5.13.2011

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 4

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 4.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.

-

CHAPTER FOUR

Along the waters of the Jialing, he seeks a famed master on horseback.
Amid the sounds of pipa, he expels a lecher with a lone saber.


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 like you own it!"

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 Sir 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. Sir Seventh Chen's banknotes all carry the great mark of Litong. You can use them no matter where you go." The dealer Sir Seventh 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.

Sir Seventh 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 stack of banknotes in Sir Seventh 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 fucking crap-ass 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 bitch!" 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, Sir Seventh 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 Sir Seventh 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 Sir Seventh 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 villagers before they fled again. Then, when Sir 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 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 Shu? Where does he live now?" Jiao Dechun smiled and said, "He's just chattering. The Dragon of 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 Shu and the Xia of Longmen were called the Two Pinnacles of North and South, and also 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 Jiangnan. Thus his martial arts were no worse than those of the Dragon of 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 in through the east gate.

Langzhong City was very prosperous. There was so much to see that Jiang Xiaohe had no time to blink, looking constantly in both directions. Yang Xiantai shifted his gaze around as well, but he focused his attention on the women in the streets. When they'd walked to the main southern street, Yang Xiantai said, "Why don't we leave past the south gate and take a look around?" Jiang Xiaohe asked, "What's out there?" Yang Xiantai said, "It's quite bustling outside of the south gate. There's a big wharf there, as well as taverns and all kinds of businesses. And also... Hey! Brother Jiang, you don't go see beauties often, do you? There's plenty of those out there too." When he said this, he grinned and radiated a kind of youthful lewdness. Jiang Xiaohe asked, "What are beauties?" Yang Xiantai said, "I mean, whores. There are more than thirty parlors by the river and each one has five or six beauties. There really are some that look like they've walked out of a painting. There once was one called Luna, but don't talk about her with anyone; she belongs to our captain! I know a really pretty one called Abalonette, but she's probably not awake yet. We'll wait until we're done drinking and eating, and I'll take you there for a gander on the way back. When they see how young, good-looking and rich you are, well! I'm not sure what they'll say to seduce you!"

Jiang Xiaohe understood that Yang Xiantai's so-called beauties must be prostitutes. He thought, Visiting prostitutes is no good thing, but I guess I should go take a look. Roaming Jianghu without having been to a brothel, wouldn't that make people laugh? The two walked and talked, and left through the south gate before they knew it. A glance and they saw the billowing, surging Jialing River. This river was truly much, much bigger than the Ba River or the Qu River, and the masts on the water looked like a forest, they were simply countless. There was a large section of buildings on the wharf and a street alongside them. It was short, but there was a myriad of shops lining it, and the crowd of passersby was thicker here than in the city.

Jiang Xiaohe felt exhilarated and gave praise, "Langzhong really is a great place!" Yang Xiantai said, "Langzhong is the biggest place in Northern Sichuan. Why do you think I came here and didn't want to leave?" Jiang Xiaohe asked, "How long have you been here?" Yang Xiantai looked up as he counted, saying, "I was fifteen when I came to Sichuan. I studied martial arts under my master in Hezhou for three years, and then I joined the Fuli Security Firm in Langzhong. I'm 22 this year, so I've lived here more than three years." Jiang Xiaohe asked, "You're not from this province?"

Yang Xiantai shook his head and said, "No, I'm from Henan, where my father still lives. He made some enemies in Jianghu and was afraid I would eventually be the target of dark plots, so he sent me to Sichuan and told me to learn martial arts from Han Jing, the Drunk God of Pestilence. The Drunk God of Pestilence's martial arts are pretty decent, but he drank all day. He wasn't really serious about teaching. I haven't really learned much in three years, so I lean on his reputation to be able to mess around out here. But I'm always thinking that there isn't much of a future doing what I'm doing, so I still plan on going back to Henan to look for my father. That county's even better than here, but I just haven't been able to scrape together the travel expenses. To get to Henan, at the very least I'll need more than a hundred silver taels on hand." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Don't worry, when you go, come talk to me. I can lend you a hundred taels, and when you get rich, you can pay me back."

Hearing this, Yang Xiantai was elated. He walked to the bank of the river and looked outward. Many of the helmsmen and skippers on the boats were acquainted with Yang Xiantai, so he greeted them and introduced Jiang Xiaohe to them one after another. He heaped some praise on Jiang Xiaohe as well, saying, "This is the famous hero from Hanzhong, Jiang Xiaohe the Three-headed Tiger. He's our captain Jiao's newest friend!" Seeing that while Jiang Xiaohe was young, he was also quite tall, well-built and well-dressed, no one dared look down on him.

Jiang Xiaohe stood at the riverside for a while with Yang Xiantai, watching the vigorous waves of the flowing water. He suddenly felt a pang of sadness in his heart, so he turned to Yang Xiantai and said, "Why don't we find a place to get a drink?" Yang Xiantai replied, "Sure, sure." They left the river bank and went north a short distance to a tavern on the west side of the street. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't read its name. He followed Yang Xiantai up into it and saw that there weren't many people here. Since it was a local, upscale tavern, most of the people who came to drink here were rich merchants and bodyguards with money, but since the big boats had not yet arrived, there were only four or five patrons there besides the two of them. They found a table by a window and sat down, ordering all kinds of food and a few pots of wine. The two then enjoyed their wine together. However, Jiang Xiaohe was still very unhappy inside.

