Chapter 52: Make Way!
In the pine grove by the creek, Wenchang and Black Iron Pagoda were exhausted, beaten black and blue, but they were still duking it out. Of course, even though they had come to blows, they were still friends. They didn't target each others' vital areas nor use weapons. They weren't finished yet, but a few bruises wouldn't hurt anything. But fighting like this was consuming more energy and their heavy blows were almost unbearable.
Just as they were at the limits of their energy, the little beggar showed up.
Wenchang put his hand against a tree trunk to hold himself up and glared at Black Iron Pagoda opposite him. "Stick your nose in my business again and I'll flatten you."
He reared back and tagged Black Iron Pagoda in the jaw. The latter grunted as his head was thrown back. Then he advanced again.
Another blast to the other side of his jaw, but Black Iron Pagoda didn't fall down. He leaned against a pine tree. "I'll wake you up good." He threw a hook to the side of Wenchang's head, then another into his jaw.
Wenchang grunted and threw his leg out and they both toppled over.
The little beggar was still a hundred feet away. He was at a loss as he saw them, battered and bloody, clothes dishevelled. What were they fighting for? "Stop! Stop! Have you two gone crazy? Sto—"
Wenchang and Black Iron Pagoda fell into the creek, splashing water everywhere.
The water was chest-deep. Getting dunked in that frigid water woke them up quick, and they continued to struggle in the water.
Black Iron Pagoda was a dry-land duck. He was scared being submersed in the water. He shouted and gurgled, gulping a few mouthfuls of water. He couldn't stand up and sank under the water.
Wenchang came to his senses. He remembered Black Iron Pagoda had said he was afraid of water. He quickly grabbed Pagoda's hair and pulled him up. But his strength had given out and Black Iron Pagoda was heavy as a black bear. How could he pull him up? He slipped and fell. Black Iron Pagoda clung to him, holding on like grim death. "Oh no, help… help… glgugg… help me… gluggg…"
The little beggar was quick. He rushed into the water and grabbed Wenchang's arm and lifted him up and dragged him to the bank. "What are you two doing?"
They crawled on the ground, gasping for breath. Black Iron Pagoda was throwing up water and shaking his head. Wenchang took a few deep breaths and smiled wryly. "I got mad and starting fighting. This big bear wanted to pull me out of the mire, but instead dragged me under water."
"You're not gonna f*ckin' drown, but I was just about done for," Black Iron Pagoda said in a daze.
Wenchang reached his hand out and grabbed the back of Pagoda's hand which was on the ground. "It was my fault, Black Iron Pagoda. I'm sorry."
"I was wrong too. I overreacted and made things worse." Black Iron Pagoda grabbed his hand in response and shook his head.
The little beggar sat beside them and furrowed his brow. "You guys are confusing the hell out of me. What happened? Oh! Black Iron Pagoda is Master Clearcause's nephew, part of a great family of the martial fraternity. His primordial qigong is a consummate skill among the martial fraternity. But he's a blockhead, so no wonder you came to blows."
Wenchang turned over and sat up and laughed. "He's not a blockhead. His words are more intelligent than those of intelligent people. Too bad he spoke too late."
Black Iron Pagoda sat up as well and rolled his eyes and wiped his face. "Who are you, little beggar?"
The little beggar fell over laughing when he saw Black Iron Pagoda looking like a soaked chicken. When he was done laughing he said, "I'm Fang Xiaoshan. Big Blackie, you ought to change before you freeze to death."
"It's fine, I'm not afraid of the cold. I'm just afraid of water." He got his bag and fished around in it for a change of clothes.
Wenchang changed into his purple-silver clothes and sat next to the little beggar. "Brother Xiaoshan, how did you get away from Jianghu Patrol God?"
"Ah! How do you know about him?"
