The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 5

The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 5.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.



Arduously seeking a master, he resolves to raise the rafter.
The well-traveled gallant angrily banishes the Motley Star God.

Yang Xiantai waved his hand and said, "Not with any ill intentions! It's just that our captain thought you were young and skillful, so he wanted to become good friends with you. In a couple days, he'll be going to Lüzhou with an escort party, and he wanted to ask you to look after his household until he got back in at most a month. Then, he was going to invite you to become a bodyguard at this security firm. In the end, he'd have an additional reliable aide. If you were to meet the Xia of Langzhong, then it would all be uncertain, since the Xia of Langzhong is also most fond of young men of skill. If he met you, he'd be sure to like you!" Jiang Xiaohe hurriedly said, "Cut the nonsense. Just tell me, where does the Xia of Langzhong live?" Yang Xiantai said, "It's not far from here. Head east, and then follow the big road south. Go five miles and that's it. His village is called Junction Hamlet. There are a few shops there too, so it's like a town market." Jiang Xiaohe nodded, "All right, I'll go meet him now!" He picked up the steel saber from the ground.

Yang Xiantai asked, "Are you really going to go fight him?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "None of your concern. You go put my stuff away!" He went outside to the stable and readied his own horse. He then led his horse out of the security office and saw that there were even more people on street. Riding a horse through this was simply impossible. Xiaohe slipped the saber next to the saddle and headed east with the horse while carrying a leather whip, shouting, "Make way!" Before going very far, he spotted a large man standing across the way, watching him with an unwavering smile. Xiaohe saw that this slim-faced, small-eyed man was in his twenties and wearing a blue satin short jacket and pants. Indeed, it was the man that Xiaohe had clashed with the night before but without the coiling-dragon flail at his waist.

Upon seeing him, Xiaohe's rage grew, to say nothing of the man's sneer. Xiaohe pushed forward and grabbed hold of him, saying, "Okay! You dare show your face on the street? And you dare laugh at me? You're a thief!" The man grasped his arm and snickered, "What? Do you really want to fight me? Forget you, where's the Golden-armored God?" At this point, Jiang Xiaohe had tucked the whip into his belt. He raised his right fist, jumped up, and punched the man in the mouth. The man became furious and leapt forward, yelling, "You little rat! How dare you hit me!" As he said this, he shoved Xiaohe's left arm away and swung his fist at Xiaohe.

Xiaohe dodged it and swung hard but missed. He performed a Left-right Whipping motion while rushing forward. The man bent to the side and reached out to push Xiaohe, but Xiaohe cut slightly to the right and took hold of the man's approaching fist with his left hand. With his right hand in a tight fist, he ferociously pounded at the man's left flank. The man bent his body in pain, flailing his right hand and grabbing with his left, while also kicking in Xiaohe's direction. Xiaohe hastily dodged away and ran a couple steps to the right. The man turned and rushed at Xiaohe. Xiaohe threw a feigned punch and leaned swiftly down. The man quickly raised his right foot for a stomp, but Xiaohe took the opportunity to perform a Hall-sweeping Leg, catching the man's right foot and sending him crashing to the ground. Bystanders ran off to the margins in fright as the man rolled himself back up, pulling a leather sheath from inside his jacket. Out of the sheath he pulled two bright and shiny daggers and held them one in each hand. His face showed murderous intent as he waved Jiang Xiaohe over, saying, "Come here!"

The bystanders scattered even farther away at this point. Jiang Xiaohe ran next to his horse and drew his saber from its saddle. Just as he did this, he heard a sudden loud bustle from the bystanders. It was because three horses were galloping from the east. A black horse immediately caught Jiang Xiaohe's eye for he recognized it. It was one that he'd hurriedly mounted after jumping down from the inn in Wanyuan County. Later on, a thief from the dilapidated temple in Xuanhan County had stolen it, and because of that, he had even been dragged unjustly to court. Jiang Xiaohe no longer had any interest in dueling with that man. He raised his steel saber and stormed at the man riding the horse, saying, "Get off! Get off! That horse is mine!" The gawking bystanders erupted in laughter, saying, "The kid's probably a lunatic!" The man holding the daggers lost some of his ferocity when he saw the three horses approaching, but still angrily prepared to take the opening to get at Xiaohe.

