Chapter 53: Hold Up
The little beggar had gotten onto the carriage, his staff raised and about to chop down onto the ghastly-pale young driver. If the staff hit the driver would be half dead if the blow didn't kill him.
The handsome guard on the right saw something was wrong and drew his sword and flew off his saddle and sailed toward the carriage to save the driver. He just happened to meet Wenchang face to face, their swords crossing in midair. They past by each other as sparks showered to the ground.
It all happened quickly. All the servants had been taken by surprise, and by the time they came to their senses the situation was completely different. They shouted and took their bows and sabres and dismounted and surged forward.
There were too many people and they had men on both sides, so they couldn't shoot arrows. Black Iron Pagoda removed his whip and laughed wildly. "Gimme your leg!" His whip snaked out like a dragon and coiled around a servant's legs.
The servant screamed as his calves were wrapped up by the whip, snapping the bones, though the skin remained intact. Black Iron Pagoda knew how far to go and when to stop.
The little beggar retracte his staff and shot his left hand out. The driver probably knew some flashy but impractical moves, blocking with his left as he threw a punch with the other at the same time. He was fast and it had some weight behind it.
The little beggar laughed and hooked his fingers and grabbed him by the wrist that was trying to block him and twisted hard.
The driver's punch missed and he yelped as he was spun and pushed down, his arm twisted behind his back and pressed down with overwhelming force.
"On your knees!" the little beggar shouted.
How could he not kneel? He listened and knelt on the footboard. "Spare me! Let me go! Let… spare me! Not so hard! Not so…"
The little beggar pressed him down. "Everyone stop or I will kill this handsome good-for-nothing."
Among the din girls' screaming was ear-piercing.
The servants backed away on both sides, but five of them had already been felled, struggling and crying out with broken arms or legs.
To the right of the carriage in the mud, Wenchang and the handsome young guard were each bringing out all the stops. Wenchang was fierce as a lion, his sword lashing like a roiling river, brashly advancing, fast, ruthless, accurate, like a raging tempest, but backing it up with stability as he closed in twenty feet.
The sword darted in and out like a bolt of lightning, whooshing through the air, stab after stab as he took step after step, taking the initiative, attacking wildly and ferociously.
The swords crossed ing a mind-jarring clang of metal, over and over again.
The young guard was not weak, and his internal force had reached a level of attainment, but he was still no match for Wenchang, nor was he as savage as Wenchang. In other words, he didn't have enough fighting spirit. He was only able to block and parry and dodge, but could not counter. However, it would not be easy for Wenchang to take care of him within a dozen or so moves.
Wenchang heard the little beggar's exclamation and executed the move "Shooting Star" as several rays of light shot at the guard's upper body.
The young guard bellowed and moved to the left, and slid his sword against Wenchang's, using the momentum to withdraw eight feet. "Stop, I, Jade-faced Tiger, admit defeat."
Wenchang took the opportunity to close in. "Lose the sword."
"What?" Jade-faced Tiger fumed. "Don't push me too far."
The little beggar smacked the driver in the mouth, who yelped. The little beggar laughed. "Young master, tell your guard to throw down his weapon. If he doesn't, I'll rip your ear off. You won't look so good minus an ear! Haha!"
"Master Yan, Yan…" The young master was scared to death.
Jade-faced Tiger Master Yan's face sank and his spotlessly white face turned ashen. He clenched his teeth. "Fine! Take it, we'll settle this later."
The sword became a soaring rainbow as Jade-faced Tiger threw it. He was doing so grudgingly, so he used all his strength and threw it point first. The sword actually somersaulted through the air; one could see he had used internal force.
Wenchang used seven-tenths of his strength and swung his sword and cut the flying sword in two pieces. He laughed. "Not bad. It's a small world; we'll meet again some day. Remember this. Master Yan, a sword is not intimidating, but a concealed weapon is frightful. I'll have to trouble you to hand over your travel bag. Your bag is not small and you're not carrying an escort bag. Your concealed weapons must be inside. I'm the same way, I also don't like to use them. But one must be prepared."
Jade-faced Tiger took off his bag as he said resentfully, "What's your esteemed name, sir?"
"I have nothing to hide. I'm Cai Wenchang. Remember it well."
"I will see you suffer at my hands."
"You? Nah, you need a few more years of training. That big talk is all bullshit."
"My teacher, Master Magnanimous Blissful Monk will chase you to the ends of the earth."
Wenchang started. Heavens! Blissful Monk was first among the Three Monks. He was in deep shit now. But he didn't let it show as he accepted the travel bag. He forced a smile. "Hehe! So you're the brilliant disciple of the world's number-one lewd monk. Where are my manners. You must be a new disciple, that's why you're so lacking. Oh, your name is…"
"Ruyu. Yan Ruyu."1
"Haha! I'll remember it. You must be a little lecher yourself, the keeper of the true teaching, his favored disciple. My nickname is the Fugitive. Don't forget it."
"I swear I will avenge this humiliation," Jade-faced Tiger said, teeth clenched. "I'll never forget it, until you're dead."
Wenchang turned to go. "Don't worry," he said offhand, "I won't die. I'll be around for a hundred years. Haha!"
Black Iron Pagoda collected all the bows and arrows and sabres and swords and threw them into the pond.
Wenchang went back to the carriage and said to the little beggar, "Brother Xiaoshan, ask the young master why he was so arrogant and domineering?"
"Tell me what the hell you are doing anyway? what's your name?" There was disdain in the little beggar's tone.
