In a low voice Peng Yingyu said to Zhang Wuji, “The speaker is ‘Zui Bu Si’, Situ Qianzhong. This person is carefree; I heard he doesn’t have any master, does not take any disciple, does not belong to any school or society, and very seldom engage in battle. Nobody knows the detail of his martial art skill. His tone is always cold and condescending, but oftentimes right on target.”
They heard about seven, eight people in the audience say, “His words make sense. Would Shaolin Pai please take the Tulong Saber out for everybody to see?”
“The Tulong Saber is not in our humble Temple,” Kong Zhi slowly said, “In all my life, Lao Na has never seen it. I am not even sure if such saber indeed exists in the world.”
As soon as the crowd of heroes heard this, they broke into murmurs; the field was suddenly bustling with noise. The attendees were originally thinking that other than about Tulong Saber, this assembly did not have anything else of great importance. Who would have thought that Kong Zhi would flatly deny the possession of the Saber? Everybody felt strange.
The nine old monks standing behind Kong Zhi were all wearing red kasayas. After the commotion in the audience subsided, one of the nine monks took two steps forward and with a loud voice said, “The Tulong Saber was originally in Xie Xuns hands; however, when our humble Sect captured him, the Saber was no longer in his possession. Our temple’s Fangzhang realizes that this is an important matter of the Wulin world; therefore, he immediately launched an investigation. Xie Xun is stubborn and arrogant; he is unwilling to tell us the truth. Today’s great assembly of heroes, first of all, is to discuss how we are going to handle Xie Xun. Secondly, we want to inquire if any of the heroes has heard anything about the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts. Whoever has any information is invited to speak up.”
The crowd of heroes looked at each other; nobody opened his mouth. Again, the ‘Zui Bu Si’ Situ Qianzhong, with his sad and high-pitched voice said, “For the last hundred of years, there is a saying in the martial art world, ‘the most revered in the Wulin world, precious Saber slaughtering the dragon (Tu Long), ruling under the Heaven, nobody dares to disobey. Yitian (relying on Heaven) does not appear, who can match its sharpness?’ Other than the Tulong Saber, there is the Yitian Sword. I heard this Yitian Sword was originally in the hands of Emei Pai, but after the battle of the western region’s Brightness Peak, nobody knew its whereabouts. Just because today’s meeting is called the Heroes’ Assembly, could it be that the Emei Pai’s heroines refuse to come?” As the people heard his last sentence they broke into boisterous laughter.
[Translator’s note: ‘ying xiong’ – hero, where the ‘xiong’ character can also mean ‘male’ (mostly used to refer to male animal), so literally, ‘ying xiong’ means ‘brave male’. Situ Qianzhong used the characters ‘ying ci’ – ‘brave female (animal)’. By calling the Emei Pai heroines as ‘ying ci’, he was not being complimentary (He would have used ‘nu-xia’ if he wanted to be courteous).]
Amidst the loud laughter, a monk in charge of guest reception made an announcement in loud voice, “The Beggar Clan’s Shi Bangzhu, has arrived accompanied by various Zhanglao and various disciples.”
As he heard the word ‘Shi Bangzhu’ three characters, Zhang Wuji was greatly surprised. “The Beggar Clan’s Shi Huolong had died long ago under Yuan Zhen’s hands,” he thought, “How come there is another Shi Bangzhu?”
“Please!” Kong Zhi responded. The Beggar Clan was the biggest clan in Jianghu, so it was only proper for him to welcome them personally.
They saw a large group of people walk towards the open field in quick pace. There were approximately 150 men, all in rags and tattered clothes. The Beggar Clan’s prestige has been in decline in the last several years, but just like a centipede that moves even after it dies, it had not become placid; the Beggar Clan still has an enormous power in the Jianghu. The crowd of heroes did not dare to despise them; most of them stood up to show their respect.
The ones in the front were two elderly beggars. Zhang Wuji recognized them as Chuan Gong Zhanglao and Zhi Fa Zhanglao. Behind these two old beggars was an ugly girl of twelve, thirteen years; her nose curved upward, her mouth was wide, revealing two big front teeth. She was none other than Shi Huolong’s daughter, Shi Hongshi. In her hand was the Beggar Clan’s symbol of authority, the Dog Beating Stick. Behind Shi Hongshi walked Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhang Bo Longtou, followed by eight-pouch elders, seven-pouch disciples, and six-pouch disciples. It looked like the lowest ranking disciples within the Beggar Clan contingent this time were the six-pouch disciples.
