The Crane Startles Kunlun, Chapter 15.
from Wang Dulu's He Jing Kunlun.
A steel point engages a multitude; from Ziyang an unfettered man leaves.
A wicked tiger wounds others; in Northern Sichuan violence erupts.
After Ma Zhixian sighed, he stretched his head forward and asked in a whisper, "Whom did you acknowledge as your master? Where have you now come from? Did you not meet Ji Guangjie, the old man Bao, and Aluan?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "I met them all!" He then proceeded to tell in great detail most of what had happened to him in the past ten years.
As he heard this, Ma Zhixian could not help smiling with delight. He held out his thumb in admiration, saying, "You must now be the greatest hero in all of Jianghu! Ever since you left the Qin Mountains with that elderly man, old man Bao and those of the Kunlun School have been constantly troubled, afraid that you would learn the martial arts and come after them for revenge! The old man betrothed Aluan to Ji Guangjie, also so that he could use the grandson of the Xia of Longmen's martial arts to resist you!" Jiang Xiaohe sighed, "I'm not concerned about that now. I dare believe that Bao Zhenfei, the Long Brothers and that Jia Zhiming cannot escape my sword. I will be deliberate in doing this!" Ma Zhixian knit his brow once more and said, "Yet, I urge you not to be too harsh!" Jiang Xiaohe didn't respond to these words, saying only, "I've come today, first to pay you a visit, Uncle, and second to see my mother and my brother Xiaolu." When he said this, he started tearing up.
Ma Zhixian gave a long sigh and turned to his wife and asked, "You went to see your cousin some days ago. How was she?" Li-shi knit her brow as well and said, "She hasn't recovered from her illness yet! She has terrible coughing fits! Xiaolu doesn't send any letters, and Eldest Dong's business hasn't been very good either. Little Fu and Little Shou are both so very pale and thin!" Ma Zhixian sighed, "Do not be sad, Xiaohe! Your mother remarrying to Eldest Dong was the only thing she could have done. The land and house your father left behind were all taken away by relatives and sold. She was protecting herself from having to live the last ten years in abject poverty, and you could not have learned any skills safely on the outside." Jiang Xiaohe nodded and shed tears of grief.
Ma Zhixian continued, "Eldest Dong's wool shop was closed five or six years ago. He was not able to find new work, so he shook a drum and wandered the alleys as a peddler. He was able still to eke out enough to eat. That brother of yours, Xiaolu, he must be...twelve or thirteen now? The year before last, they had a merchant from Shanxi take him to learn business in Yishi County in Hedong. I hear he's in the grain trade. The merchant's surname is Qu. One letter did come from them last year, but there haven't been any more since. After your mother joined the Dong household, she gave birth to three children: one died, leaving two, a boy and a girl. The older one is named Fuwa, a girl of eight or nine this year. Your mother was quite well off when she got remarried, but then the days became tougher and tougher. Eldest Dong has a terrible temper, so she was sad every day and came down with consumption. She's been ill for more than two years now, and I doubt you will recognize her when you see her. A fortnight ago, she came here and I told her that you had learned the martial arts! And that you would soon return to Zhenba to seek vengeance. She wept and said that she wanted to see you!"
Jiang Xiaohe heard Ma Zhixian's words and couldn't help his tears falling like rain, wetting his two sleeves completely. Li-shi wept as well and said, "Your mother is in such a pitiable state! Don't resent your mother for not caring for you these past dozen years or so! It's all because of that old man Bao who's done you both harm! She was married into the Dong Household, but she still often dreamed of your father. She told me that your father's soul was still in the Southern Mountains, yet to be reborn. He often seeks her in her dreams, begging her for some cold rice!" Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help but burst into a loud wail.
Ma Zhixian shed tears as well and hurriedly waved his hand, saying, "That's unbelievable! Could someone really die and still not be reborn twelve years later? Dreams are the imaginings of the mind. Your mother cannot forget about your father grabbing a bite of cold rice to eat at home before he ran away, and so she often dreams of it." Jiang Xiaohe collected himself and stopped his tears, saying, "May I ask, Uncle, if you could find my mother for me? To allow us, mother and son, to meet." Ma Zhixian said to Li-shi, "Quickly, go now when Eldest Dong is not at home and tell Cousin to hurry over!" Li-shi immediately wiped the chaff from her hands and departed at once. Ma Zhixian pulled an earthenware wine pot from under the table and said, "Xiaohe, wait here. I'm going to the Liu wine shop to get some wine on credit, and then we'll drink!" Jiang Xiaohe quickly fished a silver ingot from his side and said, "I have money, Uncle. Use it to buy the wine!" Ma Zhixian received the silver and walked out with the wine pot in hand.
Jiang Xiaohe stepped outside to the gate and led his horse back into the rear courtyard. He didn't unload his baggage, only pulling from his bundle a stack of banknotes. These notes were still those he had won gambling in Langzhong ten years prior. Because they carried the great mark of the Litong Money Dispensary, they could be used here as well. After waiting a while, Ma Zhixian brought back the wine he'd purchased, along with salt pork and shaobing. He placed them next to the couch and said, "Xiaohe, go ahead and drink! Eat some!" Xiaohe nodded, but he was so nervous about meeting his mother that he hadn't the appetite for anything.
Ma Zhixian drank wine as he conversed with Jiang Xiaohe, and before long, they heard the sound of a woman weeping outside. It was Li-shi, bringing along Jiang Xiaohe's mother, Huang-shi. Upon seeing Xiaohe, Huang-shi embraced him with both arms and cried so hard she nearly couldn't breathe. She said through coughs, "Child, I never thought I'd see you again! My son! ...I'm so sorry! You shouldn't acknowledge me as your mother anymore! Go and avenge your father! The old man Bao, how cruel that heartless old creature was when he murdered your father! Your brother is studying business in Hedong, poor him! But he knows he has a strong older brother. When your revenge is done, you should hurry to Hedong to see him. You...mustn't concern yourself over me! Don't think of me as your mother anymore. I'm sick and I'll die soon enough! After seeing you today, I can pass away peacefully...!" So saying, she had a coughing fit, spit out a mouthful of phlegm, and gasped urgently for breath.
Jiang Xiaohe truly could not bear seeing his mother in such a dismal state. He wept for a moment and forced back his tears, following which he spoke kindly, "Mother! This doesn't have to be! I have fifty taels of silver in notes right now and I'm leaving it for you to use to get better. Don't die yet, Mother. You must wait until my brother and I can fulfill our filial duties to you. Vengeance must be taken!" He grit his teeth in anger and handed the fifty taels in banknotes to Ma Zhixian. He then knelt down on the ground and kowtowed one time each to his mother, to Ma Zhixian and to Li-shi. Afterwards, he stood up and walked outside.
Ma Zhixian chased after him, saying, "Xiaohe, what's the rush? Why don't you speak some more with your mother?" Jiang Xiaohe shook his head and said, "No, I will be back before long!" His face had grown pale, as he led his horse outside with his jaw clenched. Ma Zhixian went after him, calling out, "Xiaohe, I still have some things to tell you!" Jiang Xiaohe mounted his horse, and without looking back, he shook his whip and left. Upon exiting the south gate, he loosed his horse and flew directly to the Bao Homestead at a gallop. There was now not the least bit of sorrow in his heart, but impatience instead. He thought, Even if old man Bao isn't home, that second son of his won't have been able to go far. Bao Zhilin humiliated me excessively back then. When I face him in a short while, I must kill him with a swing of my sword.
The horse was swift and before he knew it, he entered into the Bao Village. In the last twelve years, Jiang Xiaohe's home village had also changed. A majority of the dwellings had crumbling walls and collapsed structures, displaying a destitution that was difficult to fix. There were two elderly people conversing in front of the gates to his old house, neither of whom he recognized. When he came to the entrance of the Bao House, he saw that its prosperity had also fallen off somewhat from before. Because the training grounds in front of the door had not been tidied for many a day, rainwater had already eroded the plaster, giving it a pockmarked and uneven appearance. The crude door that used to lead to the pigpen had been sealed with brick. The walls of the residence had been built higher, and its double doors were shut tightly. By now, Jiang Xiaohe found it hard to bear down his fury, the blaze in his chest threatening to burst out of his mouth and ignite this house in front of him! He leapt off his horse and drew his sword out with a shink. He walked quickly forward and pounded on the door several times with his fist. A man's voice came from inside, asking, "Who is it?" Jiang Xiaohe replied, "It is I!" The man inside asked again, "Who are you? What's your name?" Jiang Xiaohe answered boldly, "My name is Jiang! Open the door!" The man inside neither said anymore nor opened the door.
Jiang Xiaohe took a couple steps back and stood a while with sword in hand. Shortly, he saw someone from inside leap on top of the wall. This man was thirty-four or five years, yellow-faced, and wearing white cloth shirt and pants. He raised the Kunlun saber in his hand and directed a question below, "Why have you come here?" Jiang Xiaohe said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. Go and tell Bao Zhenfei to come see me!" The man on the wall's expression changed with alarm as he said, "There is no one at the Bao House. The old master has been away from here for over two months." Jiang Xiaohe asked, "What are you doing here?" The man said, "I am named Zhang Zhicai. I am the eighteenth disciple of Kunlun. I was told to stay here and look after the house." Jiang Xiaohe noticed this man still had some courage in him, so he said, "Fine. Since you're just looking after the house, I have no quarrel with you. Open the door. I want to take a look inside." Zhang Zhicai stood on the wall and held his saber crosswise, sneering, "Don't be lawless, Jiang Xiaohe. You're searching for someone while carrying a sword. That means you are harboring bad thoughts. If I called out for an officer, we could have you arrested and taken to the yamen at once. Let me tell you now to leave immediately! With me, Zhang Zhicai, here, you'd best forget about breeching the walls of the Bao House!"
When Jiang Xiaohe heard these words, his face turned, and with sword in hand, he jumped up onto the wall. Zhang Zhicai brandished his saber and sent a vicious chop at him. Jiang Xiaohe knocked away his opponent's Kunlun saber with his sword and shot his foot up into the air, sending Zhang Zhicai and his saber thumping and clattering onto the ground outside of the walls with a kick. Jiang Xiaohe jumped into the courtyard and heard a woman's high-pitched scream coming from the northern quarters diagonally across from him. Jiang Xiaohe stopped in his tracks and yelled, "Bao Zhilin, come out here! The Young Sir Jiang has arrived!" Jiang Xiaohe heard a whoosh behind him and quickly turned around and swung his sword. A clang rang out as the sword struck the Kunlun saber. Zhang Zhicai had jumped back inside, and thus the two engaged in close combat.
Zhang Zhicai was a rising talent of the Kunlun School and had put in continuous hard work in recent years. His martial arts now surpassed those of Ge Zhiqiang as well as the Long Brothers. It was thus that he unfolded his saber skill, chopping upward and slicing downward, in a vicious attempt to send Jiang Xiaohe to his death. Jiang Xiaohe was unwilling to harm him and was constantly looking for a way to kick him down again and snatch his saber from him, so he employed his swordwork conservatively and without malice. One could see only glimmers of light as he swept right and blocked right, leaving no openings for Zhang Zhicai's saberwork. However, after five or six exchanges, Jiang Xiaohe became a bit impatient. He swung his sword rapidly and advanced with his body. His first stroke pressed his opponent's saber down, and his second, after tilting his body and pulling back his sword, was a sudden chop downward. His attack came too quickly and Zhang Zhicai had no way to avoid it. His right thigh was instantly wounded by the sword. He tumbled to the ground, bleeding.
Jiang Xiaohe said, "You cannot blame me for this. It was you who came seeking pain!" Zhang Zhicai grit his teeth, bore down his pain and charged at Jiang Xiaohe again to fight to the bitter end. Jiang Xiaohe sent his foot out again and kicked Zhang Zhicai very far away. Jiang Xiaohe picked the saber up off the ground in passing and flung it onto the roof. He then walked towards Bao Zhilin's quarters, armed with his sword, and shouted angrily, "Get yourself out here, Bao Zhilin!" The woman inside screamed again as if she was being murdered. Jiang Xiaohe stopped walking and took a deep breath, before addressing the room, "The woman inside has nothing to fear. I will not harm you, but you must tell Bao Zhilin to come out. Do you remember how you humiliated me before? Your day has arrived, so come on out!"
The woman inside said as she wept, "Xiaohe! Please spare him!" Jiang Xiaohe said, "How can I? When I was little, he treated me as if I wasn't a person, worse than a pig, worse than a dog! I must slay him this day!" So saying, he kicked open the door with a crash and burst inside. The woman ran onto the bed in fright, spread her arms out and screamed sharply. A foot was poking out underneath the bed with a satin shoe on. With a yank, Jiang Xiaohe pulled Bao Zhilin out from under the bed. Bao Zhilin trembled in fear from head to toe and cried out incoherently. He said, "Sir Xiaohe! Please spare me! I used to be a bastard and I deserve to die! But I'd never dare anything like that anymore! Oh no, oh no, mercy! Mercy!"
Jiang Xiaohe had already raised his sword resolutely when he suddenly noticed that though Bao Zhilin's clothes were more elaborate than they had been before, there was a hump on his back. As he crawled upon the floor, he resembled a camel. Against a man as crippled and incapable as this, Jiang Xiaohe was unable to carry out his vicious action and gave him a forceful stomp instead, saying, "Kill you? I would be afraid of befouling my sword!" After being stomped on, Bao Zhilin rubbed his buttocks and moaned ceaselessly. His wife Lü-shi knelt on the bed and bowed over and over to Jiang Xiaohe. Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Do not be afraid. I will never be so cruel to others, but you remember ten years ago, how harshly the Bao father and son treated me!" From the courtyard, though he was too hurt to walk, Zhang Zhicai was still shouting curses toward the room. His insults infuriated Jiang Xiaohe and he headed out of the room. Just as he stepped outside, he saw another person jumping in off the wall. It was Ma Zhixian.
Ma Zhixian's head was covered in sweat and he was gasping for breath. He said, "Xiaohe, you mustn't go too far! The only one who killed your father was Bao Zhenfei. It hasn't anything to do with his family. Hurting anyone but him would be excessive!" Jiang Xiaohe breathed heavily in anger, saying, "Of course I will not harm the innocent. If Zhang Zhicai had not stood in my way and tried to kill me with his Kunlun saber, I would not have wounded him!" Ma Zhixian urged Zhang Zhicai to cease his cursing and went inside. Still on the floor, Bao Zhilin kowtowed to Ma Zhixian and implored him, "Brother Ma, please beg him for leniency. Beg your nephew not to kill me. I was in the wrong before. I deserve to die. I dare not do anything like that again!" Jiang Xiaohe lifted his sword and sneered, "How shameful it would be if I killed someone like you! But you must tell me truthfully, by whose hand was my father murdered?" Bao Zhilin said, "I cannot tell you with any certainty. Some say it was Long Zhiqi, but later Long Zhiqi told people that Jiang Zhisheng was killed by old master Bao himself and that it had nothing to do with him."
Ma Zhixian said, "I believe the old master was very charitable afterward. There's no way he could have killed anyone!" Xiaohe clenched his jaw and said, "Regardless, I cannot allow those two men to live!" So saying, he stomped on Bao Zhilin again and walked outside, fuming.