"Black Succubus Gu Zhen told me…" He told all about how he had taken the horse to break out of the encirclement and how he had entered the valley and run into Seven Spells and them and stole the Autumn Mountain Mist painting and nearly lost his life. He told about what the Mysterious Altar Temple and being saved by Outcast Androgyne. He didn't leave anything out. Finally, he said, "Black Succubus Gu Zhen and Outcast Androgyne are seen as licentious, horrible people, they saved my life. The Three Heroes of Chang'an might secretly be bandits, but they once helped me out as well. Think about it, how can I be indifferent to them and turn my back on them? Besides, I'm just an exile with nowhere to turn, no way to make a living. How can I survive if I don't steal and rob? I've said all I have to say. You two can decide if you still want to be my friend. If not, then we'll part here and go our separate ways. No need to feel sorry about our earlier friendship. I make my home wherever I am, roaming all over. Friendship is valuable, but surviving is even more so. I have to survive. Fame and fortune are as fleeting as clouds passing by. Undeserved reputations and empty honors are the downfall of mankind. I want to live. I don't care what anyone thinks about me."
Black Iron Pagoda shook his head with a wry smile. "Ridiculous! Ridiculous!"
"Wonderful, wonderful!" The little beggar at least was in high spirits.
"Little beggar, you think his foolish talk is right?" Black Iron Pagoda said.
"That's right. You don't think so? Come on, let's loosen up our muscles, Big Blackie." He jumped up and gesticulated wildly like he was ready to fight.
"We can't fight, you're too little," Black Iron Pagoda said, waving his hand.
"Then put up your dukes; if you think you're so great, then let's find out." The little beggar was provoking him.
"Fine, you're better. Anyway, I'm not going to fight you."
Black Iron Pagoda wasn't going to take the bait. Wenchang threw away his tattered clothes. "I don't have any boots to change into. I'll just make do with these. It's getting late, we ought to part ways now."
"I'm going with you," the little beggar said.
"No matter what was said, we're buddies," Black Iron Pagoda said candidly.
The little beggar curled his lips. "You ought to be careful hanging around us evil bastards, a great freeloading xia like you. Your Abbess Clearcause will have your hide. Besmirching the Fan family name would be the most heinous of crimes!"
"F*ck off, little beggar. You've got a smart mouth." Black Iron Pagoda rolled his eyes and threw a punch.
The little beggar ducked the punch and threw one of his own into Pagoda's ribs, then scurried away twenty feet and laughed boisterously. His hands were too quick. It was really admirable.
"We can't enter the city during the day," Wenchang said. "Where do we go?"
"From here we can go around to Yongning Gate and stay for a while in Benediction Temple, then enter the city at night," the little beggar said. "We have to finish what we started. We'll go to Northwest Escort Agency and get us some gold and silver for traveling expenses. Then, we'll go east through Tong Pass and head for the capital, wander around and see the world."
"Alright! When we get to Henan we mustn't pass up the chance to visit Shaolin Monastery." Black Iron Pagoda was surprisingly on board.
"Then, let's go," Wenchang said. "But, I would like to find Bloodsucker Feng; that would be better than Northwest Escort Agency, though I have no qualms about taking their money either." He started off with big strides.
The little beggar led the way. He laughed. "Brother Wenchang, how come you have no qualms? Those fellows earn their keep at the point of a sword. You'll be risking your life!"
Wenchang said resentfully, "Just the opposite. Their escort agency is the same bunch as those outlaws of the greenwood, relying on banditry to get ahead. They're more despicable than greenwood bandits." He told them about Black Flag Sovereign and Northwest Escort Agency colluding together, as well as the collaboration between Black Flag Sovereign and Endless Valley.
The little beggar listened quietly, but he was puzzled. "I know about Northwest Escort Agency and Black Flag Sovereign, but Nine Palace Fortress and Endless Valley's collusion is just a rumor with no conclusive evidence. If it were really the case then how come I haven't heard of it? Strange!"
"There's a lot you don't know!" Black Iron Pagoda said.
"Surely you jest! When it comes to secrets of the martial fraternity, if I, Fang Xiaoshan, don't know about it, then how could I call myself Fang?"
"Hmph! What's so special about the Fang name? Unless you're from the Fang family of Misery Valley at Whitecap Mountain in Yunyang, Sichuan. Too bad you're not."
The little beggar shrugged and giggled, but said nothing.
They crossed the river and took a trail around toward the south gate. This trail was actually not small, it was wide enough for a horse carriage, and people often went back and forth on foot. It was also a shortcut from Xianyang to Zhouling. It was really cold so there were few travelers and they hardly saw anyone on the way.
