Chapter 14: Street Fight
There were several onlookers at the southern dock who saw Wenchang knock down those two men in the blink of an eye, then steal a boat and row across the river. The news of him using a pair of tongs to deflect a sabre and an iron ruler yesterday at the smithy spread through the small town quickly, becoming more and more embellished with each telling. The story now was that he had subdued the two little devils barehanded, the one who wielded a sabre and the other who wielded a spear. Now they had just witnessed the fight on the riverbank, and he had really knocked the men down barehanded. Good gracious! The cheers were earth-shaking. Some of them dropped everything to applaud him.
Bald Flood Dragon’s men were secretly shocked. Wenchang’s skiff had sped through the surging current so swiftly, and he was only using a single oar. Not an easy feat!
The scoundrels of Fine Horse Village were astounded and rushed off to report to Sickly Wuchang. Heavens! A real man doesn’t reveal his true ability. Turns out Master Cai was actually an extraordinary champion! This was trouble. They might not be able to deal with him and would have to leave.
Wenchang now stood out and was now famous in Fine Horse Village.
People hated Sickly Wuchang, but there was nothing they could do. Someone here to settle the score with him and rid Fine Horse Village of this blight ought to have been a good thing. But the way notification about Sickly Wuchang had arrived was terrifying. This person was definitely not a good person, perhaps even worse than Sickly Wuchang. Now Wenchang was seen fighting on the riverbank. He was somewhat a stranger to most of them, yet he had always been a law-abiding citizen of Fine Horse Village. No one had ever heard of him causing trouble in the marketplace. Judging from what happened at the smithy the day before, Wenchang was probably not at odds with Sickly Wuchang’s men and was definitely quarreling with the people who had sent those note cards attached to knives. The locals were both optimistic and worried about all this, afraid the situation might get out of hand.
Quite the contrary, this incident had given Bald Flood Dragon some pause. He wasn’t about to take the initiative in launching an attack on Sickly Wuchang right now.
Poor Sickly Wuchang. He had only learned what was going on last night when he heard about the knife/card notification, and then later when he learned about Pit Viper Sang Ba. Several days earlier a few of his men had mysteriously went missing. Now it was clear what had happened. He wasn’t going to be dealt with that easily. He immediately dispatched men to Shangzhou to ask help from friends there. He was getting nervous.
By the time Wenchang returned to the smithy, Second Uncle Di and the young master had been waiting for him a long time. He was not happy, and from their faces he assumed they were not so understanding of what had transpired earlier. His face sank at once and he stepped through the doors into the shop.
“Master Cai…” Second Uncle Di said.
Wenchang cut him off at once. “Second Uncle, don’t say anything. There’s no need to make the items Pit Viper ordered. If he dares show his face here refund him his money. A real man takes responsibility for his actions. I can’t get you all involved. I’m resigning, effective immediately. No use waiting five days. For now I’ll be staying at Shangluo Inn. If anyone comes looking for me, send him there.”
“Master Cai, please don’t be mistaken…” Zhang Ziyu said, smiling.
But Wenchang had made up his mind. “There’s a feud now between Bald Flood Dragon and I. That guy won’t just leave it at that. So, to avoid…”
“What? You’re feuding with Bald Flood Dragon?”
“That’s right. I met him at the southern dock.”
“You met him?” Zhang Ziyu’s tone revealed he was familiar with the name.
“I scraped his scalp and felled River Rat Guan Jiang in three blows. He’ll be bedridden for a month; he was nothing.”
“How did things turn hostile?”
“Hmph! He tried to bribe me to become one of his lackeys, unbelievable. Me falling in with them, heh. Dragged into the gutter… Hmph! Whatever.”
Zhang Ziyu understood the implications. He was shocked. “Master Cai,” he said sternly, “This is a terrible idea. One false step can lead to a life of grief, one slip and you’ll regret it forever. You…”
Wenchang walked toward the back. “I decide what direction I take, you don’t need to worry about it. Young master, you’re only concerned with business and whether or not you prosper, whether you can open up another shop or not, whether your workers have done all they could to earn you money, or if it’s worth it or not to hire them for 120 taels a year, only wanting them to make as much money for you as they can and don’t cause trouble. Enough…”
Zhang Ziyu grabbed him by the shoulder. “Master Cai, you mustn’t refuse others’ concern for you.”
“Get off!” Wenchang shouted.
