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Laughter of the Sword God Chapter 17

CSI

Chapter 17 – Bathing water inside the tent

(One)

Later on Big Miss Niu told her friends.

“I saw it with my own eyes that day,” she said, “I saw Sikong Zhaixing walked over, he went to the little old granny, and the little old granny bent her finger, beckoning him to come over, and then she spoke a few words on his ear.”

“And then what happened?”

“And then I saw that Sikong Zhaixing, who disguised himself as Ximen Chuixue, pretending to be cold and emotionless, his expression changed instantly, his eye bulged as he stared at that little old granny, as if his eyeballs were about to pop out,” Big Miss Niu said.

“And then what happened?”

“And then his butts plopped onto a chair, his forehead was sweating, his eyes stared blankly, and he stayed like that for half a day before he finally stood up and walked back. His mouth was moving as if he was muttering to himself. He looked like a Taoist priest who was chanting a magic spell; nobody knew what he was saying.”

“You did not hear it?”

“I did not.”

“And you did not find out who that little old granny was?”

“You’ll never know.” Big Miss Niu said, “I can guarantee that even if Zhuge Liang came back to life, he would never guess who that little old granny was.”

She said, “When Sikong Zhaixing returned to our table that day, his expression looked like he had seen a big head ghost in a bright daylight, a big head ghost whose head is bigger than a lower millstone.”

(Two)

When Big Miss Niu saw Sikong Zhaixing’s expression as he walked back, she could not help asking, “Did you just see a big head ghost?”

“No.” Sikong Zhaixing said, “Too bad I did not, too bad there is no big head ghost in here.”

“Too bad? What do you mean ‘too bad’?”

“Too bad means too bad. I would rather see a big head ghost just now.”

Big Miss Niu lowered her voice, “Are you saying that that little old granny is more terrifying than a big head ghost?”

“Humph.”

“Who is she?”

“Humph.”

“What do you mean ‘humph’?”

“Humph means, even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.” Sikong Zhaixing said, “Much less I simply do not know.”

“You are lying,” Big Miss Niu said, “This time I can see it clearly, you are lying.”

This time Sikong Zhaixing did not even ‘humph’.

Big Miss Niu sighed dramatically, “I can’t believe the world-famous Sikong Zhaixing, the thief king of kings is actually this kind of person; not only he is a liar, he is a coward as well. Others only said a few words on his ear, and he is scared like a turtle grandson, and does not even dare to release a fart.”

Suddenly Sikong Zhaixing stood up; he grinned at her direction and said, “Goodbye.”

Before he even finished saying these two words [zai jian], his shadow has already disappeared.

Big Miss Niu was taken aback; she just sat there, seething with anger. Yet after staring blankly for half a day, she could not think of anything else.

When Sikong Zhaixing wanted to leave, who could think of anything to stop him? Who could catch up with him? Even if Big Miss Niu’s magical power was more extensive, she could only look helplessly.

She was really angry. That thief, the little thief, has promised to accompany her to the town of Huangshi, yet now he avoided the problem by walking away.

But what’s the use of getting angry? Other than being pissed off at herself, whom else could she get angry at?

To her surprise, that mysterious couple was still sitting on the same table, talking with each other in low voices, but it was unclear what they were talking about; sometimes they even sneaked a glance or two at her direction and smiled.

Finally Big Miss Niu could not take it anymore; like a spring she suddenly sprang up off the chair and walked to the corner in big strides.

When she arrived, Big Miss Niu was getting angrier.

Unexpectedly the amount of food this yellow faced little old man with emaciated body and the hunched-back little old granny ate was more than two horses could eat.

More irritating was that horses eat grass, this couple did not eat grass, neither did they eat ‘plain’ food.

All they were eating was food that healthy people, people with good appetite, would eat.

Coincidentally, our Big Miss Niu was a healthy person with good appetite, plus she was very hungry.

More irritating still, not only these two old turtles did not invite her to sit down, they did not even show any sign that they were going to invite her to eat.

Therefore, Big Miss Niu made a ‘resolution’; her mind was made up. And when this Big Miss was determined, she would do anything.

Suddenly she sat down; she sat down on the chair that Sikong Zhaixing was sitting a moment ago. Picking up a pair of chopsticks, she started to eat. She ate all the good stuff, without being shy at all.

The hunched-back little old granny looked at her in shock. She looked at her for half a day, and could not help but sighing, “Time has really changed. When I was a young girl, it was not like this.”

“What was it like when you were young?” Big Miss Niu’s chopsticks did not even slow down.

