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Bordertown Wanderer - Chapter 28

Chapter 28 - In A Lady's Company

Fourteenth day of the ninth month.

Nightfall.

On the side of the main road was a small tea stand. Most tea stands didn't just serve tea but of course wine as well. The tea was free of charge, but wine will cost you money. This particular stand had a selection of four types of wine. They were all cheap and inferior in quality and also strong and harsh. Besides wine, they also served side dishes such as string beans, salted poached eggs, steamed buns, and peanuts.

Wooden stools were set up underneath the shade of the surrounding trees around the tea stand. Customers filled those stools, sitting with their legs sprawled, enjoying wine and peeling peanuts.

Fu HongXue stared at them as if he was staring at supernatural deities. Some were having peanuts and string beans along with their wine while others were having it with their steamed buns. Peanuts and string beans were always meant to be eaten together, it seemed as if separating the two would render both tasteless.

But he only ordered string beans, he refused to have any peanuts. It was if peanuts were only for admiring, and not for eating.

Cui Nong couldn't help but finally remark, "You're still thinking about that person?"

Fu HongXue didn't reply.

"Because he enjoys peanuts, so you're refusing to eat any, right?"

Fu HongXue still didn't reply.

"I know ..." Cui Nong said with a sigh.

"What do you know?" Fu HongXue asked.

"You don't want anyone to see you when your illness acts up, yet he was there when it did and saw you at your weakest. That's why you hate him."

Fu HongXue kept his mouth shut, shut very tightly, as tightly as his grasp on his sabre. Other than him, very few people here carried blades. Perhaps it was because of this sabre that everyone kept their distance and sat far away from him.

Cui Nong let out a sigh and said, "Fifteenth day of the ninth month, 'White Cloud Manor'. What exactly is he planning to do on the fifteenth day of the ninth month at 'White Cloud Manor'? I just don't know."

"There are a lot of things that you don't know." Fu HongXue replied coldly.

"But I can't help thinking about it." Cui Nong said.

"Thinking about what?"

"He can't possibly have good intentions inviting us to that place, so I don't understand why you are so set on going there."

"No one's forcing you to go."

Cui Nong lowered her head and bit her lips. She couldn't say another word, she didn't dare say another word.

On the side of the road opposite the tea stand, a large carriage drawn by mules pulled up. Most of the people who stopped by here were laborers who toiled for a living. Other than a few cups of wine there was not much pleasure in their lives. A few cups of wine in your stomach could turn the world turn into quite a beautiful place.

A young lad with dark complexion and full of vigor slowly stepped out of the carriage and walked over to the tea stand. He greeted some of his companions before walking over to greet the boss of the tea stand.

"Old Deaf Wang, give me five catties of wine and ten eggs. I'm treating everyone today."

Old Wang wasn't really deaf. It's just that when people go into debt, they seem to turn deaf. He tilted his head and glanced at the young lad distastefully, "Are you crazy?"

"Who said I was crazy?" the young lad replied.

"If you're not crazy then why are you treating?"

"I've had the fortune of meeting a most generous guest today." the young lad replied as he pretended to be mysterious, "This person is extremely well-known."

The crowd couldn't help but be taken in as a couple of people chimed in, "Who is it?"

The young lad shook his head and replied, "Even if I told you all, you probably wouldn't recognize the name."

"Then just tell us."

"If he's that famous, then why wouldn't we know his name?"

"Because you all are not worthy." the young lad said to the crowd.

"If we're not, then you are?"

"If I didn't have a cousin working in an escort agency, I probably would've never heard of the name either."

"Stop talking in circles, just tell us his name already."

The young lad stepped forward and finally said, "His name is Lu XiaoJia."

Fu HongXue who had already stood up and was getting ready to leave suddenly took his seat again. No one really paid any attention to him as they kept asking away.

"What kind of person is this Lu XiaoJia?"

"He is an assassin." the young lad replied. He intentionally lowered his voice, but it was just loud enough for everyone to hear.

"An assassin?"

"What that means is he kills for money. I hear that his price is at least ten thousand taels of silver per target."

Everyone stood wide-eyed and seemed to have paused their breaths.

"The head escort of the escort agency that my cousin works for was killed by him." the young lad explained.

"Are you referring to Master Deng who was buried earlier this year?"

"Yes. All of you were at his funeral, do you all remember receiving five taels of silver each?"

"Ah, yes, that funeral was quite a grand occasion."

"So you all must be able to imagine what an extraordinary person he must've been during his life. But unfortunately he ran into Hero Lu. Before he could even draw his blade, the tip of Hero Lu's sword had already pierced his throat."