Looking out of the window, there was the roiling Jialing River. Water birds chasing the sails glided back and forth, appearing carefree and unhurried, while Jiang Xiaohe had a belly full of worries. The more he drank to drown his sorrows, the more sorrows he had. He suddenly pointed out the window and said, "My surname is Jiang, and the big river over there is me!" [Note: Xiaohe's surname Jiang and the word for river share the same character.] Yang Xiantai raised his cup and laughed, "This river doesn't count as big. Brother, if you want to compare yourself to a river, you should use the Great River. You haven't come across it, have you?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No, I haven't." Yang Xiantai said, "That river is much bigger than this one. Comparing the two, it's like the Great River is the dad and the Jialing River the son." Jiang Xiaohe laughed out loud, but afterwards, he thought again of his father's tragic demise, his remarried mother, and his little brother who had gone with their mother to become a son in the Dong household. He couldn't help becoming angry, sad and ashamed all over again. He forced himself to hold back his tears as he took another sip. He sang to himself, first a clapper opera song from his hometown, and then a short ditty, and from the short ditty he moved onto a mountain tune.

Sitting across from him, Yang Xiantai the Short Blade smiled as he listened to him sing, but Jiang Xiaohe only reached a couple bars of the mountain tune before abruptly stopping. He slapped the table and gave a long sigh. Yang Xiantai smiled and asked, "What's up, brother? Are you troubled?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and sighed, saying, "Very." Yang Xiantai said, "Nothing will come of your worries. A real man should be generous. If there's money, he'll spend it; if there's wine, he'll drink it. The enormous problems, he'll deal with them later. We men of Jianghu have no home and no job, but we have a body of martial arts and two arms of strength. What's to fear? What difficulties can stand in our way?" Then he added, "Let's hurry up and finish off this wine and I'll take you to a place where we can have some fun."

Jiang Xiaohe asked, "What place is that?" Yang Xiantai said, "It's that place I was talking about before with the beauties; there's a good one. Hey! You only need to see it and you'll completely forget all your troubles!" Saying this, he laughed and poured Jiang Xiaohe another cup of wine. Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right, take me there for a look on the way back." Thus, the two hurriedly ate and drank with nary a word passing between them. In a short time, the few pots of wine were finished and the food all eaten. They were both a little drunk, and after Jiang Xiaohe paid for everything, the two left the tavern.

Yang Xiantai was himself only 22 years old and Jiang Xiaohe was not yet fifteen, but the pair of flush-faced young men rocked and swayed as they walked along, finally dipping into a small alley. Yang Xiantai pointed at the three characters written on the wooden arch at the entrance to the alley and said, "Look! Beauties Lane!" Jiang Xiaohe could only recognize the middle character, so he thought, Not only do I have to learn martial arts, but I need to find a way to read a few books. Otherwise, I won't be able to understand any letters that people send me!

Walking down a lane, they saw a sparse few huts, all of them with open gates and all of them made of earth and straw. Yang Xiantai led the way, guiding Jiang Xiaohe into one of them. Right when they entered, a half-old granny in the courtyard smiled and said, "Sir Second Yang, how come you don't come by as often as you used to?" Before Yang Xiantai could respond, a woman came out of the eastern room pointing and said while smiling and feigning anger, "Hmf! And I'd figured you dead somewhere out there!" A relaxed smile spread over Yang Xiantai's face and he said, "Ah, what a heartbreaking thing to say about me!" The woman walked over and grabbed hold of Yang Xiantai's arm, saying, "Fine! Just get yourself inside, all right?" Then she turned around and pointed at Jiang Xiaohe, asking, "Who this then? He's like a little big man!" Yang Xiantai winked at the woman and said, "This is Sir Jiang, a famous Jianghu man." The woman smiled suggestively at Jiang Xiaohe and said, "Oh? Well, my mistake. Pardon me, sir!"

Upon seeing this woman, not only did Jiang Xiaohe's troubles not go away, he in fact became even less happy, thinking, What the hell? This is a beauty? She's at least thirty. She's dressed all in red silk, and the rouge on her face is redder than a monkey's ass. Her eyes are slanted, her nose is crooked, her lips look like Pigsy's, and she's got two duck feet that look like catfish. Beauty, indeed! The woman was about to pull Xiaohe in, when he immediately glared at her. Yang Xiantai hurriedly nudged her on and smiled at Xiaohe, "Brother, you first!" Jiang Xiaohe went inside and saw that the place was relatively clean, furnished with a red lacquered table and stools. There was a flower vase and vanity mirror on the table, and a red damask blanket and pillows embroidered with flowers on the bed. The character of double happiness was even stuck onto the wall, like a newlywed's room. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help daydreaming, thinking, If there would be a day that I could marry Aluan and live in a house like this, everything would be okay.

It wasn't until now that Yang Xiantai and the woman came in. They were probably talking outside, so while the woman continued flirting with Yang Xiantai, she dared not joke around with Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe sat on a stool a while and stared into space, living out the fantasy in his head. When he was done, he became bored and said to Yang Xiantai, "This is kind of pointless. Why don't we go back?" Yang Xiantai couldn't bear to leave that beauty of his right then, so he said, "Brother, what's the rush? Why don't we go back after we eat?" Jiang Xiaohe stood up and said, "If you don't go back, well then I'm leaving!" Saying this, he pushed open the door and left. Yang Xiantai chased after him and quietly said, "Brother, don't go!" Jiang Xiaohe stopped and turned around, asking, "What?" Yang Xiantai caught up to him and whispered, "I didn't bring any money. Lend me a couple taels!" Jiang Xiaohe angrily took out a banknote and without seeing how much it was worth, flung it at Yang Xiantai. He turned around and walked away. The woman could be heard saying something seductively behind him, probably asking him to go back, but Jiang Xiaohe couldn't hear as he stomped toward the gate to leave.