“In those days, even if people invited us to eat a bit of food, we still did not dare to move our chopsticks.”

“In those days, you really did not move your chopsticks?” Big Miss Niu leaned over the table and giggled incessantly, she even forgot to eat the big piece of roast duck in green onion that was held between her chopsticks.

Suddenly she felt that these two old turtles were not as annoying as she thought they were just a moment ago.

Who would have thought that the little old granny did something that she could not stand.

Unexpectedly she grabbed her hand and with eyes full of sympathy she looked at her and said in a very tender voice, “Little Miss, you must cheer up a bit, don’t let the grief overcome you.”

“I am grieving?” Big Miss Niu seemed very surprised; in a very puzzled tone she said, “Who said I am grieving? I am not grieving at all!”

The little old granny seemed to be more surprised, more puzzled, “You are not grieving? You really are not grieving at all?”

“Why would I want to grief?” Big Miss Niu said, “Lao Taitai [Madame, a term of respect toward an elderly lady], could it be that you cannot see that I am a very cheerful person?”

The old lady just sighed; she did not say anything.

Big Miss Niu did not say anything either; she was about to resume eating, but all of a sudden she did not feel like eating anymore.

There was something in these mysterious little old man and little old granny that made her lose her appetite.

This ‘something’ was obviously a feeling, some kind of very, very strange feeling. We can even describe it as – an extremely strange feeling.

Therefore, finally Miss Niu put down her chopsticks.

Lao Taitai,” she said, “Didn’t you just console me not to be overcome with grief?”

“Ay!” The old lady did not speak, she just sighed.

“In that case, Lao Taitai, may I ask, do I have any reason to be overcome with grief?”

“Ay, I don’t know.” The old lady said, “Time has indeed changed, I don’t know any more if this kind of matter should make people feel overcome with grief or not.”

She sighed before continuing, “I only know that when I was a young girl, if I came across this kind of matter, not only I would be overcome with grief, I could have cried secretly for more than ten days to half a month.”

Big Miss Niu began to feel anxious. “Lao Taitai, what has actually happened?”

The old lady did not reply; she asked her a question instead, “Do you know that Ximen Chuixue has gone to Huangshi?”

“I just heard about that.”

“Do you know why he went there?”

“He went to look for Lu Xiaofeng.” Big Miss Niu said, “Because, after all, he still considers Lu Xiaofeng his friend.”

“You are wrong.” The old lady said, “He did not look for Lu Xiaofeng; because no one in this world will be able to find Lu Xiaofeng.”

“Why?” Big Miss Niu was becoming more and more anxious, “Why?”

“Because a living, breathing person will never find a dead person.” The old lady said, “If a living person wanted to find a dead person, he must die first.”

She said, “Ximen Chuixue did not want to die, he went there to avenge Lu Xiaofeng.”

— Lu Xiaofeng had died in Huangshi, no doubt this news has spread like a wild fire in Jianghu.

These old gentleman and old lady did not seem like they were lying, otherwise, how could they scare Beef Soup away?

Big Miss Niu did not remember how she went down the restaurant, much less how she reacted after hearing the news.

She only knew that right now she was already sitting underneath a branch of a big tree, and that she had been crying that she looked like a crying figurine.

These days and those days are just the same, whether it is now or in the past, a normal girl with normal emotion would grieve over a man whom she likes.

In one aspect, Big Miss Niu’s actions may not be considered too normal, but her feeling was definitely not less than any other girl.

The tears that she shed were definitely not less than anyone’s.

(Three)

The yellow sandy soil on the plateau was blown by the wind, just like before.

The town of Huangshi seemed to be a place the time has forgotten, or perhaps the people in Huangshi Town deliberately forgot about the time.

Whether they were forgotten by time or they had forgotten the time, both cases had one thing in common.

— Nothing was changed.

The town of Huangshi has not changed the least bit.

When Ximen Chuixue walked into Huangshi, just like Lu Xiaofeng, the first thing he saw was a very poor street, and an extremely poor man.

This poor man, so poor that he was about to die, was naturally the one who professed to be Beggar Clan’s twenty-third generation disciple Huang Xiaochong.

When Huang Xiaochong saw Ximen Chuixue, unexpectedly his eyes also lit up, just like when he saw Lu Xiaofeng.

Too bad Ximen Chuixue was not Lu Xiaofeng.

Lu Xiaofeng might ask him where the inn was, but Ximen Chuixue only stared at him with cold eyes.

Cold eyes like a pair of sharp arrows penetrating the bottom of Huang Xiaochong’s heart.

Huang Xiaochong cowered as he asked, “Are you looking for an inn?”

