Chapter 9 Grace and Enmity
Huanglong County was a huge county with a population higher than that of Qinghe County. Their rate of economic growth had progressed much faster than Qinghe County. Thus, the wharf of Huanglong County was naturally a lot more livelier than Qinghe’s.
Around a hundred boats of all kinds were currently docked at the Huanglong County’s wharf, with a multitude of warehouses situated next to each other on the wharf. The laborers loaded and unloaded goods like ants. Coming to this world and watching the liveliness of this wharf, everything seemed especially interesting to Yan Liqiang.
"Oh, be careful…"
Just as Yan Liqiang stepped foot onto the dock, a laborer had suddenly slipped while loading his goods onto a ship more than ten meters away. He fell into the river with the sack he’d been carrying on his back, causing the surrounding people to cry out in alarm.
Since he was close at hand to the person who’d fallen into the river, Yan Liqiang rushed over without a second thought to see if he could assist in any way.
"Oh no, that’s the sack of cotton yarn I only just received. Don’t let it get damaged by the water!" A merchant-like person hopped around the boat. "Hurry and get it out of the water!"
Both the person and the goods had fallen into the water. Yet the first thing to cross that merchant’s mind was to save the goods instead of the person. Yan Liqiang was close to cursing at him. He surveyed the area and noticed a piece of rope lying on the ground nearby. He dashed to pick it up, ready to rescue the laborer.
However, someone else beat Yan Liqiang to the punch. Just as Yan Liqiang picked up the rope and ran back near the water, an old, bare-footed boatman on another small boat at the side held out a long pole of about seven to eight meters long. He dipped the pole into the water and then lightly flicked it up. The laborer’s sturdy body was effortlessly thrown out from the water and landed steadily on the dock.
"THE COTTON, THE COTTON!" That labor who had just come out from the water didn’t have the time nor leisure to worry about his own safety. He was frantically yelling the second he landed.
The old boatman dipped his pole into the water once again. When he flicked it up, a big sack came flying out from the water and landed on the dock.
There was only a two second interval in between the rescue of both the person and the sack. The entire process was carried out efficiently and was gracefully executed. The panic from earlier died down as the people at the dock and on the boats by the side couldn’t help but to cheer. "Such an impressive display of skill..." That old boatman only responded by cupping his fist in silence to the surrounding people. "Please excuse my performance," he said meekly with a calm expression before returning to the hold of the ship and resumed his work, acting as if what had just happened was something trivial and hardly worth mentioning.
Yan Liqiang was still holding the rope in awe. He could tell that although the old boatman had been using a pole on the boat, the movement in which he had used to get the laborer and the sack out of water was a spear technique because of the way he had been holding the pole. His right hand gripped the pole at its end, fully covered in his palm. At that time, the old boatman had been standing at the edge of the boat and yet his lower body was as firm as a rock. He had been able to lift up a man weighing over a hundred kilograms and goods that weighed tens of kilograms with minimal effort. It was as if he’d picked up two bean sprouts from a plate with chopsticks. This was definitely unachievable without a few decades’ worth of experience in spear techniques.
For someone like this to just be a boatman, it seemed apparent that this old boatman hadn’t manage to complete his foundation. Without a foundation, the old boatman’s spear technique would always remain an external skill no matter how hard he trained. He reckoned that the old boatman’s spear technique had already reached its pinnacle and was impossible to advance any further. Thus it could only decline, along with the stamina of the old boatman, in the future. In the end, all the effort he had put forth in training his spear technique over a few decades were going to fade away, like the reflection of flowers in the mirror and the moon in the water.
‘If one cultivates martial arts without any skill, they will achieve nothing in the end.’
That merchant from earlier hastily ordered his workers to remove all the veils from the sack and dry them. It was fortunate that the veils hadn’t been in the water for long, so not many had been soaked. The water in the river here was crystal clear, so it wouldn’t stain the veils in such a manner that would affect their quality. Well, at least the magnitude of the damage wasn’t that great.
