did they really think that I would eventually eat out of their bowl of Jianghu rice!?" After he finished, he pushed his bowl away and stood up.
To the side, his son Jiang Xiaohe was swinging his stick about and said, "Daddy, who's bullying you? Is it your master? I'll go fight him!" Saying this, he raised the stick in his hand and confidently headed toward the door. His mother smacked him and jerked him backwards. Ma Zhixian stood his ground and sighed, "Zhisheng, you really are arrogant! Not only is he our master, he's an elder and you shouldn't disrespect him. Suppose he wasn't our master, you still shouldn't infuriate him. Think about his disposition, his martial skill, and his dozens of disciples. Who could get away with provoking him? Really, if he wanted to end one or two lives, don't you think it would be easy for him!"
Huang-shi heard Ma Zhixian mention human lives and understood even less of what was going on! Startled, she anxiously urged her husband, "Under no circumstances should you aggravate your master. He can really kill people!" Jiang Zhisheng laughed and said, "I don't have any deep-running bad blood with him. How could he kill me over something insignificant? Don't worry for me blindly." After he was done, he made a happy face. Because Ma Zhixian was afraid the city gates would close and keep him outside of the city, he quickly departed.
After seeing Ma Zhixian off, Jiang Zhisheng went inside and began to worry. He felt that his master Bao Zhenfei's Kunlun blade was truly something to be feared, but today, by way of the donkey driver Third Chu's matchmaking, he had met up with the young wife of Lu. He was truly enraptured by her and was loathe to give her up. He worried about it for a long time and went to sleep early.
The next day, he arrived at old master Bao's house very early in the morning and put extra effort into his training and his chores. Although Liu Zhiyuan often looked over at him and grinned, and Bao Zhilin often glared at him enviously, he paid them no mind, as if he didn't have any dark schemes in his heart. However, whenever old master Bao walked nearby, he couldn't help a quickened pulse. Seeing his master's chubby, husky body and his deeply purple face, he became extremely scared. He felt like this old master could really kill him. He thought, I can't do those things anymore, because if the old man found out, he really would take my life. After he finished his training and helped with some chores, he didn't stick around to chat with his brothers like in days past and hurried to leave. However, once he left the Bao house, he thought lovingly again about that beautiful woman and felt like he couldn't keep away from her.
Right as he reached the door to his house, he saw Third Chu again with his donkey waiting for him. Jiang Zhisheng immediately came to resemble a demon as he couldn't seem to control himself. He joked around with Third Chu and without even entering the door, eating any food, or changing his clothes, he rode Third Chu's donkey to Nanshan. He didn't return to his wife until that evening, and without saying a word to her, he ate and went to sleep. He carried on like this for four or five days, and the rumors eventually made their way to old master Bao's ears.
At daybreak, Jiang Zhisheng was feigning illness and had not yet arrived. After Ma Zhixian and the others finished their exercises and chores, the old master addressed them, saying sternly, "I hear Jiang Zhisheng is having an affair with a married woman in Nanshan. Is this true? Don't you dare deceive me!" When this was asked, everyone looked warily at each other, especially Ma Zhixian who was sweating in place of his wife's cousin-in-law. He saw Bao Zhilin push Liu Zhiyuan a little and say, "Tell him! Don't you know everything?"
Liu Zhiyuan was so frightened his face had gone pale. He didn't dare hide anything, so he said, "I'd heard from someone else that Jiang Zhisheng has something going with Lu's young wife in the city. The young wife went back to her mother's house several days ago, but before very long she went from there to old granny Guo's house in Nanshan. Now her family is telling her to go back to her husband's family, but she won't, and her husband's family can't find her. I heard that old granny Guo is the donkey driver Third Chu's aunt, and every day Third Chu goes to pick up Jiang Zhisheng with his donkey and takes him to old granny Guo's house to meet up with Lu's young wife."
Upon hearing this, old master Bao became so furious his face swelled with even more purple, saying angrily, "What is this!? The thing that my disciples should most avoid is lechery. He knows very well that this is wrong, but he's got the audacity to do it anyway, violating the wife of a good family. This is a stain on the reputation of my Kunlun School! Go get Jiang Zhisheng and bring him to me!" The old master assigned them a task with these words, and though all of them still had their own misgivings, not one of them dared to be remiss, and none of them dared to intercede. With Bao Zhilin as the head, he took up a single blade, saying, "You must all bring a weapon!" Thus, the ones who used blades took blades and the ones who used staffs took staffs, and they headed north together. There were five people in all: Bao Zhilin leading the way, followed by Liu Zhiyuan, Chen Zhijun, Qin Zhibao and Ma Zhixian.
The few in the front were all roaring with fervor, as if after they received their master's commands, they no longer remembered their brotherly friendships. Ma Zhixian was feeling extremely unpleasant and exceedingly anxious. He rushed over to Bao Zhilin and implored him, "Brother, though our master is angry, you only have to capture him and take him to see the master. Don't hurt him!" Liu Zhiyuan spoke as well. "This was all exposed by me. If you guys hurt him, then he'll hate me. He's very narrow-minded, and in time he'll come to me looking for vengeance!"
Bao Zhilin scoffed at Liu Zhiyuan. "What are you scared of? My father has rules for his disciples, and one cannot live after breaking the rule against adultery. How did Hu Zhikai die? Why is Chang Chenggao short an arm? For what was Jiang Zhiyao's eye carved out?" Ma Zhixian pleaded with Bao Zhilin, saying, "Brother, all I can do now is ask for your mercy. You can ask the master to beat him, but please don't harm him. You should also remember that he's young and doesn't know any better!" Bao Zhilin laughed coldly, saying, "Don't protect him just because he's family. This can't be avoided. Even if my father did absolve him, some of our brothers would never do that. Otherwise, things wouldn't be fair. Why did Hu Zhikai have to die, but he's forgiven?"
As they were speaking, they reached the gate to Jiang's house. Ma Zhixian fretted as Bao Zhilin pounded on the door. After a while, Jiang Zhisheng's wife, Huang-shi opened the door. Once she saw that everyone was carrying a weapon, she started trembling from fear, asking quickly, "What's the matter? What do my brothers need?" Chen Zhijun and Qin Zhibao said together, "We're looking for Zhisheng. The master has a few words he'd like to say to him!"
Huang-shi very cautiously said, "Zhisheng left very early this morning to train at the master's house. He hasn't been back at all." Qin Zhibao said, "He didn't come today." Bao Zhilin said, "What is this nonsense! Let's go inside and look. He must be hiding somewhere, afraid to see us." Bao Zhilin lead them toward the house to search inside. Ma Zhixian secretly stamped his foot toward Huang-shi, who was so scared she had lost all color in her face. Having brought them into the house to rummage around, Bao Zhilin even looked under the bed, but indeed there was no trace of Jiang Zhisheng. He addressed Liu Zhiyuan, "He must be in Nanshan meeting the young wife. Let's go get him, and catch him in the act!"
Having said this, he brought them all outside again. At the threshold, he suddenly saw Jiang Zhisheng's son coming from outside of the village, carrying a stick. Jiang Xiaohe didn't know why these people had come to his home; he simply saw that they were carrying blades and staffs and thought it very exciting. He ran over waving his stick about and yelling, "Who dares to challenge me!?" No one paid him any attention, and as before under Bao Zhilin's leadership, they left the village and headed south.
Nanshan was seven or eight miles from Bao Village, and on the way they passed by many fields of wheat. Occasionally they would pass some running water under a wooden bridge where people had redirected the mountain streams into paddies of rice. The five of them pressed on very quickly, getting closer and closer to the mountain's base. In a short while they reached the foot of the mountain at which there were thirty or forty houses on the western side. This was called Nanshan Village. Now it was Liu Zhiyuan who led the way into the village to find old Zhang, a relative of his. Old Zhang sold straw sandals and it was from him that Liu Zhiyuan heard about Jiang Zhisheng and the young wife of Lu. Old Zhang subtly pointed toward the door of old granny Guo's place, and Bao Zhilin pushed Liu Zhiyuan, saying, "Go tell them we're here!" Liu Zhiyuan was a little apprehensive, but with the pressure of so many people on him, he went forward and knocked a few times on the aging door.
After a moment, an old granny opened the door and came out. Bao Zhilin stood behind Liu Zhiyuan, and asked angrily, "Is Jiang Zhisheng here?" The old woman saw that all of them were holding weapons and was so scared she couldn't speak, so she simply waved her hand. Bao Zhilin pushed the old woman aside and Liu Zhiyuan and the others made their way in. Inside the courtyard stood only two straw houses: one in which old granny Guo lived with her son and one that was currently being used by the young wife of Lu.
While this was happening, Jiang Zhisheng was inside one of the houses. When he heard the commotion of so many footsteps in the courtyard, he was startled and quickly took a look outside. The young wife of Lu also poked out with half her delicate frame. Bao Zhilin swung his blade and sneered, "Ha ha! Do you still think you can hide? The master's told us to come get you. Come! Come with us to see the master!" Jiang Zhisheng's face was white, and though he was scared, he was unwilling to show helplessness in the presence of his mistress. He pretended not to understand and said, "What's this? The master told you guys to come find me?"
Bao Zhilin irately said, "Are you clueless to what you've done? You've broken one of our rules. You're having an affair with a married woman! Do you know the consequences of this crime? Beheading! Eye-gouging!" Hearing this, the young wife who had been hiding behind Jiang Zhisheng screamed in fright and started to weep. She grabbed onto Jiang Zhisheng's arm, refusing to let them take him.
Jiang Zhisheng urged his mistress away, waved his hand and scoffed, "This is nothing to fear. Don't worry!" He then spoke to Bao Zhilin, "That's right, she's my new wife, but I didn't gain her in secret. Her family and her husband's family know all about it. I've already arranged it with her in-laws. In a couple days, I'm going to pay them a dowry of 30 taels of silver, and they're going to break off the engagement. Then, I'm going to bring my new wife home. This is no one else's business. Not even the county magistrate can interfere in this! Don't even speak of the master as if I've stolen away a woman from your Bao family!"
Upon hearing this, Bao Zhilin became so angry he stamped his foot and yelled, "All right! You dare insult my father and myself!? **** you! If you can back that up, then come with us!" Jiang Zhisheng laughed coldly and said, "Why should I go with you?" Bao Zhilin immediately brandished his blade, ready to slice at Jiang Zhisheng. Upon hearing him insult their master, Chen Zhijun, Liu Zhiyuan and Qin Zhibao were likewise angry and moved to capture him.
Ma Zhixian used the blade in his hand to hold them off while urging, "No matter what, we're all brothers, and he's trained under the master for almost three years. He's insulted our master now, so let's just take him to see the master. We don't need to fight!" He pleaded again to Jiang Zhisheng, "Zhisheng, you can't do this. Come with us to see the master and we'll stand down. Please ask for mercy!" Jiang Zhisheng put on a fierce, white face and said nothing. Unexpectedly he thrust forward, snatched the steel blade away from Ma Zhixian, and brandished it with a whoosh.
He said to Ma Zhixian, "Get out of the way, brother!" Then he struck his chest and said to Bao Zhilin and the others, "My name is Jiang and I have no need for mercy. The master has no control over these matters. I have broken no laws, so if anyone wants to hurt me or kill me, then I will face them!" Qin Zhibao rushed forward angrily and waved his blade, saying, "Fine! Do your words mean that you no longer acknowledge our master?" He chopped at Jiang Zhisheng, and Jiang Zhisheng dodged to the side. Bao Zhilin moved forward with his blade, shouting, "You've insulted my father. I'm going to kill you!" Jiang Zhisheng had already threw himself headlong into it, no longer caring about anyone else. He demonstrated his blade skills and kept two people at bay.
The young wife cried out from inside the house, "Madam Guo! Madam Guo! Go get the village head! These thugs are out to hurt Sir Jiang!" Bao Zhilin left Jiang Zhisheng behind and ran into the house with his blade, saying viciously, "I'll kill this ***** of yours first!" Jiang Zhisheng turned his body and swung his blade right at Bao Zhilin. Bao Zhilin cried out as the blade cut into his left shoulder and blood sprang forth. Bao Zhilin immediately fell onto the ground. Afraid Jiang Zhisheng would follow with another chop, Ma Zhixian rushed over empty-handed. Jiang Zhisheng had spun around with his blade and went to fight with Liu Zhiyuan, Chen Zhijun and Qin Zhibao, making his way outside as he contended with them.
Once he was outside of the gate, Jiang Zhisheng displayed even more of his blade skills. Liu Zhiyuan and the others were all his senior disciple-brothers and had been studying martial arts for longer, but their abilities didn't surpass his. This was especially the case for Qin Zhibao, whose hands and feet were a mess as he swung his blade. Jiang Zhisheng roused his spirit, his blade like lightning in a flurry of movements. He was constantly using ruthless methods to slash and thrust viciously at his opponents. After a few rounds, there was another cry. Qin Zhibao's wrist had met with the blade, shedding some blood as he ran off to the side. Jiang Zhisheng closed in on Liu Zhiyuan once again and whoosh, whoosh, slashed at him a few times! Liu Zhiyuan was on the verge of not being able to keep up.
Ma Zhixian then took up Bao Zhilin's blade and leapt forward. He caught Jiang Zhisheng's blade with his own and gestured at Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun, saying, "Stop it! We are disciples of Bao Kunlun and we've never had a fight amongst ourselves before!" Then he said to Jiang Zhisheng, "Zhisheng, you're out of control! This was originally easy to work out, but now you've made it so much worse!"
At this moment Jiang Zhisheng was thinking to himself how powerful his martial skills were and wasn't willing to listen to Ma Zhixian's accusations. He laughed coldly, pounded his chest and said, "How could it be hard to work out? If Bao Zhenfei doesn't yield to me, then tell him to come find me. Starting today, I'm severing our master-disciple relationship, so he can't concern himself with my business any longer!" Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun both put away their weapons and said, "That's fine. Since you've said this, we no longer have a grudge with you. We'll go back and tell the master what you've told us." Saying this, the two first entered the gate and helped the injured Bao Zhilin out, and then brought Qin Zhibao away.
Jiang Zhisheng watched angrily as those four left, still holding on to the blade and sneering. Ma Zhixian hastily stamped his foot and said, "Zhisheng, I had no idea you were like this! Now that you've done this, I no longer have the means to protect you. I'm urging you to get out of here! It's best if you leave Hanzhong and live in Guanzhong for a few years. Otherwise, you're sure to die if you stay!"
Not only did Jiang Zhisheng not listen, but he expressed disgust as well. He swung his blade and said angrily, "I don't need your concern. I stand behind everything I do! It's not as if the government has sent people after me, so why should I run? If Bao Zhenfei comes for me, he can't rely on the master-disciple bond anymore, so I need never treat him well again!" Ma Zhixian saw that Jiang Zhisheng's talk became more and more reckless, and couldn't help getting angry himself. He stamped his foot and said, "Well, I've already devoted all my energy to your cause! We're family, so I can't stand to see you meet with disaster, but I've got nothing left. You're on your own now!" After he finished, he sighed and left.
Jiang Zhisheng entered the gate and urged old granny Guo not to fear. Then, he went into the house and boasted to his mistress, "Don't worry! I beat them all away. I doubt they'd dare come back." The young wife feigned irritation and pouted, telling Jiang Zhisheng to hurry with the 30 taels of silver for the Lu family and to ask them to find another wife so that she could better become Jiang Zhisheng's wife. Jiang Zhisheng agreed to it all, saying, "Relax, a couple days and it'll all be done." But in his heart, he couldn't help but fret.
When his anger gradually subsided, his courage seemed also to go far away with it. He felt extremely anxious and thought, I've learned three years of martial arts, and though I can beat Chen Zhijun, Qin Zhibao and the others, I'm afraid I'll be in trouble if I have to face old man Bao! Never mind him, it'll be over for me if Lu Zhizhong comes too! And then the 30 taels I agreed to give the second widow Lu, plus what I've got to give Third Chu and old granny Guo here, I need a total of forty taels. We're a poor family living off the few silvers we get for renting out our dozen or so roods of land. My wife and I are careful about what we buy, as we're already spending at a loss. Where am I supposed to get 40 taels now? Am I really going to sell our land? Also, there are still so many days ahead of us. The wife at home isn't exactly easy to deal with. Once she finds out about all this, how could she not get upset? Thus, Jiang Zhisheng was tremendously nervous but his mistress was at his side doting on him, so he wasn't able even to crease his brow, nor was he able to think of a way to get out of this romantic tangle and escape disaster.
He'd wanted to see what was going on at home, but he was afraid of old master Bao intercepting him on the road back. He was fretting to himself for a while, when he heard a hoary, severe voice in the courtyard, calling out, "Come out, Zhisheng!" Inside, Jiang Zhisheng was taken aback as he took up his blade. His mistress quickly held onto his arm and alarmed, asked, "Who is it now?"
Jiang Zhisheng pushed his mistress aside and said, "None of your concern!" The hand holding the blade was trembling a little and his face had been scared pale. He stepped outside and saw the stout figure of old master Bao standing in the courtyard like an iron tower, his flower-white beard fluttering and his purple face murderous. Behind him stood Ma Zhixian, Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun. The old master brandished his Kunlun blade and shouted angrily at Jiang Zhisheng, "Do you still acknowledge me?"
The voice was like thunder pounding on his head. Jiang Zhisheng started shaking, but he thought of a way he might survive this. He held his blade downward and respectfully said, "How can I not acknowledge my master!" Old master Bao nodded and said, "Since you acknowledge me, then things remain well. Come with me!" Jiang Zhisheng had no choice but to nod in assent. Thereafter, old master Bao walked out of the gate and Jiang Zhisheng followed behind in the custody of Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan.
After they left the village, old master Bao stopped in the middle of an empty field at the foot of the mountain. He shook the Kunlun blade in his hand and said to Jiang Zhisheng, "You injured Qin Zhibao, renounced your master-disciple relationship with me and then dared me to challenge you. Is this true?" Jiang Zhisheng shook his head, saying, "I never said that. Master, how could I dare? As for brother Bao and brother Qin, they were trying to kill me and I was panicked, so I fought with them and accidentally hurt them." To the side, Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan restlessly stamped their feet and said, "Master, don't listen to his dithering!"
Old master Bao waved them off and said, "You guys keep quiet!" He then smiled coldly at Jiang Zhisheng and said, "Don't be afraid. It's not important that you hurt your brothers, as we can see from it how strong your martial arts are. I have always admired those with great skill. I'm also impressed to hear that you challenged me to a fight. In thirty years, there hasn't been one person in Jianghu who's dared to challenge me. I even feel a tingle in my hands. Now, one of my own disciples wants a contest with me; this is surely a great occasion. Come! I'm letting you come at me! I don't need anyone's help either. Let's contend for ten exchanges. You don't even need to win, as long as you can hold your own. If you can survive ten exchanges, I'll throw away my blade, break my own arm and never take any disciples ever again."
What could Jiang Zhisheng dare to do after hearing this from the old master? He was so scared his teeth began to chatter as he said, "I don't dare go up against the master's martial arts. I never said those words!" Old master Bao couldn't hold back an icy smile. "Coward!" he yelled angrily as he pointed at Jiang Zhisheng. He then said, "Since you're not admitting to any of that, then what about abducting the wife of a good family and breaking the Kunlun School's most important rule!? Did this happen!?"
Jiang Zhisheng clenched his jaw and nodded. Upon seeing his nod of admission, the old master couldn't help but feel the flames of fury seething in his chest. His face became a deeper purple and his eyes widened as if emitting a frightening, cold light, sharp as the end of a blade. He nodded and said, "Fine, since you've committed adultery, your punishment is death. Kneel down! I'll have your brothers kill you!" He pointed to Chen Zhijun, his meaning being that Chen Zhijun was to represent him in carrying out the sentence. Chen Zhijun's hand was a bit shaky at this time and Jiang Zhisheng's face became intense. In a moment of nervous anger, he swung his blade and took off to the south.
Old master Bao said furiously, "Where do you think you're going!?" He brought one of this disciples with him as he gave chase to the south. When old master Bao saw that he was about to catch up, his distance only two paces from Jiang Zhisheng, he stepped heavily with his right foot, straightened his body and bounded forward. He swung his Kunlun blade viciously down towards Jiang Zhisheng's back. In a desperate move, Jiang Zhisheng turned around suddenly to receive the attack with his own blade. With a loud clang, the weight of old master Bao's blade sent a shock of pain through Jiang Zhisheng's wrist and he immediately dropped his blade to the ground. However, he used this opportunity to turn back around and run up the mountain. An angry old master Bao chased closely behind him still.
But when all was said and done, old master Bao was old and not in the best of shape. Because of this in addition to his tense energy, after a few strides up the mountain, he had to stop and catch his breath. Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan hurried to their master and held him up. The old master gasped for breath and the ruddy purple of his face gradually turned pale. The beads of sweat on his forehead were as big as soybeans. He remained stubborn, stamping his feet and saying, "Forget about me! Go up the mountain and bring down Jiang Zhisheng!" Ma Zhixian could only tell Liu Zhiyuan to prop up the master, while he and Chen Zhijun gave chase up the mountain. As they did so, they saw Jiang Zhisheng already making his way toward another mountain ridge.
Ma Zhixian and Chen Zhijun were not entirely willing to run up onto the mountain ridge, so they looked at each other. After they stood in a daze for a while, Ma Zhixian said, "I don't think we'll be able to catch up to him, and what would we do even if we did capture him? Would we really hand him over for the master to kill him with a blade? Isn't that even more troublesome?" Chen Zhijun said, "I think the master has gotten too worked up. The old man's body can't take much more. We should urge the master to go back and rest!" Thus, the two came down off the mountain and said that Jiang Zhisheng had already disappeared behind a mountain ridge. After a while, they convinced old master Bao to go back, and Ma Zhixian was given his Kunlun blade to carry, while Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan held onto the old master as they made their way back to Bao Village.
Old master Bao was so angry, he couldn't stop gasping for breath while on the road. It wasn't until he got back to his home and laid on the kang to rest for a time that the color of his face improved. It was then that Bao Zhilin, whose left shoulder had been injured, came to see how his father was doing. Old master Bao stamped his foot furiously and called his second son useless, saying, "You never take your martial arts training seriously, and now you'd been hurt by one of your junior disciple-brothers who hasn't yet finished his fourth year of study. Look how angry you've made me. If word of this gets out, how could we avoid ridicule!? It's all but over for my forty-plus-year reputation!"
Bao Zhilin sneered, "Jiang Zhisheng can't go far. He's got a family here. He'll be back after a couple days. Otherwise, I can go over there first and give his son a good beating." Old master Bao yelled, "You idiot! Those are the words of a thug. He broke one of our rules. What does that have to do with his wife and children? Get out of my sight!" As he said this, he kicked at his second son. Bao Zhilin hurried out of the house.
Ma Zhixian, Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan tried again to calm old master Bao down, but old master Bao remained livid and said to Ma Zhixian, "Ride to Ziyang right away and tell those three brothers of yours to come immediately!" Hearing this, Ma Zhixian consented, though he couldn't help but sweat for Jiang Zhisheng in his mind. He hastened out to prepare a horse, and then first made a stop at his house in the city to see his wife. He told her what was going on with Jiang Zhisheng and urged her to find her cousin Huang-shi in order to tell her to go see old master Bao and beg for mercy. He said anxiously, "You don't know, but the martial arts of our second brother Long Zhiteng, third brother Long Zhiqi and seventh brother Jia Zhiming in Ziyang County are very strong, and their methods are brutal. If they come here, then Jiang Zhisheng is sure to lose his life. So go quickly and tell your cousin that she has to go to the old master with her children in her arms and beg for forgiveness!" At that, Ma Zhixian's wife Li-shi hurriedly mounted a donkey and made her way to the Jiang house. Not daring to disobey his master's command, Ma Zhixian went to Ziyang County to find his three brothers.
By now, a neighbor had already told Huang-shi about what was going on with her husband. When Huang-shi thought about her husband cheating with a married woman, she felt it extremely hateful, but when she thought about how her husband had offended old master Bao and might be killed soon or worse, she couldn't help but feel sad and anxious. Her older son Xiaohe was playing around with his stick just outside of the village, and her younger son was already sound asleep. Her cousin Li-shi arrived as she was worrying helplessly. Li-shi told her cousin everything her husband Ma Zhixian had said to her. Huang-shi became even more fearful but said awkwardly, "I've never been to the Bao household before, tell me how I can go over there now and beg!" Li-shi said, "What else can you do? Who told your husband to get into trouble!? I'll look after your kids. You should go meet with old master Bao and bow down when you see him. No matter what, beg for his leniency and ask him to spare your husband's life!"
Li-shi's urging spurred Huang-shi on. After brushing her hair and changing into some clean clothes, she went on her way. As she left, she thought, When I see old master Bao, I can plead with him, but if they're saying I should bow down and cry to him, that would be too hard! I couldn't do it.
After a short time, she arrived at the gate to the Bao house and seeing a short, 30-some-year-old man coming out, Huang-shi wished him well and asked, "Might I ask if this is the home of old master Bao? I am Jiang Zhisheng's wife, and I've come to the see the old master to beg for mercy on my husband's behalf!" The man was Liu Zhiyuan and upon hearing that this was Jiang Zhisheng's wife, he said, "So it's sister Jiang! I urge you not to go to the master and hit that nail. He is furious right now, and he's not listening to anyone. He's been carrying that big blade of his around, and even I don't dare say anything in front of him. Sister Jiang..."
When he got to here, he lowered his voice and said, "Don't provoke them any further! If brother Jiang returns home, you have to insist that he gets far away from here as quickly as he can. Otherwise, if they catch him, he'll end up dead. We have no way to save him now!" Hearing this, Huang-shi could only wipe her tears and go back home. For the rest of the day, Li-shi stayed there to keep her company though nothing happened. Jiang Zhisheng had not returned. Early the next day, training at the Bao house had been suspended, and later that evening, Ma Zhixian brought Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming galloping in from Ziyang County.
Tea was grown in Ziyang County, so there were tea merchants gathered there and continual transports toward Guanzhong, Northern Sichuan and the Ji River. Since there were a lot of merchants, the security business was likewise developed. In the relatively small county, there were more than ten security firms, but the biggest name among them was the "Ziyang Jingyuan Security Firm," and the most famous among the firm's escorts were Long Zhiteng the Cloud-piercing Swallow, Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger, and Jia Zhiming the Wave-shattering Sea Serpent. Not only were they called the "Magnificent Ziyang Three," but they were also the most famous heroes among the men of Shaanxi, Henan and Sichuan.
They were all disciples of old master Bao Zhenfei, and on the day they arrived by his instruction, the old master said to them, "Jiang Zhisheng has broken the rules of our school. Not only has he committed adultery with a married woman, but he's also injured his brothers and disrespected his master. I assume Zhixian has already given you all the details." Long Zhiteng and the others replied deferentially, "We've heard it all from brother Ma." Old master Bao nodded, "Good. I'll give you ten days to capture Jiang Zhisheng. If you aren't able to get him alive, then bring me back his head!" There was nothing else to say. Long Zhiteng and the others assented and went each with their own weapon toward Nanshan to look for Jiang Zhisheng. They came back that night and stayed at their master's house.