"How do you know about this?"

"My cousin saw it from the side with his own eyes. If he didn't describe this Lu XiaoJia person to me, then I wouldn't have recognized him today. It wasn't his face that was so recognizable, it was his sword."

"What's so special about his sword?"

"His sword doesn't have a sheathe, it just looks like a rusted piece of iron. But my cousin told me that he had never witnessed a more frightening sword in his life."

The crowd went silent with awe, but some were caught with disbelief.

"Why would someone who earns in upwards of ten thousand taels of silver per job ride in that run-down carriage of yours?"

"It just happened that the horseshoes on his steed had worn out when I was passing down the same road. He propositioned me to take him to 'White Cloud Manor' and since I was heading towards the city of Qinghe, it was conveniently on the way." the young lad replied.

"Sounds like this kid really knows what he's doing."

The crowd nodded in agreement and was caught with surprise. Some were quite envious and mumbled aloud, "If we don't eat for free, then we don't eat. It looks like if we don't take up on this young lad's offer, then he won't be able to sleep well tonight."

Suddenly, a voice boomed out, "If someone is treating, then I should definitely be eating."

This person was lying on the ground in the shade under a tree. He was wearing a shoddy straw hat that covered his entire face. Not only was his hat falling apart but his clothes were filthy and ripped as well. He looked like someone who couldn't even afford wine and had nothing better to do than to sleep.

Some people in the crowd were already chattering with disgust, "You? Why should he treat you?"

"All are friends within the four oceans, I don't mind treating you at all. If you want a drink, then please get up, my friend." the young lad replied.

"I might be drinking your wine, but I'm not your friend, just keep that in mind." that person replied. He tilted his straw hat as he lazily got to his feet.

He was a husky fellow who looked almost eight feet tall. His shoulders looked twice as broad as the normal person's and his gigantic fan-like hands drooped down well below his knees. He had high cheekbones, eyebrows as thick as brooms, and a huge mouth.

Even though his garments were raggedy and torn, as soon as he stood up, his hulking image struck fear and awe into everyone's eyes. There were originally a couple of people who wanted to teach him a lesson about not drinking other people's wine without the intention of becoming their friends, but no one dared to open their mouths now.

As Old Deaf Wang carried out five catties of wine and ten salted eggs, that huge man walked over and proclaimed, "This serving is mine."

His words were like orders, simple and to the point. He scooped two eggs into his hands, finished them in two or three bites, then downed a catty of wine. Two eggs then another catty, soon all ten eggs and five catties of wine were gone. Everyone's eyes dropped as they watched from the side.

After he finished his last gulp of wine, he stopped to take a couple of breaths while rubbing his stomach, then exclaimed, "One more order just like this."

Old Deaf Wang was startled, he had nothing to say and simply glanced over at the young lad.

"Did you not hear what I just said?" the giant shouted.

Old Deaf Wang flinched and shrieked, "One more serving?"

That one shout was like a clap of thunder in the sky, it was so loud that it could even deafen the deaf. The young lad who was sitting with his legs up on the side was so startled that he fell off his seat. The giant picked him up with his giant hands as if he was picking up a chicken and plopped him back onto his feet.

He grinned at the young lad and asked, "What are you afraid of? Treating me?"

It was better when he didn't smile because when he did, his grin extended almost to his ears, making him look like a demon.

The young lad's face went pale as he muttered, "I ... I ..."

"If you're not going to treat, then I'll treat." the giant said. He casually reached into his garments and pulled out an ingot of silver, it was actually a giant ingot worth more than fifty silver taels. The young lad's eyes popped out.

"This silver ingot is all yours if you wait here for me tomorrow morning and take me to 'White Cloud Manor'. If you dare show up late, I'll make sure your head ends up the same size as this ingot." the giant said to the young lad.

The young lad tried to stand up again but stumbled back down out of fright. The giant let out a hearty laugh and tossed the silver ingot towards him. Without even turning back, he darted off. Although he didn't look very hurried, every leap he took covered about forty or fifty feet. In the blink of an eye he had disappeared into the sunset.

All that could be heard was a desolate voice singing in the wind,

"On the fifteenth day of the ninth month when the moon is full,

when the moon is full the blood will flow,

flow like the tears of countless heroes,

an innumerable number of villains' heads will roll ..."

The singing voice drifted into the distance and finally could no longer be heard.

Fu HongXue suddenly snapped out of his daze and sighed, "An innumerable number of villains' heads will roll indeed!"

________________________________________

Early morning.

The rays of the sun were white like a fish's stomach. The vast land was still asleep.

