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The Thrush Chapter 6


Beyond Expectation

The man in black clapped his hands in the distance and laughed heartily, saying, “Wonderful, wonderful! Today Hua Hudie [flower butterfly, play on words on Hu Tiehua’s name, different ‘hu’ and ‘tie’] has turned into Luo Tangji [lit. a chicken that fell into the soup; English equivalent: like a drowned rat].”

Hu Tiehua roared and was barely crawling up, the old man, the noodle vendor already rolled over and grabbed the front piece of his garment and pounced on him. He hissed, “You are walking without carrying your eyes? An’s [I, northern dialect] family, big and small, all count on this shoulder pole to survive, you knocked over An’s lifeblood, An will stake everything against you.”

If Hu Tiehua wanted to get away from the old man, naturally it would be very easy, but he also knew that indeed he was in the wrong, so he could only hold back his anger and said, “You let go, I will pay you for the broken things.”

The old man said, “All right, you pay. Get your purse, this shoulder pole of mine cost seven taels of silver to make, plus twenty-eight pottery bowls, and a pot of good soup, at least it will worth ten taels.”

Hu Tiehua said, “All right, ten taels is ten taels.”

Although he spoke happily, he was groaning inwardly.

Simply because he, this person, was destined to be poor, even if he had 10,000 taels of silver in his purse, he would never be able to keep it for three days. This moment, not even one tael was in his possession.

The old man repeated, “Ten taels is ten taels, yet you have not taken it out.”

Hu Tiehua said, “I … I will definitely give it to you tomorrow.”

The old man angrily said, “I already knew you are a poor bone [moral character]. If you don’t come up with ten taels of silver, don’t think that I’ll let you go.”

This moment the person in black has not left yet, he was still standing there, enjoying the fun, but inevitably Hu Tiehua was anxious, he also said angrily, “I said tomorrow, I will definitely give it to you tomorrow. Let me go.”

He turned around, trying to fling the old man off, who would have thought that unexpectedly the old man was shockingly strong? The hands grabbing him were unexpectedly like iron hoops.

Now Hu Tiehua was shocked. Turned out this old man, the wonton noodle vendor was unexpectedly also a martial art master; looking at the situation, it seemed like he was of the same way as the man in black.

In normal times, Hu Tiehua would not be afraid of him, but at this moment, not only did he only have one hand left to move, but his power suffered at least seven cuts and eight deductions [idiom: greatly reduced].

His hand was being grabbed, unexpectedly he could not even move. Merely the man in black alone, he would not be able to cope, with the addition of this old man, how could he have a way to survive?

Only to hear the old man was still persistently and pointlessly screaming, he repeatedly said, “You don’t give me money, An will stake everything against you.”

Laughing coldly, Hu Tiehua said, “You think I don’t know you …”

He had not finished speaking, the old man suddenly covered his mouth and spoke quietly, “That kid is still standing over there, I will help you, he can’t escape.”

Hu Tiehua was stunned, the old man cursed again. Although his mouth was cursing, his eyes were making signal at Hu Tiehua, telling him to get ready.

Hu Tiehua turned over, the old man’s hands had already pushed him out, Hu Tiehua borrowed this pushing force to leap six or seven zhang.

The man in black was shocked, he blurted out, “You …”

He had just spoken, Hu Tiehua was already about a zhang away in front of him, holding the crossbow case of ‘Rainstorm Pear Blossom Nails’ in his hand, he spoke sternly, “What is in my hand, you should know, as soon as one part of your body moves, you will have an additional of twenty-seven through holes.”

The man in black took a deep breath, he said, “You … what do you want?”

Hu Tiehua said, “What hatred do you actually have against Chu Liuxiang? How are you going to plot against him?”

The man in black replied, “There is no hatred between me and him.”

Hu Tiehua angrily said, “Are you saying you received a mastermind’s order to come here?”

The man in black shook his head and said, “No.”

Hu Tiehua rolled his eyes, he laughed coldly and said, “If that’s the case, take off the black cloth on your face and let me see what kind of man are you.”

The man in black’s entire body shook, apparently he was scared that he could only stare blankly.

Hu Tiehua laughed aloud and said, “I already knew that you must be someone I recognize, hence you hide your head and showed your tail, and do not dare to see anybody. Now that you have fallen into my hands, you still want to hide?” He stopped laughing and shouted loudly, “If you are still unwilling to lift the black cloth on your face, I will shoot and break your two legs first. Sooner or later, you will …”

He had not finished speaking, unexpectedly the man in black suddenly also threw his head back in loud laughter.

Hu Tiehua angrily said, “What are you laughing at?”

The man in black said, “I’m just laughing at myself, why do I like to be meddlesome, three times, two occasions I saved your life, yet you bite the hand that feeds you, using such a vicious secret projectile to deal with me.”

