Just as Quan Guanqing removed his fifth bag, the sound of galloping hoofsteps could be heard as a horse charged towards them from the north, followed by two whistles. The beggars on sentry whistled in report as the horses grew nearer and nearer. Wu Changfeng mumbled to himself, “What sort of critical event has happened?” Before the horse from the north had arrived, the sound of another horse could be heard from the east. Only, it was farther away and its hoofsteps were indistinct. No one could tell in which direction it was headed.
In a short period of time, the horse from the north arrived at the outskirts of the apricot forest. A man leapt off the back of the horse and ran into the forest. He wore an extremely magnificent wide-sleeved gown, which he hurriedly shucked off and threw away, revealing a tattered uniform of the Beggar’s Clan. Duan Yu only had to think about it for a moment, before immediately understanding: For a member of the Beggar’s Clan to rush about on a horse would be very conspicuous, and government officials would often halt them to investigate. However, a messenger delivering an urgent message absolutely must use a horse. Thus, the beggar dressed up as a rich, prosperous merchant. However, he continued to wear his own original clothes underneath, so as to show that he had not forgotten where his loyalties lie.
That person walked to hall-master of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’, respectfully presenting him with a package. “Urgent report on the military situation…” After saying these words, he ran out of breath and began panting. Suddenly, the horse he had ridden here let out a mournful neigh, then collapsed on the floor. It had been exhausted to death. The courier’s body swayed, then he suddenly fell down as well. It was obvious that both the courier and his horse had been rushing for a long distance, and both had used up all of their strength.
The hall-master of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’ recognized this courier. He was one of the beggars whom had been sent to spy upon the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’. Seeing how this person had exhausted himself to deliver this message, its contents surely must be of great importance and unusual urgency. Thus, he did not open the pouch itself, and instead offered it to Qiao Feng, saying, “Critical military report regarding the Western Xia. The courier was sent to keep an eye on the Western Xia along with brother Yi Dabiao.”
Qiao Feng took the pouch. Opening it, he saw that there was a wax pellet. He broke open the pellet, retrieving from within a roll of paper. Just as he was about to read what was written on the paper, the sound of hoofsteps grew louder as the horse from the east burst into the apricot forest. Just as it entered the forest, the man on the horse flew out of its saddle, shouting, “Qiao Feng, the message within the wax pellet involves critical military intelligence. You cannot read it!”
Everyone present was startled. They saw that this person was an extremely old beggar with a white beard which fluttered in the wind, and who wore a turtledove robe which had been repaired over and over again. The skill-instructing elder and the law-enforcing elder rose to their feet simultaneously. “Elder Xu, what business causes you to grace us with your presence?”
When the beggars heard that it was elder Xu who had arrived, looks of shock appeared on their face. Elder Xu, at eighty seven years of age, was of an extremely senior generation within the Beggar’s Clan. Even the previous chief, chief Wang, addressed him as ‘martial-uncle’. Everyone within the clan was of a lower generation than him. He had retired many years ago, and had long since ceased to pay attention to worldly affairs. Every year, when Qiao Feng, the skill-instructing elder, and the law-enforcing elder went to pay their respects to him, they would only casually discuss some of the affairs of the clan. Unexpectedly, he would suddenly rush here today, and then forbid Qiao Feng from reading the urgent news regarding the Western Xia’s military movements. Everyone present was greatly shocked.
Qiao Feng immediately bowed forward in a salute. “Elder Xu, have you been well?” Following this, he opened his hand and delivered the roll of paper to elder Xu.
Qiao Feng was the chief of the Beggar’s Clan. Although it was true that he was of a younger generation than elder Xu, he was still the person in charge when it came to events of great import involving the clan. Even the previous chief, chief Wang, would be subject to his commands, much less a retired elder such as elder Xu. But unexpectedly, when elder Xu forbade Qiao Feng from reading the urgent military news regarding the Western Xia’s movements, Qiao Feng did not defy him in the slightest. Everyone present was shocked.
Elder Xu said, “Excuse me!” He took the roll of paper from Qiao Feng’s hands, then immediately cast his gaze at the group of beggars. In a clear voice, he said, “The widow of vice-chief Ma Dayuan, madame Ma, is soon to arrive. When she arrives, there are some things which need to be discussed. Everyone, what say ye?” All of the beggars looked at Qiao Feng, wanting to know how he would respond.
Qiao Feng was filled with doubt and suspicion. He said, “If this is a matter of great importance, then we can simply wait.” Elder Xu said, “This is a matter of great importance.” After saying these words, he said nothing further. He belatedly paid Qiao Feng the courtesies due to the chief, and then sat down to one side.