"What a pity….." A voice abruptly rang out from behind Yan Liqiang.
When Yan Liqiang turned around, he could see that a middle-aged man was standing not too far behind him.
He was a middle-aged man around his forties and was fully dressed in the town government's dark red army uniform. He was also wearing a gorgeous cowhide leather belt with a tiger head buckle, which was tucked right below his belly. He appeared to be a first rank commandant among the military. The middle-aged man had a beard and seemed to be lazy and slovenly. He even reeked of alcohol.
Other military officers would have a weapon like a saber or a sword hanging on their belt. However this person had a wine gourd hanging on his belt instead.
By the time Yan Liqiang turned around, he had noticed that the gaze of this man had already been directed towards Yan Liqiang. He was startled for a moment as the look on his face grew conflicted all of a sudden, he then started to mutter to himself. "Such resemblance..."
Yan Liqiang’s gaze swept over this man’s right hand and discovered that he had a missing pinkie.
"It is a pleasure to see you, Uncle Qian!" Yan Liqiang hurriedly bowed to this man.
The expression on the man’s face had already recovered as he scanned through Yan Liqiang’s figure, his gaze swept through the piece of rope that was still in Yan Liqiang’s hands. The hint of a smile appeared on his face. "Were you planning on rescuing him?"
Yan Liqiang dropped the rope, slightly embarrassed. "The human life is beyond value, I couldn’t stand by and just do nothing...."
"Hahaha, the value of human life is indeed beyond our imagination and we shouldn’t just stand by and do nothing!" The middle-aged man laughed heartily. He reached out to give a pat on Yan Liqiang’s back. "Let us go. I will guarantee that you will live a better life here in Huanglong County than in Qinghe County..."
After their meeting at the wharf, this man left with Yan Liqiang and walked to the roadside not too far away.
The road here was bustling with activity. There were way more carriages and crowds here than the Qinghe County.
The wharf was a place where people and goods came and went. Hence, there were a countless number of bullock carts and horse carriages pulled over on the roadside, just outside of the wharf, to transport passengers as well as goods.
Just when Yan Liqiang was wondering if this man he referred to as ‘Uncle Qian’ was going to call for a carriage, before he even had the chance to flag for a carriage, one had already stopped nearby. A horse carriage that looked to be specially used for carrying passengers was already heading towards them. It came to a halt before them and the coachman of the carriage nimbly leaped off from the cart as he nodded his head and excessively bowed to Uncle Qian in greeting.
"Uncle Qian, ride my carriage, ride my carriage….."
"Hahaha, young man, you have sharp eyes. Alright then, I shall give you face and ride on your carriage..."
A smile immediately broke across the coachman’s face as he immediately opened the door of his carriage for Yan Liqiang and that man. "Where are you heading to today, Uncle Qian? Is it the Drunken Fragrance Inn or perhaps the Pleasure Fragrance Court? I heard that a few gorgeous ladies have arrived at the Pleasure Fragrance Court over the past few days and are waiting for Uncle Qian."
"Cough cough..." The man with the surname Qian glanced at Yan Liqiang then waved his hand. "Stop your nonsense, just bring us back to the Weaponsmiths Quarter..."
After both of them got into the horse carriage, the coachman closed the carriage door and climbed onto the front seat. Upon hearing the shake of the reins, Yan Liqiang felt the the horse pulling the carriage start to gallop.
The two-wheeled horse carriage was extremely fast and lightweight and there was also plenty of privacy within the carriage. Other than the shaking within the carriage, so long as one tried looking inward from outside of the carriage, one would not be able to see nor hear the activities going on inside when the curtains of the windows were drawn.
Yan Liqiang, who had entered the carriage, was actually already full of questions since long ago.