Ximen Chuixue did not reply. However, sometimes silence is also a kind of answer. At the very least, in Huang Xiaochong’s eyes, who was used to interpret others’ intention by looking at their expression, Ximen Chuixue’s silence was a kind of answer.

The small wooden shed behind the ‘Big Eye Grocery Store’ has not changed either. There was still a wooden bed, and on the wooden bed there was a white bed sheet. The only difference was that the white bed sheet was brand new, bright and beautiful, and clean. As clean as Ximen Chuixue’s clothes.

Huang Xiaochong’s eyes were looking at Ximen Chuixue’s eyes. Ximen Chuixue’s eyes were fixed on the red paper pasted above the headboard of the bed. It was the red paper listing the food and lodging cost.

Huang Xiaochong tried to read Ximen Chuixue’s expression, but Ximen Chuixue’s expression was as cold as a thousand-year frozen ice. It was cold and hard; it was impenetrable even with a sword, much less a pair of human eyes.

Therefore, Huang Xiaochong had no choice but to put on a smiling face as he said, “This is the only place to stay in Huangshi, will it be to Gongzi’s satisfaction?”

“Of course it is. In here, other than food and lodging, all your needs will be served well; how can it not be to Gongzi’s satisfaction?”

Naturally the one answering was not Ximen Chuixue, because the voice was clear and crisp; obviously it was a woman’s voice.

Following the reply, the lady boss of ‘Big Eye Grocery Store’ walked in with swayed hips.

With a coquettish smile on her face and exaggerated sway of her entire body, she walked straight toward Ximen Chuixue and said, “Gongzi …”

Not only the lady boss was not able to continue, the smile also completely disappeared from her face.

When snow encounters the warmth of the sun, naturally the snow will melt; however, a block of ice that has been frozen for thousands of years will not melt. Not only it will not melt, on the contrary, it will turn the sunshine cold, it will eclipse the warmth of the sun.

Ximen Chuixue’s cold expression was enough to overwhelm the lady boss; he did not even cast a single glance toward the lady boss, he simply turned around and walked away. Then how could the lady boss continue whatever it was that she wanted to say? How could her smiling expression not disappear?

GongziGongzi …” Huang Xiaochong followed behind Ximen Chuixue; he kept on calling.

Like a deaf man Ximen Chuixue kept walking, straight toward the grocery store’s front door, and out to the street.

To Huang Xiaochong, it was also a kind of answer.

Huang Xiaochong was very disappointed. He could only look at Wang Dayan and the lady boss with helpless expression; his mouth really wanted to rain curses on Ximen Chuixue.

His mouth opened, but he was dumbstruck; his two eyes grew big as he stared at the door.

Wang Dayan and the lady boss also could not help staring at the door.

— Ximen Chuixue.

Ximen Chuixue, who had just walked out the door, suddenly turned around and strode back in.

The lady boss’ face immediately bloomed like spring flowers.

Too bad Ximen Chuixue was Ximen Chuixue; he did not cast a single glance toward her. His eyes were fixed, not on anybody, but on something.

His hands were reaching toward the thing he kept his eyes on.

It was a folded fire paper and a stick of fireworks.

With his left hand he picked up the fire paper and the fireworks, while his right hand flicked a yuanbao [silver or gold boat-shaped ingot] onto the sales counter.

Naturally Ximen Chuixue’s action attracted lady boss and the others’ curiosity. They could not stop themselves from following him out the door.

Why did Ximen Chuixue buy fire paper and fireworks?

Very soon they had the answer to this question.

Because as soon as Ximen Chuixue’s foot stepped on the sandy street of Huangshi, the fireworks in his hand immediately ‘whoosh!’ flew to the sky above the town of Huangshi.

The fireworks burst out in the sky and in an instant producing bright sparks, which were then blown by the wind and disappeared to who knows where.

However, Ximen Chuixue’s whereabouts was known by lady boss and the others, because he did not leave town at all.

Not only he did not leave Huangshi, he even sat down on a rock in the street. He sat still, like an old monk meditating, but also resembled a block of cold ice that never saw sunlight all year long.

The sun had disappeared; the western horizon was adorned with a strip of red clouds. The red glow was reflected upon Ximen Chuixue’s white clothes, so that he also appeared to be shrouded in red glow.

The wind was blowing stronger. But the sound of whistling wind still could not hide the sound of galloping horses.

Following the sound of horses’ hooves, twenty-four riders appeared on the yellow sandy road outside the town of Huangshi.

The speeding horses galloped fast, but they also stopped fast.

