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Demi Gods & Semi Devils Book 2: Shrouding Screen in Suzhou
XV - In the forest of apricots, discussing the meaning of life
Chinese title: 天龍八部 - 杏子林中 商略平生义Original novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha)
Wuxia Novel Fan Translation by Ren woxing @spcnet
Chapter 15: Within the Apricot Forest, Discussing One’s True History
This person was carrying five cloth bags on his back; he was a Five-bagged Disciple of the Beggars Clan. He ran away extremely frantically. It was obvious that he was the one who transmitted the false order and tricked Elder Xiang aboard the boat. The Skill-instructing Elder and the Law Enforcing Elder each let out a sigh, not saying a word. Suddenly, with the flicker of a shadow, someone rushed forward and blocked the fleeing Five-Bagged Beggar. This person’s face was red and vigorous, and he wielded a demon-headed saber. It was Elder Wu. In a fierce voice, he said, “Liu Zhuzhuang, why are you running away?”
The Five-Bagged Beggar said in a trembling voice, “I… I… I…” He said the word ‘I’ six or seven times, unable to say anything else.
Elder Wu said, “As we are disciples of the Beggars Clan, we must follow our ancestor’s laws. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. When a real man acts, he must be willing to bear the consequences.” Turning his head, he said to Qiao Feng, “Chief Qiao, all of us met together and decided to oust you from your position as chief. Elders Song, Xi, Chen, and Wu all agreed to this. We were afraid that the Skill-instructing Elder and the Law Enforcing Elder would not allow it, and thus devised a way to imprison them. In doing so, we were considering the greater good of our clan and couldn’t help but act in such a way. Today, we lost the momentum and you have seized the advantage. You can just go ahead and deal with us as you see fit! I, Wu Changfeng, have been in the Beggars Clan for over thirty years. Everyone knows that I’m not the sort of person to cravenly fear death!” As he spoke, he hurled his demon-headed saber far away, then folded his arms in front of his chest, a totally fearless look on his face.
When he clearly explained how their plot was to ‘oust the chief’, everyone within the clan was shocked. Although each of the plotters was well aware of what they were trying to do, none of them dared to openly say it. Wu Changfeng was the first person to state it openly and clearly.
The Law Enforcing Elder, Bai Shijing, said in a clear voice, “Elders Song, Xi, Chen, and Wu betrayed the chief and have broken the cardinal rule of the clan. Law-enforcing disciples, take them into custody and bind them!” The law-enforcing disciples under his command took some cow-sinew ropes and first bound elder Wu. Elder Wu continued to smile, not resisting in the slightest. Next, elders Song and Xi also threw away their weapons, allowing themselves to be bound as well.
Elder Chen had an extremely ugly look on his face. He repeatedly muttered, “Cowards. Cowards! If we all had charged him, we wouldn’t necessarily have lost, but everyone was afraid of Qiao Feng.” These words were very true. When Quan GuanQing had been subdued, if the rebels had immediately launched an attack, Qiao Feng would have been hopelessly outnumbered and in dire straits. Even after the Skill-instructing Elder, Law Enforcing Elder, and the Hall Masters of the ‘Great Benevolence,’ ‘Great Righteousness’, ‘Great Trustworthiness’, and ‘Great Loyalty’ Halls arrived; the rebels still outnumbered the loyal forces. But with Qiao Feng standing there in such an awe-inspiring manner, no one dared to make a move. Consequently, the opportunity had been lost and now all of them were being bound. After Elders Song, Xi, and Wu had been bound, even if Elder Chen was still determined to fight, he would be fighting alone. Letting out a sigh, he threw away his gunnysack and allowed the law-enforcing disciples to bind his wrists and his feet with cow sinew rope.
By now, it was totally dark. Bai Shijing ordered his disciples to light some torches. The light of the torches flickered across the faces of the bound elders, revealing a series of gloomy, dejected expressions.
Bai Shijing turned to stare at Liu Zhuzhuang. “How could you act in such a manner? Are you fit to be a member of the Beggars Clan? Shall you end it yourself, or will you force others to act for you?”
Liu Zhuzhuang said, “I… I…” He wasn’t able to finish his sentence, but he slowly withdrew a dagger from his waist, wanting to slit his own throat. However, his hand shook so badly that he was unable to chop at his own neck. A Law-enforcing Disciple called out, “You are so useless! It’s unfortunate that you’ve wasted so much time within our clan!” Catching his upper arm, the Law-enforcing Disciple gave a mighty pull and helped him cut his own larynx. Liu Zhuzhuang gurgled, “I… thank you…” He immediately passed away.
Within the Beggars Clan, there was a rule that if a person broke the laws of the clan in such a way as to merit the death penalty, so long as he took his own life, all of his sins would have been washed away and everyone would still consider him as being one of their brothers. But if it was one of the Law-enforcing Disciples who killed him, his honor would be forever besmirched. Earlier, that Law-enforcing Disciple saw that Liu Zhuzhuang wanted to take his own life, but simply didn’t have the strength to do so. That was the only reason why he had assisted him.
Wang Yuyan, Duan Yu, Azhu, and AhBi accidentally oversaw an internal rebellion within the ranks of the Beggars Clan. They all felt as though they were outsiders peeping in on the Beggars Clan’s secret affairs, which was highly improper. But if they were to leave now, they would run the risk of raising the Beggar’s suspicions. All they could do was sit far away and pretend to be indifferent and unconcerned. After seeing how Li Chunlai and Liu Zhuzhuang’s blood splattered across the ground, how their corpses now lay cold on the flowers, and how the four awe-inspiring Elders Song, Xi, Chen, and Wu had been bound, it seemed to them as though there must be even more soul-stirring events to come. All of them looked at each other, feeling extremely awkward. Duan Yu was Qiao Feng’s sworn brother, and earlier, when Feng Bo’e had been poisoned, drained away the poison on Qiao Feng’s behalf. Wang Yuyan and the other two girls felt extremely grateful towards Qiao Feng. Now, seeing how he had pacified the rebellion and dealt with the traitors one by one, they all felt happy for him.
Qiao Feng uncomfortably sat to one side. Although the traitors had been subdued, he didn’t feel the least bit triumphant or happy. He remembered how, thanks to the benevolence of his master, Chief Wang, he had been given the position of Chief of the Beggars Clan. Over the past eight years as Chief, Qiao Feng had endured many trials and tribulations, from pacifying internal wrangles to resisting outside foes. He had always used every ounce of his strength to deal with the matters in such a manner as to make the Beggars Clan greatly flourish, without harboring the slightest selfish thought. Now, the Beggars Clan had a magnificent, glorious reputation in the martial world, something that truly was in large part a product of his efforts. Why would so many people, in such a short period of time, suddenly scheme to revolt against him? If it was simply a matter of Quan GuanQing being ambitious and desiring to rule the clan, why would senior statesmen such as Elders Song and Xi or an honest and upright person such as Elder Wu all participate? Could it be that he accidentally did something to greatly offend all of the brothers of the clan, which even he himself did not know about?
Bai Shijing said in a clear voice, “Brothers, Chief Qiao did not succeed Chief Wang by force of arms or trickery or use any inappropriate methods to gain his position. In the past, Chief Wang tested him by giving him three tough problems to deal with and ordering him to accomplish seven great deeds on behalf of the clan before passing the ‘Dog Beating Stick’ to him. That year, when we were holding our great conference at Mt. Tai, our clan was besieged by enemies and in a very critical situation. It was all thanks to Chief Qiao wounding nine powerful enemies in a row that we were able to pull through. Many of the brothers present personally witnessed this. Over the past few years, our clan has flourished and prospered. Everyone here knows that this is all thanks to Chief Qiao’s efforts. Chief Qiao treats people justly and benevolently, and handles matters even-handedly and impartially. We should expend every effort to support him as leader. How can it be that there are people who’ve gone stupid and decided to engage in armed rebellion? Quan GuanQing, tell us now!”
Quan GuanQing had his ‘Mute’ acupoint sealed by Qiao Feng. Although he clearly heard all of Bai Shijing’s words, he wasn’t able to reply at all. Qiao Feng walked to him and gently tapped him twice on his back, unsealing his acupoint. Qiao Feng said, “Hall Master Quan, if I, Qiao Feng, have done wrong by our brothers, please go ahead and openly accuse me. Don’t be afraid and don’t have any misgivings.”
Quan GuanQing immediately leapt to his feet, but because his legs were still numb, immediately sank to his knees again. He loudly shouted, “You haven’t done anything wrong by our brothers yet, but you soon will!” Only after saying these words did he rise to his feet again.
Bai Shijing roared, “Nonsense! In his conduct and bearing, Chief Qiao has always been open and upright. He’s never done anything bad in the past, and never will in the future. Based on these baseless accusations, you actually agitated our brothers and convinced them to betray the Chief? To tell you the truth, I myself have heard these rumors before, and simply treated them as utter bullshit. This old man punched the person who was spreading this bullshit and shattered three of his ribs. I can’t believe that there are so many idiots who actually believed your crap. No matter what you say, all you have is these few words. Go ahead and end your own life!”
Qiao Feng thought to himself, “So there have long been ugly rumors about me spread behind my back which even Elder Bai has heard. For him to not bring them to my attention must mean they are extremely vicious rumors indeed. A real man isn’t afraid to confront any words or deeds. Why the need to hide them?” He said in a calm voice, “Elder Bai, no need to be impatient. Allow Hall Master Quan to clearly explain everything in detail. For even the likes of Elder Song and Elder Xi to put themselves against me means that I must have acted improperly in some manner.”
Elder Xi said, “I was wrong in rebelling against you. No need for you to keep bringing it up. Later, after judgment has been passed, I’ll just go ahead and chop at my short neck and give you my head!” He said the words in a cheerful manner, but everyone present felt deep grief in their heart. None of them showed the slightest hint of a smile on their faces.
Bai Shijing said, “Chief, your instructions are wise. Quan GuanQing, go ahead and speak.”
Quan GuanQing, seeing how all four of the Elders who had conspired with him had been subdued, knew that this battle was lost. But he couldn’t at least go without a final struggle, and loudly said, “I believe that Deputy-Chief Ma was murdered according to Qiao Feng’s orders.”
Qiao Feng’s entire body trembled. Shocked, he said, “What?”
Quan GuanQing said, “You’ve always despised Deputy-Chief Ma and wanted nothing more than to get rid of him. You worried that if you didn’t get rid of him, your position as Chief would never be secure.”
Qiao Feng slowly shook his head. “That is not the case. Although I did not have deep ties of friendship with Deputy-Chief Ma and we did not always agree, I’ve never even thought of harming him. Let the Emperor Heaven and Empress Earth be my judge and scrutinize my words and deeds. If I, Qiao Feng, have ever had the intention of harming Ma Dayuan, then destroy my honor and my reputation, suffer thousands of calamities, and become the laughingstock of the martial world.” These words were spoken with the utmost sincerity and were filled with a vast, boundless heroic spirit. Not a single person present doubted him in the slightest.
But Quan GuanQing said, “Then why is it that, after we have come to Gusu to seek revenge upon Murong Fu, you keep on colluding with the enemy?” Pointing to Wang Yuyan and the other maidens, he said, “These three are the family members and servants of Murong Fu, but you protect them.” Pointing at Duan Yu, he said, “This person is Murong Fu’s friend, but you became sworn brothers with him…”
Duan Yu repeatedly shook his hand in denial. “Tis not so, tis not so! I am not a friend of Murong Fu, and have never even seen his face. These three ladies can be said to be his relatives, but can’t be said to be part of his family.” He thought to himself that Wang Yuyan could only be considered Murong Fu’s ‘relative’, and definitely not a member of his household. This had to be made clear.