Hu Tiehua was stunned, “You saved my life?” he said.

The man in black said, “When you were trapped by Shi Guanyin, who killed Shi Guanyin’s disciples for you? When you drank Shi Guanyin’s poisonous wine, who gave you the antidote? Could it be that you have forgotten?”

Without waiting for him to finish speaking, Hu Tiehua screamed in surprise, “Huameiniao!” he blurted out, “You are Huameiniao?”

The man in black responded, “Humph!”

Hu Tiehua said, “You … Since you saved me several times, why do you want to kill me now?”

The man in black spoke coldly, “If I wanted your life, would you still be alive to this day?”

Hu Tiehua stared blankly for half a day, he said, “But you … why did you …”

The man in black spoke sternly, “You don’t need to ask, I’m leaving now, if you forget favors and violate justice [idiom: ungrateful] and bite the hand that feeds you, go ahead and shoot those ‘Rainstorm Pear Blossom Nails’!” As his mouth was speaking, he turned around and walked away.

Hu Tiehua called loudly, “Hold on, wait a moment.”

The man in black did not even look back, in the blink of an eye he disappeared without a trace. Hu Tiehua could only stare blankly watching him swaggering off, without the slightest idea of what to do.

Simple because he really was not someone who forget favors and violate justice, no matter how mysterious and hard to fathom this ‘Thrush Bird’ acted, he had, after all, saved his life.

Only to head someone cleared his throat and said with a laugh behind him, “Guan Fuzi [Master, old form of address for teachers, scholars] also let Cao Mengde go on the Huarong Road [an episode in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms]. Hu Daxia‘s move today is enough to reflect Guan Fuzi of the past.”

Turned out that all along the old man was staying and did not go away.

Hu Tiehua turned around cupped his fist in salute, he smiled wryly and said, “Zaixia have never met Laozhang [sir (respectful form of address for an old man)], yet Laozhang undertook the deed of upholding justice and came to my help; I can’t thank you enough.”

The old man laughed and said, “Although Hu Daxia does not recognize Lao Xiu [lit. old rotten], but Lao Xiu has heard Hu Daxia’s great name for a long time.”

“Ashamed,” Hu Tiehua said, “May I venture to ask Laozhang’s great name?”

The old man replied, “Lao Xiu Dai Duxing.”

Hu Tiehua blurted out, “Turns out the Beggar Gang’s Qianbei Xianren [older generation predecessor], ‘Wan Li Du Xing’ [lit. walking alone for ten thousand li, the same ‘du xing’ characters as in the name], Dai Laoyezi [polite appellation for an elderly male], no wonder with such a light push, Zaixia felt like soaring over the clouds, riding on the fog; Zaixia really failed to show respect.”

Dai Duxing said, “I do not dare, I do not dare.”

Hu Tiehua could not help asking, “But how could Qianbei … how could …”

Dai Duxing said, “You want to ask me, why would a beggar change profession to sell wonton noodles, right?”

Hu Tiehua also laughed and said, “Zaixia indeed feels a bit strange.”

Dai Duxing sighed and said, “Our Gang’s disciples are wearing quail clothes [from Baike Baidu: tattered clothes] and binding their hair, their conducts are hidden from the red dust [mortal world/human society], so it’s a bit more convenient to work. Who would have thought that for the past few years, the situation has unexpectedly changed, Jianghu people see the begging, they find it too offensively conspicuous instead? So now, walking around and the attitude of begging in Jianghu, not only cannot obtain convenience, it might attract trouble instead.”

Hu Tiehua said, “That’s right, it is said that Qianbei is jealous of evil as if it is your foe, you like to fight injustice the most. Therefore, you wander all year round, your track indeterminate, so much so that you went far to desolate wilderness, just to see if there is any injustice in the world. If someone can see through Qianbei’s identity, I am afraid Qianbei will not be able to see even a single injustice.”

He laughed and continued, “Because in the world, those who have the guts to do bad things in front of the ‘Wan Li Du Xing’ are really not many. If that Huameiniao knew that the wonton noodles vendor is the ‘Wan Li Du Xing’, I’m afraid that he would have stolen away early on.”

Dai Duxing smiled, but then he sighed and said, “When Lao Xiu returned from a long trip to the Southern Wilderness, I heard the unfortunate things that happened to our Gang. If it wasn’t for Chu Xiang Shuai upholding justice and lending a hand, our Gang’s several decades of reputation would inevitably be destroyed by those renegade disciples.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Chu Liuxiang is just like Qianbei, he has innate character of liking to be too inquisitive about other people’s business.”

With a smile on his face, Dai Duxing said, “I have long heard that Hu Daxia and Chu Xiang Shuai have friendship that transcends life itself, hence when I heard the Thrush said ‘flower butterfly’ three characters, this other people’s business, I cannot not care about.”

