Chapter 45: Tavern Brawl
Wenchang glanced at them out of the corner of his eye and saw on their belts finely-crafted money bags embroidered with a black tiger. The throwing knives were already spinning as they made their pleasantries.
The shuttle-shaped knives were only three inches long, and they spun very fast, becoming two pale balls of light. They swept past the two leather strings holding up the money bag fastened to the nearest belt, slanting past and whipping around as the money bag dropped.
Wenchang stuck the tip of his foot out and caught the two knives as he reached his hand out and caught the money bag between two fingers as he pocketed the knives with the other hand. His movements were rapid and went undetected, a highly-skilled feat.
He opened the bag under the table. It was a leather bag with two compartments, one containing a gold ingot, the other four pearls wrapped in satin.
He stuffed the money bag in the leg of his boot and cut the ingot of gold in two with his dagger, which was a divine implement, peerlessly sharp, slicing the gold neatly. He put the pears in the fold of his robe, then took a leisurely drink.
His handsome face was flushed with a jug of wine in his belly. He was nearly half drunk and looking even more dashing. Once he had eaten his fill he called an attendant over to settle the bill.
"Aiya! Oh no!" It was the man who had lost his money bag.
"What is it, Your Excellency?" someone asked.
"Heavens! My money pouch, my money pouch…"
The second floor became noisy with everyone talking at once, all the guests watching in surprise.
Half an ingot of gold was worth five taels of silver. As turmoil reigned, he leisurely went down the stairs.
This was his first time and he felt a bit nervous and awkward, and he lacked experience. He made show of looking nonchalant, but it wouldn't fool anyone paying attention. If he had stayed there and looked on with curiosity, everything would have been fine. Instead he calmly went down the stairs, unnoticed from the crowd of clamoring people, but that's what gave him away. With everyone in an uproar, yet only he calm as if nothing had happened, of course it was suspicious.
The two officers stood and looked around and then gave each other a look and indicated to the stairs where Wenchang had just left, then bent down and whispered something to one of the fatties before hurrying after.
Downstairs was the main hall and there were no banquet tables set up here. Instead, this was a reception room; the banquet tables were in the rear hall.
Wenchang stepped off the stairs just as he heard hurried footsteps behind him. He paid no attention as someone called out, "Just a minute, little brother."
He didn't know who the person was talking to, but he didn't know anyone here so it couldn't be him, so he continued on, strutting.
A big hand came down on his left shoulder, a heavy hand, pinching him slightly, ready to press his shoulder well acupoint.
A figure darted in front of him, one of the officers, his face slightly pointed. He blocked the way and crossed his arms, his mouth curled up in a malevolent smile.
Wenchang flinched, knew he'd been found out. But he didn't show it on his face; in fact he was even more calm, more collected. He turned around slowly. "Eh? Huh? You talking to me?"
The man behind him smiled faintly, but he didn't let go. "I'm Leng Qian, Company Commander to the Prince of Qin. Yes, I'm talking to you."
"What is your honorable name, little brother?"
"My surname is Cai, given name Wenchang. Sir…"
Leng Qian stuck his hand out. "Hand it over, Little Brother Cai," he said coldly.
"Huh? Hand what over?" Wenchang feigned surprise.
"The money pouch," Leng Qian said flatly.
Leng Qian hmphed. "The owner of that money pouch upstairs. He's Chang'an's own Vampire Third Master Feng, usurer and pettifogging lawyer, rich and heartless, a detestable character. But do you know who operates this Chang'an Tavern? Little brother, I am one of them. Hand over the money pouch and you can be on your way. Otherwise…"
The arrow was nocked on the bowstring; there was no turning back now. He had already spent some of the gold and had been caught his first time thieving, how absurd. Wenchang made up his mind to see this through to the end. "I don't know what you're talking about. Let go, sir."
"You want me to search you?" Leng Qian said as he squeezed his hand harder.
Wenchang used his ultimate breathing to concentrate his qi at his shoulder well acupoint to resist the man's grip. "You actually want to…"
"Once I find it, you…"
Wenchang punched suddenly, because Leng Qian had already pressed his acupoint, using seven-tenths of his strength. His fist slammed into Leng Qian's belly.