Quan GuanQing said, “‘Tis not so, tis not so.’ Bao BuTong is Murong Fu’s subordinate, the master of the ‘Golden Wind Manor’. ‘A Gust of Wind’, Feng Bo’e, is also Murong Fu’s subordinate, the master of the ‘Mysterious Frost Manor’. If it hadn’t been for you, Qiao Feng, rescuing them, one would have died from poison, and the other would have been ground to paste. Everyone here saw this with their own eyes. What is there for you to deny?”
Qiao Feng unhurriedly said, “The Beggars Clan, ever since it was founded centuries ago, has always been venerated and respected by the people of the martial world. This is not because of our numbers, or our martial arts ability, but because we act righteously and nobly, and because we support justice and equity. Hall Master Quan, you are blaming me for protecting these three maidens. True, I am protecting them. This is because I cherish the centuries-old spotless reputation of our clan. I refuse to allow the people of the world say, ‘The Elders of the Beggars Clan joined forces to bully three young girls.’ Elders Song, Xi, Chen, and Wu. Which of them isn’t a senior figure in the martial world? Even if you don’t cherish the reputation of the Beggars Clan and the reputations of those Four Elders, the many brothers of our clan cherish them!”
After hearing these words, everyone present glanced at those three delicately sweet maidens. They all felt these words were reasonable. If others knew that they had made things difficult for three maidens, it really would greatly damage the Beggars Clan prestige.
Bai Shijing said, “Quan GuanQing, what else do you have to say for yourself?” Turning to Qiao Feng, Bai Shijing said, “Chief, there’s no need to waste time and words with a rebel who can’t see the big picture. Let us go ahead and immediately sentence him in accordance with the crime of revolting against one’s superiors.”
Qiao Feng thought to himself, “Elder Bai wants to execute Quan GuanQing as quickly as possibly. It seems as though he wishes to avoid allowing him to spew out harmful rumors regarding me.” In a clear voice, he said, “For Hall Master Quan to convince so many people to conspire to overthrow me, he clearly must have had a compelling case. A real man clearly differentiates between right and wrong. Brothers, if I, Qiao Feng, have done something wrong, please feel free to tell me openly!”
Elder Wu let out a sigh. “Chief, either you are an evil, unscrupulous person of great ambition who is putting up a front, or you are an honest, bold, straightforward man. I, Wu Changfeng, don’t have the ability to tell. Just go ahead and kill me now.”
Qiao Feng felt extremely uncertain. He asked, “Elder Wu, why did you say that I am a liar who bullies others? You… you… why do you doubt me?”
Wu Changfeng shook his head. “If this matter is openly discussed, it will cause too much trouble. If the story gets out, the Beggars Clan will never be able to raise its head in the martial world again, and everyone will look down at us with scorn. Originally, we wanted to simply kill you with one chop and end the affair thus.”
Qiao Feng was now totally bewildered and couldn’t make head or tail out of it at all. He mumbled to himself, “Why? Why?” Raising his head, he said, “I rescued two of Murong Fu’s high-ranking subordinates, so all of you suspect me, right? But your conspiracy to rebel came before, and my rescuing of them came after. These two things have nothing to do with each other. Besides, it’s hard to say with certainty whether I am right or not, but I simply do not feel that Deputy-Chief Ma was killed by Murong Fu.
Quan GuanQing asked, “Why do you say that?” He had asked this question earlier, but the tumultuous events had prevented Qiao Feng from answering. Now, he asked again.
Qiao Feng replied, “I believe that Murong Fu is a great hero and a good man. He wouldn’t kill second brother Ma.”
Wang Yuyan, hearing Qiao Feng praise Murong Fu as ‘a great hero and a good man’, was overjoyed. She thought to herself, “It seems Chief Qiao really is a great hero and a good man as well.”
But Duan Yu, on the other hand, frowned, thinking to himself, “Not necessarily, not necessarily! Murong Fu isn’t necessarily a great hero or a good man.”
Quan GuanQing said, “Over the past two months, there have been many experts who were killed using the skill which they themselves were best at. Everyone knows that these murders were committed by Gusu’s Murong family. How can such a person who has murdered so many of our friends in the martial world be considered a great hero and a good man?”
Qiao Feng slowly began to pace about as he said, “Brothers, last night, I was drinking wine at the ‘Tavern Overseeing the River’ in the city of Jiangyin, next to the Yangtze river. I met a middle-aged scholar who drank over ten large bowls of hard liquor without batting an eye. What an excellent drinking capacity, and what a fine man!”
When Duan Yu heard this, he couldn’t help but grin. He thought to himself, “So elder brother got into a drinking competition with someone last night as well. This fellow had a good tolerance for alcohol and drank freely, so elder brother liked him. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this fellow was a good man.”
Qiao Feng continued, “I drank three bowls of wine with him, then we began discussing the martial artists of Jiangnan. He bragged that he possessed the second highest level of skill in palm techniques in Jiangnan, with Young Master Murong being the best. Thus, I exchanged three palms with him. He was able to receive the first and second palms, but when he took my third palm, the wine bowl he was
holding in his left hand was obliterated. The porcelain shards from the bowl slashed across his face, making him bleed, but he remained composed and said, ‘what a waste, what a waste! What a waste of a perfectly fine bowl of liquor.’ This greatly endeared him to me, and thus I did not send out a fourth palm. I said, ‘Sir, your palm techniques are exquisite. You truly deserve the title of being the second best in Jiangnan!’ He replied, ‘The second in Jiangnan, but only a fart in the rest of the world!’ I said, ‘Brother, no need to be too modest. With regards to palm techniques, you can be considered a first-class master.’ He said, ‘You are chief Qiao of the Beggars Clan! I freely admit my loss and submit to you. Thank you for showing mercy and not injuring me. Let me offer you another toast!’ The two of us drank three more bowls together. When we departed, I asked him for his name. He said that his last name was ‘Gongye’, and his given name was ‘Qian’. This is not the ‘Qian’ of ‘universe’ [Qian Kun], but the ‘Qian’ in toasting others. He said that he was a subordinate of Young Master Murong, in charge of the Scarlet Clouds Manor. He invited me to go to his manor and drink with him for three days straight. Brothers, what do you think of him? Would you consider him a good friend?”
Wu Changfeng loudly said, “This Gongye Qian fellow is a good man and a good friend! Chief, please introduce us sometime!”
He forgot that he had committed a great offense and was now a prisoner, soon to be executed. When he heard about such a hero and such a good man, he immediately had the desire to make friends with him. Qiao Feng smiled, but in his heart, he was sighing. “Wu Changfeng is heroic and straightforward. Unexpectedly, he got mixed up in this rebellion as well.”
Elder Song said, “Chief, what happened next”
Qiao Feng replied, “After I bid Gongye Qian farewell, I hastened to Wuxi. Roughly two hours before midnight, I heard the sound of two people loudly arguing in the middle of a small bridge. By now, it was totally dark. I thought it was very strange that people would be getting into a heated argument at this time, and went to go check it out. The bridge was a single-planked bridge. On one side was a man dressed in black. On the other was a villager from the countryside who was carrying a bucket of feces on a carrying-pole over his shoulder. The two of them were arguing over who should cross first. The man in black yelled at the villager to go back and allow him to cross, as he reached the bridge first. The villager said that he was carrying a bucket of feces and couldn’t retreat. He wanted the man in black to let him go past him. The man in black said, ‘We’ve already been arguing here for two hours. Even if we argue all the way to midnight, I still won’t give way!’
The villager said, ‘Aren’t you afraid of how bad this bucket smells?’ The man in black said, ‘You’re carrying a heavy bucket of crap on your shoulder! As long as you aren’t afraid of being tired out, then let’s just remain here until the end!’”
“When I saw this situation, I thought it was extremely funny. I thought to myself, ‘That fellow in black has a really weird temper. All he had to do was take a few steps back and let him pass. What’s the point of him getting into an in-your-face confrontation with a villager carrying a bucket of crap? Judging from their words, they’ve been at it for over two hours.’ Now that my curiosity had been aroused, I wanted to see how this would end. Would the man in black no longer be able to resist the stench and surrender, or would the villager become so tired that he would admit defeat? I didn’t want to smell the crap, though, so I watched from far away upwind. Both of them were arguing using the local Jiangnan dialect, and I couldn’t be too sure what they were saying. All I knew was that both of them were claiming that they were in the right. That villager really was strong and had a nasty stubborn streak. He moved the bucket of crap from his left shoulder to his right shoulder, then later moved it from his right shoulder to his left shoulder. No matter what, he wouldn’t retreat.”
Duan Yu looked at Wang Yuyan, Azhu, and AhBi. He saw that all three of them were smiling, happily engrossed in Qiao Feng’s story. He thought to himself, “There has been an attempted revolution in the clan which is yet to be resolved. The situation is extremely critical, and yet elder brother is calmly and leisurely telling stories. It’s natural for Wang Yuyan and the girls to be interested in stories like this, but how could a heroic, bold man like elder brother show such a childish innocence as well?
Unexpectedly, the hundred-plus members of the Beggars Clan present were all solemnly and respectfully listening to Qiao Feng’s story. Not a single person thought Qiao Feng’s words were boring.
Qiao Feng continued, “After watching for a while, I slowly grew astonished. I noticed that the man in black had an extremely stable footing, not budging in the slightest, as immovable as a mountain. He was actually someone who possessed a high level of martial arts. The villager carrying the bucket of crap was just an ordinary person. Although he was very sturdy and robust, he didn’t know any martial arts at all. The more I watched, the more baffled I was. I thought to myself, ‘With the fellow in black’s strong level of martial arts, all he has to do is extend his little finger in a single poke and knock both the villager and his bucket into the river. But instead, he doesn’t use any martial arts at all. For a master such as him, it might be natural for him to exercise self-restraint, but even if he refused to let the other person by, he could easily jump over the villager’s head. But instead, he insists on standing there and arguing with the villager. How amusing!”
“The man in black suddenly raised his voice and shouted, ‘If you don’t let me by, I’m going to start cussing you out!’ The villager said, ‘If you want to cuss, then cuss. So you know how to cuss at people. You think I don’t?’ The villager actually seized the initiative and immediately began to cuss. The man in black began to cuss right back at him. Trading cusses back and forth, the two pulled out all sorts of strange, bizarre, and filthy curses to insult the other with. I couldn’t even understand half of these strange local Jiangnan swear words. After cussing for over an hour, the villager became exhausted. The man in black, thanks to his strong internal energy, was perfectly fine and still energetic. I saw the villager’s body began to sway. It seemed that very shortly, he would be so exhausted that he’d fall into the river.”
“Suddenly, the villager stuck his hand into the bucket of feces, grabbed some of it, then tossed it towards the man in black’s face. The man in black never imagined that he would be attacked like this. As he let out a cry of alarm, the crap splattered him in the face. I secretly said to myself, ‘Oh no! This villager has just doomed himself, and he can’t blame anyone else for what will happen.’ I saw that the man in black was furious. Lifting his palm, he struck downwards towards the villager’s head.’
Although Duan Yu was listening to Qiao Feng, his eyes were fixed on Wang Yuyan’s slightly parted, cherry-like lips. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw AZhu and AhBi smile at each other, but paid them no mind.
Qiao Feng continued, “All of this happened too quickly. To avoid the stench, I was over a hundred meters away. I wanted to go rescue that villager, but I wouldn’t be able to. Unexpectedly, just before the man in black’s palm was about to strike down on the villager’s skull, he suddenly froze and didn’t follow through, bringing his palm to a halt midair. He loudly laughed, ‘Old chap, in our contest of patience, who won and who lost?’ That villager was really stubborn. He had clearly lost, but he refused to admit it. He said, ‘I’m carrying a big bucket of crap. You gained an advantage from this. If you don’t believe me, how about you take this bucket and I’ll stand here with my hands free. Then, we’ll see who wins and who loses!’ The man in black said, ‘That’s fair enough!’ He reached out and pulled the bucket of crap towards himself, straightening his arm and lifting the bucket up with the palm of his left hand.”
