LXF03-04 Print
Saturday, 16 August 2008 04:19

Chapter 4 - Someone to Care for



September 14th, morning. Li Yan Bei came out of the 13th out of his 30 residences and began walking down the mist covered fog. Even though his stride was still that long, they also seemed very heavy. Even though he was still standing as tall as he was, his eyes belied a tiredness. He did not sleep last night.

In the last 11 years, there would be a huge entourage following him on these daily morning walks amid the mists. But today was different. Not a single person was there.

The Sun had not risen yet, frost covered the leaves and trees. Today was even colder than yesterday, it would not be too long until snow flakes begin to fill the sky.

The winter in the northern countries would always come early, especially to Li Yan Bei. To him, winter had already arrived in his heart.

In the thick mist, a person came walking up to him on the street. Before Li Yan Bei saw his face, he noticed that pair of shining eyes.

“Lu Xiao Feng?”

“It’s me.” Lu Xiao Feng had stopped underneath a withered tree, waiting for him. “If someone could have a morning walk everyday, he would be assured of good health and a long life.”

He was smiling, but it was not exactly a cheerful smile.

“How long have you been walking around out here?” Li Yan Bei asked.

“It felt like around an hour or so!”

“Why didn’t you come in?”

Lu Xiao Feng smiled again, this time even more forced.

“I’m scared!”

Li Yan Bei looked at him in shock.

“You’re scared? You get scared too?”

“Of course, and very often.”

“What are you scared of?” Li Yan Bei did not wait for Lu Xiao Feng to reply before asking another question. “Are you scared to see Ou Yang?”

Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

“She’s still alive,” Li Yan Bei patted him on the shoulder. “It seems like the poison was not as deadly as it looks on the surface!”

Lu Xiao Feng let out a long, relieved, sigh.

“Just you today?” He suddenly asked.

Li Yan Bei nodded, suddenly looking very tired.

“They all have something to take care of today!”

“Then you shouldn’t have come out!”

Li Yan Bei let out a little laugh, his laugh was not exactly cheerful either.

“After what happened yesterday, you should be more careful.”

Li Yan Bei walked along by Lu Xiao Feng’s side, not saying anything.

“In the last 11 years, I would always take a walk around this area in the morning,” he suddenly stated after they walked a good distance. “Three hundred and sixty-five days a year, rain or snow, I’ve never missed a day.”

This area was his. Whenever he walked through these old but wide streets, his heart would always be filled with pride and satisfaction, just like a general inspecting his troops, or an Emperor looking over his land.

“If I were you, I would probably take walks like that everyday as well.” Lu Xiao Feng understood how he must have felt.

“You absolutely would have!”

“Nevertheless, I would make an exception today!”

“You absolutely would not!”

“But today....”

“Especially today, you would not have missed it!”

“Why not?”

Li Yan Bei hesitated, scanning the old but refined shops that lined both side of the street, his eyes seemingly filled sadness and nostalgia. After a long pause, he finally answered.

“Because today would be the last time for me!”

“Last time?” Lu Xiao Feng looked at him in shock. “Why would it be the last time?”

Li Yan Bei did not answer this question, instead he remained quiet for a long time before asking a question of his own: “Have you ever met my sons?”

Lu Xiao Feng shook his head. He never had, nor did he understand why Li Yan Bei would suddenly ask this question.

“I have 19 sons, the youngest is only 2.” Li Yan Bei slowly continued. “They are all my sons, my very own flesh and blood.”

Lu Xiao Feng did not say anything and listened to what he had to say.

“I turn 50 this year, even though I look strong, in reality, I’m an old man.”

“You are not old,” Lu Xiao Feng tried to force a laugh. “Some people say that men only really start living after they turn 50!”

“But I can’t afford to lose it.” Li Yan Bei tried to force a laugh as well, but failed miserably. “Because I would not be able to stand seeing my children suffer.”

“Did you actually sold off all this land?” Lu Xiao Feng finally understood what he meant.

“I didn’t want to do it,” Li Yan Bei hung his head as he gravely replied. “But they gave me too good of a deal to pass up!”

“What deal is that?”