As Kong Zhi saw the one holding the Dog Beating Stick was a little girl, he hesitated; he was not sure which one was the Clan Leader and thus was not sure to whom he should speak, but he was obliged to respond. Therefore, clasping his palms, he said without addressing anybody in particular, “The monks of Shaolin respectfully welcome the warriors of the Beggar Clan.”
Together, the Beggar Clan warriors cupped their fists to return the propriety. Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Our humble Clan’s former Shi Bangzhu was unfortunate and has return to Heaven. The elders have voted to elect Shi Bangzhu’s daughter, Miss Shi Hongshi to be Bangzhu. This lady is therefore our Clan’s new Bangzhu.” He pointed toward Shi Hongshi.
Kong Zhi and the crowd of warriors were taken aback. They remembered the saying in the Jianghu, ‘Ming Jiao, Gai Bang, Shaolin Pai’. Within the ‘jiao’ [cults, religions], Ming Cult was the leader; within the world’s ‘bang hui’ [clans and societies], the Beggar Clan held the place of honor; within the ‘men pai’ [martial art schools and sects], Shaolin Pai was the number one. The Ming Cult had elected a twenty-year-old young man, Zhang Wuji as their Jiaozhu; already people were clucking their tongues in amazement. And now the Beggar Clan pushed this little girl to be their Bangzhu? If it did not come from a Zhanglao’s [elder] mouth, nobody would believe it. In the past, Huang Rong was also a young girl when she took over the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu position. Although it was a good precedent, at that time Huang Rong was several years older compared to this little girl.
Kong Zhi did not lack any courtesy in his surprise. He clasped his palms and said, “Shaolin disciple Kong Zhi pays his respect to Shi Bangzhu.”
Shi Hongshi bowed down to return the propriety; she seemed to mumble something, but nothing came out of her mouth. Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Our humble Clan’s Bangzhu is young. All businesses of the Clan are temporarily being handled by Xiongdi [brother, referring to self] and Zhi Fa Zhanglao, two people. Kong Zhi Shen Seng is more senior by far so you do not need to be overly courteous.”
After the two of them exchanged some modest pleasantries, the usher monk directed the Beggar Clan warriors to take their seats in one of the wooden shelters.
The Beggar Clan contingent was big, so it took half a day for all of them to be seated. Zhang Wuji noticed that the group of beggars was wearing mourning clothes; their faces carried grief and an indignation expression. The pouches on some of the disciples had things inside that were seemingly wriggling and moving. It was obvious that they came with some purpose in mind. Zhang Wuji smirked inwardly; he whispered to Yang Xiao, “We have some helpers.”
He saw Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa, two elders were escorting Shi Hongshi walk toward the Ming Cult’s shelter. Chuan Gong Zhanglao cupped his fists in salute and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, our humble Clan shares a large part of responsibility in Jin Mao Shi Wang falling into the enemy. Even if we have to lose our lives today, we must redeem our offense. Furthermore, we want to avenge our Shi Bangzhu’s death. The Beggar Clan, from top to bottom, is under Zhang Jiaozhu’s command.”
“I do not dare,” Zhang Wuji hastily returned the propriety.
Chuan Gong Zhanglao was speaking with his strong internal power that his words were loud and clear; obviously, he deliberately wanted everybody in that open field to hear. As he finished speaking, the numerous Beggar Clan disciples stood up together and said in loud voices, “Respectfully waiting for the Ming Cult Zhang Jiaozhu’s command; we will not refuse to go through the water or tread on the fire.”
The warriors were baffled, “Since when the Beggar Clan formed a life and death alliance with the Ming Cult?”
Other than very few people who seldom roamed the Jianghu, everybody knew that for the past many years, the Beggar Clan and the Ming Cult were always at each other’s throat. A few years ago, the Beggar Clan participated in the siege of the Brightness Peak. The casualties from both sides were very heavy in that one bloody battle alone. On their last attack against the Brightness Peak, almost all Beggar Clan warriors were annihilated. And now, Chuan Gong Zhanglao had openly declared that the entire Beggar Clan force was under Zhang Wuji’s command, and that they wanted to avenge their former Shi Bangzhu, everyone scratched their heads in confusion.