Xiaohe used one hand to parry with the saber as he used the other to grab the bridle of the black horse. He looked up and glared, saying, "Return the horse to me and nothing will happen! I lost this horse in Xuanhan County! A god damn horse thief fell off of it to his death, and now it's in your hands. Does that make you a thief?" The man on the horse was in his thirties, handsome with a slightly red face and dressed affluently. The two men who followed behind both looked to be servants.

The man smirked, and though Jiang Xiaohe's manner was offensive, he didn't grow angry, asking calmly, "You don't speak erringly. This horse was brought here from Xuanhan. Yet, I did spend several hundred taels of silver in buying it. If you like it, I can give it to you without accepting one silver in return. However, you must stop talking like this!" Jiang Xiaohe jumped in anger and said, "The horse was lost by me. I can stop calling you a thief, but do you expect me to start complimenting you?" He jumped up in an attempt to pull the man off the horse.

To his surprise, the man leaned over with a slap to Xiaohe's forehead, dizzying him and sending him backward. He quickly steadied his feet and swung his saber at the man on the horse. The man jumped off the horse and came in sideways, grasping Xiaohe's wrist with his left hand and snatching away the saber with his right. He gave a low kick, causing Xiaohe to fall to the ground with a thud. Xiaohe yelled angrily. Just as he stood up, the man kicked again, making Xiaohe fall another time. Xiaohe rolled away and got up, yelling, "Okay, okay, okay. Throw down that blade and we'll have a contest with fists!" The man smiled, tossed the saber to the ground and beckoned with his hand, saying, "Come over here!" Jiang Xiaohe rolled up his sleeves and charged at him, employing a Long Fist rolling chop. The man waited calmly for Xiaohe to draw close and easily again sent Xiaohe face-first into the ground with an angled kick.

Xiaohe rolled over, picked the saber up from the ground on his way up, and swung it at the man who'd kicked him. The man had already gotten back on his horse when he smiled and said, "Need you come back for another hit? If you're undeterred, we can go to my house and contest with swords. There are too many people here, and it wouldn't do to hurt any of them." Jiang Xiaohe beat his chest and said, "Who's afraid of you!? Where do you live? I'll go with you!" He spun to look for his own horse so he could get back into the saddle. By now, the well-dressed man on the black horse had already turned his horse around and was riding off to the east with the two servants. As he left, he looked back and beckoned with his hand, "Come, child!"

Jiang Xiaohe had just mounted his horse and was about to brandish his whip to give chase when suddenly someone stood in the way of his horse. It was Yang Xiantai the Short Blade. Jiang Xiaohe said with frustration, "What are you doing? I can't suffer this loss! Getting bullied by someone in the middle of the street, I have to go to his house and have it out with him!" Yang Xiantai waved his hand and said, "Don't go hurrying off! Get off the horse, and we'll go back so we can talk!"

Jiang Xiaohe urged his horse to go, saying, "Anything you have to say, just say it to me here!" Yang Xiantai urgently signaled Xiaohe with his eyes, "It's something I can only tell you when we return. It's very important!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "Forget it! Get out of the way! Let me go after them!" When he said this, he swung the whip and spurred the horse on, but Yang Xiantai stood stubbornly in front of the horse, anxiously saying, "Who do you think you're chasing? Do you know who that was? That's Sir Xu the Xia of Langzhong!" Upon hearing this, Jiang Xiaohe was instantly dumbstruck and stared off into the east where the three horses were already far gone. It was as if all the courage had left his body. He was unable even to lift his whip.

Yang Xiantai said, "Come down! If you have something to say, let's say it back at the security office. If you'd chased after him, you wouldn't have made it to the Junction Hamlet; you'd be injured by Sir Xu at the side of the road!" Jiang Xiaohe sat in a daze. He slowly dismounted the horse, whereupon the people watching all laughed, one saying, "This little one was defeated by Sir Xu!" Another said, "We should've told him to give chase, just let him go all the way with it!" The man who Jiang Xiaohe had just thrown to the ground, Luna's lover was still holding the two daggers in his hands. He sneered at and said to Jiang Xiaohe, "Little one, do you still dare to face me? Do you have the skills?"