When they were about twenty zhang outside Huangshi town’s limit, all twenty-four horses stopped together.

Maintaining their silence the riders jumped down. Twenty-four horses formed a rectangle.

— Who were these people? Why did they come here?

These questions floated in lady boss and the others’ mind at this moment.

Those twenty-four men, who had just jumped down from their horses, very skilfully and in rapid action carried out their work. From the degree of their proficiency, it seemed like these men had been doing this kind of work since they were little.

Therefore, in less than the time needed to drink a cup of tea, the question in lady boss’ mind already had its answer.

And the answer was not complicated.

— They came here to build a tent.

The canvass of the tent was as white as snow, it was whiter than the clothes on Ximen Chuixue’s body, because Ximen Chuixue’s clothes had been blown by the blowing sand of Huangshi for several sichen.

The tent was set up, another set of hoof beat was heard.

But this time the hoof beat was only the clippity-clop of one horse.

As soon as the tent was set up, those twenty-four men, still maintaining their silence, jumped back onto their horses and galloped away.

Behind the dust kicked by these twenty-four horses, a carriage approached slowly. The person driving the carriage was wearing the exact same clothes as the men setting up the tent, i.e. simple black uniform.

The carriage stopped in front of the tent. Immediately four men, also wearing simple black uniforms, jumped down from the back of the carriage. These four men jumped and landed on the ground in unison, because their bodies were connected by a pair of shoulder poles.

On the shoulder poles was a large barrel, and the mouth of the barrel emitted hot white steam.

They carried the large barrel into the tent.

When the four men re-emerged from the tent, they still had the shoulder poles in their hands. They did not say anything either as they re-entered the carriage. The driver immediately pulled the reins, the horse turned around and quietly slipped away, returning to the direction it came from.

Just then, a strange phenomenon happened.

Clearly it was only one carriage left, but suddenly it sounded like there were two carriages going away.

“What magic trick are they playing?” The little beggar Huang Xiaochong could not help voicing the question in their minds.

“Are you asking me?” The lady boss looked at the little beggar and said, “Then whom should I ask?”

The lady boss did not need to ask anybody, because she already saw two carriages crossing each other.

The so-called strange phenomenon was actually another carriage rushing toward Huangshi Town.

The incoming carriage’s driver wore the same uniform as the departing carriage’s driver. Apparently they were of the same group of people.

The incoming carriage also halted at the exact same spot as the departing carriage.

“What do you think is coming this time?” the little beggar looked at the lady boss and asked. His expression looked as if he already knew what was inside the carriage.

“Do you think it’s another barrel? Do you think they are going to do some fortune-telling [orig. ‘looking at a thousand li’] or trying to resurrect Zhuge Liang?” the lady boss said.

“How did you know that I’d guess there is another wooden barrel inside?” the little beggar asked.

“Because I am as stupid as you are,” the lady boss said.

There was a reason why the lady boss said that she was stupid, because she already saw who were getting down from the carriage. Not men in black, but people in white. Not big, burly men, but elegant, dainty young girls.

Four young girls, two held a torch in each hand, one carried a set of pure white clothing in her hands, the last one held a big bath towel with both hands.

Four young girls went into the tent, and the carriage immediately departed.

Very soon the tent lit up.

— No matter which tent, if there were four torches inside, it will be bright inside; much less a spotlessly white, almost translucent tent?

“I know what those people are doing in here,” the little beggar was very pleased with himself.

“You do? You really know?” the lady boss asked.

“I do, I really know.”

“What are they doing here?”

“They came here to deliver the bath water.”

The lady boss raised her hand to smack the little beggar’s head, but her hand did not hit the little beggar’s head, not because the little beggar dodged her, but because the lady boss suddenly realized something.

She realized that the little beggar was not joking. These people were indeed delivering water for bath. Thereupon with eyes wide open, with jaw dropped, she said, “He is really Ximen Chuixue?”

“No kidding! Other than Ximen Chuixue, is there anyone else who enters Huangshi Town without saying anything?” the Little Beggar said.

“Right. Other than Ximen Chuixue, who else so loves cleanliness that he can’t stand staying at Huangshi’s only luxurious hotel – my grocery store?” For a moment the grocery store’s lady boss seemed to have become wiser.

“Coming to Huangshi Town, blown by yellow sand for a day, other than Ximen Chuixue, who would think of taking a bath and change clothes?” The little beggar’s expression became even more proud of himself.

Lady boss suddenly frowned.

“What’s wrong with you?” the little beggar asked.

“What’s wrong? Didn’t you see how many people Ximen Chuixue brought to Huangshi?”