By now, the wounded Zhang Zhicai was sitting in the courtyard, still scoffing at Jiang Xiaohe, "The one named Jiang, you cannot be too merciless. If you kill our master, in the future someone will avenge the old man!" Ma Zhixian had followed Jiang Xiaohe outside. He said urgently, "Xiaohe, don't go. I still have some things to say to you. When you meet our master, you can just ask him. You must not—" Jiang Xiaohe waved his hand and said, "Uncle, leave it. This is not your concern!" So saying, he leapt over the wall. Once outside, he sheathed his sword, mounted his horse and departed.
When he exited Bao Village, he galloped southward. Before he traveled far, he heard a sound that was extremely delicate and winding. Jiang Xiaohe reined up his horse and turned his head all around. It turned out to be a several girls on a small path amid rice patties behind him, singing a local, popular mountain song. Jiang Xiaohe was dumbfounded, as he turned his body atop his horse for a look. He saw a total of five girls, all dressed in ragged clothes, each hanging a small bamboo basket from her arm. It appeared to Jiang Xiaohe as if Aluan was among them. He gave them a closer look. The five girls were already walking across a makeshift bridge from the small path, tugging on each other, laughing and singing. Some were looking up and some were looking down, but all of them seemed to be quite happy. None of them noticed Jiang Xiaohe sitting on his horse.
Jiang Xiaohe got off his horse and smiled, saying, "You sing beautifully!" The girls were all startled and turned to look at Xiaohe. Xiaohe smiled and walked his horse closer to them. Two of the girls ran off with their baskets in fright. The remaining three didn't move, but their expressions had turned. Jiang Xiaohe spoke very warmly, "Misses, fear not! I have some questions for you. I am from this village as well." The three girls said, "No, you're not. We don't recognize you." Jiang Xiaohe said, "I am originally a man of Bao Village, returning now after having been away for ten years. Let me ask you, the old man with the white beard of the Bao Household—that is, Bao Kunlun—is he living at home right now? Or has he gone elsewhere?"
When the young ladies heard mention of Bao Kunlun, they all seemed to get angry. Two of them said, "Who knows? We are not familiar with him!" The one among them who was a bit older said, "Bao Kunlun hasn't been at his home for a while now, along with his granddaughter. He isn't a good person, though his granddaughter is all right." The two beside her pulled on her and told her not to speak ill of Bao Kunlun, as if any criticism of Bao Kunlun would invite immediate disaster.
Seeing these circumstances, Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help thinking angrily to himself, Bao Kunlun must have remained a terrible man in these ten years, and his disciples must still be running wild. A pang of sorrow struck his heart upon hearing mention of Aluan, so he asked, "Bao Kunlun's granddaughter is Bao Aluan, is she not? What did you mean when you said she was all right? Can you tell me?" Jiang Xiaohe smiled at the girls. The girls came together and held onto each others' hands, as if they were still very suspicious of him. They all glared at him with their little eyes and responded no more. Jiang Xiaohe sighed gloomily and looked about him, like he was searching for something. Once again he felt that since he'd gone away a decade ago, not only had the people appeared to be poorer than before, but the scenery had changed as well. He searched for quite a while before catching sight of the large willow tree to the south by the side of the road. Under the setting sun, its leaves and branches were sparse and dreary, looking like a tree of autumn.
Jiang Xiaohe walked closer with his horse and gave it a careful look. Sure enough, he was right. This was the tree that he had climbed to get Aluan her kite for her. The tree was still so tall, but older and withering. What especially surprised him were a multitude of scars where the tree had been chopped at. It was very clear that these marks had not been made by a woodsman's axe, but by another with a bladed weapon of some sort. He was taken aback. By now, the five girls were walking hand-in-hand in a line by the side of the road, using their eyes to try to slip by Xiaohe, as if they doubted Jiang Xiaohe was a good man. Cautious and vigilant, they were about to run back to the village. Jiang Xiaohe smiled at them again and said to them amiably, "Please don't be afraid! I used to be a child of this village long ago. My name is Jiang Xiaohe. Go back and ask your family. They will likely still remember me."
Upon hearing Jiang Xiaohe say his name, the girls were suddenly astonished and gave him a closer look. They didn't seem to be much afraid anymore as they approached him and surrounded him and his horse. They looked up at him and asked, "You are Jiang Xiaohe?" Jiang Xiaohe nodded and said, "Yes. I left home twelve years ago, and I've just returned now. Most of your fathers are friends that I played together with when I was little." One of the girls jumped up and said, "All the people in the village know you. They say you left the village to look for a someone to teach you martial arts so that you could avenge your father and kill Old Man Bao and Hunchback Bao. They both fear you! That's why Old Man Bao ran away."
Jiang Xiaohe's heart filled with regret, but he smiled and asked, "Do the villagers say good things about me, or bad?" The girls said, "They all say you're good! They all hope for you to come quickly. Old Man Bao, his son and his disciples are very hateful! They do nothing but bully others!" Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help the righteous indignation rising in his heart, as he thought, So the Bao father and son rely on force to mistreat people. I am not the only one to suffer at their hands. I truly must kill them all, for the sake of ridding a great harm to my hometown. Thus, he was about to return immediately to the Bao Village to kill Bao Zhilin.
One of the girls said angrily, "The most hateful one is the dark fatty named Long! He's called the Mountain-moving Tiger, and Old Man Bao protects him the most. He comes often and rides his horse all over the place. Last year they beat Chen Decai until he was paralyzed over land sales! And they don't let people talk about it." Another girl said with a frowning, worried face, "My father's leg is lame because of a beating from Second Long. And then when Old Man Bao asked how it happened. My father told him he'd fallen off of a donkey. He didn't dare say it was the one named Long that caused it!"
Jiang Xiaohe fumed as he stood straighter. After looking into space for a moment, his facial expression paled as he nodded and said, "Go home and tell your parents that without a doubt, I will slay the old man Bao and the Long Brothers to remove this evil for them." He then pointed at the willow and asked, "Who's the one who's been cutting at this tree? Isn't it a good tree to leave for travelers to cool themselves under? Why use a saber to cut it every which way!" The girls said, "It was Old Man Bao's granddaughter, Bao Aluan, that did it. Every day she rides her horse back and forth, and every time she passes this tree, she gives it a chop, and sometimes two or three. She really hates this tree!"
Upon hearing this, a vein burst in Jiang Xiaohe's head. He thought, Ah! So Aluan has hated me all this time? Not only does she hate me, but she hated this tree and she hated what happened when we were children! Since that's the case, what's the point of my thinking of her? Whether she is dead or alive in the Qin Mountains, I should no longer care. He smiled bitterly to himself and mounted his horse. He gave a nod to the girls and then shook his whip and urged his horse on southward. The girls stood and watched as he departed.
Jiang Xiaohe rode farther and farther, as the flames of fury burned in his heart and the bitter humors corroded it. The blood red glow of the sunset clouds shone upon him as he turned beyond the corner of a mountain on the road to Ziyang. To get to Ziyang from the mountains of Zhenba required crossing the Ba Mountains, a distance no more than seventy or eighty miles. Jiang Xiaohe could hurry there in one surge were it not for the fact that it was too late in the day. Also, because the sorrow he had tasted today was exceptionally deep and the provocation he'd suffered was excessively severe, his anger had made him lightheaded and his five viscera felt as if they were about to burst open. So he thought, I need be patient today and find a place to cultivate my spirit. Then I'll head to Ziyang tomorrow and end the lives of the three: Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming. And after that, I will continue my search for Bao Kunlun.
Thus he located an inn in a very small town and walked his horse inside. He untied his baggage and sword and handed his horse over to an attendant to feed. He found a single room, went inside and rested. An attendant brought him a meal and lit his lamp. After Jiang Xiaohe finished his food, he thought the room hot, so he unfastened his chest button. Something abruptly fell from his breast flap. It was the small shoe he'd picked up that day by the mountain stream. He angrily threw it onto the ground and cursed, "Aluan, you thoughtless woman!" He sat fuming on the bed for a while before his mind came back to it. He thought to himself, I am the enemy of her house and she's been without conscience in dealing with me, so should I hate her? That is to say...
Jiang Xiaohe thought back to the three or four meetings they'd had: once on the Ba Bridge, once in Chang'an, and the last one in the Qin Mountains. The moment he found hardest to forget happened that night. He had entered the cave to rescue her and said to her, "Aluan, come with me, quickly!" She replied, weak and dejected, "Where would I go with you? If it weren't for you, I would not have fallen into this place!" When he then pulled her up, she obeyed him without any resistance. When he carried her across the mountain cliffs and put her on a large boulder, she still seemed amenable when she cried... So how could she be an unkind person! She didn't forget the closeness the two of us felt when we were young. It's nothing but the circumstances that have pushed us here. She cannot do anything about it either...! As he thought this, his hatred of Aluan dissipated completely, replaced by sadness. He suspected that Aluan may not have passed away, that she did not die in the mouth of a wild beast, so he wanted immediately to return to the Qin Mountains and look for her again.
He sat in a worried daze and stared at the dim lamp on the wall. He could stop a few tears from falling as he thought, There's nothing to be done! She and I do not share a prior destiny. There must have been some sin or debt unpaid in a former life. It matters not whether she is dead or alive. I will simply never marry for as long as I live! He stepped off the bed, picked the small shoe off the floor and studied it in the light. He could see only that it was red satin and elaborately embroidered with flowers. It may happen that it was done by Aluan's own hand. Jiang Xiaohe couldn't help feeling adoration and appreciation. But then he thought, This isn't right. A man of character must act with resolution! Not to mention that Aluan is already married to Ji Guangjie. Even if Aluan isn't dead, I cannot take her by force. If she really has died, I must find a way to give this shoe to Ji Guangjie. Thereupon, he tucked the embroidered shoe into his baggage, formed the bundle into a pillow, laid onto the bed, and in short while, he fell asleep.
On the following day, when he awoke first thing in the morning, Jiang Xiaohe was radiating with energy, and the hatred in his chest surged. He ate a bit of breakfast, packed his baggage, and readied his horse. Then he paid for his lodging, led his horse out and rode along the Chaoyang Roadway. He had previously traveled to Ziyang with the Xia of Langzhong, and so this road was familiar to him. His horse was very swift, and after riding less than three hours, he arrived in Ziyang. He knew that the Long household's Jingyuan Security Office was on the western edge of the city. He went to the southern edge first, found an inn there and went inside. He instructed the innkeeper not to remove the saddle and blanket, just to give it some water. He himself was going to take care of some matters before returning. The innkeeper agreed, and Jiang Xiaohe took out his sword and walked out of the inn. The innkeeper kept a very close eye on him, but Jiang Xiaohe was calm and collected, not at all like he was under any urgency. He left the southern part of town for the western.
In short time, he arrived at the gates of the Jingyuan Security Office. There was a large bustle outside, with a multitude of stopped wagons and men with the look of security escorts going in and coming out. As Jiang Xiaohe walked inside with his sword at hand, several of the men stood in his way, saying, "Who are you? What's your business here?" Jiang Xiaohe pushed them aside and barged inside. At that moment, he saw a man coming out of the front hall. Jiang Xiaohe recognized him. This man was Jia Zhiming the Wave-shattering Sea Serpent, one of the enemies who had a hand in killing his father. When the Xia of Langzhong came here ten years ago, he was wounded by the Xia of Langzhong's sword. Looking at him now, he could tell his injury had long since healed.
Jiang Xiaohe jumped forward suddenly and grabbed hold of Jia Zhiming with one hand. With his sword in hand, he spat, "The one named Jia, do you still recognize me?" Jia Zhiming was taken aback and widened his eyes, giving Jiang Xiaohe a careful look. He said, "Ah! Jiang Xiaohe!" By now, those around them had snatched up weapons. Jia Zhiming's face paled from fright and he immediately waved them off. Jiang Xiaohe raised his sword and sneered, "I don't care how many of you come at me. I, Jiang Xiaohe, have no fear. If I had come at night, I wouldn't be much of a hero, but I have come now in the light of day, so you may fight me as you want. However, you must know that I have come only for Long Zhiteng, Long Zhiqi and Jia Zhiming. It has nothing to do with anyone else. I do not wish to harm anyone with whom I have no animosity, but if you cannot tell the difference between good and bad, and dare take up arms against my sword, then you are but seeking death!"
These men were all disciples of the Kunlun School and they had not known who this was that had marched in carrying a sword. Upon hearing now that it was Jiang Xiaohe, none dared to advance. They simply fixed their eyes upon him, as if they were trying to figure out the mystery as to why this man had their Kunlun School scared into submission. The color had not returned to Jia Zhiming's face. He stuttered, "S-s-sir...Jiang, do not be hasty. Even if you wish to get your revenge, you must first talk reasonably. I knew the day before last that you were to come and the others all fled. Yet I did not, because I have a clear conscience. Your father Jiang Zhisheng was my brother-disciple. When he broke the rules, old master Bao sent Ma Zhixian to come get the three of us. It was the master's command and I did not dare not to follow it, but I was very uneasy about it. We pursued Jiang Xiaohe into the Northern Mountains, and I swear to the heavens, I did not give him as much as a lash of my whip. When he died, I had even reproached Long Zhiqi, and Long Zhiqi had nearly started a fight with me!"
Jiang Xiaohe glared at him and said, "So it was Long Zhiqi who struck the blow that killed my father?" Jia Zhiming said, "With things in the state that they are, I might as well give you the entire truth. Injustices have perpetrators and debts have creditors. You must not wound others with abandon. That time..." Jia Zhiming stared into space for a moment and then sighed, "That time, the old master had called for us and commanded us to kill Jiang Zhisheng on sight, but this truly did not sit well with me. We searched for him in the Southern Mountains for several days without finding him. Then late one day we heard Bao Zhilin say, 'Jiang Zhisheng crept back to his home and then snuck away again.' So we looked for him in village after village, but found nothing. On the second day, the old master took the three of us to the Northern Mountains in pursuit of him and we caught up with him. Before the old master could open his mouth to speak, Long Zhiteng gave your father a lash with his whip and Long Zhiqi, in his impatience, with his saber..." At this moment, he suddenly saw the deep-blue face and large beard of Long Zhiteng, as he came through the door, carrying a Kunlun saber and bringing with him a band of men. He pointed viciously at Jia Zhiming and cursed, "Jia Zhiming, you have abandoned all virtue. You are afraid of Jiang Xiaohe and now present yourself as blameless!"
Jiang Xiaohe released Jia Zhiming, turned around, and swung his sword at Long Zhiteng. Long Zhiteng brandished his saber and engaged him. The men nearby advanced on him as well. Jia Zhiming yelled urgently, "Men, do not jump into the fray! Jiang Xiaohe, go to Northern Sichuan to find Long Zhiqi. Your father was killed by him alone. Our master did not harm him. Injustices have perpetuators and debts have creditors...!" Before he could finish, he watched as Jiang Xiaohe rampaged about like a ferocious tiger caught among a flock of sheep. Several of the men were cut down by him in an instant. His sword flipped up and flew down, and though Long Zhiteng's body was robust as a bear's and his saber skill was exceptional, before they had fought for ten exchanges, he fell to a vicious slice of Jiang Xiaohe's sword. A few of the men shouted, "A life is lost! Do not let the murderer get away!" Jiang Xiaohe fought his way out of the mob, his body following the glimmer of his sword as he charged outside.
