The four men walked slowly along the street. Other than Ren Jun’s horse, which required him to pull it by the rein, the Thousand-li Dream and Ten-thousand-li Spots, just like the most loyal dogs, followed behind them; their manner serene, indeed they were out-of-the-ordinary spirited horses.
The street had already returned to its bustling-with-noise-and-excitement, endless-stream-of-horses-and-carriages atmosphere. The weather was still unstable; from time to time raindrops were falling. But other than they could not see the moon and the stars, it could be considered not too bad.
Kou Zhong, Xu Ziling and Ba Fenghan walked side by side, behind them were the two spirited horses, followed by Ren Jun, the elf ‘little servant’, which attracted the passersby’s raised eyebrows.
They were pretty sure that the entire Shanhai Pass already knew that Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling have come; otherwise, people in the inns and the restaurants could not possibly rush out to gawk at them.
Shanhai Pass was the place where the top Wulin figures from inside and outside the Central Plains gathered and made contact with each other; naturally everybody wanted to see their elegant manner and their skill, or perhaps even get to know them.
Fortunately, everybody knew that potentially they and Du Xing were like water and fire; a battle was inevitable. Unless they wanted to be drawn into this fight, in which victory or defeat was difficult to foresee, it would be better to just show respect to them from a distance.
Previously, inside the restaurant, Ba Fenghan already listened to Kou and Xu talking for the whole sichen. It was not until the shop owner, trembling with fear, came to ask them to leave the restaurant – that they went out the door together. And it was not until now that Ba Fenghan finished listening to the whole story.
Kou Zhong even told him the true story concerning the Duke Yang’s Treasure, because he absolutely trusted Ba Fenghan.
Ba Fenghan sighed and said, “Indeed it was brilliant beyond compare. Spending time with you those days, it was very colorful, very exciting; I always recall it fondly. I am hoping we will have some rather interesting program tonight to liven things up; how about we go to give Du Xing some bad luck?”
Kou Zhong was secretly worried for Du Xing; offending Ba Fenghan was definitely not a joking matter. He said, “You, LaoGe, must hold down your temper a bit. First of all, we must rescue the five people that he holds hostage and send them out of the danger zone. Next, we must find out that batch of Da Xiaojie’s sheepskin’s whereabouts. I don’t doubt that killing Du Xing, this Ba Wang, is a delight, but we must accomplish these two things first.”
Xu Ziling said, “Xiao Zhong, do you remember Da Xiaojie said that those eighty thousand sheets of sheepskin was purchased from Huihe people via Bai Ziting?”
Shaken, Kou Zhong said, “Fortunately you reminded me, I nearly forget. How can it be such a coincidence? That batch of goods might be the dirty stolen goods that Cui Wang robbed. He turned his mother’s internal robbery into export, and then shipped it back into the Central Plains and sold it at the highest price to make a profit. And yet his granny’s bear came midway to intercept and rob again, demanding ransom. F*ck his eighteen generations of ancestors, he really knows how to do business.”
Halfway through his speech, he changed to Du Xing’s voice and intonation, and he was able to mimic him extremely well; it was extremely hilarious, so that even Ren Jun, who was walking behind them, was blurting out laughing loudly.
To Ren Jun, everything was like in a dream. He had never thought that in the face of Jianghu fighting they would still be able to laugh heartily without restraint; he realized that he was infected by the three men’s enormous-without-equal self-confidence and heroic spirit.
Laughing involuntarily, Ba Fenghan said, “Good ol’ Du Xing. That kind of person is rare, I haven’t come to look for him in vain. If we can capture him alive, I have confidence that if we want him to call for his dad he would call his dad, if we want him to call for his mom he would call his mom. I have been here three days, and have already figured out his foundation. When we get back to the shop, we will carefully study how to proceed with this operation.”
Kou Zhong was about to reply when suddenly someone called from behind, “Xiao Jun!”