Jiang Xiaohe made a fist and fumed, "Who wants to face you? You're nothing but small fry!" The man charged at him with the two daggers, but was obstructed by Yang Xiantai. The man snickered, yelling, "Little one, if you have the skills, come to the Junction Hamlet today. I'm staying in Sir Xu's home! Come and we'll face off. We wouldn't even need to disturb the Xia of Langzhong. Just come with your long weapon and I'll punish you for him!" Yang Xiantai seemed to know the man as he pushed and urged him to go away.

Jiang Xiaohe led his horse despairingly back to the Fuli Security Firm with his saber. Jiao Dechun's nephew Jiao Rong had seen the Xia of Langzhong give Jiang Xiaohe a beating on the street and followed them back. He couldn't help but glance over at Xiaohe through the corner of his eye, grinning with satisfaction. Jiang Xiaohe paid no one any attention. He entered the office and tossed down his saber. He sat in a chair though his buttocks ached from being thrown to the ground, and stared into space with a furrowed brow. Yang Xiantai walked over and said, "Brother, you're too foolish! No one could suffer the losses you've suffered today! The man you were fighting at first, he's one of the Xia of Langzhong's subordinates, Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God, but there's a limit to his abilities. Then, the Xia of Langzhong came with some men. Couldn't you tell by that manner of his? Even if you didn't, you should have first asked him for his name before you fought him. How hard did you stumble today, I wonder? Not only can you never become a bodyguard, you can't stay here any longer!"

Hearing Yang Xiantai prattling in his ear, Jiang Xiaohe stood up and stamped his foot, saying, "Stop talking. If you keep talking, I'll cut you with a blade!" Jian Rong smiled darkly and said, "Young Sir Jiang, getting angry at us is easy, isn't it? If you had the ability, you'd go find the Xia of Langzhong. He lives at Junction Hamlet south of here!" Jiang Xiaohe stomped and said, "Fine! Just watch me!" He scooped up his saber and hurried outside. Yang Xiantai hastened after him and when he left the office saw that Jiang Xiaohe had already led his horse through the gate. By the time he reached the gate of the security office, Jiang Xiaohe had already mounted his horse, riding to the east fearlessly. Yang Xiantai stamped his feet and said, "Oh no! He's gone this time! He'll get gravely injured and the Xia of Langzhong will send people to carry him back here. It'll truly be shameful for the security firm!"

Jiang Xiaohe rode his horse with whip in hand, driving people off the street until he reached the road outside of the eastern gate whereupon he let his horse fly. Behind him, a number of the idle men at the marketplace ran after his horse, shouting, "Look, look! The kid is going to Junction Hamlet to fight the Xia of Langzhong!" Jiang Xiaohe looked for the road heading south as he whipped his horse continuously, sending his horse into a soaring gallop.

After he had rode for over three miles and long lost those idle men behind him, he reined in his horse. He wasn't afraid, but he thought, What a hero the Xia of Langzhong is. He sent me to the ground three times without even breaking a sweat. Perhaps his ability surpasses that of Bao Kunlun. He truly is suitable to be my master! Then he thought, Why did I run away from Zhenba County? I didn't do it to find my fortune, nor was it to look after someone else's wife. I know I can fool the average man of Jianghu, but I'm far too weak if I want to fight Bao Kunlun and kill the Long brothers. I need to take advantage of my youth and learn quickly, find a famous master and learn a full body of martial arts! He whipped his horse and rolled thoughts around in his head as he gradually made his way forward. Before another three miles, he saw a small town with over a hundred households in it. There was a very short street upon which there was a noodle shop, a tavern and a couple other smaller shops.

Just as Xiaohe's horse entered the short street, he spotted five or six men standing outside the gate of the tavern, one of which was Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God, the man that Xiaohe had just fought with. They were all holding sabers and staffs. Upon seeing Xiaohe, they approached and surrounded his horse, saying, "Good little one, you sure have the balls. Get off your horse and fight us first!" Jiang Xiaohe ignored them and spurred the horse to leap over them and gallop to the south. The men behind him gave chase, yelling and laughing and cursing him. Xiaohe didn't look back and continued south past a few villages before his eyes gazed again upon the roiling waters of the Jialing River.