The little beggar laughed; he said, “Don’t worry, if Ximen Chuixue rely on numbers to score  victory, long ago he has ceased to become Ximen Chuixue. The reason Ximen Chuixue is Ximen Chuixue, is precisely because he always acts alone.”

“But those men in black, how do you explain that?”

“They are his servants; that’s all. In this aspect, Ximen Chuixue’s behavior is like a young master of a rich and powerful family, not like a swordsman.”

Thereupon, the lady boss’ eyebrows leveled down again.

Those men in black were delivering bath water for Ximen Chuixue, because as soon as everything was ready, Ximen Chuixue stood up from the rock where he had been sitting, and walked toward the tent.

“Let’s go.” When the grocery store boss saw Ximen Chuixue entered the tent, he turned around toward the shop.

“Go? If you want to go you may leave first,” the lady boss said.

“Why? Don’t tell me you want to watch Ximen Chuixue taking a bath,” the little beggar’s eyes grew big.

“You are really smart,” the lady boss said with a sweet laughter, “One guess and you nailed it.”

“Is someone taking a bath good to watch?” the grocery store boss asked.

“Other people taking a bath are not good to watch, but the swordsman of this age, Ximen Chuixue taking a bath, it is a good show, one in a million chance.”

The grocery store boss knitted his eyebrows; he turned around and walked away.

“Wait!” the little beggar suddenly called out.

“What? Do you also want to watch Ximen Chuixue taking a bath?”

“Shhh! Listen,” the little beggar said.

Hoof beats. One horse’s hoof beats.

The grocery store boss looked at the little beggar, the little beggar looked at the lady boss, the lady boss looked at the grocery store boss.

No wonder they looked at each other in bewilderment; the tent was set up, the bath water was delivered, the change of clothes were ready, four women to help him taking a bath have all arrived, what was this horse doing?

Very soon they saw the horse, and then the rider as well.

The rider this time was not a big man wearing black, instead it was a woman wearing floral cloth.

The woman galloped the horse straight toward the tent, and then she flew down from the horse, and rushed into the tent.

But just as quick she came back out. However, when she was outside, she did not mount her horse, instead, she led the horse in the direction of the lady boss.

“You have business tonight,” the little beggar said to the grocery store boss.

“What business?”

“The broken down room behind your store, someone is going to stay there tonight.”

“How do you know?”

“Didn’t you see the woman went in and went back out right away? She must be thinking of spending the night with Ximen Chuixue in the tent, but she was kicked out. Ximen Chuixue must have recommended the Huangshi Town’s one and only luxurious hotel – your grocery store.”

“Since you saw Ximen Chuixue, how many sentences did he say to you altogether?” the grocery store boss asked.

“Not even one.”

“Then you’d think Ximen Chuixue would want to waste his breath and recommend my luxurious hotel to this woman?”

The little beggar scratched his head. “It doesn’t matter if he did not recommend anything, in any case, your place is the only place in Huangshi where she can spend the night. If she is thinking of staying, you will have this business.”

The grocery store boss did not answer him, because the woman was already near.

“Are you looking for a place to stay?” At the sight of this good-looking woman, the little beggar’s eyes lit up.

“Yes, I am looking for a place to stay, but that is a secondary matter.”

“I know what your first priority is,” the smile on little beggar’s face grew even brighter.

“You really know?”

“Of course. Those who seek lodging are usually people who have travelled a long way, so they must be hungry. Their first priority must be to find something to eat. So your first priority must also be looking for a place to eat. Isn’t that right?”

“Wrong.”

“Oh?”

“First, even if I want to find something to eat, I will only eat food that I personally prepare. Second, before I came here, I already ate till I was full.”

“Then you …”

“I’m here to convey a message.”

“A message? What message?”

“Ximen Chuixue’s message.”

“…” the little beggar was speechless, his jaw dropped.

“He wants you to give us what message?” the lady boss opened her mouth.

“When I entered the tent a moment ago, do you know what he said?”

“What?” the little beggar asked.

“He said, ‘Go away.’”

“And thus you came here? He did not tell you to convey any message at all!” the little beggar said.

“He did.”

“He did? I don’t get it.” The little beggar scratched his head.

“You will understand soon. Because when he said ‘Go away’, he did not tell me to go away, but he wants you to go away.”

“How do you know he did not tell you to go away? How can he tell us to go away? You were the one who entered his tent!”

“Correct. However, entering the tent was not a crime; watching people taking a bath is.” The woman looked at the lady boss and said, “He wanted me to pass on a message, although it was only ‘go away’ two words, the meaning of these two words is that he wanted me to tell you to go away, don’t peek a man taking a bath.”