Four men turned to look. They saw a medium-built, well-dressed, looked to be forty-something years old man, in glowing spirits, rushing from behind to catch up, carrying with him an intimidating momentum. The one feature that left deep impression in others’ mind was his eagle-beak nose, and a pair of deep set yet sharp like a hawk’s eyes, giving people the feeling that he was a treacherous man with a nerve of steel.
“Jing Dangjia!” Ren Jun blurted out.
The three immediately knew that the newcomer was the Sai Mo Bang’s Gang Leader Jing Kang.
His steps appeared to be slow but he was actually fast, Jing Kang hurried to Ren Jun’s side, cupped his fist to salute, and said, “This gentleman is …” his eyes were on Ba Fenghan.
Ba Fenghan returned the greeting and said, “Wanbei Ba Fenghan. Jing Dangjia, please bestow your instruction.”
For him, it could be considered extremely polite already.
Emotionally moved, Jing Kang said, “Unexpectedly it’s Ba Fenghan who defeated the ‘Flying Eagle’ Qu Ao; please forgive me for failing to show respect.”
Kou Zhong stepped back to his side and said, “This kid is Kou Zhong, he is Xu Ziling. Da Xiaojie entrusted to us to send her regards to you, the Senior.”
After saying ‘Good!’ three times in succession, Jing Kang said coldly, “I am extremely disappointed at Du Xing, he yelled and shouted to beat and to kill the men that my noble niece sent here; how am I going to explain to Jiande? This matter is clearly a bullying case; I tolerated him once, I can’t tolerate him anymore. Therefore, I decided to kill him on the street; otherwise, how can I vent this anger?”
Kou Zhong had a big headache. Jing Kang was surely a vicious and merciless old fox with exuberantly wild schemes; he could see that this is a once-in-a-thousand-years chance to put Du Xing in order, because there were the three of them, big martial art masters to help him.
Ba Fenghan leaned over to Xu Ziling, who was listening attentively to Jing Kang, and whispered in his ear, “Left side, there is a very beautiful girl staring at you.”
Casting a surreptitious glance, immediately Xu Ziling called for his Niang inwardly. He drew out a mouthful of cold air and said, “She is Fu Junqiang, the female disciple of Fu Cailin – that he is most proud of, the one he took as he was closing the door [i.e. last one], our Niang’s young Shimei.”
Startled, Ba Fenghan turned to look, but Fu Junqiang already disappeared into a side alley.
How could Kou Zhong not hear what Ba Fenghan said? It was also because he looked at Fu Junqiang that he lost his concentration and forgot to respond to Jing Kang.
Jing Kang did not mind at all, he simply continued, “The only thing we need to be careful about is the Bei Ma Bang. Xu Kaishan and Du Xing called each other Xiong and Di [older and younger brother, respectively]; when something happens, he would go all-out to help Du Xing.”
After seeing Fu Junqiang, how could Kou Zhong have any interest in other things? He replied without thinking, “Killing Du Xing is a small matter, retrieving the eighty thousand sheets of sheepskin and rescuing the people from the shop that have been kidnapped is the big matter. And another thing that you, Senior must consider is that right now the frontier defense of Shanhai Pass is wide open, anybody can enter or exit freely, the Great Wall is just like an empty arrangement. If, because of Du Xing get murdered the Tujue and Qidan enter the Pass to massacre everyone in the captured city to vent their anger, I wonder if Jing Dangjia have a good plan to deal with them?”
He did not dare to offend Jing Kang, hence he tactfully advise him not to be involved in the struggle against Du Xing, otherwise it might evolve into a big territorial war among the gangs and societies, and then how would they rescue the people and retrieve the goods?
If you don’t look at the monk’s face, then look at Buddha’s face. Not only Jing Kang was Dou Jiande’s old friend, Zhai Jiao would still need him to take care of her future foreign trade. He would be happy to obtain Jing Kang’s Sai Mo Bang’s help to occupy the advantageous position. But before he could think of a suitable way to deal with Du Xing, it was inadvisable to make things overly complicated.