After three or four days had passed, they could find no trace of Jiang Zhisheng up in the mountains. Below those mountains, the young wife of Lu who'd been staying at old granny Guo's had already returned to Gong Hamlet to live with her family. It was said that her in-laws and her family brought the matter to court, and an official had paid Jiang Zhisheng's home a couple visits, but weren't able to find and arrest him. Some said that he had leapt into a mountain stream and died, while others said that he must have crossed the mountain and gone into Northern Sichuan, and unless old master Bao got sick and died, he wouldn't be able to come back. Talk of this filled the village until everyone knew about it. Some of them relayed it to Huang-shi and she cried day and night until the child in her arms became sick. Only her elder child Jiang Xiaohe seemed unaffected by this, as daily he played around everywhere with his stick. When he saw a tree, he hit it, and when he saw a wall, he'd hit that too. It became such that when dogs from the village caught sight of him, they would run away with their tail between their legs. There were forty to fifty other children in the village, many of which were older than he, but not one of them didn't yield to him or fear him.
On this day, he went out after eating lunch and didn't come back until after dark. He'd grown to look a bit like his father, but his wide face was handsomer, and it was now covered in sweat, mud and blood. His clothes were torn as well. However, he wasn't crying at all as he walked confidently back home. He threw his stick down and looked up at the steel blade hanging on the wall. He then took off his ripped clothes, dipped it in water and wiped the sweat and blood off of his face. With his sturdy little shoulders bare, he asked his mother, "Mom, is there still anything to eat?"
Huang-shi was so mad she started shaking and asked, "You... Who've you gotten into a fight with this time?" Jiang Xiaohe puffed up his chest brusquely and said, "Two of the Xue family's oxen and seven or eight people. Those big guys hit me a couple times, but they couldn't beat my incredible martial arts and were defeated by me. The blood on my head is because they hit me with a dart!" Huang-shi was taken aback and said, "What! A dart? Aren't those made of metal? They're sharp!"
Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, "It wasn't metal, it was stone. Don't worry, hidden weapons are nothing to great heroes. Mom, I want to go learn martial arts!" Huang-shi was at once angry and worried, saying, "Do you still want to learn martial arts? Don't know you know what's happened with your father? Though he did bad things, if he hadn't trained with old man Bao, it wouldn't have gotten this far. Now he's got the whole Bao household after him, and I don't know if he's dead or if he's run away. And you still want to learn martial arts?"
As she was speaking, she couldn't help but cry. Xiaohe said angrily, "My dad is a coward. He should come back, and we'll see what they dare to do! If they want to fight, I'll go and fight them with my dad!" Huang-shi anxiously stamped her feet and said, "Enough! Enough! Don't you go looking for trouble! Didn't you know that old man Bao called in three tigers from elsewhere?" Jiang Xiaohe said crossly, "Even if they're tigers, I'll beat them to death!" Seeing her son's stubbornness, Huang-shi's anxiety increased ten-fold. She brought food over to him. Xiaohe gobbled it up, and then ran inside and went to bed.
Huang-shi put away the bowl and chopsticks, and her younger son began to bawl again. She comforted him for a while until he finally went to sleep, and she laid the baby next to Xiaohe. At this point, Xiaohe was already sound asleep and snoring. One of his arms was outstretched with his hand in a fist, as if he was fighting someone in his dreams. Huang-shi tucked his small arm underneath the covers, and then left the room. She took out a needle and thread and mended her son's ripped clothes beside the dim oil lamp.
After a period of time, she suddenly felt a cold breeze blow in from outside. She looked up to see the door open and a person walk in. Startled, Huang-shi was about to scream, but after a careful look, she saw that it was her husband Jiang Zhisheng and said, "Oh! How come you're back?"
Jiang Zhisheng's silk shirt was now both dirty and torn, his hair was disheveled and his beard had grown out; in these few days, he had become sallow and skinny. Once he entered the house, he whispered frightfully, "Aren't there still a few taels of silver in the house? Give them to me. I have to run for my life!" Huang-shi shed tears as she asked, "Where are you going to go?" Jiang Zhisheng waved his hand and said, "Don't ask! Just go and get the silvers!" Weeping, Huang-shi went into a room to take the silvers out of a chest. Jiang Zhisheng grabbed the steel blade from off the wall, and then found a bowl of cold rice and stuffed it into his mouth with his hands.
Huang-shi came out of the room with the silvers in her hands. Seeing her husband eating the cold rice with his hands, she said, "Let me warm that up for you. There's some dishes left over too!" But Jiang Zhisheng gestured at her and said as he chewed the rice, "No need, I'm leaving now!" He then took the silvers from his wife and weighed them in his hand, guessing there were five or six taels there, before stuffing them into his shirt. He swallowed the rice and began to tear up as he reached out and took his wife's hands in his, saying, "I'm so sorry! I'm young and I've done wrong, but I didn't think that over in the Bao household, they were so cruel! If I don't get far away quickly, I'm a dead man if they catch me. I'm going to another province to look for an official friend of mine, and perhaps in the future I'll be able to bring you all out there with me!" The sobbing Huang-shi choked up and was unable to say anything.
Jiang Zhisheng said, "I dare not stay here any longer, so I have to go. No matter who you run into, don't tell them that I came back tonight!" He headed to the door after he said this, but then suddenly stopped and asked, "Where's Xiaohe?" Huang-shi wiped her tears and said, "Xiaohe's sleeping!" Jiang Zhisheng's meaning was that he still wanted to see his son, but after a moment's thought, he sighed and opened the door. Huang-shi was going to see her husband off outside, but Jiang Zhisheng blocked the door and used a alarming tone to say, "Don't come out here with me!" Carrying his blade, Jiang Zhisheng then slipped outside and went north along the wall. Like a thief, he fled the village and started running northward.
It was already after the second watch. The numerous stars dotted the sky and the moon was a hook. The cold spring wind blew at Jiang Zhisheng and caused him to shiver. Though he didn't encounter any travelers on the road, it seemed as if all the dogs in the villages along the way had discovered him as they barked wildly from near and far. Jiang Zhisheng dashed northward, but because the ground was uneven, he fell over a couple times and once nearly tripped and fell into the water. He became ever more panicked and flustered, as if someone was chasing behind him. Sometimes he became disheartened and wanted to plunge his head into the paddies and call on the water to drown him; other times he steeled his heart, not wanting to run anymore and thinking that he might as well fight it out with Bao Zhenfei and the others.
But ultimately he wanted to live and forced himself to endure the hardship. He kept going forward in the vast darkness of the night until his feet hurt and his legs became wobbly, and gradually the east became lighter. He saw a tall mountain in front of him and knew that he had already left the limits of Zhenba County. He stood still and took a few deep breaths, and then like a cripple he stumbled his way north. The color of dawn rose slowly from the east and revealed itself. Jiang Zhisheng suddenly felt that if someone were to come upon him looking as coarse as he did with a blade in his hand, they would surely think him a bandit. Thus, he hurriedly cast his blade into a paddy and then endured the pain in his legs as he proceeded. The sky was bright by the time he had reached a mountain pass.
This mountain was a part of the Great Ba Mountains. It wasn't high, but the mountain path was rough and twisting. After walking into the mountains a hundred paces or so, Jiang Zhisheng met with only the sounds of small birds chirping beside his ear and goshawks flying circles above his head, but encountered no people. He loosened up just slightly and found a pale green rock to sit upon. He took off his shoes, which he had already worn through, and emptied it of sand and pebbles. He took his socks off and saw that several large blisters had formed on his feet. He unflinchingly pinched them open with his fingernails, and a clear fluid leaked out of them.
He didn't dare linger here long, so he put his socks and shoes back on. He walked a few steps, but the more he walked, the more his feet hurt until he simply couldn't step on them anymore, nor could he lift his heels. He sat on the ground and ripped a portion of his shirt away into two strips. As he bent forward to tie his shoes up, he thought, Have I committed such a great crime that I've been forced into this state? I hid in the southern mountains for a few days and nights, and now I've run to the northern mountains. I don't know if I'll live or die after I cross this mountain. At this thought, he felt both sorrow and anguish in his heart, fatigue in his body, and hunger in his stomach. He stood up and followed the mountain path northward step by step as if he was being tortured. After a few dozen steps, he heard the jumbled clop-clopping of horse's hooves echoing throughout the mountain valley and his heart shuddered.
Jiang Zhisheng looked back fearfully and saw four hearty horses galloping his way. On the three horses in front sat big, tough men, and on the horse in the back with his fluttering white beard and deep purple face sat old master Bao. Upon seeing them, Jiang Zhisheng was so terrified his soul just about left him. He grabbed onto the crags at the side of the path, wanting to climb up the mountain. He heard only a thundering voice behind him say, "Jiang Zhisheng, are you still trying run?"
It was old master Bao who said this. Jiang Zhisheng was so scared his legs went soft and he came crashing down. He rolled over, getting ready to run again, but the four horses were already close by. The one on the first horse was none other than Long Zhiteng the Cloud-piercing Swallow, whose dark face was covered by a full beard and appeared extremely fierce. When the horses reached Jiang Zhisheng, Long Zhiteng pulled on the reins of his horse with one hand and waved a leather whip in the other. He sat up and cracked Jiang Zhisheng on the head with his whip. Jiang Zhisheng's head pounded and his vision became hazy, but he still struggled to get up. An urgent fury burned in his heart and he hollered at them, "You're a bunch of brigands..." Before he could say anymore, he felt faint with an odd pain in his chest. He exerted his strength to yell further, but he didn't know if anything had come out before he collapsed to the ground and died.
The mounted old master was about to wave them off, but it was already too late. Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger was already pulling his steel blade out from Jiang Zhisheng's chest. He took this opportunity to dismount his horse and wiped the fresh blood off of his blade on Jiang Zhisheng. He then said to old master Bao, "Master! We've finished our task. Let's go back!" Old master Bao sat in his saddle in a daze for a while as he looked down at Jiang Zhisheng's body. Though his face was still frighteningly purple, a little bit of pity could be seen in his two eyes.
Next to him, Jia Zhiming the Wave-shattering Sea Serpent got off of his horse as well and grumbled at Long Zhiqi, "Third brother! You've acted too hastily! It would have been better even to ask him a few things." Long Zhiqi's thick, dark face became angrier as he said, "What's there to ask such a person? If we'd let him take even one more breath, those in our Kunlun School would have completely lost face." Long Zhiteng sat on his horse and scolded his brother, "The master didn't say anything, so how could you just kill him?"
Long Zhiqi was irate and was about to talk back to his brother, when they heard old master Bao shout, "Stop bickering! Throw his body into a mountain stream!" Thereafter, the three dared not make a sound. Jia Zhiming and Long Zhiqi went over and lifted up the body. Jia Zhiming unexpectedly felt the few taels of silver on Jiang Zhisheng and handed them to his master. Old master Bao received them and looked them over. They were light, amounting to not much more than five or six taels, and in his heart he knew that the reason Jiang Zhisheng had returned home last night was to retrieve these silvers. At this time, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming had lifted up Jiang Zhisheng's body and thrown it into a creek. Not paying close attention to it, old master Bao beckoned with his hand and said, "Let's head back!" The four horses turned around, left the mountain pass and flew back to Bao Village.
When the old master Bao Zhenfei returned home, not only had his anger dissipated, but his energy had also obviously deflated. Long Zhiteng and the others went into the house to eat and drink. Leaning on a crutch, Bao Zhilin twisted his waist and poked his head into the room to see his brothers, whispering, "Well? Did you catch Jiang Zhisheng or what?" Long Zhiteng and the others cared only about the wine they were drinking and didn't reply to him. Bao Zhilin asked again, "Did you finish him or not? Don't worry about me, I won't tell anyone!"
Long Zhiteng struck the table with his wine cup and said, "Brother, we're not a part of Lülin, so how could we go around finishing people as we pleased? We went out with the master with the intent to chase him down and perhaps give him a good thrashing, but we weren't able to catch up to him. Or maybe you saw wrong and the person leaving his house last night wasn't him."
Hearing this, Bao Zhilin appeared to be very disappointed, and said viciously, "That bastard'll get it sooner or later. Just wait and see!" Saying this, he poured himself two cups of wine and drank them, and then enduring the wound on his back, he left the room on his crutches in search of his father to find out more. However, when he opened the door to his father's room, he saw his father holding his niece Aluan and playing with her. And though he was playing with her, there was an extremely ugly color to his old face. Bao Zhilin knew that his father was troubled, and slipped back into his own room.
That afternoon, Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming said farewell to their master and spurred their horses back to Ziyang County. Once they left, Ma Zhixian and the others were in a stupor, since the truth was obvious that they must have finished their business here. In addition, Ma Zhixian had been related to Jiang Zhisheng and thus dared not go to the Jiang house. Though the others aside from Ma Zhixian, like Chen Zhijun and Liu Zhiyuan, hadn't normally gotten along very well with Jiang Zhisheng, they now felt a bit of sorrow because he had been one of them, and realized that learning martial arts from old master Bao was no easy task.
Old master Bao was weary for the entire day and skipped lunch. He napped until it was evening. He felt around beside him and found that the few taels of silver they had taken from Jiang Zhisheng's corpse were still there. He sighed quietly and after eating dinner glumly, he went out. It was already dusk as the watch gong sounded out from the village, and the various houses shuttered themselves. Old master Bao walked to the gate of Jiang Zhisheng's residence and looked around at a distance from the door. He saw only a dim lamplight coming from inside but heard no sounds. Old master Bao took out the few taels of silver and tossed them over the wall, thinking, Jiang Zhisheng was going to use these as he escaped for his life, but he can't use them now. I'm returning it to you, so that you can use it! He turned around to go and after taking a step, he heard the sound of a baby crying from inside. Old master Bao knew then that Jiang Zhisheng had left behind a baby still in swaddling clothes, and he felt even worse. He sighed to himself and returned home.
The next day, when old master Bao woke up early in the morning, he was as subdued as before and taught martial arts per usual. He had always been a tough man who never sighed, but these few days he would often wrinkle his brow abruptly and contemplate. Sometimes he wouldn't be doing anything and then give a long sigh. Thus, his disciples all felt as if there was a change in their old master's temperament. Chen Zhijun, Liu Zhiyuan and the others were all sweating, not knowing what was causing old master Bao anxiety. Everyone came on time to learn martial arts daily, and as they ran through their exercises, they all did so diligently, not daring to be even a little negligent. After they were done practicing their fighting techniques, they separated and did their chores; the ones who were supposed to feed the horses fed the horses, and the ones who were supposed to till the land tilled the land. Not one of them dared to shirk their duties, nor did any of them dare to joke around, because they were all trying to prevent the old master from getting mad.
After seven or eight days came the day that old master Bao's proud disciple Lu Zhizhong returned. He had actually come back the night before and rested a night in his own home before reporting back to his master early the next day. When he came back and saw that there were only three people, Ma Zhixian, Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun, on the grounds in front of the gate, he was a little surprised. Before he entered the gate, he saw his disciple-brother Bao Zhilin coming out of it. With Bao Zhilin's shoulder crooked and his face yellow and slim, Lu Zhizhong thought he had come down with some sort of illness.
Upon seeing Lu Zhizhong, Bao Zhilin said, "Brother, what happened to you? You done playing around in Hanzhong!?" Lu Zhizhong asked, "Brother, what happened to you?" Bao Zhilin became annoyed and said, "Don't worry yourself over it!" Lu Zhizhong looked back again towards Ma Zhixian and the others. All of them were focusing on their training, not daring to say a word.
Seeing that things were not quite right, Lu Zhizhong entered the gate quickly to see the master. Bao Zhilin followed him in and asked, "How's my brother's wound?" Lu Zhizhong shook his head and said, "It's not serious. He can already put a little weight on his leg." He went inside and saw that his master had just gotten up and was drinking tea. After Lu Zhizhong bowed, old master Bao told him to sit down next to him and asked, "How is Zhiyun's injury?" Lu Zhizhong said, "When I got to Hanzhong, brother's leg was already doing much better. I stayed there for a few days and by the time I left, he could stand on it without anyone's help. He told me to tell master not to worry. He'll be able to come back home for a visit next month."
Old master Bao nodded and then asked him about the business of the Hanzhong Security Service and the recent goings-on of his disciples in Hanzhong, and then he told Lu Zhizhong to go home and rest. Seeing that his master wasn't in the greatest of moods, Lu Zhizhong dared not say anymore. When he exited the house, he waited around until Ma Zhixian and the others were done training and hurried over to talk with them. He asked, "Why isn't Qin Zhibao here?" Ma Zhixian quickly gave him a meaningful glance, and Chen Zhijun said, "Don't ask! We'll tell you when we've the time to!" Just then, old master Bao came out of the gate and Ma Zhixian and the others started practicing with their fists and feet and blades and staffs. Lu Zhizhong respectfully said a few more things to the old master about Hanzhong and then left.
On the road, Lu Zhizhong couldn't help but be wary. He figured that something must have happened between his brothers after he left and that it was probably something really serious. After he entered the city and went home, he told his wife that things around his master's home were very suspicious. His wife said, "After you left, none of your brothers came by, so I don't know what's going on either." As Lu Zhizhong thought it over, he looked over at the things that Jiang Zhisheng had wanted him to bring back from Hanzhong: the red satin, the facial powder, the rouge and the wool. He thought, I'll head back and take these things to Zhisheng, and while I'm there, I can ask him what's been going on at the master's house. He didn't go to train today either. Could it be he's got some sort of problem as well? He pondered this dubiously for a moment, though soon it was time for lunch.
As he was eating, Ma Zhixian swung by. Lu Zhizhong quickly said to him, "Brother, please sit! I was just thinking about going to find you! Why didn't I see Qin Zhibao and Jiang Zhisheng today?" He then pointed to the facial powder and the other things on the table and said, "These are all the things Jiang Zhisheng asked me to get for him. I was about to go send it over to him, but you've come at just the right time. I can just give it to you to give to him. It'll save me a trip!"
Ma Zhixian looked at the facial powder, red satin and the other things and a look of heartbreak appeared immediately on his face. He waved his hand and said, "We'll have to leave these things at your place for now! We can't find Jiang Zhisheng. You were only gone a dozen or so days, but something horrible happened over here. Qin Zhibao and Bao Zhilin were hurt, and the old master became furious. I even made a trip to Ziyang County to get the brothers Long and brother Jia. They'd only left a few days ago. Jiang Zhisheng..." When he got to here, he covered his face and detailed the events that had occurred in the past dozen or so days to Lu Zhizhong.
After Lu Zhizhong heard it all, he was so alarmed he'd lost the color of his face and sat in a daze for a while. He then whispered to Ma Zhixian, "So you're telling me that Jiang Zhisheng must be dead?" Ma Zhixian said, "If he's not dead, then why would the master send Long Zhiteng and the others back? Actually, he brought all this trouble upon himself, so his death isn't much of a pity, but his poor family... His wife isn't even thirty yet, and he had two sons, one of them twelve and the other not even a year old. The family has a bit of property, but once Jiang Zhisheng left, a lot of his clansmen have popped up, wanting to divide the Jiang family property up. You know that Jiang Zhisheng's wife is my cousin, and our two families have always been close, but these days, I've been afraid to go to the Jiang house, because I know that if I go, his wife will sure to be crying!"
Lu Zhizhong creased his brow and sighed, saying, "How did things get to this!? When I was about to leave and Jiang Zhisheng approached me about getting these things for him, I was a little suspicious. I even warned him. I never thought..." He sighed and then said, "But today I noticed the master wasn't in a very good mood. The old man didn't breathe one word of this to me. I think he killed Jiang Zhisheng in a rage, and is now perhaps a little bit regretful."
Ma Zhixian gestured and said, "Our master's temperament is tough if nothing else! When has he ever regretted anything he's ever done!? But since Jiang Zhisheng betrayed our master, even though he killed him, the master's still feeling unhappy. Otherwise, I'm just afraid of Jiang Zhisheng's clansmen finding out about this and taking it up with the government." The two disciple-brothers sat gloomily for a while before Ma Zhixian departed. The next day, Lu Zhizhong went to old master Bao's house again and he too trained and did his chores carefully, never mentioning any of this.
After another several days had passed, Qin Zhibao and Bao Zhilin's wounds had healed, and the master and his disciples practiced their martial techniques as they had before. Old master Bao's mood had also gradually recovered and he stopped sighing. It was as if none of that had ever happened at all. However, in the midst of their blades and spears there was missing Jiang Zhisheng, and not far from where they were, there was the addition of a widow and two orphans.
Jiang Zhisheng's son, Jiang Xiaohe was boorish. He spent his days throwing fists and playing around with his stick. After eating, he'd go to sleep, and after sleeping, he'd play again. He was a twelve-year-old after all. Lately, since he had abruptly stopped seeing his father and his mother cried daily, Jiang Xiaohe became a little depressed and thus didn't have the heart to go play outside.
On this day, he asked his mother again, "Mom! Why isn't dad back yet?" His mother Huang-shi replied, "Didn't I already tell you? Your dad left the province to find a friend. He might not be back for a year or two." Jiang Xiaohe scrunched up his brow and said, "That's no good! I'm going to go look for my dad!" He didn't know why, but tears began to fall from his eyes like rain. He saw that his mother was breastfeeding his little brother, but she too was weeping to herself. Jiang Xiaohe thought, My mother must be keeping something from me. I have to go ask other people!
Early in the morning, he took up his stick and left the house. He went to the gate of the Bao house and spotted old man Bao teaching his disciples a stance. His uncle Ma Zhixian was there too throwing punches. He remembered that his father had trained with these people before, and furthermore that his father had been better at it than them. Jiang Xiaohe ran over there carrying his stick and grabbed onto Ma Zhixian's leg, saying, "Uncle, I have a question for you, and you have to answer it. Where did my dad go?"
Ma Zhixian became anxious, but before he could answer, Bao Zhilin rushed over and shooed Jiang Xiaohe away like he was getting rid of a dog, "Go! Go! Where did this kid come from? Be careful or you might get hurt by these weapons. Go! Go!" Jiang Xiaohe waved his stick and struck Bao Zhilin in the stomach. With a "whack," Bao Zhilin covered his stomach with his hands and said, "Ah! You little brat! How dare you!" If his uncle hadn't been there, Bao Zhilin might have actually killed the boy. Jiang Xiaohe jumped up and was about to hit him again when Ma Zhixian hurriedly held him back. To the side, Lu Zhizhong, Chen Zhijun and the others stopped their exercises.
Old master Bao walked over and looked down with his purple face, asking the child angrily, "Boy, how can you just go around hitting people?" Jiang Xiaohe flipped his eyes toward the old master's scary visage, but didn't back down at all. His stick remained out as he stamped his foot and said, "I came to find my uncle and ask him where my dad is. Where does that guy get off shooing me away? I'll hit him again!" As he said this, he waved his stick and aimed for Bao Zhilin. Ma Zhixian grabbed hold of the stick, but the child had quite some strength, so it would have taken some effort to actually take the stick away. Bao Zhilin didn't back down either, saying, "That blow hurt quite a bit! Where did you come from, you little monster?"
Old master Bao gave his son a push, sending him several steps back. Then, the old master asked of Ma Zhixian, "To whom does this child belong? Why is he here looking for his father?" Ma Zhixian was taken aback, but said, "This...this is Jiang Zhisheng's older son!" Upon hearing this, the color of the old master's face changed immediately. He gave Jiang Xiaohe a careful once over and felt that his face was very much like his father's, though he was handsomer than Jiang Zhisheng.
Jiang Xiaohe took the opportunity of Ma Zhixian speaking to wave his stick around. Though he didn't hit anyone, he was very imposing, just like a little hero. He beat his sturdy little chest and said, "Which one of you dares to compare our skills in a contest!?" Old master Bao smiled and walked over to Jiang Xiaohe, saying, "Little boy, didn't you want to find your father? Your dad Jiang Zhisheng was one of my disciples. He hasn't been coming here lately and I'm even starting to miss him. Go home and ask your mother. Perhaps she knows what's happened to your father!"
Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No! It was because my mom won't tell me anything that I came to find my uncle. I'm not leaving until you tell me what happened to my dad. You can just quit your training now!" Old master Bao laughed and took out some money to give to Jiang Xiaohe. He smiled and said, "Stop fussing. I see you're a good kid, so you should listen well. Let me give you some money. Go buy yourself some candy!" Jiang Xiaohe took the money and flung it right back at the old master. He then brandished his stick and said, "I don't want money, I want my dad! Go find my dad. Otherwise, tell me where he is, and I'll go find him myself!"
Old master Bao couldn't help getting mad and glaring fiercely at the boy. Seeing that the situation wasn't good, Ma Zhixian hurried over and nudged Jiang Xiaohe away while urging, "Good nephew, stop causing trouble here! I'll come home with you. I can tell you where your dad is." Jiang Xiaohe was pulled away by Ma Zhixian, but it didn't stop him from waving his stick and his little fists at old master Bao.
Bao Zhilin asked his father, "The kid is even more hateful than his father. Why don't we give him a good beating?" Old master Bao replied with a backhand, resulting in a mark across Bao Zhilin's face, and then gave him a kick that left Bao Zhilin rolling on the ground. Liu Zhiyuan, Lu Zhizhong and the others came quickly to urge calm. Old master Bao was at once angry and also sad, scolding his son, "You say that Jiang Zhisheng's son is just like his dad, but it's a shame that you can't be like me. You don't even need to be like me. You just need a little bit of the ardor that boy showed and we wouldn't be here like this!" Covering his face, Bao Zhilin ran to the side with his butt sticking out, looking forlorn like a dog that'd just been hit. Old master Bao's anger had yet to subside, and he continued yelling at his son.
At this time, his small granddaughter Aluan came running out of the gate with both her hands wide open, shouting out, "Grandpa! Grandpa! Don't be mad!" When she came close, she latched onto her grandfather. Old master Bao's anger had put his white beard in disarray. He used his hand to stroke his granddaughter's little braids, and felt desolation in his heart as he thought, Both of my sons are completely useless. When I die, not only will my Bao family's martial arts end here, but there will be no one to deal with our enemies. Though I have a lot of disciples, when it comes down to it, I can't rely on them. I'll take advantage of the years I have remaining to pass my martial arts on to Aluan! Thus, old master Bao resolved to teach his martial arts to his granddaughter. After a little bit, Ma Zhixian returned and Old master Bao asked him about the situation at the Jiang house. He then instructed him to fashion a smaller, lighter blade at his smithy for Aluan to use.
