Chapter 78: Great Wild Goose Pagoda
Wenchang realized the White Dragongirl on the horse was the same one he had had conflict with before. Maybe because he still had not forgiven her, or perhaps he was eager to shake off her interest, he assumed the tone of a frivolous young man and said, "I'm not giving up a beauty before me."
White Dragongirl was disappointed and said, "So it's a playboy." She heaved a deep sigh.
She said it under her breath, but Wenchang heard every word. He went cold all over and felt ashamed.
Carefree Cloud heard it as well. He turned and asked, "Yuanjun, what are you sighing about?"
White Dragongirl hung her head and whispered, "Uncle, it's not him. He's not that kind of person." Though she was relieved, she still couldn't help but sigh.
Carefree Cloud had been told about what happened at Fine Horse Village and when she had seen Wenchang's true colors at Woodbend Refreshments. He had seen it all so of course he knew the thoughts of young men and women. A girl caring so much about an unfamiliar man, even the dumbest elder would know there were some romantic feelings there. No need to inquire further. He fixed his eyes on Wenchang and whispered back, "Child, I don't know if the young man you saw at Woodbend Refreshments was Fine Horse Village's Cai Wenchang or not, but I'm sure that's the man who was at Woodbend. My eyes aren't bad, I wouldn't mistake him."
"Uncle, are you serious?" White Dragongirl gasped.
"Absolutely," Carefree Cloud said decisively.
White Dragongirl felt like she had been struck by lightning. She stared at Wenchang's face, shocked. The longer she looked at him the more confused she became. It was too hard for her to accept. Yes, it did look like him, but the arrogant Wenchang who held a grudge against the world was gone, though that smile of his that she could never forget was real. His handsome face had not changed. He was even more handsome and dashing now. Yes, it was him.
"How can this be?" she mumbled to herself hopelessly. "How can this be?"
Now Song An was in a dilemma. His sword was drawn and Sir Wen has seen it, yet he didn't show a trace of fear but was actually grinning like it meant nothing and said more clearly that he would never let it go. Song An's sword was no threat.
He looked at the two servants. They sat their horses and smiled as well and made faces and even winked at him!
He looked back at Second Miss Tian in the carriage. This girl was really ridiculous. Not only was she unsympathetic to his situation, her lips were curled at him in disdain!
In this world, sex and money made people go crazy. Song An's shame and resentment was hard to bear. He could bear it no longer and leveled his sword, gritting his teeth as he moved his horse forward. "Alright! Today it's either you or me. Take this!"
Sons of wealthy families not only studied the classics, but also martial arts for self-defense. Valor was en vogue in the Guanzhong region so swordplay and staff practice was a common occurrence. Song An of course was skilled, otherwise how could he wield a heavy sword? His horse sped along, he blustering and swaggering like a conquering hero, making a big to-do.
Wenchang whipped his horse and it leapt into action, man and horse as one, jumping left and snatching right, getting around in behind Song An's horse. He laughed. "It's broad daylight on a main road. You're quite rash to draw a sword and try to kill someone, a disgrace to your scholarly dignity. You shouldn't, haha!"
Song An wasn an excellent horseman, but he was shocked at Wenchang's superior horsemanship. However, he was in a fit of anger and in front of Second Miss Tian. How could he give up and lose face? Without a care for what he was up against, he turned his horse and once again held his sword up and thundered, "If you don't leave I'll put a hundred holes in you, you son of a bitch."
Wenchang pulled his horse back and said, "Brother, have mercy with that sword, have mercy. Haha! The tip is pointed too high, not only making it harder to use, but also leaving you open to a counterattack. Oh, right, you ought to lower it three inches. Haha! Almost, not enough."
Wenchang's horsemanship was worthy of acclaim, rider and mount acting as one, in perfect command as the arm moves the finger, circling, bounding, light and nimble as clouds, keeping Song An on the run constantly. Song An charged him three times in a row, raging like thunder, but this time Wenchang didn't let him off. As they were about to cross Wenchang moved his mount outward slightly, and snapped his whip on Song An's right arm which held his sword. It was not too hard or too light a strike, but just the right amount of force.