Jing Kang smiled and said, “Shaoshuai, don’t worry, this time we have Yan Wang giving us full support from behind. As long as we can eliminate Bei Ba Bang and Du Xing, Yan Wang will send a large army to establish his presence here and to strengthen the frontier defense. I guarantee that anyone who displays shockingly bad behavior won’t be able to do it as easily as before.”
After a short pause, he said, “Were it not for receiving Yan Wang’s information, I would not know that the two gentlemen whom Da Xiaojie invited were coming to settle the account with Du Xing.”
Kou Zhong mused inwardly that turned out that was what happened; no wonder Jing Kang could come and talk to him publicly. Gao Kaidao not only observed, but also monitored closely the internal strife in Tujue. They had no time to pay attention to foreign affairs; thereupon he wanted to take advantage of this situation to eliminate Du Xing – this thorn in his side – in order to break away from Xieli’s control.
It was surely much easier to deal with the Qidan people only than with the two tribes’ coalition army at the same time.
Under this kind of circumstances, they would be compelled to stand on Jing Kang and Gao Kaidao’s side. Other than this, there was no other choice.
Jing Kang suddenly stopped; he said, “Gentlemen, please come with me.”
Following his example, everybody stopped. Frowning, Kou Zhong said, “Where does Jing Dangjia want us to go?”
Jing Kang cheerfully said, “Staying in an inn is not too convenient, I have a wine shop at the western gate, four gentlemen could stay there.”
Ba Fenghan looked at Kou Zhong. Seeing him nodded slightly, he said, “We will trouble Jing Dangjia then. But I still need to go back to my hotel to retrieve my traveling bag and my horse.”
Jing Kang laughed and said, “As long as Ba Xiong is willing to nod, let some of my boys take care of it for Ba Xiong. I already ordered the people to withdraw from the wine shop, so that four gentlemen could rest quietly. If you need someone to run an errand, outside are all my Sai Mo Bang men. After taking gentlemen there to settle down, Laofu still need to see some people. Before, they did not dare to touch Du Xing’s affairs, but now they can’t stay behind closed wall anymore.”
Kou Zhong spoke indifferently, “I wonder if Jing Dangjia could send your men to deliver a message to Du Xing?”
“Shaoshuai, please bestow your instruction,” Jing Kang replied.
“How could this kid dare to bestow instruction to you, Senior?” Kou Zhong said, “I just want to ask Jing Dangjia to send someone with this message to Du Xing: if by sunrise tomorrow he still refuse to release the five subordinates of Da Xiaojie, then I, when I see one Bei Ba Bang people, will kill one. Unless he is willing to admit that he is not the master of Shanhai Pass at all, he will not get away from this.”
Jing Kang laughed loudly and said, “Kou Zhong is Kou Zhong. Laofu really want to see Du Xing’s reaction when he heard this message.”
Yanshan [Mount Yan] Winery was indeed a very good place, the front courtyard was spacious, it could house more than a dozen large round table, and then there was a large atrium where the horses could rest, which connected to the rooms, the bathroom and the kitchen at the rear courtyard, as well as a cellar where they kept fresh water and wine. The walls of the room were made of dressed-stone bricks [not sure], strong and sturdy. The perimeter walls all around were high. It looked more like Sai Mo Bang’s headquarters than a wine shop. In fact, Yanshan Winery had never opened its door for business; rather, it was a distribution center for Shao Wine [dictionary says name of a famous Tang dynasty wine, same as white wine].
Ba Fenghan’s horse was a divine spirited horse, plus Ba Fenghan himself was skillful in training the horses. Under his command, the horse could perform all kinds of tricks, freely and effortlessly [orig. as the arm moves the finger (idiom)], so that they were very impressed.
Ba Fenghan said, “Horses are some kind of noble and proud animals. The key trick in training a horse, first, you must establish close relationship with it as if it is your own flesh and blood, and then cultivate its confidence and alert nature. A horse that goes panic when encountering a problem will only botch things up.”
