The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 2.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing 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, and the snow continued to fall. 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 the 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 Mountains 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 the 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 saber 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 saber 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 saber 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 saber 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 saber, but a well of sadness abruptly rose up in his heart. He took his hand away from the saber, 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'd 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 saber 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 saber 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 saber.
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 saber 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 saber 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 saber 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 saber from the snowy ground. Old master Bao approached them and laughed, "You young heroes can stop fighting!" Carrying her saber, 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 saber. 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 saber 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 fuck 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 Mountains 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. Who 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 bitch! 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 to 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 fucking 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 jacket. 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 saber 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 jacket, 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 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 if 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 jacket over a similarly-colored shirt and pants. His face was brown, 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.
[Note, concerning the chapter title: There's a saying in Chinese, "A newborn calf doesn't fear tigers" (初生之犢不懼虎). What this means is that a young person with little understanding of the world has no fear because they don't know enough to fear, just as a calf doesn't know to fear tigers.]