“Seeing as how the man in black was carrying the bucket while holding his arm straight, the villager was stupefied. He said, ‘You… you…’ The man in black laughed, ‘I’ll help you support the bucket of crap like this without moving. Let’s compete again, and this time, whoever loses has to drink this entire bucket of crap!’ Seeing how incredibly strong the man in black was, the villager no longer dared to argue with him. He hurriedly retreated, but he was so flustered that he lost his footing and fell down towards the river. The man in black stretched out his right hand, grabbing him by his collar and lifting him up. Still supporting the bucket with his left hand while lifting the villager in the air with his right, the man in black laughed loudly. “Fun, fun!” In the twinkling of an eye, he lightly leapt over to the other side of the bridge, placing both the villager and his bucket on the floor. Then he utilized his qinggong and disappeared into the mulberry forest.”
“The man in black had his face splattered with crap by the villager. He wouldn’t have had to use any effort to kill him. Even if he wasn’t willing to kill someone just like that, it would have been very natural for him to give the villager a beating. But he didn’t do that at all. He had a very unique temperament, the like of which is rarely seen in the martial world. Brothers, I witnessed this with my own eyes. I was very far away from him, and I do not believe he knew I was there and was just putting on a show for me. Would you consider a person like this a good friend and a fine man?”
Elder Wu, Elder Chen, and Elder Bai all said in unison, “Right! He’s a fine man!”
Elder Chen said, “It’s unfortunate that you didn’t manage to get his name, Chief. If you had, you could introduce him to us, so as to let us know that within the personages of Jiangnan, there’s actually a hero such as him.”
Qiao Feng slowly said, “This friend actually just exchanged a few stances with elder Chen, and his arm was wounded by your poison scorpion.”
Elder Chen was shocked. “He is ‘A Gust of Wind’, Feng Bo’e!”
Qiao Feng nodded. “Correct!”
Only now did Duan Yu understand that Qiao Feng had carefully and meticulously described this anecdote in order to recount to everyone Feng Bo’e’s character and temperament. Duan Yu now realized that although Feng Bo’e was very ugly and loved to cause trouble and fight, he was by nature a very good person. This truly was an example of how one should not judge a person by their appearance. Earlier, when the girls were raptly listening to the story and AZhu and AhBi exchanged smiles, it was because they well knew Feng Bo’e’s temperament. They knew that this gentleman must be Feng Bo’e, and also knew that this gentleman definitely wouldn’t wantonly kill others.
Qiao Feng continued, “Elder Chen, the Beggars Clan considers itself to be the foremost large clan of the world. You yourself are a very important figure within our clan. Your rank and prestige cannot be compared in the same breath with the local Jiangnan martial artist named Feng Bo’e. Feng Bo’e, when feeling insulted and humiliated, could control himself and not harm an innocent. How can the experts of the Beggars Clan prove ourselves to be lesser than him?”
Elder Chen’s entire face blushed, with even his ears reddening. “Chief, thank you for the lesson. You ordered me to give him the antidote because of your concern for my reputation and prestige. I, Chen Guyan, didn’t understand your noble intentions and harbored a grudge against you. I’m as stupid as a wooden ox or a braying donkey.”
Qiao Feng replied, “Preserving your reputation and the reputation of our clan was only a secondary concern to me. The most important rule for us martial artists is to not harm innocents. Elder Chen, even if you weren’t a very important figure within our clan and weren’t such an illustrious figure within the martial arts world, you still cannot take the lives of others so easily, without a clear certainty regarding the facts!”
Elder Chen bowed his head. “I, Chen Guyan, admit to my wrongdoing.”
Seeing that he had managed to convince Chen Guyan, the haughtiest of the Four Elders, with his words, Qiao Feng felt extremely happy. He slowly said, “Gongye Qian was a heroic man, and Feng Bo’e was a man who knew right from wrong. Bao BuTong acts unrestrained and naturally, and these three maidens are gentle, refined, and proper. All of these people are Young Master Murong’s subordinates, his friends, or his relatives. As the saying goes, ‘things of one kind come together, birds of a feather flock together’. Brothers, calm yourselves and think: If Young Master Murong has friends and associates such as they, can he himself be a wicked, vile, despicable, shameless villain?”
The people of the Beggars Clan highly valued the code of brotherhood and loved friends. They all thought that these words were reasonable, and many people chimed in agreement.
But Quan GuanQing said, “Chief, are you saying that in your opinion, it definitely was not Murong Fu who killed Deputy-Chief Ma?”
Qiao Feng replied, “I dare not say that Murong Fu is definitely the person who assassinated Deputy-Chief Ma, but I also dare not say that he definitely was not the person either. There’s no need to rush to complete our vengeance. We need to clearly investigate the situation. If we can prove that it was Murong Fu who did the deed, naturally we will seize him and avenge Deputy-Chief Ma’s death. But if we cannot prove it was him, we must continue to seek the real perpetrator. If we kill a good man solely based on wild conjecture while allowing the real killer to remain free and secretly laugh at how stupid and incompetent the Beggars Clan is, not only will we have wronged the person we falsely accused and killed and wronged Deputy-Chief Ma, we’ll also have ruined the Beggars Clan’s illustrious name. Brothers, do you think you will enjoy the taste of being ridiculed and insulted as you travel about the martial world?”
Hearing his words, every person present was moved. This entire time, the Skill-instructing Elder had remained silent. Now, he stroked his thin, fine beard and said, “Your words are reasonable. In the past, I once killed an innocent man by mistake. To this very day, it troubles me. To this very day, it troubles me!”
Wu Changfeng loudly said, “Chief, we rebelled against you because we made the mistake of listening to the words of others. We knew that you didn’t get along with Deputy-Chief Ma, and secretly suspected you of conspiring with Gusu’s Murong family to kill him. All sorts of things added up and we couldn’t help but be suspicious. In hindsight, we were all so stupid! Elder Bai, please bring out the Knives of Law! We’ll take our own lives in accordance with clan regulations!”
Bai Shijing’s face was as cold as winter. In a heavy voice, he said, “Law-enforcing disciples, please bring out the Knives of Law.”
Nine of his disciples immediately said, “Yes sir!” Each of them withdrew a yellow cloth bundle from a sack on their backs. They opened the bundles, each retrieving a short knife from within. The nine gleaming, brilliant knifes were placed side by side. They were equal in size and shape. Underneath the blazing light of the torches, a blue light could be seen gleaming from the edges of the knives. A Law-enforcing Disciple brought over a tree trunk, and all nine of the other Law-enforcing Disciples stuck the knives into the trunk. The knives slipped into the trunk with ease; clearly, these blades were extraordinary. The nine of them called out in unison, “The Knives of Law have been assembled!”
Bai Shijing let out a sigh. “Elders Song, Xi, Chen, and Wu made the mistake of listening to the lies of others and conspired to rebel. They would have caused great damage to the clan. Their punishment is death by one knife. Quan GuanQing, the Hall Master of the ‘Hall of Great Wisdom’, spread vicious rumors and created internal dissent. His punishment is death by nine knives. All other disciples who participated in this revolt bear responsibility for their offences as well. In the future, there will be an investigation and they shall each receive punishment.”
As he declared every person’s crime and punishment, no one spoke. In every single organization in the world, the penalty for plotting to overthrow the leader or betraying the organization was death. There was nothing strange about this at all. When the people present had participated in the plot, they knew of this possible outcome.
Wu Changfeng took large steps forward. Bowing to Qiao Feng, he said, “Chief, Wu Changfeng has wronged you! I hope you understand that I was foolish. After I die, please forgive me, Wu Changfeng!” As he spoke, he walked to the knives of law and loudly said, “Wu Changfeng will take his own life. Law-enforcing Disciples, release me from my bonds!”
A Law-enforcing Disciple said, “Yes sir!”
But as he went forward to cut Wu Changfeng loose, Qiao Feng shouted, “Wait!”
Wu Changfeng’s face immediately turned a deathly, ashen pale. With bated breath, he said, “Chief, is it that my sin is too great, and you will not allow me to take my own life?”
According to the rules of the Beggars Clan, if a person who had broken the laws of the clan took his own life, his reputation would be restored and spotless, and the crimes he had committed would not be revealed to anyone else. If anyone in the world insulted that person’s memory, the Beggars Clan would actually intervene on their departed comrade’s behalf. All of the heroes of the martial world greatly valued their reputation and were unwilling to allow it to be besmirched after their deaths. Wu Changfeng, seeing that Qiao Feng was not willing to allow him to take his own life, felt both shame and dread.
Qiao Feng did not immediately reply. He walked to the Knives of Law, then said, “Fifteen years ago, the country of Khitan invaded us via the Yanmen Pass [Wild Geese Pass]. After Elder Song received this news, he rushed back to inform us of this critical military news. He did not eat for three days, and did not sleep for four nights. En route, he rode nine horses to their deaths. He himself was so exhausted that he sustained severe internal injuries and vomited blood. But with his news, our country, the Great Song, was prepared for the attack and the Khitans were beaten back and forced to retreat. This was a major, meritorious deed, which affected the entire country. Although the heroes of the martial world are not aware of the details of this event, we in the Beggars Clan are. Law Enforcing Elder, I hope you will take into consideration the major contributions which eEder Song have made and will allow him to atone for his crimes in some other fashion.
Bai Shijing replied, “Chief, it is reasonable for you to beg clemency on behalf of Elder Song. But it is said thusly in our laws: ‘The great crime of betraying the clan cannot be pardoned. No matter how meritorious the offender’s past deeds, it cannot atone for this crime. This is so that those who have done great deeds will not become arrogant and overbearing and risk destroying our clan.’ Chief, your plea is not in keeping with the laws of our clan. We cannot breach the rules which the many successive chiefs of the past have laid down!”
Elder Song laughed sadly. He took two steps forward, then said, “The Law Enforcing Elder’s words are totally true. For us to become Elders of the clan, we all naturally had to perform many great deeds of valor. If everyone excuses themselves by pointing to their past valors, then all sorts of crimes will be committed. Chief, please be merciful and allow me to take my own life.” With two cracking sounds, he shattered the cow sinew-strings that bound his wrists.
Looks of shock appeared on everyone’s face. The sinew-strings were both hard and tough. Even if a person were to chop at them using a steel saber, it still might take a while to chop them apart. Elder Song was actually able to shatter them simply by lifting his hands up. He really lived up to his reputation as being one of the Elders of the Beggars Clan. His hands now free, Elder Song stretched them out to snatch a law knife in front of him so as to take his own life. Unexpectedly, a soft stream of energy gushed towards him. His hand was only a foot away from the knives, but he could no longer move his hand forward any further. Qiao Feng was refusing to allow him to withdraw the knife.
A grieved look on his face, elder Song called out, “Chief, you…” Qiao Feng stretched his hand out, pulled out the first knife on the left side. Elder Song said, “Forget it, forget it! I had the intention to kill you. It is just that I be punished! Go ahead and kill me!” The knife blade flashed across his eyes. With a puffing sound, Qiao Feng stabbed himself in his own shoulder with the knife.
All the beggars let out a loud cry. In unison, they all rose to their feet. Shocked, Duan Yu said, “Elder brother, you!”
Even outsiders such as Wang Yuyan were so terrified by this unexpected development that their lovely features changed. The maidens cried out, “Chief Qiao, don’t…”
Qiao Feng said, “Elder Bai, within the regulations of our clan, there is this line: ‘When the disciples of our clan commit a crime and cannot be forgiven, if the Chief wishes to pardon them, he must shed his own blood on their behalf to wash away their crimes.’ Am I right?”
Bai Shijing’s face was as rigid and hard as stone. Slowly, he said, “Within our regulations, there is such a line. But for the chief to shed his own blood to wash away their sins, he must consider whether or not it is worth it.”