It wasn't until he reached the river's edge that Xiaohe dismounted his horse. It wasn't a dock, so there were no boats stopped here, nor were there people, only a sparse row of weeping willows, reflecting green in the waters of a clear day. It was very beautiful. Jiang Xiaohe tied his horse to a willow and sat on the grass by the river. He watched the waters of the river and comings and goings of the boats to and from far places. He thought, How can I ask the Xia of Langzhong to be my master? With those annoying men, they all have it in their heads to fight me. I'm actually unafraid of them. They anger me. I have to fight them, but they're a greater number, not to mention that they are the Xia of Langzhong's men. If I beat them, then the Xia of Langzhong and I would become enemies. How could he possibly pass his martial arts to me then? Thus, he began to worry. He sat by the river for a while as the sunlight on his body made him sleepy. He decided he would take a nap on the ground, and then go find a place to eat lunch. After he ate, he would try again to think of a way to see the Xia of Langzhong. As he considered this, he felt a sharp pain in his lower back as a thud rang out. Someone had thrown a stone at him.

Jiang Xiaohe looked all around and cursed loudly. He spotted a black horse galloping on the road to the north. The man on the horse was Xu Lun the Xia of Langzhong. Jiang Xiaohe brightened up immediately as he hastened to untie his horse from the tree. He mounted the horse and let it fly over to him. The Xia of Langzhong reined his horse and stopped. Just as Jiang Xiaohe approached, the Xia of Langzhong drew a sword from under his saddle with a scrape and smiled, saying, "Child, have you come for a contest? Are we doing this mounted or on foot? Reveal your blade!" But Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, saying, "I'll not fight you! I know your martial arts are stronger than mine by far!" The Xia of Langzhong asked, laughing, "Then what am I going to do with the blade I've brought with me?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I would like you to become my master. Please pass your martial arts onto me!" The Xia of Langzhong heard this and roared with laughter, saying, "What a joke! Who told you that I, Xu Lin, had ever accepted disciples? Especially a young rascal like you. Even if you gave me however much silver, I couldn't accept you!"

Jiang Xiaohe was about to speak when the Xia of Langzhong quickly shook his hand, saying, "Speak no more. There's no way I'd be willing to become your master. I've come now because I thought you were looking for me to fight over this horse. Since you're not brave enough to face me, you go back about your business. I'm leaving!" He turned his horse around and rode toward the north road. Jiang Xiaohe spurred his horse to follow. The Xia of Langzhong spurred his horse on as well and looked back as he rode, smiling and waving his hand, "Don't follow me! You best go find Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God. He'll be your master!" Jiang Xiaohe kept on chasing behind and pleaded, "No matter what, you have to accept me as a disciple. I have money, so you wouldn't need to provide me food. I can even pay you. I came to Northern Sichuan just to find you, because I heard from Long Zhiteng and the others that you were a great man of Northern Sichuan!"

Upon hearing this, the Langzhong Xia's face turned instantly. He stopped his horse and held out his sword, asking angrily, "What? So it was the Long brothers who asked you to come find me?" Jiang Xiaohe had reined his horse in as well and said, shaking his head, "No, they're my enemies. I fled because I'd wounded the Long brothers. They'd even come after me. In Wanyuan County, I was able to escape because I jumped out of an inn and stole that horse. The horse you're riding on now once belonged to Long Zhiqi!" The Xia of Langzhong laughed coldly, "The Long brothers' martial arts aren't strong, but I doubt a small child like you could hurt them or steal their horses. Don't think you can use these words to trick me. Since you know those men, then I am even less able to accept you as disciple. Consider it a favor that I left you your life today. Get out of here!" Saying this, he sheathed his sword and spurred his horse forward.

Jiang Xiaohe had still not given up and continued chasing him closely. He saw that they were approaching the village of the Xu household. As Jiang Xiaohe followed, he very anxiously said, "Though I know the Long brothers, we're all enemies. My father was murdered by them. It's because they're my enemies that I came here looking for you. Since your martial arts are greater than theirs, I wanted to learn them and return to Ziyang to kill them, to avenge my father!" At this point, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't hold back his tears. Ahead of him, the Xia of Langzhong heard as his speech became gradually more miserable, eventually stopping his horse and turning around. He stared for a while and then asked, "Do you sincerely intend to learn martial arts from me?"

Jiang Xiaohe stopped crying and nodded, "Very sincerely! I can swear an oath. If I'm not sincere, let lightning strike me!" The Xia of Langzhong laughed but then said sternly, "However, if you want to be my disciple, first you have to do three things for me!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I can do a hundred things for you!" The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "The first thing, I don't accept complete novices as disciples. You must know at least a little martial arts." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I do! I've learned martial arts for over a year. Bladework, fists, kicks, I know a few moves of each, and I can jump onto and across rooftops too!"

