Chapter 102: The Road to Luoyang
Wenchang picked up Chai Feng and backed away. “Big bro, wait, we’ll settle with them later, get back!”
“What about Brother Chai?” Black Iron Pagoda yelled from a distance.
“No worries, he’s injured and out cold.”
The two of them quickly evacuated, but no one came after them. Black-clad corpses littered the ground. Wenchang and Black Iron Pagoda’s extraordinary bravery terrified them, so the ones left standing let loose with their will-o’-the wisp poison and fled for their lives in a panic. Those hoodlums all relied on concealed weapons to attack people, but they were not great at fighting. They would collapse at the first blow from two courageous masters like these.
Black Iron Pagoda was already there when Wenchang made it back to their horses. “Dear brother, give him to me. You mount up.”
Wenchang couldn’t hold him any longer anyway. His complexion was already looking bad, so he didn’t bother with civilities and handed Chai Feng over to Black Iron Pagoda, then climbed onto his horse and the two of them got out of there in a hurry.
The men in black robes likely already knew who Cai Wenchang was. Two of them shouted that they were looking for their leader, Seven Spells, and that they would be back later to deal with them, so obviously he must be someone even more powerful than Seven Spells. They’d be fools not to get out of there themselves.
Wenchang and Black Iron Pagoda were only bluffing; there was no way they were going back there. They galloped like mad for the public road, not noticing three gray figures watching their every move as they passed from behind the trees.
Once they had gone a hundred or so feet away, the three gray figures gathered. It was Fang Song and Miss Xiaojuan. Fang Song kept shaking his head. “There’s really fools like them in this world, paying no heed to their own lives in order to save a friend, openly challenging Seven Spells. So stupid.”
“Dad, don’t you think their foolish stupidity is cute?” the girl said happily.
“Girl, that word cute, do you mean to say…” Fang Song had picked up on her interest.
“Dad! No… No…” Her fair face flushed red as the rosy clouds of dawn and she paused, toeing her upturned shoes into the ground like a spoiled child.
Fang Song strode over and said, “Fortunately Seven Spells wasn’t there, otherwise they would have been in for it. Let’s go! Girl, don’t let them discover where we hid our horses. Those two are good at stealing horses.”
Wenchang whipped his horse and they galloped two miles before turning into a ravine. “Let’s save Brother Chai first, and lay low for a bit.”
They squatted down in a ravine in the dense forest and set about saving him. Chai Feng was not badly poisoned and Wenchang’s anti-poison powder had been a big help. Outcast Androgyne’s Nine Yin Withering Palm was no doubt one of the most powerful among the martial fraternity, and his poison was unique among the jianghu. He had given Wenchang that anti-poison powder as a counter for those kinds of knockout drugs. Once the powder touched his nose, Chai Feng gradually came around.
They skillfully bandaged up Chai Feng, but Wenchang’s hand was trembling nonstop. He knew that the fighting he had just done had allowed the Cadaverine Poison within him to permeate a bit into his meridians.
Chai Feng gave him a queer look, his eyes fixed on Wenchang’s sweaty, ashen face, and he said in a voice that seemed far away, “Brother Cai, you’re injured? I… I let you down, I got you involved.”
Wenchang shook his head with a wry smile. “Has nothing to do with you. I was hit by Black Zombie’s Cadaverine Palm.”
“Yeah, and also Blissful Monk. Those guys were run out of the shop by a man and two girls.”
“Who? Whose frightful martial arts is great enough to beat off those two fiends?”
“They wouldn’t reveal their names, but I will never forget their voices and faces.”
“Brother Cai, you and Brother Fan are no match for Seven Spells, yet you…”
“There’s a lot one will do for a friend, Brother Chai. Don’t talk, conserve your energy.”
Chai Feng suddenly started crying. He cried out, “Brothers, forgive me, forgive this rotten wretch, forgive…”
“Quiet, what are you babbling about?” Wenchang said, irritated.
“I… I’m one of Black Flag Sovereign’s men, I…”
Wenchang and Black Iron Pagoda were dumbfounded. Chai Feng continued, “Brothers, get away from this dangerous part of Henan as quick as you can. I’ve already revealed your location to the sovereign. Whatever you do you must not hang around Luoyang. Hurry! Forget about me, the sooner the better. I’m done for. Once I’m in the netherworld I’ll keep watch over you.”