“Master Cai, calm down a bit and listen to me. I didn’t come here today to drive you out, but to…”
“I don’t need the young master to drive me out, I’ll go on my…”
They were arguing back and forth when they heard the thunder of hooves and a horse whinnying. The hoofbeats ceased and two fine horses pulled up. The two dainty figures mounted didn’t wait for the horses to fully stop before they leapt off and tossed the reins onto the saddle horns and strode into the shop.
It was silent inside the shop, all eyes on the newcomers.
They were both otherworldly beautiful young girls, pretty to make your heart skip. The one on the left was slender and delicately curved, just the right height, just slim enough, a nearly perfect figure. Her hair was wrapped with a green silk headscarf and her jet-black hair at the temples partially covered her pretty ears from which dangled pearl earrings that flashed in the light. Lovely arched eyebrows and eyes like a deep pool, a small, straight nose of fine jade, and a small cherry-like mouth accentuated her delicate pale face with its flushed, tender cheeks. She wore a tidy robe of kingfisher green, a long sword hanging from her waist and a travel bag slung over her shoulder, giving her an heroic air and causing people to not dare look at her directly.
The girl on the right was about four or five years her junior, about fourteen or fifteen, her graceful figure not yet fully developed. She was slim and well-proportioned, her chest like flower buds not yet in bloom. She had a pretty face, her features a perfect work of art as if they had been sculpted by a famous artisan. It was just that her diamond-like eyes below her shapely eyebrows shone with intelligence and were somewhat cold and aloof. Her little mouth curved upward and her little dimples somewhat softened her haughtiness. In a word, her eyes were somewhat intimidating, as if they could penetrate one’s heart. This was the only blemish to her beauty. A girl who was too shrewd was scary and would perhaps make men avoid her like the plague.
Her dress was plain and white, her hair combed up in three tufts. She wore no ornaments except for her earrings. Her travel bag and scabbard hung from her belt, but there was no sword in it. Her sword was in its saddle sheath on her horse.
Two pairs of deerskin barbarian boots1 stepped into the shop, their steps in rhythm which each other, not at all like young ladies but more in the manner of gallant warriors. Their clothes looked weather-worn, but they seemed in high spirits. There was a large saddle pack behind each saddle, indicating they were heroines who had undergone a long journey.
As soon as they entered the shop a grey horse pulled up outside and passed the other two horses and continued on. Its rider wore a bandanna and a sky blue robe dotted with white hibiscus designs. He was handsome with white teeth and red lips. He whipped his horse and turned to look at the backs of the two girls, smiling. He had big, clear eyes, but they were too vivid, limpid like a girl’s. Those kind of eyes were the most enchanting to women. He only took his eyes off them when his horse was fifty or so feet away.
The girls didn’t turn to look but they both hmphed at the same time once they entered the shop and curled their lips in a sneer, then walked toward the counter, their dreamy eyes scanning the crowd of gawkers. They were not shy and they did not flinch from those ten pairs of greedy eyes.
Who knew who they were snorting at, but it attracted Wenchang’s attention. He thought, they must have seen me fighting on the docks and were likely not convinced and have come to look for trouble. That was likely aimed at me.
Yep. It had been aimed at him. The girl in green saw there was only a clerk behind the counter and said in a sweet voice, “Little brother, is the shopkeeper here?”
Second Uncle Di hurried out to the counter, all smiles. “What can I do for you ladies? I am at your service.”
“Is this Zhang Ironware?” Her voice was so sweet, so pleasant.
Second Uncle Di pointed toward the signboard outside and smileed. “That’s our store.”
“I heard the craftsmanship at your store is very famous. Is that right?”
“You honor us, miss. Our little shop isn’t that remarkable.”
“Your shop has a Master Cai? Can you call him out for a chat?”
Second Uncle Di didn’t know what to do, if he should call Wenchang out or not. The girl continued, “This young miss needs some concealed weapons made…”
Wenchang cut in from across the room, “It’s not just Master Cai of Zhang Ironware who can make concealed weapons for you. You don’t need to mention a particular name; anyone here is more than equal to the task.”
His answer attracted the ladies’ attention. They seemed taken aback. He was big and tall, wearing a tight-fitting robe and standing there like a fierce lion, exceptionally handsome. But his calm, menacing demeanor made one think he looked down on others with his arrogant attitude.
The girl in white smiled, her dimples deepening. “Shopkeep, this man is quite conceited; is he the proprietor of this establishment?” Zhang Ziyu knew there could be trouble. Wenchang was already in a bad mood; wasn’t this like adding oil to the fire? He came forward, smiling, unaware that Wenchang would not say a word but had already turned around. He smiled and said, “I am the proprietor of this shop. May I ask what kind of concealed weapon you ladies need made, and do you have a sample for us to look at?”