The tea pavilion had emptied out. Old Deaf Wang didn't spend the night here. The only thing that remained was the young lad's carriage, still parked under the large tree. He was curled up inside fast asleep. He was afraid of being late, and afraid that the giant would crush his brains into mud.

Freezing wind, verdant greens.

The sound of footsteps started to come from the far distance. A person slowly walked forth from the horizon. His left foot slowly took a step forward, his right foot then dragged along from behind. A slender, beautiful woman carrying a bundle wrapped in cloth and a scarf around her head followed from behind.

The wind kicked up leaves and the early morning mist rose. The mist was cold as well.

Cold mist. Morning wind. Insipid moon.

Fu HongXue stopped at the tea pavilion and turned his head towards Cui Nong. Her face was pale and white. Even though she had a scarf wrapped around her head, she was still trembling. In the morning mist, she appeared even more resplendent, but her expression had started to show hints of tired weariness.

Fu HongXue looked at her silently, his cold expression gradually started to warm up. He couldn't help but finally utter softly, "You're tired."

"You're the one who should be tired, you should've slept a little longer." she replied.

"I couldn't sleep, but you ..."

Cui Nong lowered her head and softly replied, "If you couldn't fall asleep, then how would I be able to."

Fu HongXue walked over to her and grabbed her hand. Her hands were cold as ice.

"As long as I haven't found Ma KongQun, I can't return."

"I understand."

"So I have to drag you along to suffer with me."

Cui Nong raised her head and sharply said, "You should know that I'm not afraid to endure hardship, I've already lived through all kinds of suffering before."

She lifted his hand to her face and said, "As long as you treat me well and never look down on me, even if you asked me to die, I'd agree."

Fu HongXue let out a long sigh, "I really have mistreated you, even I know that. If you had left that day I wouldn't have blamed you at all."

"Why would I leave you for? Even if you chased me away with a whip I would still stay by your side."

Fu HongXue started to smile. His smile was like sunshine on top of ice, particularly shiny and particularly bright.

Cui Nong looked at the foolish smile on his face, and after a long while, she let out a sigh, "Do you know what I like more than anything else in this world?"

Fu HongXue shook his head.

"I like to see you smile, but you so rarely ever do." Cui Nong responded.

Fu HongXue replied softly, "I'll try to smile more for you from now on, but right now ..."

"Now is not the time for smiles?"

Fu HongXue slowly nodded his head. Then he suddenly changed the subject and exclaimed, "Why hasn't that person arrived yet?"

It was as if he didn't want to let too much of his emotions leak out, and would rather people see him as cold and aloof.

A look of disappointment shot across Cui Nong's face as she lightly sighed and replied, "Don't worry, I'm sure he'll come eventually."

"What kind of person do you think he is?"

"He must be an enemy of Lu XiaoJia. Since Lu XiaoJia headed towards White Cloud Manor, how could he not be headed there as well?" Cui Nong replied.

Fu HongXue lifted his head and stared at the moon slowly fading into the morning mist. "Today is already the fifteenth of the ninth month. Just what exactly is going to happen today?"

The cold wind blew. A soft song carried in with the wind. "Unending blood of heroes flow, innumerable heads of villains roll. Heads will roll, and blood will flow, but vengeance will never die ..."

In the ears of an anxious and sullen person, that song in the autumn wind sounded even more cold and sorrowful.

"He has really come." Cui Nong said.

"Mm." Fu HongXue replied.

"Should we hide?"

"I never run, and I never hide." Fu HongXue replied.

A voice in the far distance boomed out, "A man who never runs and never hides, a real man indeed."

"This person's hearing is very sharp." Cui Nong remarked with a smirk.

Just as she finished her sentence, the giant man's stride landed him right in front of them. On his head was an old worn straw hat. In his hand was a shiny black lacquered wine jar. He took one look at Fu HongXue and said, "So it really is you, I knew you would be waiting here."

"You knew?"

"If I didn't, then who would?" the giant man replied. He lifted the wine jar to his mouth and took several large gulps. Then, he suddenly lowered his head and said in a sharp voice, "Since I'm here, why haven't you made a move yet?"

Fu HongXue looked startled as he replied, "Why should I make a move?"

"To take the head that's on my neck."

"Why would I want to take the head that's on your neck?"

The giant let out a laugh at the sky and replied, "I, Xue Guo, have dominated the world over and have killed a countless number of people. Who wouldn't want this precious head of mine?"

"I wouldn't." Fu HongXue replied.

This time, it was the giant who was startled.

"I don't recognize you at all." Fu HongXue said.

The giant let out a cold smile and replied, "Although the enemies of Xue Guo span the entire realm, the ones that could recongize me have already long died by my hand. Of the ones that are left, none can even recognize who I am."