Hu Tiehua’s eyes flashed, he suddenly asked, “Qianbei has wandered the Jianghu for a long time, have you ever heard of the Thrush’s origin?”

Dai Duxing replied, “This is exactly what Lao Xiu finds strange. Looking at the Thrush’s qinggong, although it cannot be compared with Chu Xiang Shuai, but in Jianghu, it can be regarded as a first-class skill. I have been enjoying good reputation in Wulin, yet this name ‘Huameiniao’, Lao Xiu has never heard of.”

His brows deeply knitted, Hu Tiehua said, “Could it be that this person is a newcomer? But looking at his efficiency and unscrupulous action and thorough plans, he definitely does not look like a newly hatched bird [rookie]!”

Dai Duxing said, “In Lao Xiu’s opinion, this person is probably a long-established Jianghu veteran in disguise, only he is using a fictitious name. Moreover, this person may be an acquaintance of Hu Daxia, so he doesn’t want Hu Daxia to see his face.”

Hu Tiehua said, “I have already thought of this, so I forced him to lift the black cloth covering his face, but I really can’t think of such a person among my friends.”

Dai Duxing said, “One more thing, Lao Xiu also thinks this is very strange.”

“Oh?” Hu Tiehua said.

Dai Duxing said, “Since this person has no intention of harming Hu Daxia, why did he lure Hu Daxia to chase him?”

Hu Tiehua was stunned, suddenly he felt the chill was creeping up his entire body. “Not good,” he blurted out, “I’m afraid this is his luring the tiger from its domain in the mountains scheme.”

His countenance changed, Dai Duxing asked, “What luring the tiger from its domain in the mountains scheme?”

Hu Tiehua did not have time to answer him, he did not even say goodbye, he simply left as if flying, just because he had thought of the danger that Chu Liuxiang was in at the moment.

However, he realized it only now, it was already too late.

The window was not closed, the cat already died, a gust of cold wind swept through the window, rolling up the piece of paper on the table, and blew out the lantern.

When the lantern was lit, the room was already so bleak and desolate, now that it was suddenly dark, the atmosphere was even more unspeakably miserable and melancholy.

There was a faint singing voice from the neighboring courtyard, the song seemed to be from the poetry and tune of the Li Houzhu [c. 937-978, the final Southern Tang ruler and renowned poet].

Visiting a foreign land, lodging at a guest house, in this cold and cheerless two nights, drinking a cup of tasteless green bamboo leaves [zhuyeqing – type of wine], listening to the courtesan singing a couple of moving folk song with a pipa [Chinese lute, with 4 strings, a large pear-shaped body and a fretted fingerboard] accompaniment, it was indeed a rare enjoyment in life.

But why did they have to sing Houzhu’s poetry?

Could it be that it was a girl who was forcing a laugh on the surface, but shedding tears behind other people, who wanted to sing the grief in her heart through the moving and sad lyrics of the lord of a vanquished nation?

Chu Liuxiang was just like the dead cat on the table, he lay on the bed motionless. His encounter this moment, was it somewhat similar to that of the exceptional talent, the children of the nobility at the end of the road?

Right this moment, suddenly a shadow swept in front of the window.

This person also wears skintight black clothes, his face was also covered in black-cloth mask, and his movements were as light and silent as a cat.

On his back, there was a sword sheath tied with a cross-shaped [orig. ten ‘十’ character] strap, but the long sword had already been drawn out, hidden behind his elbow, with a flip of his hand, the sword’s edge could take a person’s throat.

But he did not sweep through the window, he was simply crouching under the window, listening quietly. Listening to the sound Chu Liuxiang’s breathing, sometimes weak, sometimes heavy. When weak, it was like a hairspring about to break, when heavy, it was like a panting cow.

The man in black listened for half a day, his pair of bright, like a ray of light – eyes showed satisfaction. He could hear that not only Chu Liuxiang’s illness had not eased up, it had gotten worse instead.

But he still did not rush inside the window, he struck a posture outside the window first, by stretching out his arm, and ‘whoosh’, his sword slashed, the long sword cut the empty air, generating an ear-piercing gust of wind.

In normal times, Chu Liuxiang would have been alerted.

But now, there was not the slightest bit of reaction.

Only then did the man in black rose up to his full height. He seemed to be much taller, much robust than the other man in black, the ‘Thrush’, but his qinggong seemed to be a notch inferior. Therefore, he was extra cautious, especially careful, did not rush in immediately, but used his hand to press the curtain and then borrowing the force of this pressing he flew in.

The room was so dark that stretching out the hand, one would not be able to even see his five fingers. The man in black seemed to have merged with the darkness. Even if one stood outside the window, one would not be able to see his figure.

He stood in the dark, waiting quietly for half a day, but on the bed, Chu Liuxiang’s breathing was still very irregular, so much so that it could be said that he was at his last gasp.

