An Old Busker from Hengshan, part 3

Once again, several people clamored for an explanation, all at once.

   “How is he taking the situation as a whole?”

   “What internal conflicts?”

   “Do they have problems between fellow apprentices?”

The short fat man began his explanation. “Outsiders all consider Master Liu the second best fighter in the Hengshan Sword School, but everybody in the Hengshan Sword School knows that Master Liu’s skill in the thirty-six moves of the Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword is far greater than the Head Master of Hengshan Sword School – Great Mr. Mo. Great Mr. Mo can pierce three wild geese with one thrust, but Master Liu can get five. All of the apprentices under Master Liu are better than those apprentices under Great Mr. Mo. The situation has become more and more tense. In a couple of years, Great Mr. Mo’s fame most likely will be eclipsed by that of Master Liu. I heard that the two factions have already fought a couple of times in secret. Master Liu has a large, wealthy family. He doesn’t want to compete with his senior apprentice brother for fame. That’s why he wants to wash his hands so he can just retire quietly to a life of peace and luxury.”

   “Most admirable!” many people declared, nodding. “Master Liu knows what’s important and what’s not. People like that are rare.”

   “Then Great Mr. Mo is really making a great mistake. Isn’t he weakening the power of his own Hengshan Sword School by forcing Master Liu to renounce the Martial World?” someone else asked.

    “How can one man figure everything out? All I want is to be the Head Master of the Sword School without challenge. Who the hell cares if the power is more or less?” the middle-aged man in silk sneered in imitation of Great Mr. Mo.

The short fat man took a couple of sips of tea and began banging the lid of the teapot loudly. “More tea, more tea!” he shouted. Then he said, “See, this is really a big event for the Hengshan Sword School. There are guests from every kind of school and clan, but the Hengshan Sword School itself….”

Before he could finish his sentence, someone near the door struck some chords on a huqin,25 and someone began to sing, “The poor Yang Family, showed great loyalty, protected…the Song Government….” The words were drawn out and sounded quite melancholic. Everybody turned around to look, and saw an old, tall, thin man sitting next to a table. His face looked haggard, and he was dressed in a long blue robe. The robe had been washed so many times that some parts looked more white than blue, making him look quite decrepit. He was obviously some kind of a begging performer.

   “Shut your devilish voice,” the short fat man yelled at him. “Don’t you know that you just cut me off?”

The old man stopped playing his huqin so loudly, but continued humming, “At the Golden Sand Beach…double dragons met…lost the battle….

   “Hey, buddy, you were just talking about all the schools and clans having sent people, so what about the Hengshan Sword School, itself?” someone asked.

   “The apprentices of Master Liu are greeting guests all over Hengshan town, but other than Master Liu’s apprentices, have you seen any other apprentices from Hengshan Sword School?” the short fat man continued.

The people in the crowd just looked at each other and their speculation turned into an indistinct buzz. “That’s right! How come we didn’t see any? But isn’t that a bit disrespectful to Master Liu?”

The short fat man grinned at the man in the silk robe. “That’s why I think you are just plain chicken; afraid to talk about the internal conflict in the Hengshan Sword School. What are you worried about? No one from the Hengshan Sword School is going to be here, so how are they going to hear about this?”

The sound of the huqin once again got louder and the tune changed. The old man began to sing again, “The young lad caused great trouble….

An Old Busker was asked to stop to annoy
An old busker was asked to stop to annoy

   “Stop annoying people,” a young man yelled at him. “Here’s some money!” He flicked his hand, and a bundle of copper coins flew over and landed right in front of the old man. The aim was very accurate. The old man thanked him and put the coins in his pocket. “

Hey, brother, you are a projectile expert! That throw was most excellent!” the short fat man exclaimed in praise.

   “It was nothing.” The young man smiled. “So brother, according to what you are saying, Great Mr. Mo is not showing up!”

   “How could he show up? The relationship between Great Mr. Mo and Master Liu is like that of water and fire. They’d start a fight the minute they saw each other. Master Liu has already given ground. Great Mr. Mo should be satisfied,” the short fat man said.

The old huqin player stood up suddenly, and walked slowly in front of the short fat man. He looked him up and down.

   “What do you want, old man?” the short fat man demanded in annoyance.

   “You are talking nonsense!” The old man shook his head then turned around and walked away.

Infuriated, the short fat man stuck his hand out to grab the old man by his scruff. Without warning, a light flashed in front of his eyes and the blade of a long thin sword flew toward the table. The sharp ring of the blade echoed. The short fat man was so astonished that he jumped back instinctively, afraid of being hurt by the sword. Then he saw the old man slowly insert the sword into the bottom of the huqin till the entire sword disappeared into the instrument. No one would have expected a sword to be hidden in an old huqin.  (To be continued)

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