Since his father could entrust him into the care of this man with the surname Qian at times like this, it was evident that the trust and relationship his father shared with this man were definitely not ordinary. However, he found it odd that his father had never mentioned such a close friend in Huanglong County before. This man with the surname Qian had also never visited his home. The relationship between the two was most likely difficult to be understood.
It was a little shaky inside the carriage. The man with the surname of Qian sat across Yan Liqiang. He studied Yan Liqiang’s face, and again a conflicted look resurfaced in his expression. "Your father has told me about you. Although the Hong Clan could be considered somewhat of a tyrant in your Qinghe County, their clan hasn’t had a single Martial Warrior for three generations. Even if their claws are to grow again, they won’t be able to reach all the way here to Huanglong County. And even if they do somehow manage to reach all the way here, I can chop them off and make them bear the consequences of doing so. All you need to do right now, is to just follow my arrangements and recover from your injury in ease!"
"Thank you, Uncle Qian!"
"Oh right, has your father ever mentioned me before?"
"No!" Yan Liqiang shook his head.
"Hmph!" The man by the surname Qian snorted coldly, seemingly displeased. "My name is Qian Su. I am your father’s junior. In the past, both of us were disciples to the same master...."
"Junior?" Yan Liqiang gave a doubtful look to Qian Su.
Qian Su seemed to know what Yan Liqiang was thinking. He picked up the wine gourd that he had hanging on his waist and drank a mouthful of wine after he opened it. "What your father and I had been studying together back then was the mastery of the forge, not martial arts. Then… Then I had a fall out with your father over a certain matter and we hadn’t contacted each other over these last few years. I knew your father was in Liuhe Town and he also knew that I was in Huanglong County. But even after we moved on from that whole incident, neither of us could swallow our pride and bring ourselves to look for each other. Which is precisely why I didn’t expect that your father actually came all the way here just to find me last night... "
"Did you and my father have a fall out over my mother?" Yan Liqiang calmly asked.
Su Qian’s hand stopped in mid-motion just as he was about to take a second swigof wine. He stared blankly at Yan Liqiang with a look of shock on his face. He hadn’t expected Yan Liqiang to be so sharp. "Did your father tell you that?"
"No, it’s only a guess!" Yan Liqiang shook his head.
A fall out between men were mostly due to one of two possible issues - either money or women. This was an experience and life lesson that Yan Liqiang had gained in his previous life. As cliche as it might sound, it was the truth. Judging from the conflicted expression written all over this man’s face the moment that they’d met, and what he’d heard of his relationship with Yan Dechang along with what Yan Liqiang knew about the personality of his own father, he theorized that the only thing that could possibly cause a fall out between them was love-related issues.
Qian Su took another swig of wine. As a look of perpetual desolation appeared on his unkempt, bearded face. "Your mother was the daughter of our master. Both your father and I adored her, yet the one that your mother liked was your father..."
"Uncle Qian, my mother is no longer around. And both you and my father are people who value their friendships. Just let go of the past..." Yan Liqiang sighed.
"Hehe, you are right. The past is the past and to be honest, I am very glad that your father could bring himself to look for me!" Qian Su let out a long sigh. He took another glance at Yan Liqiang and suddenly laughed. "Your father said that you have never gone on a journey before and have only been practicing martial arts every day. He also told me that you are quite the introverted and simple-minded person, and that you’re not good at socializing with others due to your lack of communication skills. He even asked me to take better care of you. I think your father might have gotten the wrong idea about you instead..."
What else could Yan Liqiang say? He could only widen his pupils as far as he possibly could and stare at this man in front of him with his most pure and innocent eyes. The expression on his face was similar to those 2D-like teenage girls who took selfies while wearing circle lenses.
Qian Su almost choked on his next mouthful of wine, seeing Yan Liqiang’s facial expression, going into a violent coughing fit in the carriage.