The Xia of Langzhong said, "Second, to be my disciple is also to be my lackey. No matter what manner of hard labor, you must do it. I see you dressed in satin-lined clothing with money and a horse. You seem the young master of a household!" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, "No, I'm a poor kid with no dad and no mom. I've herded pigs and fed horses. As long as you're willing to pass your martial arts on to me, I'll do any sort of hard or tiring work. What's the third thing?" The Xia of Langzhong smirked, "The third? Ha! I doubt you're up to it! I want to accept a strong disciple, one able to lift a ton!" Jiang Xiaohe lifted his arms, saying, "I have strength enough to carry 70, 80 catties with one hand!" The Xia of Langzhong said, "It doesn't count for you to just say it. You have to try it." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Whatever you want, except for mountains. I can't move those!" The Xia of Langzhong said, "All right! Come with me!" Jiang Xiaohe was elated as he hurried his horse after the Xia of Langzhong, entering the expansive Xu Farmstead. Upon seeing their leader bringing Jiang Xiaohe in, the Motley Star God and a dozen or so villagers looked on in amazement, hoping to see him fight it out with Jiang Xiaohe.

The two horses entered through the main gate and turned north where stood a big yard with two weapon racks set up on it. In the southeastern corner, there was a small door that probably led straight the inner residence. When they arrived here, the two dismounted, and a servant boy came to take their horses. Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God watched from the side. The Xia of Langzhong was smiling as he waved Xiaohe over, "Come!" Jiang Xiaohe followed him to the base of the southern wall and saw three iron bars placed on the ground. They were all over seven feet long, and each was thicker than the last. The thickest one was as wide as the mouth of a small bowl, and couldn't be held with one hand. The surface was rusted and half of it had sunken into the dirt. It looked very much like the beam of a house. The second one was a little thinner but was likely over 200 catties. The slimmest one looked like a metal rafter, itself over a hundred catties.

Jiang Xiaohe saw them and was taken aback. He asked, "What, do you want to use these to test my strength? There's no way I could lift the thickest one!" The Xia of Langzhong said, "Let me first explain to you about where these three bars came from." Jiang Xiaohe thus saved his strength and listened attentively as the Xia of Langzhong said, "A few years ago, a monk came from Jiangnan. He was called the Iron Staff Monk. He carried the thickest of these iron bars here asking for alms, a thousand taels he wanted. He laid this iron bar across the main gate and said that if I didn't give him a thousand catties, he wouldn't take the iron bar away. At the time, I didn't care. I reached out my hand and picked it up." When he said this, the Xia of Langzhong tucked in his clothing and rolled up his sleeves. He bent down and lifted the rafter-like iron bar. He raised it with one arm and then spun it a couple times with both hands before tossing it with a heavy clang back onto the ground.

Jiang Xiaohe admired him silently, thinking, The Xia of Langzhong's body doesn't look particularly built, yet he has such great strength. The Xia of Langzhong bent down and wrapped his hands around the next thickest iron bar. He raised it up with both arms and then just as quickly put it back down. He went on, "The first time the Iron Staff Monk saw that I could swing the bar around, not only did he leave without one silver, but he left the iron bar behind as well when he departed. The next year, he brought this next-thickest iron bar with him. He asked for two thousand taels in alms, but he still was unable to trouble me, so he left again. He didn't come the third year, but in the fourth, he brought with him this heaviest and thickest one. He carried it on his shoulder and looked worn out from having done so. He told me that if I could carry it as he did, he would give up and leave without even one silver, never to come back. But I couldn't, and so I gave him four thousand taels of silver."