“Not only are they willing to assume the responsibility for the debt, they also guaranteed the safety for my entire family to move to the South!” He finally laughed, but it was a melancholy laugh. “I know that the South of the Yangtze is a great place. Every spring, the birds would fill the sky, the peaches would be ripe for the picking, the willows would sway. If the childrens grew up there, they would never grow up to be an old ruffians like me.”

Lu Xiao Feng looked at him.

“You really are an old ruffian!” He sighed.

“You don’t have kids, so maybe you don’t understand what it feels like to be a father!” Li Yan Bei smiled exasperatingly.

“I understand.”

“If you do, then you should know why I would do something like this!”

“I know.”

“If Xi Men Chui Xue should lose, then I would immediately have no where and no place to go, and there’s nothing I could do about it.”

Lu Xiao Feng also knew this. Nobody with 19 sons has that many things he can do to begin with.

“After I saw Ye Gu Cheng yesterday, I knew I did not have a chance to win.”

“Not you, Xi Men Chui Xue!”

“But if he does lose, I would actually lose more than him!”

“I know.”

“Then you shouldn’t blame me for doing this.”

“I’m not blaming you,” Lu Xiao Feng answered. “I’m just feeling that it’s quite a shame for you.”

“Quite a shame? What do you mean?”

Lu Xiao Feng did not answer this question, but asked another question: “Who did you sell your land to?”

“Gu Qing Feng.”

“Who is Gu Qing Feng?”

“A Taoist monk.”

“Taoist Monk?” Lu Xiao Feng was shocked at the answer.

“There are many different kinds of Taoist monks.”

“What kind is he?”

“The rich and powerful kind.” Li Yan Bei went on to explain. “There are two sects of Taoism, the leader of the Southern Sect is Father Zhang of DragonTigerMountain and the leader of the Northern Sect is the Master of White Cloud Outlook!”

“He is Master of White Cloud Outlook?”

Li Yan Bei nodded: “White Cloud Outlook is just outside of the city. Many of the officials are frequent guests of the outlook, some even had become his disciple!”

“So even though he is a Taoist monk in name, he’s actually just the richest and most powerful landlord around here.” Lu Xiao Feng sneered.

“If he wasn’t someone like that, would I have gave him my land?” Li Yan Bei smiled miserably.

“Could you stil reneg on this?”

“I have already accepted his offer and have given all my deeds to him.”

“Are all those people who were under your command now also his?”

“The real control of these territories is not in my hands but in the Commission.”

“Is he already the head of the Commission now?”

“The head position of the Commision is his too now,” Li Yan Bei sighed. “I have already handed him the Dragon Flag Tally that was handed to me by the previous head in front of several witnesses!”

“Who found these witnesses?”

“He did, but they are all martial art masters and statesmen that I have always respected.”

“Who?”

“One was the Wooden Taoist from Wutang, another was Ancient Pine Hermit from Mt.Huang, and the last was Honest Monk!”

Lu Xiao Feng was shocked. So shocked that he stopped walking.

“No wonder I couldn’t find them!” His facial color seemed to have changed as well. “I left and they came!”

“I didn’t mention you to them!”

“Well, if they are the witnesses, then you really can’t go back on this anymore!”

“I didn’t want to go back on the deal, I had made this decision myself!” He stared at Lu Xiao Feng’s face. “But you seem like you want to say something.”

Lu Xiao Feng was silent for a long time.

“I do have something to tell you.” He finally nodded ever so slightly.

“What?”

“The South of the Yangtze is not only a great place, but also just crawling with beautiful women. You better behave once you get down there.” He laughed. “There’s only 30 days in a month, if you marry another 30 women, your head would get split open!”

Li Yan Bei laughed too, patting Lu Xiao Feng’s shoulder and laughing: “Don’t worry. I was going to leave all those pretty gals there to you anyways!”

Lu Xiao Feng threw his head back and laughed.

“Then I better come visit you soon, lest you change your mind!”

He did not say anything about Ye Gu Cheng. He had wanted to several times, but decided against it everytime. Li Yan Bei was his friend. If a friend was leaving, why not let him leave smiling? If a friend could be smiling, then never make him suffer or regret. -- This was another principle of Lu Xiao Feng’s. But he must clearly distinguish who was a friend and who was a foe first.