From this day on, old master Bao started sighing all the time once again. Jiang Xiaohe had gathered upwards of ten good-for-nothing kids from in and outside the village, all holding bamboo poles and wooden knives, and they would often cause trouble just outside the gate of the Bao house. With Jiang Xiaohe as lead, they called on Bao Zhilin by name to come out and duel with them. Though Bao Zhilin wasn't afraid of them, he was afraid of his father, so he hid inside, not daring to come out. On the third day, when Qin Zhibao came to train, his head was bleeding, saying that just outside the village Jiang Zhisheng's son had thrown a rock at him. When Liu Zhiyuan came, he was covered in dirt, saying that Jiang Xiaohe and a group of kids had surrounded him. They were all carrying clumps of dirt, which they then threw at him. Hearing these things, old master Bao sneered coldly and said, "That kid!" Standing to the side, Ma Zhixian was extremely alarmed with the expression on the old master's face.
Nothing much had happened this day, and when evening arrived, old master Bao went out, carrying a sharp knife with him. It was already late in the day and the clouds in the sky were crimson like the color of blood. The old master glanced into the Jiang house as he walked by, and then left the village. Looking back, he saw cooking smoke coming off the roofs of various houses and the sheep-herders returning as the color of the sky approached darkness. The old master looked like a hungry tiger searching for a meal, his two eyes darting back and forth and his white beard moving about in the springtime evening breeze.
After waiting a while, the color of dusk slowly broadened. He spotted a child waving a stick around, running upon a small path in the midst of the wheat fields to the west. The old master swiftly intercepted him, and before Jiang Xiaohe had left the wheat field, the old master was standing in his way. Jiang Xiaohe glared at him and brandished his stick, saying, "You old man, you here to show me what you've got?"
Without saying anything, the old master pulled from within his shirt the knife, which shined brilliantly in the rosy twilight sky. Venomous flames burst from the old master's eyes as he raised the knife and thought, I'm ending you here to avoid a problem later! However, not realizing that the old master was going to kill him, Jiang Xiaohe jumped up and down in glee, saying, "Ah! What a nice knife you have!" This innocent and energetic act suddenly softened the old master's heart. He lowered the knife slowly and smiled at Jiang Xiaohe, saying, "Do you like it? I was waiting here especially for you so that I could give it to you!"
Jiang Xiaohe ecstatically received the knife and delighted over it again and again. A thought abruptly popped into the old master's mind: I could take it back and just kill him. However, just as he was thinking this, another thought pushed it away, as he considered passively, Why should I? It's enough that I had his father killed. Need I really nip this in the bud? There's a common saying, "It is better to resolve feuds than to create them," not to mention that the Heavens are watching! I, Bao Zhenfei, am already nearing seven decades. I can't keep carrying out malice. He thereupon stroked Jiang Xiaohe's head compassionately and said, "Go home! Stop thinking about your father. He's left the province and is certainly not enduring any hardship anymore now that he's gone. I urge your mother not to worry either. Also, I'm asking you to stop making enemies of my disciples and causing trouble in front of my house!"
Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I won't! Since you've given me this knife, I'll never cause you trouble again." Then, holding the knife in one hand and a stick in the other, he jumped up and ran back home happily. Old master Bao watched as the small boy left and then stood in the wheat field for a while, but in his heart he was content. He went home and stopped worrying and sighing.
The next day, his disciples came to train as they had before, and no one was harassed by Jiang Xiaohe. The old master was especially energetic today as he practiced his fighting techniques, and had told his merely-ten-year-old granddaughter Aluan to come out with him to swing her fists and twist her legs. After training, when his disciples split up to do chores, the old master called Ma Zhixian inside alone.
When he entered the house, old master Bao took out a few pieces of silver and said, "This is about ten taels. Take it to Jiang's family. He's learned martial arts from me for three years and it was because he violated one of our rules that we forced him away. I don't think he'll be able to come back even after ten or twenty years, and I feel bad for his wife and children. Give these silvers to them now, and later on I'll regularly help them out."
Ma Zhixian listened and nodded. He received the ten taels of silver and exited, but couldn't avoid being doubtful, thinking to himself, Where's the old man's peace of mind coming from? He killed a husband and a father, but now he's helping to support the widow and the orphaned. Could it be that he's actually feeling regret? These few days when that child Xiaohe was causing him trouble, he didn't seem to get very angry. This is really suspicious. Why is the old man so relieved?
When he arrived at the Jiang house, he opened the gate and saw Jiang Xiaohe in the yard carrying a shiny, seven-inch-long knife. Upon seeing Ma Zhixian, he ran over and said, "Uncle! Uncle! Look at this wonderful knife I have! It's a great one!" Ma Zhixian said, "What are you doing playing with that knife? You're going to end up hurting yourself. Where did you get it?"
Jiang Xiaohe said, "It was given to me by your master, the old man Bao. Yesterday just before dark, he was waiting for me in the wheat fields. He pulled this knife out and then gave it to me." Ma Zhixian heard this and was so scared his face went pale. He snatched the knife from Jiang Xiaohe's hands and said, "You have to give it back!" He hastily walked into the house and said to Huang-shi, "Cousin! Quickly, take your kids and move into the city. Otherwise, you guys will all be killed. Old man Bao is fiercer than a tiger and more vicious than a wolf!" He got to here and started tearing up in anger.
Huang-shi didn't know what was going on as Jiang Xiaohe entered and asked for the knife back. Ma Zhixian handed it to Jiang Xiaohe and said in bleak anguish, "I'll give the knife to you so that in the future you can give it to your father. Gah! Your father did some bad things, but they weren't so serious that he deserved to..." Seeing Ma Zhixian shedding tears and speaking so haltingly, Huang-shi was so frightened she couldn't help but shake as tears poured from her eyes, saying, "Cousin-in-law! What's going on? Tell me! Your words..."
Ma Zhixian waved his hand and said, "I can't give you the details now, cousin. You and your children should move into the city today. Live at my place, and never come back here. Otherwise, misfortune will befall you!" Huang-shi quaked in fear and said, "Yes, yes, we'll move into the city as soon as we can!" Jiang Xiaohe held onto his uncle and asked, "What misfortune? Quickly tell me!" Ma Zhixian sighed and gestured with his hand, saying, "Don't ask! You have to go into the city today with your mother and stay at my place. I can teach you martial arts and how to strike metal. Once you know how to work metal, you can make however many blades as you like and you can rely on this skill to support yourself in the future."
Jiang Xiaohe heard this and jumped up in pleasure, saying, "Good! Good!" That day, with the help of Ma Zhixian, they called upon a Jiang clansman to look after the house, as they hired a cart and loaded it up. The three of them, the mother Huang-shi and her two children, entered the city and lived in the rear courtyard of the Ma smithy.
Ma Zhixian had always known his master Bao Zhenfei to be an extremely cruel man. It didn't need to be said that Jiang Zhisheng had been killed by him, and he was afraid that he would eventually be unable to protect the lives of these two children. Thus, Ma Zhixian was extremely concerned, yet he spoke of this to no one, not even his wife, Li-shi. When he saw old master Bao every day, he was deferential many times over, and he dared not offend any of his brothers, especially that Bao Zhilin, fearing that any provocation of his master would extend the misfortune to himself. Nonetheless, Huang-shi was living peacefully at his house. Huang-shi was still young however, and things had been good between her and her husband. When he'd disappeared, she was sorrowful, but gradually became numb to the feeling. She started strolling around the city after doing herself up as she had before. When this was discovered by her clansmen, they started several rumors and used this pretext in an effort to snatch away her dozen or so roods of land.
Time flew and before they knew it, another year had passed. By this time, though it wasn't clear from whose mouth it had come, it was said that Jiang Zhisheng had already died, killed by bandits he had encountered in the Qinling Mountains. There were even some who said that they'd seen his corpse. At first, Huang-shi was skeptical and Ma Zhixian buried the matter deep in his heart, never admitting that Jiang Zhisheng was dead. However, later on when Ma Zhixian witnessed Huang-shi's youthful restlessness, he couldn't help but think to himself, What retribution! Jiang Zhisheng fooled around with a married woman before he died, and now only a year after his death, his wife wants to get married again. Rather than letting her do something shameful here, I might as well give her the news of her husband's death so that she can remarry! Thus, on this day he spoke truthfully with Huang-shi.
He said with anguish, "Cousin, I'm telling you now that Jiang Zhisheng must be dead! As you're still so young, cousin, no one can stop you from remarrying, but you can't take Jiang Xiaohe with you. Xiaohe is Jiang Zhisheng's eldest son, and not only were Zhisheng and I family, but we were disciple-brothers for three years, so I must put down at least this foundation for him!" Hearing the truth from Ma Zhixian, Huang-shi cried for three days straight and dressed in mourning clothes for several months afterwards. However, she eventually found the life of a widow too hard to endure and got remarried to Eldest Dong, the owner of a wool shop, taking with her the two-year-old Xiaolu, but leaving Xiaohe with Ma Zhixian.
Jiang Xiaohe was already 14 years old now and had learned martial arts with Ma Zhixian for two years, laying down a base for his martial skill. Furthermore, since he had been helping Ma Zhixian work metal daily, his upper arm had developed quite a bit of strength and his body had become quite robust. At the same time, because of the misfortunes of his father disappearing, his mother remarrying, and he and his brother separating, his temperament had grown ever more irritable and obstinate. Every day, he drank wine at the tavern and caused trouble on the streets, not taking his metalworking seriously. Moreover, he did not get along at all with Ma Zhixian's wife Li-shi. Though Ma Zhixian often mediated between them, Li-shi still made a fuss on a daily basis, and Jiang Xiaohe frequently wanted to leave, causing Ma Zhixian no end to difficulty.
This day was a very cold winter's day, and dense snow sprinkled down from the sky. The streets and roofs that were usually very shabby were currently adorned with silver. In the afternoon, Ma Zhixian trudged through the half-foot of snow as he returned from practicing martial arts in Bao Village. Once he arrived home, he was covered in snow and his feet were caked with mud. He looked harried. His wife Li-shi asked him resentfully, "You won't do proper business, but day after day you'll leave the city to train. You've been at it for more than six years now; what have you learned? Have you even made any money off of it?"
Ma Zhixian sighed and said, "What do you know!? I'm in a difficult position right now, and I can't stop going even if I wanted to! When I first found a master from which to learn martial arts, I was young and eager, thinking how great it would be if I knew a few punches and kicks and was able to use a sword. After six years, I can't say I've completed my study, but I've learned enough to travel upon Jianghu and be a bodyguard. The master wanted to recommend me for a job outside of here at a security service. But I thought, why go to a security service elsewhere and earn seven or eight taels of silver each trip when I could stay at home and open a smithy? So it's been more than once that I've let the opportunity pass by. But it's no use thinking about this now. It's not just that I can't find work; I dare not stop going to the master's house. If I don't go, the old man will certainly be angry, and when he's angry, you won't be telling me to stop thinking about supporting us with my martial skill; even my life may not be safe!"
Li-shi said, "Are you so afraid of your master? He's just a man; what can he do? Don't you think he has to pay with his life if he's killed someone?" Ma Zhixian leaned forward and looked straight at her, saying, "What are you talking about? Pay with his life? Do you really think a man of Jianghu has to pay with his life when he harms another? Jiang Zhisheng..." When he got to here, he swallowed his words, and then shook his head and sighed, saying, "You have no idea. Even if I told you, you wouldn't understand!" Li-shi said, "There you go mentioning Jiang Zhisheng again! He was a close relation of ours! When he died, we couldn't even see his remains. Though my cousin marrying Elder Dong was a happy occasion, that child Xiaohe is showing even less promise, and he goads my anger every day. At the time, you insisted on keeping him here, keeping that misfortune around. What will we be able to do about him?"
Ma Zhixian said, "The child Xiaohe will be easy to handle. In another couple years he'll be an adult. If he's no good, we can ask him to leave. It's not as if he'll starve to death out there." Li-shi was infuriated, saying, "Aren't you so thoughtful! It's a good thing Xiaohe isn't your birth son." This wasn't the first time Li-shi said this. Ma Zhixian knew early on that his wife was jealous, but he didn't want to get pulled into pointless anger, so he went to the front of his shop. Business had never been great at his smithy, not to mention the fact that it was snowing today, so even less people came to call upon him. There used to be two attendants working at the front, but they parted ways with him a few months ago, leaving only Jiang Xiaohe and one other young apprentice to watch the shop. Right now there was just the one young apprentice by the small furnace banging on a metal pan. Ma Zhixian didn't know where Xiaohe had gone off to, and thought to himself, That child's not living up to his potential. I might as well tell him to go! He sat angrily beside the young apprentice and helped him strike at the metal pan.
Before they were finished with the pan, they suddenly saw a child from the neighboring Zhang smithy, Maotou, running in, covered in snow, saying, "Shopkeeper Ma, hurry and go see! Your Xiaohe's fighting with someone at Third Liu's tavern!" Ma Zhixian asked urgently, "Who is he fighting with?" Maotou said, "With Donkey Chu. He's broken Donkey Chu's head open!" Upon hearing that Jiang Xiaohe was brawling with Donkey Chu, Ma Zhixian's heart shuddered. He shook his head and said, "I don't care. Let them fight! Whoever has the skill can go ahead and kill the other!"
Not long after Maotou left, Jiang Xiaohe came back. Other than some snow, there were no wounds or anything else on his body, nor was there the slightest hint of anger on his face. He didn't look at all as if he'd been in a fight. He was tall, and though handsome, he was also very dark. He simply didn't look like a 14-year-old child. When he saw Ma Zhixian, he appeared to be a bit ashamed, hanging his head as he approached and said, "Uncle, take a break! Let me have at it!" Ma Zhixian said nothing as he stood up and sat to the side to rest. He watched Jiang Xiaohe swinging the mallet with his well-built arm to strike the metal. His brow was creased and he didn't make a sound; he was taking the work more seriously than he usually did. After a short while, he finished the pan. The young apprentice went into the inner courtyard to help Li-shi with lunch. Ma Zhixian was about to ask Xiaohe why he got into another fight at the tavern when he saw Jiang Xiaohe abruptly put down the mallet and stand up with tears streaming out of his eyes.
He took Ma Zhixian's arm and asked sorrowfully, "Uncle! Please tell me the truth. How did my father die two years ago? Who was he killed by?" Hearing this, Ma Zhixian was taken aback and at the same time forlorn. He sat dumbfounded for a moment and then said, "I heard from others that your father Jiang Zhisheng did some bad things and broke some of the rules old master Bao had set for his disciples. He wouldn't listen to old master Bao and ended up hurting his brothers Bao Zhilin and Qin Zhibao. Afterwards, fearing that master Bao's disciples would make an enemy of him, he left his home. Once he did, no one heard from him again. It wasn't until later that I heard people say that he encountered bandits in the Qinling Mountains and was killed by them!"
Jiang Xiaohe wept and shook his head, saying, "That's not right! Uncle, you're hiding things from me. I'd just gotten into a fight over something small with the donkey-driver Third Chu at the tavern. He wasn't a match for me, so he started yelling at me. He said..." Jiang Xiaohe choked up from distress. Ma Zhixian patted his shoulder to try to calm him down. Jiang Xiaohe continued, "He said that my father was killed by Bao Zhenfei, Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi, and Jia Zhiming, and that it was you, uncle, who called the Long brothers here from Ziyang County. I don't think there's any way you don't know what happened!"
Hearing these words, Ma Zhixian couldn't hold back his own tears, saying, "I've kept these things to myself for over two years, though I've told a little bit of it to your mother before. I'd never thought that the people out there already knew everything!" Thus he related the bygone events in detail, and then said, "You can't put all the blame on old master Bao and the Long brothers, because your father had also made many mistakes. Old master Bao is stubborn and treats his disciples harshly; this, everyone knows. It's rumored that in his youth, his wife died by his hand for being unfaithful, and he was put in prison and sentenced to death. However, because of the chaos caused by the White Lotus insurgents, the city was overtaken and the turmoil allowed him to escape. He changed his name and enlisted in the military, and it wasn't until after that that he joined a security service. The present Bao Zhiyun and Bao Zhilin are the sons that his murdered wife had given birth to. So, those he hated most in life were the lecherous and lustful. When he accepted disciples, the first thing he brought up was this condition. If it was violated, he would put you in a grave. While your father was still alive, he very well knew this, but broke the rule anyway. He also called the master old and picked a fight with him, so that's why in anger, the master sent me to call upon the Long brothers and Jia Zhiming. At the time, I knew that were the Long brothers to come, your father would have to worry for his life, but I dared not disobey the command!"
When he got to here, Jiang Xiaohe stopped him and said through tears, "You don't need to go on, uncle. You've taken me in and cared for me for two years already, and you've also taught me martial arts. I'm not a kid anymore, so how could I not know of uncle's kindness? Right now, there's no one I hate more than Bao Zhenfei! My father was wrong, but he didn't deserve to die. How could he just kill my father like that? And another thing..."
When he said this, he took out a glistening knife, and said in anguish, "This was given to me two years ago by old man Bao. I still remember the scene: it was in a wheat field late in the day with no one else around. At first, the look on old man Bao's face was extremely vicious, but then for some reason he wasn't able to follow through. I was so stupid these last couple years. It wasn't until today when I heard what Third Chu had to say that I realized that old man Bao had originally intended to kill me that day!" Stopping here, Jiang Xiaohe steeled his eyes and tightened his grip on the knife, as if he was going to set off immediately to find old man Bao and risk his life for revenge.
Ma Zhixian waved his hand and said, "Lower your voice! Let me tell you, when I got a glimpse of your knife that day and you told me the circumstances under which old master Bao had given the knife to you, I knew he had ill intentions, so I quickly moved your mother and you guys into the city. The martial arts that I taught you weren't so that you could get revenge, but that you could protect yourself. However, in these two years since, old master Bao's temper has been much better than it used to be. He also knew that you and your mother were living in my house and often asked about you guys with real concern. I don't see it as a false sentiment masking any wicked intent. I think feuds should be resolved and not created, not to mention the fact that none of us could beat him in a fight! If you go to him to take your revenge and you fail, you'll pay with your life, and probably mine as well, because he knows you're staying with me!"
Jiang Xiaohe sat in a daze for a while and wiped his tears. He then knelt down and kowtowed to Ma Zhixian. Ma Zhixian was stunned as he pulled him up and asked him, "Now, now, what's this for?" Jiang Xiaohe hung his head and wept, not saying a word.
After a while, Ma Zhixian's wife called from the courtyard, "Come and eat!" and he patted Jiang Xiaohe on the shoulder, saying, "Let's go eat now. Don't keep the things you said in your heart. All you have to do is be good and you'll have done your father right!" The two went into the inner courtyard to eat their meal of millet rice. When Jiang Xiaohe was scooping it into his bowl, Li-shi sat by and frowned at him. Because his mind was occupied, he forgot to cover the pot after he was done. Li-shi immediately reproached him, saying, "If you don't cover the rice, it'll get cold. Are you the only one eating?"
In the past, though he wouldn't have dared to argue with her, Jiang Xiaohe would have had an irritated expression on his face. But it wasn't so today. He lowered his head and kept silent. His face didn't change as he obediently put the cover back on the pot. Sitting nearby, Ma Zhixian felt sorry for him and waved his hand, saying, "Nevermind! Nevermind! It's a small matter. Xiaohe, go ahead and eat!" Jiang Xiaohe sat on a small stool and ate. Usually he consumed a lot, but today he ate only half a bowl before setting his bowl and chopsticks down and saying he was full. Ma Zhixian assumed it was because he was troubled that he lacked an appetite, and didn't think too much about it.
Thx Ret, thanks a lot for the translation.
Loved the first chapter.
I guess that i'm pretty selfish in requesting that you continue to update here too if it is not too much trouble.
Thank you so much! I always wanted to read something from Wang Dulu and now it's finally possible!
was great RET, i liked the movie crouching tiger hidden dragon and liked the wudang martial arts background of that movie. hope that i will have the chance to read it as well!
He Jing Kunlun was originally serialized in the Qingdao Xinmin newspaper from April 7th, 1940 to March 15th, 1941 under the name Wuhe Mingluan Ji (The Dancing Crane and the Singing Luan). When it was subsequently published in book form, the title was changed to its current one.
This is the second chapter. I like the scenes in this chapter between Jiang Xiaohe and Bao Aluan. They're very cute depictions of young love. The humorous scene closing the chapter at the inn in Wanyuan is great as well.
Updates are posted at http://tu-shu-guan.blogspot.com/.
Please let me know what you think.
THE CRANE STARTLES KUNLUN
Settling his grudge on a snowy night, a calf battles a tiger.
Falling in love in the spring countryside, a swallow pecks at flowers.
After lunch, it was still early in the day, but the snow was still falling. Ma Zhixian said exasperatedly, "Even with such heavy snowfall, I still have to go to Bao Village early tomorrow morning!" When he went to the front of his shop, he saw Xiaohe and the young apprentice with nothing to do. The young apprentice was squatting next to the furnace, and Jiang Xiaohe was standing in the corner staring into space with a face full of disquiet. Seeing him so miserable, Ma Zhixian patted his small shoulder and said, "Stop thinking about it! Here, let me give you some money so you can go down to the tavern and have a drink! Drinking some wine will relieve your worries and protect against the cold." He proceeded to take out a few strings of cash and handed them to Xiaohe. Xiaohe departed with his head lowered. The layer of snow on the ground was now six or seven inches deep. Most of the shops on the main road had already boarded up their entryways, leaving only the glass at the tavern frosted up with ice crystals. It appeared to be bustling still, since the hubbub of people's voices could be heard from inside.
Jiang Xiaohe stepped heavily upon the snow on the ground as he touched the knife tucked at his chest. He had already come to a resolution: he was going to leave the city, go to Bao Village and kill Bao Zhenfei to avenge his father. At the same time he thought, I may be young, but Bao Zhenfei is very old. How could I not be able to defeat him? At this, he felt as if killing Bao Zhenfei would be extremely easy. After I kill him, I'll run somewhere far away if I can and never come back. But it doesn't matter if I can't; it's a life for a life after all! Even if I died avenging my father, people would still say that I was a good man!
He took large steps all the way out of South Village. Seeing that it was still early, and since he was a bit cold, wearing only single layers of a cotton shirt and pants, he dipped into a tavern on the road outside of the city. Upon seeing that he was a child, the waiter at the tavern asked him, "Who are you looking for?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm not looking for anyone. I'm here to drink!" As he said this, he found a seat and plopped down into it. He placed his elbows on the table and cocked his head just like a little delinquent. The patrons sitting in the tables nearby all laughed, as did the waiter as he walked over and asked, "How much are you drinking?"
Jiang Xiaohe took out the money he had with him and dropped it on the table with a clank, saying, "Count it up! Give me as much wine as I can buy!" The tavern waiter counted the money and said, "This'll buy you four ounces. Can you drink that?" Jiang Xiaohe swayed his head and said, "I can drink twice that!" The tavern patrons sitting nearby all guffawed loudly. The waiter laughed as well and brought him four ounces of wine. Xiaohe filled his own cup and drank, all the while saying to the patrons beside him, "I go drinking every day at Third Liu's tavern in the city. A half-pint or even twelve ounces is nothing to me, but I've never been here before, so you guys don't know me, that's all!"
Someone to the side said, "Little brother, where in the city are you from? Why do you look familiar?" Xiaohe said, "I'm from the Ma smithy." He regretted saying at once. He thought of the kindness that Ma Zhixian had shown him these two years, and were he to kill Bao Zhenfei, a connection back to Ma Zhixian would be unavoidable. Thus, he felt a wave of sadness. After glumly downing the four ounces of wine, he left the tavern. The chill wind blew, but his body felt warm. Without a bit of drunkenness, he walked south through the snow with the wind at his back.
The snowy wind was now blowing more insistently and the world was dark with dusk. Not only could he not see the Southern Mountain ahead of him, but even the villages, trees, and bridges seemed to be buried in snow. There was no one traveling on the road; it was just him, making deep tracks in the spotless, fresh snow. This road was familiar, however, and after walking a while, he reached Bao Village. Everything in the village looked puffed up, and not only was it silent and empty of people, but he didn't even see a single dog. He passed by his old house and saw that there was a little lamplight coming from within. He knew that one of his uncles from the clan was living here now. He dared not linger a moment as his heart pounded, walking straight into the village and to the gate of the Bao house.
The fury in his heart was burning fiercely and he cared about little else. He went to the base of the wall and leapt, grabbing onto the short wall as a large amount of snow fell down. He then pulled himself up and over, jumping down to the bottom. Happy that he hadn't made a sound, he saw both the southern and northern houses lit up with lamps. Xiaohe pulled out his knife and stepped slowly through the snow. He went to a window of the southern house and peeked in, seeing only a young wife doing needlework. Xiaohe thought to himself, This isn't old man Bao's house, and reversed his course. He went to the northern house and peered inside through a crack in the door, seeing old master Bao in the outer room next to the lamp, talking to a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl. His old visage was full of smiles, as if what he was saying was making him happy.
Impelled by the ire in his heart, Jiang Xiaohe was no longer in control of his body. He pulled open the door and went inside, rushing ferociously toward old master Bao with knife in hand. The girl yelled out in fright and picked up a very short blade that was beside her and slashed it toward Xiaohe. Xiaohe hastily dodged it and rushed again at the old master with his knife pointed toward him. Old master Bao was both astounded and angry as his foot flew up and kicked Jiang Xiaohe in the stomach. Jiang Xiaohe tumbled over, but the knife remained in his hand. He rolled over and sat up, and was about to jump up and take another stab when the girl swung her blade over his way.
Old master Bao suddenly stopped his granddaughter and said, "Don't kill him!" Then, after Jiang Xiaohe stood up, the old master swiftly snatched his knife away. Jiang Xiaohe straighten up, and though he was empty-handed, still sprung at the old master, ready to give his all. With a sweep of his foot, the old master sent Jiang Xiaohe falling to the ground once more, and this time Jiang Xiaohe didn't get back up. The old master impeded his granddaughter with one hand, and with the other he pointed at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "You little thug! How dare you scheme against me! If I hadn't seen that you were young, I would have killed you immediately!" From behind the old master, Aluan pointed her blade angrily at Xiaohe and yelled, "You dare try to harm my grandfather? Don't think so much of my uncle not being home! I'm here to protect my grandfather!"
Jiang Xiaohe sat on the floor and bawled, saying, "I have to kill you all! I have to avenge my father!" He then jumped again and bounded toward the old master like a tiger cub with both his hands outstretched. The old master reached out unceremoniously and grasped onto Jiang Xiaohe's hands, holding them tightly while asking heatedly, "What grudge do you have against me? Tell me!" Upon saying this, he suddenly glimpsed Jiang Xiaohe's face in the lamplight and was extremely surprised. His countenance changed at once and his hands trembled slightly.
The old master gaped for a moment before saying, "Ah! So, it's you!" His killing intent rose up immediately and he reached a hand over to take the blade from his granddaughter's hands. However, Jiang Xiaohe suddenly reached out and twisted a portion of the old man's white beard in his hand, as he glowered and said, "I've been so muddle-headed these past two years. It wasn't until today that someone told me it was you who killed my dad. I have to avenge my father's death!" The old master's hand was at the hilt of his granddaughter's blade, but a well of sadness abruptly rose up in his heart. He took his hand away from the blade, and his expression gradually calmed down. He said, "You silly child, you've been tricked. How could I have killed your father?"
