The Jing Province was located in the northwest of the State of Yue. Because it was a remote region, there were few cities but many small villages, and many small mountains and hills within the province's borders as well as many desolate areas few ever came across. As a result, the Jing Province was also home to far more bandits than other provinces, and was also where Jianghu Martial Artists lingered the most. While there had never been a great Jianghu faction that managed to unite the region, this area had produced many formidable characters. Bodyguards and caravan escorts rose in opposition to the many bandits.
One day, on the side of a desolate dirt road, a rather common scene in the Jing Province was taking place.
There were over a hundred brawny men wearing rough clothes, each with black scarves covering their heads, surrounding thirty azure-clothed men with various weapons. The azure-clothed men were in turn protecting the several carriages at their center. It was a scene of a group of bandits fighting a group of caravan escorts.
There were three black-clothed men with similar appearances standing at the bandit’s rear. They coldly glanced at the scene with malice occasionally showing on their faces.
Near the carriages there were several men, young and old, wearing similar servant garbs. They each had a club in hand and wore nervous expressions. Inside the four carriages, there were many women and children wearing magnificent clothes, but the carriage at the very front had a calm middle-aged man wearing scholar’s robes. With his long and glossy beard and mustache, he appeared to lack the strength to knock over even a chicken, but he possessed an indescribable air of authority. None that saw him dared to underestimate him.
The middle-aged scholar was sitting across from a man with blue embroidered robes and a thick, pointed mustache and beard. His arms were thick and he possessed a spirited gaze. He was a rarely seen peak Jianghu expert.
These obviously unordinary characters both wore calm expressions and were the only ones inside the large carriage. Although the two were silent, they were examining everything outside from the half-shut curtains, and occasionally heard bloody wails and clangs from the outside.
While the black-scarf bandits were great in number, the azure-clothed caravan guards and the servants were greater in skill. For a time, both sides found themselves in a deadlock.
The scholarly man smiled upon seeing this and spoke to the large man, “It seems there is no need to trouble Brother Li to take action. The Martial Sky Escort should be able to handle it!”
“Haha! If those three leaders of the black-scarf bandits don’t take any action, it is only natural for the Martial Sky Escort to be able to deal with these small fry. But if the three black-scarf leaders were to attack, they wouldn’t last. After all, the three leaders are renowned for their fierceness in the Jing Province. I heard they are brothers by blood and are experts in united techniques. Ordinary experts are no match for them.” After the large man said this, his face faintly revealed a trace of excitement. He bent his stretched finger, producing loud cracks from his hand. It was clear the man was highly skilled in external martial arts.
When the scholarly man saw this, he unconsciously laughed, “Brother Li! Your eagerness to fight is exactly the same as your father!”
The large man responded with a helpless smile, “Little Brother Han, that is to be expected. Our Li Clan is one of martial heritage. If we come across an interesting opponent, it is only natural to wish to measure their might. It is just like how your Han Clan has always been one of great literary repute, and how there is always one or two from your clan that manages to enter the imperial court as an official,” the large man then crossed his hands and said, “Still, I am quite puzzled as to how our Han and Li clans have managed to form such bonds despite having so little in common. This friendship has lasted deeply for many generations and has yet to fade with time!”
The scholarly man smiled and said, “Haha! In the past few days, I flipped through a few letters and unintentionally discovered a few events from the past. If Brother Li wishes to know about them, I can tell you about them, but I don’t know how much of it is true.”
When the large man surnamed Li heard this, he said with a curious expression, “Really? Our Li Clan has no custom of recording our ancestry. Apart from leaving behind a few martial teachings, there is little else left behind, let alone the history behind our clans’ friendship.”
The large man gazed into the distance and his expression changed, “Not good, those three leaders have decided to attack. We’ll have to put this off for now. Tell me about it after I take care of those three.” He then shot out of the carriage as if he were being launched from a crossbow.
Soon after, the large man’s howls of laughter could be heard, followed by mournful screams.