“What do you plan to leave?” He suddenly asked.

“Probably after tomorrow.” Facing this ancient but endearing city, Li Yan Bei’s eyes was suddenly filled with an indescribable sadness and nostalgia. “Even though I’m already an unconcerned spectator, I would still like to know the result of this duel.”

Lu Xiao Feng slowly nodded, he understood what Li Yan Bei felt at this moment.

“When you leave, I might not be able to send you on your way. But if you were to come again, no matter how hard the rain, how bad the wind, I will definitely be there to welcome you!” He forced a smile onto his face. “I never liked goodbyes.”

Goodbyes always made people sad, even though he did not care much for life or death, he placed great importance to goodbyes.

“I know.” Li Yan Bei also forced a smile onto his face. “Even though I’m never going to return once I leave, I would always welcome you whenever you come venture south.”

Lu Xiao Feng did not say anything more and just simply walked along with him for a while.

“The Wooden Taoist and the gang, did they leave with Gu Qing Feng?”

“Yes.”

“Where do you think they went?”

“White Cloud Outlook. Their vegetable dishes and wine are famous.”

White Cloud Outlook felt like it was really in the clouds. Its golden rooftop shimmered in the sun as it stood tall and majestic a top the mountain. The mist had not faded, so from afar, the outlook looked like a palace drifting amongst the clouds. The huge black, ebony doors with knockers shaped like animal heads carved out of bronze were already open, but nobody could be seen. The morning breeze brought along with it a faint echo of the murmur of chants. The Taoist monks were obviously in the middle of their morning meditation.

But there was nobody in the main hall either, only a number of freshly fallen leaves dancing to the wind just outside.

Lu Xiao Feng made his way through the yard, through the incense filled main hall, and exited out of a small door in the back. There he ran into a Taoist monk wearing a green robe and a yellow hat standing underneath a Chinese parasol tree, looking at him with an icy stare. Even though the leaves on the tree had not fallen off, the color of Autumn in the yard was even more intense.

“Is Father Gu Qing Feng here?” Lu Xiao Feng tried to ask a question.

The Taoist did not reply. His glowings eyes looked like daggers piercing through the mist. A gust of wind breezed by as the yellow cape on the monk’s back danced. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly realized that on his back was a sword in a black sheath.

“Is Father none other than Father Gu?”

Still no answer from the monk, his face remained completely expressionless.

Lu Xiao Feng laughed awkwardly to try and break the tension.

“Looks like this monk is deaf, guess I asked the wrong person.”

But this monk was not deaf, he suddenly let out a cold snicker: “You didn’t ask the wrong person, but you came to the wrong place”

“Isn’t this White Cloud Outlook?”

“Yes.”

“People can’t come here?”

“Other people can, only you can’t!”

“You know who I am?” Lu Xiao Feng could not help but ask.

The monk only sneered as he suddenly took a step to the side. The bark on the side of the tree had been peeled off and in its place 8 words were written in black chalk.

“Little Phoenix Flew By, Dies Under Thy Tree!”

“You do know who I am!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“The phoenix dies under the Chinese parasol, this tree will mark your tomb!”

“Have we met before?” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly asked.

“No.”

“Are there any past misgivings between us?”

“None.”

“How about new misgivings?”

“Also none.”

“Well, since we’ve never met before, and there are no misgivings between us, why would you want to kill me?” An exasperated laugh appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face.

“Because you are Lu Xiao Feng!”

“That seems to be reason enough!” Lu Xiao Feng’s smile became even more miserable.

“It is!” With a simple flick of his arm, he pulled out his sword!

“Beautiful sword!” The sword shone like a flood of Autumn water. The monk flicked the blade of the sword with his finger, causing it to make a loud, reverberating sound. Upon hearing the sound, 6 more Taoist monks dressed in the same fashion as he suddenly appeared on all four sides. Six men, 6 swords, all were the same kind of the finest made ancient swords.

The yellow tassles at the end of their swords fluttered in the wind. Suddenly, all 7 struck at the same time, using none other than the Northern Taoist Sect’s origin, the Quanzhen Sect’s world famous Big Dipper Formation. That wooden faced monk was obviously the person responsible for springing the formation.