Jiang Xiaohe tensed his grip on the old master's beard and kept holding onto it as he glared and said, "Everyone says that you were the one who killed my father! You still won't admit it?" Aluan walked over and punched Jiang Xiaohe's lower back. By this point, Aluan's mother and the old master's second daughter-in-law had both heard noises and come. The old master chided, "It's nothing. Go back to your houses!" Not daring even to step inside, his two daughters-in-law returned to their houses.
The old master pushed Jiang Xiaohe's hand away and said, "Don't be in such a hurry. If we have things to discuss, we should do so slowly!" After straightening his beard, he picked that knife up off the floor and examined it under the light. A boundless reminiscence floated up into his heart. He handed it over to Xiaohe and smiled wryly, saying, "I still recognize this knife; it was the one I gave you some time ago. I'd never thought you would use it to come here today to take your revenge! It's a pity you're still young and your martial arts need another few years of work!"
Jiang Xiaohe was still glowering at the old master. However, when he took the knife back, he didn't rush at the old master again. Old master Bao approached him and stroked the top of Xiaohe's head, saying, "Good child! I've never met a boy as strong as you before. Though you've come today to harm my life, I don't hate you. But I have to tell you, I wasn't the one who killed your father. I had no such intention. It was just that Long..."
The old master stopped here, waved it away and said, "I don't need to tell you the man's name, since his martial arts are very powerful; you've be no match for him. If you were to go find him, not only would you fail to avenge your father, but you'd pay with your life. He's not as forgiving as me."
Seeing old master Bao being so amiable, the hatred in Jiang Xiaohe's heart slowly faded away. He thought, Perhaps it was one of the Long brothers from Ziyang County that killed my dad. He thought this over a few times in his head and after abruptly changing his mind, he stamped his foot and said, "All right, I'm done here! I'm leaving." When he finished, he headed out carrying the knife. The old man became anxious and said to Aluan, "Go and open the gate for him. Don't stop him from going!" The girl Aluan assented and picked up her short, light blade once again. She exited and saw Jiang Xiaohe out the gate.
Holding onto the knife and creasing his brow, Jiang Xiaohe was still looking resolute as he stepped out of the gate and into the snow. Not having gone even ten steps, he suddenly heard a delicate voice behind him say, "Stop there, you little thug!" Jiang Xiaohe looked back and saw that it was that girl running towards him with a blade in her hand. Jiang Xiaohe gripped his knife and puffed out his chest, saying angrily, "What is it? Even the old man fears me, yet you dare fight me?"
Aluan scoffed coldly, "My grandfather doesn't fear you. He sees that you're young, so he couldn't bear to kill you. Otherwise, you'd already be dead! My grandfather's been in a good mood lately. He chants Buddhist scriptures every day. If this was a few years ago, he wouldn't have hesitated to kill someone far more powerful than you! But even though he's spared you, I can't. What right have you got to jump over our wall on this snowy day and try to kill my grandfather?" As she finished, she sprung towards him and chopped downward with her blade.
Jiang Xiaohe quickly jumped a couple steps back, and with his knife in his hand, he waved his hand, saying, "Stop, stop! Good guys don't fight with girls!" Bao Aluan refused to listen to him and came at him with her blade again and again. Jiang Xiaohe could only display his own blade skills and clash with her upon the snowy ground. The two went back and forth for more than ten exchanges with no one coming out ahead or falling behind. Jiang Xiaohe jumped to the side and breathing heavily, said to Aluan, "This doesn't count as using your abilities. Your blade is long, and my knife is short. Do you dare see how you fare against my fists?"
Aluan responded heatedly, "I'm not afraid of your fists!" She then tossed her blade into the snow. She walked towards him in a fighting stance and threw a punch at Xiaohe. Xiaohe used his own moves to meet her, while watching her intently. He saw that Aluan's hand technique wasn't much different than that taught to him by Ma Zhixian, so he wasn't the least bit afraid. They rushed at each other fiercely and attacked solidly, back and forth. Though the snowy ground wasn't very favorable under their feet, the two still fought very tensely. Aluan landed two sound blows on Xiaohe's body, but they didn't hurt him at all. He often found gaps in Aluan's technique, and figured that he could prevail after another moment or two.
After another four or five exchanges, Aluan switched up her technique: instead of going for Xiaohe's body, she was jumping up now to strike at Xiaohe's face. Xiaohe used this opportunity to wait for her to leap, and when she did, he suddenly raised his leg for a kick. The kick landed right on Aluan's stomach, and with a shout, she fell down into the snow. Jiang Xiaohe used this chance to hold Aluan down and hit her a few times. At this time, he heard someone behind them laughing loudly. It turned out to be old master Bao, standing at the gate watching.
Jiang Xiaohe pulled the knife out from inside his shirt. Aluan had flipped over and crawled back up, taking up her own blade from the snowy ground. Old master Bao approached them and laughed, "You young heroes can stop fighting!" Carrying her blade, Aluan was so angry she started tearing up, saying, "Grandfather, he bullied you, and then he bullied me!" Old master Bao waved his hand and smiled, saying, "Don't worry about it, getting bullied by a child doesn't amount to anything!" He came over and pulled at Jiang Xiaohe's hand, asking him, "Your bladework and hand technique are of the Kunlun School. Did you learn your martial arts from Ma Zhixian?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No, I learned it from my dad a while ago!"
Old master Bao nodded and said, "Your dad's martial arts were exceptional. He only studied with me for three years, but his skills were stronger than those of my disciples who'd been studying for five or six years. It's a shame he went astray and died so early. If he hadn't died and continued studying with me, I think he would have already long completed his training by now!"
At old master Bao's mention of his father, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but wipe his tears with his sleeve. The old master sighed and said, "It's already quite late and the city gates have already closed, so you won't be able to get back into the city. Why don't you stay at my house tonight? Wait until it stops snowing tomorrow before you go." Jiang Xiaohe refused, saying, "No, I have other places to go!" Old master Bao asked him, "Where is that?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm going to find a master and learn martial arts!"
The old master smirked and said, "You certainly have the temper of a child. No one can accept a boy like you with no background. Not to mention that when it comes to learning martial arts, I can say that in the three provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Henan, excluding Li Zhenxia of Huazhou and Gao Qinggui of Kaifeng, there is only me, Bao Kunlun. You want to go elsewhere to find a master, but wouldn't it be easier to learn your martial arts from me!?" Saying this, he cheerfully pulled Jiang Xiaohe back through the gate. Once inside, he urged Xiaohe to settle down, and then told him to live at his place and learn martial arts from him starting tomorrow.
There were a couple spare rooms in the southern house where disciples had lived before. Today, old master Bao brought a blanket and some cushions over and told Xiaohe to sleep there. Bao Zhilin had been sent to Ziyang by the old master, so old master Bao was the only man here. He instructed Aluan to go to her room and sleep, and quietly directed the wives to close their doors firmly. He contemplated things in his room, and the more he thought about it, the bigger a matter it became. He reasoned to himself, I, Bao Zhenfei, have made my way around Jianghu for over 40 years and encountered more than my fair share of tough opponents. More than one have died by my hand, and I've never hesitated or been afraid before. Now, I've got a mere thirteen or fourteen-year-old boy giving me a headache! If I don't kill him now, he'll grow bigger and taller, and eventually become a problem. But if we're talking about killing him, I like the boy too much; I really couldn't bear to do it.
After thinking it over for quite a while in his room, he went outside slowly and walked through the snow to the front of the southern house. He stood outside of the window and held his ear up toward it. He heard the soft sound of breathing; it seemed the child was sleeping very soundly. Old master Bao thought it adorable, and silently smiled to himself, I've been worrying too much! How much could this one boy do? Starting tomorrow, I'll keep him here and look after him. First, I'll hold him back, so that he doesn't go off somewhere to learn martial arts. I'll get him to herd the pigs and feed the horses, and all the while teach him some trifling martial arts. After another couple years, I'll find him a wife. When that happens, not only will he forget about vengeance, but he'll pretty much be my grandson. He delighted at this thought.
When the old master woke up early the next day, the snow had already stopped. He was sitting in his room sipping tea, when Jiang Xiaohe entered and with his brow still furrowed, said to him, "I'm leaving!" The old master quickly blocked his way and asked, "Where are you going? Are you heading back to Ma Zhixian's smithy?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No. Yesterday I came to find you because I heard my dad was killed by you, and I wanted to kill you to avenge my father. But after I heard you say that my foe was surnamed Long, that was enough! I have no grudge with you, so I'm leaving. I'm going to find a famous master to learn martial arts from, and then in two or three years, I'll have my revenge on the one named Long!"
Hearing the boy's words, the old master was startled, but he preserved the smile on his face. He rubbed the top of Jiang Xiaohe's head and said, "How could a small boy like you go off on his own? Wouldn't it be better to stay at my house and do some chores? I can pass all of my martial arts onto you, and I guarantee that within three years you will be proficient in martial arts. Then, I'll identify your enemy to you and even help you take your revenge." He then continued, "You need to understand that you are only a child, and you have no money to your name. When you go out there, you'll starve to death for sure. Not to mention that the mountain paths on your way are lined with bandits. If you don't listen to me, I certainly won't care if you're killed up in the mountains!"
He said these things very frighteningly and with the utmost severity. Jiang Xiaohe creased his brow and lowered his head, thinking it over for a while. He then said, "I suppose I could stay here! But I don't want to be considered one of your disciples. No matter what I do, you can't manage me." The old master smiled frostily and said, "Even if you wanted to be one my disciples, I wouldn't accept you!" He took a thick metal fire poker out from the inner room and held it with both hands. He bent it forcefully, and it immediately took on the shape of a plow handle. He then knocked it vigorously against his left knee, and with a pop, it broke into two. He smiled and said, "Do you see that? Unless you have that much ability, you won't be able to take your revenge. Otherwise, you'd just be giving up your short life for nothing!" Following this, he rubbed Jiang Xiaohe's head again and said kindly, "Good boy, go outside and help them sweep the snow away! It'll be time for breakfast soon!"
At this time, Aluan came into the room with her blade. Seeing Jiang Xiaohe standing stationary with a face like a blank piece of paper, she glared viciously at him with those bright eyes of hers. She pulled on her grandfather and looked up at him, saying, "Grandfather, put on your leather robe. It's cold outside!"
Jiang Xiaohe walked outside slowly. It wasn't until then that he understood how powerful the old man Bao was and that he hadn't stood a chance! When he exited, he saw that the few people there had already finished sweeping the snow off of the grounds and were putting down the weapon rack. Ma Zhixian had already come.
Upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe, Ma Zhixian was so alarmed his eyes went wide. He hurried over and asked, "I looked for you yesterday until late into the night. How did you end up all the way out here?" Before Jiang Xiaohe could reply, old master Bao came out, tugging his granddaughter Aluan behind him. Seeing old master Bao, Ma Zhixian didn't dare continue his conversation with Xiaohe, and quickly asked, "Master, have you gotten up?"
Old master Bao nodded and walked onto the grounds. Seeing that his other disciples, Lu Zhizhong, Chen Zhijun, Liu Zhiyuan, and Qin Zhibao, were all present, old master Bao gestured toward Jiang Xiaohe and said to the group, "Do you still recognize this child or not? This is Jiang Zhisheng's son Jiang Xiaohe. I don't know where he heard it from, but someone told him that his father was killed by me!" When he said this, he glanced over at Ma Zhixian.
Ma Zhixian was so scared his entire body started trembling. He stepped forward hastily and said, "Please allow me to speak, master! Since this boy's father died and his mother remarried, he has been staying in my home. Because we are family, he has been helping me manage business at the smithy for these two years. I never said anything to him. On yesterday's snowy day, he suddenly hurried away. I had no idea he had come here."
Old master Bao smiled and said, "Don't be scared. I didn't mean to say that you told him to come kill me. I'm saying to the spirits and gods of the world that it wasn't I who killed Jiang Zhisheng, so there is no guilt in my heart. In fact, I quite like this boy. Even though he suddenly jumped over my wall late last night and tried to kill me with a knife, I'm not the least bit mad. From now on, I would like him to live at my house and learn a bit of martial arts from me. But he's not going to be one of your disciple-brothers. Let's just say he's my new foster grandson."
After he finished, the old master laughed loudly. The group laughed with him, and Liu Zhiyuan and Chen Zhijun expressed their joy toward the old master. Though Ma Zhixian was also smiling on the outside, he was terrified in his heart. After he was done speaking, the old master told them to start training, and the girl Aluan amused herself with her blade on the grounds as well. Jiang Xiaohe was the only one standing at a distance with a vacant expression on his face. He couldn't take anything up himself and start practicing, but he did watch other people's fist technique and bladework carefully. He felt that they were all much stronger than he was, and therefore, that revenge was going to be even more difficult than he'd imagined.
Jiang Xiaohe spent his days watching other people train, and when they were done, they got him to do their work for them. Old master Bao treated his disciples very strictly, but treated Xiaohe very kindly, often smiling and rubbing his head. Xiaohe was likewise very grateful to the old master, believing for certain that his father had not been killed by him. At first, the girl Aluan would glare at him whenever she caught sight of him, but gradually she stopped glaring, and instead would smile when she saw him.
The two often played with each other. Whenever Aluan's mother, Fang-shi, spotted the two together, she would call Aluan inside and scold her, forbidding her to play with Xiaohe again. However, it wasn't like this for old master Bao. He didn't get in the way of the two children playing together at all, and even seemed to take some pleasure in it. Sometimes, after dinner the old master would drink a bowl of tea, light three sticks of incense at his Buddhist altar, and then take Aluan and Xiaohe outside to play. Ma Zhixian came daily, and after he trained, he did some chores and left. He could only look on helplessly at Xiaohe, as if he hid in his heart many things that he wanted to say to him, but couldn't because there were always people around.
After a dozen or so days, old master Bao's second son, Bao Zhilin came back from Ziyang County. He met with his father and reported to him the details of what he had accomplished, and old master Bao told him about taking in Xiaohe. Bao Zhilin didn't make a big deal of it, but when he went to his room, he started going off on his wife. He said, "Look how mixed up my dad is! That bastard Jiang Zhisheng stole another man's wife and broke the rules of our school. He even injured me and Qin Zhibao. Then my dad called in Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming from Ziyang County, chasing Jiang Zhisheng into the mountains in the north and killing him. If it were up to me, I'd eliminate the problem completely and see it through to the end by quietly ending the son's life too. But dad just doesn't want to do that, and instead takes the kid in to raise him. I see that kid as nothing but a wolf cub; when he grows up he'll start eating people up!"
His wife, Lü-shi said, "Why do you care! If father wants to take him in, what can you do to stop him? Plus, he's nothing, just a little boy who can help out around here. The first thing you talk about when I see you is killing people. They've killed his father, and now you want to kill the son too. Don't think that if the government doesn't find out about it that it's not a crime. The spirits and gods all have eyes!"
Bao Zhilin swung his hand and slapped Lü-shi across the mouth, yelling, "If everyone had a woman's heart like yours, no one in Jianghu would have anything to eat! Do you know what my dad sent me to Ziyang County to do? The Long brothers of Ziyang are bodyguards and when they were traveling through the Jianmen Mountains in Northern Sichuan, they encountered a dozen or more bandits and the two sides started fighting. Since the Long brothers' martial arts are strong, they killed eight or nine people in the fight, and brought their security wagons safely to Chengdu. However, on their way back they ran into Xu Lin the renowned Xia of Langzhong from Northern Sichuan, and because of an argument, they got into another fight. The Long brothers weren't a match for the Xia of Langzhong, and they ended up having to leave both of their horses. The Long brothers couldn't quiet their anger, so they hurried to Xu Lin's house to steal his horses. They didn't get any, but they did kill two from Xu Lin's household."
Having been hit, his wife Lü-shi frowned and cried, saying, "And your brothers call other people bandits? In truth, you guys are even more vicious than bandits! I assure you that you guys won't meet with a good end!" Bao Zhilin was so angry he was about to hit his wife again, but looking at his wife's delicate face, he put his hand down. He yelled nastily at her instead before throwing the door open and walking out. When he was outside, he saw Jiang Xiaohe there feeding the horses. He went over and kicked Jiang Xiaohe onto the ground, spewing vitriol from his mouth, "How the **** are you feeding the horses? Using this kind of hay, are you trying to fill them up until they die?"
Jiang Xiaohe was not about to take this from him, but Lu Zhizhong and Chen Zhijun came over to talk them down. Lu Zhizhong pulled Jiang Xiaohe aside, and Chen Zhijun asked of Bao Zhilin, "Brother, did you go see the Long brothers in Ziyang? Did they get hurt on the way back from Northern Sichuan?" Bao Zhilin shook his head and said, "No, they didn't. It would be quite serious if one of our Kunlun School were to get hurt! Though Long Zhiteng and Long Zhiqi lost two horses on their trip through Northern Sichuan this time, they raised their already big reputation quite a bit, winning honor for our Kunlun School! I stayed with them for a dozen or so days, and every day they talked with me about what had happened to them. They greatly admire Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong, saying that it was fortunate he ran into them. The disciples of our Kunlun School can hold our own against the Xia of Langzhong, but if it'd been anyone else, then it would've been all over for them!"
When Bao Zhilin spoke, he gestured with his hands and feet and made blustery facial expressions. Liu Zhiyuan, Lu Zhizhong, Ma Zhixian, Qin Zhibao and even Jiang Xiaohe came over to listen to him talk. Bao Zhilin recounted the story of the Long brothers going to Northern Sichuan, killing a bunch of people, and then fighting together against the Xia of Langzhong. He then said, "Although, the Long brothers did seed a lot of grudges down in Northern Sichuan. If they go back down there for escort work in the future, just the two of them, I think it would be hard to avoid a thrashing. So Long Zhiteng asked me to come back and discuss with my father about sending some guys over there to help them."
When the group heard this, they all appeared to have obtained a new work opportunity and leaned in together to ask, "Who does the master plan on sending?" Bao Zhilin shook his head and said, "My father hasn't told me yet, but Ziyang is a great prospect. Being an escort there, you could make at the very least a few hundred taels a year. But it can't be anyone without the proper skills, so my father will probably send me. I'm over thirty this year, and I haven't ventured into Jianghu yet!" That day, everyone kept this in mind and every single one of them hoped that the old master would send him to Ziyang to help out the Long brothers. However, old master Bao kept his mouth shut and didn't bring it up.
After the passing of a good many days, it was the first month of spring and the weather was steadily warming up. The wheat fields were covered in green, and the willow trees were developing young sprouts. The rivers gushed as if they were draining out several months' worth of ice and snow and changing into brand new clothes for people. The snow on top of the Southern Mountain had also vanished, and each day the mountain became greener than the last. Jiang Xiaohe still spent each day with a furrowed brow, and everyday he had to put up with several instances of Bao Zhilin's bullying. In addition, Liu Zhiyuan and Qin Zhibao also treated him poorly, and old master Bao's affections gradually cooled down. He had not even learned any martial arts.
One day, as he was helping Ma Zhixian wipe the weapon rack down, Ma Zhixian secretly spoke with him about a few things, saying, "You're not safe here. You may not be getting anything from old man Bao right now and it's just his second son who refuses to accept you, but after a few days, the Long brothers are going to come. If they find out that you're Jiang Zhisheng's son, they're definitely not going to let you live. You need to hurry and get out of here! Go to my place and hide there for a few days, and then I'll think of a way to put some money together for you and send you off!"
Jiang Xiaohe seemed to already have had such a plan in mind for a while, as he would sometimes sharpen his knife in a secluded place. Furthermore, after the group of disciples left for home and when the father and son of the Bao house were inside, he would furtively mount the Bao household's white horse and gallop about outside. After several days of this, he had more or less learned how to ride horses.
On this day, he was riding the horse outside of the village when he suddenly heard the sound of a tenderly sung mountain tune. The cadence was delicate and very pleasant to the ear. On the horse, Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly looked back and saw three girls, each one carrying a bamboo basket and holding each others' hands, as they sang the mountain tune together and walked his way. One of them was Aluan. Upon seeing Aluan, Jiang Xiaohe beamed and shouted from his horse, "Hey! The singing sounds great!"
When Aluan looked up and saw Xiaohe, she pointed at him and said, "You're riding again! If my uncle catches you, he'll hit you again for sure. What are you still doing here!?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and laughed, saying, "I'm not going! I have to hear you guys finish your song before I go!" Aluan looked at the neighbor girls beside her and said, "Let's not sing anymore!"
Jiang Xiaohe got off the horse and brought it across the road. He extended an arm and said, "If you don't finish your song, then I'm not going back and I'm not letting you guys pass." Aluan pulled a long face and widened her eyes, looking even prettier. She put one hand on her waist and swayed her body angrily, saying, "What reason have you got to keep us here? Are you a bandit?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Right! I am a bandit, you all are bodyguards, and your baskets are security wagons, so leave your wagons here and I'll let you go!"
Aluan clicked her tongue and then sniggered, saying, "Who's playing with you? We still have to go dig up some sweet wormwood!" She then said amiably, "Xiaohe, everything I said is for your own good, so hurry and go back! Otherwise my uncle will definitely hit you. Why are you goading him?"
Xiaohe thought Aluan was really adorable, so he laughed and said, "I can let you guys pass, but after you finishing digging up the wormwood, you have to let me pick all the best ones for myself." The other two girls widened their eyes and said, "Based on what?" Aluan gave them both a look, and then said to Xiaohe, "Fine! But you only get to pick out three. You don't have any need for wormwood." Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right! Three is enough. You may pass!" At that, Jiang Xiaohe pulled the horse aside and the three girls ran forward, looking back and giggling as they did so, shouting, "Just kidding! We're not going to give you even one!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Ah! How dare you trick me!" As he said this, he jumped onto the horse and chased after them.
The three girls dashed away like swallows, running onto an embankment for a rice paddy. They turned around and laughed, and with Aluan as lead, they sang the mountain song, mocking Xiaohe. Xiaohe dismounted his horse crossly and was about to run onto the embankment after them, when he heard someone shouting loudly from behind him, "Come here!"
Jiang Xiaohe jumped with a start and looked back, seeing that it was Bao Zhilin coming from the north. Jiang Xiaohe held onto the horse as he stood there blankly. Bao Zhilin walked angrily to him and kicked him a few times, yelling, "You little son of a *****! You're sneaking rides on the horse again!" Jiang Xiaohe wanted to hit him back, but he was afraid that, since he really was quite young and weak, he wouldn't be able to beat him, so all he did was go to one side and fume. Bao Zhilin mounted the horse and scolded him some more, before galloping back into the village.
Here, Jiang Xiaohe's frustration became unbearable. He sat by the side of the road with his head down and picked at the dirt. Aluan abruptly handed her basket to one of her friends and sprinted along the embankment over to him. When she got near to Xiaohe, she crouched down and asked, "What is it? Where did he kick you? Does it hurt or not!?" Jiang Xiaohe kept his head down and didn't say anything. Aluan placed her hand on Xiaohe's shoulder and looked up at his face, saying, "What is it? Are you crying?"
Jiang Xiaohe hadn't been crying, but when Aluan asked him about it, tears started falling from his eyes and into the dirt. It seemed as if Aluan was really sad as well. She used the back of her hand to wipe away her tears and said, "I think you should get away! If you're here, sooner or later they'll beat you to death!" Jiang Xiaohe wiped his tears with his sleeve and nodded, saying, "I'm going to, but...I still have some things I need finish!"
Aluan asked, "What do you have to do? Are you worried you don't have enough money?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I don't have any money." And then continued, "Although actually, that's not important. There's still something else!" When he got to here, he stood up. Aluan stood up with him and Jiang Xiaohe took Aluan's small hand. He instructed her earnestly, "Please don't tell anyone that I'm leaving. If you say anything, I'll be dead for sure!" Aluan's face changed color with fright and she shook her head, saying, "I won't!" Jiang Xiaohe then said, "Go dig up your wormwood. I should head back too." He walked slowly with his head hung, back to the Bao house. Aluan likewise went with her friends to gather wormwood.
After another few days, the weather became even warmer. Every morning, Aluan trained with her uncles and every afternoon, she flew a kite. Her kite was in the shape of a butterfly, and it was extremely well-made. Her father Bao Zhiyun had had it sent from Hanzhong. She adored this kite. As happy as Aluan's life was, Jiang Xiaohe's was full of daily hardship. By this point, Bao Zhilin had gone so far as to stop him from doing anything else except feeding the horses and pigs, and when night came, he'd told him to sleep in the straw shed next to the pigpen.
After herding the pigs for two or three days, Jiang Xiaohe was more or less a pig himself. He was filthy from his head to his feet, and his face was especially covered in grime. However, Jiang Xiaohe was in a very good mood, and after spending many days with a furrowed brow, his face had loosened up. Because the word was that the Long brothers of Ziyang were going to come soon, Ma Zhixian had gathered together five taels of silver for him, telling him to run away. Even though Jiang Xiaohe had resolved to leave, he didn't go immediately. He always had the knife hidden somewhere on his person, and no one had yet clued into what he was up to.
This afternoon, Jiang Xiaohe drove about a dozen pigs to the bank of a mountain stream outside of the village, and let the pigs drink and graze as they pleased. He sat in a daze at the stream, and thought about his situation. He snickered to himself all of a sudden, and then just as abruptly grimaced sternly, but there was no one around to pay attention to him. After a while, he saw Aluan from a distance, running his way. She crossed a small bridge and came to the stream, urgently saying, "Xiaohe, Xiaohe, my kite's caught in a tree! I have no way of getting it down. Climb up the tree and get it down for me!"
Jiang Xiaohe didn't know why, but whenever he laid his eyes upon Aluan, he felt happy inside, as if Aluan had some magical ability to make all his troubles go away. At the moment, he shook his head purposefully and smiled, saying, "I don't care!" Aluan came closer to him and begged him, "Kind Xiaohe, please go and get it down for me! I can't bear to lose that butterfly kite! Please help me!"
Aluan stamped her foot and pressed her lips together as if she was about to cry. Xiaohe stood up and said, "What'll you do after I'm gone? Who'll get it for you when it's stuck in a tree again?" Aluan said, "After you leave, the weather will warm up and I won't fly the kite anymore. It isn't as if you're never coming back. I'll just wait until you do before I fly it again!" Jiang Xiaohe grunted and mumbled to himself, "Will I ever come back?" He then sighed and followed Aluan, guiding the pigs with a bamboo pole.
