Chapter 77: Flirting
Minstrel Chai shot him a glance and laughed. “Gentleman! Your eyes are as useless as my donkey. It’s clearly a jack yet you call it a jenny, haha! You’re so lousy you can’t tell the difference between male and female.”
A jack is a male donkey. Song An had just saw it was a donkey and blurted it out, what was this about not being able to tell the difference? The sarcasm in the other’s voice infuriated him. He came up side by side, his face clouded. “Shut your foul mouth!”
“Ha! Is your mouth fragrant? Hell, your mouth is about the same as my jackass. If you don’t believe me feel free to see for yourself.”
Song An was riding side by side, and to the left was Wenchang’s horse. They were nearly squeezed together on the road as Song An got madder and madder. He flicked his whip out at Minstrel Chai’s shoulder.
Minstrel Chai had his pipa in both hands so he couldn’t easily intercept it. Wenchang suddenly leaned over and snapped his whip out and wrapped it around Song An’s elbow right in front of him, halting Song An’s whip at its apex. He pulled back lightly. “Brother, How can you strike him?”
Song An’s elbow was wrapped up, rendering him powerless. His whole right arm was numb. In an instant he was nearly unseated from his carved saddle. He steadied himself and shouted, “What family are you from to dare make a fool of Sir Song?”
He was about to let loose a stream of invective, but he had his doubts when he saw Wenchang’s imposing air. So he decided to ask Wenchang’s background first.
Wenchang roared with laughter. “You don’t need to know, brother. We’re both spring tourists. No need to spoil the sporting mood. Have it your way.”
Song An didn’t have a chance to respond before Minstrel Chai cut in coldly, “You rotten piece of shit bastard! If that whip had touched a hair on my body, then hmph! I’d have to cut both your ears off.”
A pretty girl’s face appeared suddenly from the window of the carriage. She called out, “Sir Song, are you really going to be such a spoilsport? Forget it! What are you even arguing about? Er…”
Her eyes fell on Wenchang, smiling in the saddle. Though she had called lightly, her smile deepened and her limpid eyes shone through him seductively. Those bright eyes were like a bewitching talisman used to topple young men; their divine sparkle was truly astonishing.
Her features were lovely, powdered cheeks like a peach. There was not an inch of her that wasn’t beautiful, brimming with girlish youth. The slightest expression would send a man’s heart a flutter. Wenchang’s own heart jolted. He thought, What a little minx, pretty as a peach, a delicate flower with all sorts of flirty expressions, such an addictive, radiant smile. A rare beauty indeed. I must test her character.
Song An was about to flare up after being chided by Minstrel Chai, but he was checked by Second Miss Tian’s admonition. And with Wenchang and his servants it was four against one so it wouldn’t do to start trouble. He could only say with resentment, “Just remember, commoner, later on it will be too late for regrets.” He turned his horse and went back.
Minstrel Chai sneered, “Hmph! Later? later your family will be destroyed and you will reap what you’ve sown.”
Wenchang laughed and said, “Sir Song, I advise you to restrain yourself a bit. You’re a well-to-do man. It will do you absolutely no good to provoke an outlaw.”
Second Miss Tian, all smiled, called out, “Gentlemen, could you speed up your mounts a bit and make way a little?”
Minstrel Chai shot her a glance, then hmphed and cracked his whip and his donkey lurched forward.
Wenchang was already on the side of the road. He nodded and smiled. “I ought to make way for the Number-One Flower of Chang’an. After you, miss.”
The light carriage trundled forward, but still at a slow pace. The Song brothers still roade at either side, but when Song An passed Wenchang, he couldn’t help but keep a bit of distance. Wenchang was big and tall and possessed the outstanding bearing of a handsome young man. Song was lacking in confidence somewhat now, and didn’t dare flaunt his superiority further.
Second Miss Tian’s pretty head had still not retracted back inside the carriage. She was leaning half out on the window frame, an enchanting smile hung on her pretty cheeks. Wenchang slowly whipped his horse and continued on, the carriage finally coming up alongside. He looked relaxed as he smiled at her.
In Second Miss Tian’s eyes a peculiar radiance overflowed and her powdered cheeks flushed ever so slightly. She half-covered her cherry lips with a corner of a peachcolored silk handkerchief, smiling. “Sir, are you on a spring outing as well? Are you going to the Great Wild Goose Pagoda?”
Wenchang sniggered to himself. Interesting, he thought. Striking up a conversation on her own, it’s like a delicious meal delivered to my door. How could I pass this up?
