Hua Sigu arranged the dishes on the table and Miss Tan tucked in, not paying attention to anyone else.
“Black Tiger” Tao Hong stumbled inside, covered with a thin layer of mud from head to toe. He was burning with rage, but he knew the girl was ten times more skilled than he was, and if he overstepped his bounds again he would eat even more s.h.i.t.
He couldn't fight her, but he had a rather smart mouth on him!
He looked at Miss Tan and clenched his teeth. “Alright, you slu—” He was going to say “s.l.u.t”, but then he remembered what happened last time he said that and swallowed his words.
“We'll just wait and see—wait and see! Hmph!” Then he lurched up the stairs.
Miss Tan didn't even look at him, just kept eating with her head down.
“The Next Lü Bu” Ge Xuesong, though, couldn't sit still. He walked right over to Miss Tan.
Miss Tan set down her chopsticks and c.o.c.ked her head to the side, looking at him. She said icily, “I knew when I hit him that you wouldn't be able to remain seated. Okay!”
She stood up and shook off her red fox-fur cloak, her sharp, pretty eyes staring daggers right at Ge Xuesong, looking as if she might go off at the slightest provocation.
Ge Xuesong cupped a hand over his fist, smiling. “Miss Tan, don't misunderstand, I have no intention of fighting you. It's just that my friend there is not a bad guy, he just lost his head a bit and went shooting his mouth off.”
“I know that!” Miss Tan laughed icily. “So I made an exception and went easy on him, couldn't you tell?”
Ge Xuesong nodded. “I could tell.”
“Then what did you come over here for?”
Ge Xuesong blushed and he stammered, “When I saw you fighting with my friend just now, you were quite impressive. It looked like you were using the internal force skill ‘1,000 Catty Touch'. I just wondered if I was correct?”
Miss Tan gave a slight nod. “So there really is an expert in such a small place, a rarity. What of it?”
Ge Xuesong smiled. “You sent my big, heavy friend flying with just the chopsticks in your hand. You must have practiced the consummate ‘Faithful Daughter' skill, right?”
Miss Tan looked him over and smiled coldly.
Ge Xuesong stepped forward and laughed. “I, Ge Xuesong, have been fond of fighting every since I was little, and I've studied martial arts a few years. Seeing you in action makes me itch to spar with you, Miss. Just to verify your skills, not anything rude, not in a million years. I wonder if Miss would be willing to enlighten me with your pointers?”
Zuo Dahai knew all along that Ge Xuesong knew real martial arts, but he had never seen him in action.
He was surprised to see him now in such a hurry to spar with Miss Tan.
Both sides meant a great deal to his business. It would really not be good if there was a fight——
He hurried over and grabbed Ge Xuesong by the arm. “Brother, why so serious, Miss Tan is no outsider, come, come…”
Ge Xuesong pushed his hand away and laughed heartily. “Manager, relax, I'm just a businessman. Even though I'm daring, I would never dare offend Elder Tan's precious daughter. Besides, Miss Tan is ten times the martial artist I am. Manager, what are you worried about?”
Miss Tan broke in with a sneer, “Ge, you're the one who said it, you'll be eating it in a moment. Don't blame me for not going easy on you!”
Ge Xuesong said, “Miss, have pity on me!”
Miss Tan's big eyes scanned the dining room. There weren't many people here, no more than a dozen including the traveler and the a.s.sistants——The long-robed traveler sitting in the north corner by the window was still brooding in his drink by himself as before, paying no attention to what had happened. Everyone else, though, had their eyes glued, eagerly waiting for the show!
……Many years ago, Miss Tan had beat up two horse thieves around the rear of her premises to help right an injustice. Later, the thieves had come back with help, and had it not been for Old Master Tan's personal involvement, cutting off the ears of the head thief, “Fei Jiaotian” to scare the rest of them off, who knows what would have happened!
After that, Old Master Tan severely punished his daughter and grounded her for half a year, not allowing her to go out, and he strictly forbade her from flippantly showing off her martial arts skill, or else he was really going to let her have it!
Miss Tan had remembered that incident well. Of course she wouldn't forget…
She furtively eyed the door, but when no one appeared she got a little more nerve.
I'll just show him a thing or two, then I'll stop. I'm sure he won't go making trouble at home!