"People often come to take your life?"

"Correct."

"I'm sorry but I think this time you'll be disappointed."

"You're not waiting here to take my life?"

"I kill immediately, I do not wait."

"What you said is correct. The chance you get to kill someone is small and fleeting, it's a pity when you miss it. It's definitely something that you can't wait for!"

"That's why if you were my enemy, I would've killed you yesterday already!"

"So you're not an enemy of mine?" the giant asked.

"No". Fu HongXue replied.

The giant let out a laugh, "Looks like my fortune is not quite bad. It doesn't seem like being your enemy is much of a good thing at all either."

"It definitely isn't."

"What about being your friend?"

"I have no friends."

"Even Big Xue is unworthy of being your friend?"

"Big Xue?" Fu HongXue asked.

"I am Big Xue." the giant said.

"I still don't know who you are."

"And you wouldn't like to know who I am?"

"No."

"He doesn't want my head, and he doesn't want my friendship. This is someone you don't meet everyday." Big Xue mumbled.

"It's a rare sight indeed." Fu HongXue replied.

"Then what is it that you want?"

"I just want to follow your carriage to 'White Cloud Manor'".

"And that's all?"

"That's all."

"Fine, then come aboard." Big Xue said.

"I won't board." Fu HongXue replied.

Big Xue look startled again, "Why won't you board?"

"Because I do not have the fifty silver tael carriage fee."

"Don't tell me you're planning to follow the carriage on foot?"

"You sit in your carriage and I'll walk on my road. We don't owe each other anything."

Big Xue stared at FU HongXue, stared at his pale white face, stared at his jet black sabre. He couldn't help but exclaim, "You really are a strange person, perhaps even stranger than I am."

He really was quite strange.

The sky slowly turned bright. The rays of the rising sun were like the edge of a blade, cutting through the foggy mist. The land was slowly waking up from a long night.

The young lad hadn't woken up yet. The giant strode over and lifted him up in one hand, "Wake up! We're heading to 'White Cloud Manor'!"

The youngster rubbed his eyes, then put on a smile and said, "Master, please board the carriage then."

"I will not be boarding." Big Xue replied.

"Why not?" the young lad exclaimed in surprise.

"Because I'm in a good mood."

Although this lad was still quite young, he had been steering carriages for six or seven years already. Yet in all his years he had never met someone who paid for a carriage, only to follow on foot afterwards. Even if he wanted to crawl, no one could say a word as long as the customer was satisfied.

Although he found the situation quite odd, the lad finally put his mind to rest and started off. And following from behind were three people -- a fierce giant, a pale cripple, and a graceful beauty.

With a group like that on the road, who wouldn't cast them a glance? But Big Xue was a proud and haughty man, he didn't care who looked at him or what they thought. Fu HongXue looked lost in thought, he seemed as if he was in a world of his own. There was no one else in Cui Nong eyes, when she was with Fu HongXue, it was as if the rest of the world didn't exist.

The young lad couldn't help but wonder why these three people were heading to 'White Cloud Manor'. 'White Cloud Manor' just wasn't a place where people like them went.

The giant took several large swigs of wine, quickened his pace and caught up with the young lad in front.

"We're not on our way to bury our parents or anything, why don't you slow down a little?"

"Yes, definitely." the young lad replied. If the person who hired the carriage wasn't in a rush, then of course he wasn't in a rush.

Big Xue slowed his pace as well as he said, "'White Cloud Manor' isn't that far away, we'll definitely get there today."

It sounded like his words were meant for Fu HongXue, but Fu HongXue didn't hear a single whisper. Big Xue lagged behind and was next to Fu HongXue once again.

"What are you planning on doing once we arrive at 'White Cloud Manor'?" Big Xue asked.

Fu HongXue still didn't hear him.

"You're acquainted with Yuan QiuYun?" Big Xue asked again.

"Who is Yuan QiuYun?" Fu HongXue finally replied.

"He is the master of 'White Cloud Manor'."

"I don't know him."

Big Xue let out a laugh, "You don't even know of Big Xue, of course you wouldn't know Yuan QiuYun."

"And you do?"

"Why would I know that old antique for?" Big Xue replied.

Fu HongXue fell silent for a moment, then suddenly asked, "But you do know Lu XiaoJia?"

"How do you know that?" Big Xue shook his head and let out a sigh, "Of course you know. Anyone would be able to guess that I'm going to look for him."

"Why are you looking for him?" Fu HongXue asked.

"No reason in particular. I just want to rip the brains out of his skull and kick them into the gutter."

"He is an enemy of yours?"