Right then, a man was coming in and Jiang Xiaohe ran headlong into him. The man became furious, raised his foot and kicked at Jiang Xiaohe's midsection. He put a lot of force behind it and since Jiang Xiaohe was a bit drunk and dizzy, the kick knocked Jiang Xiaohe onto his bottom. Jiang Xiaohe fumed as he crawled up and rushed at the man to hit him, yelling, "You son of a bitch! Why'd you kick me!?" He swung his fist but the man dodged it and yelled back, "Little bastard! What are you doing here? You look like you just got pushed out of your mom. Watch where you're going!" Jiang Xiaohe leapt up with a brandished fist to strike him in the chest. The man caught his wrist and pulled inward, almost causing him to fall over again.

Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help running a couple steps. He quickly stopped himself and turned around, throwing another punch at the man. The man was about to catch Xiaohe's wrist with his hand again, when Jiang Xiaohe moved his hand out of the way and bounded behind the man. The man hastily turned around, but Jiang Xiaohe had already jumped up and landed a punch right on his face with a crack. Though his fist was small, he packed a lot of weight behind it. The man immediately felt dizzy with an ache in his nose.

Jiang Xiaohe was about to strike another blow, but was held back by Yang Xiantai. Yang Xiantai urgently said, "Don't fight, don't fight! We're all friends!" Jiang Xiaohe rebuked him, "What friends? He raised his foot and kicked me for no good reason!" The man used the sleeve of his big blue coat to wipe the blood from his nose, and then reached into it and took out a dagger with a leather scabbard. He unsheathed it and the glare from it dazzled. Jiang Xiaohe saw that the situation had gotten worse since he had no weapon at hand, and afraid he would lose badly, ran out of the gate in a few steps. He pounded his chest and yelled, "You can't beat me with your damn fists, so you pull out your dagger? All right, kid, don't you run. Wait here for me while I go get my fellow, and then we might as well fight to the death!" Saying this, Jiang Xiaohe went towards the alley entryway. At this point, the man was going to give chase with dagger in hand, but was urged bitterly to stop by Yang Xiantai.

Jiang Xiaohe had exited the alley and sprinted all the way back to the Fuli Security Firm at the eastern limits. Upon entering, he went to the room to fetch his saber, and then went to the stable to get his horse. Without preparing a saddle, he led the horse out of the shop while carrying his saber. Just then Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God was coming from the east. Seeing Jiang Xiaohe like this, he hurriedly ran over and asked, "Brother, what are you off to?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Don't concern yourself about it, captain. I'm going to Beauties Lane to fight some goon!" He leapt onto his horse and galloped west. Jiao Dechun shouted after him, "Brother! Jiang Xiaohe, stop and tell me what's going on first!" Jiang Xiaohe was in no mood to listen. He spurred the horse on toward the river bank and as he rode, he yelled, "Out of the way! Out of the way! I'm not going to care if the horse runs you over!" The people on the street ducked to the side in succession, looking in surprise at the lively child atop the horse.

Jiang Xiaohe's horse arrived in short order at Beauties Lane by the river. When he got to the gate of the brothel, he stopped his horse, climbed off and tied its reins to the door rings. Then, holding his saber, he charged in and yelled loudly, "Bastard, son of a bitch! Get out here and we'll see who's better. We'll see who lives and dies!" At that moment, the man with whom Jiang Xiaohe had had fisticuffs was sitting in the northern room seething, as he had one of the harlots clean up his nosebleed. The girl was offering up fawning words, saying, "Sir Cheng, why would you fight with that child? It's not worth it. Even your son is bigger than him!" Yang Xiantai the Short Blade had known by now that the situation wasn't good and had since slipped away.

When he heard Jiang Xiaohe yelling in the courtyard, the one named Cheng hurriedly snatched up his dagger as he yelled from inside and dashed out of the room. He saw Jiang Xiaohe striking the Side-striding Shoe pose as he glared his way, raising his simple saber askew in his right hand and saying, "Good little one, come here! It's best you go change your fellow for that knife of yours is a bit short!" Cheng's face was purple with fury. He sneered with his thick lips and scoffed, "Exchanging blows with a kid like you, do I really even need a weapon?" Having said this, he suddenly lunged forward in an attempt to snatch away Xiaohe's steel saber. Jiang Xiaohe slashed his saber down as Cheng quickly dodged to the side, grabbing hold of Jiang's left arm with his left hand. He thrust forcefully with his body turned, aiming to stab Xiaohe's left underarm with the dagger in his right hand. Jiang Xiaohe quickly threw his body to the right while cutting downwards with the saber in his right hand.

In the nervous flurry, Cheng released his grip on Xiaohe's left arm with a grunt and fell sitting on the ground. Fresh blood leaked out of his left leg. He suddenly propped himself back up and holding the dagger, stabbed again at Xiaohe with the true ferocity of a hungry wolf. Jiang Xiaohe jumped a couple steps back and swung at Cheng's head with his blade. Cheng's disadvantage was that his weapon was not long, so he threw his dagger like it was a dart. However, it missed its mark and flew over Jiang Xiaohe's shoulder, sticking in the wooden window. The harlots inside the window called out curses with fright.