His techniques were ingenius and flowing, even though he was still not in the same class as Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, his sword was agile and moving at his will, making him a master swordsman in the martial world.

Not to mention the structure of the Big Dipper Formation, with the right teamwork, these 7 swords would seem to have the power of 70 swords. Even Lu Xiao Feng was finding it hard to counterattack. The swords were like a net around him. He felt like a fish that fell into the net, jumping up and down, left and right inside the net, yet he could still not get out. The net slowly began to close in.

“The swords are great, the sword techniques are great, but pity the people is wrong!” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly sighed.

Nobody asked him: “Wrong where?” Even if somebody wanted to ask, he did not have the chance. In that instant, Lu Xiao Feng made him move. With just a simple slither of his body, his hand had grabbed a hold of the lead monk’s right wrist and gave it a light push. What followed was a cacophany of metal banging against each other as the swords met and sparks flew. Lu Xiao Feng, with another simple move, broke free of the traps of the net.

But also in that instant, an icy laugh could be heard as a streak of light came flying in like a rainbow. This strike’s power and speed was far beyond that of the monk. Lu Xiao Feng had just escaped the clutches of the formation and the streak of light had already arrived within inches of his throat.

The freezing cold aura of the sword had already entered his skin. Instead, Lu Xiao Feng laughed as he suddenly reached up and clamped his fingers together.

His foe did not even hear his laughter before his sword was caught. His hands were actually faster than sound!

The aura disappeared. With two fingers on the blade, Lu Xiao Feng smiled at the man in front of him -- a middle-age man with a white face a bit of a beard dressed in elegant silk. This man was staring back at him, in shock.

Nobody could believe that there was actually somebody this fast in the world, this man certainly did not believe it. He trusted that his sword skills was on par with that of Ye Gu Cheng and Xi Men Chui Xue, trusted that last strike of his would never fail. Only now did he realize that he was wrong.

It was at this moment that the sound of laughter could be heard coming from the building just behind the Chinese parasol: “I told you before! Ye Gu Cheng’s Outter Heaven Angel and Lu Xiao Feng’s fingers are martial art skills that’s unmatched in this world! Now do you believe me?”

“We are lucky to see such a display, I am in awe!” Another person sighed.

The middle-age man suddenly sighed as well: “Lu Xiao Feng really is Lu Xiao Feng!”

The laugh came from the Wooden Taoist and Lu Xiao Feng figured that the person who was sighing was none other than Gu Qing Feng. Some people always seemed to have a smile on their face and Gu Qing Feng was one of them. He was already a clean and pleasant looking person to begin with, when he smiled it made him look even more warm and friendly.

Smiling, he approached and gently wiped the writings off of the tree: “Master Lu probably already deduced by now that all of this is just....”

“Just a joke.” Lu Xiao Feng finished for him.

“You knew?” Gu Qing Feng seemed surprised.

Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

“Because quite of number of people have played this joke on me before.”

“It’s not a very good joke really,” an apologetic look appeared in Gu Qing Feng’s eyes.

“No, not a very good one, but not a bad one either!” Lu Xiao Feng reassured him. “At least every time someone plays this joke on me, I always come out feeling pretty lucky.”

“Why?”

“If I’m not lucky, then this joke won’t be a joke anymore!” Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly replied as he gently and slowly put down the blade between his fingers, as if he was somehow afraid that the blade would cut his finger.

The silk-wearing middle aged man also smiled, it was an apologetic smile as well: “I originally didn’t want to go through with this joke, but they all guaranteed that nobody in the world could hit Lu Xiao Feng’s throat with one stroke of his sword, so I had....”

“So you had to test that claim?” Lu Xiao Feng finished his thought for him as well. He let out a little laugh and continued. “Even if I want to get angry, I won’t dare get mad in front of His Majesty’s Imperial Warden!”

“You know who I am?” The man seemed surprised.

Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

“Other than the ‘Divine Sword Aristocrat’ Third Master Yin Xian, who else in the world can pull of that ‘Maiden Threads the Shuttle’ move?”

The Wooden Taoist burst out laughing again.