"Augh…" Leng Qian had underestimated Wenchang's strength and was taken by surprise. He had been hit hard, making him go limp all over as he clutched his stomach and doubled over and nearly falling over.
"Get out of here with this nonsense!" Wenchang roared. He threw a right and cracked Leng Qian in the jaw. His other hand turned and shot out with a smack to his chest, sending Leng Qian flying back ten feet where he fell on his back by the stairs.
The other officer bellowed and attacked Wenchang from behind.
The fight got everyone's attention. As soon as the attendants saw their boss being hit, they all started shouting and looking for implements to use as weapons. Thet blocked the main entrance and shouts of "Grab him" and "Beat him" filled the main hall.
By now it was light out and everyone outside piled in to see what was going on, thereby clogging up the main entrance so bad not even a drop of water could leak out.
Wenchang was already determined to finish this off. He spun and blocked the coming attack with his hand and whipped his leg around and kicked the officer who had attacked him from behind.
The officer was pretty good himself, dodging three kicks and returning three punches and two slaps as they opened up a highly-skilled, all-out assault.
They moved swiftly, too fast for anyone else to step in and help, and no one dared try it either. Though the attendants were calling for the thief to be arrested, there were few onlookers who believed it would happen, and they didn't know which was the thief. One was an armed guard to the Prince of Qin, but someone like that would never be called to nab a thief. The other was a splendidly-dressed young man who definitely did not look like a thief.
"Maybe they're fighting over a woman," one of the onlookers said. "On of those Chang'an Tavern prostitutes causing trouble." There was a hint of malicious ridicule in the person's voice.
Leng Qian struggled to sit up and shook his head as if to shake off his dizziness. He touched his mouth and felt blood. He clenched his teeth got to his feet. "Take the dog's leg off!"
He drew his own sword and everyone around him shrank back.
Wenchang didn't want to get besieged and he didn't want to kill in a busy public area. He had to break out, but outside the hall was packed with people so there was no way out. He'd have to cook up a new scheme to get away.
The main hall had five exits and the main entrance was crammed full. The two rear exits were also clogged up. There were fewer people at the exit to the right because that led to a rest area for the families of VIP guests. The exit on the left was locked up because that was the area where the serving girls and singers entertained guests, but they were not receiving anyone today.
Wenchang saw his way out; the right-hand exit was the road to escape.
The officer was a great fighter; they faced off three times within the spacious hall and blocked over a dozen strikes each. They seemed to be evenly matched. But their attacks were becoming more and more vicious and they were throwing more and more power into their strikes as they closed in closer and closer to each other, the sound of fists and legs whipping cutting through the air clearly audible.
Just then, Leng Qian lunged from the rear, brandishing his sword.
Wenchang knocked away two punches from the officer and was about to counter when Leng Qian's sword attacked his right side.
He swung his left fist, and when the officer dodged he darted past the tip of the sword and hooked his hand around and grabbed Leng Qian's sword wrist and pulled backward. "Down you go!" he said as he stuck his foot out.
Leng Qian had taken several punches already and was already hurt, about six-tenths of his strength gone, so he was naturally slow to react. He was pulled forward hard as his feet were tangled up and he pitched forward heavily. "You all are abusing your power to bully people. You just wait!"
"Dirty thief, don't think about getting away!" two attendants shouted as they swung their wooden staffs at him.
Wenchang was like a crazed tiger as he darted to the side and charged between them, chopping on either side with both hands with "Sharing the Glory", slamming down on their left and right shoulders, respectively. The attendants cried out fell forward, losing their staffs.
Wenchang grabbed a large round-backed chair and roared and smashed it against the closed hall doors, breaking them open as the chair splintered to pieces. He threw the remaining piece of broken chair behind him, which crashed into the officer charging at him. He then vanished like a wisp of smoke as he darted into the right hall and leapt up the stairs.
There was a parlor on the second floor where over a dozen noblewomen and fair ladies and gentlemen sat staring stunned at the staircase entrance, unaware of what had happened downstairs.
A silver-purple figure flashed and Wenchang appeared, his cloak fluttering as he stood at the entrance.