Duan Yu felt some misgivings about the whole situation, and also wanted to seize the opportunity to make some conversation with Wang Yuyan. He said to her in a low voice, “Miss Wang, the Beggar’s Clan has so very many affairs. Should we depart, or should we stay here and watch all the fun?” Wang Yuyan wrinkled her forehead. “We are outsiders. Originally, we shouldn’t get involved in their secret internal issues. However…however…the matter which they are fighting over involves my cousin. I want to listen.” Duan Yu chimed in, “That’s right. It’s said that vice-chief Ma was killed by your cousin and left behind a helpless, pitiable widow.” Wang Yuyan hurriedly said, “No! No! My cousin didn’t kill vice-chief Ma. Isn’t that what chief Qiao says as well?” At this moment, the sound of hoofsteps could be heard once more as two riders galloped towards the apricot forest. In setting up their conference here, the beggars of the clan naturally left behind signs for others. In addition, they had people nearby who could lead the way for friends or give out warnings if enemies arrived.
Everyone was certain that one of the riders must be vice-chief Ma’s widow. Unexpectedly, one of the riders was an old man, and the other an old lady. The man had a small, short figure, while the female was extremely tall and lofty. They formed a total contrast.
Qiao Feng rose to greet them. “Granny Tan and Grandpa Tan of Mt. Taihang’s Cavern of Flowing Clouds, you honor us with your presence! Qiao Feng apologizes for not welcoming you from afar, and thank you for your forgiveness.” Elder Xu and the other six elders all rose up and saluted them as well.
Upon seeing this, Duan Yu realized that Granny Tan and Grandpa Tan must be wulin figures of great renown and dignitas.
Granny Tan asked, “Chief Qiao, why are there a number of knives planted on your shoulder?” Lifting up her arm, she immediately pulled out all four knives from his shoulder. The movement of her hands was extremely quick. Right after she pulled out the knives, Grandpa Tan withdrew a small box from his bosom. Opening its lid, he dabbed his finger into some ointment within the box, then spread it on the wounds on Qiao Feng’s shoulder. As soon as he applied this ‘Golden Wound’ ointment, the fresh blood which was spewing forth from the wounds instantly came to a halt. The speed which Granny Tan displayed in retrieving the knives was very rarely seen, but it was only a single action. Grandpa Tan’s movements in withdrawing the box, opening the lid, dabbing the ointment, applying it to the wounds, then staunching the bleeding were neat and tidy. Although his movements were very quick, everyone was able to see them clearly and distinctly. It truly appeared almost like magic, or sleight of hand. In addition, the ‘Golden Wound’ ointment’s almost divine efficacy in stopping the flow of blood was even more unimaginable. As soon as it was applied, the blood stopped flowing, without even the slightest delay.
Qiao Feng saw that Granny Tan and Grandpa Tan immediately helped him treat his wounds without even carrying about the how’s and why’s of the situation. Although he felt this was a bit rash of them, he also felt extremely moved. Even as he was in the process of thanking them, he felt that the pain in his shoulders became replaced by itchiness. In a very short amount of time, much of the pain was greatly reduced. He had never even heard of a cure as miraculous as this ‘Golden Wound’ ointment, much less have personally seen it before.
Granny Tan asked again, “Chief Qiao, who in the world has the audacity to stab you with these knives?” Qiao Feng laughed. “I did it to myself.” Curious, Granny Tan asked, “Why would you stab yourself? Are you tired of living?” Qiao Feng smiled. “I stabbed myself for the fun of it. The flesh on my shoulders is thick and tough. I didn’t harm the sinews or the bone.” Elders Song, Xi, Chen, and Wu, hearing Qiao Feng conceal the real story, felt both moved and ashamed.
Granny Tan let out a laugh. “What type of lies are you spewing out? Oh, I know! You clever little imp, you heard that Grandpa Tan created a brand-new, incomparably efficacious ointment for wounds, using a mixture of ‘Frozen Jade from the North Pole’ and the ‘Mysterious Ice Toad’, and you wanted to give it a test run, right?”
Qiao Feng was noncommittal. He only smiled a little, then thought to himself, “This old granny is extremely simple and tactless. Who in the world could be so bored as to stab themselves with knives, so as to test out your new medicine?”
The sound of hoofbeats could be heard once more, as a donkey charged into the apricot forest. On the donkey was seated a man mounted backwards. His back was facing the front of the donkey, while his front was facing the donkey’s tail. Granny Tan’s face was immediately wreathed in smiles. She shouted out, “Martial-brother, what type of crazy game are you up to now? I’ll spank you!”
When everyone looked at the rider, they saw that he had shrunk his body into a ball, as though he were a seven or eight year old child. Granny Tan stretched out with her palm, slapping at his buttocks. That person immediately rolled down to the ground. As he stretched his hand out to steady himself, he suddenly became both big and strong. Everyone was a bit startled. Grandpa Tan, however, had a rather unhappy look on his face. With a hmph, he tossed a side-glance at the man while saying, “I was wondering who it was. So it’s you.” He immediately turned his head to stare at Granny Tan.