Jiang Xiaohe stood up straight and asked angrily, "Are you so quick to want death?" Cheng was weaponless and hurriedly backed away, but because the wound in his left leg was too deep, retreat was not convenient and he stumbled again to the ground. Jiang Xiaohe wanted to give him another non-fatal wound and was about to slice down with his saber when two people stormed in from outside and blocked Xiaohe, saying, "You mustn't! You mustn't! We are all familiar!" Xiaohe saw that it was Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God and Qi Yong the Hooked Blade. Both of them were out of breath and appeared extremely anxious. Jiang Xiaohe held his blade askew as before and fumed, "What do you mean familiar? I don't know him! Tell him to get out of here and come find me after he's healed his wounds. I'll be waiting for him!" Though Cheng was wounded he had not yet given up. As he was helped up by Qi Yong, he said haughtily, "Fine, you just leave me your name! Where do you live? Let's meet again three days hence!"

Jiang Xiaohe beat his chest and said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe! I've come to Langzhong to visit friends though I've yet to arrange a place to stay. Anyhow, a year or half a year, I'll not leave. I'll be strolling daily upon the main road!" Cheng nodded and said, "All right, we shall fight again then!" Nearby, Jiao Dechun and Qi Yong became even more worried and desperately pleaded to both sides, with Qi Yong finally persuading Cheng to go back into the brothel.

Jiao Dechun pushed and prodded Jiang Xiaohe out past the gate. Jiang Xiaohe turned back and mocked, "Good little one, you try and think of a way! Lord Jiang is not afraid of you!" Jiao Dechun nervously stamped his feet. He had ridden his horse here as well, so he urged Jiang Xiaohe onto his horse. He climbed onto his own and followed behind, out of Beauties Lane and toward the eastern gate.

When they reached the eastern gate, Jiao Dechun spoke to Jiang Xiaohe gravely, "Brother! Let's not go back to the security office just yet. Come to my house, as there are many things I still need to discuss with you!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right!" Thus with Jiao Dechun leading, they entered a small lane and came to a black lacquered door. Jiao Dechun climbed off his horse and said, "We're here. This is my house." The door was closed when Jiao Dechun stepped up to it and used the knocker. A servant man opened the door from inside.

The servant was in his 40s and wearing a short jacket just like the attendants at the security office. Jiao Dechun told him to take the two horses and Xiaohe's saber, saying, "Send them back to the office, would you?" He hastened over and said another few things to the servant before coming back to Xiaohe, smiling, "Please, enter! There aren't many people in my house." Xiaohe went inside and Jiao Dechun with him, shutting the door behind them. He then welcomed Jiang Xiaohe into his receiving hall. The receiving hall was only three rooms, but the window lattices were of glass. The middle of the hall was decorated with a few pieces of cumbersome furniture, while swords and sabers hung on the walls. There wasn't much in the way of paintings or books.

Jiao Dechun invited Jiang Xiaohe to sit. He walked back outside with his large belly and shouted some while standing by the screen door. He then came back inside and said, "In my house, there's only me and your sister-in-law. I'd just plucked her out of the brothel last year. I do have an old housekeeper who does the cooking and the menial housework, and then there's old Lu the servant. I got him from the security office." Just then the old housekeeper brought out a teapot and teacups from behind the screen door. She'd just entered the room and was about to pour the tea when Jiao Dechun waved his hand and said, "Put it away, put it away! We're not drinking tea. Quick, go heat the wine and bring it out, and then go get a few of those salted eggs!" The old housekeeper left the room.

Jiao Dechun's dark face looked worried as he said, "Brother, you've gotten yourself into some trouble today!" Jiang Xiaohe frowned at him and said, "Brother, what kind of trouble are you talking about? Was it because I beat that guy up? What's his story? I'm not afraid of him!" Jiao Dechun waved his hand vigorously, saying, "It's not like that! Brother, you're young but you've come here all the way from Southern Shaanxi, so you must understand these matters of Jianghu. It's said, 'Fight the office, but not the official!' They also say, 'You're better off cutting a good man ten times than glaring at a bad man once.' That man you cut named Cheng, not only is he an official, but he's a bad man."

Jiang Xiaohe angrily asked, "What does he do?" Jiao Dechun said, "He's part of the prefectural government, in charge of overseeing the sending and receiving of money and grain. It's very broad! He's the favorite of the prefect, and there isn't anyone in Langzhong Prefecture that doesn't know that there's an Sir Eighth Cheng in the government office." Jiang Xiaohe then asked, "Does he know any martial arts?" Jiao Dechun said, "How could he not? He's the disciple of Li Liansheng the Flower Fist in Bazhou, and he has many friends in Jianghu. You should ask around. You won't find one who knows Sir Eighth Cheng and doesn't know that he is well-rounded in both learning and martial skill!" Jiang Xiaohe scoffed coldly, "Who cares if he's well-rounded? I can't beat him in learning, but I would like to try out his martial skill. When he's healed, if he doesn't come find me, I'll go find him!" Jiao Dechun forcefully waved his hand again, saying, "That won't do!"

By this time, the old housekeeper had brought out the wine and a couple plates of drinking food. Jiao Dechun filled a cup of wine for Jiang Xiaohe and smiled, "Please, drink first!" Xiaohe accepted it and drained it in one gulp, and then poured himself a refill. Jiao Dechun praised him, "You can drink!" And then said, "Brother, I feel like I've known you for a long time, so please excuse me if my words are too direct. If we're talking about martial skill or courage, guys like you are few and far between, but brother, you lack a bit of experience if only because you are still young. For instance, that Eighth Cheng from today is one never to be provoked. He strolls every day along Beauties Lane and doesn't pay when he visits the girls. There isn't one person in Langzhong Prefecture who doesn't fear him. You gave him a cut today, and there'll be no appeasing him. He may pull some levers in short time and take you to the government office. Would that not be a pointless defeat?"