Qiao Feng replied, “As long as I am not breaching the laws of our ancestors, I am happy.” Turning around, he said to Elder Xi, “In the past, Elder Xi instructed me in martial arts. Although he was not formally my master, he acted in that capacity. However, that is just an act of personal kindness to me. In the past, chief Wang was surrounded by five elite Khitan fighters and trapped within the ‘Cave of Sinister Wind’ of Mt. Qilian. The Khitans intended to force our clan to surrender to them. Chief Wang was short and stout, and also looked something similar to Elder Xi. Elder Xi disguised himself as Chief Wang and went to die in his place. Only then did chief Wang manage to escape. This is a great deed, which benefited both our clan and our country. I absolutely must pardon him for his crimes!” As he spoke, he pulled out a second knife of law. With a light swish, he cut apart the cow sinew-strings binding Elder Xi’s wrists, then stabbed himself in the shoulder with this knife as well.
He slowly turned to walk towards elder Chen. Elder Chen had a very strange temperament. In the past, he had wronged his family clan, changed his name, and fled. He was always afraid that others would rip open this scar of his. He dreaded Qiao Feng’s intelligence, and thus always was distant towards Qiao Feng, not willing to become close friends. Now, seeing Qiao Feng turn his eyes towards him, he loudly said, “Chief Qiao, I don’t have much of a friendship with you. I offended you far too often in the past, and don’t dare ask for you to shed blood on my behalf.” Flipping his arms around, he suddenly brought his bound hands to the front. His skill in the ‘Arm Passing Through’ technique had reached the acme of perfection, and he was able to retract and advance his arms easily. As he squatted down, he snatched out and grabbed one of the knives.
Qiao Feng launched a backhanded attack and easily removed the weapon from his grasp. In a clear voice, he said, “Elder Chen! I, Qiao Feng, am a crude, boorish fellow. I don’t like to make friends with people who are cautious, conservative, and prudent. I also don’t like people who don’t drink, don’t laugh, or who are taciturn. This is just my natural disposition. I can’t change it. We have totally different personalities, making it difficult for us to avoid quarrelling. I didn’t like Deputy-Chief Ma’s personality much either, and whenever I saw him, I would avoid him. I’d rather go and drink strong liquor or eat roast meat with low ranking, One-bagged or Two-bagged brothers. Everyone knows this temperament of mine. But if you think that I wished to get rid of you or Deputy-Chief Ma, then you are wrong, totally wrong! You and Deputy-Chief Ma are experienced, prudent people who never drink. Those are good traits. I, Qiao Feng, cannot measure up to you!” And as he said this, he stabbed himself in the shoulder with this third knife, before continuing, “Outsiders don’t know who committed the great deed of killing Yelu Bulu, the Deputy Marshall of the Left Wing of the Khitan army, but can it be that I also don’t know?”
All the beggars immediately began to murmur and whisper in mingled shock and admiration. Many years ago, the Khitan nation carried out a major invasion of the Great Song, but many of their generals and leaders kept on being assassinated. Their leadership decapitated, they retreated without winning any victories and the Great Song managed to avoid a catastrophe. Amongst the generals who were killed was Yelu Bulu, the Deputy Marshall of the Left Wing of the army. Aside from the highest ranking members of the Beggars Clan, nobody was aware that elder Chen was the one who did this great deed.
Elder Chen, hearing Qiao Feng publicly advertise his great accomplishment, felt consoled. In a low voice, he said, “I, Chen Guyan, whose name is known throughout the world, am deeply moved by my chief’s great benevolence and virtue.”
The Beggars Clan had always secretly assisted the Great Song in fighting off its enemies, protecting the nation and defending its citizens. But in order to prevent the enemies from noticing them and focusing their efforts on destroying the Beggars Clan, the clan decided that regardless of whether or not their stratagems succeeded, they would not reveal what they had done to outsiders. They even kept the secrets from as many members of the Beggars Clan itself as possible. Chen Guyan had always acted arrogantly and rudely. He was older than Qiao Feng, had served in the clan longer, and thus usually was not especially meek or modest in front of him. All the beggars within the clan knew this. Now, seeing how the chief forgave him his crimes and shed blood in order to wash away his sins, all of the beggars present were moved.
Walking towards Wu Changfeng, Qiao Feng said, “Elder Wu, you once guarded the Yinchou Gorge by yourself, using nothing but your own strength to resist the experts of the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’ and prevented them from achieving their goal of assassinating the general of the Yang family, Yang Ye [The legend of Yang Ye and of the Yang family generals is a famous Chinese legend]. The ‘Golden Medal of Valor’ which Marshall Yang awarded him is in and of itself sufficient to pardon him of his crimes today. Take it out and display it to everyone!”
Suddenly, Wu Changfeng’s face flushed, as he looked both embarrassed and uneasy. “That, uh… uh…”
Qiao Feng said, “All of us present are your brothers. Elder Wu, if there’s anything problematic about my request, just go ahead and say it without worry.”
Wu Changfeng replied, “About that golden medal of mine… well… to tell you the truth, chief, it… um… it… it disappeared.”
Astonished, Qiao Feng said, “How did it disappear?”
Wu Changfeng said, “I lost it. Um…” After composing himself, he said in a loud voice, “One day, I really was craving some alcohol, but didn’t have any money on me. I sold the gold medal to a jewelry store.”
Qiao Feng laughed uproariously. “Forthright and carefree! Only, I’m afraid that by doing so, you’ve wronged Marshall Yang a bit!” As he spoke, he pulled out a fourth knife. First, he used it to cut Wu Changfeng’s bonds. Then, he planted it in his left shoulder.
Wu Changfeng loudly shouted, “Chief, you have shown me great benevolence and mercy. From this day forth, Wu Changfeng’s life belongs to you. I’ll never listen to anyone who spreads rumors about you ever again!”
Qiao Feng clapped him on the shoulder, then laughed, “We’re beggars. If we don’t have food to eat or wine to drink, we should go beg for some. There’s no need for us to sell gold medals.”
Wu Changfeng laughed, “It’s easy to beg for food, but hard to beg for alcohol. Everyone always says, ‘Foul beggar, now that your stomach is full, you want alcohol to drink as well? How shameless! I won’t give you any, I won’t give you any!’”
All the beggars listening boomed with laughter. Plenty of beggars within the clan had begged for alcohol, only to be refused. In addition, now that Qiao Feng had pardoned the Four Elders of their crimes, everyone felt as though a great burden had been lifted from them. Now, everyone’s eyes turned to Quan GuanQing. They thought to themselves that he was the chief instigator and agitator of this plot to cause a revolt within the clan. No matter how magnanimous Qiao Feng was, there was no way he could pardon him.
Qiao Feng walked to Quan GuanQing. He said, “Hall Master Quan, do you have anything to say?”
Quan GuanQing replied, “I rebelled against you for the sake of the safety of our nation, the Great Song, and for the sake of preserving the Beggars Clan. Unfortunately, the people to whom I revealed your true history are all cowards who are afraid of death and aren’t willing to reveal themselves. Just go ahead and kill me!”
Qiao Feng pondered for a bit, then said, “If there’s anything wrong with my history, go ahead and say it openly.”
Quan GuanQing shook his head. “If I make empty accusations now, no one will believe me. It’s best if you just kill me now.”
Qiao Feng was filled with suspicion. He loudly said, “A real man says whatever is on his mind. Why hem and haw and refuse to speak when you want to? Quan GuanQing, a real man isn’t afraid of death, much less saying a few words.”
Quan GuanQing laughed bitterly. “Right. If one doesn’t even fear death, what does he have to fear? Qiao Feng, hurry up and kill me with a single chop. That way, I won’t have to stay alive and watch the Beggars Clan submit to the barbarians, or the beautiful mountains of the Great Song be annexed by foreigners.”
Qiao Feng said, “Why would the Beggars Clan fall under the control of barbarians? Explain clearly!”
Quan GuanQing replied, “No one will believe anything I say now. They’ll assume that I’m a coward who fears death and who made everything up. No matter what, I will die. Why should I leave behind a bad name?”
Bai Shijing loudly said, “Chief, this person is crafty and deceptive. He’s saying a bunch of garbage, hoping to convince you to spare his life as well. Law-enforcing Disciples, take the Knives of Law and carry out the sentence!”
A Law-enforcing Disciple said, “Yes sir!” He stepped forward, pulling out a knife and walking towards Quan GuanQing.
Qiao Feng never let his gaze waver from Quan GuanQing. Qiao Feng only saw an aggrieved, angry look on his face, and did not see any crafty or deceptive signs. Nor did Qiao Feng see any fear or dread. He began to feel suspicious, and said to the Law-enforcing Disciple, “Give me the knife of law.” The Law-enforcing Disciple respectfully presented it to him with both hands.
Receiving the knife, Qiao Feng said, “Hall Master Quan, you say that you know my real history, and that it affects the safety of the Beggars Clan. And yet, you are afraid to reveal what you claim the truth is.” As he spoke, he wrapped up the knife into a bundle, placing the bundle within his clothes. “You have fomented armed rebellion. It will be hard to pardon your crimes. However, I will temporarily grant a stay of execution. After the truth of the matter comes out, I will personally kill you. I, Qiao Feng, am not a fussy person who dithers and dickers. Now that I am determined to kill you, I’ll wager you won’t be able to escape me. Go away now, and leave behind your bags. From now on, you are no longer a member of the Beggars Clan.”
The phrase, ‘leave behind your bags’, carried with it the implicit meaning of expelling him from the Beggars Clan. Aside from brand new members of the Beggars Clan who had no formal duties at all, every person in the clan carried anywhere from one to nine cloth bags over their backs. The number of bags they carried signified the rank they held within the clan. When Quan GuanQing heard Qiao Feng order him to leave his bags behind, a murderous look filled his eyes. Turning around, he snatched one of the knives of law, inverted it, then pointed it towards his chest. Being expelled from one’s clan or sect is so humiliating that the depth of the shame is difficult to describe. It was often considered to be even more intolerable than being executed on the spot.
Qiao Feng coldly watched him, waiting to see if he would actually kill himself or not.
Quan GuanQing held the law knife with a steady arm, hand not shaking in the slightest. Turning his head, he stared at Qiao Feng. The two locked gazes. Instantly, everyone went silent and no noise could be heard at all within the Apricot Forest. Quan Quanging suddenly said, “Qiao Feng, you are so calm and self-possessed! Can it be that you really don’t know?”
Qiao Feng said, “Know what?”
Quan GuanQing opened his mouth, but in the end, he said nothing. He slowly returned the knife of law to its original location, then just as slowly removed the bags from his back, reverently placing them on the floor.
Just as Quan GuanQing removed his fifth bag, the sound of galloping hoof steps could be heard as a horse charged towards them from the north, followed by two whistles. The beggars on sentry whistled in report as the horses grew nearer and nearer. Wu Changfeng mumbled to himself, “What sort of critical event has happened?” Before the horse from the north had arrived, the sound of another horse could be heard from the east. Only, it was farther away and its hoof steps were indistinct. No one could tell in which direction it was headed.
In a short period of time, the horse from the north arrived at the outskirts of the Apricot Forest. A man leapt off the back of the horse and ran into the forest. He wore an extremely magnificent wide-sleeved gown, which he hurriedly shucked off and threw away, revealing a tattered uniform of the Beggars Clan. Duan Yu only had to think about it for a moment, before immediately understanding: For a member of the Beggars Clan to rush about on a horse would be very conspicuous, and government officials would often halt them to investigate. However, a messenger delivering an urgent message absolutely must use a horse. Thus, the beggar dressed up as a rich, prosperous merchant. However, he continued to wear his own original clothes underneath, so as to show that he had not forgotten where his loyalties lie.