If one were to say that the man who was riding the donkey backwards was very old, it didn’t seem he was all that old. But it would be equally impossible to describing him as young. He appeared to be somewhere from thirty to sixty years of age, and could not be described as ugly or as handsome. He stared raptly at Granny Tan, displaying a boundless concern and fascination with her. In a gentle voice he asked, “Little Juan, has your life been happy recently?”
Granny Tan was as large as a horse and built like an ox. Her hair was as white as silver, and her face was filled with wrinkles. Unexpectedly, her name was actually ‘Little Juan’ (‘Juan’ literally means graceful/beautiful). Such a delicate, pretty name was totally opposite to her appearance. Everyone within hearing range thought this was very funny. However, it was true that every old lady was once young. If she was called ‘Little Juan’ when she was young, it wouldn’t be appropriate to change it to ‘Old Juan’ later on, right? Just as Duan Yu was thinking that exact thought, once more the sound of hoofsteps could be heard as multiple horses sped their way. This time, however, the speed of the horses didn’t seem to be particularly urgent at all.
Qiao Feng was sizing up the donkey-rider, but was unable to determine just who he was. He was Granny Tan’s elder martial brother, and while riding the donkey, he displayed an extremely brilliant usage of the ‘bone shrinking technique’. Naturally, he must be an extraordinary character. However, Qiao Feng had never heard of him before.
The pack of riders arrived at the apricot forest. Riding in front were five youths, all with thick eyebrows and large eyes. They all looked very similar to each other. The eldest appeared to be over thirty years of age, whereas the youngest was a bit over twenty. Clearly, the five of them were brothers born of the same mother.
Wu Changfeng loudly called out, “The Five Heroes of Mt. Taishan have arrived! Wonderful, wonderful! What propitious wind has blown all five of you brothers here at the same time?” The third brother of the Five Heroes of Mt. Taishan was named Dan Shushan, and he was extremely close to Wu Changfeng. He immediately seized the first chance to reply and said, “Fourth Uncle Wu, hello! My father came as well.” The look on Wu Changfeng’s face changed slightly. He said, “Truly? Your father…” He had just acted in a way which violated the rules of the Beggar’s Clan, and still felt uneasy about it. Upon hearing that the ‘Iron Faced Judge’ Dan Zheng of Mt. Taishan had suddenly arrived, he couldn’t help but suddenly feel flustered. The ‘Iron Faced Judge’ Dan Zheng hated wickedness as though it were his personal foe. If ever he heard that something unfair had occurred within the jianghu, he would definitely intervene. His own skills in martial arts was very formidable, and aside from his five sons, he also had many disciples under his tutelage, numbering over two hundred people. Everyone was in awe of the fame of “Mt. Taishan’s Dan Family”.
Following this, another rider galloped into the apricot forest. The Five Heroes of Mt. Taishan simultaneously brought the horse to a halt, as the rider, an old man who wore a long silk robe, floated down from his mount. He clasped his hands towards Qiao Feng, saying, “Chief Qiao, Dan Zheng has arrived without being invited. Please forgive me for interrupting.”
Qiao Feng had long heard of Dan Zheng, but this was the first time they had met in person. He saw that Dan Zheng’s face was filled with a healthy red glow. The man lived up to his reputation of having ‘white hair and a rosy complexion’. However, he had a very mild expression on his face. It didn’t seem as though he were as ruthless a person as the rumors of jianghu made him out to be. Qiao Feng hastily cupped his fists in response and said, “If I knew that you, elder Dan, were going to grace us with your presence, I would have welcomed you long ago.”
The man who rode in on a donkey suddenly let out a weird shout. “Hah, great! So you should welcome the ‘Iron Faced Judge’ from afar, but when I, the ‘Iron Arsed Judge’ arrived, you didn’t pay me any mind at all!”
Upon hearing the bizarre nickname of ‘Iron Arsed Judge’, everyone present laughed uproariously. Although Wang Yuyan, Ah Zhu, and Ah Bi all felt that laughing was improper, they couldn’t help but let out beautiful smiles as well. Upon hearing these words, the Five Heroes of Mt. Taishan knew that this man was trying to mock their father. They immediately became upset. However, the family rules of the Dan family were extremely rigid. Since Dan Zheng himself had not said anything yet, none of his children dared to speak out of turn.
Dan Zheng possessed very good self-control. He couldn’t immediately determine the origins of this weirdo, and so pretended to not have heard his words. In a clear voice, he called out, “Madame Ma, please come out and speak with us.”