Holding Shi Hongshi’s hand, Chuan Gong Zhanglao said to Zhang Wuji, “Zhang Jiaozhu, would you please come into the inner hall to talk.”
The crowd of beggars respectfully stood on the side, opening up a way for Zhang Wuji to walk in. Zhang Wuji went into the hall and was seated as Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s honorable guest. Zhou Zhiruo sat next to him.
After asking the names of Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao and the others, Zhang Wuji said, “Cao Zhanglao, if my Yifu Jin Mao Shi Wang is with your honorable Clan, would you please have him come out to see me; if he is not, would you please tell me his whereabouts?”
Chuan Gong Zhanglao heaved a deep sigh and said, “That traitor Chen Youliang has played a trick on us, making the Beggar Clan ashamed to face the heroes of this world. As Zhang Jiaozhu has mentioned, it was indeed we who invited Xie Daxia [great hero Xie] and this Miss Zhou outside the Great Wall. Xie Daxia was sick and lost his consciousness on the bed. Without any fight we brought them both to this place. Five days ago in the evening, Xie Daxia suddenly struck dead our humble Clan disciples who happened to guard him, and then he escaped. The coffins of Beggar Clan disciples who died violently are still on the rear courtyard. If Zhang Jiaozhu does not believe me, you can go to the rear courtyard and see for yourself.”
Zhang Wuji could hear the sincerity in his words; besides, he had seen with his own eyes the corpses of the Beggar Clan disciples scattered around that second floor room the other night. Thereupon he said, “Cao Zhanglao has stated the fact, how can I dare not to believe?” And then he asked, “From Lulong going westward, there are signs used by my humble Cult people to communicate with each other, I thought they were left by our Cult brethrens; I wonder if your Clan has anything to do with it?”
Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “I am not sure if it was that fellow Chen Youliang’s doing, but to my shame, Xiongdi [brother] does not have any knowledge of it.”
Zhang Wuji nodded. He pondered a while and then he understood. “At the Brightness Peak that Cheng Kun was able to come and go as he pleased; obviously he knew our Cult’s signs. Since this man is not dead, the one who left the signs to deceive others must be him. But if my Yifu really fell into Cheng Kun’s hands …” Thinking to this point, sweats broke on his forehead. Calming himself down, he asked Shi Hongshi, “Little Sister, where does this Yang Jiejie live? Did you know her previously?”
Shi Hongshi shook her head, “I did not know her. After Father died, Mama took me, taking Father’s bamboo stick along, riding on a cart for many days. And then we did not ride the cart anymore, but climbing the mountain instead. Mama could not walk anymore, she took a rest. And then she crawled on the ground. And then we got to the outside of a forest. Mama called out several times. And then Xiao Jiejie [‘little’ elder sister] wearing black came out. After that Yang Jiejie came out. She asked Mama many questions. And then she took the bamboo stick and left for half a day. Afterwards Mama passed out. And then Yang Jiejie took me, she also took eight Xiao Jiejie wearing black and wearing white. We rode on a cart and came here.”
She was too young and did not understand much; when asked about the place, the day and the time, she could not give any answer, there was not the least bit of useful information came out of her mouth.
Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Your precious Cult’s Master Han Shantong’s young master is still with us.” Turning around he gave some orders to a Beggar Clan disciple, who then left in a hurry.
Not too long afterwards, they heard Han Lin’er’s loud voice from the rear hall, cursing and scolding, “You are a bunch of stinky no-good beggars, you still want to deceive your father? Our Zhang Jiaozhu holds a highly respected position; how can he come to your stinky beggars’ lair? Hurry up, send your father to the western sky. Your sneaky evil plan won’t work against me.”
As the elders heard him, they all had ashamed look on their faces. Zhang Wuji respected Han Lin’er’s guts and his unyielding character; he stood up and rushed several steps forward. In big strides Han Lin’er angrily walked in from behind the wall. Zhang Wuji met him and said, “Han Dage [big brother Han], I am here. I am sorry that you have suffered these past few days.”
Han Lin’er was startled; in his extreme delight he knelt down immediately and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, you [orig. lao3ren2jia1 – Senior] are really here. Xiao Ren [little/lowly person – reference to self] is relieved. Please issue an order to wipe these stinky beggars out.”
With a smile on his face Zhang Wuji helped him up and said, “Han Dage, the Beggar Clan Elders have also fallen under other people’s sinister plot; there has been some misunderstanding. But everything is clear now, everybody becomes good friends. Looking at my face, I hope Han Xiongdi [brother Han] do not take any offense.”
Han Lin’er stood up, while giving Chuan Gong Zhanglao and the others a glowering look. He wanted to shout some abusive words to vent his anger, but since the Cult Leader had already told him so, he had no choice but trying hard to repress his anger.
“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “With your bright presence today, you have given our humble Clan the greatest honor. Quickly reset the banquet table! Everyone, first, we welcome Zhang Jiaozhu; second, we apologize to the Emei Pai’s Zhou Zhangmen [Sect Leader Zhou]; third, we apologize to Han Dage.” Before he even finished talking, several disciples had already carried out his order.
Zhang Wuji still had his Yifu’s safety hanging in his mind, plus he had many questions he would like to ask Zhou Zhiruo, therefore, he was not in the mood to eat and drink. Cupping his fists he said, “Your good intentions are highly appreciated, but I am anxious to find out about my Yifu. I will have to come back in the future to disturb you. Please excuse me.”
Chuan Gong Zhanglao and the others kept asking him to stay. Seeing their sincere invitation, Zhang Wuji thought that if he walked away, he would unavoidably offend the Beggar Clan. Therefore, he was obliged to stay and join the feast.
During the feast, the leaders of the Beggar Clan seriously reiterated their apology; they further promised to send the Beggar Clan disciples everywhere to inquire Xie Xun’s whereabouts, and to let the Ming Cult know as soon as they get any information. Zhang Wuji thanked them and from that day forward, he became friends with the ‘Zhanglao’s and ‘Longtou’s of the Beggar Clan. They drank to their hearts contents.
The Beggar Clan leaders noticed that Zhang Wuji was a young man highly skilled in martial arts, yet he was not arrogant, but generous and open-minded. Plus, he ardently made an effort to engage the Beggar Clan in the effort of driving the Tartars away. Everybody’s hearts were won over with respect and admiration. When Zhang Wuji left, they sent him off ten ‘li’s outside the city of Lulong, before bidding him goodbye.