Upon hearing these words, Jiang Xiaohe became rather a bit frightened because of the lesson he'd learned in Xuanhan County when his buttocks were flogged by planks. He knew that most of the officials at court listened not to reason, and when he lifted his wine cup, his hands were a little shaky. Jiao Dechun said, "Brother, think about it. Could we really beat him? He's a bad guy, nothing like a hero of Jianghu where rigor meets rigor and it's fist against fist, blade against blade. If that were the case, we'd have nothing to worry about!"

Jiang Xiaohe slammed his wine cup on the table and said, "I'm going!" Jiao Dechun shook his head and said, "You can't go! Unless you leave Northern Sichuan altogether. Even then, he has more than a few friends out there and words travel quickly on the wind. He'll be able to scheme against you anywhere. Furthermore, you fought him today in Beauties Lane, and word of things that happen at the brothels spread quickest. Before two days are past, upriver and downriver everyone will know. And people won't say you left; they'll say you fled, and that will look bad even to me!" Jiang Xiaohe fumed, "Then don't worry about it, brother. I'll wait for him, and before he can send anyone to capture me, I'll have it out with him!"

Jiao Dechun shook his head and said, "It would be impossible to have it out with a nasty piece of work like him. I have a way. You'll stay here for now, but you mustn't go out, not even to the security office. I'll arrange a room for you in the inner yard. In these years I've been traveling in Jianghu, I've earned quite a bit of money, but the people in my house are few. Also, I'm often at the office doing business and entertaining friends, so I don't have a lot of time to take care of the household. In the last few days, there've been thieves in the night though I haven't lost much. Your sister-in-law is extremely scared however, and it's been very inconvenient for me to find someone to come here, so I'm begging you, brother, to stay here. For one, you'll be hiding from Eighth Cheng, and two, you'll be looking after my household for me..."

Before Jiao Dechun could scarcely finish, Jiang Xiaohe sank into displeasure, thinking, So you want to be my friend so I can watch your house for you, huh? Jiao Dechun poured another cup of wine for Xiaohe and continued, "In a day or two, I'll go seek out Eighth Cheng, but not to apologize for you. I'll make him understand where you come from. I think if he gets to know your background, he must be able to speak a little of friendship. Then, when he's better, I'll throw a feast and have the two of you meet. Today's incident will be old news and you'll be given a pass for cutting him. Afterwards, if you wish to be friends with him, you can, and if you don't, then just pay him no attention. After all, you're here to seek out the Xia of Langzhong, and you won't leave until you meet him. Whether or not you make other friends here is secondary; we just have to make sure we don't offend anyone. Brother, do you feel I speak correctly?"

Xiaohe took another gulp of wine and nodded, saying, "Okay, I'm relying on you, but I can only stay here four or five days. After that, I won't be able to take it if you keep me from going outside every day!" Jiao Dechun said, "It won't take four or five days. I'll go see Eighth Cheng today and by tomorrow or the next day, I'll be able to bring you two together." Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right! I'll leave it up to you. Let's drink wine for now!"

Thereafter, the two talked loudly and drank heavily. Jiao Dechun shared a few of his exploits from his time in Jianghu with Xiaohe, and then talked about Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong. Jiang Xiaohe learned that Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God very much admired the martial arts and reputation of Xu Lin. He admitted that he was no match for Xu Lin, but at the same time Jiao Dechun was very disapproving of his temperament. It seemed like the two were not on good terms, or had even exchanged words once. Jiao Dechun was not a weak drinker, and as he talked and drank, that round, dark face of his gradually turned deep red, as if it was a giant ball of blood. Xiaohe had drank wine with Yang Xiantai the Short Blade at a tavern that morning, and though he had gotten into a fight, he had not completely sobered up. With the new wine adding to the old wine, he couldn't help his head becoming hazy and his eyes clouded.

A short time later, the old housekeeper brought over more food, but the two couldn't eat much more. Jiao Dechun stood up and asked, "Brother, you done eating yet? Go! Go to the inner courtyard and I'll introduce you to your sister-in-law!" He rubbed his beard and stuck his ample belly out, laughing, "You'll know once you see. Your sister-in-law is truly a beauty. When she was in Beauties Lane, her nickname was Luna. There were more than a few people vying for her, but she ended up falling into my hands." He added, "I sure spent quite a bit of money. With that much, I could have married ten women! Ha ha!" The two drunkards went outside and stumbled to the inner courtyard. There were three buildings surrounding the inner yard. The northern house contained three rooms, while the east and west had two rooms each. The western house was probably the kitchen due to the fact that smoke was fuming from a window.

Jiao Dechun pulled Jiang Xiaohe into the northern house. Through Jiang Xiaohe's drunken eyes, the reds and greens that made up the interior were even more beautiful than that room in the brothel on Beauties Lane. Jiao Dechun stuck out his tongue and said, "Hey! You inside! Come out and meet our good brother!" A delicate voice answered from inside and a red curtain lifted, out from which walked an elegant twenty-something beauty wearing a red coat and green pants, both satin-lined. On her face, rouge was pressed against powder, red and white like a peach blossom, but more able to smile. Her hair was brushed with much oil, shining so brightly it dazzled Xiaohe. A pair of golden earrings hung from her ears, swinging this way and that. Jiao Dechun stood a bit hypnotized as he stunk of alcohol, saying to his wife Luna, "Come and meet our brother Jiang Xiaohe newly from Southern Shaanxi. I've invited him to stay in our home. When the thief finds out, he won't dare to come again, because though you may think Brother Jiang is young, he is mightier than us all!"