The young master's face was deathly pale. He rubbed his sore arm, trembling. "I… I live near the south gate in Fanchuan. My father was the prefect of Fengxiang but was promoted to Vice Commissioner of the Right in the ninth month of last year…"
The little beggar blurted, "Don't ask. This guy's old man is Li Chunshui. He was the prefect of Fengxiang for three years, thriving on extortion. Last year, with the help of the Prince of Qin he was promoted to Vice Commissioner of the Right and drove away the previous one, Shi Ruokui, and nearly got the latter beheaded. Now, he's set his sights on the Shi family mansion and is scheming to seize it. The son of a bitch is a fourth-rank official of the first class, but to get promoted to third-rank he will soon have to oust Vice Commissioner of the Left Zhang. After that, he can really thrive on extortion. This kind of person makes one sick to one's stomach."
Wenchang laughed and emptied out Jade-faced Tiger's travel bag. "Doing business with avaricious officials like this is a must; heaven wouldn't forgive me if I didn't. Search him! Confiscate everything of value."
The little beggar pressed the young master down and searched out his money bag, jewelry bag, ornaments and accessories and stuffed them all into the travel bag.
Wenchang held the bag and kicked open the carriage door. "Noble ladies, please get out of the carriage."
There were screams inside the carriage and a trembling pretty lady stuck her ornamented head out to look. She said in a shrill voice, "Without a step stool how… how can I get down?"
Wenchang smiled and bowed his head slightly. "Madame, get down. The ground is soft, it won't break your lotus feet."
"But but… But…"
"Get down!" Black Iron Pagoda bellowed.
There were two women of rank and one maidservant in the carriage, and they were scared out of their wits by Black Iron Pagoda's ferocious look and appearance. How could they take his thundering voice that liked to rock the heavens. Their knees went weak and they scrambled out of the carriage.
Wenchang was handsome and urbane, bowing to them with a smile. "Ladies, maybe I trouble you to hand over your money and remove your head ornaments. Our hands are coarse and crude, we wouldn't want to dirty your graceful figures. Quickly! Or else that fiend over there will get impatient."
The three women were scared to death as they hurriedly removed all their treasured accessories and very reluctantly dropped them into the travel bag Wenchang held out to them.
When that was done, Wenchang slung the bag over his shoulder and brought three horses over. He cut the carriage axle with a sword and said to everyone, "Ladies, gentlemen, thank you. Goodbye. You all can continue on north. Take care; don't bother to see us off."
Black Iron Pagoda cut the halters on all the horses and smacked them in the rump. The horse took off.
The little beggar let the young master go and said coldly, "You all were too rude and arrogant. You brought this humiliation on yourself. If you don't repent and reform, there will come a day you will end up suffering a violent death out in the boonies somewhere. Remember this lesson well; it will do you good."
"Let's go!" Wenchang called. "Haha!"
The three horses galloped off, winding around the west bank of the pond and continuing on.
The went five or six miles outside the city and then detoured south to a fortified village to the southwest before galloping east, and soon arrived at Meridian Valley at Zhongnan Mountain near the southbound public road.
This was a hilly, mountainous area. The little beggar said, "We can follow the road to the city; we ought to keep the horses to save our weary legs."
They didn't ride on the public road, instead headed north along the countryside. They were taking a detour on purpose, purposefully leaving hoofprints to confuse their pursuers. There were many tracks on the public road; those after them would definitely think they had headed south into the mountainous region.
Wenchang divided the loot up amongst the others and laughed wildly. "At least we won't have to worry about traveling expenses from Shaanxi to Jiangnan."
Black Iron Pagoda smiled wryly. "I'd rather freeload. I don't want to waylay people on the road."
The little beggar spat and told him off. "Pfft! Shame on you, freeloading. The ones who suffer are the poor people running those shops, yet you have the nerve to say that. Disgraceful."
"Alright, if you say so! You're young and already as f*ckin' bad as can be. By the time you grow up you'll be an evil monster for sure."
Word spread quickly. Cai Wenchang was now known as a violent bandit.
News of Cai Wenchang wrecking Northwest Escort Agency and Chang'an Tavern spread through the jianghu.
The Fugitive moniker began to circulate among the jianghu.
The snow had not yet melted completely so the countryside was not easy to traverse. But their horses were the best of the best, so there was not much difficulty. They soon saw the tops of a forest in the distance to the northeast, and the tall and small peaks of two towering pagodas. One was the imposing seven-level Great Wild Goose Pagoda, the other the smaller fifteen-story Small Wild Goose Pagoda. They knew they were close to Benediction Temple at the southern end of the city. In those days, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda had not yet been decimated by an earthquake; that would happen the following year.2 But for now the two pagodas towered magnificently.
The little beggar still led the way, turning toward the northeast and skirting around a large hill. The pagodas were obscured from view by the woods on the hill.
The little beggar suddenly reined in and turned. "Hey! Listen. Something's not right up there."
They stopped and listened. The north wind howled, but they could still distinctly hear crying coming from the hill.
"Oh, it's a child crying," Wenchang said.
"There's deadly ghosts out in the wilderness," the little beggar said. "Why would there be a child crying out here on such a cold day? Strange. Let's go take a look."
Wenchang was the first to dismount. He tossed the reins over a tree branch. "I'll go take a look. Wait here."
He followed the intermittent cries coming from the dense woods on the hill and disappeared into the forest. The little beggar was not about to be left out. He said to Black Iron Pagoda, "Let's go take a look, too. Boring to just stand around here."
"Okay, let's go." They dismounted and hitched the horses up and followed.
A grey image flashed as a an old nun watching them not far off flitted into the woods as well. It was Thousand-Faced Abbess.
Ruyu literally means "like jade". ↩ the Shaanxi Earthquake took place in 1556, the deadliest earthquake on record. Supposedly about 800,000 people were killed. ↩