Only then did the man in black walked over to the bed step by step.

His steps were extremely light, extremely steady, only the road outside was very wet, so inevitably the soles of his shoes were wet with water. After taking two steps, he suddenly made a ‘squeak’.

Chu Liuxiang seemed to be roused by the noise, he stirred on the bed.

The man in black’s entire body froze, he did not even dare to breathe.

Yet Chu Liuxiang was just turning over, he was now facing the wall instead. The man in black secretly breathed a sigh of relief. After waiting for another half a day, he suddenly rushed to the bed in big strides.

The sword in his palm suddenly stabbed Chu Liuxiang like a venomous viper.

While running wildly, Hu Tiehua did not stop scolding himself. If this time Chu Liuxiang fell into other people’s malicious scheme, even if he stayed alive, he would have no face to see other people.

He only wished that his back would grow a pair of wings, so that he could fly back in an instant.

However, suddenly he halted his steps.

He suddenly realized that he was unable to find his way back to the inn.

The Thrush was taking him turning to the east and bending to the west, he did not even know where he was going, and he was completely unable to distinguish direction.

In the dark rainy night, in this strange city, every street looked alike, and those houses looked almost identical.

He wanted to knock the door of a random house to ask for directions, but he suddenly realized that even the name of the inn he did not remember, so he could not even ask for directions.

Hu Tiehua nearly went mad, he stood woodenly in the rain, his whole body was drenched, water was dripping from his face, but he could not tell whether it was rain? Or was it sweat? Or was it tears of anxiety?

The man in black’s sword stabbed.

This sword was like a snake or a scorpion, fast as lightning, and it went directly toward Chu Liuxiang’s vital point. Obviously this person was indeed an experienced assassin.

Only to hear ‘pop!’, the bright-as-snow sword blade pierced straight in – but instead of penetrating Chu Liuxiang’s body, it penetrated a pillow.

Turned out that at the moment when his life was hanging by a thread, the at-his-last-gasp Chu Liuxiang suddenly turned over and used the pillow to block the long sword.

The man in black was greatly shocked, he pulled the sword, but was unable to, so he wanted to run away.

His ability to meet a contingency could not be considered not fast, who would have thought that Chu Liuxiang was even faster than him. Before he was able to pull his hand from the sword, Chu Liuxiang had already grabbed his wrist. [Note: I realize that this kind of sentence will be frowned upon by grammar purists, but I just want to point out that Chinese like to use double negatives. For instance, the phrase I translate as ‘that’s right’ is actually ‘not wrong’.]

The man in black immediately formed his left hand into a palm chop, to strike back by chopping at Chu Liuxiang’s wrist.

Who would have thought that Chu Liuxiang suddenly pulled his right hand forward, so that his palm was chopping on his own arm, hurting him that he could not help groaning.

At this time, Chu Liuxiang’s left palm already reached his flank, and with a light touch, half of his body immediately went numb, and he could not even move.

In the darkness, he saw that Chu Liuxiang’s pair of eyes was brighter than the stars,  there was not the slightest bit of sickly look. The man in black was shaking, he spoke hoarsely, “You …” He only said one word, whatever it was that he wanted to say, he could no longer say.

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Zaixia already calculated that Gexia [your distinguished self] will definitely come, I’ve been waiting respectfully here for a long time.”

The man in black was sweating like rain, his voice trembling, he said, “You … you are not sick?”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Although my body is not sick, I have a sickness of the heart. If I don’t understand Gexia’s background and purpose in coming, this sickness of my heart cannot be healed.”

The man in black heaved a deep, deep sighed, he said, “Chu Xiang Shuai’s name is indeed not in vain, you really have real skill, today I admit defeat, whatever you want, I will not disobey.”

He suddenly laughed and said, “I know that Chu Xiang Shuai’s hands have never injured people, right?”

“That’s right,” Chu Liuxiang replied, “But if you don’t tell me your identity and background, why you came three times, several occasions to plot against me, even if I won’t harm your life, I’m afraid I will offend you.”

The man in black said, “Between you and I, originally there is no enmity, I did not come several times to kill you even more.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Are you telling me that this is the first time you came to kill me?”

“Naturally it’s the second time,” the man in black said.

Chu Liuxiang’s eyes flashing, he suddenly asked, “Are you saying that you received someone’s instigation?”

“That’s right,” the man in black replied, “I’m just …”

He had not finished speaking, suddenly a ‘zip!’ was heard, there seemed to be a very fine ray of light flashing in the darkness, and then disappeared.

Chu Liuxiang only felt that the man in black’s wrist suddenly jerked, his body suddenly shook, and a look of fear and despair suddenly appeared in his eyes. He spoke hoarsely, “It’s … it’s … it’s …”

His countenance changed, Chu Liuxiang said, “Who is it? Tell me quick!”

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