With that thought, she glanced sidelong at Ge Xuesong and nodded. “Okay. However you want to do it!”
Ge Xuesong ripped off his beaver pelt coat with one hand and whipped it out at Miss Tan's head.
Miss Tan merely reached out and grabbed the end of the coat, and with a twist of her delicate wrist, Ge Xuesong's foot gave a little and he almost lost his grip on his coat. But after all, he was no third-rate n.o.body. He raised the qi in his dantian and set his feet and now he stood rooted.
Now they could test their real strength.
They pulled the beaver pelt coat taut between them, and with their internal force concentrated on it, that beaver pelt coat, which was already tough and durable, was even stiffer now, like a steel post.
Ge Xuesong was confident his “Boy Skill” was sufficiently advanced to use that fur coat with all he had to defeat his opponent's “Faithful Daughter” skill and win back a little bit of face that “Black Tiger” Tao Hong had lost.
Little did he know that this daughter of the Tan family had been instructed in everything her doting father knew, and that aside from her “Faithful Daughter Skill”, she also knew “Esoteric Simple Girl Arts”, which made this seemingly pampered daughter a top, first-rate martial artist of the wulin.
“The Next Lü Bu” Ge Xuesong didn't notice it at first, but as soon as they locked horns he could feel that something was wrong——
In the blink of an eye his face was red and shaking, his eyes bulging in rage so much they looked like they might roll out of his head.
A moment later and Ge Xuesong's long hair was quivering and before you knew it, it was sticking out straight like a hedgehog.
Miss Tan's face broke out in the merest thread of a smile.
Ge Xuesong began sweating.
There were not a few people watching, but the way the two were competing was puzzling to them all.
Manager Zuo Dahai didn't know the particulars of their compet.i.tion, but he could see it was a close battle of incredible internal force, and from the looks of it, Ge Xuesong was at a clear disadvantage. He knew internal force was mostly a matter of qi circulating through one's body, and that if one could not control it, it would be hard to keep it from traveling to the Mysterious Gate of the upper dantian, and it was not uncommon for one to die on the spot.
As he watched, he couldn't help but break out in a cold sweat for Ge Xuesong.
Miss Tan had a slight sneer on her face. She suddenly flicked her hand that was holding the coat and Ge Xuesong's body began to sway. His looming defeat was becoming more and more obvious!
It looked as if the headstrong daughter, in her wholehearted effort to win, did not care whether Ge Xuesong was injured or not.
As everyone watched with bated breath as the line between victory and defeat became clear between the two, no one was paying any attention to the traveler named Sang in the north corner——
He brought his foot from off the table and down onto the floor, and the moment his foot touched the floor, Ge Xuesong, who already seemed to be tottering, suddenly jolted and regained his footing!
Ge Xuesong's hedgehog spiky hair suddenly fell back to hanging down like normal.
Then, the traveler Sang's other foot came down and Miss Tan's face froze——
She was worthy of being called a first-rate internal force master. As soon as she felt things going south she let go, all five fingers releasing as she twisted around and spun free, then moved ten feet or so back.
She snorted and looked over at Zuo Dahai with sharp, surprised eyes.
Her gaze shifted to Hua Sigu.
Then shifted again, and again——
Finally resting on the long-robed traveler in the north corner named Sang, who was in the process of throwing another drink down his gullet.
“Hey——” Miss Tan shouted at him.
Then in a flash like a red cloud she whisked over and was standing in front of the long-robed traveler.
Sang slowly raised his pretty, somewhat sickly looking face and sized her up woodenly.
Miss Tan's taut, tender face inexplicably reddened. It was strange, ever since she had first laid eyes on him he had given her a very odd impression——
She couldn't say what the feeling was, but in any case the feeling this person gave her was that he was not an ordinary person. The rage she had been filled with earlier vanished without a trace as soon as she looked into his gloomy, mysterious eyes.
He continued looking straight at her, waiting for her to blow up, but Miss Tan had already softened.
But she had to say something. She looked him up and down, from his fastidious apparel to his refined bearing, and she said flatly, “I called to you, didn't you hear?”
“I hear you now.” His tone was icy. “Are you always so rude when talking to strangers?”
“Who are you?…… What are you doing?”
