Zhang Wuji blushed profusely, “Even a parrot knew,” he thought.
He saw the chairs in that room were padded with embroidered cushions; the charcoal fire was raging, warming the room so that it felt like spring. There was a small incense burner on the table. The girl turned around and left, but a short moment later returned with a tray of six different fruits and a pot of green tea. She slowly poured the tea and handed it over to Zhang Wuji; and she actually pinched his wrist gently.
Zhang Wuji frowned; “How could the girl be this frivolous?” he thought. If Zhou Zhiruo saw them, wouldn’t she be offended? Thereupon he asked, “Where is Xie Laoye [old master Xie]? Where is Miss Zhou?”
The girl laughed, “Why are you looking for Xie Laoye? Are you jealous? What if my Jiejie came in and saw your expression? Look at you, you don’t have any conscience; you come to our place, yet in your heart you keep thinking about some Miss Zhou and Miss Wang.”
Zhang Wuji was startled, “”What kind of nonsense are you talking about?” he asked. That girl only pursed her lips, smiled and left the room.
A moment later, he heard the tinkling noise of bracelets. The curtain was lifted open, the girl returned, holding the hand of a woman around twenty one or twenty two of age. Her skin was snowy white, her face was quite beautiful with arched eyebrows and a grain of mole on the right corner of her mouth. She glanced at him gracefully, and smiled before she said anything. Her figure was elegant, and she welcomed him in a charming manner. Zhang Wuji felt a rich fragrance assailing his nostrils; he was really uncomfortable.
That woman said, “Xiang Gong [honorable master], what is your precious surname? Today you have come to pay me a visit, Xiao Nuzi [little/lowly girl, referring to herself] feels very honored.” As she was speaking, her left hand landed on Zhang Wuji’s shoulder.
Zhang Wuji blushed profusely and tried to evade. “My humble surname is Zhang,” he said, “Is there a gentleman by the surname of Xie and a lady by the surname of Zhou in here?”
The woman smiled and said, “This is the ‘li xiang yuan’ [fragrance peach courtyard]; if you are looking for Zhou Xianxian, she lives at ‘bi tao ju’ [jade-green peach residence]. Are you so infatuated by that girl that you lost your mind and looking for Zhou Xianxian at the ‘li xiang yuan’? Hee hee …!”
Suddenly it dawned on Zhang Wuji that this place was a brothel. “Please forgive me,” he said. Quick as a flash he slipped out the door.
The girl pursued him and called out, “Gongzi, in what way my Jiejie is inferior to Zhou Xianxian? Aren’t you going to sit down even for a moment?”
Zhang Wuji repeatedly shook his hand; he fished out the silver ingot he took from the casino and tossed it to the ground, while flying out the gate. His mind was so troubled that he was not able to calm himself for a long time.
By this time, it was already dark. He was afraid he might miss the blazing fire signs along the way; therefore, he decided to find an inn to spend the night, while his heart was filled with disquieting thoughts. “Why did Yifu go to the casino and to the brothel? There must be a profound meaning behind all these actions, but what is it?” Sleeping to the middle of the night, he suddenly awakened, “Yifu is blind, how could he leave so many clear markings along the way? Could it be that Zhiruo was by his side giving him directions? Or could it be that the enemy deliberately faking our Cult signs to play a trick on me? Are they trying to lure me into ambush? Humph, entering the dragon’s pool or the tiger’s lair, I’ll have to get to the bottom of this good or bad.”
Early the next morning, he saw another blazing fire outside Fengrun’s city gate, the sign was still pointing to the west. By following the sign, he arrived at Yutian [still another city in Hebei] around noon. Now the sign pointed toward a large house of a rich family. There were lanterns hung on the gate; seemed like the family was celebrating a joyous occasion. The lanterns were adorned with red characters ‘zhi zi yu gui’ [ 之子于归 – I don’t know how to translate this, the dictionary gives me ‘marry/wedding’]; apparently, their daughter was getting married. The sound of music and the noise of guests filled the air. Zhang Wuji had learned his lesson; he did not rush in to ask Xie Xun’s whereabouts, instead, he mingled with the guests to observe. But since he did not see anything unusual, he went out to look for another sign, and he did indeed find one on the trunk of a big tree nearby.