They didn't go very far across the stream before seeing that butterfly kite hanging high up in the branches of a big willow next to the road. Aluan couldn't wait a moment before asking Xiaohe to get it down for her. She opened her hands and stamped her foot, entreating to Xiaohe, "Xiaohe, good Xiaohe! Go and get it down for me!" When Xiaohe looked at Aluan's small peach blossom face, a thought suddenly popped into his head, After I leave, I won't know for sure when I'll be back. By the time I do come back, I'll be a grown man then, and Aluan will have become a lady who's been married off to someone else. The next time she sees me, she probably won't pay me any attention. Will she still remember this time when I climbed a tree to bring her kite down for her? Thus, trepidation washed over his heart and he said, "There's no way! I can't climb up this tree!"
Aluan pulled anxiously at him and pleaded with him once more, "Kind Xiaohe! Get it down for me, please! I know you're the best at climbing trees!" Jiang Xiaohe wrinkled his brow and stood expressionless for a moment, before he laughed abruptly and said, "I'm not going to climb a tree and get it for you for free. You have promise me something!" Aluan beamed and said, "Anything!"
Jiang Xiaohe grinned and said, "I'm going to call out to you 'wife,' and you have to answer me." Hearing this, that peach blossom face of Aluan's glowed even pinker. She wanted to feign anger and hit Xiaohe, but then she was afraid that he wouldn't go up the tree to get her kite for her, so she bit her lip and silently nodded. Jiang Xiaohe's daring grew a hundred times over. He tossed the bamboo pole onto the ground and gripping the tree with his hands and his feet, he made his way upwards. His body was nimble and his hands and feet agile, just as if he was a monkey, and in an instant he had reached the end of a tree bough. He then grabbed hold of the bough with one hand, and used the other to gently pluck the kite down.
Aluan was standing below looking up with her hands wide open, saying, "Just throw it down!" But Xiaohe was unwilling to just throw the kite down. He held it with one hand, and stepped on the branches of the tree. He kept his back straight and alternated his hands, climbing slowly down the tree. When he was about ten feet from the ground, he leapt down and, holding up the kite in his hand, he laughed, saying, "Should I say it?" His face then flushed as he called out, "Wife!" With her hand outstretched awaiting the kite, Aluan blushed a deeper red than before, and looked back to see if anyone was coming. She bit her lip and hesitated for a while before answering him softly. She then took the kite, turned and ran off, not looking back once.
Jiang Xiaohe laughed and enjoyment filled his heart as he thought, In any case, she can be considered my wife now! In the future, after I've learned some martial arts and gotten my revenge, I'll open up a huge security firm. Then, wearing an extravagant robe, I'll ride back on a big horse and marry her for certain. He picked the bamboo pole up off the ground and waved it around gleefully. At this time, he suddenly noticed a dust cloud rising up from the southeast, and saw only two large, black horses speeding closer as if a pair of black dragons. The two riders both looked to be about thirty, their bodies big and tall, their faces well-defined, and each appeared to be fiercely bold. In a matter of minutes, the sound of their gallop flew right in front of Xiaohe's eyes, straight into Bao Village.
Watching the two horses enter the village, Jiang Xiaohe was overwhelmed with alarm. After hastily herding the pigs back into the village as well, he saw the two black horses tied up in front of the Bao house. First, Xiaohe hustled the pigs into their pen, and then entered through the main gate, observing that a good amount of people were in the southern house talking. Jiang Xiaohe entered the house and saw Chen Zhijun, Liu Zhiyuan and Bao Zhilin inside, all talking to those two men without reserve. Hearing them address the two as second brother Long and third brother Long, Xiaohe knew that these two men were the adversaries that had killed his father, and couldn't help the flames that burned in his eyes.
Upon seeing Xiaohe enter, Bao Zhilin rebuked him, "Get out of here! How can you enter this house as you please? Go take those horses to the round pen and feed them!" Just as Jiang Xiaohe turned to go, Bao Zhilin suddenly leapt forward and grabbed hold of him. Jiang Xiaohe thought they were going to try to kill him, so he got ready to pull out the knife and give it his all against them, but instead, Bao Zhilin smiled and gestured to Xiaohe, saying to the Long brothers, "You guys don't know him, do you? This boy is Jiang Zhisheng's son. You must remember how pretty his father was. But look at him; he's like a little hunting dog." The Long brothers both guffawed loudly. Bao Zhilin shoved Jiang Xiaohe outside, and then said to the Long brothers, "At first, my dad thought this boy was something special, but now he knows that the kid's just a dunce!" The house erupted with laughter once more.
Jiang Xiaohe walked out of the gate angrily toward the post to untie the horses. He caught sight of Aluan approaching at a trot, and when she saw Jiang Xiaohe, she blushed and smiled sweetly before running in through the gate. Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, Just watch, Aluan. I'll get your admiration someday.
He took the pair of horses into the pen. The horse pen and the pigpen were next to each other, and they were accessible from the courtyard of the Bao house, but there was another wooden barrier to the outside that was locked up come nightfall. Alone out in the pen, Jiang Xiaohe fed all the horses, while an intense fire burning in his heart made him restless. He saw that the sky would be dark soon, but for some reason, the sunlight seemed slower than usual in going down. He went to crouch down by the front of the gate and continuously rolled ideas around in his head.
After a while, Qin Zhibao and Lu Zhizhong came, and then a little later, Ma Zhixian came as well. Ma Zhixian went inside for a moment and then came back out. Seeing that no one else was around, he fretfully said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Boy! I gave you money a few days ago and told you to run away from here. Who would refuse food for a 14-year-old kid like you? You just had to stick around, and now look, the Long brothers are here. They may not have paid much attention to you, but that won't last long! They'll be staying here for at least seven or eight days. Do you imagine old master Bao or Bao Zhilin won't tell them about your earlier attempt at vengeance? Do you really think they won't find a way to end you after that? You've got to run for your life!"
He irritably stamped his foot, but Jiang Xiaohe remained crouched down and unmoving, smugly saying, "I'm not afraid!" Ma Zhixian agitatedly stamped his foot again and sighed, but didn't dare linger here to talk more with Xiaohe, so he hurried back inside. After a little bit, the sound of drinking games and offers of wine rang out from indoors. Xiaohe did nothing but sit on the ground and pick at the dirt.
After another long while, Aluan ran out and said, "Xiaohe, aren't you going to go eat?" Xiaohe stood up sluggishly and followed Aluan inside the gate where they ran into old man Bao coming out of the northern house. His eyes were brighter than usual as he gazed directly at Xiaohe. Xiaohe simply dared not look at him with his own eyes, and walked indoors with his head down. He picked up a bowl of leftover rice and carried it out to the base of the wall to eat. Old master Bao came over to him and asked him warmly, "Why don't you eat inside? It's cold out here!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No worries, I'm fine eating out here!"
Old master Bao laughed and said, "You're quite the durable child." Jiang Xiaohe looked up and could smell the thick odor of wine on old master Bao's breath. Old master Bao turned around and walked away, into the northern house. After another round of laughter from those inside the southern house, Ma Zhixian, Lu Zhizhong and the others left one after another.
After finishing his rice, Jiang Xiaohe returned to the horse pen. He prepared a saddle blanket, and then went back to the small shed next to the pigpen to rest. He was really keyed up as his heart beat erratically. Another moment passed and the sky had darkened completely. Xiaohe walked slowly to the courtyard and saw that both the northern and southern houses were glowing with candlelight. The voices of the Long brothers were thick and coarse; even when they were saying good things, they sounded like they were fighting. Jiang Xiaohe heard only a few sentences, "That ****ing Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong! His swordwork was pretty incredible. It was a good thing we were both there; if it'd just been one of us, then something bad might really have happened!"
Jiang Xiaohe was struck by what he heard and thought, That Xia of Langzhong's martial arts must be much greater than theirs. He retreated back to the horse pen and placed the saddle blanket on the white horse he often rode, and then gently opened the barrier that led outside. He carefully and agilely brought the horse out, and then closed the barrier back up. After mounting the horse, he galloped out of the village as if soaring. After going not too far, he reined the horse and glanced around. A murky darkness had covered the land, and there was no one else around.
Xiaohe got off the horse and led it to the side of the road. Finding a big tree, he tied the horse to it, and then stood in place to regain his bearings. He smiled coldly and walked back into the village. He returned to the horse pen through the barrier, which he left slightly open, unlike usual when a rock was inserted to keep it closed. He walked around in the shadowy darkness of the horse pen and saw the few horses there seemed all to be asleep, not a movement between any of them. Jiang Xiaohe was almost intolerably anxious.
After a moment, he returned to the small shed and stayed there for a while. When Xiaohe heard the night watch sound out three times, he thought, Ah! It's already midnight. He hurried outside and then snuck slowly into the courtyard as he took out that knife of his and held it close to his body. He saw that the inside of the southern house was completely dark, and a thunderous snoring came from the room in which the Long brothers were staying. However, the lamplight was still shining brightly in the northern house, and the sound of old master Bao coughing came from within. Xiaohe cursed to himself, The old geezer hasn't gone to sleep yet! He cautiously made his way back to the small shed while holding the knife in his hand. It was as if the air around him had been set aflame.
After waiting some more, the night watch sounded out four times. Jiang Xiaohe was about to go outside again when he suddenly heard a heavy cough coming from the courtyard, as if it was done on purpose to wake the sleeping a little bit. Jiang Xiaohe could tell that it was old master Bao, and cursed again, thinking, Could the old man have guessed what I've been thinking of doing? That thought scared him, and his pulse started racing.
After another length of time, the sky was about to lighten up, and Xiaohe became so anxious, he almost jabbed himself with the knife. He thought, This is no good! In a little while, those guys will be back to train, and the Long brothers will wake up! He steeled his heart and walked with resolve out of the small shed and into the courtyard. When he got to the corner of the house, he quickly bent down to the ground and looked around quickly. By this time the light in the northern house was extinguished as well, while the thunderous snoring continued to issue from the southern house. The stars in the sky were still blinking as pitch blackness surrounded him and the sound of the night watch was absent.
Xiaohe didn't dare be negligent. He hurriedly stood up and walked to the door of the house the Long brothers were staying in. He gave the door a push, but seeing as it was closed rather tightly, it didn't move at all. Distressed, Xiaohe clenched his jaw and stamped his foot. He held the knife with his teeth and used both of his hands to heave at the door. With a clunk, the door swung open. Holding the knife in his hand, Xiaohe charged into the room and very nearly tripped over a stool. At this time, the two men in the bed were awakened and sat up. Jiang Xiaohe felt around for one of them, and not caring which one it was, stabbed down with all his strength. As the person rolled off the bed, Jiang Xiaohe heard only an awkward yell before dashing outside. Old master Bao's voice roared from the northern house, saying, "Intruder!" Jiang Xiaohe ran out frantically from the barrier of the horse pen, and sprinted as quickly as he could out of the village. When he reached the tree by the side of the road, he cut the rope, jumped onto the horse, and galloped away.
He didn't know in what direction he was going, only feeling that the horse had hurtled over a wooden bridge and that the road was extremely winding. At this time, he heard the sound of horses' hooves drumming out from behind him. Xiaohe cried out, "Oh no! They're in pursuit!" He smacked the horse with his hand to get it to go as quickly as it could. He had no idea how far he'd gone before the sky started getting gradually lighter. He saw a mountain on his right and a brook on his left, so he had no choice but to take the small, twisting road in front of him. Looking back over his shoulder, he didn't see anyone chasing after him. Jiang Xiaohe was elated, and thus took a few gasps of air from atop the horse before spurring it to keep it's rapid pace.
Since the light was coming from in front of him, making the clouds purple and red, Xiaohe knew that he was heading east and that the mountains to the right were south of him. After going another thirty miles or so, the daylight was already shining brightly. Xiaohe spotted a mountain road to his right and thought, I'll go into the mountains. Then they probably won't be able to catch up to me. Thus, he steered the horse into the mountains. It's hooves thumped loudly against the mountain road, startling the crows and magpies of the mountain and causing them to fly about and cry out raucously.
Jiang Xiaohe was now feeling fatigued, so he slowed his horse down. At the same time, he saw that the knife in his hand was stained with quite a bit of blood and his hands and lapel were also bloodied. He took delight in this as he thought, I had to have killed him! But I'm not sure if I killed the older Long or the younger Long. Regardless, I've still gotten some revenge for my father. Even old master Bao must be hating me now, but I'm not afraid of him. I've already made it into the mountains; there's no following me up here. He made his way slowly on the mountain path, but it felt as if it was getting gradually higher and narrower. He thought, What's going on here? Could it be I've gone the wrong way? Thus, he got off the horse, tied it to a wizened tree, and started scaling upward. He climbed higher and higher, and when he looked down, he saw that he was on a dead-end path. He reproached himself regretfully, "This is bad!" Then he thought, This is a disaster! How could I have gone onto a dead-end road!
He was about to head back down when he suddenly heard the sound of water babbling. He immediately caught sight of a spring flowing forth halfway up the mountainside. It splashed upon the rocks below and flowed downward, winding about in the cracks between rocks. Xiaohe walked over to it, cleaning the blood off of his knife before washing his hands. He then took a couple gulps of water, cupping it in his hands, and relief instantly swept across his mind and body. He tucked the knife close to his chest, and came back down slowly while grabbing hold of the mountain crags. He turned the horse around, and broke a branch off of the tree to use as a whip. He pulled himself onto the horse by the saddle and went back the same way he had come.
Just as he exited the mountain, he saw a black horse galloping from the west, its distance not terribly far from him. The person on the horse was Lu Zhizhong. Xiaohe was shaken and quickly spurred his horse to run east, as Lu Zhizhong chased behind, also driving his horse. After galloping three or four miles, Lu Zhizhong's horse was about the catch up. Up ahead a foothill was blocking the way, so Jiang Xiaohe hastily reined the horse and pulled the knife from his within his shirt. He thought, I'll have to challenge you! Thus, in preparation for Lu Zhizhong's approach, he got ready to jumped off of his horse and fight.
However, when he looked back, he saw that Lu Zhizhong reined his horse as well when he came near. He wasn't carrying any weapons in his hands or on his horse; he simply said urgently, "You've got to get out of here! How daring you are! Go east, and when you come to a mountain path, go south. When you exit, it'll be Northern Sichuan. Go! Go! Otherwise they'll catch up to you." Jiang Xiaohe then knew that Lu Zhizhong was a good man. He drove his horse eastward, not looking back even once. After a short while, Jiang Xiaohe eventually saw another mountain road, this time one that was wide and flat, and steered the horse into it with whip in hand. After rounding a couple mountain curves, he suddenly saw a wilderness appearing in front of him and knew that he had crossed the Ba Mountains and was entering Northern Sichuan. However, he was still afraid that old master Bao's men would chase him past the mountain, so he continued riding his horse, not daring to slow down, and flew south along the level main road.
The number of wayside villages began to increase, and there were now other people traveling on the road. Jiang Xiaohe's nerves gradually began to calm down. He thought, With so many people on the road, even if those guys did catch up to me, what could they do? Would they really be able to just kill me? Thus, he loosened up and trotted the horse forward slowly. After going about forty or fifty miles, the noon sunlight was already beating down, and Jiang Xiaohe's stomach was agonizingly empty, so he queried people on the road. It turned out that another ten or so miles south was Wanyuan County. He wiped the sweat on his head with his sleeve and took a few deep breaths before he spurred the horse onward south.
Wanyuan County was an important place on the east bank of the Hou River in Northern Sichuan. The Hou River flowed into the Ba River, which eventually wound its way into the Jialing River. Though the water was very shallow in the upper part of the river and could not accommodate bigger boats, there were more than a few sampans transporting a large amount of goods to the south from Southern Shaanxi. Consequently, Wanyuan City was considered a port city, and business flourished as well.
Jiang Xiaohe rode his horse into the city. Seeing that the streets here were much more lively than those in his Zhenba City, he couldn't help but feel glee. He thought, It's good that I came out here. I can now be regarded as having entered Jianghu too. I have a horse and I have some money. It's just too bad that I don't have a long weapon. With a blade or sword at my side, who could say that I wasn't a hero of Jianghu? As a result, he rode down the street with the dignified air of an important person. He went only a short distance before nearly knocking over a person walking in the street, but he still refused to dismount his horse.
When he got to an intersection, he saw a big inn with several wagons stopped in front of it, each flying a triangular, white flag with a few characters written on them. Jiang Xiaohe didn't recognize any of the characters, but he knew that these were escort wagons, as he had seen them before in Zhenba. He was happy for the moment as he got off of his horse in front of the door and tied it to a post. He put on the airs of a man of Jianghu and upon entering the inn, stomped his way up the stairs.
When he arrived upstairs, his way was obstructed by a waiter, who said, "Hey, hey! What are you looking for?" Jiang Xiaohe puffed out his chest and frowned at him, saying, "I'm here to drink!" Saying this, he found a table and sat down astride a bench. He swayed his head and said loudly, "A jug over here!" The waiter laughed and came over, saying, "Are you really going to drink?" Jiang Xiaohe glared at him and said, "What? You don't think I can?" As he said this, he reached into his shirt, pulled out the five taels of silver Ma Zhixian had given him, and threw them onto the table with a clatter. He then drew out his knife, and slammed that onto the table as well.
The waiter couldn't help but laugh, and all the patrons sitting nearby laughed as well as they watched him. Jiang Xiaohe scoffed and said, "Is it because you think I'm small? I've roamed Jianghu for a while now too, and I have some reputation in Southern Shaanxi and Northern Sichuan. Look, the silvers are right here! Don't be afraid that I'll drink and not pay. Go! Bring me some wine and food. There are places I need to be after I eat. I've got a white horse outside as well. Tell your attendants to go feed it, and use the good the hay!" The waiter chuckled and replied, "I got it!" A person sitting next to him started laughing loudly. Jiang Xiaohe turned back and gave the laughing man an eye, thinking, Those who travel upon Jianghu can't suffer even little losses. After letting small things go by, bigger things will only follow. Thus, he swore at the man.
After a moment, the waiter served the wine and rice with some dishes all at once. Jiang Xiaohe drank the wine and ate the meal while glancing all around him intently. Looking at the people drinking around him, many of them had the appearance of bodyguards and men of Jianghu. But one thing stood out: all of them were dressed neatly, and because their clothes were orderly, they gave off a prestige. But when Jiang Xiaohe looked at himself, he was wearing a single pair of ragged pants, which were also stained all over with pig excrement and through which you could see parts of his bare legs. His feet were muddied, over which he wore ripped cloth shoes that his toes were poking out of, as if they had done so to gawk. His torso was covered by a tattered jacket, the cotton lining of which was bursting out of its seams. Furthermore, because of the warm weather, the wine in his belly, and tick bites, he felt itchy all over.
Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, This is no good! I can't roam Jianghu looking like this. No wonder regardless of where I go, everyone looks down on me. I look like a pig-herder or a beggar, not at all like a man of Jianghu. Hence, he thought of procuring for himself a new set of clothing, but then was afraid he hadn't enough money. For a moment, he pondered that perhaps he could steal some, but he put a stop to that idea immediately, thinking, Thievery isn't the behavior of good guys. I won't do it even I end up starving to death! He solemnly drank his wine and ate his food, and looked down at the knife sitting on the table. He recalled the evening of that day two years ago and remembered the feelings he'd had when old man Bao gave this knife to him in the wheat field. It made him so mad he pounded the table and spat out, "Old man Bao's no decent man either! Sooner or later, I have to kill him!"
Just then, he suddenly noticed a man from a table by the western wall coming towards him. When the man was next to him, he patted Xiaohe's shoulder and smiled, saying, "Little brother! Where are you from?" Jiang Xiaohe looked up at him and saw that he was a clean, slimly-built man of around thirty, wearing a black coat over a similarly-colored shirt and pants. His face was yellow, and though his eyes were small, his lips were quite thick. His queue was wrapped around the top of his head, and he exhibited the look of one who had become quite accustomed to traveling upon Jianghu.
Thank you. This is a very enjoyable story. Nice to have a change from the 9 Yang inner powered Dragon Palms style of wuxia.
yeah...different one indeed!
this guy is sort of a wei xiaobao with some martial arts skill, he's not completely righteous, the old man bao he's trying to harm is actually righteuos in a sense.
Ret, story is nice and cant wait for another update
more of this translation plz.
More updates are already done in the blog link given above :-). Also if u visit the blog you will find two more completednew novels ( not wuxia ) and they are 1. Demon Child, fantasy novel is about a student and teacher and 2.Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze: 2nd book in 12 Kingdoms fantasy series
This is the third chapter. Xiaohe just can't catch a break.
Updates are posted at http://tu-shu-guan.blogspot.com/.
Please let me know what you think.
THE CRANE STARTLES KUNLUN
Waving his knife to answer an insult, he rides into Jianghu alone.
Fleeing out of chains and into exile, he encounters a host of disasters.
Jiang Xiaohe stood up and clasped his fist, saying, "Brother, I come from Zhenba!" But then he regretted it. He thought to himself that though he had crossed the mountains and left the province, he still wasn't far from Zhenba. If this man was acquainted with old master Bao or the Long brothers and sent notice to them on a fast horse, they would catch him for sure, and then all would be over! Thus, he added, "That is, I'm from Xi'an, and after traveling five days, I arrived in Zhenba. I stayed there last night and then came here today."
Hearing that the times in his travelogue didn't sound quite right, the man couldn't help but smirk, and followed it up with a question, "Little brother, what is your honorable name?" Jiang Xiaohe clasped his fist again and said, "I am not so worthy! I am surnamed Jiang, and my given name is Xiaohe. I am called..." He thought, Everyone in Jianghu has a designation, so I have to have one too, a powerful one. Thus, he gave his mind a quick turn and said, "I am called the Three-headed Tiger!" The man laughed loudly and rubbed Jiang Xiaohe's head, saying, "Look, everybody! This little brother here calls himself the Three-headed Tiger! Ha ha ha!" The entire place erupted in laughter.
Jiang Xiaohe glowered and grabbed onto the man with his hand, asking, "Now that you're done asking me, it's my turn! What's your surname? And your given name? What are you called?" The man grinned and said, "Oh, I couldn't possibly say. I can't compare to you; I have only one head!" Jiang Xiaohe knew perfectly well that this man was making fun of him, so he held up his fists to challenge him. The man smirked and said, "What is it, little brother? You really want to see how you measure up against m—" Before he could finish, Jiang Xiaohe popped him in the chest with his fist. The man cried out and fell backward onto another person. All the patrons sitting around were taken aback, some of which cheered on boisterously, while others rolled up their sleeves to come challenge Xiaohe.
Jiang Xiaohe haughtily slashed the air with his knife and lifted one of his feet onto the bench. He smacked the table with his hand and stared defiantly, saying, "How dare you insult me? I, the respectable young Jiang, have traveled upon Jianghu for over ten years. I defeated Bao Kunlun in Zhenba, and this knife has stabbed the Long brothers of Ziyang. Now I've come to Northern Sichuan to meet the Xia of Langzhong. How dare you guys bully me!" He had truly stunned them with his words; the ones who had stood up sat back down. The man who was punched in the chest was so angry his face had become ashen, but he dared not approach again.
Jiang Xiaohe was thrilled and stuck the knife into the table. He poured his wine and drank uninhibitedly, but had only finished a couple small cups when he heard the sound of stomping as two people rushed up the stairs, each with a saber in their hand. Jiang Xiaohe looked over and saw that it was Lu Zhizhong and Chen Zhijun. Lu Zhizhong pointed at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "There you are, child! You're coming with us." When he said this, he signaled to Jiang Xiaohe with his eyes, as Chen Zhijun advanced to try to catch Xiaohe. Holding the knife in his hand, Xiaohe dodge around the table and glared, saying, "Let's see who's brave enough to face me!" After he said this, he caught sight of another person coming up the stairs. It was Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger, with a big, dark face inlayed with two fireballs for eyes, carrying his big saber as he rushed forward.
Jiang Xiaohe was so frightened, he hurried to the window and heaved it open; he was very distressed. Long Zhiqi's saber sliced downward and missed Jiang Xiaohe's body by only a foot. Jiang Xiaohe took a leap, right out of the inn and down into the street. There rose a commotion from the people in the inn, as Jiang Xiaohe severed the rope tied to the horse. He jumped up onto it, and fled off on it, scaring people and causing them to part to the two sides of the street in succession. Jiang Xiaohe slapped urgently at the horse's hip, galloping for his life straight out of the south gate along the main road. It wasn't until he went quite a while that he reined the horse and looked back, seeing a dust cloud rising up far in the distance. Jiang Xiaohe knew that they were after him, so not wanting to be careless, he rode away as quickly as he could. The horse he was on felt like a flying dragon, its four hooves seeming never to touch the ground, and in one breath, he had gone over 60 miles.
By now Jiang Xiaohe had almost exhausted his energy and had nearly fallen off the horse several times, but he wasn't able to stop the horse, as it kept on running like it had gone crazy. The people on the road all opened their hands in surprise, but none of them dared to try to stop the horse. Trying to get out of a dangerous situation, Jiang Xiaohe took both of his feet out of the stirrups and placed one of them on the back of the horse. Then, using the last of his strength, he pushed away from the saddle, and his body fell from the horse at a tilt. Jiang Xiaohe ended facedown on the ground. When he lifted his head, his nose was bleeding profusely and he had no idea where the horse had gotten off to.
Xiaohe sat on the ground and tore a couple tufts of cotton out of his jacket, plugging them into his nose. He gasped for air and stood up, finding that his knife was also gone. Someone nearby came and asked him, "Did you fall?" Another commended him, saying, "A boy like you knows how to ride a horse. It's a good thing you jumped off the horse at an angle and suffered at most a few scrapes on your face. If the horse had thrown you and given you a couple of its hooves, it would've been over!" As the man said this, Xiaohe saw that someone ahead of them had turned the horse around and sent it still flying like a dragon back his way. It was then that Jiang Xiaohe realized it wasn't that white horse of his, but instead a very sturdily-built black horse with a charcoal body, a high head, and a full mane. Jiang Xiaohe was especially pleased with this, and with the help of the people at the side of the road, he was able to stop the horse.
As Jiang Xiaohe led it by its reins, it continued to kick and stomp the ground. Jiang Xiaohe pulled as hard as he could with both hands while throwing his body backwards, and after grabbing hold of the its restraining rope, he tied it tightly to a big tree next to the road. At first the horse continued to kick, digging a couple of deep holes in the dirt below, but then it gradually became more compliant as it exhaled a white breath into the air.
Jiang Xiaohe sat down on the ground and caught his breath. The cotton that he'd stuck up his nose had fallen out, and fresh blood gushed from his nose. Jiang Xiaohe took off his jacket with irritation and cursed, "Damn it!" He plucked out a couple more tufts of cotton and stuffed them up his nostrils. Sweat continued to run down his bared back, and it itched as if bugs were crawling on it. He looked back at that black horse and saw that it was sweating as well, as if it had just been rinsed down. By this time, all the travelers at the side of the road had dispersed, leaving Jiang Xiaohe here by himself. He thought about the dangerous situation he'd just been in, about how he'd been throwing his weight around at the inn, about how Lu Zhizhong and Chen Zhijun showed up at first, which, if it had just been those two, he could have handled it, but then that Long Zhiqi came up the stairs. Could I have killed the wrong person last night? Someone who wasn't surnamed Long? Then he thought about how he'd jumped from the top floor of the inn, taken a horse in haste, and rode off on it. He couldn't help feeling both happy and a bit angry. He was even more afraid of Long Zhiqi and the others riding this way in pursuit.