“You told our location?”
“Yes. So you absolutely cannot stay in Luoyang. I’m a rotten piece of shit. Seeing your heroism and righteous acts really makes me ashamed…”
Wenchang was secretly pleased. He never thought he might find such an ideal messenger. “Brother Chai, don’t worry about it, everyone has a duty to his master. I don’t blame you.”
Chai Feng grabbed tight to his hand and with sadness, said, “Thank you, brother. Before I die, please promise me one thing. Please leave Luoyang and go far away to the capital. Black Flag Sovereign’s influence is great, but it only extends to the southern border of Shandong. He doesn’t dare push his influence around the capital. Once you get there, please go to Liang County in Shuntian prefecture to an old ferry near a pine wood by Gemstone River and send word on to my wife and son. Tell them I’ve felt guilty about the way I’ve treated them for a long time. Tell them to forget about me and find another place to settle down…”
Wenchang slapped him twice upside the head. “Shut up! You twit, you’ve only got a flesh wound but you’re so hellbent on dying and saying all these unlucky things. Let me tell you, I was hit by Black Zombie’s Cadaverine Palm. I’ll be dead before too long, yet I still don’t talk lightly of death but am trying my hardest to seek out the antidote…”
Mention of the antidote made him suddenly remember Curly Beard, who Outcast Androgyne had tormented with poisons for years. Didn’t he still have seven or eight Arcane Nine-Cycle Elixir pills left? If Curly Beard could use them to prolong his life, then why couldn’t he?
He undid his bag and took out the medicine. “Right here are some really rare and hard to come by miracle pills. Take one and you won’t die. I’m not going and passing along a message to your wife and son.”
He swallowed a pill himself and stuffed another in Chai Feng’s mouth and stood up. “Let’s go. You’ll live ‘til you’re reunited with your family. From now on, wash your hands of your filthy ways and turn to righteousness and don’t fool around in the jianghu anymore. I’ll teach you some disguise techniques to make some superficial changes to your head and face. Consider us friends and don’t mention the past anymore.”
Black Iron Pagoda picked up Chai Feng, who was choked with tears, and he and Wenchang mounted up and the three of them headed out onto the public road, galloping toward Mianchi.
On top of a tree not far off, Fang Song was shaking his head. Xiaojuan’s pretty eyes shined with oddly as she said faintly, “Dad, are there a lot of men in the world who are that broadminded?”
“Hard to find. Your father admits he’s a strange one.”
“So strange he can’t be cured? Strange like a degenerate?”
“Ha! Little girl, being hard on your dad?” Fang Song scolded in jest.
She gave him a look like a spoiled kid as she blushed and smiled and confirmed with an “Mm”.
Fang Song pinched her cheek and smiled. “Girl. Oh! I’d wager you’ve never looked happier than you do today, but it might not be like that in the days to come. You give Daddy peace of mind, but you also place a heavy burden on me.”
Luoyang was a famous city with a glorious history. It produced many heroes and buried many despicable and unworthy people. It was not only a capital city during the Zhou, Eastern Han, Wei-Jin, Northern Wei, Sui, Tang, Liang, Later Tang, and the Later Jin of the Ten Kingdoms period, it was also chosen as the capital by the usurpers Wang Shichong, An Lushan, and Shi Siming, and Li Mi even seized Jinyong and declared himself Duke of Wei, so one can see how special the city was. Every brick and tile has a classic story to tell. It once flourished, and it suffered decline as well, but no matter how ruthless history was, it still stood tall, a mighty immortal city that was never toppled.
Time flies, the years flow past like water. Dynasties rise and fall, and this ancient city had fallen from its zenith. The seventy-mile old capital had become a relic, its area shrunken many times over. Its north side was now far away from Mt. Mang, and the southern end receded to the northern bank of the Luo River. Who knew when it might regain its former glory? Perhaps it never would.
The public road from the west, straight to West Pass, with Mt. Mang on the left and Gully River on the right, the road near Luoyang was broad and level and the scenery was beautiful.
Wenchang and company stayed in Mianchi for five days to recover from their injuries. Chai Feng could already move about freely. Wenchang himself had been aided by the nine-cycle elixir as well, forcing the residual poison within him down toward his tailbone acupoint, but it couldn’t drive the poison out. It was like a malignant tumor growing in his tailbone that might one day suddenly flare up and take his life. But from the outside he seemed fine; he had his energy back, only the space between his eyebrows was a bit darkened, but everywhere else looked normal.