“What do you call your horse?” Kou Zhong asked.
Ba Fenghan smiled and said, “This was a generous gift from a chief of Shatuo tribe; I give it the name ‘Taklamakan’, which is the name of a beautiful but terrifying great desert.”
Ren Jun noticed that Ba Fenghan fetched a long bow that had its entire body painted in colorful decorative design; very peculiar and exquisite, brimming with exotic flavor. “Ba Ye’s bow is very unique,” he commented.
Ba Fenghan said, “It’s a mulberry wood bow made by a skilled artisan from Persia, deeply conforming to the reach, speed, sharp, blend, solid, and durable, six formulas of the bow fabrication. In the great prairie, without bow and arrows, one would feel unbearable as if completely naked.”
From inside his robe Xu Ziling took out the Perished Moon Bow, unfolded it, and handed it over to his hand, saying, “Take a look, what do you think of this bow?”
Greatly astonished, he said, “This is the first time Xiaodi see a bow that can be folded like this. My Niang! I bet this bow can shoot the enemy one thousand paces away. Who made it?”
Seeing how effortlessly he was able to pull the bow into a full moon, Ren Jun was speechless endlessly.
Kou Zhong said, “It was made by a man in Yuyang who is known as Jian Dashi. Throughout his life, he only made seven bows that he is very proud of. This is one of the two that he is most proud of, the other is in Xiaodi’s possession.”
Sketching in light shades, Xu Ziling said, “This bow is called Perished Moon. After we get rid of Jian Dashi’s archenemy, the Husband and Wife Team of Evil Thieves of Shiwei, Shen Mohuan, then the name will be changed back to its original elegant name Shooting The Moon. Since Xiaodi won’t have much chance in using it, I might as well borrow the flower to worship Buddha by giving it to Fenghan Xiong.”
Hearing Shen Mohuan’s name, Ba Fenghan’s tiger-eyes lit up. And then when he heard that Xu Ziling was giving this out-of-this-world unusual treasure Perished Moon Bow, which could be considered the king among the bows, he threw his head back and laughed to his heart’s content, and said, “If I, Ba Fenghan, pushing the three and warding-off the four, I am not your, Xu Ziling’s brother. I, Ba Fenghan, am truly very grateful. In that case, I’ll give the mulberry wood bow to Ziling in exchange. Ziling won’t want to go naked beyond the Great Wall!”
Laughing involuntarily, Xu Ziling said, “How can Xiaodi refuse and not wear any clothes?”
Ba Fenghan said, “Shen Mohuan can be considered a formidable figure that no one in the northern border dare to provoke. His wife Mu Ling is even more vicious and merciless than him. To find them is absolutely not an easy matter. Without me helping you, you guys can die of thirst in the desert but you can forget about touching the least bit of their shadow. In the prairie, Zaiwei [sic, I checked different sources, maybe different tribe?] people’s equestrian archery has greater reputation than ours, Tujue people.”
Ren Jun modestly asked for pointers, “What is the key trick of equestrian archery?”
Ba Fenghan replied, “In equestrian archery, it’s nothing more than: forward, the hand is blocking, backward, the hand is tearing. The leg in front must be straight, the leg in rear must bend. It’s like this.”
Leaping to the horseback, he rode Taklamakan around the atrium. Ba Fenghan squatted high on the saddle-less horse, the long bow struck a posture, he looked like a heavenly arrow god descending to the mortal world; mighty to the extreme point. His movements graceful, no flaw to be stricken.
Three men clapped their hands and cheered. Ba Fenghan somersaulted off the horse, patted the horse, and grasped the bow to give demonstration to Ren Jun. He said, “Left hand grasping the bow, must make the upper end slightly down, the right palm holds the target within, the index finger presses the target outside, right in the middle the eagle beak, the remaining three fingers and the thumb tightly grasp the target like blocking. The right hand is holding the arrow and string, the index finger covered up the thumb, the other three fingers grasp the string in the hollow of the hand and sweep over the chest, with the back of the elbow pressing close to the ribs, completely pull back and release, upright, accurate and powerful. If shooting the arrow in a hurry, it will float and empty with no strength.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Turns out all along our posture in shooting the arrow is wrong.”