There was a chaotic tumult out on the street now, as men from other security offices and government officers had all come. They all came at Jiang Xiaohe with their weapons to kill him. Jiang Xiaohe could have slain them all without much effort and taken his leave. However, he didn't want to cause more harm than necessary, so right when he came out of the security office gates, he jumped onto a parked mule cart and stepped up onto its cover. The men surrounded the cart and used their long weapons to stab and cut, but Jiang Xiaohe knocked their weapons away with his sword. From the cart cover, he leapt high over the heads of the men and landed on the roof of a building. A few of the men who could jump onto roofs leapt up to try to capture him, but once they drew near, Jiang Xiaohe would parry their weapons with his sword and kick them off the roof with his foot. He kicked four or five of them down in succession, and those that he did kick were then unable to climb back up. Thus, resembling a cougar, Jiang Xiaohe bounded across a great number of roofs and returned to the inn at the southern edge of the city. He dropped off the roof and unhitched his horse from the stable. The innkeeper saw his guest return suddenly by the roof and jumped with alarm, saying, "Oh, oh my! What's going on?" Jiang Xiaohe sheathed his sword and led his horse outside quickly. Once outside, he flew onto his horse and rode directly south. Before riding very far, he began to hear the jumbled sound of hooves behind him. There were ten or more riders chasing after him.
Jiang Xiaohe looked back and cracked a smile. He whipped his horse into a pressing gallop and the horses behind him were unable to keep up. Jiang Xiaohe continued on a dozen or so miles and came to a small brook. He forded the water atop his horse and when he reached the other side, he dismounted and allowed the horse a drink from the brook, as he stood by and looked to the north. He watched as the other riders hurried gradually nearer. Among them were officers wearing hats with red tassels. Thereafter, Jiang Xiaohe mounted his horse again and rode off. There were rice paddies on either side of a small path. He rode down it three or four miles and entered the verdant and endless Ba Mountains ahead. After a while on the mountain road, he came out of the mountains and into the territory of Northern Sichuan, a land he had previously traveled a decade ago. He had many friends here, but the last time he had come, he was but a child fleeing for his life. Now, he was a strapping man of incredible skill, and thus he boldly urged his horse to travel unhurriedly. His aim was first to go to Langzhong to call on the Xia of Langzhong, though he hoped even more that he would be able to encounter one or two familiar people on the way, so that he could task them with finding out the whereabouts of Bao Kunlun and Long Zhiqi.
He went west by way of Tongjiang, and every time he traveled through mountain roads, he hung the golden bell that the Xia of Langzhong had given him on his horse. The common bandits in these mountains did not descend the mountain to greet him with wine, nor did they know that he was Jiang Xiaohe, but when they saw that he was a tall man on a large horse, bold in spirit and traveling alone with a sword, they understood that he was a man of skill and dared not come down the mountain to rob him.
It was the end of summer and the beginning of autumn now in the wide expanse of Northern Sichuan. The weather was still very hot, but the lush trees in the mountains were already starting to turn yellow. Ever since Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong was defeated ten years ago in his fight with Bao Kunlun in Zhenba, he vanished from Jianghu. This being the case, Northern Sichuan no longer had any men who were powerful in the martial arts, and it was as if the place lacked stewardship. The robbers in the mountains increased in number and those who knew a bit of martial arts relied on their strength to bully those weaker in Jianghu, the worst of whom was one named Black Tiger Zhang, who resided in Bazhong. Early on he had learned martial arts from the famed xia in Southern Sichuan, Gao Long the Tiger of Fuzhou, and then later he had encountered the strange xia called the Iron Staff Monk upon Jianghu and learned several days of the iron staff from him. Thereafter he ran unchecked over Jianghu, stopping at nothing, and befriended the bandits of every mountain and the thugs of Jianghu. Thus in six or seven years, he became the "Tyrant of Northern Sichuan." At this moment, however, Northern Sichuan increased its number of brutes by one. It was one of the Three Exemplars of Ziyang: Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger.
Long Zhiqi was the third disciple of Bao Kunlun and Bao Kunlun's only favored disciple. He, Long Zhiteng and Jia Zhiming jointly opened the Jingyuan Security Office in Ziyang, and in the two decades since, not only did they earn the title, "the Three Exemplars of Ziyang," but they had also made a very large fortune. He and his brother separated their households, and by himself he established a number of estates in each of Zhenba, Hanzhong and Ziyang, so he was now a wealthy man. Besides his wife at home, he had several women in other places, and among them the youngest was only sixteen or seventeen. He kept these matters hidden most severely. Only Jia Zhiming knew a little bit of it. He had once threatened Jia Zhiming with a saber, saying, "If you dare tell any of my business to the master, I will first come for your life!" Thus, he and Jia Zhiming did not get along at all. This time, he had been forced to come to Northern Sichuan by Jiang Xiaohe, and he had brought with him seven or eight hundred taels of silver that had been deposited at the Jingyuan Security Office. He did not wish to return to Ziyang, nor did he even desire to keep any of his women. He wanted to come to Northern Sichuan and find new ones. However, in order to establish himself in Northern Sichuan, he needed to first befriend Black Tiger Zhang. This he did not worry about, for he felt he would be able to make friends by presenting him with money.
Long Zhiqi arrived in Northern Sichuan more than half a month before Jiang Xiaohe. He was by himself but very ostentatious. He rode a black horse and wore a blue silk shirt and pants, thin to keep cool in the heat, and a black silk headband. He had originally grown a full beard, but he had shaved it clean off now. His dark, fleshy face was bright, but every now and then gloom would envelope it. Those were the times he thought of Jiang Xiaohe. He often scolded himself, "Jiang Xiaohe, that son of a bitch! I'm not afraid of some scabby-headed child, but my master surely is, so what can be done? Damn it! Had I known it would be like this, I would have sliced into Jiang Zhisheng a few more times in the Northern Mountains ten years ago!" For the entire journey, he had visited brothels, drank wine and gambled. Whenever he encountered a woman who was at least a little bit pretty, he would leer at her and mutter obscenities. He was nothing but a savage. On this day, he was traveling in a place called Riversnail Ridge. The mountain was deep and the road was circuitous, winding and extremely hard to navigate. At times, he was riding at the top of a cliff with a mountain stream thousands of feet below him.
On the road, he encountered a mule carriage and two horses. Because it was hot, the carriage screen was drawn up. Long Zhiqi was riding ahead, and when he took a look back, he saw two women riding inside the carriage. On the outer side sat a matronly woman of forty-some years, while on the inner was a beautiful young married woman, wearing pink silk garments with her hair in a cloud bun and two gold earrings hanging from her ears, glimmering as they whirled. Long Zhiqi reined up his horse. The two men escorting the carriage from behind were both wearing officer's uniforms, quick boots, and sabers at their hips. One of them even held a pipe in his mouth. They were having a leisurely conversation with each other and paid little attention to the dark, fat man riding ahead of them. The women inside the carriage called for the driver to let down the muslin screen, but Long Zhiqi kept his two large eyes fixed upon it. Shortly, the carriage drew near and Long Zhiqi cupped his fist once at each of the two officers, saying, "Fellow brothers, I have lost my way. I am headed for Bazhong. Can I travel this way?"
The two officers together swept their gazes over Long Zhiqi. The one smoking was in his forties. He said, "You could, though you would be going around the long way. What are doing? Are you a security escort?" Long Zhiqi nodded with his large, dark head and said with his brow knit, "What bad luck! Damn it! We were five escorts, traveling from Xi'an to Chengdu, and halfway along the route, I came down with something. The others went on and left me at a decrepit inn in Wanyuan. I laid there for more than ten days and it's my damn luck that I didn't die. Now I must catch up with them. Otherwise, I will be shamed when I return home and lose my livelihood!" The other officer, sallow and slight and in his thirties, laughed, "Fate is not good to you. The season is bad this year in Northern Sichuan. Those who journey in the summer can very easily get sunstroke as well. We have traveled a hundred miles on this trip and already we have seen coffins being carried out of inns in many places."
Long Zhiqi spit on the ground and rode alongside the two officers, conversing with them about idle matters. After some asking, he was able to find out that the ones riding inside the carriage were the wife and household of the Peng'an county magistrate and that the two men were officers for the county government. They were now coming from Xing'an to take the official's family to his appointment. The two officers seemed as if they had long traversed Jianghu. They were extremely familiar with the lay of the land and were not shaken at coming across a stranger who looked as fierce as Long Zhiqi. They only inquired Long Zhiqi about his background. Long Zhiqi said, "I am an escort from the Lishun Security Office in Xi'an." The old of the officers immediately said, "The Lishun Security Office in Xi'an. Is that not the one operated by Ge Zhiqiang the Iron Hegemon of the Golden Saber and the Silver Whip? Brother, are you a part of the Kunlun School?" Hearing this, Long Zhiqi realized that these officers knew everything. He was taken aback and hurriedly replied vaguely, "That's right, but I am not of the Kunlun School. It would be great if I were. Then those other fellows would not have left me behind." The younger of the officers quickly asked for his name, and Long Zhiqi blurted out, "I am Jiang Xiaohe!" The two men did not seem to find what he said disagreeable. They continued conversing and turned across another mountain ridge shaped like a snail, after which the mule carriage in front and the two horses in back began to gain speed, leaving Long Zhiqi behind.
As it turned out, the mountain road ahead was extremely narrow, allowing only one carriage to pass on it, or two horses side-by-side. The two officials appeared to have long figured out that Long Zhiqi's manner was suspicious, so they pressed their horses to go faster. This was because they only needed to pass through this treacherous mountain road and then travel a bit further, before they were able to exit the mountain. Above them were sheer cliffs with trees growing out of them, while below was a deep mountain stream upon which misty clouds fluttered. Not even a single bird was present.
At this moment, Long Zhiqi's cruel heart began to beat, as he urged his horse, clop, clop, to catch up. He said, "Fellow brothers, wait up! Let us ride together, as I do not know the way!" The younger officer rode ahead with the carriage, while the older one humored Long Zhiqi and dropped back to ride alongside him. His horse was on the outer edge of the road and Long Zhiqi rode on the inside. He now had a look of panic on his face, though he still paid Long Zhiqi a smile. He took up his pipe, stuffed it with tobacco and handed it to Long Zhiqi, laughing, "Brother, smoke one why don't you?" Long Zhiqi widened his gaze and gave him an abrupt push with his hand. The officer cried out in terror as he tumbled from his horse down towards the mountain stream. His horse was startled into a stampede. Long Zhiqi's horse began to stampede as well and nearly sent him careering down into the gorge. He immediately jumped off his horse, drew his saber, and caught up with the carriage ahead and with the younger officer.
The officer dismounted his horse and drew his saber as well, engaging him and saying, "Brave bandit, how dare you rob an official's family!" Long Zhiqi glared and said, "Ha, official's family! Those women are mine!" At this, the two sabers clanged against each other as they entered into battle. Long Zhiqi had a ferocious strength, but the officer's martial arts were by no means weak. The two battled on this steep and narrow road for a dozen or so exchanges when Long Zhiqi's left shoulder sustained one from his opponent's saber. He spun his own saber and reengaged, and after several more exchanges, he hacked into the officer and sent him down into the gorge. His shoulder bled as he noticed the mule carriage had already gone surprisingly far away. Long Zhiqi went back to look for his horse. He then mounted it and gave chase, while shouting, "Driver, you son of a bitch, stop the carriage! Do you not value your life?" The carriage promptly came to a stop and the driver jumped off of the carriage. Long Zhiqi caught up with him and brandished the back of his saber, giving the driver two cracks on his lower back. The driver cried out in pain. Long Zhiqi rode to the carriage and tugged open the window screen. The two women inside were pale and frightened out of their wits. Long Zhiqi reached his large hand in, gripped the servant woman, pulled her out and threw her from the carriage. He then reached in again to stroke the hair of the young woman hiding inside. He grinned and said, "Little sister, you belong to me now!" The young woman cried and screamed in fear.
Long Zhiqi's face soured. He climbed into the carriage from his horse, grabbed hold of the young woman and gave her a vicious punch as he yelled, "You whore! How dare you scream! I am Jiang Xiaohe, a hero of renown throughout the world! If a whore like you obeys me, then you will receive no mistreatment from me. But if you dare utter a peep, I will have your life!" He popped out of the carriage again and tossed the large bundle that had been on his horse into the carriage. He opened it, pulled a few tabs of silver out and tapped them together, saying, "Take a look, you slattern! I have silver, so you'll never suffer hardship when you're with me. If you want anything, you'll get it. It is much better than being the wife of some magistrate!" He got out of the carriage and cut down the kneeling servant woman begging for her life with his saber. Then, he pinched the driver's ear, pulled him up and threatened him with his saber, saying, "Get back on the carriage! Let's get going! You listen to me. If the horse slows down even a little bit, I'll kill you immediately with this saber!" How could the driver go against him? He called out, "Oh my, oh my," as he complied with Long Zhiqi.
Long Zhiqi brought his bundle full of silver back to his horse and ripped a strip of cloth from it. He stopped up the bleeding wound on his shoulder and pulled out a purple silk jacket to put on. He impelled the driver to hurry on, putting pressure on him as he rode behind. The young married woman inside the carriage was still sobbing, so Long Zhiqi knocked the carriage window with the back of his saber, threatening, "You are not allowed to cry. Once we get out of these mountains and find an inn, we'll kneel to heaven and earth and get married."
He rode on, pleased with himself, and though his shoulder hurt, he was cheerful in his heart. He thought, It's so much better going to another province. Back at home, when I visit brothels, I'm afraid of the master finding out, not to mention that I have to watch out for that son of a bitch Jiang Xiaohe! Long Zhiqi began cursing him aloud again, forgetting that he had just pretended to be Jiang Xiaohe. He ranted on and on about Jiang Xiaohe as he swiveled his dark, flesh head back and forth, looking in all directions, afraid that someone up high had caught sight of what he'd just done. Yet the peaks here crossed each other in every which way and the lofty ridges went on forever, so he saw not one person. He noticed a trunk on the roof of the carriage and two pieces of baggage, all tied up with rope. He thought, Hot damn! I may have gained a woman and a fortune today. I've got the Peng'an county magistrate's wife and a trunk that might have a few ingots in it. That son of a bitch Jiang Xiaohe has caused me to come upon this fortune. If he had not forced me away, I would not have come to Northern Sichuan. By now the woman in the carriage was too afraid to weep, and the driver often peeked over at Long Zhiqi, as he quivered while steering the carriage.