That person walked to Hall Master of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’, respectfully presenting him with a package. “Urgent report on the military situation…” After saying these words, he ran out of breath and began panting. Suddenly, the horse he had ridden here let out a mournful neigh, then collapsed on the floor. It had been exhausted to death. The courier’s body swayed, then he suddenly fell down as well. It was obvious that both the courier and his horse had been rushing for a long distance, and both had used up all of their strength.
The Hall Master of the ‘Hall of Great Righteousness’ recognized this courier. He was one of the beggars whom had been sent to spy upon the Western Xia’s ‘League of Elites’. Seeing how this person had exhausted himself to deliver this message, its contents surely must be of great importance and unusual urgency. Thus, he did not open the pouch itself, and instead offered it to Qiao Feng, saying, “Critical military report regarding the Western Xia. The courier was sent to keep an eye on the Western Xia along with brother Yi Dabiao.”
Qiao Feng took the pouch. Opening it, he saw that there was a wax pellet. He broke open the pellet, retrieving from within a roll of paper. Just as he was about to read what was written on the paper, the sound of hoof steps grew louder as the horse from the east burst into the Apricot Forest. Just as it entered the forest, the man on the horse flew out of its saddle, shouting, “Qiao Feng, the message within the wax pellet involves critical military intelligence. You cannot read it!”
Everyone present was startled. They saw that this person was an extremely old beggar with a white beard which fluttered in the wind, and who wore a turtledove robe, which had been repaired over and over again. The Skill-Instructing Elder and the Law Enforcing Elder rose to their feet simultaneously. “Elder Xu, what business causes you to grace us with your presence?”
When the beggars heard that it was elder Xu who had arrived, looks of shock appeared on their face. Elder Xu, at eighty-seven years of age, was of an extremely senior generation within the Beggars Clan. Even the previous Chief, Chief Wang, addressed him as ‘martial-uncle’. Everyone within the clan was of a lower generation than him. He had retired many years ago, and had long since ceased to pay attention to worldly affairs. Every year, when Qiao Feng, the Skill-instructing Elder, and the Law Enforcing Elder went to pay their respects to him, they would only casually discuss some of the affairs of the clan. Unexpectedly, he would suddenly rush here today, and then forbid Qiao Feng from reading the urgent news regarding the Western Xia’s military movements. Everyone present was greatly shocked.
Qiao Feng immediately bowed forward in a salute. “Elder Xu, have you been well?” Following this, he opened his hand and delivered the roll of paper to elder Xu.
Qiao Feng was the chief of the Beggars Clan. Although it was true that he was of a younger generation than Elder Xu, he was still the person in charge when it came to events of great import involving the clan. Even the previous chief, Chief Wang, would be subject to his commands, much less a retired Elder such as Elder Xu. But unexpectedly, when Elder Xu forbade Qiao Feng from reading the urgent military news regarding the Western Xia’s movements, Qiao Feng did not defy him in the slightest. Everyone present was shocked.
Elder Xu said, “Excuse me!” He took the roll of paper from Qiao Feng’s hands, then immediately cast his gaze at the group of beggars. In a clear voice, he said, “The widow of Deputy-Chief Ma Dayuan, madame Ma, is soon to arrive. When she arrives, there are some things that need to be discussed. Everyone, what say ye?” All of the beggars looked at Qiao Feng, wanting to know how he would respond.
Qiao Feng was filled with doubt and suspicion. He said, “If this is a matter of great importance, then we can simply wait.”
Elder Xu said, “This is a matter of great importance.” After saying these words, he said nothing further. He belatedly paid Qiao Feng the courtesies due to the chief, and then sat down to one side.
Duan Yu felt some misgivings about the whole situation, and also wanted to seize the opportunity to make some conversation with Wang Yuyan. He said to her in a low voice, “Miss Wang, the Beggars Clan has so very many affairs. Should we depart, or should we stay here and watch all the fun?”
Wang Yuyan wrinkled her forehead. “We are outsiders. Originally, we shouldn’t get involved in their secret internal issues. However… however… the matter, which they are fighting over, involves my cousin. I want to listen.”
Duan Yu chimed in, “That’s right. It’s said that Deputy-Chief Ma was killed by your cousin and left behind a helpless, pitiable widow.”
Wang Yuyan hurriedly said, “No! No! My cousin didn’t kill Deputy-Chief Ma. Isn’t that what chief Qiao says as well?” At this moment, the sound of hoof steps could be heard once more as two riders galloped towards the Apricot Forest. In setting up their conference here, the beggars of the clan naturally left behind signs for others. In addition, they had people nearby who could lead the way for friends or give out warnings if enemies arrived.
Everyone was certain that one of the riders must be Deputy-Chief Ma’s widow. Unexpectedly, one of the riders was an old man, and the other an old lady. The man had a small, short figure, while the female was extremely tall and lofty. They formed a total contrast.
Qiao Feng rose to greet them. “Granny Tan and Grandpa Tan of Mt. Taihang’s Cavern of Flowing Clouds, you honor us with your presence! Qiao Feng apologizes for not welcoming you from afar, and thanks you for your forgiveness.” Elder Xu and the other six Elders all rose up and saluted them as well.
Upon seeing this, Duan Yu realized that Granny Tan and Grandpa Tan must be wulin figures of great renown and dignity.
Granny Tan asked, “Chief Qiao, why are there a number of knives planted on your shoulder?” Lifting up her arm, she immediately pulled out all four knives from his shoulder. The movement of her hands was extremely quick. Right after she pulled out the knives, Grandpa Tan withdrew a small box from his bosom. Opening its lid, he dabbed his finger into some ointment within the box, then spread it on the wounds on Qiao Feng’s shoulder. As soon as he applied this ‘Golden Wound’ ointment, the fresh blood, which was spewing forth from the wounds, instantly came to a halt. The speed that Granny Tan displayed in retrieving the knives was very rarely seen, but it was only a single action. Grandpa Tan’s movements in withdrawing the box, opening the lid, dabbing the ointment, applying it to the wounds, then staunching the bleeding were neat and tidy. Although his movements were very quick, everyone was able to see them clearly and distinctly. It truly appeared almost like magic, or sleight of hand. In addition, the ‘Golden Wound’ ointment’s almost divine efficacy in stopping the flow of blood was even more unimaginable. As soon as it was applied, the blood stopped flowing, without even the slightest delay.
Qiao Feng saw that Granny Tan and Grandpa Tan immediately helped him treat his wounds without even caring about the how’s and why’s of the situation. Although he felt this was a bit rash of them, he also felt extremely moved. Even as he was in the process of thanking them, he felt that the pain in his shoulders became replaced by itchiness. In a very short amount of time, much of the pain was greatly reduced. He had never even heard of a cure as miraculous as this ‘Golden Wound’ ointment, much less have personally seen it before.
Granny Tan asked again, “Chief Qiao, who in the world has the audacity to stab you with these knives?”
Qiao Feng laughed. “I did it to myself.” Curious, Granny Tan asked, “Why would you stab yourself? Are you tired of living?”
Qiao Feng smiled. “I stabbed myself for the fun of it. The flesh on my shoulders is thick and tough. I didn’t harm the sinews or the bone.” Elders Song, Xi, Chen, and Wu, hearing Qiao Feng conceal the real story, felt both moved and ashamed.
Granny Tan let out a laugh. “What type of lies are you spewing out? Oh, I know! You clever little imp, you heard that Grandpa Tan created a brand-new, incomparably efficacious ointment for wounds, using a mixture of ‘Frozen Jade from the North Pole’ and the ‘Mysterious Ice Toad’, and you wanted to give it a test run, right?”
Qiao Feng was noncommittal. He only smiled a little, then thought to himself, “This old granny is extremely simple and tactless. Who in the world could be so bored as to stab themselves with knives, so as to test out your new medicine?”
The sound of hoofbeats could be heard once more, as a donkey charged into the Apricot Forest. On the donkey was seated a man mounted backwards. His back was facing the front of the donkey, while his front was facing the donkey’s tail. Granny Tan’s face was immediately wreathed in smiles. She shouted out, “Martial-brother, what type of crazy game are you up to now? I’ll spank you!”
When everyone looked at the rider, they saw that he had shrunk his body into a ball, as though he were a seven or eight year old child. Granny Tan stretched out with her palm, slapping at his buttocks. That person immediately rolled down to the ground. As he stretched his hand out to steady himself, he suddenly became both big and strong. Everyone was a bit startled. Grandpa Tan, however, had a rather unhappy look on his face. With a hmph, he tossed a side-glance at the man while saying, “I was wondering who it was. So it’s you.” He immediately turned his head to stare at Granny Tan.
If one were to say that the man who was riding the donkey backwards was very old, it didn’t seem he was all that old. But it would be equally impossible to describing him as young. He appeared to be somewhere from thirty to sixty years of age, and could not be described as ugly or as handsome. He stared raptly at Granny Tan, displaying a boundless concern and fascination with her. In a gentle voice he asked, “Little Juan, has your life been happy recently?”
Granny Tan was as large as a horse and built like an ox. Her hair was as white as silver, and her face was filled with wrinkles. Unexpectedly, her name was actually ‘Little Juan’ (‘Juan’ literally means graceful/beautiful). Such a delicate, pretty name was totally opposite to her appearance. Everyone within hearing range thought this was very funny. However, it was true that every old lady was once young. If she was called ‘Little Juan’ when she was young, it wouldn’t be appropriate to change it to ‘Old Juan’ later on, right? Just as Duan Yu was thinking that exact thought, once more the sound of hoof steps could be heard as multiple horses sped their way. This time, however, the speed of the horses didn’t seem to be particularly urgent at all.
Qiao Feng was sizing up the donkey-rider, but was unable to determine just who he was. He was Granny Tan’s elder martial brother, and while riding the donkey, he displayed an extremely brilliant usage of the ‘bone shrinking technique’. Naturally, he must be an extraordinary character. However, Qiao Feng had never heard of him before.
The pack of riders arrived at the Apricot Forest. Riding in front were five youths, all with thick eyebrows and large eyes. They all looked very similar to each other. The eldest appeared to be over thirty years of age, whereas the youngest was a bit over twenty. Clearly, the five of them were brothers born of the same mother.
Wu Changfeng loudly called out, “The Five Heroes of Mt. Taishan have arrived! Wonderful, wonderful! What propitious wind has blown all five of you brothers here at the same time?”
The third brother of the Five Heroes of Mt. Taishan was named Dan Shushan, and he was extremely close to Wu Changfeng. He immediately seized the first chance to reply and said, “Fourth Uncle Wu, hello! My father came as well.”
The look on Wu Changfeng’s face changed slightly. He said, “Truly? Your father…” He had just acted in a way that violated the rules of the Beggars Clan, and still felt uneasy about it. Upon hearing that the ‘Iron Faced Judge’ Shan Zheng of Mt. Taishan had suddenly arrived, he couldn’t help but suddenly feel flustered. The ‘Iron Faced Judge’ Shan Zheng hated wickedness as though it were his personal foe. If ever he heard that something unfair had occurred within jianghu, he would definitely intervene. His own skills in martial arts were very formidable, and aside from his five sons, he also had many disciples under his tutelage, numbering over two hundred people. Everyone was in awe of the fame of “Mt. Taishan’s Shan Family”.
Following this, another rider galloped into the Apricot Forest. The Five Heroes of Mt. Taishan simultaneously brought the horse to a halt, as the rider, an old man who wore a long silk robe, floated down from his mount. He clasped his hands towards Qiao Feng, saying, “Chief Qiao, Shan Zheng has arrived without being invited. Please forgive me for interrupting.”