“I am I!” He slowly got to his feet as he spoke. He bowed slightly. “Miss, please have a seat.”
Miss Tan hmphed. “Was it you playing tricks just now when I was competing with that person?”
The long-robed man said, “Miss, I don't know what you're talking about.”
His melancholy eyes briefly scanned the room and everyone in it. He smiled. “I've been sitting here the whole time, I never got up. How could I play any tricks?”
Everyone nodded unconsciously, agreeing with what he'd said. At least anyone with eyes could agree on that!
“What is your family name?”
“Sang, like mulberry tree, that Sang.”
“What are you doing here?”
Miss Tan looked around with her marvelous eyes. “Where are they?”
He pointed to the baggage roll on the table. “They're right here, aren't they?”
Miss Tan eyed the baggage roll. She found it laughable, but her anger melted away.
“What have you got in there?”
“Miss, are you a buyer?”
“I was just asking, that's all!”
“Then I'm sorry, but I can't tell you right now.”
“Hmph——” Miss Tan gave her whip a good snap and turned and walked away. Everyone's eyes remained glued on her.
She walked right over to Zuo Dahai and stood before him. The latter looked stunned. He stammered, “Miss… what can I do for you?”
“What's that person's name?”
“Uh… I'm not sure, I only know his family name. I'll go ask him right now——”
He headed toward Sang.
“Forget it!” Miss Tan said.
“Alright, Miss!” Zuo Dahai seemed completely obedient to this young lady.
“The day after tomorrow, in the evening,” Miss Tan said, a bit angrily, “my father will be having guests over. Manager Zuo, are you coming?”
“Yes yes yes!” Zuo Dahai laughed. “Your family has guests over every year, I've never missed it. This time of course will be no different!”
“This time it will be a bit different than usual.”
“This time my father has invited all the fur traders at your establishment to come. Mr. Hu will deliver the invitations tomorrow. Mr. Sang, you are also invited.”
All the fur traders present beamed, looking forward to the prospect of attaching themselves to Old Master Tan. Doing business directly with him was no easy feat as it was, it was quite the honor and quite the rare treat for Tan to take the initiative and invite them over.
But Zuo Dahai looked a bit disappointed.
Zuo Dahai had always enjoyed Tan's favor alone, he hid the sky with one hand, Old Master Tan only doing business with him. Exchanging silver that way was very beneficial to him, but it looked like that was all coming to an end.
He was utterly despondent, but he would never let it show on his face. He answered, “Alright——”
The long-robed traveler cupped a hand over his fist. “Miss, you're too kind. In fact the reason I came here was to make a deal with your father. There's no way I'd pa.s.s up your invitation!”
Miss Tan turned around——the anger she had built up earlier had already disappeared, and now her eyes and brows shone with geniality.
“I'm inviting you on behalf of my father! Mr. Sang, I wonder if you could tell me your name?”
“I'm Sang Nanpu.”
“Mr. Sang! Are you proficient in martial arts?”
“I only know a little.”
Miss Tan's beautiful eyes roamed all over him. “Excuse me for my impertinence. I'll see you the day after tomorrow!”
She turned and walked out. On her way, she dropped an ingot of silver on her table and whisked out the door in a red blur. Then came the neigh of her rouge steed.
Ge Xuesong, who had been rooted to his spot for so long, waited until Miss Tan was gone, then he chuckled and went back to his seat.
“Brother!” Zuo Dahai asked, “What was all that just now?”
Ge Xuesong shook his head with a wry smile. “I don't know myself——someone surrept.i.tiously lent me a hand!”
As he said this he couldn't help but look at Sang. He stood and raised his cup and said loudly, “Mr. Sang, would you have a drink with me?”
Sang Nanpu stood and cupped his hand over his fist with a smile. “Strangers meeting by chance should not disturb one another. I've come a long way and am tired. I'd like to rest. I beg your pardon!”
He took up his baggage roll and leather bag and was about to leave when a.s.sisant Manager Xu Li greeted him. “Master Sang, I've got a single room for you! Follow me!”
Sang Nanpu nodded. “Thank you.”
Xu Li went to take his bags for him, but Mr. Sang wouldn't let go of them. They fought over them for a time, then Xu Li gave up and led the way.