“What are you to him?” the lady boss said, “Are you the worm inside his belly? Otherwise, how do you know what he meant?”

“Of course I know what he meant.”

“Why?”

“Because I am his friend. Ximen Chuixue has never told his friend to go away.”

The lady boss did not say anything, the little beggar and the grocery store boss did not say anything either.

After looking at the red paper pasted on the wall of the little wooden shed behind the grocery store, the woman said to the lady boss, “I decided to stay. Do I need to pay first?”

“Of course,” the little beggar said.

“I didn’t ask you. Who’s the boss here, anyway?”

The little beggar was speechless.

After receiving fifty qian, the lady boss winked at the little beggar, then turned around and walked out the door.

“Hold on,” the woman said.

“What now? Could it be that you still want to convey Ximen Chuixue’s message?” the little beggar said.

“Strange. How did you know?”

— Did she really have a message from Ximen Chuixue?

The little beggar could not help scratching his head again. “Didn’t you say that you entered the tent, he only said to you two words, ‘go away’?”

“That’s right. But these two words carried a number of meanings; do you know?”

“How was I to know? I just find out that you are unreasonable to the limit.”

“And you found out only now? Do you know my name? My name is Beef Soup; the name itself is unreasonable enough.”

The little beggar was dumbfounded.

“Listen up, Ximen Chuixue said, you, town people, tomorrow from the sun up ‘till it shines on your butt, one by one you must come to his tent, he has a question to ask you.”

“Who does he think he is? The Emperor [huang di]?” the little beggar said.

“That’s right, right now he is the Huangshi Town’s local tyrant [tu huang di],” Beef Soup said.

“If we don’t come?” the lady boss said.

“Don’t come? Don’t come is alright, but, if you don’t come, I am afraid later on you won’t be able to walk anymore.”

“Why?”

“Can someone who has no legs walk?”

(Four)

Sunshine, it made the flying sandy dust even more prominent. Sunshine, it also illuminated the white tent outside Huangshi Town even more radiant and stood out.

The front part of the tent was wide open, revealing a table inside the tent, and on either side of the table sat two people.

One was Ximen Chuixue with his grave and stern expression, the other was Beef Soup with cheery, lovely smile on her face.

On the table there were dishes, dishes of delicacies. On the table there was also wine, strong wine.

Beef Soup pointed to a lone figure walking out from Huangshi Town, “They are here! They are here!”

Ximen Chuixue’s expression was still as cold as ever.

Beef Soup seemed to be totally at ease with the cold expression, still with her silver-bell like cheery voice she said, “Last night I took the initiative to have all Huangshi Town people to come here one by one. Just look, the first one is here.”

Ximen Chuixue still did not open his mouth. The only movement he made was picking up the wine cup and slowly sipping the wine inside.

“When they are here, I will act on your behalf to question them, to ask them about Lu Xiaofeng’s whereabouts. What do you think?”

Still he did not open his mouth.

“But let me make it clear first: everything I say will be your idea. If anything is wrong and they want to fight, uh, this fight, it must be you who deal with it.”

Ximen Chuixue still did not speak; he still fixed his gaze on the person approaching the tent with the same cold eyes.

“Who’s coming?” Beef Soup asked.

The man looked at Ximen Chuixue. When his eyes made contact with those as-sharp-as-arrow cold eyes, he promptly averted his gaze to look at Beef Soup instead.

“I am surnamed Zhao, I am called Zhao Xiazi.” [Reminder: ‘xia zi’ means ‘blind guy’.]

“Your eyes are not blind, why are you called Zhao Xiazi?”

“This calling has no reason, just like Miss. You are not smelly like a cow, and you are not dripping wet like a bowl of beef soup, why are you called Beef Soup?”

“Whoa, your mouth is so formidable, I won’t argue with you. Right now I want to ask you, listen to me clearly, my question is not my own, but I am doing this on Ximen Chuixue Daxia’s behalf, you must answer it honestly. Otherwise, humph, humph, if your eyes match your calling, it won’t be too much fun.”

“What does Miss wish to know?”

“It’s not me who wanted to know, it’s this Ximen Daxia who wanted to know.”

“Yes.”

“Alright, let me ask you, have you seen Lu Xiaofeng?”

“I have.”

“Where?”

“Here, in Huangshi Town.”

“Alright, where is he now?”

“Dead.”

“Dead?” Beef Soup’s eyes widened, her mouth was also wide open.

Yet Ximen Chuixue did not show any emotion.

“You are not lying to me?” Beef Soup’s voice trembled a little.