Long Zhiqi was at ease, so he slipped his saber into its scabbard. However, the wound on his shoulder hurt quite a bit and would not stop bleeding. He cursed the officer he'd sent off the cliff with his saber and then cursed at Jiang Xiaohe. With the rumbling of the carriage wheels and the clopping of the horse's hooves, they turned through another snail-shaped mountain road and the road began to open up. Long Zhiqi widened his eyes and threatened the driver and the woman inside the carriage once more. Before they traveled much farther, he spotted a large company of wagons and riders coming from the other direction. Long Zhiqi's expression changed in alarm, and he quickly said to the woman inside the carriage, "Be watchful for your life! If you make so much as one sound, I'll kill you first before I run!" He reined his horse up and then called for the driver to stop the carriage. When the wagons and riders drew near, he could see that it was a caravan of security wagons with a flag that read, "Langzhong." He was taken aback and thought, It would be bad if the Xia of Langzhong is among their number! He examined them and recognized none among the several security escorts. He put on a mournful face and said, "All of you, do not go any further! There is a bandit ahead! My shoulder was cut with a saber, but luckily I was able to flee quickly!" The security escorts became flustered and said, "Bandits? How many in all?" Long Zhiqi said, "Just one, but he's a vicious one. He announced his name, calling himself Jiang Xiaohe." The escorts in front of him all looked ahead. The one who appeared to be the captain, with a dark face, a large beard and a body thicker than Long Zhiqi's, waved his hand at his men and laughed, "It is no worry! Jiang Xiaohe is an old friend of ours. I have not seen him in over ten years, but if he were to see us, there is no way he would not let us pass. I did him a favor a long time ago." So saying, the big-bearded man proceeded past Long Zhiqi with his wagons.
Long Zhiqi looked back at the wagons to catch sight of another of their flags. On closer inspection, he saw that they belonged to the Fuli Security Office in Langzhong. He couldn't help sucking in a cold breath, thinking, Incredible! Jiang Xiaohe has a reputation in Northern Sichuan and knows a lot of people here. I cannot pretend to be him! He glowered again and spurred the driver to hurry on. As they came to the edge of the mountain a short while later, the driver asked with trepidation, "Good sir! Where shall I take the carriage?" Long Zhiqi did not currently have a set plan. In a moment the mountain would end, the road would widen, and there would be fields, forests, huts and dwellings everywhere. The roadway split here, but either way would have a fair amount of travelers, and this made Long Zhiqi uneasy. He lifted up the carriage screen and peered inside once again. He saw the young woman sitting inside the carriage with her head down and sobbing, as if she was a beautiful woman dead. He now felt things a bit pointless, that he had been muddleheaded back in the mountains just now. He wanted to abandon the woman, but it didn't sit right with him that he should have suffered a saber cut for nothing. At the very least he needed to find a place to have his way with this woman for one night.
He couldn't tell the directions apart, so he pointed left with his hand and hollered, "That way, and keep going!" When he raised his arm, his left shoulder surged with pain. He swung his whip hatefully with his right hand and gave the driver a couple lashes, shouting, "Hurry the hell up! If you slow your pace even a little, I, the Great Second Sir Long, will have your head!" Hearing Long Zhiqi at one moment calling himself Jiang Xiaohe, and then another moment cursing Jiang Xiaohe, and now calling himself the Great Second Sir Long, the driver had simply no idea what sort of brigand Long Zhiqi was. He could do nothing but obey and drive the carriage, and thusly they traveled thirty or forty miles southward.
Upon seeing a city up ahead, Long Zhiqi hollered loudly for the carriage to stop. He swung his horsewhip at the driver, giving him another lash, and yelled, "What are you looking so relieved for? Why are you going towards that city? Are you going to report me to the authorities?" The driver trembled with fear, nearly to the point of tears, and said, "Good sir! Did you not tell me to keep on this way? This road will take us straight to the town of Jiangkou!" Long Zhiqi heard the rumbling of wagons' wheels and turned around to look. Three more wagons were coming up behind him. He glowered and clenched his teeth, saying to the driver, "Quiet! Quiet! Go now!" The driver could only shake his whip and drive the carriage south. Before traveling for long, they arrived at Jiangkou. This was not a small town. Its streets were bustling, just like a small city.
As soon as they entered the streets, Long Zhiqi quickly found an inn and ordered the carriage to hurry inside its gates. He lifted the carriage screen and addressed the interior, "Come out of there!" The young woman inside the carriage still had wet tears staining her face. With her head lowered, she turned her waist and made her way slowly off the carriage. Long Zhiqi did not see until now that this young woman was wearing a green silk skirt under her pink coat and a pair of red embroidered shoes on her very small feet. Long Zhiqi couldn't help but feel elation, forgetting even the pain of the wound on his shoulder. He smiled and reached out to help the woman down, but she knocked his hand away. Long Zhiqi was afraid the innkeeper could see through how they were acting, so he hurriedly hid to one side. The innkeeper found them quarters in the inner yard, and the young woman entered first. Long Zhiqi ordered the driver to move the trunk and baggage off the carriage. One by one, he brought them to their room. Long Zhiqi himself carried his large bundle and saber with his uninjured arm from his horse and entered into the room. Right then the driver was setting the trunk onto the floor and when he saw Long Zhiqi come in, he turned around and left. Long Zhiqi glared at the driver briefly.
At this moment, the young woman was sitting on the simple wooden couch as she shed tears and said to Long Zhiqi anxiously, "You must send me to Peng'an at once! I won't say anything. Or else, I'll scream and when the authorities get a hold of you, you'll be sentenced to death!" Long Zhiqi cracked his big lips in a smile and whispered, "Little sister, do not try to scare me! I have already seen that you are not any sort of premium goods. I, the Great Second Sir Long, have brought you here to elevate you. Do not be tactless and think that the Great Second Sir Long is a bandit. I have two or three large businesses back home, earning me three or four thousand silvers a year. I own over five hectares of farmland and have five or six wives too. Now, the Great Second Sir is involved in a minor squabble with another and so I've come out here to forget about my troubles. For someone like you, I could spend money and buy a hundred of you, but that would not be interesting. Today when I was traveling in the mountains and encountered you, it was serendipity that no one else was there. That's how I knew we were brought together by destiny. Follow the Great Second Sir obediently and you will ensure yourself endless comfort and happiness. If you still cannot forget that fucking magistrate of yours, hn! Then nothing is certain. You can try yourself against my temper, but I would not mess around with this saber of mine!"
So saying, he smiled again and reached out to stroke the young woman's face. As the woman was about to scream, Long Zhiqi's eyes went immediately wide. He was just about to get violent when he abruptly thought of the driver's suspicious manner just now and bolted from the room. He ran to the outer courtyard and saw that the carriage was not yet unloaded, though the driver was nowhere to be seen. Long Zhiqi couldn't help being startled, thinking, That son of a bitch, did he go report me to the authorities? Thus, he ran out of the gate in a panic and stood there, looking this way and that for a while. He suddenly noticed a commotion erupt down the street and saw several men in red-tasseled hats coming this way carrying sabers and staffs in their hands.
Long Zhiqi's face yellowed in fright at once, and he wiped his head and ran. He sprinted back to the room to get his saber, and upon pulling open the door, another dreadful situation shocked him into crying out. It turned out that the young married woman had hanged herself on her kerchief, hooked on a nail in the wall. She was suspended high and taut, her hands and feet still struggling. At this moment Long Zhiqi cared about nothing else but lifting his large bundle onto his back and running outside with his Kunlun saber in hand. Just as he got to the outer yard, before he had time to unhitch his horse, about a dozen officers barged their way in with the carriage driver at the fore, who pointed at Long Zhiqi and said, "That's him!" The officers immediately rushed forward to arrest him, while Long Zhiqi tossed his bundle aside and started brandishing his Kunlun saber at them. In a split second, he'd cut down two or three of the officers and his head had been struck several times by their staffs. He charged wildly through the door, swinging his large saber and took off on foot. The officers behind him shouted for his capture as Long Zhiqi tore down the street like a black bear, cutting down the people in his path! He flew out of the streets, but did not stop. He ran until he could no longer catch his breath before tumbling down into the rice stalks by the side of the road. He took a drink of the muddy water and quickly crawled back up. He gazed into the distance and seeing that the officers had not chased him here, he took several breaths and thought angrily to himself, My money, my clothes, my horse, I left them all at the inn. Is this how it's going to end? It can't be. He wanted to bring his saber back to the town for a massacre and take back his things. But then he thought, That town's too lively with too many people in it. There must be a large yamen there with more than a few officers. If I'm captured by them, I'll lose my head.
That being the case, he didn't dare remain here any longer. He wound his way through the fields to a nearby village where a number of large dogs chased after him, barking erratically. There was a woman working in the fields who cried out in alarm upon seeing him, his body soaked with dirty water and his big head caked with dark mud, staring at her with a large saber in his hand. A man with a hoe came to chase him away. Long Zhiqi had wanted to swing his saber and kill the lot of them, but water had now entered the cut on his shoulder, which pained him enough to make him muddled, and he seemed to have sprained his right foot. His swaying drained him of his courage. He stumbled away, half-running, half-walking, and without knowing how far he'd traveled, he saw another tall mountain range before him. He climbed upwards and found himself a secluded place. He tossed his saber down and collapsed onto the ground after it, cursing, "Fuck! This is all that son of bitch Jiang Xiaohe's fault!"
He laid atop a mountain boulder and rested a while. His body had been bitten in a few places by large ants and the itch was bothering him, so he scratched himself with both his hands. He could move his right hand without any issues, but any movement of his left caused his shoulder bone-piercing pain. It hurt so much he couldn't stop crying out. He thought, If I was at home, I would have medicine to use for this and wives to wait upon me. A small wound like this would heal completely in three or five days. I may die here now and it will all be Jiang Xiaohe's fault. A resentment toward his master resurged in him as he cursed, "That old man! It had been your idea to kill Jiang Zhisheng, and after we did away with him, you actually took in his son. You raised the fucker to adulthood and now that he wants revenge, you're afraid. You've gone into hiding and abandoned me!" After yelling for a little while more, the image of the woman hanging at the inn seemed to drift into his vision. She had likely not died. His thoughts turned to his large bundle of silvers and then more so to that damnable carriage driver. He muttered, "That son of a bitch!" Thus he desired once again to race back to that town and right this wrong. But then he thought, One would need to be capable of roof-jumping. I was quite adept at those skills in earlier days, but I haven't practiced them in many a year. My body's enjoyed its fill of fortune and I can't even jump over a fence anymore.
He thought about this for a bit as his temper grew. It was now already dusk and he was hungry. He thought about where he could steal some money or something to eat or even better, a horse. He descended slowly down the mountain, sometimes going up and sometimes going down as he proceeded under the faint light of the moon and stars. Passing by several villages, he noticed quite a few high walls. The residences behind the high walls belonged to the rich, but he had no way of burgling them. Even the neighboring small dwellings had large dogs keeping guard at night. They would start barking at him before he could draw near. Once a nearby dog started barking, the dogs farther away started barking as well, making it so that not only did he dare not take action, but he also had to hurry away. He walked the entire night and it wasn't until dawn was about to break when he saw yet another tall mountain in front of him. He gazed up at the mountain as he proceeded into it. The mountain was very deep and the roads were very narrow. He found himself a level and secluded area and took a long slumber. When he awoke, the wound on his shoulder did not hurt quite as much. He sharpened his saber, and then stood on high and looked out below, formulating his plans or plunder. It was thus that Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger became a bandit of this mountain.
He hid up on the mountain for three days, robbing only melon pickers and greengrocers. After seizing a bit of money, he found a small hamlet and bought a bowl of rice to eat and a pot of wine to drink, and then he returned to the mountain and slept. It wasn't until the fourth day that he spotted a scholar traveling with a servant on the mountain road. There were a total of two horses upon which were packed bundles and books. Long Zhiqi ran down the mountain and blocked their way. The scholar and his servant were like sheep. Upon seeing this devilish bandit, they panicked and lay prostrate on the ground, begging for mercy. Long Zhiqi jabbed both of them with his saber, not caring whether they lived or died, took one of the horses and left. When he came out of the mountain, he dismounted the horse, tore the books away and opened the bundle for a look. Other than two changes of clothes, there were only a dozen or so taels of silver. After cursing his bad luck, Long Zhiqi took off his dirty, tattered clothing and changed into the stolen garments. However, they were both slender and short, too tight for him to pull on. He could only wear the outer spring silk robe with its buttons undone, exposing his dirty, hairy chest. He inserted his saber through the bundle and rode the horse away. He still did not know the way, nor was he clear on his direction, but he avoided large cities, opting to go from village to village.
After traveling for another day, he rambled his way somewhere. It was getting late and darkness was beginning to enclose. There was a village here, but it was without an inn. He was riding on a stretch of the road that was a narrow path with rice paddies on either side when he suddenly heard the tinkling of bells. Long Zhiqi was taken aback. He thought, No! The sound of a bell, could it be the Xia of Langzhong? If I encounter that son of a bitch, my life will end here! He reined his horse up and waited a moment, looking back and forth like a pheasant. The bell sound grew slowly closer. It was two small donkeys coming from behind him, one in the front and one in the back. The donkey in front was gray and the one behind black, both ridden by women.
Once he saw the women, Long Zhiqi stayed where he was and nearly twisted off his waist as he stared behind him. When the two donkeys drew near, Long Zhiqi yielded the road to them and the two women rode past his horse. He saw that the one in front was an old woman of likely sixty or seventy years, and the one in the back was a young married woman. Even under the fading light of the setting sun, he could tell she was wearing all blue. This woman was even younger than the one he had caused to hang herself and seemed prettier. Malice immediately rose up within Long Zhiqi. The area was isolated and unpeopled and it was now twilight. He wanted very much to violate her now.
The old woman glared at him, but the young woman didn't so much as turn her head. At the same time he noticed her very graceful figure as she urged her little donkey, clop clop, onwards. The bells rang out and he was reminded somewhat of his disciple-niece Aluan. Long Zhiqi puffed out his chest and spurred his horse forward. He kept close behind the two donkeys, a distance of no more than twenty-some paces. He started out singing behind them, a very lewd ditty, and then he went on to talk rubbish. The two women in front of him, however, seemed as if they did not hear him, ignoring him without turning their heads at all. Long Zhiqi then said, "I am Jiang Xiaohe. I have come to Northern Sichuan now to find myself a woman, but I've had awful luck! I can't seem to find any good women!" The young woman ahead still did not turn around, so Long Zhiqi hurried his horse after her. The two riding the donkeys, however, increased their speed as well, making the bells sound more urgent. They rode very quickly and his horse was unable to catch up to them.
Before long, a village appeared before them. It had a low cobblestone wall and only three or four short, thatched huts. When the two donkeys entered the village, a dog started barking, woof woof, as if to welcome back its master. The voice of a young child was heard as he shouted, "Sister, grandma, why are you back so late...?"
The two women, old and young, likely said a few things, but Long Zhiqi couldn't hear it. He remained outside the village and looked for a tree onto which he hitched his horse. He pulled out his saber and eased quietly and slowly toward the village with saber in hand. By now the village was already rather dark. The leaves on several trees rustled. The two donkeys and the dog had been herded within the cobblestone wall. Long Zhiqi walked up to it for a look. The wall itself was short, so when Long Zhiqi stood before it, his head poked out over the top of it and he could look into the inner courtyard. He saw that all the houses were lit with lamps. People's voices clamored from inside and there was an enchanting laughter. Long Zhiqi started to climb over the wall. As soon as his two hands reached the other side of the wall, the dog inside the yard unexpectedly caught sight of him and began to bark, while the lights in the room directly across from him went out suddenly. This alarmed Long Zhiqi and he immediately pulled his head down, but before he could even turn, he heard a whoosh behind him and felt a staff strike him in his lower back. He cried out in pain and quickly turned around and swung his saber. He saw a short person, who appeared to be a child, bobbing and weaving and then swinging his staff at him again.