At this point, the Xia of Langzhong looked upon Xiaohe and said, "These three iron bars have been here several years. Except for the fact that I can lift two, no one else can lift even one. I swore an oath that if anyone could lift the heaviest one, I would ask him to be my master. If anyone could lift the second one, I would become his friend. And the one who could lift the lightest one, I'd accept him as a disciple. Over the years, a good many have come here to try, but I haven't even accepted a disciple yet. To travel Jianghu, you need not only martial arts to overcome the masses, but also strength to defeat others. You can seek to become my disciple, but you must first raise up the lightest of these iron bars with your own hands for us to see!" Jiang Xiaohe said boldly, "Done." He bent down and grabbed hold of the iron bar of a rafter's thickness, and then lifted with all his strength. The Xia of Langzhong stood beside and said, "Raise it!" Jiang Xiaohe was only able to lift it half a foot before his hands ached and his legs gave out, whereupon he dropped the bar back onto the ground with a clang. He took a deep breath and tried again, gritting his teeth, but this time he couldn't lift it even half a foot before the bar went back down. The Xia of Langzhong smiled and said, "This won't do! You can come and train daily, and whenever you manage to raise up this iron bar will be when you bow down to me. Then, I'll transmit my martial arts to you." When he finished, the Xia of Langzhong straightened out his clothing and went through the small door back to his residence with a smile on his face.

Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God and the others were all standing nearby and laughing loudly. Jiang Xiaohe was furious, but he had no time to pay them any mind. He stared at the three iron bars on the ground, not hoping to lift up the heavier two. But how the small one opposed him! He rested his breath and bent down again. He grabbed hold of the iron bar with both hands and pulled up with all his strength. Gritting his teeth and staring intently, he lifted it a little more than half a foot and exerted his strength to extend his arms and raise it up, but he couldn't. His arms became sore and the iron bar slammed back onto the ground immediately with a clang, bringing Xiaohe to the ground as well. Jiang Cheng and the others clapped and laughed again. Jiang Xiaohe's face turned all red as he turned his head and glared at them. He didn't say a thing however, as his gaze returned numbly back toward the iron bar.

Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God walked over carrying a steel saber and scoffed, "Little one! Go home to mommy to suckle at her breast! Come back and try again when you've grown. Or else you'll never raise that bar, no matter how many times you call it daddy!" The other men laughed. Jiang Xiaohe suddenly felt a wave of hunger and realized that he hadn't eaten lunch today, thus he didn't have the energy to fume. He furrowed his brow and turned around.

Those men were all sneering and smirking at him, saying, "Go back where you came from! Coming here to blow off steam!" Jiang Xiaohe wanted to glare at them and give them a beating to vent some of his frustrations, but he thought, Then it would be even more impossible to get the Xia of Langzhong to be my master! Where else could I find someone whose martial arts are so powerful and strength so great as the Xia of Langzhong? Thus, he held in his anger and asked the stable boy for his horse. Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God said, "Don't give the horse to him!" Jiang Xiaohe was so mad he reached under the saddle for his saber. Jiang Cheng didn't back down, but approached him with his blade raised, saying, "What? You really want to fight?" The other men came to talk the two down. On one side, they were holding on to Jiang Cheng, and on the other, they were urging Jiang Xiaohe, "Since you're now familiar with our good sir, you can come whenever you like. You couldn't move the iron bar today, so try again tomorrow. Don't cause trouble here, because Sir Jiang is a friend of our good sir. You must respect our leader!"

Jiang Xiaohe bore down his ire and sneered silently as he led his horse away. When he left the Xu compound, he walked north gloomily. He wasn't angry about Jiang Cheng and the other men, but rather distressed over the iron bar.

It wasn't until he walked over half a mile that he mounted his horse and whipped it in the direction of the east gate. In a short while, he reached the front gate of the Fuli Security Firm. He got off his horse, but didn't lead it inside, instead tying it to a post. He entered and saw Yang Xiantai, Lü Xiong, Qi Yong, Jiao Rong and the others all inside. Upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe return, Yang Xiantai was the first to ask, "Brother, what happened when you went to the Xia of Langzhong's house?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head, saying, "Nothing, we talked for a while and he told me to go to his house every day to practice." Qi Yong said, "When you left and didn't return, you worried our captain. He's also been busy these couple days and he's leaving for Lüzhou the day after tomorrow." Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "Your captain is a good friend. Tell him not to worry about me, but I'm not willing to stay over at his place."

Yang Xiantai was surprised and asked, "Where are you moving to then?" Jiang Xiaohe furrowed his brow and wanly went into the back to retrieve his things, saying, "I'll move into an inn first, and then after a couple days, I'll move into the home of the Xia of Langzhong." Yang Xiantai, Qi Yong and the others were each taken aback and saw that Jiang Xiaohe looked a bit ill, but none dared stand in his way. He left carrying his travel bundle.