Qiao Feng had long heard of Shan Zheng, but this was the first time they had met in person. He saw that Shan Zheng’s face was filled with a healthy red glow. The man lived up to his reputation of having ‘white hair and a rosy complexion’. However, he had a very mild expression on his face. It didn’t seem as though he were as ruthless a person as the rumors of jianghu made him out to be. Qiao Feng hastily cupped his fists in response and said, “If I knew that you, elder Shan, were going to grace us with your presence, I would have welcomed you long ago.”
The man who rode in on a donkey suddenly let out a weird shout. “Hah, great! So you should welcome the ‘Iron Faced Judge’ from afar, but when I, the ‘Iron Arsed Judge’ arrived, you didn’t pay me any mind at all!”
Upon hearing the bizarre nickname of ‘Iron Arsed Judge’, everyone present laughed uproariously. Although Wang Yuyan, AhZhu, and AhBi all felt that laughing was improper, they couldn’t help but let out beautiful smiles as well. Upon hearing these words, the Five Heroes of Mt. Taishan knew that this man was trying to mock their father. They immediately became upset. However, the family rules of the Shan family were extremely rigid. Since Shan Zheng himself had not said anything yet, none of his children dared to speak out of turn.
Shan Zheng possessed very good self-control. He couldn’t immediately determine the origins of this weirdo, and so pretended to not have heard his words. In a clear voice, he called out, “Madame Ma, please come out and speak with us.”
From behind the grove appeared a covered sedan. Two strong men were carrying the sedan, and they moved so quickly as to appear to be flying. Arriving within the forest, they set down the sedan, then parted upon the sedan curtain. From within the sedan, a young madame all dressed in mourning clothes slowly stepped out. The young madame bowed her heads towards Qiao Feng, paying her respects to him. She said, “The widow of the Ma family pays her respects to the Chief.”
Qiao Feng returned her salute. “Sister-in-law, I greet you.”
Madame Ma said, “My late husband had the misfortune to pass away. Thankfully, the many uncles of the clan have helped to arrange his funeral rites. I am sincerely grateful to you all.” Her voice was extremely clear and melodious. Evidently, she was very young. However, this entire time her eyes stared down at the ground, preventing others from seeing her face.
Qiao Feng believed that Madame Ma must have found an important clue in the matter of her husband’s death, which is why she had suddenly rushed here. But for her not to bring such important information to the Chief of the clan, and to approach the Iron Faced Judge and Elder Xu instead, was an indication that something was very fishy here. Turning around, he glanced at the Law Enforcing Elder, Bai Shijing. Bai Shijing had just turned to glance at him as well. Their gazes met, and both of their eyes were filled with suspicion regarding the proceedings.
Qiao Feng decided to properly receive the guests first before handling internal affairs. He said to Shan Zheng, “Elder Shan, the married couple of Mt. Taihang’s Cavern of Flowing Clouds are here as well. I wonder if you know them?” Shan Zheng cupped his fists towards them. “I’ve long heard of the great fame of the Tan family. It is my great fortune to meet you.”
Qiao Feng said, “Elder Tan, could you introduce this other old gentleman to me, so that I might pay him proper respects?”
Before Grandpa Tan had a chance to reply, the donkey rider replied, “My family name is ‘Shuang’, and my personal name is ‘Wai’. My nickname is the ‘Iron Arsed Judge.’”
No matter how good ‘Iron Faced Judge’ Shan Zheng’s temper was, he couldn’t prevent his rage from rising at this point. He thought to himself, “My family name is ‘Shan’ [Single], and he chooses the family name ‘Shuang’ [Double]. My personal name is ‘Zheng’ [Straight], and he picks the name ‘Wai’ [Crooked]. Isn’t this clearly directed at me?”
Just as he was about to let loose his rage, Granny Tan said, “Elder Shan, don’t listen to Zhao Qiansun’s nonsense. He’s a bit crazy. There’s no point in getting worked up over him.”
Qiao Feng thought to himself, “This man is named Zhao Qiansun? That can’t be his real name.” He said, “Everyone, there’s no seats here, and so I’ll have to ask you all to make do with the ground.” After seeing everyone sit down, he said, “If I had known a day ago that I would meet with so many distinguished elders and friends, I would have felt extremely honored and fortunate. Might I ask why all of you have graced us with your presences?”
Shan Zheng said, “Chief Qiao, your respected clan is the largest clan in the jianghu, and for centuries has had a world-spanning heroic reputation. Whenever anyone in the wulin says the words ‘Beggars Clan’, they do so with great awe and respect. I, Shan Zheng, have always greatly admired the clan as well.”
Qiao Feng said, “You are too kind!”
Zhao Qiansun interjected, “Chief Qiao, your respected clan is the largest clan in the jianghu, and for centuries has had a world-spanning heroic reputation. Whenever anyone in wulin says the words ‘Beggars Clan’, they do so with great awe and respect. I, Shuang Wai, have always greatly admired the clan as well.” His words were exactly identical to the words of Shan Zheng; only, he changed the name from ‘Shan Zheng’ to ‘Shuang Wai’.
Qiao Feng knew that many of the elders of the wulin had strange temperaments and dispositions. He didn’t know why Zhao Qiansun was making fun of Shan Zheng every chance that he got, but he decided that the only thing, which truly concerned him, was not offending anybody. Thus, once more Qiao Feng said, “You are too kind!”
Shan Zheng smiled a little, then said to his eldest son, Shan Boshan, “Boshan, go ahead and speak to chief Qiao in my stead. If anyone wants to imitate my son, they can go ahead and do it to their heart’s content.”
Everyone who heard these words couldn’t help but let out a burst of laughter. They all thought to themselves that that although the Iron Faced Judge posed as a man of high morals, he was secretly quite caustic. If Zhao Qiansun imitated the words of Shan Boshan, then it would be said that Zhao Qiansun was pretending to be Shan Zheng’s son.
Unexpectedly, Zhao Qiansun said, “Boshan, go ahead and speak to chief Qiao in my stead. If anyone wants to imitate my son, they can go ahead and do it to their heart’s content.” He flipped the situation on its head, as though he were now acknowledging that he himself was Shan Boshan’s father.
Shan Zheng’s youngest son, Shan Xiaoshan, had the most explosive temper. He loudly cursed, “Mother****er, are you tired of living?”
Zhao Qiansun mumbled to himself, “Mother****er, four useless sons such as these are already four too many. There really was no need for a fifth. Heh, I wonder who his real father is.”
Hearing how brazenly Zhao Qiansun was provoking him, even if Shan Zheng were a clay figurine, he would warp and bend. Turning his head, he said to Zhao Qiansun, “We are the guests of the Beggars Clan for the moment. If we kick up a fuss, it would be disrespectful to our hosts. After the matter at hand is dealt with, I will naturally seek you out and see your incredible skills. Boshan, just speak!” Zhao Qiansun continued to imitate him and said, “We are the guests of the Beggars Clan for the moment. If we kick up a fuss, it would be disrespectful to our hosts. After the matter at hand is dealt with, I will naturally seek you out and see your incredible skills. Boshan, your old man is telling you to speak. Just speak!”
Shan Boshan would have liked nothing better than to rush forward and give him a few nasty chops of the saber and relieve the hatred in his heart. With a strenuous effort, he reined in his fury and said to Qiao Feng, “Chief Qiao, the two us, father and son, originally would never have dared to get involved in the matters of your venerable clan, but as my father says, ‘a gentleman loves men of character…’” As he said this, he glanced at Zhao Qiansun, wondering if Zhao Qiansun would be imitating him. If he was, he would be forced to also say, ‘But as my father says, ‘a gentleman loves men of character’. Thus, Zhao Qiansun would be saying that Shan Zheng was his father.
Unexpectedly, Zhao Qiansun really did continue to imitate him. He said, “Chief Qiao, the two us, father and son, originally would never have dared to get involved in the matters of your venerable clan, but as my son says, ‘a gentleman loves men of character’.” He changed the word ‘father’ to ‘son’. Naturally, he was mocking Shan Zheng. Everyone who heard this frowned, feeling that Zhao Qiansun was going too far. They feared that the situation would immediately explode into a bloody confrontation.
Shan Zheng lightly said, “Sir, you continue to try and make things difficult for me. However, I have never met you before, and do not know how I might have offended you. I would like to ask that you make things clear. If I am at fault, simply let me know and I will immediately admit my error’s and offer you my apologies.”
Everyone secretly supported Shan Zheng’s words, feeling that he really lived up to his reputation of being a heroic, chivalric figure of the central plains.
Zhao Qiansun said, “You didn’t offend me, but you offended Little Juan. This is ten times worse than offending me!”
Shan Zheng said, “Who is ‘Little Juan’? When did I offend her?”
Zhao Qiansun pointed at Granny Tan. “She’s Little Juan. Little Juan is her maiden name. In the whole wide world, no one but me can address her like that.”
Shan Zheng was both angry and amused. He said, “Oh, so that is Granny Tan’s maiden name. I didn’t know. Please forgive me for any offense I may have given.” Zhao Qiansun said in a haughty, supercilious voice, “As you didn’t know, we won’t blame you. Your first offense is pardoned; if it happens again, you won’t be.” Shan Zheng said, “I have long heard of the great fame of the married Tan family, who live in Mt. Taihang’s Cavern of Flowing Clouds, but never had the karmic fortune to meet them. I have never gossiped about anyone behind their back. How could I have offended the granny of the Tan family?”
Zhao Qiansun angrily said, “Earlier, I was asking Little Juan, ‘has your life been happy recently?’ But before she had a chance to reply, your five precious sons swaggered on in and barged their way into our midst, interrupting her response. Even to this very moment, she hasn’t had a chance to reply to me. Brother Shan, why don’t you go and ask what type of person Little Juan is? Or what type of person I, ‘Zhao Qian Sun Li, Zhou Wu Zheng Wang’, am? Are we the type of people who would allow others to disrupt our conversations just like that?” [All of the eight words from ‘Zhao’ to ‘Wang’ are surnames; Zhao Qiansun’s own name is made up of three surnames, which is why Qiao Feng doesn’t believe it could be his real name.]
Upon hearing these bizarre words, Shan Zheng realized that this fellow really wasn’t very bright. He said, “Brother, there’s something I don’t understand, and I hope you can enlighten me.”
Zhao Qiansun said, “What is it? If I’m in a good mood, I suppose I can help you with a few pointers.”
Shan Zheng said, “Many thanks, many thanks. Sir, you said that you are the only person in the whole world who can address Granny Tan by her maiden name, right?”
Zhao Qiansun said, “Right on! If you don’t believe me, call her maiden name out again, and see if I, ‘Zhao Qian Sun Li, Zhou Wu Zheng Wang, Feng Chen Chu Wei, Jiang Shen Han Yang,’ won’t get into a big fight with you right now!”
Shan Zheng said, “Brother, I naturally wouldn’t dare to call her name again. But can it be that even Grandpa Tan is not allowed to call her by her maiden name?”
Zhao Qiansun’s face turned a ghastly pale color. For a long moment, he did not respond. Everyone thought to themselves that these words of Shan Zheng had stupefied him. Unexpectedly, Zhao Qiansun suddenly burst into sobs, as his tears and snot criss-crossed into a pitiable, heart-broken appearance.
This was wildly outside of everyone’s expectations. This person feared neither heaven nor hell, and had seemed determined to squabble with the Iron Faced Judge to the very end. Unexpectedly, just these few simple words caused him to break into a large crying fit, which he seemed unable to end.
Seeing how heartbroken Zhao Qiansun was, Shan Zheng began to feel embarrassed. The fury, which had curdled up in his heart, immediately vanished away. He instead began to console Zhao Qiansun, saying, “Brother Zhao, I’m the one at fault here.”
Zhao Qiansun sobbed and whimpered, “My surname isn’t Zhao.”
Startled, Shan Zheng asked, “Sir, what is your surname then?”
Zhao Qiansun replied, “I don’t have one. Don’t ask, don’t ask anymore.”