“If you don’t believe me, you can ask the next person.”

“Of course I don’t believe you.” Beef Soup said, “Who would believe Lu Xiaofeng could die? Do you believe him?” Beef Soup looked at Ximen Chuixue, with a slightly trembling voice she asked again, “Do you believe him?”

Ximen Chuixue did not answer, his eyes were fixed on another person coming out of Huangshi Town.

It was the little beggar.

Next to him was the grocery store boss, followed by the lady boss.

They all said the same thing: “Lu Xiaofeng is dead.”

Did Beef Soup finally believe?

“I don’t believe it. There is one more person; if he also says that Lu Xiaofeng is dead, perhaps I will believe.”

“Who?” the lady boss asked before she left.

“Sha Dahu.”

Sha Dahu did not come. He only sent a servant who worked at his home. This servant brought an invitation that said that none outside the Great Wall did not admire Ximen Chuixue’s great name, and he wanted to invite him to share an evening meal in his residence.

When Beef Soup finished reading what was written on the invitation, she was both angered and anxious. Suddenly she took out three hourglasses from her pocket.

Placing the three hourglasses on the table, she said to the servant, “Do you see these three hourglasses?”

The servant nodded.

“When I turn the first one upside down, the sand will immediately flow to the bottom. By the time the sand drains out, you will already reach Sha Dahu’s place. Do you understand?”

The servant nodded.

“The second one, I will turn upside down when the first one is finished. When the sand is drained out, that will be the time Sha Dahu arrives here. Do you understand?”

The servant nodded.

“Now the third one. If Sha Dahu is here, then I won’t use it. If he does not come, before the sand is emptied, Sha Dahu’s head will be gone. Do you believe it?”

“I believe, I believe.”

“Then you’d better go back immediately, I am turning the first hourglass upside down right now.”

The servant was so scared that his face was deathly pale; he ran away like a dog.

(Five)

Very soon all the sand in the first hourglass dropped to the bottom. Beef Soup looked at Ximen Chuixue, she said, “That servant should have arrived by now, right?”

Ximen Chuixue did not speak, he did not even cast a single glance toward the hourglass.

But Beef Soup already turned the second hourglass upside down. Unexpectedly the hand that was holding the hourglass trembled a little.

Was she afraid that Sha Dahu was not coming? Or was she afraid Sha Dahu would also declare that Lu Xiaofeng was dead?

Whether she was afraid or not, what was about to come will eventually come.

Fear. It was just like the sand in the hourglass, bit by bit it accumulated and gradually began to take shape.

The sand in the second hourglass too would flow to the bottom.

From the distance, the figure of Sha Dahu was traveling in haste.

Beef Soup’s entire body trembled slightly, again.

Unexpectedly, this time Ximen Chuixue caught that Beef Soup was trembling; for the first time he opened his mouth, “Calm down!”

These two words were cold, but they had the desired warming effect; Beef Soup stopped trembling.

Beef Soup indeed calmed down. Her voice was calm when she spoke to Sha Dahu, who was coming near, “You must be Sha Dahu?”

“That’s right, all the town people call me Sha Dahu.”

“That’s right, you do look a lot like a man from a ‘dahu’ [rich family].” [See Chapter 3 and 4 for explanation on Sha Dahu’s name.]

“Miss Niu praised me too much.”

“I did not praise you, to be a man from a rich family you must have a clear view of things; people who cannot adapt to current circumstances, can they become a ‘dahu’ in other places?”

Sha Dahu laughed; he just laughed blindly.

Beef Soup added, “However, whether you can continue being a ‘dahu’ in the future, it remain to be seen!”

“Oh? Why?”

“Because we need to see if right now you have a clear view of things or not.”

“If I do not have a clear view of things, would I stand right here right now?”

“That’s good. Now I am representing Ximen Daxia here to ask you a question, you must answer me honestly.”

“What question? Is it the same question you have been asking the other town people?”

“Since you already know, why don’t you answer directly?”

“How am I supposed to respond?” Sha Dahu asked.

“Give me an honest answer, and that is good enough.”

“Honest answer? You don’t believe an honest answer anyway!”

Beef Soup’s countenance changed dramatically, it became deathly pale, she tried to open her mouth, but nothing came out.

A drop of tear started to appear at the corner of her eyes, it grew bigger and bigger, finally it slowly rolled down her cheek.

When she opened her mouth again, her voice broke, “You mean, he … he is already … already dead?”

Sha Dahu’s voice suddenly sounded very cold. “That’s right, he is already dead!”

Beef Soup was unable to speak; she covered her face with both hands.