Subsequently, Jiang Xiaohe dared not rest here any longer and stood up slowly. After walking a couple steps, he felt a pain in his right leg, but he didn't know if it was from leaping out of the inn or from jumping off of the horse. He cussed to himself as he picked up his jacket and put it on. He tilted his head to look at the horse; besides reins and a saddle, there was nothing else on it. He'd left all of his five taels at the inn and had no weapon with him. How was he supposed to roam Jianghu like this? Thus, he stood staring into space for a while and considered selling the horse and getting some money to buy a blade, obtain some clothes, and use for travel expenses. However, after giving it a second look, he seemed to recognize this horse as the one that Long Zhiqi rode to Bao Village, and thought that it would be a pity to sell what must be a great horse. He walked over to it and patted the horse on the head. Then he flipped onto it and rode off with a sliver of a smile on his face.
After going about two miles, he suddenly heard the sound of suona, being played beautifully. The sound drew nearer and nearer and in a moment's time a small musical procession approached from the front with a floral palanquin behind it carrying a new bride. Jiang Xiaohe forgot about the alarm he had felt before and stopped his horse. He looked on happily as the few groomsmen and the floral palanquin passed beside him.
Jiang Xiaohe didn't see the bride inside of the palanquin, but the musicians and the porters all stared over at him. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help getting mad and thinking, What are you looking at? Is it because you think I'm poor? Because I don't look like I have a wife? Hmf, I am also engaged! My bride is Aluan, and after I finish learning martial arts, gain a fortune roaming Jianghu, and get my revenge, I'll go back home and have a great wedding... When his thoughts reached this point, something sad suddenly flashed before his eyes. It was the evening not long ago when a palanquin came to the gate of the Ma smithy, but there had been no musicians. His mother was wearing red satin garments, and before stepping into the palanquin, she had peered his way with tears in her eyes. She had gotten married to Eldest Dong from the wool shop.
Thinking of this, Jiang Xiaohe felt a wave of sorrow, and tears sprung forth, mingling with the blood from his nose before dripping down onto his chest. He wiped his eyes with his sleeves, clenched his jaw, and urged the horse forward, riding straight until dusk arrived. He passed by a dozen villages and towns, but since he didn't have any money, he wasn't able to get anything to eat or visit any shops. He could only ride forward in the last of the golden red sunlight under the darkening night sky with the horse's hooves clop-clopping.
As the night wind began to blow, the tree branches rustled and his stomach growled. There was a hazy darkness in front of him, and he couldn't tell if there were mountains, rivers, trees or farmhouses anywhere around. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but sigh, cursing to himself, "What can I do? If I go for a few days without eating like this, won't I just starve to death? Everything will amount to nothing if I die!" Then he thought, I hear though that people who travel upon Jianghu don't carry any money around with them. Everywhere is home to them, and they can eat anywhere. As for thievery, I, Jiang Xiaohe, will not participate in it, but there's no shame in performing martial arts on the street. As a result, he decided that starting tomorrow, he would find a bit of space in a city or town and throw a few punches for show. He would rely on the few bits of the hand technique that Ma Zhixian had taught him to not only catch acclaim from the uninitiated, but also to receive approving nods from knowing experts. Consequently, he cheered up again. After a short distance, he saw a ruined temple, its walls toppled and its halls collapsed. There wasn't a sliver of light inside. When he came near to it, he gave the inside a careful inspection under the curtain of dusk and heard no other people there. He looked up at the sky and seeing that the heavenly bodies were many, he thought, It probably won't rain tonight, so who cares if there are leaks in the temple roof? I just need a place to hide from the elements. Otherwise, if I ride the horse like this for the entire night, when I encounter people, they'll think I'm a robber for sure!
Therefore, he led the horse into the temple grounds, feeling that the floor was quite patchy. Under one of his feet was something soft, and under the other something hard. The soft thing was probably human excrement, while the hard thing was probably a brick. Jiang Xiaohe tied the horse up as it raised its neck, let out a long neigh, and knocked its hooves on the floor. Jiang Xiaohe said, "You're hungry, but there's nothing I can do about it. I haven't eaten either! When it gets bright again, I'll go perform and earn some money. Then, I'll buy you some hay." Murmuring to himself, he fumbled his way into the broken hall of the temple, and then looked up at the sky full of blinking stars. He felt around for the brickwork altar and lifted himself onto it, and then groped at the idol. That central earthen idol had already lost its head. He thought to himself, Poor, poor thing! He sighed as he laid down on the altar and rubbed his eyes. However, even though his jacket was cushioning him, his two legs were still very cold. He was about to get back up, but his body felt extremely exhausted, as he yawned a few times successively, so he pulled himself into a ball. Lying huddled atop the hard, icy altar with the stars and the moon stroking his face and the night wind chilling the blood at his nose, he drifted into a deep sleep.
He didn't know how long he'd slept, but he was abruptly awakened by the neighing of a horse. Jiang Xiaohe shivered as he rubbed his eyes, and then he heard the thud of hooves going further and further away. Jiang Xiaohe cursed, "Must be some thief if he thinks he's going to take my horse!" He jumped down from the altar with a whoosh and dashed outside in pursuit. A moment of inattention sent him stumbling with a crash over a brick and onto the ground, but he quickly got back up and ran out of the temple. Hearing the hooves clopping their way south, Jiang Xiaohe gave chase as quickly as he could after it.
The starlight from the horizon was gradually obscured by the white that was already coming out of the east. By the time Jiang Xiaohe had run down the main road for four or five miles, he no longer heard the sound of horse's hooves. As the dawn's light rose in the east, Xiaohe suddenly spotted a man lying facedown at the bottom of a wall next to the road. Xiaohe quickly jumped back in alarm and after giving the man on the ground a fixed stare, he saw that the man wasn't moving at all. Xiaohe thought, What, is this guy dead? Was he killed by robbers? He approached and gave the man a small kick, yet the man still didn't move. After stooping down to look, he saw the man's head stained in blood. This man was dead after all. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and pants that were covered in dirt. It looked as if this person had rolled along the ground for quite a distance before dying. Turning his head for another look, Xiaohe spotted something laying about a dozen paces behind the dead man's feet. He walked over to it and saw that it was a saddle.
Jiang Xiaohe became immediately mad, saying, "Heh! So it was you who took my horse, but it threw you off and kicked you to death. How could you think to steal a horse with your limited abilities?" Thus, he picked up the saddle and ran to the south in pursuit of the horse. After running twenty-some paces, something suddenly came to him and he hurried back to the corpse. He bent down and felt about, pulling a pouch of silver pieces from the body's breast area. He weighed it in his hand and figured it must be at least ten taels. This delighted him as he thought, What a thief! Your greed really knows no bounds. You had so much silver on you, but you still wanted to steal my horse. You deserved to die, you really did! Then, seeing faintly two mule-drawn carts approaching from the north, Jiang Xiaohe jumped up in fright and hurriedly ran south, holding the silvers in his hand and clutching the saddle under his arm. After another three or four miles, the sky was already bright with daylight and the road filled with quite a few carts and travelers.
Jiang Xiaohe went another ten miles or so south and spotted a thriving town ahead, not terribly unlike his own Zhenba City. Jiang Xiaohe was tired from walking and thought to himself, The horse has probably gone far away by now, and there's no way to find it anymore, but I got some silver out of it. It's not much more than ten taels though, and to have sold that good horse for so little, what an injustice! He fumed inside as he entered the town clasping the saddle and thought, I'll go get something to eat first! He found a pub and went in, buying himself a meal and drinking two jugs of wine. After eating and drinking his fill, he asked the waiter for a bowl of water and washed the dirt and blood off of his face. After resting for a moment, he settled his bill and left. He thought, I'll never find the horse now, so what am I doing carrying this saddle around with me? I might as well sell it and get maybe ten or twenty taels out of it. I'll buy myself some clean clothes and get myself a blade. Then I'll actually look like someone who travels upon Jianghu.
Therefore, he went out into the street carrying the saddle and shouted, "Who wants to buy my saddle? It's a bargain!" After shouting his way down the street, he received only laughs from the people watching him, but no offers to buy. Jiang Xiaohe thought, I should yell out the price. When they hear how inexpensive it is, there'll be plenty of people wanting it. Thus, he shouted, "Who wants to buy it? I'm selling it for cheap! This great felt saddle is going for only fifteen taels! If anyone can cover my traveling expenses, I'll sell it to them..." This is as far as he got before he was suddenly grabbed from behind. Jiang Xiaohe was surprised and hurriedly looked back, only to see a government officer wearing the garb of his occupation. He became angry and waved his arm around, yelling, "What are you grabbing me for?" Two more officers approached from the side, one of which snatched the saddle away and the other pulled out a chain and wrapped them around Xiaohe's neck with a clank.
Xiaohe tugged at the chains and kicked at the officers with his feet, yelling, "I haven't broken any laws! What are you locking me up for!?" One of the taller officers slapped Xiaohe across the mouth. The part of his face that was hit stung, but he still struggled and shouted. One of the other officers snapped a restraint around his neck and scoffed, "Kid, stop making a fuss. Come with us to the government office obediently and I guarantee you won't suffer much." Xiaohe jumped and yelled, "What am I going to the government office for? I didn't break any laws. Why are you arresting a good person?" The three officers didn't bother listening to his explanations as they made their way noisily toward the west, one carrying the saddle, one pulling him along with the chain, and the other pushing him from behind. A big crowd of people followed from behind and someone said, "They've arrested a young thief." Another laughed and said, "What a ferocious little rascal!" Xiaohe was angry and frustrated, and curses continued to spew from his mouth as he kicked at the three officers.
They went west out of the town and a big river appeared in front of them, a countless number of boats moored at the docks. There was a city across the expansive river. When Jiang Xiaohe was led here by the officers, a commotion rose up at the docks. He was like a captured tiger cub, baring his teeth, swinging his claws and growling nonstop. But no matter how he struggled, he was unable to stop the three officers from pulling and pushing him into a small boat. Once its rope was undone, the small boat sped its way to the opposite shore, rocking back and forth. Jiang Xiaohe sat on a board with two of the officers holding him down. One of them smiled and said, "Little brother, don't cause us any trouble. Taking you to Xuanhan County on the opposite shore is official business. If you have something to say, do so when you see the county magistrate. Our magistrate is surnamed Bao, and he's very fair, especially since you're a child. He won't come down hard on you!" [Note: A different surname "Bao" (first tone) than that of Bao Zhenfei (fourth tone).]
Jiang Xiaohe breathed loudly through his nose and asked, "I'm not afraid of meeting the county official! But you guys have to tell me what I've done wrong!" The officer smiled and said, "That's enough! Little brother, you don't have to play dumb with us. We're not going to interrogate you. Save it for the magistrate's questions when you get to the court of law." Jiang Xiaohe shouted angrily still that he'd done nothing wrong.
In a little bit, after they crossed the river, they got off of the boat. There were quite a few people on this shore who also came to see the commotion. By now, Xiaohe had yelled until his throat was shot, but he knew that resisting was useless, so he struggled no more. He entered Xuanhan City with the three officers and after walking a short distance, they arrived at the government office. The three officers brought him to a small, dark room to frisk him. When Jiang Xiaohe saw the pouch of silvers tucked at his breast in the hands of one of the officers, he wanted to step forward and take them back. He glared at them and said, "Hey! What do you mean by taking my silver!?" The officer replied, "We're not taking yours, just keeping it for you. When the county magistrate releases you, I'll give it all back." After this was said, the three officers left the room and locked it up with a clang.
Jiang Xiaohe cursed softly, "What bad luck! My horse is gone and I've been wrongly taken to court!" After standing and waiting for a while, he looked through the crack in the door and saw officers continuously walking back and forth outside, but not one of them paid any attention to him. Jiang Xiaohe pounded on the door with his fist, and yelled out, "Hey! Open the door! Open the door! If you're going to question me, then hurry up and do it! I've got to go, after I've been to court, so stop wasting my time with this!" None of the people passing by outside bothered even to look at him. Jiang Xiaohe knocked and kicked at the door and cursed loudly until his voice was gone and his strength was exhausted, but the people outside ignored him still. Defeated, Jiang Xiaohe sat on the ground and fumed, but there was nothing else he could do.
It wasn't until after a while that he heard the lock turn. When the door opened, the light of the setting sun came in from outside and four officers entered. Jiang Xiaohe looked up as he was sitting on the ground, asking, "What's going on?" The four officers said nothing as they pulled Jiang Xiaohe up and dragged him to the great hall. Two officers holding flogging planks stood at either side of the room, and in the middle sat the short and skinny county magistrate. The officers at both sides used their planks to knock on the ground, saying, "Kneel down! Kneel down!" Jiang Xiaohe sneered at the officers, saying, "Sure I'll kneel down, but I haven't done anything wrong." He then kneeled down.
The county official spoke with a southern accent, asking, "What's your surname? What are you called?" Xiaohe said as if announcing himself, "I am Jiang Xiaohe." The county official asked, "Where do you live? Where are you from?" Xiaohe shifted his eyes and said, "I am a man of Xi'an. I come from Zhenba County." The county official then asked, "For what purpose have you come to Northern Sichuan?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "To roam Jianghu!" The county official pounded his judge's block once and said, "Nonsense! How can a child like you roam Jianghu? I think that even though you're young, you've done quite a few bad things. I ask you, how did you go about killing someone east of the river, stealing a horse and other goods? Tell the truth, or else you'll receive a beating from those planks!" Jiang Xiaohe was so mad he began to get up, but as soon as he moved, he was pressed back down to his knees by two officers.
Jiang Xiaohe resisted as he shouted, "I've been wronged! I didn't kill anyone, and I didn't steal any horses. I spent last night in a broken down temple to the north. In the middle of the night, a thief stole my horse away..." When he got to here, the county official pounded his judge's block several times and furiously rebuked, "Are you trying to tell me someone like you had a horse? I suppose you won't talk without being beaten. Come, hold him down and give him twenty planks!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and shouted, "What for!? I've done nothing wrong!" However, the officers didn't wait for an explanation. They pressed him down, and gave him twenty cracks with their planks. The twenty blows weren't heavy, but the pain Jiang Xiaohe felt in his buttocks was still hard to bear. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but cry, thinking, This is no good. If they break my bottom, I won't be able to walk anymore. So, he yelled out, "Stop hitting me! I'll tell the truth!" The officers pulled him up and pushed him to kneel in front of the big table in the middle of the room.
The county official pounded his judge's block again and chided angrily, "Tell the truth. If you don't, you'll get more beatings!"
Jiang Xiaohe took a deep breath and said, "I'm telling the truth; I really didn't kill anyone! I'm the son of Jiang Zhisheng from Zhenba County. My father was murdered two years ago, and my mother's remarried. I found out the names of my enemies, so I left the province to find a master and learn martial arts in order to take my revenge. When I left Zhenba, I took a horse from the house of Bao Kunlun and went to Wanyuan County. Who knew that just as I was drinking some wine at an inn, Bao Kunlun had sent people after me. I would have died immediately if they caught me, so I jumped out of the inn, took a horse and ran. Who would have imagined that I took the wrong horse? It was a black horse that belonged to one of my enemies, and its temperament was terrible. On the road, I almost fell to my death when the horse threw me. That night, since I didn't have any money for lodging, I stayed in a broken down temple. I didn't think that while I was sleeping, a thief would come and steal my horse. I was awakened and hurriedly chased after them. I was unable to catch up to the horse, but flung at the side of the road, I spotted my saddle and a dead body. I think that body must have been the person that tried to steal my horse. He couldn't control that horse and was thrown to his death. I took a bundle of silver pieces from the body, picked up that saddle, and made my way into town. I'd have never thought that officers would come and arrest me!"
When the county official heard this much, he ordered the officers to lock Jiang Xiaohe back up.
Two officers pushed Jiang Xiaohe along towards a jail cell. One of them advised him, "Child, be good and I guarantee you won't have to suffer any hardships. Just look at how lightly those twenty planks were given to you. It was because you're young and they felt sorry for you!" Jiang Xiaohe sighed and said, "What horrible luck! I lost my horse and I was taken to court!" When they brought him to a jail cell, they undid the chains around his neck, but snapped shackles around his legs. There were twenty to thirty prisoners in this cell. They were all dressed in rags, with disheveled hair and grimy faces; they were more hideous than ghouls. In the middle of the room was a bucket of urine giving off an offensive smell.
After being shoved into the cell, Jiang Xiaohe stood up next to the cold stone wall. Many of the prisoners crowded toward him and bared their teeth like hungry ghosts, asking him what he'd been arrested for and what crimes he'd committed. Jiang Xiaohe was annoyed and said, "Don't ask! I've been falsely brought to court. I didn't commit any crimes, and they brought me here and gave me twenty planks before I could give an explanation. The county official is no more than a damned fool. Just wait until I, the honorable young Jiang, learn martial arts! We'll settle things then!" When he finished, he pushed through the group of people and found himself a portion of straw mat upon which he sat and fretted. When it was late, the prison guards brought over jail food not fit to feed dogs, but he didn't eat any of it. He sighed to himself that Jianghu was a tough world in which to travel. The people of the world did all sorts of things that made no sense. He thought, Why is everyone picking on me? It must be because I'm young and I haven't completed my study of martial arts. Damn it! I have to get out of here, so I can find a master and learn martial arts!
His head was lowered as he felt the shackles at his feet. Suddenly, he was taken aback. It turned out that these shackles were made for an adult. With his skinny ankles, all he had to do was take off his shoes and stretch his feet out and he was immediately able to slip the shackles off. He was elated! He thought to himself, No more worries; I can get away now. Thus, he slid the shackles back on and laid down on the straw mat. He obediently slept through the night.
Early the next day, the cell door opened and a prison guard entered, giving instructions for the urine bucket to be emptied. According to precedent, this chore was supposed to be done by the newer prisoners, so it fell to Jiang Xiaohe and a boy around the age of seventeen or eighteen. The two lifted the bucket of piss, and under the watch of the prison guard, they exited through the gate to empty the urine onto a garbage pile outside of the southern wall. Jiang Xiaohe's shackles were loose and walking was very inconvenient. Upon leaving the jail, he tripped and sent the bucket of urine splashing onto the ground. The prison guard's feet were soaked with piss and he growled, "You little bastard!" He kicked Jiang Xiaohe into the urine, and Jiang Xiaohe used this opportunity to take off his shackles. He got up and swung his shackles at the prison guard. Hearing the guard cry out after being hit, Jiang Xiaohe took off running. He didn't dare go along the main roads, instead cutting through smaller alleys. After running through two alleys, he spotted officers chasing behind him and broke into a sprint. He wound his way onto a main road and ran directly towards the south gate. The people on the road didn't know if he was a lunatic or a thief, and because they saw that he was a child, they all moved out of his way. No one stepped up to stop him.
Jiang Xiaohe ran straight through the south gate and was stopped by an officer, who asked, "Boy, what are you running for?" Jiang Xiaohe said nothing at all as he rushed forward and sent the officer down with two fists and a kick. He then continued running south. Because he was dashing too hastily, he was not paying attention and ran right into a mule wagon, knocking heads with a mule and falling to the ground. The mule nearly gave him a kick as he got right back up and flew off to the south. He heard the sounds of people shouting behind him, "Stop him! Stop him!"
Jiang Xiaohe was like a rabbit being chased by hunting dogs, ignoring everything around him and concerning himself only with keeping his head down and running. The road became bumpy and he tumbled over two or three times, but every time he did, he got up right away and continued running. He was barefoot at the time and his feet had been pierced by the sand and rocks below, but he didn't feel any pain as he only thought about running for his life. He didn't know how far he'd gone when he began running out of breath and his legs were about to give out. He was also starting to feel lightheaded. At this time, hearing the galloping of a horse chasing behind him, Jiang Xiaohe opened his arms and cried out, immediately falling to the ground. He experienced dizziness and darkness covered his eyes. His chest felt as if something was rushing up into it, but he still had a bit of his senses. He felt someone lifting him up and then fell out of consciousness.
After some time, he could only hear the sound of a horse's hooves at his ear. He opened his eyes. His body was being held by someone and the person holding on to him had two big hands and two black sleeves. Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly looked back and saw that it wasn't an officer, but a dark-faced man with two big eyes smiling at him. The horse continued to trot as the man laughed and said, "Young fellow, you've got quite some ability! You've studied martial arts before, haven't you? Whom did you learn it from?" Jiang Xiaohe straightened up his waist and replied, "I learned it from my uncle Ma Zhixian." Upon hearing this, the dark man unexpectedly became angry and threw Xiaohe off the horse. Falling to the ground, Xiaohe hit his head. He picked up a stone and hurled it at the horse, and then got up and yelled, "Little one, if you seek to hurt me, do you dare come back here and compare our martial skill?"
The man rode a short distance forward and then suddenly turned the horse around and laughed, saying, "A young fellow like you, I really admire you. But whenever I hear that someone has the character 'zhi' in their name, I get angry!" He approached and got off the horse, asking, "Your master is a disciple of Bao Kunlun, isn't he?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Yes, but my uncle Ma Zhixian hates Bao Kunlun as well, but he also fears him, not daring to provoke him, that's all. My father Jiang Zhisheng used to learn martial arts from Bao Kunlun too, but he was killed by Bao Kunlun and so they're my enemies. I've previously confronted Bao Kunlun with a blade, and also injured Long Zhiteng and Long Zhiqi!" Hearing this, the big man couldn't help but look surprised, saying, "Heh! So a young fellow like you actually has that great an ability?" He grabbed hold of Jiang Xiaohe's arm and asked, "What's your name?"
Xiaohe pounded his chest and said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. What about you?" The dark man laughed and said, "My name is Wu Jinbiao. People call me the Black Panther, and I am a man of Yingshan County. A couple days ago, I came to Xuanhan County to take care of some business, and I've not yet finished with that. Because I saw you just then outside of the south gate with more than a little ability, I took a liking to you and chased after you on my horse. I saw you facedown on the ground, unable to catch your breath, so I rescued you!" Jiang Xiaohe heard this and nodded, saying, "All right, I was lucky to have you save me. Why don't we become friends? Do you have any money? Let me borrow some, no matter how little it is. I'll go get something to eat, and you can go and finish your business. I'm sure we'll see each other again!"
Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther laughed and said, "It's not important if I finish my business or not. Little brother, let me first ask you where you're headed." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm not going anywhere in particular. I'm just looking for the Xia of Langzhong. I hear his martial arts are powerful. I want to ask him to be my master." Wu Jinbiao laughed and said, "You certainly have ambition, young fellow! But if you want to find the Xia of Langzhong, how did you end up here? If you keep going south, you won't get to Langzhong even if you walk forever."
Jiang Xiaohe hurried asked, "Where is Langzhong? Which way should I be going?" Wu Jinbiao pointed west and said, "Langzhong is across the Ba River. Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong is second to no one there. But, if you're thinking about meeting him directly, not only will he not acknowledge you, but he won't see you at all. You have to find someone to introduce you." Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Do you know him?" Wu Jinbiao nodded and said, "Of course I do. Not only do I know him, but we are quite familiar." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Then I must trouble you to take me to him and present me as his disciple!" Wu Jinbiao chuckled and shook his head, saying, "But that isn't possible! I can't lie to you. I might be familiar with the Xia of Langzhong, but whenever I meet him, I dare not even raise my head." Jiang Xiaohe asked, "Are you afraid of him?" Wu Jinbiao said, "Not only me. Who doesn't fear him? He's the greatest hero in Northern Sichuan, and I am but only running about Jianghu. When it comes to money, influence or martial arts, I am very far below him!" Jiang Xiaohe thought deeply for a moment and then asked, "How much farther from here is Langzhong?" Wu Jinbiao said, "About 270 miles or so. Even riding my horse, it would take at least three days." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Fine, if you don't mind, I'm going to go find him!" Saying this, he started walking.
Wu Jinbiao stopped him and said, "Little brother, what are you playing at? You're not even wearing any shoes, and you'll die of exhaustion before you reach there. Not to mention, if you have no one to introduce you, he won't pay you any attention. Now, since we've become friends, little brother, I'll help you out. Let's go west and find a place to have a meal and drink a few cups of wine. After that, I'll give you some money to get some clothes, and then I'll find a friend to lend you a horse. Following that, we'll set off. Let me first take you to see a few of my friends. Knowing the bunch of them before going to see the Xia of Langzhong, he'll accept you for sure." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe was pleased and he nodded, saying, "All right!" Thus, Wu Jinbiao led his horse along and chatted with Jiang Xiaohe as they walked south. After walking a short distance, they saw a large road heading west. Wu Jinbiao then took Jiang Xiaohe west. On either side of this road were paddies and the scenery was magnificent, but Jiang Xiaohe hadn't the mind to take any of it in. He only sought to get to a town inn quickly to eat food and drink wine. Whether or not he got a set a clothes wasn't important. He just had to find himself a pair of shoes.
After walking more than ten miles west, they came upon a small town as expected, and though it wasn't very bustling, there were still ten or so shops, including a sundry shop, a tavern, an inn and others. South of the road there was an inn which had a few crooked characters written on its wall. Jiang Xiaohe could not read them. Wu Jinbiao said, "Let's go inside to rest a while." He took the horse and entered. Jiang Xiaohe followed behind. Inside, two or three attendants came over to greet them with smiles on their faces and to get the horse. All of them seemed to know Wu Jinbiao well. Wu Jinbiao said to one of the attendants, "Find a room for me and this young fellow." At that, one attendant let Xiaohe into a room to the east. Wu Jinbiao went to the front counter to look for the innkeeper and have a chat with him.
Xiaohe entered the room and the attendant brought him some water. Xiaohe used the basin of water to clean his hair, face, arms, legs and both of his feet. He then laid upon the bed and thought about all the things that had happened to him the past two days. It infuriated him. Then he thought, It's fortunate that I came across Wu Jinbiao. He has turned out to be a good friend. It was a while before Wu Jinbiao came into the room carrying a fresh set of clothes and a pair of shoes. He smiled and said, "Little brother, change into these clothes and try on the shoes to see if you can wear them or not." Jiang Xiaohe stripped down and put the clothes on. Though the sleeves and pants were a little long, he could roll them up. The shoes, however, were too big and that made walking difficult. Xiaohe tore up his own ragged pair of pants into four strips, two of which he used to tie the shoes up, and the other two he used to wrap around his legs.