Everyone guessed that Zhao Qiansun must have an extremely painful subject that would be awkward to discuss. As to what it was, since he refused to say, it would be inappropriate for others to ask. All they could do was to let him continue to cry, sob, and weep without stopping.
With a composed look on her face, Granny Tan said, “You’ve gone crazy again. You are in front of so many friends. Aren’t you afraid of losing face at all?”
Zhao Qiansun said, “You cast me off, then went off and married this good-for-nothing Grandpa Tan. How can I not be miserable and pained? My heart is shattered, and my guts have been splintered. Why would I care about such a small thing as face?”
All the onlookers glanced at each other and smiled. None of them were surprised at the revelation. Clearly, Zhao Qiansun and Granny Tan once shared a romantic history together. When Granny Tan married Grandpa Tan, Zhao Qiansun became so heartbroken that he threw away his very name and would go into insane fits of silliness. The Tan couple were clearly in their sixties. How could it be that Zhao Qiansun was still this passionate, still this heartbroken despite the passage of decades? Granny Tan’s face was covered with wrinkles, and her white hair was desolate and dreary. No one present could see how this large and tall old lady, even in her youth, could have caused Zhao Qiansun to be so passionate about her to this very day.
A bashful look appeared on Granny Tan’s face. She said, “Martial-brother, why do you keep on bringing up these bygone affairs? Today, the Beggars Clan has important matters to discuss. Be well-behaved and just listen, alright?”
These gently persuasive words were very comfortable to Zhao Qiansun’s ears. He said, “If you smile at me, I’ll listen to you.” Before Granny Tan had a chance to smile, ten or so bystanders already burst into laughter. Granny Tan didn’t seem to notice at all, and smiled directly at him. Zhao Qiansun stared at her as though stupefied. Clearly, he had been totally dazed by her smile, and it was as though his very soul had been frozen.
Grandpa Tan sat off to one side, face filled with fury, but there was nothing he could do. Watching this scene, Duan Yu’s heart suddenly trembled. He thought to himself, “The love and passion between these three people is so strong that they don’t pay a care to the fact that others are here and watching. I… I… in the future, in the future, will I and Miss Wang be the way Zhao Qiansun and Granny Tan are? No! No! Granny Tan clearly holds great affection towards her martial-brother. But the person whom Miss Wang constantly thinks about is her cousin, Murong Fu. Compared to Zhao Qiansun, I am far inferior to him, and my situation is much worse.”
Qiao Feng, on the other hand, was thinking about something else. “So Zhao Qiansun is a false name after all. I’ve always heard it said that Granny Tan and Grandpa Tan were disciples of the master of the Taihang Sect. But judging from the words these three have said, it seemed as though they didn’t come from the same school after all. Does Grandpa Tan belong to the Taihang School, or does Granny Tan belong to the Taihang School? If Grandpa Tan is the one who belongs to the Taihang Sect, then which sect did Granny Tan and this Zhao Qiansun fellow come from?”
Zhao Qiansun said, “I heard that Gusu’s Murong family produced a Murong Fu, who ‘uses the opponent’s skills, exercising them upon the opponent.’ I hear that he is brash and audacious, and that he wantonly murders innocents. This old man wants to go a few rounds with him and see what sort of ability that brat has, to reverse his attacks upon me, ‘Zhao Qian Sun Li, Zhou Wu Zheng Wang’. Little Juan, you told me to come to Jiangnan. Naturally, I came. Much less I…”
But before he finished speaking, a person could be heard crying loudly. Weeping and bawling, the sound was absolutely identical to that of his own crying a few moments earlier. Everyone present was astonished. That person began to complain while crying, “My dear martial-sister, how did I offend you? Why did you go marry that horrible old man Tan? This old man’s been thinking about you day and night. My stomach has been stretched and my intestines have been knotted. The person I always think about is you, martial-sister Little Juan. When our master was alive, he treated the two of us as though we were his own children. How can you face our master, after you refused to marry me and marry someone else?”
In both sound and speech pattern, the voice was absolutely identical to that of Zhao Qiansun’s. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone clearly saw how Zhao Qiansun was stunned and gape-mouthed, and how astonished he looked, everyone would have believed that it was he who spoke. Everyone turned to look as one. They saw that this voice came from a young maiden who wore a light red dress.
That person turned around, revealing herself to be AhZhu. Duan Yu, AhBi, and Wang Yuyan knew that AhZhu had an almost divine ability to mimic the voices of others. They weren’t surprised at all. But everyone else present was both amazed and amused. They all thought that after hearing this, Zhao Qiansun would go crazy with rage. Unexpectedly, these words of AhZhu stirred his heart. He had almost stopped crying, but upon hearing her words, his eyes reddened once more, his lips drooped downwards, and once more his tears poured down his face, and he once more started bawling in tune with AhZhu.
Shan Zheng shook his head. In a clear voice, he said, “Although my surname is ‘Shan’, ‘Single’, I have a wife and four concubines, and my sons and grandchildren fill my home. You, Mr. Shuang Wai, have a surname ‘Shuang’, Double’, but you are a solitary, lonely figure. This sort of affair should have been dealt with long ago. There’s no point to bringing it up now. I’m afraid it’s rather too late. Brother Shuang, we were invited to come to Jiangnan by the widow of the late Deputy-Chief Ma of the Beggars Clan. Did we come for the purpose of discussing your marriage and matrimonial status?” Zhao Qiansun shook his head. “No.”
Shan Zheng said, “In that case, it would be best if we discussed the serious business which brought us to the Beggars Clan in the first place.”
Zhao Qiansun suddenly shouted out angrily, “What? The business of the Beggars Clan is serious business, but the business between me and Little Juan is not?”
By this point, Grandpa Tan had reached the ends of his patience. He said, “Ah Hui, Ah Hui! If you don’t hurry and keep him from continuing to act crazy, I won’t be able to restrain myself.” After hearing him address her as ‘Ah Hui’, everyone present realized, “So Granny Tan has another name after all. ‘Little Juan’ is a term which Zhao Qiansun alone uses.”
Stamping her foot, Granny Tan said, “He isn’t going crazy. You harmed him and made him become like this. Aren’t you content yet?”
Surprised, Grandpa Tan said, “I…I…I…how did I harm him?”
Granny Tan said, “I married you, you horrible old man. Naturally, my martial-brother feels miserable about it…”
Grandpa Tan said, “When you married me, I was neither horrible nor old.”
Granny Tan angrily said, “Have you no shame? Are you claiming that in the past, you were handsome and graceful?”
Elder Xu and Shan Zheng looked at each other, shaking their heads. They thought that these three babies were old, but not at all dignified or mature. The three of them were all senior members of wulin with a great deal of personal prestige, and yet they were now squabbling over the passions of their youth in front of so many people. It was truly ridiculous.
Elder Xu let out a cough. “Father and son of Mt. Taishan, husband and wife of Mt. Taihang, and this friend as well, thank you for gracing us with your presences this day. Everyone in our humble clan, from top to bottom, feel very honored. Madame Ma, please tell your tale, starting from the beginning.”
Madame Ma was originally standing still on one side with her head down, her back towards everyone. She had overheard what Elder Xu said, so she slowly turned around and in a quiet voice said: "My husband was unfortunate and passed away, I only know how to curse my fate at not being able to bear any children to continue the Ma bloodline..." Her voice although quiet, yet clear, caused the words that entered the ears of everyone who heard to shed tears. Her tone until this point was emotional, but now it seemed to be choked by tears. All the heroes in the forest after hearing her talked was touched all the way to their soul. With one cry Zhao Qiansun made everyone laughed, AhZhu made everyone amazed, but Madame Ma made everyone sorrowful.
Madame Ma continued, "After I had buried my husband, I went through the belongings he left behind, in the place with the Buddhist scriptures there was a letter that was sealed with wax. On the cover of the letter it was written: "In case that I died peacefully, burn this letter immediately. If opened, then my soul in heaven (yellow river) will not be able to rest in peace. But if I died in a suspicious manner, this letter must be handed over to all the Beggars Clan Elders to read together. This matter is of utmost importance, it must not be failed.”
When Madame Ma talked to this point, the entire forest was quiet; a needle falling to the ground could still be heard. She paused for a moment then continued, “I saw that since my husband wrote seriously thus, I know this matter is important so I immediately searched for Bangzhu to hand over this letter. It was coincidence that Bangzhu along with the Clan Elders are at Jiangnan regarding matters of revenge for my dead husband. Because of that I have not yet been able to hand over the letter.
People there noticed a different shift in her tone, emphasizing “coincidence” and then “because of that”. Together everyone looked at Qiao Feng from the corner of their eyes.
Qiao Feng all afternoon had dealt with the devious plot directed at himself, although he had suppressed Quan GuanQing and the Clan Elders’ rebellion, he had not yet put this matter to rest. Now after he heard Madame Ma speak, he now felt lighter inside than before, his complexion calm and thought to himself, “Whatever plot these people are planning, come out and say it and be done with it. In this lifetime I have never done anything to be ashamed of so why would I be scared of someone trying to slander me.”
Madame Ma continued, “I know that this letter has implications to the clan, and since Bangzhu and Clan Elders were not at Luoyang, I dare not delay so I immediately went to Zhengzhou to see Elder Xu and ask him to take charge of this matter. As for what this matter is… Elder Xu, please explain to everyone here.
Elder Xu coughed a few times before speaking, “This matter if spoken out loud involves matters of gratitude and grudges. I foresee that the consequences are very hard to imagine.” Those few sentences conveyed a deep worrisome meaning. He slowly opened a cloth bag from his shoulders, took out the letter, and said, “This is the will of Ma Dayuan. Great ancestors, grandfather, and father of Dayuan, many generations have belonged to the Beggars Clan, and had been, if not can elders then at least 8- bag members. I knew Ma Dayuan since he was little and am very familiar with his handwriting. The words on this letter are definitely Ma Dayuan’s handwriting. When Madame Ma handed me this letter, the wax seal on it has not been touched. I was afraid it held important matters and dared not delay it so I opened it immediately without waiting for the other Elders. When opening the letter, the Iron Faced Judge of Mt. Taishan, Shan Zheng, were there as witness.”
Shan Zheng spoke up, “What he said was true. I was there to visit Elder Xu at that moment when he opened the letter.”
Elder Xu opened the envelope taking out the letter and said, “I examined the letter inside and saw that it was not written by Ma Dayuan and was a little surprised. The beginning of the letter was to: Brother Jiantong, and this is even weirder. Jiantong is the name of Wang Bangzhu - the former Bangzhu of the Beggars Clan. If the person who wrote this letter was not a good friend of his, then they would not have addressed him as such. Moreover Wang Bangzhu had passed away for a long time, so who would write a letter to him? At this point I have not yet read what was written in the letter but immediately skipped to the end to see the name on the signature. Upon reading it I was even more surprised. At that point I couldn’t contain myself and exclaimed ‘So it was him!’ Brother Shan was curious and peeked his head over to see and also exclaimed ‘So it was him!’”
Shan Zheng nodded his head hinting that it happened exactly like that.
Zhao Qiansun sneaked in “Mister Shan, what you did was not right. This is a secret letter of the Beggars Clan. You are not a 1-bag member of the clan, nor a 2-bag, nor even a lowly street beggar who goes around asking for food. How come you dared to peek at a secret letter belonging to others?” Everyone there thought that he was like a madman but now he actually made sense. Shan Zheng’s faced turned red and hurriedly said, “I… I only looked at the signature at the end of the letter and not what was actually written in that letter.”
Zhao Qiansun replied, “If one stole 1000 gold one is a thief, if one stole 1 copper one is still a thief. The amount of money is different. But stealing a large amount is still stealing and stealing a small amount is still stealing. Sneaking a glance at a letter belonging to others is not an act of a gentleman. If you are not a gentlemen then you are a shameless person, and a shameless person is someone everyone should look down upon. If you are already a shameless person then you deserved to die.”