When Yan Liqiang arrived at the Huanglong County, Old Master Hong of the Hong Clan, Hong Tao’s grandfather, frowned slightly whilst he listened to the report from one of his men in the backyard of the Hong Clan’s great manor in Liuhe Town.
Hong Clan’s Old Master, Hong Chengshou was a stout man around sixty years old. He was dressed in a long, gorgeous indigo satin gown and his hair was neatly combed in place. He sat on an imperial tutor chair with a few metal balls in his hands. The smile on Old Master Hong’s face gradually vanished, replaced by an increasingly harsh look in his eyes as he listened to the his steward’s report.
"You’re saying that Butcher Liu saw the father-son duo of Yan Clan making their way to the county town and then Yan Dechang came back alone without Yan Liqiang?
"That’s right!" The steward nodded his head at the Old Master."At first, I thought that Yan Dechang was sending his son to the medical hall to tend to his injuries, but Yan Liqiang was nowhere in sight when I sent someone to check the medical halls!"
"Does anyone know just where exactly is Yan Liqiang?"
"No one seems know where Yan Liqiang is at the moment." The steward answered in a soft voice. He then seemed to have recalled something. "Oh yes, I ran into that father and son pair from the Yan Clan on my way back last night. They were of course, refusing to yield as usual. However, that Yan Liqiang seemed to be acting a little different than before, he didn’t seem to be the same dim-witted brat as he’d been previously...." Steward Hong recounted the meeting with Yan Liqiang last night to Old Master Hong. He even repeated the precise words that he’d heard Yan Liqiang say and repeated those words to Old Master Hong without leaving out a single thing.
As Old Master Hong listened to the steward repeat Yan Liqiang’s exact words, he narrowed his eyes and momentarily stopped rotating the metal balls that he had within his hands for two seconds before he resumed again. "Yan Liqiang’s stupidity may have been a charade that his father made him put up so that we wouldn’t notice him. But since this father and son pair of the Yan Clan had seen the Hong Clan make a move on him during the Martial Arts Preliminary Exam, they figured that there was no reason to continue in such a manner…" Speaking up to this point, Old Master Hong sneered coldly. "But at this point of time, this is no longer up to them to decide. Go and find someone to ask around for Yan Liqiang’s whereabouts. Even if our Hong Clan hasn’t had a Martial Warrior for three generations, this Liuhe Town is still the Hong Clan’s territory. We cannot allow the son of a mere blacksmith to overturn this place…"
As the steward left the study room, another person came out of a secret door in the study room.
That person had a slim figure with a pair of unattractive triangular-shaped eyes on his wretched face. There was also a black mole of about the size of a bean on his left cheek and a sinister aura. He laughed sinisterly, "Old Master Hong, didn’t I tell you that it was best to commit the deed a few days prior? As long as I can sneak into their house, I would have been able to break his spine with just a single slap and then he’d be crippled for the rest of his life, doomed to spend his remaining days in a wheelchair. He wouldn’t be training inmartial arts and things wouldn’t be this troublesome as they are right now."
"If we did try to make a move on Yan Liqiang a few days before the martial arts preliminaries then the mark would have been too noticeable. It would be bad if it attracted unwanted attention and criticism. As long as Tao’er defeated Yan Liqiang on the arena and proved the strength of Hong Clan, no one would suspect the Hong Clan even if anything were to happen to the blacksmith’s son. I was planning to have you make a move on him over these two days, but I hadn’t expected that this father and son duo from the Yan Clan would be this vigilant…" Old Master Hong sighed and shook his head.
"I can’t be of any assistance in finding the person and since Old Master Hong didn’t hire me to find someone anyway, you only need to tell me where he is. Once I’m done, I’ll leave the Pingxi Prefecture. But I’ll have to charge extra for the few day’s worth of hold up in the Hong Residence…...." That man chuckled while licking his lips as a greedy look flashed across his eyes.
"Rest assured, we of the Hong Clan can still afford to pay this small amount of money...."
"That’s good then!"