Thanks to Outcast Androgyne he knew a thing or two about relations between men and women, and he didn’t care much for that thing called “propriety”. His notions of morality had gradually faded and since he’d begun posing as The Fugitive his intent to enjoy life while he may caused him to no longer attach much importance to rules of propriety. But in his heart he had yet to completely pull the wool over his own eyes. Like when he was in Miss Shi’s bedchamber, facing that good and lovely Miss Shi who was gentle and pure as water, he he not only not had a single impure thought, but had felt a strong sense of reverence and faithfulness. Even though she had personally attended him, he had cherished nothing more than holding her hand.
He held a principle that was not quite good, that though he would never rape someone, if she threw herself into his arms he wouldn’t stop her.
Wonderful! A beauty was right at his fingertips. If he didn’t pluck her up he would be letting down that delicate, beautiful flower! He began implementing the womanizing tricks he’d picked up from Outcast Androgyne, his starry eyes sparkling with passion, drawing in her affectionate gaze and not letting go. His face broke out in an enchanting smile and he used his most sentimental tone of voice. “Spring is here. The winter was suffocating, if one didn’t go out how could he dispel such stuffiness? I am indeed heading for the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. I’ve heard one must go sea the peach blossoms at just the right time, or else a few days later the rains will have washed them all away.”
The girl squealed happily, “Alright! We’ll go together, then.”
“May I ask your name, miss, if I may be so bold?”
“My family name is Tian, given name Meigu. I’m the second in my family. I live in the city in Taiping Ward. My father is the Honorable Chong’an. Everyone in Chang’an knows him.”
“Oh! So it’s Second Miss Tian, I’ve long looked forward to meeting you.” Wenchang smiled and moved his horse closer to the window, squeezing out Song An who now trailed behind.
Meigu charmingly gave him some side-eye and smiled as she said, “Poo! So fake with this looking forward to meeting you business, are you mocking me? How could a stranger have known the name of a simple girl and longed to meet her?”
“Haha! You’re right, I deserve a flogging. I’ve really offended you, miss.”
“Eh! Sir, you’ve not said your…”
“My family name is Wen, from Wuben Township outside the city.” Within the city, the smallest area of administration was called a ward; in the suburbs, it was a township, and in the villages it was a community, so one need only mention ward, township, or community to know if a person lived in the city or out in a village.
“Sir Wen, what does your family do?”
“Don’t laugh, but my late father held a post as an official instructor in Shangzhou. He was a schoolteacher, not famous or distinguished or anything. As for me, I studied the classics for two years, then traveled around to learn a thing or two about the world.”
“A family of scholars, Sir Wen you should be proud of that. I’ve only brought two maids with me on this spring outing today. Sir, if you’re also going to Wild Goose Pagoda…”
“Miss, if you don’t mind, I can accompany you, but I must tell you I am not very familiar with the Temple of Compassion. I might disappoint you!” They got closer as they talked, and more intimate. Song An was liking it less and less as he listened from behind, and more and more angry, mingled with shame and resentment.; He suddenly ground his teeth, cracked his whip, spurred his horse and snapped the reins. His horse lurched forward and raised up on its hind legs and came down on Wenchang’s horse’s belly. At the same time, hooves thundered from behind as four horses galloped on at full speed, the riders two men and two women, riding two by two fore and aft. In the front, the man was Carefree Cloud Xun Jianhong, the girl clad in white was White Dragongirl Miss Xia. Behind them was a curly-bearded man and a pretty sixteen-year-old maidservant.
How shrewd was Wenchang? He’d already had his eye on Song An’s actions. He flicked his reins before the latter’s horse came down and nimbly moved his mount out of the way. He turned and smiled. “Brother Song, what are you doing? We’re both men of learning, no need to be boorish lest others mock our scholarly dignity.”
Song An’s attempt to trample on Wenchang’s horse was a waste. He reined in and readied to draw his sword. He was indignant. “If you don’t get on your way I’m gonna have to teach you a severe lesson about meddling. Are you going or not?”
Wenchang waved him off, smiling. “Hang on, we must be reasonable. How have I been meddling? I’ve not done anything to you! Right?”
Carefree Cloud and the others were now within fifty feet. They slowed their horses. White Dragongirl’s eyes swept across Wenchang’s face and she cried in surprise, “Eh!”
Wenchang was taken aback. He thought, It’s her! That huffy, unreasonable girl.”
White Dragongirl knew it was Cai Wenchang, but looking at his get-up she was still a bit uncertain. Since his expression had not changed, she was still not quite ready to see if she was right.
Song An drew his sword halfway and raved, “Second Miss is a family friend. I don’t need you fawning over her. I’m only asking you one thing, are you going or not?” He drew his sword all the way out.
Wenchang glanced at the four riders stopped thirty feet away, then at Second Miss who was looking a bit irritated. His face darkened and he spat, “I’m not giving up a beauty before me.”
“So it’s a playboy,” White Dragongirl said to herself, disappointed. She sighed.