Shan Zheng raised his hand to keep his five sons from acting rashly, thinking “Just let him talk nonsense and see where this goes.” Though he was boiling on the inside, he calmly thought to himself that there was something more to this, and asked himself “This person just met me and he’s already trying to stir up trouble, did he already had grudge with me from the past perchance? In Jianghu there are not many who don’t give face to the name Taishan Shan Zheng. Why can’t I figure it out?”
Everyone else was waiting for Elder Xu to say the name of the person in the letter to see what kind of person he was that caused Elder Xu and Shan Zheng to both be shocked. While they all were trying to think of this matter, Zhao Qiansun started speaking out of turn with some other nonsense causing many people to stare at him in anger.
Granny Tan suddenly spoke up, “What is everyone looking at? Every word my senior martial brother said was the truth.”
Zhao Qiansun saw Granny Tan spoke up for him, felt ecstatic inside, and said, “Everyone look here, even Lian Xiaojuan agrees, so how can I be in the wrong. Whatever Lian Xiaojuan has said or done in the past had never been wrong.”
But suddenly another but shockingly similar voice to Zhao Qiansun cut in, “That is right. Whatever Lian Xiaojuan says or do has never been wrong. She married Grandpa Tan, and did not married me… she did not marry wrong at all!” The person who said that was Azhu. Starting at the moment when Zhao Qiansun talked bad about Murong Fu, she was still holding a grudge inside so she couldn’t help herself from making fun of him. Zhao Qiansun after hearing that didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and fell victim to the specialty of the Murong family move: ‘Returning you with your own move’.
Immediately there were two faces looking at Azhu intimately and full with approval, on there right there was Grandpa Tan’s and on the left there was Shan Zheng.
A person’s shadow flashed and Granny Tan jumped in front of Azhu with a raised palm and slapped her hard in the face and piqued “Whether I marry right or wrong, what does it have to do with a
lowly servant girl like you?” She raised her hand very fast that even though Azhu wanted to dodge it, she couldn’t. Another person, even if next to her, wouldn’t even be fast enough to step in to help. A loud squeak of pain was heard and on the powder white face of Azhu there was purple handprint.
Zhao Qiansun laughed out loud, “This smelly girl deserved her lesson. Who told her to be gossipy about other people’s business?”
Azhu with tears running down her cheeks started crying out loud. Grandpa Tan stepped up and stuck his hand into his pocket pulling out a small jade box, opened it, and started spreading ointment onto the face of Azhu. Granny Tan slapped her skillfully and quickly, raising her palm and pulling it back in just a single motion. Grandpa Tan applying ointment to her face had to use many different motions but it was even faster than Granny Tan’s slap. Azhu didn’t even get a chance to move and the ointment was already on her face, her bruised face suddenly started to heal and feel better. At the same time in her left hand she was holding something. She opened her palm to see a small jade box; seeing that she knew that Grandpa Tan just gave her a box of special ointment to treat her injury. Azhu, as fast as she had started crying, had suddenly started smiling.
Elder Xu had no reason to pay attention to Granny Tan bicker with Grandpa Tan, so he lowered his voice and continued, “My brothers! As for the person who wrote this letter, I cannot say at this moment. I have been in the Beggars Clan for over 70 years, have retired to live in seclusion for 30 years and no longer have any dealings with business in Jianghu. I don’t have any conflicts with people nor do people have enmities with me. I have lived in this world for a long time, yet I don’t have any children nor do I have any students thus I harbor neither hidden bias nor agendas. I am about to say a few words, will you all be able to believe what I say?”
The group of beggars all said together, “If we don’t trust Elder Xu then who can we trust?”
Elder Xu turned around and looked at Qiao Feng and asked, “What say you Bangzhu?”
Qiao Feng replied, “I have always respected Elder Xu, Elder should know this already.”
Elder Xu then continued, “After reading this letter, I felt both hurt and anger in my heart. I had doubts, that I am mistaken and have erred in my thinking, so I immediately showed it to brother Shan Zheng. Everyone must keep in mind that Brother Shan and the person who wrote this letter have always been intimate with each other. He can recognize the handwriting of that person. This matter has important implications so I needed to ask Brother Shan to examine this letter to see if it is true or false.”
Shan Zheng looked forward and stared at Zhao Qiansun implying “Do you have anything more to say?”
Zhao Qiansun replied, “If Elder Xu showed the letter to you, then of course you have a right to look at it. However it still doesn’t dismiss the fact that the first time you saw it, it was because you sneaked a peak. No different from a thief swearing in front of Buddha that he will never steal again, and even though he changed his ways, it still doesn’t wash away the fact that he was once a thief.”
Elder Xu, paid no attention to Zhao Qiansun trying to stir up trouble, and continued talking, “Brother Shan! Will Brother Shan please announce to everyone here whether this letter is real or fake?”
Shan Zheng replied, “The person who wrote this letter and I are good friends and have exchanged letters with each other for many years. In my house I still kept many of his old letters, so I led Elder Xu and Madam Ma back to my place to compare them. Not only the handwriting matches, but also the envelope and the wax seal were all of one kind and does not leave any doubt as to who wrote the letter.”
Elder Xu said, “I won’t live for much longer so everything that I do, I must be careful. Especially since this matter has important implications to the Beggars Clan and the reputation and name of a hero, how could I dare be reckless and take liberty of the matter?”
After hearing him say that, everyone turned their faces to look at Qiao Feng, knowing immediately that the hero that he was implying were Qiao Bangzhu himself. With that being said, no one dared to look at him straight in the eyes opting instead to look down at the ground when their eyes meet.
Elder Xu continued, “I knew that the Tan husband and wife living on Mt. Taishan and the person who wrote the letter knew each other for many years, so I paid a visit to Cavern of Flowing Clouds. Grandpa Tan and Granny Tan shared with me everything to confirm this matter. I truly didn’t dare to come straight out and talk about this matter by myself.”
At this time everyone realized that Elder Xu invited the Tan husband and wife and Shan Zheng here to testify and serve as witnesses.
Elder Xu then continued, “At that time Granny Tan said that she has ‘a martial brother that can bear first hand witness to this matter. If we can invite him to testify his account then everything can become clear. This person is mister Zhao Qiansun. But this person acts differently and more eccentric than the average person, he won’t accept just anybody’s invitation.’ But he still holds Granny Tan in high regard. As soon as her invitation letter arrived, Zhao Qiansun immediately agreed to come...”
Grandpa Tan suddenly got angry and stared at Granny Tan then asked, “What? You were the one to ask him to come? Why didn’t you tell me first before you two carried out covert exchanges behind my back?”
Granny Tan became angry and shouted back, “What is this ‘covert exchanges’ you mentioned? I wrote a letter and asked Elder Xu to send someone to deliver it. That is the right and honorable thing that I did befitting a wife. You have a penchant for pointless jealousy. If you knew then you would nag incessantly about it bringing down the house, so that’s why I chose not to tell you.”
Grandpa Tan replied, “Hiding something from your husband violates the moral ethics of husband and wife, and that is not right!”
Granny Tan, not in the mood to argue more, took her palm and punched him in the middle of his face. Grandpa Tan, although his martial arts are higher than his wife, didn’t block nor did he dodge, just stood still for his wife to hit him. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box to rub ointment onto his face to stop the swelling. The person who struck was fast, but the person who applied ointment was even faster. The anger of this husband and wife caused everyone to find it ridiculous.
Zhao Qiansun seeing this, gave a long sigh and in a sad hurt voice said, “So that’s how it is. So that’s how it is. So regretful. If I had known sooner then in the past I would have allowed her to slap me around a few times. Not a difficult thing to do.” His voice was full of regret.
Granny Tan replied in an equally regretful voice, “Who told you to hit me back when I hit you in the past? You never once yielded to me.”
Zhao Qiansun looked up in a dumb looking stupor, started to reminiscence on the old times about a certain martial sister with a volatile temper. A misstep around her and one would be on the defensive all day. Every time he got hit for a nonsense reason, he could not endure nor yield so back and forth they go, thus killing any chance for love before it had a chance to mature. Now seeing Grandpa Tan withstand her beating without a sound, he was finally enlightened, and now repented bitterly with a heart full of grief. Over the past few decades, he was bitter at his martial sister for choosing another man, thinking it was due to some significant reason. But who would have thought that his rival’s only advantage was that he was willing to serve as her whipping post. "Oy, if I only I had known back then, I would let her hit me more, then she would be satisfied."
Elder Xu spoke up, “Mister Zhao Qiansun!! Please give some input and say to everyone whether the contents of this letter are true or false.”
Zhao Qiansun, still lost in his thoughts, muttered, “I am such an idiot, at that time why couldn’t I figure it out? Studying martial arts are for beating enemies, beating evil, beating lowlife bastards, who would have thought to use it for beating a loved one, beating the person of your dreams. If being beaten was love, being scolded was love, being slapped around was love, then what was such a big deal that I couldn’t endure it back then.”
Everyone seeing him so infatuated found it slightly touching yet also ridiculous. The Beggars Clan was facing an important matter that needed to be resolved. Elder Xu had invited this person from afar to testify, but who knew this person turned out to be a love struck fool, can what he has to say be taken seriously?
Elder Xu reminded him, “Mister Zhao Qiansun, we all asked you here so you can talk about what is in this letter.”
Zhao Qiansun replied, “Oh right, right, elder is asking about the matter in the letter right? That letter, though short, is full of meaning: 40 years ago we were fellow students, the memories are still fresh. Every time little sister thinks back, I start missing those days. Although martial brother’s head is now gray, your smiling face is no different from years past...” Elder Xu was asking about the letter Ma Dayuan left behind, but he actually recited Granny Tan’s letter that he memorized by heart.
Elder Xu was speechless and not knowing what to do, turned to Granny Tan and said, “Madam Tan! Madam please ask him to cooperate.”
Granny Tan witnessed Zhao Qiansun unexpectedly take an ordinary letter of hers and recited it fluently by heart, knew in her soul that he must have read that letter forward and back many times. She was very touched and sweetly said, “Martial brother! Martial brother please talk about the situation at that time.”
Zhao Qiansun replied, “I remembered that scene like it was still in front of my eyes, the memories of it were like it happened yesterday. Martial sister had combed your hair into two braids, each one tied by a red string. That day Shifu taught us the move Stealing Dragon Switching Phoenix....”
Granny Tan slowly shook her head and said, “Martial brother, Elder Xu is not asking about our past. Martial brother once had participated in the bloody battle at Shi Guqian (Quarry Stone Valley) outside Yanmen Guan Pass. Martial brother please tell everyone what the situation was like at that time.”
Zhao Qiansun shakily said, “Outside Yanmen Guan Pass? At Quarry Stone Valley... I... I...” His complexion suddenly changed color. He suddenly turned towards the southwest direction where there wasn’t a single soul and started running away. His lightness skill was strong and fast. He ran all the way into the forest and it would be hard for anyone to catch him, so everyone started to yell “Mister Zhao Qiansun! Don’t run! Please come back!” Zhao Qiansun paid gave no heed and ran even harder.
Suddenly there was a loud ringing voice, “Martial brother’s head is now gray, your smiling face is now crooked, different from years past...”
Zhao Qiansun immediately halted, turned around and asked, “Who said that?”
That other person continued, “If it is not so then why upon seeing Grandpa Tan do you feel inferior, turn tail and run away?” Everyone looked to see who spoke, and it was Quan GuanQing.
Zhao Qiansun angrily yelled back, “Who felt inferior? His kungfu is only good for standing there to take punishment and not hit back. How is that better than me?”
All of a sudden on the other side of the forest an old man’s voice was heard, “Taking punishment but not dishing it back is the hardest kungfu to learn under heaven. It is not a simple, no?”
- END OF CHAPTER 15 -