Long Zhiqi became enraged and slashed his saber at the child. The child dodged it and Long Zhiqi continued after him with his saber. He then saw another person jumping down from the wall with what must have been a sword in their hand. With the sound of the wind, they sent a jab at Long Zhiqi. Long Zhiqi knocked it swiftly off with his saber as a clang rang out. His opponent's sword had been deflected, but they returned with an advance, spun their sword and thrust again at him. Long Zhiqi was about to meet that glimmer with a strong block, but his opponent's sword move felt too quick. Pain surged into his right arm as he dropped his saber and howled. His opponent came in with another whoosh of their blade and sliced him on his waist. He cried out another couple times and fell onto his back. The child did not stop swinging his staff and whacked his head several times over, causing Long Zhiqi to cry out even more. The swordbearer spoke, revealing herself to be the young married woman from before. In a daze, Long Zhiqi heard her say, "Brother, stop hitting him. Let's go back!" After a while, when it seemed as though the sister and brother had already returned to their house, another man came out and pulled Long Zhiqi by his legs like he was a dead dog. He dragged him out of the village and left him there.
Long Zhiqi was in so much pain he passed out, and when he came to much later, he found himself laying supine on the ground. The sky was full of constellations and it was placid all around, not one person in sight. Long Zhiqi felt immense pain in his arm and his waist. He cursed himself, "How blind I was! To provoke a harridan such as that. Now what am I to do? I'm not worried about dying out here, but if I am caught by the authorities tomorrow, that would be a grave injustice!" He then added, "Jiang Xiaohe, you son of a bitch!" He bore the pain and crawled on the ground a few paces, when he heard the sound of a horse winnowing. He was reminded that his horse was still tied to a tree. Expending a lot of energy, he crawled and rolled himself to his horse. With a tree as his support, he stood up and untied the horse with his unwounded arm. As he groaned in pain, he heaved himself onto the horse and straddled it. With his good hand holding tightly onto the reins, he set off atop the horse. His battered body teetered forward as he was about to faint again, but fearing for his life, he could do nothing but endure.
He moaned loudly in pain all along the way. He had no idea how far the horse had gone by the time he arrived at a town. The town appeared rather large with many buildings. He was afraid of being found guilty of crimes here, but he could truly not continue on. At this time there was a night patrolman in the street who knocked his clapper together three times. Still atop his horse, Long Zhiqi began shouting for help. The patrolman rushed over and held onto his horse, asking, "What's the matter?" Long Zhiqi moaned, "I encountered bandits, oooh! There are wounds all over my body. Please save me! Help me find an inn! I cannot even get off my horse!"
Because he was shouting on a quiet street at night, some of the nosier people opened their doors and held lamps out to see what was going on. Long Zhiqi shouted for help again and repeated that he had encountered bandits, one of which had been a woman, and that he'd been cut three times. The bystanders asked him where he ran into the bandits, but he was unable to give them a clear place, and when others tried to question him, he would just start moaning loudly. Because of this sudden commotion occurring on the street in the middle of the night, even the local officers had come. Upon seeing the officers, Long Zhiqi pretended he was in so much pain he couldn't speak. At the officers' suggestion, he was carried to an inn, and a kindhearted person had medicine for lacerations delivered to him.
Thus Long Zhiqi laid on a plank bed with a crowd of people attending to him. Some of them tsked and sighed, saying, "This is exactly what one fears will happen when one leaves home!" Others conjectured about the bandits, saying, "There are no violent people around here! And the female bandit is even stranger! I've never heard of a woman thief before." Long Zhiqi laid prone and askew upon the bed, groaning, afraid he'd be recognized even with that large, full face of his. He cursed to himself, Fuck! What are you all jabbering on about! Get the hell out of here and let me rest!
The people chattered about for a while before dispersing, leaving Long Zhiqi to himself in the room. It was then that Long Zhiqi felt as if he had gotten away with his life intact, but then he thought, It is not safe here. For one, a large town has a numerous and mixed populace. Second, not far from here is the fucking place where I committed a crime and was shit upon. If an officer were to find out, they would certainly take me to the yamen without letting my wounds heal. He moaned the whole night in fear, yet his wicked heart felt not the least bit of regret. He was furious and in intense pain and he silently cursed and condemned Jiang Xiaohe, hoping Jiang Xiaohe had suffered injuries as heavy as his.
He stayed in this place for four or five days. Luckily no one had pieced together that he was a murderous bandit. At the inn, other than his wounds and the worries on his mind, everything else was actually quite comfortable, and thus he gradually grew bold again. On this day Long Zhiqi asked the innkeeper to call in someone who could write. He laid on the bed and dictated to the person and the person wrote his words down. When the letter was finished, he entrusted it to the innkeeper, saying, "If you encounter anyone heading to Hanzhong, have them take my letter to the Jingyuan Security Office in Ziyang and tell my men to bring some silvers with them when they come to get me. When the man with the letter gets to Ziyang, he will be recompensed thirty taels of silver. It's all very clearly stated in the letter. In half a month when my men come, other than the fee for food and lodging, I'll give you some extra money. But you must tell the man with the letter not to take it out anywhere before he reaches Ziyang and he must not mention that I am here. I have an enemy and he is a bandit. If that bandit finds me, I will live no more."
After another two or three days, the innkeeper had a merchant traveling to Southern Shaanxi take the letter that Long Zhiqi wrote. Long Zhiqi remained here recovering, afraid even to leave his room. In his baggage he had the twenty or so taels of silver he stole, and he had the horse which he had given to the innkeeper as a deposit. The innkeeper had food sent up to him on a schedule, but Long Zhiqi had the guilty conscience of a criminal and was constantly afraid officers would come and arrest him, or that the young woman from the little village would come to kill him. He was especially afraid that Jiang Xiaohe had followed him to Northern Sichuan! And so, whenever there was any movement outside his room, Long Zhiqi would feel alarm and apprehension.
On this day, right after he had finished his midday meal, he laid on his bed feeling very nervous. He thought, I've been here five or six days now and my wounds haven't healed up. Laying in this room every day, afraid to see anyone, is causing me anxiety! He was pounding the bed with his fist and sighing again and again when he suddenly heard someone saying loudly outside, "Zhiqi!" Long Zhiqi shuddered in fear, thinking it was someone come to snatch him away, and he reached over for his saber. However, there was nothing to take up. He remembered that he had no weapons at his side. He heard the person in the courtyard speaking with the innkeeper. Long Zhiqi sat up and tilted his ear outward to listen. He could only hear that the voice had an aged air to it, and the more he listened, the more familiar it became. He poked a hole in the paper window and peeked out of it with one eye.
There was a man holding a horse in the courtyard, tall, with a distinguished silver beard. It was his master Bao Zhenfei. Long Zhiqi was elated at seeing him, thinking, With the master here, I fear no one. But then he became afraid because he thought about his actions lately, all of which violated the rules of the Kunlun School. His master must have heard about his conduct while traveling and came to find him to lop his head off! Thus, Long Zhiqi was terrified and dared not make a single sound. He laid down on the bed, closed his eyes, and stiffly pretended to be asleep.
By now the old fighting master had already gotten his answers from the innkeeper in the courtyard and found out that the man staying in this room was surnamed Long, that he had arrived here a few days prior, and that he'd been gravely injured by bandits, so he had remained in his bed up to this point. The old master pulled open the door and entered the room, calling out again, "Zhiqi!" Long Zhiqi was so distressed his heart pounded in his chest. He wanted to roll out of the bed onto his knees and bed his master not to kill him. He thought, I have kidnapped a wench and pursued another young married woman, but I gained nothing from it. In fact, I lost a large bundle of silvers and sustained two cuts!
Before he could say any of this, he heard the old master Bao say, "Zhiqi! Wake up. I've come! Let me take a look at the condition of your wounds." Strange, his tone is kind and warm. Long Zhiqi also felt as if his master wasn't here for his life. He put on the act of moaning and opened his shifty eyes a little. Upon seeing his master, he pretended to be taken aback and said, "Oh! Master...!"
He was about to get off the bed and pay his respects, but old master Bao stopped him, saying, "Lay down. Don't move. Let me look at your wounds!" Long Zhiqi showed his master the wounds on his arm, his waist, and even his shoulder, and then burst into tears, saying, "Master! It's all over for our Kunlun School! We've been forced away from our homes and we've got nowhere to go. I came into Northern Sichuan to escape with my life, but I didn't know, shit..." He stopped here and hurriedly changed his tack, "Master! It was a near thing, we may not have seen each other again!"
Old master Bao sighed and then uttered not a word. He stood straight with his sturdy body, wore a face as purple as a pig's liver, and his silver beard stood, whisker by whisker, on end. He carried this expression for a while and then abruptly sneered. It was a terrifying sneer and it frightened Long Zhiqi so much his body went cold. The old master Bao then asked, "What kind of bandit could harm you so? You have learned the martial arts from me for many years and indeed you are the most outstanding of my disciples. Whence comes this inability? That allowed another to wound you? Where did you toss away all the martial arts you learned from me?" Long Zhiqi was unable to answer. It was a while before he came up with an idea. He thought, It would be wrong for everything to end here, to have the truth exposed before I've had a chance to heal. When that happens, even if the authorities don't come and arrest me, the master will demand my life. My best option is to get as far away from here as possible!
Thus, Long Zhiqi said, "Master! Take me with you to somewhere far away and let us hide! It may be best to secrete ourselves in Southern Sichuan or the lands of Hubei. This place is no good! Jiang Xiaohe followed me here. I acquired these wounds from him! I dared not reveal how I had been injured, except to say that bandits had done it. We cannot afford to provoke Jiang Xiaohe, for he has many friends in Northern Sichuan. Master, let us go into hiding far from here!" Having said this, he expected his master's face to pale in alarm or even to faint in shock, whereby they would leave. However, to his surprise, old master Bao was not the same as he had been. With the uttering of Jiang Xiaohe's name, his face grew an even angrier purple and his eyes widened as he asked, "Did Jiang Xiaohe mention me to you?" Long Zhiqi said, "No, he only cursed, saying only that were he to find you, master, he would certainly—" The old master Bao was so furious he stamped his leg with a crash that sounded like an iron post hitting the ground. He pounded his chest with a fist and shouted, "Jiang Xiaohe! You have gone too far in mistreating me! I escaped to Northern Sichuan and he has followed me here. Does he really think that I, Bao Kunlun, am afraid of him? I am not old. I do not fear him! Have him come!"
Long Zhiqi didn't know what was going on with his master. He quickly sat up and said, "Master, do not get angry!"
Old master Bao waved his hand and settled down a bit, but he was still breathing loudly as he said, "Zhiqi! You may not know, but though I killed his father, I treated Jiang Xiaohe quite well. When he was living with me ten years ago, I could have very easily gotten rid of him. Otherwise, would I have let him live until now and learn enough martial arts to threaten me?" He huffed and then continued, "It was simply that I wanted to be a good person then. I didn't want to be as willful and impulsive as I'd been in my younger years, so I left this root of ruin to grow! He's forced my family apart, causing Aluan to be hastily married to Ji Guangjie, and now I know not whether either of them are alive or dead. As a man of my advanced years hiding in the Shanyin Valley at the home of He Tiesong, I suffered much silent protest from his descendants. In the end I could not stay there and I wandered alone to Sichuan. You may not know that when I departed, Lu Zhizhong accompanied me halfway. If it had been up to him, he would still be with me, saying that he wanted to look after me upon this journal. I gave him a piece of my mind before he left me." He sighed, "After he went away, I truly wept for a whole day. I have been a hero my entire life, but in my old age I have arrived at this point. It is too much of a pity!"
When he got to here, he quickly regained his spirit, saying, "However, when I arrived in Northern Sichuan, I realized I was not old at all. Zhiqi, you can see that I'm not old, can't you? My saberwork remains very skilled. When I crossed the Jinniu Gorge, I encountered over thirty young and sturdy bandits. They tried to rob me. I tried to befriend them, but they didn't understand, so I lost my temper and started fighting them. In the end, I wounded about a dozen of them and routed them. At the Balue Pass, I ran into another band, numbering fifty or sixty with a young man leading it. Tall and strong, he employed the long spear and called himself the Black Diamond. When I declared my name as Bao Kunlun, they laughed that I was the old craven creature who was frightened of Jiang Xiaohe. I was enraged and after four or five exchanges, I killed that brigand. Afterward, I fought back dozens of bandits, pushing through a thick enclosure of them. I did not suffer even a little injury and I had energy to spare. It was then that I knew, I, Bao Kunlun, am not old and my martial arts are anything but weak!" Long Zhiqi watched as his master smiled with exultation and expressed an air of confidence, much like he had gone back thirty years.
The old master Bao continued, "I grasp now that my dread and anxiety these past ten years wasn't because I feared Jiang Xiaohe, but actually Jiang Xiaohe's master. If Jiang Xiaohe really did come find me, I would summon up the courage to take him on, though I have little idea who would emerge the victor! I should reveal myself. If I did, none of you would suffer mistreatment any longer. When I arrived in Tongjiang County, I wanted to return to Chang'an in search of Jiang Xiaohe. However, I unexpectedly encountered a merchant on his way to Hanzhong and discovered that you were stranded here, so I hurried here to see you. Things are very good now that Jiang Xiaohe has come to Northern Sichuan. I need not look for him any longer. I'll wait for him and when we meet, we will determine who lives and who dies!" He erupted into hearty laughter and then addressed Long Zhiqi, "Worry not and allow your wounds to heal up. Watch your master. Though I am elderly, I will do things that will surprise people and let Jianghu know that it is not over for the Kunlun School!"
When he finished, the old fighting master took large steps out of the room and hollered for the innkeeper to give him a single room and to feed his big brown horse. Holding onto a sizable and heavy bundle under one arm, and carrying his Kunlun saber in one hand, he went to room and threw his things onto the bed. He then stroked his beard and stood for a moment before he struck his chest proudly and left his room. With large strides, he exited the inn and proceeded boldly into town. He was like a tiger, at times knocking into other people on purpose. After walking for a while, he found a tavern, uncovered his chest and loudly ordered wine. He picked up the pot of wine and drank it down in big gulps. Bao Kunlun hadn't felt this sort of exhilaration since he traveled upon Jianghu forty years ago. At that time, he would fight at a glare of his eyes and injure men with every swing of his saber. Presently, this old fighting master of seventy years recovered the mischief of his youth.