The little beggar led the way, Wenchang and Black Iron Pagoda walking side by side behind. They wound around a large pond and the trail broke off to the east.
The sound of horse hooves came from up ahead, followed by rumbling of carriage wheels. They were coming toward them, but were obstructed by the hill in front and the woods, so they couldn't see the horse and carriage yet.
The carriage appeared on the east side of the pond. In front were six fast horses, their riders dressed in teal and wearing lambskin coats. They wore sabres and a bow and arrows were stuck in a scabbard beside the saddle. Horse and rider were tall and imposing, quite spirited.
Behind, two horses guarded a two-horse light carriage. The riders on these two horses were a sight. Fox-fur robes, hero caps, swords, travel bags, green capes embroidered with flowers. Their capes flapped in the wind, very spirited. The rider on the left was about twenty or so, with bushy eyebrows and big eyes which glittered. He was short, but his face looked vigorous. The man on the right was twenty-two with delicate features, upward slanting eyebrows and tiger eyes, glowing with heroism. He was big and tall with long arms and broad shoulders. He cut a dashing figure.
The horses pulling the carriage were fiery red and big and strong. The driver was a young man of about sixteen. He wore a white fox cap with the earflaps up, revealing a triangular face and drooping shoulders and a pointed mouth. He wore a white fox-fur vest over a silver satin robe embroidered with cloud and flower patterns. He didn't sit in the driver's seat, but stood brandishing and cracking his whip.
It was a light carriage, a bit like a passenger carriage, painted blue with veil curtains. The windows were half-shut and the light, clear laughter of girls fluttered out. There were at least two girls inside, laughing it up.
Behind the carriage were six more fast horses, the riders dressed the same as the ones in front.
Judging by the ostentation and extravagance it was definitely children of a rich, important family out traveling. There were retainers front and rear and bodyguards on either side.
The little beggar had no intention of causing trouble. He moved over to the left of the road and continued on. The road was large enough to accomodate them as they walked on the outside. Black Iron Pagoda walked in the middle, Wenchang behind him.
The first two horses arrived. The servant on the left shouted when he was thirty feet away, "Stand to the side and let us through. Make way!"
The little beggar started, and stopped. He raised his eyebrows. "Hey! Why so cocky?"
The horse reined in, but the carriage continued speeding along. The man rolled his eyes. "You're pretty bold, wise guy. Get out of the way!"
Black Iron Pagoda got mad. He glared with his big eyes. "You're not the f*ckin' Prince of Qin out on an inspection tour. What are you barking about? Piece of shit, I'll go my way, you go yours. Why do we have to make way? Bah! You must have lost your f*ckin' mind."
The servant bellowed and whipped his horse on.
The carriage stopped and the young driver said, "Beat him half to death, then tie him up and bring him over here so they'll know who the Li family of Fanchuan is. Then we'll turn them over to the courts…" He was already lashing his whip at the little beggar before he finished speaking.
The short guard on the left saw the menacing thing wrapped around Black Iron Pagoda's waist and said, "No don't, young master…"
Shouts erupted from threes sides as things came to a head.
The first to act was Black Iron Pagoda. He grabbed the servant's whip and shot his right hand out. He was tall and the servant was not much taller sitting on the horse. He grabbed the servant's belt. "Get the f*ck outta here!"
The servant rose from the saddle and pitched into the air and fell thirty feet away, landing head first with a crash, his head planting into the mud on the roadside. He struggled on the ground to free himself.
The little beggar was the next to start. He grabbed a whip and jerked and shouted, "Down you go!"
The driver yelped as he was pulled forward. He clung with both hands to the guardrail and shrieked.
Wenchang was the third to act. He was facing a bodyguard. The guard was about to draw his sword to stop the little beggar when Wenchang chopped down on the horse's shoulder. The horse whinnied and the guard was jolted in the saddle. His left foot had been caught by Wenchang, who yelled, "Down!" The guard was pulled from the horse, followed by a crash as a hand slammed into the side of his head. He lay on the ground like a dead dog.
Wenchang quickly confiscated the guard's sword and drew it and leapt onto the carriage. "Take them hostage. Take this!"