Ba Fenghan laughed and said, “No matter who wrong Shaoshuai’s posture is, who could block the powerful arrow that you shoot using the spiraling energy?”
Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Being praised by you, my hands are itching. LaoGe, how about a couple of moves?”
After putting away his bow, Ba Fenghan cheerfully said, “It’s rare that you open your mouth to propose it; I did have that intention.”
Kou Zhong suddenly reached into his robe and fast as lightning pulled the Moon in the Well. Without making any noise he swiftly hacked Ba Fenghan.
No one knew how, but Ba Fenghan’s Beheading Mystery Sword was already in his hand. The tip of the blade pointed to the sky, it sliced up Kou Zhong’s saber chopping across his upper torso, a fierce-and-severe-to-the-extreme-point’s saber strike.
After the saber and the sword clashed, they stuck together, yet unexpectedly they did not create any noise. It was bizarre to the extreme point.
The two men’s gaze met, they revealed smiling expression at the same time. Ba Fenghan applied his internal energy to push open Kou Zhong, while he himself withdrew three steps back, and then adopted a defensive posture.
The other two men moved out to make room for these two to fight.
Watching this, Ren Jun’s blood was boiling. He finally understood Kou Zhong’s teaching and instruction to him. A martial art master ought to be like Ba Fenghan, to be in some kind of the moon in the well’s water realm, able to reflect any changes on the outside world – all the time. Practically he would not be afraid of any sudden or sneak attack.
Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan were both giving everything they had; those who did not know might think that they were in a life and death duel.
Letting out a long laughter, Ba Fenghan said, “Delighted! Delighted! Since the beginning the two Xiongtai and I have always been exchanging saber and sword theory, we all developed friendship that is surpassing life itself. I rarely think about sacrificing my life for other people, but for two gentlemen, I definitely, without the slightest hesitation – am not afraid to hand over my life.”
Kou Zhong also burst out in long laughter and said, “No better or worse than each other. Xiaodi recently created a set of saber moves called the ‘Eight Methods of the Well’, would you, Old Ba, look over? You must never, ever be lenient; if you defeat Xiaodi, I definitely will not be upset, I will only continue to work hard, to perfect something that is already outstanding [idiom].”
Finished speaking, he unleashed the first style of the Eight Methods of the Well, the No Attack. The saber momentum appeared to be released, yet it was not actually released, an enormous saber qi pursued straight ahead.
Ba Fenghan’s face revealing an astonished look, he moved one step aside, immediately exerting tremendous pressure to the Moon in the Well, forcing Kou Zhong to change move.
Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling were emotionally moved at the same time. Speechless, Kou Zhong said, “Your granny’s bear, in the world, only Ning Daoqi, one person could break this move of Laozi purely relying on footwork.”
Emotionally moved, Ba Fenghan said, “You have fought against Ning Daoqi? How was it?”
“His granny’s bear,” Kou Zhong replied, “We have not had a chance to determine victory or defeat.”
Holding the Beheading Mystery Sword across in front of his chest, Ba Fenghan laughed aloud and said, “If you keep imitating Du Xing’s tone of voice, watch out less I will really use killer move to get rid of you.”
Kou Zhong sneered and said, “You want to use a tiger’s roar to scare me? If you have guts, give me all you got!”
Right this moment, there was a knock on the door of the shop at the front. Naturally it was Ren Jun’s responsibility to answer the door. But how could he be willing to miss such a brilliant-beyond-compare sparring?
While he was hesitating, Xu Ziling, who was good at understanding others, said, “Let me go take a look.”
The saber and sword clashed. Qi power filled the air, sparks splashed everywhere, two major outstanding young martial art masters from inside and outside the Central Plains finally crossed swords in a face off.