"Aiya!" Song An yelped. He lowered his sword, not able to hold onto it, and it dropped lightly to the ground.
Both horses ran on twenty feet. Wenchang turned around and shouted, "Sir Song, four clashes amounts to two rounds, why did you drop your sword? Pick it up or you'll be in trouble. Isn't it pretty disgraceful to lose in front of a girl? You still have the face to keep being so shameless? Haha! See ya."
He and his servants accompanied the light carriage and with a crack of their whips they galloped for the Temple of Compassion.
Song An gnashed his teeth and dismounted to grab his sword. He said to his companion, "Little brother, let's go and find Master. I can't stand his tone of voice."
The two of them headed back to get call in reinforcements.
"Uncle, let's get going," White Dragongirl whispered.
Wenchang chatted with Second Miss Tian who was in the carriage while keeping an eye on any movement behind him. Sure enough, White Dragongirl and company were following closely. He thought, Nuts, they might be looking to cause me trouble. That girl is so odd. It's like she just won't let me go."
If there was indifference between a man and woman then all was peaceful and there would be no romantic quarrels. Wenchang was not really afraid of the Xia family of Dongting's Enigmatic Withering Palm, and there was really no need to hide from White Dragongirl, but he still didn't want to see her and really didn't want fight her, which proved he had developed the traces of some odd feelings for her. And she had made an impression on him. She was the first girl he had fought with. It has all been a misunderstanding and once she realized that she apologized and offered him a pill to make it up to him, something that was really not easy for a haughty young girl to do.
From then on, he had faintly pleased with her wild and irascible temper and her willingness to admit her mistakes, though he never voiced this, and it wasn't entirely factual. White Dragongirl was deeply, vividly impressed in his mind, and he was gradually starting to like her. In other words, she was already firmly etched in his heart. Whether it was love or hate, it was completely different from indifference. Love and hate complimented and engendered one another, but indifference was an inescapable dead end. So the hate in his heart was gradually vanishing and sprouts of love were beginning to take its place.
But he had some misgivings. He had taken that hit he had suffered in Fine Horse Village a little bit to heart, and he had resigned himself to the life of a degenerate fugitive. He didn't want to social climb with the illustrious martial fraternity Xia family of Dongting. In other words, he felt himself somewhat inferior and didn't wish to court contempt. This mentality was a mortal wound that made him reluctant to ever get close to White Dragongirl.
The Temple of Compassion was crowded with horses and carriages, men and women gathered there in droves. Young ladies who normally rarely left their homes were now dressed smartly and elegantly and turned a shameless deaf ear to the frivolous remarks of the young men during this fine spring day.
Most of the sightseers were from the upper class, otherwise they wouldn't have their own personal carriages, nor would they have the leisure time to squander on a spring excursion. The women without male escorts gathered in small groups along with their maidservants and noblewomen.
The temple and park grounds were spacious, now full of pearl and jade ornaments and colorful finery, everyone laughing heartily under the spring sun, too much beauty and fine clothing and aromatic fragrances to take in. To the left of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda was a peach grove extending four or five acres. Ancient trees lined the walkway separating the grove and the pagoda on both sides. The peach grove was splendid, a sea of peach blossoms. The five pavilions and terraces were used to hold banquets.
The square in front of the temple was where the carriages were parked, the horses hitched up, looked after by several lay Buddhist attendants. Wenchang was acting as provisional escort, accompanying Second Miss Tian and the servants as they explored the temple grounds, then circled around to the stone archway at the pagoda entrance.
The road led straight to the pagoda entrance, lined on either side with pagoda trees. The stone archway was spectacular and majestic. Ancient trees dotted the grounds past the entrance, but there were no flowers in the flowerbeds. Going in further one came to a collection of steles, and behind them was the four-cornered, seven-storey Great Wild Goose Pagoda towering into the sky.