“Fiery-eyed Diamond” Zuo Dahai gave Ge Xuesong a look, then suddenly sprang to his feet. Being the closest to the stairs, he got there in a flash and blocked Mr. Sang's way.
“Mr. Sang, you're too modest, how can we let our guests carry their own bags?”
Zuo Dahai reached for the leather bag in Sang Nanpu's left hand and tried to rip it away.
He wanted to get a feel for Sang's martial arts ability, so he thought to use both hands and pull with all his might. With all ten fingers giving her all she was worth he could lift 1,000 catties, so surely a little leather bag would be no sweat?
But evidently this was not the case!
As soon as Zuo Dahai's hands touched the leather bag, Sang Nanpu looked up and smiled. “Manager——You flatter me!”
His left hand holding the leather bag lowered toward Zuo Dahai. It looked like he really wanted to hand it over to Manager Zuo, but Manager Zuo was having trouble taking it.
Someone of Zuo Dahai's martial arts ability, who thought himself incredibly strong, was still unable to manage this little leather bag. When Sang Nanpu's bag lowered into Zuo Dahai's hand, he suddenly felt that bag, which was not even three feet across, weighed a c.r.a.p ton!
Such a hefty force suddenly plunked into Zuo Dahai's hands made him stagger and there was an enormous crack as the wooden board he was standing on split and Zuo Dahai's right foot went through——
Mr. Sang laughed. “Careful!”
His right hand, which had the baggage roll under his arm, reached out to Zuo Dahai and pulled him back and straightened him up.
Zuo Dahai's face sank and he looked Sang Nanpu up and down like he was looking at a ghost.
Mr. Sang was smiling. “Your stairs are in want of repair, you ought to install new ones!”
He bowed slightly to Zuo Dahai and headed up the stairs by himself. a.s.sistant Manager Xu Li saw the look on Manager Zuo's face and stopped and looked at him.
Zuo Dahai shook his head. “It's nothing, go see to Mr. Sang, don't neglect him now!”
Xu Li followed orders and went up after him. Zuo Dahai then turned around slowly. His wife, “Black Hornet” Hua Sigu and the fur traders were looking at him with their raised eyebrows.
He looked down closely at the busted step. There was a hole right in the middle of the three-finger thick plank.
Zuo Dahai chuckled. “This wood is rotted, it's no good!”
He bent down and ripped the plank up and tossed it out the nearby window, as if he didn't want anyone to see it.
Hua Sigu knew what had happened, but she couldn't very well ask her husband about it to his face.
Zuo Dahai went back to the middle table. There was only Ge Xuesong there now, still drinking.
“Manager, what's wrong, did something happen?”
Zuo Dahai rubbed his face. “The saying that there's always someone out there better is absolutely true!”
Ge Xuesong nodded and sneered. “That guy is hiding his true ability. Manager, what do you think he's up to?”
“If I wanted to know I wouldn't have lost face!”
“You didn't learn anything?”
“Is that necessary?” Zuo Dahai took a swig of liquor and stuffed a hunk of meat in his mouth. “Just worry about your furs, I'll worry about my business. Outsider affairs are none of our concern. If the sky falls I'll prop it up myself. No need for us to worry about it!”
“But——” Ge Xuesong frowned. “That guy is also in the fur trading business!”
“Let him worry about himself, hmph——What do we care?”
“You're right! It's just… He who comes, comes with ill-intent. Ice River Town is a little pond, it can't support such a big fish!
“Relax!” Zuo Dahai looked around. When he saw no one was around, he lowered his voice. “For every mountain there's a taller mountain. That Sang fellow is incredible, but that man across the way is no slouch!”
“You mean Old Master Tan?”
“Hmph! Wait and see!”
“If he really came for Tan, now that I want to see!”
Ge Xuesong started with a jerk, as if he were just now remembering the dangerous encounter he'd just had with Miss Tan——
“Old Master Tan really ought to show himself! For going on ten years or more now he's been holed up, probably moldy by now, I mean it——” There was mystery in Ge Xuesong's voice. “What's someone as skilled as he is so worried about?”
“Brother!” Zuo Dahai said icily, “When it comes to fur trading I'm no match for you, but if you want to talk jianghu experience, you're a bit lacking——”
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