Upon hearing this, Luna put a smile on her face and said, "Oh my! That's the best! Truly..." She put on a look of dismay and said to Xiaohe, "Your brother is always at the office. At night, it's just me sleeping here with the old housekeeper. Starting last month, a thief has been disturbing us. Once midnight arrives, the roof tiles above always start making noise. At first I thought it was a cat, because nothing's gone missing so I didn't say anything. One day, your brother came back at night and saw it with his own eyes: a big man flat on the roof. But when the man saw him coming, he ran off scared!"

Jiang Xiaohe thought, That's strange. If this thief doesn't steal anything, then why does he go crawling up on the roof? Standing by and hearing his wife tell about his scaring the thief away, Jiao Dechun's drunken face became ever redder and ever more purple. He became so angry his beard almost stood on end, fuming, "That thief must not think much of the Golden-armored God if he dares to come make trouble here! I can't tell anybody about this, because if they found out, it would do damage even to the reputation of the security firm!" Luna blushed and thrust her red lips askew, "Are you really in the security business? You can't even protect your own home!" Jiao Dechun patted Xiaohe's shoulder and earnestly asked, "Brother, you must help me! Stay at my home a few days!" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "All right! With me, no thief would dare come!" He added, "You need to prepare a weapon for me." Jiao Dechun nodded and said, "Yes, yes. I've already arranged everything for you. There probably isn't much going on at the office tonight, so let's go drink a little bit more!" He led Xiaohe back into another building, whereupon Xiaohe saw that the things he'd left at the Fuli Security Firm had all been brought here, including the saber he'd just used in the fight with Eighth Cheng along with its scabbard.

Jiang Xiaohe was so drunk he had a bit of a hard time standing, so when he spotted the bed, he collapsed headlong into it. Jiao Dechun nodded, "Good. Brother, get some sleep now so you'll have the energy later to nab the thief!" He told the servant to lay a blanket on Xiaohe and then went back to his wife's room to take a nap.

Upon laying on the bed, Jiang Xiaohe fell deep into sleep, and when he woke, the sunlight remained but a sliver on the window. It was not early in the day and Xiaohe's drunkenness had left him. He remembered the events of that morning and thought, I don't know how influential that Eighth Cheng is, but if he really took me into government custody, it would be the end of it all. Those officials all talk to each other and if they found out about what I did in Xuanhan, then wouldn't it be even worse? Then he thought, Jiao Dechun is no good friend. He's roped me into this to keep thieves away, but I still have to show off some moves for the people of Langzhong! When it came dinnertime, Jiao Dechun returned from the security office and once again ate food and drank wine together with Jiang Xiaohe. He said, "The Xia of Langzhong is almost back, and when he does, I'll take you to meet him for certain." He then added, "The cut you gave Eighth Cheng this morning wasn't shallow! Afterward, he had to be carried out of the brothel on Beauties Lane. Not long ago, two government officers went to the security firm looking for you, and asked about where you came from and where you were staying. The situation was they wanted to arrest you immediately, but I put a stop to that. I told them that we're all familiar, to wait until Sir Eighth Cheng's leg was better. They could do anything then, but first to leave me some appearances. Then I gave them five strings of silvers each, and they left after that. For now, things aren't so bad as any situation, but even so, it'd be better if you didn't go outside for the next few days just in case that Eighth Cheng tries something else!" Jiang Xiaohe laughed coldly, "As long as he doesn't send officials after me, I'm not afraid of anything else!"

Jiao Dechun raised his cup again and prodded Xiaohe to drink. Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "I'll drink no more. I have to defend against thieves tonight!" Jiao Dechun laughed, "With you looking after my home for me, I can go to the office with an unburdened mind. When I originally started a security firm this big, whether day or night, I had to oversee everything myself. I couldn't just spend all my time at home looking after my wife!" When he finished, he laughed loudly, drank a cup of wine and left.

When Jiang Xiaohe finished eating, the servant took away his cup and plates, and before long, lanterns were hung as it grew dark outside. Because Xiaohe had taken a long nap during the day, he was now glowing with energy. He fastened his belt, rolled up his sleeves, and eagerly drew the saber from its scabbard. He brought it to his chest, and then sauntered outside with his chest puffed out. He looked up and saw the stars, dense and numerous, and the littlest bit of moonlight. The eastern, western and northern houses were all lit with lanterns. Jiang Xiaohe shook the saber with a whoosh as the moonlight reflected off of it. He stepped across chains and ran through a course of Kunlun bladework in the courtyard. He thought, If the thief comes, he won't leave without a few cuts from my saber! Then, he came to the front of the northern house and jumped straight up, almost reaching the eaves. He fell with a thud onto his bottom. His buttocks ached, but he had not let go of the saber in his hand.

The lady in the northern house asked in surprise, "Oh dear! Who is it?" Jiang Xiaohe angrily replied, "It's me! Sister-in-law, don't be afraid!" He was extremely embarrassed. He thought, This won't do. My skills are weak yet. I'm afraid I won't even catch a thief tonight! But he was undeterred. He stuck the blade in his hand on his back and then took another leap for the roof. He grabbed onto the eaves with his two hands and, not caring if he made any noise, he climbed up hurriedly. His body had made it onto the roof, but the heavy tread of his feet sent a few roof tiles crashing loudly onto the ground. The lady in the house screamed out in fright again. Jiang Xiaohe drew out his saber and sat furiously down on the roof, thinking, I'll just wait here. We'll see if that thief will come or not.