Jiang Xiaohe exited the gate and untied his horse. He walked forward with his horse in one hand and his bundle in the other. After a short distance, he saw an inn south of the road and went inside to get a room. He then asked the innkeeper to prepare some food and wine for him. After he ate, he laid down on his bed to rest for the purpose of saving up enough strength. He was prepared to go to the Xia of Langzhong's house tomorrow to raise that iron bar. After a nap, Xiaohe woke to find the innkeeper showing Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God into his room. Seeing Jiang Xiaohe, Jiao Dechun appeared both ashamed and anxious, saying, "Brother, it won't do to have you staying here! Just move into my place or stay in the security office! Right now, Eighth Cheng hates you to the bone, and he won't budge no matter how I plead and beg. He's still injured from your fight, but if he were better, he would certainly come here to face you. If you were to stay at my place, no matter what, he would have to respect me. He wouldn't be able to drag you from my house. The day after next I'm leaving for Lüzhou, and after I'm gone, there'll be no one to protect you, unless you came with me!"

Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Brother, don't worry about me! You're a good friend, this I know. I moved here now so I could get some good rest, because I'm very tired today! I'll rest here a day and then I'll probably move into the Xia of Langzhong's farmstead tomorrow." Jiao Dechun was astonished when he heard this, saying, "How is this? Does the Xia of Langzhong also think you good? I'd heard that you'd scuffled with him in the street early this morning." Jiang Xiaohe said, "Brother, I told you long ago that I came here to meet the Xia of Langzhong. If his martial arts were ordinary, I would become his friend. But if his martial arts were extraordinary, I would ask him to be my master. This was what I had to do. This morning when I dueled with him, I found out just how much poorer my martial arts actually were. He really is a good fit to be my master, so later I went to his farmstead to look for him..."

Jiao Dechun interrupted with a question, "Didn't he ask you to lift those three iron bars?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "That's right. He told me that if I could only raise the slimmest of the iron bars up, he would take me as a disciple and pass his martial arts onto me. But while we say the iron bar is thin, it isn't light at all. I can lift it a little with my hands, but I can't raise it up high. My body's tired because of the fights I've had today, so I'm thinking that if I rest up an entire day and go tomorrow for a try, I'll definitely be able to raise it up." Jiao Dechun heard this and was even more astonished. He sat dazed for a while before nodding and saying, "But this is good as well. If you're living at the Xia of Langzhong's house, Eighth Cheng can't bother you. He may be a cruel tyrant here, but he wouldn't dare provoke the Xia of Langzhong." Jiang Xiaohe nodded and smirked, "Don't upset yourself over this Eighth Cheng business, brother! I'm not afraid of him. Brother, you aren't leaving until the day after tomorrow, right? If you have more to talk about, let's do it tomorrow. I need to rest today so that I can lift that iron bar tomorrow." Jiao Dechun nodded and thus left.

Jiang Xiaohe then rested very peacefully, and when it came the next day, he felt himself full of energy. He prepared his horse, exited the gates of the inn, and galloped to the farmstead yard of Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong. It was still early when he arrived. The Motley Star God and a few villagers were training fists in the yard. Upon seeing Jiang Xiaohe, he all smiled, saying, "This kid is back again. He won't give up! You can't build up so much brawn in a day's time, unless you've taken a power pill!"

Jiang Xiaohe remained silent as he tied his horse to a post near the wall. He approached the three iron bars on the ground. He exerted his strength and stooped down. He took hold of the rafter-like iron bar and pulled up. At the same time, he straightened his body and used all his energy as a yell squeezed itself from his throat. He lifted it above one foot before someone behind him kicked him in the rear. Jiang Xiaohe immediately fell forward with a crash. The iron bar was flung to the left and Jiang Xiaohe landed face first. He was incensed beyond all at this point. He quickly stood up and bore a fist as he turned around, seeing Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God standing next to him with a saber in his hand and a sneer he couldn't keep from his face. Xiaohe was about to rush forward, grab the saber and fight, but then he thought, The iron bars are still more important! He swallowed his hatred into his heart and said not a word. He turned around and went for another attempt at lifting the iron bar, thinking, I'll bear this anger this one time, but if you kick me again, I'll really go after you.

When Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God gave Jiang Xiaohe the kick, Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong had unexpectedly come out of the small door already. He saw everything clearly and felt immediately indignant. He went inside to retrieve a leather whip and walked over to Jiang Cheng with a look of displeasure. He leapt up suddenly and kicked the saber in Jiang Cheng's hand away with a clatter. The Xia of Langzhong swung his whip and showered Jiang Cheng with blows. Jiang Xiaohe looked back when he heard the crack, crack, crack, and saw Jiang Cheng take several licks from the whip. At first he'd held his arms up to block, but then simply turned to run. The Xia of Langzhong caught up with him and sent him to the ground with a kick from behind. He raised his whip and with whooshes and cracks, he let more lashes loose like raindrops upon Jiang Cheng's body.

The men simply stood by and watched; none dared to step up to stop it. The Xia of Langzhong yelled as he thrashed angrily with his whip, "How dare you ruin my reputation in this place? You take advantage of those unprotected to kick them from behind. What kind of Jianghu man behaves like this..." Jiang Xiaohe ran over and tried to stop the Xia of Langzhong, saying, "Don't hit him because of me! I came here to lift the iron bar and ask you to be my master, not to anger him! I just ignore him when he's trying to humiliate me, and I'll deal with it later!"

The Xia of Langzhong struck Jiang Cheng a few more times with his whip and ended with a kick, yelling, "Get out! Get yourself the hell out of Langzhong, and from this moment on, you'll no longer know me. Get the hell out! Get out right now! Or else I'll have your life!" Jiang Xiaohe kept trying to talk him out of this when the Xia of Langzhong stopped. When Jiang Cheng crawled up, his face was covered with lash marks and blood. On his arms there were blue and purple blotches, and his clothes had been torn to shreds by the whip. He had now truly become the Mottled Star God, though he lacked even a bit of the Star God's might. He hung his head and silently went inside.

Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong stood tall holding his whip and vented his rage for a while. He calmed down gradually, and then asked Jiang Xiaohe, "What is it? Can you raise up that iron bar today?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "Come and see." He watched as Jiang Xiaohe employed all his strength and tried lifting it six or seven times, though not once was he able to raise it all the way up. He smiled and said, "No, no! Your strength has a long way to go. You must train every day. In truth, it isn't hard; you just need patience. Train daily and you can raise it for certain. When that happens, I must accept you as disciple." Having said this, he told Jiang Xiaohe to keep trying to lift the iron bar. He ran through a couple fist exercises and then the motions of a sword exercise.

Jiang Xiaohe sat next to the iron bars and thought the Xia of Langzhong's fist technique magnificent, his form like a wolf or tiger, and his swordwork was even more entrancing, brilliant to the extreme. Xiaohe grew ever more envious, thinking, Acknowledging this sort of master and learning his martial arts, what could stop one from running wild upon the world? It's just this iron bar causing me so much trouble!

When the Xia of Langzhong finished the training he had set for himself, he went back through the small door to the inner residence. Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God packed up his things, prepared a horse and left mournfully with his head hung low. Just before he'd left, he'd given Jiang Xiaohe an evil, vicious glare. Jiang Xiaohe paid him no mind, his attention unable to be directed away from thinking about raising the iron bar. He rested a while and tried again, and when his tries failed, he rested. He did this twenty or thirty times until his power was spent and his two arms were sore and out of energy. It was now past noon and someone invited him to eat lunch, saying, "Our good sir invites you to eat here before going back to your training." Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and stood up listlessly. He walked his horse out the gate, mounted it and rode toward the east gate.

When he got back to the inn and ate whatever was available, he laid on his bed and rested. Today he was more convinced than ever of the Xia of Langzhong's honorable conduct and martial technique. However, he couldn't raise that iron bar, which meant he couldn't acquire a master and learn martial arts, which also meant he couldn't use those martial arts to gain vengeance, and so he became even sadder. In the evening, Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God called upon him again to tell him that he was to set off on the morrow to Lüzhou as an escort. He also said that Eighth Cheng had been everywhere asking after friends, probably to deal with Xiaohe. He urged Xiaohe to be careful and that it was best if he went to live with the Xia of Langzhong. But Jiang Xiaohe shook his head over and over, saying, "None of that is important. I don't fear any of it, so brother please go without worry!" Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God sat with him a while longer and then departed.

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