The old master spent his days looking for Jiang Xiaohe in various places. Long Zhiqi laid in his room every day troubled and on edge. He wasn't afraid of Jiang Xiaohe, because he hadn't heard that Jiang Xiaohe had come to Northern Sichuan. He was simply afraid because of the wicked deeds he'd committed: kidnapping an official's wife, forcing people to their deaths, engaging in murderous banditry, and climbing a wall with the intention of taking liberties with a young married woman. All those incidents occurred not far from here, and if the tiniest rumor reached his master's ears, it would be the end for him. Especially since the master was so fearsome right now! Thus, Long Zhiqi would talk to his master daily, urging the old master to take him away from here, but the old master paid him no heed.
They stayed here for another four days without the master discovering the whereabouts of Jiang Xiaohe. Because he was full of vigor, he had gotten into a couple fights at the tavern with local ruffians. Those ruffians were all in their twenties, rugged and sturdy, some carrying flails and others pronged batons, but with barely a lift of his leg, the old master sent them sprawling onto the floor, unable to get up. The flails and batons would all snap in two when they reached the old master's hands and then he would thump his chest and declare his name. There were a few security offices in this town, and when the security escorts heard that Bao Kunlun, the man who defeated the Xia of Langzhong ten years ago, had come here, they all went to pay him a visit.
When the old master Bao met these men, he was actually quite modest, saying, "I hadn't been in Sichuan for twenty years, but because my enemy Jiang Xiaohe has gone too far now, I could tolerate it no more, so I came to Sichuan simply to look for him. We must decide who lives and who dies!" The local escorts said, "I know of this man named Jiang Xiaohe, but I've heard nothing of his arrival in Northern Sichuan." The old master scoffed and said, "He is acquainted with the Xia of Langzhong. He will come sooner or later, so I will wait for him here. I have a disciple, Long Zhiqi the Mountain-Moving Tiger, who was wounded by him on Riversnail Ridge, but the injury was not grave. He'll be completely healed in a matter of days." Thereafter the security escorts went to the room Long Zhiqi was staying in to ask after him. Long Zhiqi leaned his face into the pillow, afraid that someone might recognize him. These escorts were here but to improve their relationship with the Kunlun School and so paid little attention to Long Zhiqi's appearance. They would never have thought that the man lying in the bed was the murderous bandit upon which a serious bounty had been placed in several nearby locales.
After the security escorts left, Long Zhiqi's body was trembling. He said to the old master Bao, "Master, have you heard where Jiang Xiaohe might have gone?" The old master shook his head and said, "Jiang Xiaohe is a nameless nobody. Not very many know who he is. I want to see the Xia of Langzhong, firstly to ask him where Jiang Xiaohe is. And then I'll tell him that when I fight Jiang Xiaohe this time, he mustn't be helping the one named Jiang behind my back!" Long Zhiqi heard this and said, "Yes, yes, I think Jiang Xiaohe must be in Langzhong now. Master, let us leave here tomorrow morning." The old master furrowed his brow and said, "But your wounds are not yet healed!" Long Zhiqi quickly sat up and got out of the bed, saying, "It's fine now. The wound on my waist is as good as healed neither my shoulder nor arm are impediments to travel. Master, I do not wish to remain here any longer!" The old fighting master looked over Long Zhiqi's wounds again and nodded, "All right! If you can walk then let us depart the first thing tomorrow morning. The good thing is you are merely accompanying me. Regardless of whether we encounter Jiang Xiaohe or if I engage in combat with the Xia of Langzhong once more, there is no need for you to intervene, not that your intervention would be of any use."
Upon hearing this Long Zhiqi couldn't help but be pleased, but he still had some concerns. He said, "But, Master! When we arrive in Langzhong, you must go to meet the Xia of Langzhong on your own! I will continue to Chengdu to see Li Dacheng the Tiger of Emei. I cannot meet the Xia of Langzhong. He hates me even more severely than Jiang Xiaohe hates you, Master!" Old master Bao mulled it over and then nodded, "Get a good night's rest tonight, so that we can hurry off tomorrow!" Long Zhiqi agreed. Old master Bao returned to his room. There, he stared at his single lamp for a while. He then gave a long sigh and went to sleep.
Long Zhiqi woke up very early the following day. The sky was still dark. He hastily had an inn attendant feed and prepare his horse while he went to wake his master. The old master Bao got up as well, went into the courtyard and looked up at the stars in the morning sky. He extended both his arms and then ran through a sequence of fists and kicks. Long Zhiqi watched from the side and saw that while his master's body was a bit fat and not as flexible anymore, his falling hands and rising feet displayed real skill in all respects.
Long Zhiqi felt a bit of an itch in his hands and feet as well and he thought to himself, When I travel with the master, I will have his protection the length of the journey, but it still wouldn't do not to have my own weapon! Thus he walked over and said to his master, "Master, my saber was lost as well. Look at my clothes. They're too skinny and too short because they're not mine. A scholar on the road took pity on me and give me these. My own clothes were covered in blood and mud and beyond ruined. When I departed from Ziyang, I brought with me a dozen changes of clothes and five hundred taels of silver, all of it stolen by Jiang Xiaohe!" The old master couldn't help but crack a sneer, saying, "Jiang Xiaohe has proved to be Jiang Zhisheng's son after all. His father was a lecher, and he is a thief. Both of them are rubbish that deserve to be killed with our Kunlun sabers!" Hearing his master say these vicious words through gritted teeth, Long Zhiqi was so alarmed, he felt a chill on his neck and his face turned yellow.
The old master then nodded, saying, "Let us first depart. We shall find a good bladesmith on the road and purchase you a fellow. You've become so accustomed to the Kunlun saber, you aren't able to use any other fellow. We'll get you some clothes on the way as well." Long Zhiqi assented to it all. By now the attendants had readied the two horses and secured their baggage to them. The old master settled the inn fee, and then the two walked their horses through the gate together.
As soon as they went through the gate, Long Zhiqi looked this way and that continuously as his heart began to pound again. Additionally, because he had been laying in bed for so many days, he was unable even to mount his horse. The old master Bao felt bad for his disciple, so he lent him a hand, whereupon Long Zhiqi finally got onto his horse. When they left the town, they headed west, planning first to go to Yilong County. Langzhong was just on the other side of Yilong, a distance of about a hundred and ten miles. The old master did not wish to travel too quickly, but Long Zhiqi was extremely hurried. Not only was he hurried, he was also on edge. There were many people on the road and Long Zhiqi's eyes shifted left and right constantly. He would pass ahead of every person that he came to, never traveling beside any of them.
The old master was miffed at the sight of this, hollering, "Zhiqi! What's the rush? We have no urgent business in Langzhong, so why must you ride so quickly? Wouldn't it be better to enjoy the views along this road? I feel as if I am young again. All those years spent at home drained me of all my fight. I was anxious except when I was praying to Buddha. The Southern and Northern Mountains of our Zhenba appeared older and older to me with each passing day. Now, look how clear and bright this autumn day is, how verdant these mountains are, how lovely this water is! Look over there how nice that flock of sheep is at the bottom of that hill! This view looks straight out of a painting. Thirty or forty years ago, when I traversed Jianghu, I would deliberately climb to the top of a mountain to sleep and jump into the rivers to bathe." The old master's smiled radiantly as he spoke, as if he was not only happy, but also a bit crazy.
The other people traveling the road saw this tall and large old man speaking loudly and they turned their attention to him. They drew near and chatted with him. There was one who filled a pipe with tobacco for him, but the old master waved it off and said, "I don't smoke! In my life, I have yet to become grizzled. My wife died when I was in my thirties and I have never become close to another woman since. I have never smoked and I never drink too much, so my body is in good condition. I am now over seventy, but I am like I was when I was in my twenties!"
The other travelers all said, "Old man, your body truly is robust and you are overflowing with energy. Might we ask what business the old sir is in? And where might you be heading now?" Old master Bao laughed and said, "I conceal nothing from those present. I am Bao Kunlun of Zhenba. I trust you all know of me. I am currently traveling with my disciple Long Zhiqi..." Here, the old master pointed at Long Zhiqi with his whip and the crowd of travelers all turned their gazes toward Long Zhiqi's face. Long Zhiqi desired to crawl into his horse's buttocks to hide. The old master smiled calmly, saying, "The two of us, master and disciple, are headed for Langzhong with no particular business than to visit a friend of ours!"
When the old master Bao declared his own and Long Zhiqi's names, he'd expected the people to be surprised, or at the very least to throw some flattery his way, "Oh my! So it is the old fighting master! It is an honor to finally meet you!" He hadn't thought that outside of paying close attention to Long Zhiqi's large, dark face, they continued to converse with him as if they'd never heard of "Bao Kunlun." There was only one young merchant who complimented him, "If that's the case, brother, you must be a seasoned veteran of Jianghu." Another said, "Old sir, are you in the security business? Are you going to Langzhong to call on Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God?" When old master Bao heard this, he couldn't help growing angry, saying, "Jiao Dechun is a nobody. Would he be worth a visit for me?" He sighed to himself, It is no wonder the Kunlun School has often suffered harassment at the hands of whippersnappers in recent years. No one knows the name of Bao Kunlun any longer! My poor disciples! They have not gained anything from being my disciples, and I've in fact dragged them down with me! He grew furious at once and puffed out his chest, thinking proudly, I must face Jiang Xiaohe! I must wrestle back the good name of Kunlun! He sat annoyed on his horse and stared ahead, thinking. The other people tried to continue the conversation, but he failed to acknowledge them much.
After riding another thirty some miles west on the road, they spotted five or six wagons turning off from a side road, accompanied by a dozen or so riders. The people they were traveling alongside all reined in their horses very quickly. The old master was taken aback and spurred his horse onwards. The people behind him called to him, "You'd best not continue on, old man! Let them have the road!" The old master said, "What for? They're coming from the north and heading west. They're not coming this way, so what use is yielding the way for them?" One of the people rode forward and held onto the old master's arm, saying, "Good sir, how can a man of such advanced age as you not know trouble when he sees it? Did you not catch sight of the wagons? They had black flags with white writing. Those are the wagons of the Great Sir Zhang of Bazhong. It doesn't matter who you are, you must avoid him. If you were to pass their wagons on your horse, you'd find yourself with a fight on your hands!" Old master Bao was astonished, saying, "Where in Northern Sichuan did this Great Sir Zhang come from, a man with such influence?"
Long Zhiqi seemed to feel both nervous and delighted. From atop his horse, he leaned his head in and said, "Sir Zhang of Bazhong is Black Tiger Zhang. His household is wealthy and his martial arts were passed down from both the Tiger of Fuzhou and the Iron Staff Monk. Since the Xia of Langzhong's withdrawal ten years ago, he has counted as the number one hero in Northern Sichuan. Master, we must befriend him. He has the clout to help us against Jiang Xiaohe." The old master nodded and said, "All right. Since we've encountered such a man, I'm interested in seeing what kind of person this Black Tiger Zhang is!" So saying, he swung his whip and spurred his horse on. The horse's hooves galloped as if flying, and he soon caught up with the last row of Black Tiger Zhang's caravan. Long Zhiqi followed after him and all the faces of the crowd of travelers behind them turned instantly. None of them dared to come forward with them. They said, "That old man no longer wants to live. Can he withstand such a beating?"
The old master Bao had spurred his horse past all the wagons by now, which were accompanied by a dozen or so horses. Atop the horses were all sturdily built men in their twenties with sabers hanging from their saddles. When they saw old master Bao's horse coming, they blocked the road with three or four of their horses. They all scowled and asked angrily, "What are you rushing blindly for, you old bastard?" Being yelled at, the old master's face turned purple and he glowered back at them, "You have no right to open your mouths and curse at others! I am headed west on pressing business!" The three men said, "Even if you have pressing business, you must ride behind our caravan. Not speaking of you, even if it were government messengers with an urgent letter from the inspector-general's office, they wouldn't dare ride their horses ahead of ours!" So saying, the three rode at him with their arms held out, originally intending to push the old master off his horse. However, they had not expected the old master to be built like a mass of pig iron, remaining steady and unmoved on his horse. The old man grew furious and swung both of his arms and in fact knocked the three young men off their horses.
Right then, a clamor of human sounds arose. The wagons all stopped and the horses surrounded the old master on all sides. Every one of the riders pulled out their sabers. Long Zhiqi had not yet reached the vicinity, and upon seeing his master getting into trouble, he was so taken aback he hurriedly peeled his horse away and started riding back. The travelers behind them were all watching intently. They saw the old master Bao remaining calm and composed. He unsheathed the Kunlun saber from beside his saddle and waved it around but once. Its glimmer forced the crowd around him to back up. The old master's face was purple as a liver. He glared with eyes wide open and stroked his silver beard, declaring loudly, "Friends, allow me to bid you a greeting. I have been told that this caravan of yours is led by Black Tiger Zhang of Bazhong. I have not come to Northern Sichuan in recent years, but I have somewhat heard the name of Black Tiger Zhang. Now, I invite Black Tiger Zhang to come out and meet me!"
A man in his thirties, bald and wearing satin clothes, stood boldly atop the shaft of a large wagon. He was short, sturdy and lean with a dark face. He beat his chest and said, "I am Black Tiger Zhang! Old man, open your eyes and look at me, for I am the Great Sir Black Tiger Zhang!" Old master Bao stared at him and said, "Good. So you are Black Tiger Zhang. I am old and do not wish to provoke you. Tell your men to open a path and allow me to proceed!"
Upon hearing this, Black Tiger Zhang could not help chuckling coldly, saying, "You make it sound so easy! You didn't make your way over here until you saw the flags on our wagons, with the intent to provoke. You deliberately looked down on me, the Great Sir Zhang, when you pushed a few of my brothers off their horses. And now you say you just want to proceed? Ha ha ha! Is there anything so convenient in this world? You old bastard! Tell us your name first. I would like to hear what road an old wretch like you stumbled from. Then, Sir Zhang will teach you a lesson!" Old master Bao pointed his saber at him and said, "Black Tiger Zhang, you ought to keep your cursing to yourself. When I say my name you'd best stand steady. Go to Langzhong and ask Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong, for he knows who I am. My name is Bao and I am called Bao Zhenfei, though in the last fifty years, those of Jianghu refer to me as Bao Kunlun!"
When the old master declared his name, Black Tiger Zhang didn't change his expression much, but the men surrounding the old master withdrew several paces. Black Tiger Zhang scoffed audibly and said, "Well then I have looked forward to meeting you! So you are Bao Kunlun. Let us speak some courtesies then! Had I heard your name ten years ago, I might have been quaking in my boots. But now, brother, it's over for you. The Kunlun School was sent down by Jiang Xiaohe with one swift kick! Brother, you likely fled over here because you couldn't stay any longer in Zhenba, am I right?"
Hearing his words, old master Bao was both embarrassed and indignant. He brandished the Kunlun saber, spurred his horse and charged at the wagon. With a swoosh, Black Tiger Zhang leapt off the wagon, took a metal staff out of the hands of one of his men, and swung it upward at the old master on top of his horse. The old master quickly turned his horse away to evade. The ten or twenty men nearby, some on horses and some on foot, swung their sabers and attacked the old master. Black Tiger Zhang raised his staff high and yelled, "Step back, all of you! Do we need everyone to defeat this unfortunate old man?" Upon shouting this, his men all backed away immediately. The road was wide, so when they stepped back, they left a large space. Old master Bao dismounted his horse. When he did so, his body had the appearance of being fat and not flexible at all. Black Tiger Zhang couldn't help but scoff again as he held onto his staff with both hands. He put himself in a fighting stance and looked up at Bao Zhenfei and said, "Come on! I will battle you today, Bao Kunlun, and when I triumph, it'll mean I have triumph over your Kunlun School!"