At this time, the first watch rang out on the street. Jiang Xiaohe waited on the roof straight from the first watch up until the day grew light. He was on the verge of falling asleep on the roof tiles, but there hadn't been even the shadow of a thief. Both disappointed and annoyed, he hopped off the roof and went into the eastern house to sleep. He slept until it was time for lunch, at which point Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God had already come back from the security office. They ate lunch together, but as before Jiang Xiaohe dared not drink too much wine. Jiao Dechun heard that Xiaohe had waited the night previous on the roof to no avail and said, "It must be that the thief knew you were here. He was shaken by your renown and dared not come!" Xiaohe's face reddened and couldn't help feeling ashamed.

After lunch, Jiao Dechun returned to the office. Jiang Xiaohe closed the gate and practiced jumping onto the roof in the courtyard. He practiced falling and jumping back up, and then jumping up and hopping down. He had kicked off more than a few roof tiles in the process and frightened the housekeeper so, she didn't dare go to the northern house. In the northern house, Luna lifted aside the window curtain and peeked out. She smirked, dropped the curtains, and hummed a tune she learned in the brothel from inside. Jiang Xiaohe didn't do anything but practice roof-jumping. After ten-some turns, he had actually improved quite a bit. This was a slight relief to him as he went back inside to sleep.

When evening came, Jiao Dechun had not returned and Jiang Xiaohe ate dinner by himself. Afterwards, he polished his blade, and then went outside. With the blade on his back, he continued to practice roof-jumping. By now, Luna was no longer smiling, nor was she singing. Instead, she quietly muttered curses. They were curses from the extremely vulgar patois of the brothels, and on top of that, they were in her mumbly, mountain-magpie-like accent. Jiang Xiaohe didn't understand a word, so he paid her no mind. He hopped down from above and then jumped up from below. After training thus seven or eight turns, Xiaohe felt winded, so he sat down on the roof tiles. The sky was dark now, but this night's moon was bright than the last making the stars less visible. Below, the eastern house was without light. At first the western house was lit, but after the second watch, the light went out, likely because the housekeeper had already gone to sleep.

In the northern house, the lantern light always bright. Luna began playing the pipa, and the more she played, the louder and better sounding it became. Jiang Xiaohe was so entranced by it he forgot he was on the roof. He thought to himself, The women from Beauties Lane are good with their hands after all. They can even play stuff like this, but it's too bad she can't sing. If we got Aluan to come out here and had her sing a mountain song, it would be that much better! Thinking of Aluan made his heart ache. I have money now, and a horse and clothes. Were I to return home, no one would look down on me. But there is still one thing: I haven't completed my martial arts training. How can I go home to get revenge and take a wife? Thus he hoped for Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong to return more quickly, to meet him and see if he would make a suitable master for himself. If that wasn't the case, then he would leave Langzhong and travel upon Jianghu again, searching for the Dragon of Shu to ask him to be his master. Sitting on the roof made his buttocks hurt, so he crouched to the side and faced down, holding the saber in his hand.

Before he knew it, it was past the third watch, though in the northern house, Luna had still not yet slept. She would play the pipa for a while, and then she would stop for a while. It seemed as though she knew a lot of melodies. The pipa lulled Jiang Xiaohe near to sleep. Just then, he spotted someone across the way jump over the wall at the end of the screen door. Taken aback, Jiang Xiaohe grasped the saber in his hand more tightly and stared down below. It was clear under the light of the moon, a handsome man in his 20s, tall but skinny, wearing a blue satin short jacket and pants. He wasn't holding a weapon, and furthermore didn't appear to be fearful at all. He swaggered along to the sound of the pipa straight toward the northern house. He didn't looked up to the roof, but Jiang Xiaohe had stood up and brandished his saber, thinking, What a bold thief!

At this point, the man had arrived in front of the northern house. He sang a lyric along with the pipa music, "Upon meeting the lovely lady, my spirit is broken!" Jiang Xiaohe jumped off the roof with a thump and swung his saber, yelling, "Your mom's spirit!" The man hurriedly ducked away in shock and leapt to the side, pulling out a thirteen-link iron chain coiling-dragon flail from his waist. The stick flew and the chains rattled, as he countered Xiaohe's attack. Xiaohe met the flail with his saber, but it caught in his opponent's chains. Xiaohe quickly pulled his blade out and pressed forward with a diagonal cut. The man sneered as he dodged to the side and shook his flail once more, seeking to snag Jiang Xiaohe's steel saber once more. Jiang Xiaohe swung his sword directly at the man, causing him to step back a few paces, and then pressed forward hastily with a few steps of his own. The saber and the flail met for five or six exchanges until the man's coiling-dragon flail was cut through by Xiaohe's steel saber. Xiaohe continued to rush at him with everything he had, swinging his blade in a horizontal cut. The man flew up onto the western house and looked down with a scoff, "Little one, what is your name?" Jiang Xiaohe didn't answer as he too leapt onto the roof carrying his saber. "We'll meet again!" said the man as he turned to a neighbor's roof and fled.