That day, the three of them stole through Xin’an County on horseback, through New Hangu Pass and galloped toward Luoyang. By noon they were at the western foot of Mt. Mang, close to Luoyang.
Mt. Mang was also called North Mang, was a long loess mountain hill, a place where numerous emperors were buried, huge ancient mausoleums dotting the area like stones on a weiqi board. Pine and cypress offered shade. At the moment the empire was at peace, and the mausoleums were looked after by the local authorities. Who would dare go there and cut down the pines and cypress for firewood? Unless he had a death wish. But every time the dynasty changed hands, the trees on Mt. Mang suffered for it. The armies were busy fighting, so the locals would outrageously take advantage of the opportunity to cut down trees there on a large scale and exported them so they could be put to use, and also to vent their resentment at the declining imperial court.
The public road curved around a large mound and entered a level forest dotted with mounds green with vegetation. The birds were out and the flowers were fragrant, a fine spring day to make one feel carefree and happy. Between gaps in the foot of the mountain they could see glimpses of the gardens of quiet and secluded villas, embellishments among the verdant forest wilderness. These places were not part of the mausoleums but were the summer resorts of powerful families of Luoyang.
Three horses trotted along as three other riders locked eyes on them from about a mile or so behind. The public road had a lot of traffic in this area so it was not easy to tell one was being followed.
Chai Feng still rode on the right side, a heavy, clouded look on his face. He forced a smile. “You two could still leave the Central Plains! At least to lie low for a little while. Otherwise I won’t feel at ease…”
Wenchang laughed heroically. “Brother Chai, Cai Wenchang will never be forced to lower his head. I was born a wretched scamp and grew up to lead a vagrant life among the jianghu. Haha! We’re not afraid of Black Flag Sovereign. So what that vile hegemon of the dark path has his goons spread all over, or has some other treacherous scum colluding with him like Endless Valley, why should I fear? Once we get to Luoyang you can take the road north to the capital. We’ll part company early so that you don’t once again fall into the demon’s trap so that you can’t pull yourself out again.”
Black Iron Pagoda pointed ahead with his whip. “Look! There’s a quarrel up ahead. Let’s get over there! See if we can dredge up some gold out of it. We lost two horses back there at Seven Spells’ hideout and we’re almost out of funds. If we don’t kick up some scratch, how will we ever be respected in Luoyang!”
“Let’s go!” Wenchang cried. “This is our first transaction in Luoyang, let’s not be careless.” They galloped ahead.
There was a quiet and secluded house in a gap between the mountains along the roadside. Several terraces and pavilions had been erected against the mountain, covered with flowers and other plants. The courtyard beyond the circular entrance gate was dotted with delicately wrought rock gardens, and there were exotic flowers growing in the flower beds.
They were a step too late as there was a crowd of people pressed against the circular entrance gate, who one after another mounted up and rode out onto the road before they got there, whistling and carrying on as they headed toward Luoyang. The riders were splendidly dressed and were all stalwart fellows with bows and swords dangling, all insufferably arrogant.
There were five others at the garden entrance standing there blankly. Of the five, four were old men in their sixties dressed in ordinary clothes, and the man in the middle was old and gray, his face full of wrinkles and his eyes blurred with tears, his hands together as he looked to the heavens, mumbling some prayer over and over.
The two sides met on the small path off the road leading to the house, over a dozen sturdy horses and riders glancing at the three of them before whistling and galloping off like no one was there.
Wenchang sneered and whipped his horse up the path. “We’ll take a look, those guys looked like trouble.”
Black Iron Pagoda turned to Chai Feng and waved. “Brother Chai, we’ll part company here. We might end up staying the night here!”
Wenchang reined in and turned around. “Right! We can spend a few days in Luoyang, we can be flexible. We mustn’t delay Brother Chai’s important journey back to his hometown. No need to see us off, take care, Brother Chai.”
He raised a hand and then his horse shot ahead.
Chai Feng was teary-eyed and his voice trembled. “Take care, you two. I wish you well, brothers. We’ll meet again some day.” He flicked away the tears in the corners of his eyes and looked to the sky as he drew in a deep breath, then whipped his horse and galloped toward Luoyang and vanished into the cloud of dust his horse kicked up.