Three attendants shouted, "You thug! You have a lot of nerve to come up here and disturb…"
They rushed him, bearing down menacingly. Wenchang squeezed past them, hitting, blocking, pushing, sending all three attendants sailing down the stairs, blocking the people who were trying to rush up.
There were two windows on the left, already opened. He could see a roof ridge not far off. They won't be able to catch me on the roof, he thought.
He ran to the window, but he had to pass by three noblewomen. They shrieked when they saw him coming at them, and fainted.
A green skirt fluttered in front of the window. A young girl and a pretty maidservant were standing there in a daze, their deep eyes betraying a hint of shock, but they stared at Wenchang who was smiling after dispatching those attendants. They were not afraid at all.
Wenchang approached and the girl shook her head. "Are… Are you a thief? You…"
Wenchang was stunned. He paused and looked and felt his heart leap in his chest. It was a pretty girl fifteen or sixteen years old, wrapped in tanuki fur with a long, dark green pleated skirt. He couldn't make out her figure, but her eyebrows were lovely, her fair fair with pink cheeks. Every feature was beautiful, well-proportioned and symmetrical. Her large, diamond-like eyes were contrasted by her long, black eyelashes. Her eye seemed to glitter and they harbored a trace of panic. Her little scarlet lips, half-concealed by her fur coat, were heartstopping, so loveable and precious. Her slender figure and enchanting expression shook Wenchang. What a beautiful girl, he thought. Really lovely.
He didn't have time to check her out any more as someone appeared at the top of the stairs. He ran toward her.
"Ah…" she yelped, and her pretty face changed color.
He reached out and pushed her aside and went to the window and looked back, smirking. "Before long, this place will close down for good."
The person after him was the unwounded officer, who swung his sword as he roared, "Where do you think you're going you dirty thief? Give yourself up!"
Wenchang hopped onto the windowsill and laughed. "I'm afraid I must be going now. I'll come see you again if when I have time."
Then he leapt out onto the roof and ran off.
There were three dignified middle-aged men in the room. They had been stunned when the officer appeared. The one on the northern seat was manly-looking with a long beard divided into five tufts. He stroked his beard and said, "Commander Song, what's going on?"
Commander Song was about to leap onto the windowsill when he heard his name. He stopped and turned and his face sank. He reluctantly sheathed his sword and bowed. "Your humble servant is trying to apprehend a thief."
"Apprehend a thief? In broad daylight in a tavern?" He was unhappy.
"Allow me to explain, Your Excellency…" He explained everything that had happened up to that point.
The man thought briefly. "You could report to His Excellency Tai and let him handle it. There's no need to draw a sword and cause a ruckus and scary everyone in the middle of a busy tavern. If there's a misunderstanding it could harm His Highness' reputation. Go on out of here!"
Commander Song saluted and backed away. "Yes sir, your humble servant will withdraw as ordered." He backed out, but gave him a strange, unamiable look as he did so.
His Excellency swished his sleeve and Commander Song went downstairs angrily. The girl thought Wenchang had wanted to take liberties with her, but actually it was the opposite! He had only glanced at her, then looked away and unexpectedly left. She walked to the middle-aged man and said, "Dad, Commander Song was lying."
"Lying? Child, don't speak so carelessly." He shook his head, smiling. "Good child, were you frightened?"
"That guy didn't seem like a thief…"
"Haha! You can't judge by appearance. The most notorious bandit does not necessarily look fierce or savage. Child, you're really too arbitrary."
"One of the proprietors of this tavern is Commander Leng."
"What does that have to do with that thief who calls himself Cai Wenchang?"
"Dad, just think, why would a commoner dare go against Commander Leng?"
"Child, did you not see how that thief launched himself onto the roof? That kind of person is very audacious. A person like that would not be afraid of any commander. Child, don't get carried away. That Vampire Feng lost some money to the satisfaction of us all. Something to be applauded."
"Dad, how can Vampire want to construct a tower next to our rear courtyard?"
"Child, there's nothing we can do about that. As long as he doesn't violate any codes, how can I prevent him from adding a tower? Besides… Besides… Ah! Let's not talk about it." He had a strange look on his face.