Jiang Xiaohe was unable to give chase. He stood incensed on the roof for a while, and then gave the roof tiles a chop, saying, "This wasn't a thief. It must have been Luna's lover!" He hopped off the roof and immediately noticed that not only had the pipa music stopped, but the lamps had also been put out. Jiang Xiaohe angrily ran to the door of the northern house and pushed on it forcefully, yelling, "Good woman! It turned out you're not a good person at all! I have to tell Brother Jiao about this!" He cursed some more, but the door wouldn't budge and no one answered from within. Jiang Xiaohe slashed at the door a couple times before going to the outer courtyard with his saber to look for the servant, but the door to the servant's room was shut tightly as well, and behind the window came the snoring of a sound sleeper.

It wasn't until Jiang Xiaohe kicked the door a few times that the person inside stirred, asking, "Who is it?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Hurry and get up! Go find that captain of yours. I have some things I need to tell him." The servant inside said, "Young sir Jiang, what is it you want our captain for?" Jiang Xiaohe's anger had not yet subsided, "Just get him back here quickly. I'll tell him myself in person. If you ignore me, I'll kick down your door and kill you! Look at the saber in my hand!" Saying this, he gave the ground a few nicks with the blade. The servant frightfully sputtered, "I'll go! I'll go! Please be patient, young sir Jiang!" Thus, the servant put on his coat, opened the door and stepped out. Jiang Xiaohe threatened him again with the saber and said, "Hurry and go to the security firm office. No matter what, you've got to tell the captain to come back immediately. Or else, I'll go find him and end our friendship!" The servant agreed repeatedly before opening the gate and leaving under the moonlight. Jiang Xiaohe shut the gate and paced in the courtyard with his saber. Neither the housekeeper in the western house, nor Luna in the northern house made a peep.

A while after the servant left, a knock came to the gate. Jiang Xiaohe rushed to open it, still holding the saber. He saw that the servant had brought back Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God. Xiaohe said, "Brother Jiao, do you know what just happened here? Your wife..." Jiao Dechun quickly waved his hand and said, "Brother, stop shouting! Let's talk inside!" Jiang Xiaohe carried the saber angrily and walked with him through the inner courtyard and into the eastern house, whereupon the servant lit the lamp. Jiao Dechun told the servant to leave and said quietly, "Brother, look at me. I have yet to sleep. There are still five or six guests, all important businessmen from the city. There looks to be one job that sets off in a couple days to Lüzhou! I might even have to oversee this one myself!" Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Don't you care only about your bodyguard matters. You need to think about what to do with your wife. You told me it was a thief, but it wasn't one. It was your wife's lover. He comes when you're not home. Your wife plays the pipa to let him know. He uses a seven-jointed flail and I just fought him off!"

Upon hearing this, Jiao Dechun stood speechless for a while, and then he waved his hand, saying, "Brother, you mustn't make this public! I'll lose all my face as the Golden-armored God if this gets out! I'd already guessed that this was the case early on. Your sister-in-law, that woman, I took her out from Beauties Lane, so how good could she possibly be? There's nothing I can do. Do you really want me to face a death sentence for killing a woman like that? It's not worth it, so that's why I invited you to live here. I figured if that person knew that even if I was away, there'd be a friend of mine at the house, he wouldn't dare come!" Jiang Xiaohe scoffed, "That pipsqueak wasn't afraid! It looks to me he'd come even if you were at home!" Jiao Dechun glowered when he heard this, saying, "Don't get angry, brother. I have a way." As he said this, he rolled up his sleeves and went outside. In short order, Xiaohe heard the sound of kicking against the door of the northern house, then the sound of the door opening. After that, he heard the whacks of a face being slapped and the weeping of a woman. The woman cried for a while, and then petered out. The door of the northern house closed again as if nothing were going on inside.

Jiang Xiaohe grew angrier, thinking, Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God is such a big man, but it turns out he's afraid of his wife. What would I do with a friend like that? Why would I keep staying here? I'm leaving early tomorrow for the Fuli Security Firm to get a horse and then I'll find somewhere else to stay. I'll wait three days for the Xia of Langzhong, and if I haven't heard that he's returned by then, I'll leave and look for another famous master with skill and ask to be his disciple. Thus, he shut the door and fumed for a while longer before falling asleep.

By the time he got up the next day, it wasn't early, but he saw that the door to the northern house was still closed. Jiao Dechun had probably not awaken. Jiang Xiaohe put together his traveling sack alone, and with it slung over his shoulder and the saber under his arm, he opened gate and left, without even the servant knowing. He grumbled to himself angrily as he came out of the small lane. He immediately saw a bigger cluster of human activity on the eastern gate road than on previous days with many people buying and selling things. In fact that day was a market day. Jiang Xiaohe entered the main office of the Fuli Security Firm and saw Yang Xiantai the Short Blade there. Yang Xiantai looked a bit surprised, asking, "Why aren't you staying at the captain's house anymore?" Jiang Xiaohe simply shook his head, saying, "I'm not staying anywhere. I'm leaving!" As he said this, he threw his bundle and saber onto the ground and went outside to prepare a horse.

Yang Xiantai went after him, saying, "Didn't you want to meet the Xia of Langzhong? I heard he returned yesterday!" Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe stopped in his tracks. He came back quickly and asked, "Is that true? Where does he live? Tell me and I'll go meet him immediately!" Yang Xiantai the Short Blade looked sheepish after having divulged the information, saying to Jiang Xiaohe, "Yesterday, our captain told me not to tell you that the Xia of Langzhong was back!" Jiang Xiaohe glared at him and asked, "Why?"


<< Previous | Next >>