Bao Zhenfei was entirely at ease. The purple in his face had faded and all that was left was a sort of calmness. He cheerfully rolled his sleeves up and then advanced with a swing of his saber. Black Tiger Zhang caught sight of his opponent's fierce attack and quickly sent his staff down to suppress the Kunlun saber. He then turned his staff forcefully and lunged forward, swinging the staff up with both hands. The walnut-thick metal staff carried the wind with it as it swept toward Bao Zhenfei's head. Bao Zhenfei didn't dodge, but instead turned his wrist to meet the staff with the back of his saber. A very loud clang rang out as the saber and staff crashed into each other. It was nothing to Bao Zhenfei, as he raised up his large Kunlun saber. Black Tiger Zhang pulled his staff back swiftly, though the clash had numbed his wrists. He could help but take a couple steps back, but fearing an appearance of weakness, he took a breath and unleashed with his staff, again from above to below.
The old master parried with his saber, but Black Tiger Zhang suddenly changed his attack, leaning to the side and bringing the staff down low, sweeping at the old master's legs. The old master hopped back quickly and stuck his saber into the ground, blocking Black Tiger Zhang's staff. Black Tiger Zhang instantly shook his staff and leapt up, viciously aiming for the old master's back. The old master whipped around and turned the staff away with his Kunlun saber. The old master did not give any more concessions. He loosed his saberwork and sprang forward with his weapon, while Black Tiger Zhang moved his staff to meet him. All one could see or hear were the glare of the saber under the sun and the whoosh of the staff.
The two fought for about ten more exchanges before Black Tiger Zhang could no longer keep up, whereupon he withdrew his staff and ran. It only took two or three steps for the old master to catch up with him. He swung his Kunlun saber and, smack, Black Tiger Zhang fell to the ground. The old master moved forward quickly and took hold of Black Tiger Zhang. At this all of Black Tiger Zhang's underlings were in a panic. Some stepped back, while others swung their sabers and advanced on the old master. However, when they saw the old master holding onto Black Tiger Zhang with both his large arms, they dared not attack for fear of causing their leader harm. However, the old master had no intention of killing Black Tiger Zhang. He had struck him with the back of his saber and had used only twenty or thirty percent of his strength. In addition, he'd targeted Black Tiger Zhang in a non-critical area. He lifted Black Tiger Zhang up and smiled, saying, "My apologies! I was too rash! But though you were defeated at my hand, I do admire you. Truth be told, when I defeated the Xia of Langzhong ten years ago, I did not expend as much energy as I did today."
Black Tiger Zhang was in pain so that his face resembled the burning papers used in heating up opium, his beads of sweat the size of soybeans rolling down from his forehead. He first waved his hand to hold back his men, and then he said, "You have my admiration! Although, old fighting master Bao, if your martial arts are so good, why do you fear Jiang Xiaohe?" The old master stood in thought as his face turned red-purple again, and then he laughed bitterly, "I will tell you another time. For now, you should lay down and take a rest!" He noticed a canopied wagon nearby and laid Black Tiger Zhang inside of it. Then he cupped his fist at the rest of the men and smiled, "My apologies, everyone!"
Black Tiger Zhang's men were all seeping with anger, but having seen that old master Bao's martial arts were too powerful and having been ordered by Black Tiger Zhang not to attack, none of them were inclined to make trouble for themselves. Thus, with pained looks on their faces, they went to check on the condition of their Great Sir Zhang's injuries. In one of the wagons were two young women who came out to offer comfort to Black Tiger Zhang. The old master took a few steps back. At this time, Long Zhiqi, his vigor restored, spurred his horse and rode over. The old master bent down, picked his Kunlun saber off the ground, and looked at Long Zhiqi, smiling with pleasure. He put his saber away and with one hand holding on to his horse and the other stroking his silver beard, he asked one of the wagon drivers, "Where are you all heading?" Realizing the old master was talking to him, the driver acted as if a tiger was directing its gaping maw at him. Not only was he afraid to reply, but he also hid behind a mule. Long Zhiqi's eyes widened and he said, "What about my master's question? Where are you going? Answer now!" The old master waved his hand and said, "Don't be rude!"
At this time, assisted by the two young women, Black Tiger Zhang sat up in the wagon and had someone call the old master over to speak. The old master handed his horse over to Long Zhiqi and walked over, his hands bare. He smiled at Black Tiger Zhang and asked, "How are your wounds?" Black Tiger Zhang shook his head and said, "It's nothing serious, elder one. Had we not fought today, we would not know each other. I would like us to become friends." Upon hearing this, the old master beamed and said, "The thing that I, Bao Zhenfei, like to do most in life is to make friends. Brother, as long as you do not turn your back to me, then I, Bao Zhenfei, am more than willing to be an elder brother to you." Black Tiger Zhang laughed and cupped his fist, saying, "Very good! We were headed to Yilong county today. Two of my friends are in Yilong: Liu Jie the Eighteen-foot Spear and Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God. We had plans to bring our three families together and then make our way to Mount Emei to offer incense. Now that the two of us have met and my shoulder has suffered a bit of misfortune, I no longer have much interest in Mount Emei. Brother Bao, if you do not have urgent business elsewhere, why don't we go to Yilong county for a visit? I'll introduce you to those two friends and we'll linger there for a few days and talk of friendship."
It had been Bao Zhenfei's intention right then to make friends with a few of the heroes in Northern Sichuan, so this delighted him quite a bit. He nodded and said, "That is precisely what I had in mind. I also have a few matters that I could use your help with!" Thus, Bao Zhenfei went back and mounted his horse. Long Zhiqi couldn't help but sneak looks at the young women waiting upon Black Tiger Zhang, thinking, What good fortune this youngster Black Tiger Zhang has. I just have the worst luck right now. On this jaunt into Northern Sichuan, not only have I lost all my possessions and suffered injury all over my body, but I also have my master here keeping me on a leash! That fucking Jiang Xiaohe! The old master called Long Zhiqi over again and introduced him to Black Tiger Zhang and the others. When Black Tiger Zhang heard the name of Long Zhiqi, he spoke the words, "It is an honor to meet you," but didn't pay him much other attention. He told his two concubines to return to their wagon, and then with a brush of his hand, he ordered his caravan to set off toward the west.
Some of Black Tiger Zhang's men conversed with Bao Zhenfei, but some continued frowning and throwing him side glances coldly, looking as if they did not accept him. Long Zhiqi was rather unhappy, secretly saying to the old man Bao, "Master! Is it necessary for us to travel alongside them? These men are all bandits." Bao Zhenfei shook his head lightly and said, "You do not know, but there is a purpose to this. Not to mention, though these men are not very good, they are certainly not bandits." They traveled west together. The travelers behind them had seen the might of the old master, and now were all looking ahead intently. Because Bao Zhenfei was tall and sturdily-built, and his horse was large, when compared to those around him, he appeared just like a crane among a flock of chickens, or a tiger among a herd of sheep.
After riding about twenty miles west, they came to Yilong city. Black Tiger Zhang ordered the caravan to make its first stop at the Chengxing Rice Shop in the eastern part of town. The Chengxing Rice Shop had been opened by Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God. Ten years ago, Jiang Cheng was nothing but a ruffian who could barely scratch together enough to feed himself. The time he spent in the household of the Xia of Langzhong, he was little more than a servant. He had not been very content there. Because he had been engaging in an illicit affair with Jiao Dechun the Golden-armored God's wife Luna, he had suffered a beating from Jiang Xiaohe. As a result of this, when Jiang Xiaohe later came to the home of Xu Lin to ask him to be his master and Xu Lin had him practice with the iron staff, Jiang Cheng used the opportunity to humiliate him. Because of that, Xu Lin could countenance him no longer, and then gave Jiang Cheng a whipping and drove him out.
Jiang Cheng wandered Jianghu for ten years and lived a life not far from that of a thief. It was only because his appearance was pleasant that he received the favor of quite a few women. In Yilong, the wife of a wealthy merchant fell in love with him, and because the merchant was doing business in other provinces throughout the year, he was too busy to take care of much of his household estate. Thus, Jiang Cheng took advantage of the situation and slowly took it over. At first, the wealthy merchant's family and able friends fought him over it, but Jiang Cheng had sworn brotherhood with Yilong's Liu Jie the Eighteen-foot Spear. Not only was Liu Jie a moneyed member of the aristocracy and a local strongman, but he was a hero with fame equal to that of Black Tiger Zhang. Jiang Cheng borrowed his influence to forcibly take the wife of the wealthy merchant and all of his property. He had even become friends with the local authorities, who called him "Third Sir Jiang."
Now, he saw Black Tiger Zhang arrive, and though there were many wagons and horses, Black Tiger Zhang himself was in rough condition, as he was helped inside by two men. One of the men was an old man of tall stature, and the other was a bloodied man with a fat, dark face, a sinister appearance, twisted arms, a slanted back, and old-fashioned clothes. He couldn't help but stare. Black Tiger Zhang said, "My good Third Jiang, I have brought you two new friends. They are new to me as well, but you have certainly long heard their names." He referred to the old master Bao and said, "This gentleman is Bao Kunlun of Zhenba, and that is the Mountain-moving Tiger of Ziyang." Upon hearing this, Jiang Cheng immediately jumped with a start, saying, "Oh my! It is truly an honor to meet you at last!" Thereafter he ordered men to take care of the horses. A flurry of activity instantly erupted within the rice shop. Black Tiger Zhang's women excused themselves to the inner quarters where the houses were very spacious. Some of the horses and wagons were taken to the stables, and others were sent to nearby inns. The men brought by Black Tiger Zhang went off with Jiang Cheng's hired thugs to drink and make merry.
Jiang Cheng brought Black Tiger Zhang, Bao Zhenfei and Long Zhiqi into a large, bright and airy room, where servants offered them tea. Black Tiger Zhang leaned in a large chair, half sitting and half lying down. Jiang Cheng was taken aback and couldn't stop taking measure of Bao Zhenfei with his eyes. Bao Zhenfei was extremely friendly and polite and refered to both Black Tiger Zhang and Jiang Cheng as "good brother." Jiang Cheng said, "Sometimes we must fight to get to know one another. For over ten years, I've admired your great name, good brother Bao, but if you had not fought with Second Brother Zhang, he would not have invited you here, and I would not have had the chance the meet you! But all is good now, brother. Both of you, master and disciple, should stay some time in my humble abode, so we can become close friends!" Bao Zhenfei said, "As long as you are all unwavering, I, Bao Zhenfei, would feel great honor in this." Long Zhiqi had always seen his master being arrogant and self-important, but watching as he was being so courteous to these two younger Jianghu figures now made him very unhappy, so he pursed his lips, closed his eyes, and thought of some women that he had held in his memory.
Right then, Black Tiger Zhang suddenly pounded the table and said loudly, "Brother Bao, when I met you today, I experienced you first-hand. Undoubtedly, your Kunlun saber is more than a match for the steel whip of my master, the Tiger of Fuzhou, and the iron staff of my master, the Iron Staff Monk. However, some days ago, I heard someone from Chang'an say that you were backed into a corner by Jiang Xiaohe alone, with nowhere to go, and that your fifty or sixty capable disciples if not killed were all wounded. Your honorable granddaughter is a xia herself and I hear the man you married her to, Ji Guangjie, has martial arts greater than that of the Xia of Langzhong, yet neither can defeat Jiang Xiaohe. Does that youngster Jiang Xiaohe truly have three heads, six arms and seventy-two hands? Is he able to use the Sky-shattering Seal and employ the Demon-binding Rope?" Facing these questions, Bao Zhenfei couldn't help feeling a myriad of mixed emotions and was at a loss for words.
Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God scoffed, "Jiang Xiaohe... I came to know him ten years ago and we fought then. His saberwork consisted of wild swings. What skills did that take? He addressed the three iron bars at the Xia of Langzhong's home as father, but the iron bars didn't let him pick them up. The two of us have a bit of an old grudge. Sooner or later we will meet and I intend on giving it to him!" Old master Bao furrowed his brow a little and said, "The Jiang Xiaohe of today is unlike the coarse, brutish child he once was! I have yet to meet him again, but I know the master he trained under. Even if Jiang Xiaohe learned ten or twenty percent of his master's martial arts, then we're..."
Bao Zhenfei stopped here and couldn't help but sigh gravely. He then perked up again and said, "Brother Zhang, just now you asked why I feared Jiang Xiaohe, but to tell you the truth, I do not fear him, but his master. His master is a frail scholar, already very old thirty or forty years ago, though now he must be even more so. No one knows this man's name, but there is no one who does not fear his martial arts. Forty years ago, there were only two heroes in Jianghu: one was the Dragon of Shu, and the other was the Xia of Longmen. I was not yet a person of note then, but both the Dragon of Shu and the Xia of Longmen suffered great losses at the hands of that man. They traveled across Jianghu unhindered their entire lives with no one able to match them, but once they heard that that man was coming, they were immediately like rabbits seeing a hound's shadow, hastily on the escape!"
Black Tiger Zhang was entranced by this story. Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God, however, laughed, "Brother Bao, you must have it wrong! Jiang Xiaohe begged the Xia of Langzhong to accept him as a disciple. The Xia of Langzhong refused and purposefully used those iron bars to make things difficult for him. Why would an old xia of such caliber then take him in? Are you sure these aren't all just lies upon lies told to scare you, old brother? Yesterday, I heard Jiang Xiaohe had indeed come to Northern Sichuan. He plundered the entire way. He murdered two officers on Riversnail Ridge and robbed the Peng'an county magistrate. He was a bold little fellow, going so far as to stay at an inn after having kidnapped the magistrate's wife, pretending they were a married couple. He ended up causing the magistrate's wife to kill herself by hanging..."
Hearing this, Long Zhiqi couldn't stop his heart from pounding, boom, boom, like a drum. Jiang Cheng continued, "The innkeeper reported him to the officials, and when they came, Jiang Xiaohe was caught in a bind and fled, suffering a couple baton strokes to his head. That cretin, I hear he's become dark and fat now and grown a full beard!" Long Zhiqi was so frightened he wanted to flee, but crack like thunder, Bao Zhenfei slammed the table with his hammer-like fist. Long Zhiqi cried out in alarm, and Bao Zhenfei stared directly at him and said, "Zhiqi..."
Long Zhiqi trembled with fear and squeaked out an acknowledgement. Bao Zhenfei let out a frightening, bitter laugh. Long Zhiqi knew that his master could see right through him and was about to strike him dead. He was so panicked his face turned green and his legs went soft. Had he not been sitting in a chair, he would certainly crumble to the floor paralyzed. But after Bao Zhenfei's bitter laugh, he said, "Zhiqi, do you remember Jiang Zhisheng's heartless and immoral acts back then? Who would have thought that his son Jiang Xiaohe would be even more depraved than him with such horrible behavior? I had felt great regret after I killed Jiang Zhisheng, so even though I knew perfectly well Jiang Xiaohe would be a cause of ruin, I could not bear to harm him. I did not expect that he would now know martial arts and not only stand against us, but also perpetuate indiscriminate wickedness throughout Jianghu. Do not say that it's because I, Bao Zhenfei, have personal enmity with him, as even if I didn't, I would be called to righteous action to rid the world of this acolyte of violence and depravity!" A chill ran up Long Zhiqi's spine, but he was relieved at the knowledge that his master did not suspect that the bad things he thought Jiang Xiaohe had done were actually done by him.