The blazing fire sign took him from Yutian to Sanhe, and then he was directed to the south until he arrived at Xianghe. By this time he was starting to have a thought, “Most likely the Beggar Clan is already aware that I am on their trails, therefore, they play the ‘luring the tiger from the mountain’ trick to get me as far away as possible, so that they can proceed with their shady evil business.”
Although he was anxious, he did not dare to stop following the blazing fire signs fearing that it was really Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo who left them. “Supposing they were running away from strong enemies, and left these signs along the way with the hope that I will find and save them, but because I think I am smart, I return to Lulong, what if Yifu and Zhiruo finally die? Things have come this far, I have no choice but keep following these signs until everything comes to light.”
From Xianghe to Baocheng, toward Dabaizhuang, Panzhuang, and then turning to southeast, toward Ninghe [a city in Tianjin], from here the blazing fire vanished without any trace; Zhang Wuji could not find any more signs. He explored the city of Ninghe, but did not see anything unusual. “It was definitely the Beggar Clan who led me over here, causing me to lose several days running around in vain.” Thereupon he bought a horse to return to Lulong, and then at the second hand clothing store he found a white long gown. Borrowing a pen and some red ink, he drew a large blazing fire on the white gown; having determined to face the Beggar Clan head-on as the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult.
Wearing the white gown, he went to the rich man’s mansion in big strides. The main gate was a pair of huge red double-doors, which were tightly closed at that time. The shiny copper nails on the doors were the size of the mouth of a cup. Zhang Wuji pushed with both of his palms. ‘Crash!’ the huge double-doors flew up and landed in the middle of the courtyard. A series of resounding ‘Bing! Bing! Bang! Bang!’ sounds were heard as two large goldfish vats were smashed.
On top of his concern over Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo’s safety these past few days, he felt that he was a victim of some practical joke, which made him going in circles around the Hebei province; he needed to vent up his frustration. This time coming back to the Beggar Clan headquarters, he was determined to confront them once and for all. As he split the gate open, he walked in big strides and shouted in a thunderous voice, “Beggar Clan people, hear me: have Shi Huolong come out and see me.”
There were around a dozen four and five-pouch Beggar Clan disciples standing in the courtyard; they were already shocked when the gate suddenly flew in, now they saw a young man wearing white robe breaking in, some seven, eight people immediately shouted almost simultaneously and blocked this unwelcome guest, “Who are you?” “What do you want?”
Zhang Wuji raised both of his arms, a successive ‘slam, slam’ noise was heard as he struck the seven, eight Beggar Clan disciples, sending them flying toward a row of windows. Passing the courtyard, he went straight to the main hall. ‘Bang!’ he smashed the door to the hall, and saw a banquet table in the middle of the room, with Shi Huolong sitting on the head of the table.
As soon as the leaders of the Beggar Clan heard the loud commotion on the entrance, they immediately sent someone to investigate. But Zhang Wuji was so fast that as that seven-pouch disciple was hurrying outside, he met him halfway. With one hack Zhang Wuji grabbed his chest and threw him toward Shi Huolong.
The rich-looking host was sitting a few seats away from the head of the table. As he saw the seven-pouch disciple flying towards the banquet table, he stretched out his arms and caught the flying man. He felt the incoming force was earth shattering so he immediately launched the ‘qian jin zhui’ [a thousand-catty drop] to steady himself. To his surprise, ‘bang, bang, bang’ he was forced to repeatedly take seven, eight steps backward and did not stop until his back was against a large pillar. Loosening up his grip, he let the seven-pouch disciple down on the floor. He panted heavily, his body weakened, and he dropped to the floor right in front of that large pillar.
The crowd of beggars witnessed this scene with amazement. Right at that moment, they heard Zhang Wuji exclaim; he was both astonished and delighted, because he saw sitting on that round table, to the left of the head of the table, was a young woman, who was none other than Zhou Zhiruo. And the man who was sitting next to her was Song Qingshu.