Wenchang walked on the left with his hands behind his back, carrying himself well as he strolled and talked on and on to Miss Tian. The two servants carrying the food containers and bundles brought up the rear and two maidservants supported Miss Tian, dressed in beautiful silks, on the right who looked so delicate a gust of wind might blow her over.
They were a hundred or so feet from the stone archway entrance. Two familiar figures rounded a small path on the right, one with a jade-like face, the other looking roundfaced and composed.
Wenchang started and thought, Those two are as daring as I, not leaving the city.
The two guys didn't notice the slowly approaching Wenchang but had their eyes fixed on a group of men and women ahead of them. That group was a dozen strong, four young married women who were the pinnacle of beauty and four female servants. The other four were the young men who had been chasing the Bai family carriage earlier, the young masters of the Wu family on North Avenue.
Wenchang slowed his pace and let the two groups in front of him enter through the stone archway. Not far behind him Minstrel Chai was behind an old pagoda tree, whispering to a man decked out in fine clothes. "Brother Guangyan, hurry and report back to the sovereign that that man is without a doubt The Fugitive Cai Wenchang. Be quick, we can't let him get away."
Brother Guangyan knit his brows and said uncertainly, "A lot of people look similar to each other, are you sure…"
"There's no mistake, my eyes are reliable."
"That guy looks like a dandy from a rich family!"
"That's cause he's so clever. How else could he evade the eyes and ears of the government's goons?" Minstrel Chai raised his pipa.
"A daughter of the Tian family of Taiping Ward. He met her on the road."
"I'll report at oncem," the finely-dressed man said. "Be careful."
"Don't worry about me. I'll go make friends with him and hold him up."
White Dragongirl and company strolled by and the two men glanced at each other meaningfully and went each their own way. Soon after the finely-dressed man left, he mounted up and raced toward the eastern suburbs.
Wenchang was on his guard after spotting Jade-faced Tiger. He knew the latter was still indignant; if they had a confrontation there'd be a hell of a fight, and it would not be good for him at all to fight in such a crowded, public area.
They passed the rows of monument steles and Miss Tian suddenly turned to her maid. "Xiaoshan, take the fruit over to that pavilion in the peach grove and wait for me. I'm going up in the pagoda with Sir Wen. We won't be long."
As she dispatched her maids, Wenchang said to Goldie, "Goldie, you two go with Xiaoshan. Be careful, don't let anyone bother them."
The four assented and left, Goldie handing a long brocade bag to Wenchang before happily departing.
The pagoda was a hundred feet wide at the base, open doors on all four sides. Each storey had a resplendent Buddha statue, but the sutras had been moved to the Temple of Compassion long ago.
Wenchang briefly surveyed Chu Suiliang's Sacred Teachings stele, then they all went inside through the western entrance. Miss Tian was beginning to look delicate and weak. Wenchang laughed. "Miss Tian, the pagoda is 160 feet, are you sure you can make it? Here, I'll help you."
"I'm putting you to a lot of trouble," she smiled enchantingly. Her fragrant, red-hot body nearly snuggled into his arms.
There were few climbing the pagoda. They cuddled each other as they spiraled up the stairs step by step. By the time they reached the fourth storey they were the only two around.
Miss Tian was panting, her cheeks crimson. Exhausted, she said, "Sir Wen, your… your… hand…"
She bashfully made a show of lightly pushing Wenchang's hand off her waist. That hand was quickly inching toward her breasts.
As soon as they warm, smooth slender white hand touched him, Wenchang felt his heart jump and he pulled her into his arms and reached up and caressed her cheek.
She squirmed delicately, her eyes half-closed as if she would avoid his shining, enticing eyes. She mumbled, "Sir Wen, am I being too… too indecent?" She hid in his chest, her lithe body trembling slightly.