Bao Zhenfei once again bowed deeply towards Black Tiger Zhang and Jiang Cheng and said, "I, Bao Zhenfei, have come to this place because I was forced to by Jiang Xiaohe, but it is also high time I left Hanzhong and decided life and death against him. Since he has become so hateful, if he does not seek me out, then I will go looking for him. However, I am old now and though this is disciple is my proudest, you can see the wounds on his body have not yet healed. Those were inflicted by Jiang Xiaohe in a fight some days ago. With only the two of us, we are decidedly not a match for Jiang Xiaohe, so we can only ask you now for your help. Both of you are renowned exemplars in Northern Sichuan, paragons of righteousness in Jianghu. I do not believe that you can sit and watch as a degenerate outlaw rampages his way through here. Gentlemen, if you're able to help me eliminate Jiang Xiaohe, leave the murder charge for me to deal with. You can consider the men of our Kunlun School your nephew-disciples. In the future, you may both travel through Hanzhong and Chang'an as you wish."
Jiang Cheng interrupted Bao Zhenfei, "Brother, no need to be so formal. Jiang Xiaohe is your enemy, so he is ours as well. With us here, would we let him continue west? How could we allow him to escape into Sichuan?" Black Tiger Zhang spoke excitedly, "Third brother, send someone out to get our eldest brother, and then we'll discuss how best to deal with Jiang Xiaohe." Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God immediately called for someone to invite their eldest sworn brother Liu Jie the Eighteen-foot Spear, while at the same time ordering others to prepare food and wine.
At this, the old master said, "I think it should be that there are as many men here as possible. Jiang Xiaohe trained under his master for several years, so he must know some special tricks. It would be best if we could invite Master Gao the Tiger of Fuzhou, as well as the Iron Staff Monk and the Xia of Langzhong." Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God said, "Old Master Gao is living in seclusion now and will certainly not care about such worldly matters. And I hear the Iron Staff Monk is currently in Sichuan, but it would not be worth his time to call on such powerful man to fight but one Jiang Xiaohe. As for the Xu Lin the Xia of Langzhong, we should pay him even less mind, for he is an enemy to our brother." Bao Zhenfei said, "I'd heard the Xia of Langzhong was content to stay at home for the last ten years. I would have thought it unlikely he would have offended you."
Jiang Cheng said, "He does keep to himself, but his son Xu Yanyun is the most hateful of all, constantly setting himself against my brother!" Bao Zhenfei then asked, "How are this Xu Yanyun's martial arts?" Jiang Cheng said, "Not bad. His swordwork might even be a bit better than his father's. He's in his twenties, about the same age as Jiang Xiaohe. His temperament is even more arrogant than the Xia of Langzhong. In addition, the woman he's married to is the granddaughter of the Dragon of Shu, named Qin Xiaoxian, with a sword unmatched even by her grandfather. She often rides a small, black donkey and causes trouble out in the world!"
Long Zhiqi's face turned green in alarm once more at the mention that the Xia of Langzhong's daughter-in-law rides a small, black donkey. He thought back to his encounter a few days ago in the small village under twilight and was struck with fear. Bao Zhenfei twirled his white beard as he sat in deep thought. At the mention of the Xia of Langzhong's son and daughter-in-law, Jiang Cheng and Black Tiger Zhang looked just like Bao Zhenfei at the mention of Jiang Xiaohe, their eyes opened wide and their faces pale, as if filled partly with hatred and partly with fear. Both of them sat in silence. At this time, the sound of people clamored from outside, for Liu Jie the Eighteen-foot Spear had arrived.
Liu Jie was a tall, haughty man who wore opulent clothing. Upon meeting Bao Zhenfei, Bao Zhenfei smiled and nodded at him. He nodded but very slightly in return and ignored Long Zhiqi completely. By now, the men in Jiang Cheng's employ had served up the food and wine and everyone yielded their seats to one another in succession, with Liu Jie ending up at the head of the table and Bao Zhenfei in the second seat next to him. No one cared at all about Long Zhiqi.
Long Zhiqi thought it uninteresting, so he excused himself and left the room. In the courtyard, he encountered men who all laughed at the sight of him. They seemed to find humor in his large, dark, bearded head paired with the too-small and too-short scholar's clothes he wore. Long Zhiqi became upset and walked out of the gate. He stamped his foot heavily and started walking down the street. He dared not yet walk quickly, because when he took large steps, his arm, shoulder and back all hurt as if a saber was digging into them. He also felt like everyone else walking on the road was looking at him, so he entered a tavern. This particular tavern was full of people and a great many of them roared with laughter, saying, "He's come! He's come! Look, this is the top disciple of the Kunlun School!" These were all Black Tiger Zhang and Jiang Cheng's men. They all knew a few martial arts moves and they were all local thugs. They were all ridiculing Long Zhiqi, but Long Zhiqi thought they were paying him a compliment, so he cupped his fist enthusiastically at the group of men, exhaling loudly with his eyebrows lifted.
One of the men pulled up a stool and invited him to sit, asking him, "Third Sir Jiang is hosting dinner at his place with good food and good wine. Why aren't you there getting any of it?" Long Zhiqi shook his large head and pursed his lips, saying, "Who wants to eat with them? My master calls them brother and leave me to be called nephew-disciple. How the fuck can I be satisfied with that? I, Long Zhiqi, am one of Bao Zhenfei's top disciples. I am now in my forties and have operated the Jingyuan Security Office for over ten years. I am considered the second of the famed Three Exemplars of Ziyang and I have sparred with Northern Sichuan's Xia of Langzhong. But now in Northern Sichuan I've become one of the lesser figures. Who the fuck can swallow that shit!" The men all erupted in laughter. One of them said, "You should not worry yet. You are merely below the level of Second Sir Zhang and Third Sir Jiang. When the Tiger of Fuzhou and the Iron Staff Monk get here, you'll be a grandson!" Long Zhiqi immediately slammed the table with his fist and pounded the floor with his feet, cursing to himself, "It's all because of that son of a bitch Jiang Xiaohe. Otherwise who would come here and suffer these indignities?" As the other cracked jokes, Long Zhiqi spoke of his reputation and then cursed Jiang Xiaohe again.
There was a fellow patron beside them who paid them some attention. He was a man around forty years, also with dark facial features. He was taller than Long Zhiqi, but much thinner, wearing very plain clothes. His eyes, however, were very bright. Upon hearing mention of Jiang Xiaohe, he paid even closer attention. At this point, a local man, likely one of Jiang Cheng's, poured a cup of wine for Long Zhiqi, saying, "Friend, stop cursing Jiang Xiaohe, and fearing him. Drink this wine first and build up your courage. Let me tell you something. Jiang Xiaohe wouldn't dare come to Yilong, because he acted as a thief on Riversnail Ridge. He robbed from the Peng'an county magistrate, and it's become a very serious case. Official documents have arrived in this county, I just heard Sir Feng from the yamen say." Long Zhiqi had just accepted the wine cup when he heard this. He was so alarmed his hand started shaking and he spilled the wine all over a man wearing green. The man turned around and slapped him, yelling, "Are you fucking blind, you dirty bum?"
The man's slap hit Long Zhiqi right on the wound on his arm and he grimaced with pain. He was about to blow his top and start a fight when he suddenly noticed the nearby, dark-faced patron quickly stand up and said, "Hey! Friends, let's not speak irresponsibly. Jiang Xiaohe is a brother to me. He is a great hero. If you say that he blocked a road and robbed someone, I might believe you, but if you say he robbed the family of some county magistrate, well, if you had proof, I'd even go to court in his stead. There is no way my brother would so such a thing!" All the men were astonished. There were two who seemed to recognize him and they came over and encouraged him to sit down, "Old Wu, why involve yourself? You haven't seen Jiang Xiaohe in over ten years, and you were never great friends with him to begin with. Why should you fight this grievance?"
The man they called Old Wu seemed to be a bit drunk already. He raised his head and widened his eyes and said, "What do you mean we weren't great friends? Jiang Xiaohe and I are brothers in adversity. Ten years ago, I told him to enter the Green Woods, but he refused. And now you're telling me he's robbing officials' families? This is nothing but some damned bastard son of a bitch committing a crime and framing him for it!"
Upon hearing the one called Wu's insults, Long Zhiqi became angry. Taking advantage of the fact that Wu appeared thin and weak, he walked over and took a swing at Wu. The one called Wu grabbed onto him and they started struggling. Long Zhiqi was strong, but he was injured and couldn't move very well, so after a few moments, he was pushed over by Wu. With a crash, his head knocked into a wine pot and his feet fell under a chair. Some of the nearby men clapped and laughed, while others said, "You're fine! Get back up and fight!" At this time, some of the more upstanding tavern patrons slipped away.
The tavern's proprietor stood on a bench and waved his arms, in an attempt to stop the fight. Long Zhiqi cursed angrily, crawled up and tore the proprietor off the bench with one hand. He lifted the bench and swung it at the one named Wu. Wu himself took a chair up to meet it. Crack, crack, crack, the two wooden instruments crashed into each other until the bench was missing a leg and the chair's back had shattered. Wu seized the opportunity to swipe a wine pot off a table and aimed it at Long Zhiqi's face. Long Zhiqi tried to dodge it but failed, as the wine pot smashed into his dark, fat face and promptly caused his nose to bleed. Long Zhiqi became as if frenzied and rushed into the kitchen. He took up the tavern's butcher knife and went flying at Wu. To his surprise, he hit the wrong mark, instead striking the head of a bald man. It was a man who had arrived with Black Tiger Zhang. Blood sprayed from his head as he pulled a glimmering dagger from his waist, charged at Long Zhiqi and yelled, "You stupid crook, are you blind?"
Long Zhiqi hurried backwards, while others stepped up to hold back the man with the dagger. The tavern immediately erupted into a greater commotion, the sounds of fighting and mediating making it even noisier. The one named Wu leapt out of the tavern and when outside pounded his chest. He yelled loudly at Long Zhiqi, who was still inside, "The one called Long! Go back and get Bao Kunlun. If you are real men then wait for me in Yilong. I guarantee that I will find my brother Jiang Xiaohe within ten days' time, and when that happens, we will have another contest. If you are tough, then do not leave, but if you are worthless men, then get the hell out of here! Wait for me, boy!" Long Zhiqi cursed loudly from inside the tavern. He made to bound out of the tavern as well, but the men nearby grabbed hold of both his arms tightly. There was not much of a problem for his right arm, but the grip on his left was unbearable. It hurt so much he begged for them to release his arm.
By now the one named Wu had already left and the man who'd been wounded in error was being kept back by other men. Long Zhiqi went over with clasped hands and apologized a few times. The man threw another few curses at him before he put his dagger away. The clamor in the tavern had dissipated a bit, but the tables, chairs, benches and other items were all scattered this way and that.
Long Zhiqi sat down on a bench to catch his breath and wiped his nosebleed with his sleeve. He asked, "Who is that one named Wu? Does he really know Jiang Xiaohe? Do you all know him?" Someone replied, "That man's name is Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther."
Long Zhiqi frowned and spat, "An insignificant nobody!" A man nearby said, "But he does have somewhat of a reputation in Northern Sichuan. He was previously a man of the Green Woods. He'd been the boss on Trunk Mountain. Ten years ago, Jiang Xiaohe was not much more than a child. When he drifted into Northern Sichuan, he had no idea what was up and what was down and likely acted as a bandit for a few days on Trunk Mountain. It was there that he came to know Wu Jinbiao the Black Panther. Since the crackdown on Trunk Mountain, Wu Jinbiao was captured and served seven years in prison. He underwent every kind of punishment, but he grit his teeth tightly and admitted only to being a man kidnapped by bandits, never that he himself was a bandit, eventually outlasting the criminal charge. He was finally released last year and wandered everywhere. Although he never broke the law again, he would often cheat at gambling. Because he had struggled his way out of prison, the men of Jianghu all respected him, calling him a good man, so he was never short of food or clothing. As a result of Jiang Xiaohe's reputation growing in recent days, he's been talking big wherever he goes, going on about how he and Jiang Xiaohe did this and that ten years ago and developed a deep friendship. He's even said that he has previously saved Jiang Xiaohe's life."
Upon hearing this, a chill crawled up Long Zhiqi's spine. Some others nearby said, "Fear not, Old Long. So what if Jiang Xiaohe comes? First of all, you have with you Eldest Sir Liu, Second Sir Zhang and Third Sir Jiang, not to mention all us brothers. We'll be able to fight him off. Second, it will be a perfect time for him to come. With all the crimes he committed on Riversnail Ridge, the officials will be here to capture him!" Long Zhiqi felt another chill. He sat and breathed heavily before feigning anger, saying, "I'm not afraid! If I do not wait here for Jiang Xiaohe, then I am not a good man!" He stood up casually and headed for the door. The tavern's proprietor came over and said, "Good sir, everything here is ruined. What's to be done about it?"
Long Zhiqi glared at him and said, "Are you asking for compensation from me? The one named Wu's run away. You ought to chase him down. If I have to pay for it, the money should come from both of us!" As he was being unreasonable, two officers suddenly came inside. Long Zhiqi's expression changed immediately with alarm. He quickly took a couple steps back and put his hand on a bench, ready to resist the officers. However, it seemed the two officers had not come to arrest him. They entered simply to ask the people inside some questions, inquiring as to the cause of the fight that had just occurred. They looked over the wounds of Long Zhiqi and the man who had been accidentally hurt and then departed.
After the two officers left, Long Zhiqi's panicked heart relaxed a little. He thought, I cannot cause any trouble right now. On one hand, I am wounded and cannot defeat anyone else. On the other, with the crimes committed on Riversnail Ridge, if they find out that the dark, fat-faced Jiang Xiaohe is actually me, that would be much too much for me. I need to go frighten my master and convince him to leave quickly and take me with him! Thus, he scrounged up a small piece of silver, gave it to the tavern proprietor, and considered the matter taken care of. He bowed twice to the bald man whom he had made bleed with a knife and said, "Brother! It was all my mistake! Just now, the one called Wu had me so furious I couldn't see straight. I grabbed the knife so that I could chop at him, but who would have thought? I don't know what happened, but I swung the knife and hit you right on the head, brother!"
The man's handkerchief was stained completely red and parts of his face remained covered in blood. He said indignantly, "Stop your blathering, little one! Now I know your Kunlun School! I know you, Long Zhiqi the Mountain-moving Tiger! It turns out that you're a stupid, fucking idiot!" Long Zhiqi didn't dare respond to these insults. He cupped his fist at the men present and left the tavern. He held his head down and resisted his anger, as he grumbled to himself about his bad luck and ran back to Jiang Cheng the Motley Star God's rice shop.