“Didn’t I tell you before? Not only is his hands incredible, his eyes are something else as well!”

Everybody in the martial world knew there were four martial arts masters acting as Chief Wardens inside the ImperialPalace, but only a handful of people have actually seen them.

“You eyes are something else!” Laughing heartily, Yin Xian patted Lu Xiao Feng on the shoulder. “I haven’t walked in the martial world for more than a decade, I didn’t expect you would know who I am!”

“There are quite a few people who could pull off ‘Maiden Threads the Shuttle’, but to truly be able to extract all the power and force of that move, there is only one in the world!” Lu Xiao Feng added with a smile, this person was leaving a good impression on him.

In his imagination, the Imperial Wardens would surely be the type of people who have their eyes on top of their heads. At least this person seemed friendly and had a very pure and pleasing laugh that made people happy. So Lu Xiao Feng had hoped to cheer him up a bit too.

Yin Xian’s eyes immediately lit up as he suddenly grabbed Lu Xiao Feng’s hand.

“Are you telling the truth?”

“I never lie.”

“Then you have to tell me, how does my Maiden Threading the Shuttle compare to Ye Gu Cheng’s Outter Heaven Angel?”

Lu Xiao Feng sighed. The truth is not always what people wanted to hear.

“Are you sure you want me to tell you?”

“I know you’ve also parried his Outter Heaven Angel once before, so you are the only one in the world qualified to judge!”

“When I caught his strike, there was a wall at my back,” Lu Xiao Feng thoughtfully replied. “I didn’t have to worry about my back. When I caught your strike, there was still 7 swords behind me!”

The shine in Yin Xian’s eyes dimmed down once again.

“So I’m not as good as he is?”

“Honestly, no!”

“At least I have finally witnessed you in action, but his Outter Heaven Angel....”

Gu Qing Feng’s laughter suddenly interrupted them.

“You’ll witness his Outter Heaven Angel very soon as well!”

“I will?”

“Most certainly!”

Yin Xian’s eyes lit up once again.”

“For tomorrow night has a full moon!”

“And the ‘Atop Zi Jing’ is now just ‘Atop Zi Jin’!” Gu Qing Feng smiled. “So even if others won’t witness it, you most certainly will.”

Yin Xian’s fist tightened around his sword. “‘On top of the Forbidden’, they actually chose a place like that... where did they get the nerve!” He murmured.

“Without such breathtaking skills, where else would the guts come from?” Gu Qing Feng replied.

Yin Xian paused for a second.

“You shouldn’t have told me that.” He suddenly declared.

“Why not?”

“Don’t forget that I am a Warden of the Imperial Guard, how can I possibly allow them to trespass into the Palace?”

“You can make an exception!”

“Why should I make an exception?”

“Because I know you must really want to witness the peerless Outter Heaven Angel!”

Yin Xian sighed as a resigned smile appeared on his face.

“You know what your biggest problem is? You know too much!”

“Truly way too much!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed as well.

“I guess you didn’t expect I would know about this did you?”

“It is a secret, after all!”

“It was a secret,” Gu Qing Feng smiled. “Inside the capital, there are no real secrets!”

“So you knew I was coming ahead of time?”

“You are Li Yan Bei’s friend, after all. If not for you, he’s probably dead at Du Tong Xuan’s hands!”

“Actually, we were going to go look for you,” the Wooden Taoist suddenly cut in. “But instead we ended up being witnesses to the transaction!”

“What about Honest Monk?”

“I dragged him along. I knew you were looking for him.”

“Shame we got there too late,” Gu Qing Feng added. “Didn’t get a taste of the 13th Mistress’s famed lamb chops!”

“A monk can eat lamb chops?”

Gu Qing Feng laughed.

“If a monk can’t eat lamb chops, why would he be willing to spend one million nine hundred and fifty thousand taels of silver to buy out Li Yan Bei?”

“Could it be because he pretty sure that he won’t lose?” Lu Xiao Feng’s stare could burn a hole in Gu Qing Feng’s face.

“If it is an unwinnable bet, would you be willing to pay for it?” Gu Qing Feng casually countered.

“No.”