Ximen Chuixue spoke another short sentence, “Do you have any proof?”

“I do.”

(Six)

Of course the best proof was Lu Xiaofeng’s body.

And if they wanted to see Lu Xiaofeng’s body, naturally they had to go to the coffin shop.

Sha Dahu told them that.

For most people, when they die, their bodies will be buried in the grave, but why was it that if they wanted to see Lu Xiaofeng’s body they had to go to the coffin shop?

Because nobody came to collect the body; people of Huangshi Town would not bury him.

It was also what Sha Dahu had told them.

By the time Sha Dahu finished speaking, they have arrived at the coffin shop, as if he had already calculated everything he wanted to say, not a single word more, not a single word less; he talked right until they reached the coffin shop’s front door.

Zhao Xiazi seemed to know that they were coming. He humphed and said, “When I said it, you did not believe, Sha Dahu said it, you believed. Ay! This is called ‘the truth still relies on power and influence’!”

What he said was very reasonable, too bad it was like an empty word, because the others did not even seem to realize that he existed. They simply strode over and entered the coffin shop.

This time Beef Soup was crying openly. Not only did she cry, she was practically bawling. But when she saw the coffin and the memorial tablet in front of the coffin, how could she not be grieved?

Even Ximen Chuixue’s always grave and stern expression appeared to change slightly.

Because the words written on the memorial tablet was ‘deceased friend Lu Xiaofeng’.

Ximen Chuixue opened his mouth again. The words he said are always short and simple. He only said two words, “Open up.”

“I knew that there would be people who want to see him,” Zhao Xiazi said, “Hence I never nailed the coffin shut.”

“Open up.” Ximen Chuixue was still saying those two words.

Zhao Xiazi cast a glance toward Sha Dahu; the two of them quickly lifted the coffin lid and put it down on the floor.

Beef Soup was crying even louder.

Zhao Xiazi suddenly looked at Beef Soup and said, “You are crying blindly; do you know for sure that the one lying in the coffin is the one you mentioned, the Lu Xiaofeng?”

Beef Soup stopped crying. Her eyes grew big as she stared at Zhao Xiazi for a long time, before she finally walked slowly toward the side of the coffin.

Beef Soup looked carefully at the man in the coffin; she looked at his face, she also looked at the fatal wound on his chest.

And then, she suddenly laughed.

Throwing her head back, she laughed loudly; pointing her finger to Zhao Xiazi, she said, “You are really funny; you went so far as to say that he is not Lu Xiaofeng …”

Her laughter suddenly turned into very sad wailing.

Ximen Chuixue stared at Lu Xiaofeng’s body for a long time, but the expression on his face did not change at all.

He kept staring until Beef Soup wailing became crying, and then from crying it turned into sobs. Only then did he speak, and what he said was still two words, “Close up.”

By the time the coffin lid had been returned to its original place, Beef Soup had stopped crying.

Suddenly Ximen Chuixue said two more words, “Get down.”

When Ximen Chuixue spoke those two words, he did not lift up his head at all. The ones who looked up were Beef Soup, Sha Dahu and Zhao Xiazi.

As soon as they looked up, they saw someone hanging under the eaves, with his face looking in through the window. This face soon became a figure, which, using some kind of continuous crawling technique, rolled down along the wall.

“Little beggar!” Zhao Xiazi opened his mouth, “What are you doing hiding outside the window? Trying to steal my coffin?”

“Shut your crow’s beak up! Why would I want to steal a coffin? If I want to steal, it won’t be from you.”

“So, what are you doing?”

“Nothing. I came here to deliver an invitation.”

“Deliver an invitation? For who?”

“Not you, for sure. With your freakish appearance, who would want to send you any invitation? It’s for this Ximen Daxia.”

The content of the invitation was very simple; it only had thirty-five characters:

Heard Daxia has come from afar, cannot help admiring, although your maidservant has been exiled to the other end of the world, I simply have to seize the opportunity to pay my respect. Tomorrow at wu hour [between 11am – 1pm], only using coarse tea, to wash the dust from my lord. [Translator’s note: trust me, the original Chinese does have 35 characters.]

Based only on these 35 characters, how could Ximen Chuixue agree to keep the appointment?

Of course not. He came to look for Lu Xiaofeng. Lu Xiaofeng was dead, he must investigate the cause of Lu Xiaofeng’s death, how could he have the mood to enjoy coarse tea?

However, he must go. Because, on the margin of the invitation, there was another line of characters.

P.S. Lu Daxia’s cause of death, your maidservant has slight knowledge of it.

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