Wu Jinbiao watched from the side and couldn't help but laugh and say, "Good brother, now you look just like a young hero. All you need is a saber and who in Lülin would dare look down on you?" Jiang Xiaohe ignored these remarks and said only, "Why isn't the food here yet?" Wu Jinbiao said, "Let me go tell them to hurry it up." Wu Jinbiao then left the room, and after a while the attendants brought over some food with tea and wine. Wu Jinbiao sang a Northern Sichuan mountain tune as he entered the room again, "Send the man to Ten Mile Pavilion. The grass by Ten Mile Pavilion is green!" Hearing the mountain tune, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but think of Bao Aluan, whom he often heard singing mountain tunes. He anxiously thought, I've got to quickly finish my study of martial arts and make my fortune, so that I can go back home and make Bao Aluan my wife, but before I marry her, I have to get my revenge first. He sat across from Wu Jinbiao on the bed and drank some wine. Then they ate and conversed. Because Jiang Xiaohe considered Wu Jinbiao a very good friend, he told him about everything that had happened to him.
Wu Jinbiao told him, "It's a good thing you ran into me today. Had it been anyone else, they might have killed you as soon as they discovered you knew Bao Kunlun! Bao Kunlun and those disciples of his can preside as tyrants over Southern Shaanxi, but they wouldn't be able to walk one pace if they were to come into Northern Sichuan. Those of us in Northern Sichuan, be we of Jianghu or Lülin, need only hear the 'zhi' character in the names of Bao Kunlun's disciples to know that they are our enemies and to raise our arms up in a fight with them!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Even though I know them, they killed my father, so I also have hatred for them!" Wu Jinbiao nodded and said, "Right! If you didn't also hate them, we wouldn't be friends now. Of Bao Kunlun's disciples, except for the Long brothers and that Ge Zhiqiang or whatever, none dare to come into Northern Sichuan. But last month, since the Long brothers were in the Jianmen Mountains, they killed some of Chao Li the Water-siphoning Dragon's good men. Then they encountered and fought fiercely with the Xia of Langzhong in Guangyuan County, and in the end suffered a great loss at the hands of the Xia of Langzhong. But they were petty and their hearts were venomous and vicious; they killed two of the Xia of Langzhong's men. Though they got away, they can forget ever coming back to Northern Sichuan!"
Jiang Xiaohe said, "I heard that they haven't given up yet. They're gathering their brothers right now and are still planning on doing escort work through Northern Sichuan." Wu Jinbiao nodded and said, "Tell them to come! Once the Xia of Langzhong finds out, none of them will return a whole man!" Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "How do the Xia of Langzhong's martial arts compare with those of Bao Kunlun?" Wu Jinbiao said, "It's greater by far! I've never met that old man Bao Kunlun, but I think his martial arts must be ordinary. But he relies on the fact that he has a lot of disciples, and that's why in recent years, the Xia of Langzhong hasn't been willing to make an opponent out of him. Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong is still young; he's only about forty this year. His martial arts are passed on within his family, and they're of the real internal Wudang School. His sword goes this way and that unpredictably. Even if he were surrounded by several hundred big men and they came at him all at once with their sabers and swords, I am certain they wouldn't be able to harm even a single hair on him!"
Hearing Wu Jinbiao talking the Xia of Langzhong up to be so courageous, the admiration in Jiang Xiaohe's heart grew. Finally, Wu Jinbiao said, "Don't worry, little brother! I'll take you to the temple and introduce you to a few friends of mine. Stay there with us for a few days, and then we can take you to Langzhong to meet the Xia of Langzhong and ask him to accept you as his disciple!"
Jiang Xiaohe heard this and liked it very much, saying, "But, I can't stay with you very long. I didn't come out here to have fun. I want to quickly find a master and study martial arts, and when I've completed my study, I have to hurry back to get my revenge on the Long brothers. Plus, I have other matters to take care of!" Wu Jinbiao asked, "What other matters?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm engaged to a girl back home!" Wu Jinbiao smiled and said, "You're still so young. Why are you in such a rush to get married? Northern Sichuan is full of pretty girls, and you're afraid you won't have a wife?" Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "Have you gotten married?" Wu Jinbiao laughed, "I have too many wives, so many I've lost count. I don't even know most of them anymore." The two conversed cheerfully and rested here for a day.
The next day, Wu Jinbiao procured a brown horse from who knows where and told Jiang Xiaohe to guide it. Just as they were about to leave the inn, the innkeeper came out to see them off. The innkeeper was a portly man, his body big and tall, with a full beard covering his cheeks. Wu Jinbiao introduced him to Xiaohe, saying, "This is the innkeeper, Eldest Yu. And this is the young fellow I've become new friends with." As a person, Eldest Yu the innkeeper was amiable, but his appearance was too fierce, so Jiang Xiaohe didn't like him much. When the two rode their horses out of the town, Wu Jinbiao looked back from his position in front and said, "Did you see that innkeeper back there? He's famous within Jianghu as well. His martial arts are great." Jiang Xiaohe heard this, but did not pay it special attention. Right now, he only wanted to meet the Xia of Langzhong and prepare himself for a couple years of intense hardship so that he could learn martial arts through all parts of his body.
They traveled west for an entire day. Jiang Xiaohe had no idea where Wu Jinbiao had taken him, but he noticed that the path became gradually narrower, the number of farmhouses grew sparse, and there were no other travelers on the road. In front of them was an endless, winding range of mountains covered in many years' growth of emerald trees. Toward the north there were several black sails on an azure backdrop; there was most likely a big river over there. Seeing that things were not quite right, Jiang Xiaohe stopped his horse and pitched a question forward, "Hey! Friend, where is this? Where are we headed?" Ahead of him, Wu Jinbiao reined in his horse as well and looked back with a smile. He pointed up the mountain and said, "Look, there's my home. Twenty-some of my friends are there!" Jiang Xiaohe couldn't avoid feeling suspicious, but since they'd already gone this far, not to mention the fact that Wu Jinbiao had been such a good friend, he could only go along with him. Thus, the two horses continued west to the base of the mountain, and finding a steep mountain path, they rode up into it.
On the mountain, after they circuitously crossed one range, they saw a lush evergreen forest ahead. They heard only a piercing sound coming out of it, like the call of a hawk. Wu Jinbiao turned around and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Let's get off these horses. Our friends are coming." He then placed two fingers to his mouth and whistled as well. Jiang Xiaohe was amazed as he watched on, and after a moment, four people emerged from the wood, all of them carrying sabers. It wasn't until now that Jiang Xiaohe understood that Wu Jinbiao had led him to a bandit hideout. He refused to dismount and asked, "Hey, friend, where have you taken me? If you want me to be a bandit, that's something I can't do!" Wu Jinbiao quickly stopped him, saying, "Little brother, how can you say that? You don't value your life! Come off that horse first and let me introduce you to a few friends. If you have something to say, we'll discuss it later. Don't worry. We've become friends after all. How else can I put your heart at ease?"
Jiang Xiaohe furrowed his brow. The four people came over and fetched the horses. Wu Jinbiao had a few words with them, though Jiang Xiaohe didn't know what language they were speaking as he couldn't understand a single word. He saw only that they all laughed. Wu Jinbiao then brought Xiaohe into the evergreen forest. Past the forest, there was a valley, in the midst of which there was a temple with eight or nine worship halls. Their red walls had all faded and the flagpole was also broken. The two horses were tied down outside of the temple, where two people were also standing, both wearing short coats and carrying sabers in their hands. Jiang Xiaohe was even more surprised at seeing this, saying, "Hey, friend, what sort of place is this anyway?" Wu Jinbiao smiled and said, "Spend a couple days here and you'll know. We are loyal friends after all. There's no way I will wrong you!"
Jiang Xiaohe said angrily, "Good friend, you've brought me to a bandit hideout, but I'm telling you I can't get involved in this!" Wu Jinbiao stopped walking immediately and turned around. His dark face appeared unhappy as he said, "Little brother, you're off base here! I told you right off the bat that we were men of Lülin. The day before yesterday, when I went to Xuanhan County to take care of some business, it was because I saw that even though you were young, your skills and courage were pretty good, that I became friends with you and invited you here to join us and be member of our gang. Also, you've no home to go back to, and you plan on seeking out the Xia of Langzhong who has never taken on disciples, not to mention that you're from another province."
Upon hearing Wu Jinbiao laying it out plainly, Jiang Xiaohe knew that they were bandits! He stood there blankly and looked upon the two people and two horses in front of the gate. He thought things over in his head and then nodded, saying, "All right! But you guys can't treat me like a servant and order me around!" Wu Jinbiao was pleased and patted Jiang Xiaohe's shoulder, saying, "What kind of talk is that? You're our little brother! A young captain." He pulled Jiang Xiaohe into the temple. The two underlings who were standing guard outside the temple gates together called Wu Jinbiao second captain.
Wu Jinbiao pointed at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "This is our newly arrived young captain Jiang. You'll need to listen to him from now on. Don't be fooled by his size. His martial arts are but powerful."
Entering the temple, Jiang Xiaohe took one look and saw that it was nothing like a temple. Quite a number of chests were piled in the middle of the courtyard, and there were also several already-opened travel cases. They were most likely all fruits of their plunder. On the stone steps stood a dozen or so men who, though dressed unkemptly, were feasting on meat and wine and laughing together. Wu Jinbiao introduced Xiaohe to them as he had done before, and Xiaohe found out that they were all bandit underlings. Then, Wu Jinbiao took Xiaohe toward the main hall. There were a few weapon racks placed in front of the main hall, filled with all manner of weapons, each one glimmering in the light. Inside the hall was a mess. The religious statues had not been moved, but around them laid earthen pots, rice bowls and other such items, and on the walls hung blades. The offering table had been shoved to the side, and busted benches had been placed around it, on which sat men who looked like outlaws. One of them was even a dark, stocky, long-bearded Daoist priest. Wu Jinbiao presented Jiang Xiaohe to him, first telling of how he arrived here, and then introduced his name to him. It was then that Jiang Xiaohe knew that he was the leader of these mountain bandits: the chieftain Ma Yinxiu, his designation the Iron Founder. Another was the third captain Liu Qi the Long-armed Ape. The other two were both friends from elsewhere who were staying here; one was named Lu Derui, and the other was named Pan Dading.
These outlaws were actually quite generous, all of them referring to Jiang Xiaohe as their little brother. Ma Yinxiu the Iron Founder said, "We're currently lacking a little brother, so there are many things we're not able to do. It's a great thing that you've come. Help us out, and whatever you want, you'll have. You've only to remember that the most important thing among us in Lülin is our honor. When we encounter merchant or escort caravans, if we don't know each other, then we must take their things. But if they call out the watchword and we hear that they are familiar, we must immediately cup our fists and allow them to pass. Also, when we encounter women, as long as they are not *****s, then we won't hassle them. Even if they have some precious treasures in their cars, we're not to take them. Otherwise, if word gets out, our friends will all laugh at our shame!" Upon hearing that what these bandits said made quite a bit of sense, Jiang Xiaohe thought as if they were better than Bao Kunlun and his people. He was a bit delighted at this, and proceeded to drink and laugh with these few outlaws.
Seeing that though Jiang Xiaohe was young, he talked and acted like one who had traveled Jianghu for a long time, the chieftain Ma Yinxiu and the others were very happy. Every time they said anything, they called each other brother, and they asked Jiang Xiaohe questions about Bao Kunlun and the Long brothers. Jiang Xiaohe very openheartedly talked as he drank wine.
In the midst of their revelry, three people suddenly came in from outside, one of whom was the fourth captain Geng Zhuang the Flying Dart, the other two underlings. Geng Zhuang said that a group of travelers was coming from the north, transporting raw lacquer in a total of six wagons. Two escort captains were protecting them, flying the flag of the Chang'an Kunlun Security Firm. Hearing this, Ma Yinxiu slapped the table and stood up, saying, "How dare those men of the Kunlun Security Firm come here. We must rob them!" And then he asked, "Did you happen to see what kind of men the escorts are? Are they disciples of Bao Kunlun?"
Geng Zhuang the Flying Dart said, "They have quite an air about them, but I don't know their names." From the side, Wu Jinbiao said, "There are no escorts from Kunlun Security who are weak. We should send over a few more men." Ma Yinxiu said happily, "We'll all go. Brother Jiang, come with us. If we finish those two guys from the Kunlun School, you can count it as revenge for your father!"
Jiang Xiaohe was a bit hesitant, thinking to himself, Even though most of old man Bao's disciples are bad, Ma Zhixian and Lu Zhizhong were good to me. What can I do if one of them is among the two escorts? Not to mention that I came out here to travel Jianghu and learn martial arts. How disgraceful for me if I now help bandits rob a caravan? At this time, the group of outlaws rose up in a bustle, each grabbing a weapon. Ma Yinxiu had taken off his priest's robes and put on a short coat. He picked up a glaive of his and walked out the door.
Wu Jinbiao just as suddenly went outside with him, and probably after exchanging a few words with him, came back inside. He said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Little brother, we're going to go down the mountain to conduct some business right now, and this is your first time at it. Let us speak of conscience and honor. The enemies are men of Kunlun, and perhaps you'll know them. You'd better not be working with them while you pretend to fight with us." Jiang Xiaohe became angry, saying, "What kind of talk is this!? If you guys are worried about me, then leave me here to look after the place." Wu Jinbiao thought it over and nodded, saying, "All right, then you can hold down the fort. This sort of thing is perhaps hard to handle. You're young, and when the fighting's going on, I'm afraid we won't be able to take care of you!" After saying this, he left. It was hectic outside, and with the sound of horses' hooves, the group of bandits made their way down the mountain together to gather some loot.
A moment later the sounds of commotion passed, and the surroundings became very quiet. Jiang Xiaohe left the main hall and saw only four or five brigands in the courtyard gambling with dice. Exiting the temple gates, he saw no one else, only mountain birds singing their songs into his ear. Jiang Xiaohe thought, What a good opportunity. They've all gone down the mountain, and probably won't be back for a while. I can take this chance to leave. Who wants to join them and be a bandit? It's just a pity that all the horses have been ridden away by them. He thought, I might as well just climb down the mountain. He first went back into the temple, and entered the main hall, seeing the bandits' plunder scattered all over the place.
Jiang Xiaohe found a bag of silver. He didn't know how many taels it was, just that it felt pretty heavy. He tied the bag to his person, and then got a steel saber with a scabbard. Clasping the scabbard, he walked outside. A brigand who was playing dice noticed him and stood up, asking him, "Young captain, where are you going?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I'm going down the mountain to help them out." Saying this, he hurriedly left. The brigands behind him all laughed, as if they hadn't known just how powerful this new member was.
Jiang Xiaohe departed from this bandit lair, and thought, They must be in front of the mountain, fighting with those two escort captains. If I go that way, I might run into them. Thus, he went towards the other side of the mountain. There was a path on this side, but it was extremely twisty and steep. Jiang Xiaohe stepped carefully over the mountain crags, which were sometimes high and sometimes low. After walking a long while, not only had he not left the mountain, but he had lost the direction of the path. He couldn't help but be anxious. He strapped the saber to his back, and climbed upwards, his hands grabbing at trees and his feet stepping on rocks. He climbed higher and higher, and before he knew it, he had reached a peak. He saw mountains upon mountains before him. In the distance to the right, there was a big river, and to the left was the blood-like setting sun, but he couldn't find any mountain paths. He looked down and saw only a mountain stream, from which he could hear the babbling of flowing water.
Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself nervously, What am I going to do? Then, he climbed back down the mountain rocks. He saw a group of men and horses on one of the ridges below galloping over. It was Ma Yinxiu the Iron Founder, Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther and the others, on their way back having finished their raid. Jiang Xiaohe quickly hid himself behind a big green rock and kept low to the ground for a while before poking his head out. He looked down again and saw that the men and horses had already passed. Jiang Xiaohe then made his way down. The mountain was extremely steep, there were too many jagged edges on the rocks, and the pine branches and date trees kept pricking his hands. Both of Jiang Xiaohe's hands were bleeding, and he had lost one of his shoes. In addition, there were many times when he had almost lost his grip and fallen down into the stream.
He viciously clenched his teeth as he climbed down the mountain. He saw the color of dusk before his feet landed themselves on a narrow mountain path. He took a couple deep breaths and sprinted downward. With one foot in a shoe and the other bare, he ran straight out of the mountain ignoring any caltrops or rocks on the ground. He saw a flat road and began to run even faster. He kept going as quickly as he could with no regard to direction. He didn't know how far he'd run before he heard the sounds of horses' hooves behind him, growing gradually closer. He turned to look and saw two horses coming after him.
Jiang Xiaohe knew that he couldn't outrun them, so he lay directly onto the ground and pulled out his saber. Because it was already dusk, those two men didn't notice and kept galloping along the road. Jiang Xiaohe rolled to the side of the road, and lay flat, holding the saber in his hand. He waited for the first horse to pass, and then when the second horse came, he suddenly jumped up and swung his sword at the horse's leg. The horse immediately fell forward, and the person on the horse was thrown onto the ground with a yelp. Jiang Xiaohe chopped at that man's body a couple times, and then chopped at the horse's leg another couple times, leaving the horse unable to stand up. At this time, the person in front had heard something and hurriedly turned his horse around, asking, "Brother, what happened? Did you fall off your horse?"
Xiaohe heard that this man didn't have the cadence of one of those mountain bandits and stooped down next to the horse. He could hear the injured man on the ground still groaning as the man on the horse drew near. The man drew his saber first, and then dismounted his horse. He walked over and asked uneasily, "Brother, what's happened to you!?"
Retrooo.. Thanks for posting this translation.. It is a really nice story.. And I can tell you it is going to be a heartbreaker as well.. :-)
Thanks for the translations. Nice to read more of Wang Dulu's works.
Since Retroo has no objection to post his work from his blog ( refer 2nd post on top ), i will update this thread..
Some willing translators please take up.. Last update is 13 january 2010
The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 4, Part 1.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
Jiang Xiaohe took this opportunity to jump up and say, while swinging his saber, "Who is your brother?" The man took a step back in surprise and then thrust his saber forward. The two blades clashed in the deep, dark night, but after ten or so exchanges, Jiang Xiaohe felt a bit unable to keep up. He ran behind the wounded horse and asked, "What's your name, friend?" His opponent didn't respond, concerning himself only with rushing at him and swinging his saber. Jiang Xiaohe ran back and forth around the unmoving horse as the man chased him. After three or four times around the horse, the man grew angry and leapt over the horse with a whoosh, hollering, "Are you still trying to run, bandit?"
Jiang Xiaohe turned around and sprinted off. After running a stretch of the road, he heard the sound of galloping coming from in front of him. It was the horse that the man was riding, which had been frightened off by the skirmish, now making its way back. Jiang Xiaohe suddenly came up with an idea. He dashed forward and stopped the horse, and then flipped onto the horse's back. By this time, the man had already caught up with saber swinging. Jiang Xiaohe raised one of his hands and said, "Dart attack!" The man behind him thought a hidden weapon was headed his way and threw himself onto the ground. Jiang Xiaohe thus used this opportunity to turn the horse and soar away. The horse carried Jiang Xiaohe gradually further and further until there was no way the man behind them could catch up. The sky was filled with thousands of silver stars and a crescent moon. Though it was but a sliver, it was still enough to shine a dim light on the horse as it walked in no particular direction.
After going about twenty-some miles, Jiang Xiaohe stopped the horse by pulling strongly on its reins. He got off the horse and caught his breath. After noticing that a small bundle was tied to the back of the saddle, he reached out and gave it a feel. It was soft on the outside and very hard on the inside. He thought, There must be quite a few silvers in there. Well, I guess I've made my fortune. A horse, a saber and silvers, I've got them all! First I've got to find a place to spend the night, and then tomorrow I'll pick up my search for the Xia of Langzhong again. Thus, he attached to the horse the taels of silver and steel saber he'd been carrying with him, got back up on the horse, and made his way along the main road. After traveling for more than thirty miles, he reached a small town. It was about the second watch and many shops had yet to open. Jiang Xiaohe led the horse only a few steps, when he encountered a man carrying a lantern. The man greeted him, saying, "Come be a guest at our place, the old Zhang family inn. We have clean rooms."
Jiang Xiaohe said, "All right, get me a single. I don't care if it costs a little more." And so he followed the inn attendant and entered the old Zhang family inn. Immediately through the gates was a tying post for horses. Jiang Xiaohe removed his things from the horse and told an attendant to feed his horse. He followed the attendant who had greeted him into his room. The attendant lit the oil lamp hanging on the wall and then before leaving to fetch water for washing, tea and bedding, he asked Xiaohe what he wanted to eat. Xiaohe said, "I'll eat whatever you have, but you've got to get me some wine. I'll need at least four ounces." The inn attendant consented and exited the room.
Jiang Xiaohe opened the bundle and looked inside. The cloth wrap wasn't very thick, and the inside was filled more than halfway with silvers, along with three letters. They were all sealed tightly, and since Jiang Xiaohe was unable to read, he didn't open them. He set aside these silvers with those he had gotten on the mountain, leaving a few broken bits and pieces on his person. He then wrapped the bundle up again with the intention of using it as a pillow. After he washed his face and hands, he abruptly felt the pain in his foot. It turned out he was only wearing one shoe at the moment; the other had been lost. He took off the one shoe and sat on the bed. After a little bit, the attendant brought both the wine and the food, and having eaten, Jiang Xiaohe closed the door tightly and got into bed. He rested his head on the bundle and fell into a deep sleep.
The next day, sunshine had filled his window before he got up. After breakfast, he asked an attendant where he was and how far they were from Langzhong. The attendant said, "This is the town of Taiping, under the administration of Dazhu county. If you want to get to Langzhong, you have to cross the Qu River and go 200 miles along the dried up riverside road before you can." He thereafter told him in great detail the direction and the route to take. Jiang Xiaohe listened and thought, I can't travel along the water. I can't swim and it'd be all over if I ran into river bandits. Since I have this horse, I'd best go on drier land. Thus, he showed his feet to the inn attendant and told him to buy shoes for him after giving him some silvers. A short while later, the attendant returned with a pair and Jiang Xiaohe put them on, finding that they fit quite well. He then settled his bill for the room, readied his horse and left. He bought a horsewhip when he got to the street and then left this town of Taiping, spurring his horse on toward the northwest. He reached the southern bank of the Qu River by midday, and after finding a crossing, he rode a boat across the river.
On the other side of the river was Qu County, a very prosperous county in Jialing Circuit. Jiang Xiaohe had plenty of silvers on hand, so he ate and drank his fill in the city and then found a garment shop. He bought himself a silk outfit, a satin hat and satin shoes, all of which he put on in the shop. He then rode his horse out of Qu County and made his way northwest. At this time, he was wearing a blue silk shirt and pants with a purple satin belt and blue leg ties, and on his head was a small satin hat. His feet were inside a pair of blue thin-soled satin boots, which matched the fine pomegranate red horse he was sitting on, and behind the saddle was the bundle and a saber. He looked quite dignified. His heart was filled with joy as he waved the slender whip about, traveling forth neither quickly nor slowly. It was just springtime and the ground was decorated with green wheat fields, turquoise wild grass, beautiful peach blossoms, and a clearly-flowing brook. Appealingly slender clouds floated across the sky and the east wind blew gently, giving people who felt it a feeling of comfort.
Jiang Xiaohe thought, It was better here, outside of the province. But then he thought again, I've got everything now. If I went back to Zhenba County like this, no one would dare look down on me. It's just my martial skill; the bit I've learned from Ma Zhixian is far from enough. Never mind revenge. It's not even passable for traveling upon Jianghu. Because of this, worry crept again into his mind. I wish I could just get to Langzhong already and ask the Xia of Langzhong to be my master. He was now riding on a big road. To his right, there was a wide river, a tributary to the Qu River. To his left, there were fields, rice paddies where there was water, and wheat planted where there wasn't. At the moment, farmers were busy in the fields and children were playing in the brook. When they saw Jiang Xiaohe riding his horse at the bank, they were all taken aback with envy. Some of them even called out to him from far away. On the road, there were many people riding carts and horses, and many who walked along, carrying their belongings on their backs. All of them also paid attention to Jiang Xiaohe, unable to guess what kind of person this well-dressed boy who ably rode a horse was.
Jiang Xiaohe whistled a tune as he delightfully urged his horse on. After going twenty or thirty miles of road, three horses galloped up from behind him. The young riders of the horses were all wearing short shirts and pants. One of them called out, "Hey! Youngster, what are you up to?" Jiang Xiaohe turned his head and gave the rider a quick look-over, and deciding his attitude disrespectful, ignored him. He continued to whistle as he rode forward. The three behind him relaxed the reins on their horses and charged up in front of Xiaohe, kicking up a lot of dust off the ground and into Xiaohe's face. Jiang Xiaohe was extremely annoyed, but he noticed the three all had sabers under their saddles and guessed to himself, They must be men of Jianghu. Are they planning to harass me, since they see that I'm young and dressed well? Thus, in order to prevent the appearance of blades, he reined his horse in and rode along slowly with the purpose of directly letting the three horses go further away.
That day, he rode until dusk before finding an inn in which to rest, and the next day, he continued on at the break of dawn. By the time he had gone a few dozen miles, the sun was at high noon and a city was situated ahead. Jiang Xiaohe thought, I suppose I'll eat lunch here. Thus, he entered the city and found a restaurant. As he ate and drank, he asked the waiter where he was and how far it was from Langzhong. The waiter replied, "This here is Yingshan County, which is about a hundred or so miles from Langzhong. With a fast horse, you can reach there by today." Thrilled at hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe quickly finished his meal and settled his bill. He left the restaurant and rode his horse out of the northern gate, galloping northward along the main road. After ten or so miles, it struck him that the road was getting gradually narrower. In addition, the path was winding and a big river lay further ahead. He saw not a single boat on the river's surface. On the road, there was not one cart nor one horse, only a few farmers here and there.
Jiang Xiaohe thought to himself, Damn it! I've gone down the wrong road. I only thought about hurrying my horse along and now I've lost my way. Thus, he turned his horse around and asked a farmer, "Hey there! Excuse me, but if I wanted to get to Langzhong, could I take this path?" The farmer said, "You can, but when you get to the river, you'll have to go east to find a crossing!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Well, that's fine!" He turned his horse around again and continued forward. Having gone not even twenty miles with the river still far away, he heard someone shouting loudly from behind, "Friend! Stop, friend! We have some things to say to you!" Jiang Xiaohe reined in his horse and looking back, he saw three horses racing toward him. Jiang Xiaohe recognized them as the three men of Jianghu he had encountered the day before. Though he was a little fearful, he thought, It would be a disgrace if I hightailed it, and also their swift horses would be able to catch up to me for sure. It would be better to exchange names with them; perhaps I can scare them away.