"Originally he wasn't." Big Xue took a gulp of wine before continuing, "He was a friend."

"A friend?"

Big Xue gritted his teeth and said, "Sometimes, friends can be even more formidable than enemies. Especially friends like him."

"He betrayed you before?"

"I gave him my entire family fortune and my favorite woman. And he disappeared, he disappeared with my fortune and my woman." Big Xue said bitterly.

Fu HongXue knitted his brow and remarked, "He doesn't seem like that type of person."

"It's precisely because he didn't seem like that type of person, that I would trust him so."

Fu HongXue fell silent again, then replied, "Sometimes friends really can be more formidable than enemies."

Big Xue let out a deep sigh, then chugged down several more large mouthfuls of wine.

After a while, Fu HongXue suddenly said, "You didn't have to walk with me."

"I definitely didn't, we could've both rode inside the carriage."

Fu HongXue didn't reply.

After several more steps, Big Xue raised his wine jar towards Fu HongXue and asked, "Do you want to drink?"

"No."

"You don't drink at all?"

"Never."

"Do you gamble?"

"No."

"Then what do you like to do?"

"Nothing."

"If nothing in this world makes you happy, then what do you live for?"

"I'm not living to be happy."

"Then what are you living for?" Big Xue asked.

Fu HongXue's hand tightened on his sabre as he replied, "Revenge."

Big Xue stared at his cold white face, he couldn't help but feel a chill run through his body. "It looks like being your enemy really isn't a good thing at all."

Fu HongXue lowered his gaze and stared at the sabre in his hands. He didn't say another word.

Big Xue's eyes suddenly flashed as he turned and asked, "So do you know Lu XiaoJia?"

"I've only seen him before."

"How did you see him?"

"He came to kill me."

"And what happened afterwards?"

"He left."

"And you just let him go?"

"I had no intentions of killing him ... I only want to kill one person."

"Your enemy?"

Fu HongXue nodded his head.

"Your enemy is one person?" Big Xue asked.

"I only know of one so far." Fu HongXue replied.

Big Xue let out a sigh and said, "Your luck is better than mine."

"Actually, I think your luck is better than mine." Fu HongXue replied.

"Why is that?"

"If I had innumerable enemies to slay, that would be one of life's finest pleasures, pity I ..." a look of pain shot through his face as he continued, "pity I can't even find the one enemy I have."

"Who is your enemy?" Big Xue asked.

"You don't have to know." Fu HongXue replied.

"I might be able to help you find that person." Big Xue said with a glimmer in his eye.

Fu HongXue thought for a moment, then replied, "His surname is Ma, Ma KongQun."

"The master of the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'?"

"You know this person?"

Big Xue shook his head and didn't reply, but then exclaimed, "No wonder you're headed for 'White Cloud Manor'."

"How is 'White Cloud Manor' related to the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'?"

"It originally wasn't."

"But now?"

"You really do not know what today is?" Big Xue asked.

"How would I know?" Fu HongXue replied.

"So you didn't receive an invitation?"

"Whose invitation?"

"'White Cloud Manor' of course. Today is the day of their young master's wedding."

"I don't know him either." Fu HongXue remarked.

"The bride is Ma KongQun's daughter. I think her name is Ma FangLing."

The expression on Fu HongXue's face changed.

"So Ma KongQun will definitely be at 'White Cloud Manor' today." Big Xue whispered.

Before these words were finished, Fu HongXue had already leapt onto the horse carriage. When he unleashed his lightness skills, his body's movements were quicker than a fully drawn arrow. No one would ever mistake him for a cripple.

Big Xue looked at him with certain amazement. After a while, he finally let out a sigh and exclaimed, "Incredible skills indeed!"

By this time, Fu HongXue had already made his way to the front of the carriage and snatched the whip out of the young lad's hands. With a flick of the wrist, the whip lashed out at the horse's belly. The carriage sped up and left Big Xue and Cui Nong in the dust.

Cui Nong lowered her head, she couldn't hold her tears in much longer.

Big Xue suddenly smiled at her and said, "Don't you worry. I won't let him leave you behind like this."

In a flash he leapt forward. After five or six strides he had already caught up to the carriage. He reached out his hands and grabbed the back of the carriage. The horse that pulled this carraige let out a loud neigh and the entire carraige suddenly came to a complete stop.

Big Xue turned his head towards Cui Nong with a smile and said, "Please come aboard."

Cui Nong finally lifted her head and replied softly, "That woman shouldn't have left you for Lu XiaoJia. You are a true gentleman."

Big Xue let out a sigh and said, "It's a pity that this gentleman isn't very popular with the ladies."