The girls looked at Ziyu in his pampered rich kid get-up and shook their heads. The girl in white said, “Please get Master Cai. I hear only he is capable of making exquisite exotic concealed weapons.”
“That man just now was Master Cai,” Second Uncle Di said. “But he has decided to resign today.” He had no choice but tell the truth.
“Oh!” the girl in green said regrettably. “We’ve come a day late.”
They turned to scrutinize the weapons lining the wall. Soon after, Wenchang came out carrying a large bundle and said to Zhang Ziyu, “Young master, I will be staying for now at Shangluo Inn. If Bald Flood Dragon sends someone looking for me, please direct them there.”
When they heard the words Bald Flood Dragon, the girls spun around. The girl in white’s face sank. “Eh! You’re Bald Flood Dragon’s friend? Or one of his henchmen?”
Wenchang walked on. “What if I am?” he said grumpily. “You’re too nosy.”
He had just stepped out of the shop when he felt a tug on his bundle. Someone was grabbing it from behind. He heard a young girl’s voice in his ear. “Hold on! Where is he hiding out?”
Wenchang stopped and turned and said coldly, “Let go. This is unbecoming.”
“Are you going to say where he is or not?” Her tone was overbearing.
“Why should I tell you? Ridiculous!”
She cocked an eyebrow and hmphed, her pretty eyes flashing coldly. Her right hand shot out, her fore and middle fingers bolting toward Wenchang’s left camphorwood gate acupoint.2
He felt his own skill was insufficient, so he didn’t dare strike at another’s acupoints, but he was an expert in acupressure techniques. Still, he was shocked to see this young girl be so bold as to use acupressure techniques and strike with such ferocity. At the same time he flew into a rage. If this little girl was not skilled enough to release his acupoint or if she struck too hard, then she might just kill him. There was no enmity between them so using acupressure techniques to viciously attack him was really outrageous!
He quickly dodged and spun around and shouted as he kicked toward the girl’s left ribs, his reaction swift like a spark from flint and steel.
The girl cried out and dodged to the right, her left palm “whisking clouds, sweeping fog”, urgent as a shooting star, flicking toward the side of Wenchang’s sweeping leg.
Wenchang was ready for it. He pointed his left foot down and shot backward out the door, narrowly avoiding the girl’s palm.
“Where are you going?” the girl seethed, and pounced after him.
They had exchanged blows marvelously fast, and before you knew it they were in the middle of the street. When he got there he saw a flash of white out of the corner of his eye already close behind. He was alarmed and quickly dropped his bundle and roared like a tiger and turned and struck with five punches, then three more in succession, kicked twice, trading back and forth.
She didn’t use her fists or her legs, only her slender white fingers and palms came into play, dodging left before advancing forward to attack leisurely. From Wenchang’s punches and kicks she learned his latent power was frightful. He was strong as a mountain so she didn’t dare get careless and take him head on, instead using quick movements to avoid his strikes and counter with her own. After two exchanges she pressed close to Wenchang’s left side.
“Take this!” Her right finger was nearly at his right shoulder already.
Wenchang didn’t have enough experience, relying on his superhuman strength and speed to attack head-on, but when his opponent didn’t respond in kind he got flustered, feeling like he had no chance to use his skills. Then his chance came. Pressed close, he dismantled the move wonderfully. His shoulder twisted right as his right palm struck with “upside down golden bell strike”. He turned sharply and his right fist hit with “fierce tiger descends the mountain”.
The girl’s arms were too short so her finger strike missed, though Wenchang’s golden bell move also whiffed. They attacked again and in the blink of an eye an iron fist hit her in the chest with violent momentum.
She was furious. That punch had been too frivolous. She hmphed and shot her left hand out using her backhand, then turned her hand and grabbed suddenly.
Her palm slammed into Wenchang’s inner right forearm. He felt like he’d been stabbed with a branding iron, felt the burning and vibration of it even through his leather bracer. Seemed this young girl’s backhand had slammed into his forearm with five or six hundred catties of force. He involuntarily cried out and leapt out of the way, his arm momentarily numb. He could barely lift it. Good thing he had protected himself, otherwise his arm would have been ruined.
The girl yelled and shot over.
“Heavens, ‘Gold Dragon Turning Claw’ and ‘Enigmatic Withering Palm’!” Zhang Ziyu cried from the doorway.