He turned his horse toward them and went to meet them. When they got closer, the three stopped their horses and together sized Xiaohe up. The slightly thicker one smiled and asked, "Friend, from where do you ride? And where are you headed now to make your fortune?" Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe hesitated before saying, "I ride from Zhenba and plan to make my fortune in Langzhong." The three all looked surprised upon hearing this. The same man asked again, "Please give us the favor of telling us your name. And through what master's teachings do you come?" Jiang Xiaohe straightened his posture and proudly said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. People call me the Three-headed Tiger. I have no master. My martial arts came to me through an immortal." The three men hooted loudly with laughter, and then whispered bad things between each other. Jiang Xiaohe didn't like the looks of them, so he decided to move first in order to control the situation. With a tightened face he said, "Hey, my friends, you've finished asking me questions, so now it's my turn, isn't it!?" The thicker one said, "You needn't ask them. I am Qi Yong the Hooked Blade. Ask around in Northern Sichuan and you'll find that even three-foot-tall children know my name. We've followed you here with no secret motives, nor do we want any of your things. We just ask that you throw your saber down and leave the horse. You can keep your money; we don't want a single tael. We're not bandits. We just can't let a little brat like you pretend you're some great man, riding along the road you own it!"
The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 4, Part 2.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
He spoke only up until here, for Jiang Xiaohe yelled, "You bastard! What does young master Jiang's traveling on the road got anything to do with you? Who are you to prevent me from carrying a blade and riding a horse? Do you think you're better than me? If you're a real man, you'll get off that horse of yours and show me what you've got, one on one. Hell, even if all three of you come at me. I'm not afraid of you, but that wouldn't be becoming of a hero!" Saying this, he hopped off his horse and whipped his steel saber out of his bedroll. In the flash of an eye, he stood in a stance. He carried the blade in one hand and pointed two fingers forward. His left leg was slightly bent and his right leg was planted behind him. He glared and said, "Come down! I don't care which one; all you have to do is win against my saber and I'll leave all of my things. However, you guys ought to be more careful with your lives. Don't be like the Long brothers of Ziyang, begging for mercy under my blade!"
Upon seeing such a display from Jiang Xiaohe, the three men were scared into silence, because, with experienced eyes, they could tell by Jiang Xiaohe's saber that he seemed to have martial skills with a solid foundation. As a result, one of the others with a longer body dismounted his horse and cupped his fist, saying, "Friend, let's forget about it. We can see now! It's easy to travel thousands of miles upon Jianghu without making any friends, so why must we fight? This is not the place to compare our skills, friend. Please put that away and get back on your horse. Let's find a place to drink some wine."
Seeing that he had actually stunned them, Jiang Xiaohe became even haughtier. He put his saber away with a sneer and then shook his head, saying, "I haven't the time to accompany you. I have to hurry to Langzhong. Perhaps we'll run into each other another time!" As he said this, he pulled himself onto the saddle and cupped his fist. He turned his horse and set off to the north. The three horses behind him caught up with him again, and that Qi Yong the Hooked Blade said, "Brother Jiang, don't go yet. We still have some things to ask of you." Jiang Xiaohe reined in his horse and turned his head with a smile, saying, "What's that? Go ahead and tell me!"
Qi Yong the Hooked Blade cupped his hands and said, "We're not sure what sort of business you have in Langzhong." Jiang Xiaohe replied calmly, "It's nothing important. Just that in Zhenba I've been hearing about the famous Xia of Langzhong for a long time, and now I'd like to meet him." Qi Yong said, "What a coincidence! We're headed to Langzhong as well. We are acquaintances of master Xu the Xia of Langzhong. Brother Jiang, how about we go together?"
Jiang Xiaohe sat on his horse and thought. He looked over the three men carefully and saw that not only did they seem not to have bad intentions, but they also appeared to be very respectful toward him. I'm a bit lost right now, and with them traveling alongside me, if I encounter more people on the road who want to give me trouble, they could help me out. Also, I've only heard about Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong's great martial skill, but nothing about what kind of person he is. If he were a bad guy, or if he was vicious like that Bao Kunlun, I wouldn't need to go meet him; I'd have to go find another famous master. Thus, he nodded and said, "I guess that's fine. Let's go the river and try to find a crossing."
And so, with his horse in front and the other three behind, they set off northward together. As the horses clopped along, the four sat upon them and conversed leisurely. Jiang Xiaohe found out that they were all escorts for the Fuli Security Firm in Langzhong, and were on their way back from Hezhou where they had offered birthday wishes to their master, Han Jing the Drunk God of Pestilence. Qi Yong the Hooked Blade was the eldest of them. The other two were both his younger disciple-brothers; one was named Yang Xiantai the Short Blade, and the other was named Lü Xiong the Flower Blade.
The four horses arrived at the river and after turning east, they traveled another five or six miles before reaching a crossing where there were a number of ferries. Yang Xiantai was the first to dismount his horse, so he stood at the bank and called for a ferry. There were immediately two ferries speeding toward them. The men on the boats were even smiling and laughing, as they were well acquainted with them. The four horses boarded the two boats, and Jiang Xiaohe ended up on the same boat as Qi Yong the Hooked Blade.
By this time, Qi Yong was calling Jiang Xiaohe, "Brother Jiang." He said, "When we arrive in Langzhong, I think perhaps it's better if you didn't go to see Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong. He might not be home. Also, even though his martial arts are very strong, he doesn't understand friendship. He has somewhat of an empty reputation in Sichuan and not much in the way of friends. After you get to Langzhong, there's no harm in you staying at our security firm. Our captain is named Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God, and though he's not as famous as the Xia of Langzhong, his martial arts are no weaker. Plus, that captain of ours is generous and friendly, and especially respects those who are young and skilled. If you go, he'll be happy for sure, and I'm certain he will ask for your service. If you become an escort under him, the entire Jianghu of Northern Sichuan will open up to you. No matter where you go, you'll have friends and people to look after you."
Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right, when we get to Langzhong, I'll rely on you to introduce me to some friends and build a bit of a reputation. Then, I can go find Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong." Qi Yong asked, "What exactly do you want from him? Are you thinking of seeing how you measure up against him?" Jiang Xiaohe replied, "I just want to meet him, and if his martial skill really is better than mine, then I may even want to ask him to be my master!" Qi Yong smiled and said, "You can stop dreaming about that. The Xia of Langzhong has never taken any disciples in his entire life. He'll only pass his martial arts onto his sons, but his sons are all too young. They might not even be as old as you, brother!" They crossed this branch of the Qu River as they talked.
The four rode northwest, and when they got to Yilong County, they stopped to drink wine and eat dinner. Afterward, they hurried along the road as they had before, with nary a word exchanged between them. Yang Xiantai and his horse rode alone in the front while Jiang Xiaohe and the others rode behind. They tramped along the courier road, and as they rode, the sunlight grew dimmer, the clouds grew darker, and the travelers, carts and horses on the road became fewer. The evening wind began to blow, and the ducks of sundown flew noisily across the sky in flocks, headed for faraway forests. They kept riding until the sky was black, the stars appeared, and nobody could be seen anywhere around them.
The four horses continued galloping forward another twenty or thirty miles. Jiang Xiaohe sat exhausted on the horse, his two legs rubbed raw, and it was then that he saw some lights blinking in the distance. They rode towards them, and after a little while, they came upon a street. Yang Xiantai stopped his horse in front of them, and Qi Yong the Hooked Blade turned his head and said to Xiaohe, "We're here. Let's get off our horses!" Thus, the four all dismounted, and Jiang Xiaohe got a second wind. He led his horse himself and swaggered down the street with Qi Yong and the others. After walking west for a little bit, he saw a big, halfway-opened fence to the north of the road. Qi Yong pointed to it and said, "This is the Fuli Security Firm."
Yang Xiantai had already led his horse in through the gate and called out two young attendants to receive the horses of Jiang Xiaohe and the others. Jiang Xiaohe was worried about the valuables on his horse, so he unattached the bundle and held onto it. Qi Yong very courteously showed Xiaohe into the shop. There were many people inside, and all of them were gathered around a dice bowl, entranced. Some of them had won money, and they were all smiles, while others had already lost their money, and they were sighing or complaining to themselves. Jiang Xiaohe wasn't exactly short, but compared to the ten or so big men in this room, he looked much, much smaller. However, he put on the airs of a greater man, throwing his bundle onto a bed and then lifting his head and taking a look around at people. Because those people were concentrating on gambling, when the four of them entered the room, very few paid any attention. Only one particular man, who was about forty years old and wearing a big, blue coat, came over to Qi Yong and the others and talked with them, asking about things that Jiang Xiaohe didn't quite understand.
Qi Yong then introduced the man to Jiang Xiaohe, and he found out that he was named Mi Ziliang and that he was an escort here. Jiang Xiaohe cupped his fist and smiled, saying a few polite words, just as if he were an adult. Mi Ziliang seemed quite surprised and couldn't help but look Jiang Xiaohe over. He pulled Qi Yong aside and the two whispered to each other at length. Jiang Xiaohe looked over at them and thought, This Mi fellow's probably looking down on me because I'm young. I'd better demonstrate some of my moves to them. It's likely none of these escorts are especially skilled. I'll show off a few of the punches and kicks I learned from Ma Zhixian, and that should stun them.
At that point, Yang Xiantai poured a bowl of tea for Jiang Xiaohe and brought it over. He smiled and said, "Brother, have some tea. Our captain Jiao went home. He might be back here to take a look around, but otherwise he won't be able to come back until early tomorrow morning. Take a rest wherever. No one's a stranger. If you're feeling restless, you can come and put some money down. If you're lucky, you'll win some money, brother, and tomorrow, I might even have to ask you to treat us!" Jiang Xiaohe smiled and nodded as he thought, Since I'm in Langzhong now, I should make a bit of a name for myself. Otherwise, even if I do go meet the Xia of Langzhong and kowtow to him as my master, he might not be willing to take me. Thus, he went over there and stood on tiptoe to look into the gambling circle. He saw that they were playing "Chasing the Monkey," wherein three dice were used and the winner was the one who threw the highest value. A green dice bowl was placed on the table, and a man with a mustache like two short brushstrokes wearing a blue silk jacket served as the dealer. A large pile of coins and pieces of silver sat in front of him. Someone would wager some coins and the dealer would roll the dice. If the bettor could beat that number with his own roll, the dealer would pay out according to the stakes. Otherwise, he would take the money.
Jiang Xiaohe watched for a while and saw that while some of the bettors won and some of them lost, they all gambled with copper coins and pieces of silver. Not one of them took out an entire silver to make a big bet. Jiang Xiaohe became immediately happy and returned to his bed. He opened up his bundle, took out half of his silvers and poured them into his hand. He then took one that was about ten or so taels in weight, walked to the table and slammed it down, saying loudly, "Over here!" The people beside him shrunk away with their heads lowered and looked at him with awe. The dealer didn't care who he was; upon seeing the taels of silver, he smiled and said, "All right! Now this is more like it. It's a bet!" As he spoke, he grabbed the dice out of the bowl and raised his hands high. He threw the three dice forcefully into the bowl and they rattled noisily. After a moment or two, the roll came out to be two twos and a five. Everyone around looked at Jiang Xiaohe, one of which said, "Five monkeys aren't easy to chase!" But Jiang Xiaohe paid no mind. He dusted off his blue silk sleeves and went to roll the dice, resulting in twos and threes. He lost his ten taels all at once and the people around him laughed.
Jiang Xiaohe became angry and put down the rest of his forty-some taels. At this, the dealer rolled a three, while Xiaohe rolled "Good Tidings," three fives resting beautifully in the bowl like three plum blossoms. The dealer was taken aback. The color of his face changed and he said, "All right, I'll pay up. Get me the scale." Upon seeing that Jiang Xiaohe had won money, Yang Xiantai the Short Blade, happy as well, went to go fetch the scale.
After the dealer weighed Jiang Xiaohe's silvers, he took out a banknote to settle the winnings. Jiang Xiaohe said, "I don't want some note!" Beside him, Yang Xiantai said, "You won't make a mistake in taking it. Seventh Elder Chen's banknotes all carry the great mark of Litong. You can use them no matter where you go." The dealer Seventh Elder Chen looked at Jiang Xiaohe and smiled, saying, "Brother, perhaps you just don't know me yet. Forget about these silvers. Even if you hauled Shen Wansan's treasure pot here, I'd still dare to gamble with you. Let's talk of friendship later. For now, let's go another round! The higher the stakes, the better!" Jiang Xiaohe in his gambling spirit bet the banknote and all his silvers. He rolled the dice and won again.
Seventh Elder Chen immediately marked out another banknote and became even angrier, knocking repeatedly at the table saying, "Come, come! Let's raise the stakes a little higher! It looks to me, brother, that you're a rich man!" Jiang Xiaohe's enthusiasm roiled and he put down a large bet. The people around him stared at him and then fixed their eyes on the dice in his hands. Yang Xiantai quietly urged Jiang Xiaohe, "Don't put down so large a bet. You've got to keep a little money for yourself. Otherwise, he'll snatch it up in a moment's time!" Jiang Xiaohe had been thinking the same thing. After all, he had plenty of silvers in his possession. Thus, he laid down twenty taels every time. He played like this for thirty or forty rounds straight and ended up winning more times than not.
The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 4, Part 3.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
The stack of banknotes in Seventh Elder Chen's possession and the pieces of silver in front of him were all completely gone. He yawned and wiped off his sweat, saying, "Be back tomorrow! I've got to go back to my counter." He rounded the table and patted Jiang Xiaohe on the shoulder, saying, "This brother over here sure has good luck. Where's this young master from?" With his head down, Jiang Xiaohe was focused on counting his money and didn't reply. Qi Yong the Hooked Blade recounted Jiang Xiaohe's story.
Upon hearing that Jiang Xiaohe was a young hero who could perform martial arts, traversing Jianghu by himself, the men present were all even more surprised and started gawking at him, especially when they heard that he had come here to challenge the Xia of Langzhong. Though he was young, he was also handsome and his manner poised, not to mention that the clothes he was wearing were very showy. All this subdued the others, not daring to look down on him even a bit.
Xiaohe weighed his silvers at his own pace and counted his banknotes. In all, he had won more than 360 taels this time. He considered how, in addition to the silvers he'd had before, it totaled a little more than 400, and it made him extremely happy. He tucked the banknotes near his chest and was going to put the taels of silver away into his travel roll when he saw a tall, yellow-faced man approaching the foot of the bed. The man snatched up Jiang Xiaohe's belongings and tossed them onto the floor, yelling irately, "Whose ****ing crap-*** stuff is this, throwing it onto my bed!?" Jiang Xiaohe became furious immediately and glowered at him, saying, "Mine! On what basis have you tossed my things onto the floor? Pick it up!" The man glared back and made a fist, saying, "Pick it up? Who the hell do you think you are, pretending to be some kind of hotshot, some kind of hero!? You little piece of rabbit shit!" Hearing these insults spewing forth from his mouth, Jiang Xiaohe slammed the silver taels onto the table and rushed at him with fists drawn, asking, "Who do you think you're yelling at!?" The bystanders scattered aside, leaving no one to step up and urge them to stop.
Jiang Xiaohe swung his fist at the man's face, but the man quickly defended himself, hurriedly blocking it with his arm and reaching for Xiaohe with both his hands. Xiaohe grabbed his opponent's right wrist with his left hand and came at him fiercely with a right fist. A smack! The man grimaced and struggling with the pain, advanced upon Xiaohe to hit him, yelling loudly, "How dare you hit me? You little *****!" Jiang Xiaohe hastily dodged him while at the same time sending a kick to his left hip. Then as Xiaohe blocked with his hand, he threw his left hand out and struck the man again in his left shoulder. As the man swayed, Xiaohe kicked him again in the left thigh, sending him flat onto the ground with a yelp. But the man was not so easily dealt with. Though he was lying on the ground, he rolled over and got back up. He leapt to the eastern wall and took up a saber. Xiaohe had also pulled his steel saber out of his roll with a whoosh.
At this point, the man's blade was already slicing toward the top of Jiang Xiaohe's head. Jiang Xiaohe swiftly raised his saber at a slant and stopped his opponent with a clang. The man quickly tried to pull his blade away, but Jiang Xiaohe didn't let him, instead pushing at him with his own saber. The man couldn't help being forced backwards when he was thrown to the side by someone behind him. That person cupped his hand toward Jiang Xiaohe and said, smiling, "Stop fighting. I see it; your saber and melee skills are of the Kunlun School." Jiang Xiaohe saw that this man was fat with a dark face and a big beard, though dressed very well. The bystanders got out of the way, and Yang Xiantai and Mi Ziliang took the man who suffered a beating into the next room. Qi Yong the Hooked Blade came over and pointed his hand to the fat man, saying, "This is our captain, Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God. I suggest you cool down a bit in the presence of our captain, brother!" Jiang Xiaohe tossed down his steel saber and cupped his hand toward Jiao Dechun, saying, "It is an honor to finally meet you!"
Jiao Dechun was very amiable, walking closer and saying, "One so young with such good martial arts, I have never seen before. Might I ask, brother, did you learn your martial arts from Bao Kunlun of Zhenba?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Bao Zhenfei is my enemy. How could I ever consent to being taught by him? I've worked out my martial arts by myself, with perhaps my uncle Ma Zhixian showing me only a few moves." Jiao Dechun nodded, saying, "No wonder. I have long heard that Bao Kunlun's disciples, other than the brothers Long and Jia Zhiming, there's the likes of Ge Zhiqiang, Lu Zhizhong and Ma Zhixian, all have exceedingly good martial arts. Brother, though you haven't received the teachings of Kunlun, you must be counted as one of the Kunlun School!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No, no, I seek no gain from the reputation of the Kunlun School. Besides Ma Zhixian and Lu Zhizhong, they're all enemies of mine!"
By this time, the loser of much money, Seventh Elder Chen had not yet departed. He approached and said to Jiao Dechun, "This brother over here won quite a bit of money from me today. He took all of the 400 taels in banknotes I had on me!" Jiao Dechun laughed out loud and said, "It was about time you lost! Name a day you don't come over here and trawl away dozens of silver taels with you!" Then, upon being introduced to him, Jiang Xiaohe came to know that Seventh Elder Chen was named Chen Wenfu and that he was the head of a regional branch of the Litong bank. The various people here were either local traders or the escorts and attendants of the security firm.
Because the time was already past the second drum, a few people left. Jiao Dechun asked Chen Wenfu to remain. He instructed the kitchen to prepare some wine and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "The man who offended you just then is my nephew. His name is Jiao Rong and he's a bodyguard here. Now, brother, you and I, we may have come together here by chance, but it seems we've hit it off quite well. I've asked them to ready some wine, so with Seventh Elder Chen here, let's cheerfully kick back a few cups and deepen our friendship further. I also intend to pull Jiao Rong over here and sit him below you in order to make up for his offense. What happened today, neither of you won't ever need to bring it up again!"
Hearing all these friendly words from Jiao Dechun, Jiang Xiaohe said openly, "It's not important. You can ask him to come, but there's no need for him to apologize for anything. Let's just say that if we hadn't fought, then we wouldn't have come to know each other." Jiao Dechun smiled and said, "Good brother, you're very generous!" He called for his attendant to bring his nephew Jiao Rong over, and then ordered him to bow in front of Xiaohe and apologize. Jiang Xiaohe smiled and cupping his fist, returned the courtesy.
By this time, the wine and food had been served, and Jiao Dechun yielded the seat at the head of the table to Jiang Xiaohe where he soon became well acquainted with Chen Wenfu, Qi Yong, Yang Xiantai, Lü Xiong, Jiao Rong and two other bodyguards. Jiang Xiaohe acted in the manner of a valiant hero, toasting and drinking often. While they drank, everyone spoke with Jiang Xiaohe and came to know that he had come here to meet with Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong, but none knew that his intention was to ask the Xia of Langzhong to be his master.
Jiao Dechun said, "You've come at the wrong time. The Xia of Langzhong has been gone for more than ten days now, because he'd encountered the brothers Long Zhiteng and Long Zhiqi on the Jianmen Road back in October. At Jianmen, the brothers had killed and wounded a few good men employed by Mao Qing the Mountain Rat. They had gone on loudly about how they didn't consider any martial artist in Sichuan province a match for them. These words made their way to the ears of the Xia of Langzhong, and it infuriated him. Alone, he picked up a sword and chased after the Long brothers on a galloping horse. When he caught up with them, he brought their caravan to a stop. Brother Jiang, you well know the martial arts of the Long brothers; they are the most outstanding talents of all of Bao Kunlun's disciples. Of course, they weren't willing to submit, so a fight broke out. It wasn't until they started fighting that the Long brothers realized their martial arts were far from those of the Xia of Langzhong. Even with both of them attacking at once, they weren't able to defeat the single Xia of Langzhong. In the end, they had to abandon their wagons and horses, the two of them climbing up the mountain to escape. The Xia of Langzhong let the wagons go, but kept the horses. Unexpectedly, before he returned home, the Long brothers had rushed to the Xu household in Langzhong to do harm. Because there was yet a young master there, they weren't able to succeed. They ended up only wounding two or three farmhands before they fled again. Then, when Master Xu the Xia of Langzhong returned and saw this, there was nothing to stop his fury. He immediately went to pursue them, but wasn't able to catch up to them, so he went back again and after settling matters back home, he set off once again. Since then, he's yet to be back. We're thinking that perhaps he's going all the way to Ziyang to find the Long brothers and settle the score!"
Jiang Xiaohe listened intently and thought, No wonder the Long brothers were in such a hurry, running to old man Bao's house to gather some fighters. It was because they'd guessed that the Xia of Langzhong would come find them for a showdown. I wonder if they've faced off with one other by now, and I wonder which of them won. Thus he wished he could go and watch them fight. After another few cups of wine, Jiao Dechun said, "I am by nature a friendly man, and it's because I like to make friends that I have this unearned reputation. My martial skill is truly regrettable. Don't even mention that I couldn't beat the Xia of Langzhong; I'm so far behind even the second- or third-rate xia in our Sichuan province that I couldn't compare to them either. It's good you've come, brother, and I'm telling you that you don't need to wait for the Xia of Langzhong. He's arrogant and he doesn't like to make friends. Settle down here and I'll introduce you to some friends. Then, later you can help me do business here!"
Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe remained silent, thinking, Jiao Dechun doesn't know the extent of my abilities, so he wants me to be one of his escorts. I actually don't know if I could get by with what little I'm capable of, and I can't let them take the lead whenever a fight erupts. However, compared to the likes of the Xia of Langzhong and Bao Kunlun, I'm much too far behind them. I have a bit of money now, so who needs to be a bodyguard to make a living? It's still more important for me to complete my study of the martial arts! So, he shook his head and said, "Captain Jiao, I thank you for your good intentions. Since I've come here and not been treated by all of you as a kid, I'll surely never forget you, my friends. Right now, I think I'll only be troubling you guys for a month. If the Xia of Langzhong returns within a month, I'll go meet him. If he doesn't, I'll go elsewhere and we'll see each other again next time. I'm only a teenager now, and though I know some martial arts, I'm not content yet. I have to find a master and develop my skills, put in a year or two of hard work and learn enough to surpass Bao Kunlun. I've got to go back home and avenge my father's murder, and not until then can I return to Jianghu and deepen my friendship with all of you!"
Hearing Jiang Xiaohe's words, Jiao Dechun couldn't help but hold out his thumb in respect, saying, "Good brother, you truly are a young hero with a strong will. You needn't worry about your revenge. There's not one person upon Jianghu in Sichuan who doesn't hate the Kunlun School, and when the time comes, any which person can help you out. About finding a master to teach you martial arts, brother please don't get angry with me. I see that though your martial skill is very strong, it's probably still a little ways away from the Xia of Langzhong's. If he instructed you, your martial arts would surely become even stronger. Except, there are two things. First, not only does the Xia of Langzhong not make friends, he has also never taken even one disciple. I have known him for more than twenty years and we live in the same area, but, whenever he sees me, he gives me nothing more than a cupped hand. I've not even had one drink with him ever. Second, while his martial arts can be considered unparalleled in Sichuan, if he went to challenge Bao Kunlun to a match, the fight would end in a draw." At this point, Yang Xiantai added, "I think if you're looking for a master, there is only the Dragon of Central Shu! If you learned even a tenth of his martial arts, you'd be able to fight peerless all over the world."
Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe darted up and asked, "Who is the Dragon of Central Shu? Where does he live now?" Jiao Dechun smiled and said, "He's just chattering. The Dragon of Central Shu was a great xia in Sichuan twenty years ago. Not only were his martial arts so strong that no one was a match for him, he was also proficient in hitting vital points..." Jiang Xiaohe hurried asked, "What is that?"
Jiao Dechun shook his head and said, "I've never seen it before, but I hear it's a secret technique passed down in the Wudang School. There are very, very few in the world who know it. It's said that all one has to do is strike points on another's body with their hands and it can cause immediate death or render the other mute. Twenty years ago, the old xia, the Dragon of Central Shu and the Xia of Longmen were considered the unparalleled two of the north and south. People called them the 'Two Dragons.' The old xia has long since withdrawn from the world. Where he is right now, and whether or not he's passed away already, no one knows." Hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe stared into space and thought, and then asked, "Is the Xia of Longmen still alive?" Jiao Dechun said, "A few years ago a friend coming from the west told me that Ji Junyi the Xia of Longmen had already passed on, and that his son had died as well, leaving only his widow and a son. The situation is very lamentable." Then he said, "Ji Junyi learned his martial arts from the Shaolin School, and then later learned some advanced internal skills on Mount Wudang in the south. Thus his martial arts were no worse than those of the Dragon of Central Shu. Otherwise, how could they have been known as the Two Dragons?"
It was as if Jiang Xiaohe was listening to an involving anecdote, becoming more and more entranced. However, there was no way to find the people who were spoken of. It allowed him to emptily respect the reputations of these great xia, but no wisdom could be gained from them. He couldn't help but feel a strong melancholy, thinking, According to what they're saying, the accomplished old xia of Jianghu have all died out. There remains only the Xia of Langzhong whose skills surpass the Long brothers a bit and are just enough to equal those of old man Bao! A gloom settled in his heart and he lost his appetite for wine. Jiao Dechun and the others sensed some weariness in Jiang Xiaohe and all put down their cups as well. Soon, the kitchen service took away the cups and plates, and Chen Wenfu departed for his bank counter. Jiao Dechun ordered someone to prepare a bed for Jiang Xiaohe and then left for home himself.
That night Jiang Xiaohe stayed inside the shop, sleeping in the bed across from Yang Xiantai. The next day, Jiang Xiaohe got up early. There were people who attended to him, preparing water for him to wash his face and such, and he tidied himself up nice and clean. He was watching Jiao Rong, Lü Xiong and two other bodyguards training with fists and sabers in the courtyard when Yang Xiantai walked up beside him from inside. He smiled and whispered, "Their martial arts aren't great, so they depend on knowing a lot of people out there, which is how they can be escorts without problems. If you want to discuss real martial arts, you'll have to go elsewhere. If you want to strike it rich, you'd best leave the province." Jiang Xiaohe remained silent and left the security shop. Yang Xiantai followed him out and said, "How about we go into the city for a little fun?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right." Thus, the two walked on and into the east gate.
Keep it coming. I am not able to keep up watching all threads I am interested in and keep up with work, but I promise I will read this as soon as I can.