“And if you did agree to assume the bet, wouldn’t that mean you are at least somewhat sure?”

Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

“Looks like you are just like me, don’t know how to tell a lie!”

“How can a monk lie?”

“Too bad it seems just as difficult to get you to tell the truth!”

“A monk has to master the art of equivocation,” Gu Qing Feng joked. “One has to be able to toe the line between honesty and deception. Not true, not quite a lie!”

Yin Xian suddenly patted Lu Xiao Feng on the shoulder again.

“Actually, you’d do well to learn a little something from him,” he joked. “Tell a couple of half truths once in a while, maybe even lie once or twice.”

“Pity that every time I lie I get cramps and gas.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

Yin Xian stared at him incredulously.

“Really?”

“No!”

______________________________

The meditation chamber was actually filled with people. Everyone of them sitting neatly, quietly, and solemnly in their rows, like a room of nice and obedient students waiting for the class bell. Of course, they were not children, nor were they particularly nice.

Lu Xiao Feng have seen them before, every single one of them. These people have followed Li Yan Bei on his hour long morning walk every day since the day “Golden Sabre” Feng Kun was tossed into the frozen river, no one dared to miss one session. But from this day forth, none of them will have to ever take that walk again.

--Just you today?

--They all have their own business to take care of today!

Turned out this was what they had to take care of.

“Well sitting here is definitely more comfortable than walking around,” Lu Xiao Feng let out a little laugh and declared. “But be careful, sit around too much and you’ll get a belly, and that’s not necessarily a sign of good fortune.”

Every one of their heads lowered in shame, one in particular was lower than everybody else.

“Gan’er Zhao,” Gan Zheng Wo. Seeing him, Lu Xiao Feng was immediately reminded of that white horse, that corpse on the horse, and that proud youth Yan Ren Ying.

“How did he die? Where did the horse come from?” Lu Xiao Feng wanted to ask, but could not. This was not the right time, nor the right place.

If it was anybody else, the best thing would be to completely ignore him and pretend as if nothing was happening. But Lu Xiao Feng was not anybody else.

Gu Qing Feng was just enjoying his wine when Lu Xiao Feng suddenly charged out and grabbed Gan’er Zhao by his collar.

“Now I got you! I finally found you!” He shouted. “Let’s see how you are going to get away now!”

Everybody was shocked, nobody had a clue what was happening. The person who was most shocked was, of course, Gan’er Zhao. He could not figure out for the life of him what was going on.

Gu Qing Feng wanted to step in and mediate, the Wooden Taoist was just about to speak up to calm everyone down. But Lu Xiao Feng pre-empted any such attempts from them by declaring with a stone face: “I have a score to settle with this guy, a score that I have to settle. When I’m done, I’ll be back to enjoy the wine with everyone. If anyone should try and stop me....”

He did not finish his sentence, nor did he need to finish. Nobody wanted to get on the wrong side of Lu Xiao Feng over someone like Gan’er Zhao. In front of all these people, Lu Xiao Feng was actually able to drag Gan’er Zhao out the door, out of the Outlook, and all the way into a nearby wood.

The sun had already risen, risen high in the sky, today was another good day. But it was still dark inside the woods. Sunlight peered through the canopy and straight down onto Gan’er Zhao’s face.

Gan’er Zhao’s face was already pale as death from fear.

“What... what could I have possibly done to offend the Great Hero Lu?” He stammered.

“Nothing,” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly let go and smiled. “And no old scores either, none what so ever.”

Gan’er Zhao was shocked for the second time. But at least a little color had returned to his face.

“So all of this was just a joke?”

“It’s not a very good joke I’m afraid; actually, it’s probably worse than the joke they just played on me.”

“No, not a very good joke,” Gan’er Zhao sighed in relief and laughed along. “But at least it’s better than ‘not a joke’!”

Lu Xiao Feng’s demeanor suddenly darkened again.

“Although sometimes jokes can turn into something deadly serious!” He coldly observed.

Gan’er Zhao wiped some of the cold sweat off of his forehead.

“If I have found some information that the Great Hero Lu has instructed me to find, would the joke change?”

“No,” Lu Xiao Feng laughed. “Not a chance!”