The scholarly man sighed and shook his head before closing the curtain. He didn’t feel the need to look outside as he held complete confidence in the large man.
After the time it took to finish a cup of tea, the sounds outside came to a sudden halt.
The carriage’s curtain fluttered for a moment, and the large man reappeared in the carriage with a blur. He appeared a bit worse for wear. His shoulder was bloodied as if he were slightly wounded, but nonetheless he heartily laughed to the scholarly man and said, “Those three were truly skilled. They had to make me do quite a bit, but having witnessed my might, the black-scarf bandits have disappeared from the Jing Province.” The large man appeared to have enjoyed himself.
When the scholarly man heard this, he wore an apologetic expression, “If I hadn’t brought Brother Li along, I fear I would’ve passed onto the other side with this route being my place of death. Due to the great hatred those enemies hold for me, I was forced to involve Brother Li.”
The large man surnamed Li casually said, “What do you mean involve? The Li Clan steadily established themselves at the top of Jianghu only because of the Han Clan’s great assistance! Helping each other is by no means an external affair.”
“That is true, but I was merely being contrary.” The scholarly man’s smile was replaced with an expression of calm. It seemed he was one of flexible mind.
As the large man smeared a bottle of ointment on his back, he suddenly recalled the matter before the battle, “However, Brother Han, don’t forget to tell me about our clans’ past. I am quite curious about this!”
“Of course. When mentioning it, our clan’s friendship is quite unfathomable. Do your recall the Seven Mysteries Sect, the hegemon of the Jing Province many decades ago? Our ancestors were martial brothers inside this Jianghu faction. According to what was said in the letter, my great uncle was sworn brothers with your ancestor. Our clan’s friendship stemmed from their own friendship. It was also said, my great uncle was quite the formidable character. It was said...”
As the middle-aged scholar calmly spoke, the azure-clothed men buried the corpses from both sides and had the carriages move once more. The carriages soon grew distant and disappeared from the desolate road.
“Green Ox Village?”
Han Li floated a kilometer in the air with his body covered in azure light. He looked down at the village below with a trace of doubt.
Although this village was once pathetically small, only spanning a few kilometers in area, he was no longer able to draw any similarities to the streets that he remembered, but he did manage to remember its surroundings. It did seem to truly be his home village.
In his many years of absence, the village had turned into a bustling town. After staring at it from the sky, he hesitated for a moment before descending into a desolate alleyway under the guise of a concealment technique. Afterwards, he walked out of the alleyway with a swagger and slowly headed down the street.
Seeing the unfamiliar houses and buildings as he walked down the street, Han Li muttered to himself, “It is quite different!”
For some unknown reason, he knew that if he were to head west, he’d be able to see the forest and verdant mountain where he had spent his childhood. However, his steps grew hesitant and slow as he took in the vast changes that had occurred to Green Ox Village.
At that moment, Han Li’s expression was calm, but he hoped that he would soon find something familiar.
However, Han Li was only disappointed until he arrived at a three way intersection. He stopped and stared at a small shabby restaurant at the side of the road.
The restaurant was worn and only two stories high with a yellowish signboard that had the words “Spring Fragrance”. It was the restaurant that Han Li’s third uncle, Fatty Han, had once managed.
Han Li glanced at the restaurant and faintly remembered walking through its sliding doors.
There was the round face of his third uncle, the narrow courtyard behind the restaurant, the dimly lit side room and the tasty food, the black carriage with the banner Seven Mysteries Sect, and many more memories began to clearly appear in Han Li’s mind.
Han Li glanced at the restaurant with a complicated expression. A trace of sadness was betrayed within his eyes.
He stared at the restaurant for a moment before discovering that a few strangers on the road were glancing at him with an odd expression. It came as no surprise. A youth was motionlessly staring at an old shabby restaurant after all.
With a moment more of thought, he calmly walked into the restaurant with his hands held behind his back.