(2) The past
Cao Hook and his confidantes of more than ten people staring at Duan Hunling, when he stepped into the White Tiger Hall. He quickly went to the front to greet Cao Hook, smiled and said: “The third master, I have tried these goods, they are all fine. The goods are fine, no problem.” Cao Hook leaned against the chair with his one foot stepped on the tiger’s head, slowly said: “Have you tried? How do you try? How do you know that there is no problem?”
Duan Hunling kept smiling, put the bamboo tube into the salt bag and said: “I have eaten it!”
Cao Hook coldly said: “Have you eaten it? How much have you eaten?”
Duan hunling immediately felt awkward with his unusual tone, replied eagerly: “I have tasted it.”
Cao Hook looked around his companions. Everyone sneered disdainfully. He then stood up and walked to the salt bags, pull out his golden rice hook, slammed it in the puffed bag to make a large hole. The snow-white salt granules was flowing on the ground, while he said: “You have eaten it? Is this much? or that much?”
Duan Hunling now realized that he deliberately embarrassed him, he looked at the floor and said: “No, not that much.”
Cao Hook blinked and said: “No? Then why did you tell me that there is no problem?”
Duan Hunling wanted to please Cao Hook, but he didn’t expect that he was so malicious. He has nothing to say.
Cao Hook seemed to be not yet unfinished, he wanted to humiliate him. He waved his golden rice hook, jeered: “You have to eat all of the salt, before you told me there is no problem! You have to be responsible, this is a big business, don’t you know that!” Then he laughed loudly while walking back to sit on his tiger’s head chair, and his expression was extremely dispiteful.
Duan Hunling was shocked, he looked up at him abruptly, unlikely he was joking at all. The people around him were already screaming and shouting: “Eat! Eat! Don’t you dare to eat?”
“He is just a porter, so expensive these official salt, can he afford to eat?”
“You are just hayseed, you don’t know the taste of salt. How could you say you have eaten! No problem! Haha!”
For a moment, everyone was watching whether brother Duan really would eat these salt. I stood aside, felt very sorry for him. I didn’t expect he really ate those salt. He grabbed a handful of salt put into his mouth without frowning. Everyone saw it, and was excited. They swarmed, cheered and screamed. Brother Duan didn’t change his face, or slowed down. He even used both hands to grab the salt. Big scoop of it, one after one put into his mouth and chewed. I didn’t know how much he ate, until he vomited and fainted on the ground. Brother Duan is a true man. In order to survive in the Qinglong Gang, he had to bear the humiliation. Finally he managed to gain the trust of Cao Hook. He took the opportunity to retaliate, he set him up, and replaced him. But good time didn’t last very long. He was eventually pull down by other stronger competitor. He was expelled from the Qinglong Gang and drifted to Luoyang. He happened to meet with me, Bai and Wuyan. The four of us were same being stumbling in the rivers and lakes. We then became sworn brothers, sworn to share blessing, or misfortune.
Weng poured two cups of wine before he continued: “Brother Duan later happened to save the Empress who was assassinated by the New Party. The Empress assigned him as a guardian in front of the court of Forbidden Palace. He then became a honorable man in the capital. After brother Duan was successful, he did not forget us. He immediately introduced us to the Empress. We finally changed our destiny from a street rat to respectful court guards. Brother Duan was really an earnest, compassionate man… ”
When Qiaqian heard about this, she couldn’t help but opposed, “What? earnest, compassionate? Are you kidding? He is going to kill me? I can’t agree with you.”
Weng smiled. “If brother Duan really wanted to kill you, do you think you still can live until now? Stupid!”
He somewhat sounded reasonable. Qianqian was giving in. Weng picked up the cup, said gently. “Brother Duan has a secret love hidden for decades. You are only a young girl, you will not understand. ”
After saying that, he finished his last cup and left.
Qianqian remembered that when she first met Duan hunling, he acted crazily when she mentioned the death of her mother. Is that this despicable villain has some secret love with my mother? When she thought of it, she fiercely shook her head: “Impossible, mother and father were lovers of fairy tale. Their love lasts forever, and Duan hunling is just a slutty villain who bully the weak!”
Qianqian didn’t want to think about it. She wanted to practice internal breathing quietly, but she couldn’t concentrate on it any more.
When they were passing the foot of Taibai Mountain, Duan hunling slowed down. Four horses was riding into the valley of wildflowers field. The fragrance of wildflowers attracted a few white butterflies, flying above the horse’s shoes. Bai looked at the white butterflies, and suddenly rode straight to the side of Qianqian, looked at her with a sinister smile. He was watching her green satin coat, embroidered with a stripe of willow leaf on the collar, that reminded him the night of Dongting in spring. He was intoxicated for a while before asked: “What about your pair of flying butterflies?”
Qianqian squinted at him, couldn’t understand what he meant. He didn’t say anything more, but just staring obsessively at her collars with some suggestion. Qianqian suddenly realized: “The day…the man on the shore of Dongting Lake was you!”
When this thought came to her mind, she was so terrified. She recalled what had happen that day. She was still ashamed, but Bai seemed proud of it, said. “Isn’t me? Who else do you think?” He smirked, then pull his horse away.
Qianqian was shocked. She now realized that she has wronged Teng Kuanrou. Everything about this person abruptly came back to her mind. The bitterness and sweetness, the tears and the smiles. It was only a year or more. He was like spring flowers after storm, stuck on the damp muddy path. She looked up the white clouds, the green peaks, she didn’t know where she was.
Duan hunling suddenly lifted his arm and shouted: “Go to the Baiyun Temple!” Then he pull his horse onto a narrow path along the road. Weng and Bai immediately followed. Qianqian was pulling by Weng, of course she had no choice but followed as well. Four of them rode their horses on the steep mountain trail in the breeze of evening. The shadows of the sun were sparse, and a bang of drum echoed from the distance. The Baiyun Temple, an ancient temple in the deep mountain, suddenly appeared in front of them.
When the four came to the Baiyun Temple, they saw a boy monk sweeping the stone steps leisurely, appeared to he has forever to do so. When he saw this four persons, he stopped and asked: “Are you going to the Baiyun temple to worship Budda?”
Duan hunling jumped down the horse, leaned forward to asked: “No, but, is the Master Zhitong here?”
The boy monk smiled and answered: “Oh! You are looking for our abbot? He went to Mount Lushan and has not returned yet!”
Duan Hunling was slightly disappointed, but still courteously said: “There are my brothers and sister, we were on our way to Kaifeng. I wonder if we could spend a night at the temple?”
Before the boy monk answered, someone suddenly shouted: “I am not his sister!”
The boy monk then turned to looked at this female donor who wears a black long cloak in the hot summer day. She looked no more than twenty years old. It was indeed a bit too young to be that donor’s sister. He nodded and looked at Duan hunling again. Duan slightly smiled only without comment. Bai explaned for him: “She is my wife, so my brother called her sister.”
The boy monk looked at this white-faced scholar and the female donor carefully again. They are more likely husband and wife. He then smiled and nodded, but the female donor shouted again: “No, I am not his wife, I am…” before she finished, Weng quickly interrupted: “She is my daughter! the niece of my eldest brother.”
The boy monk now was really confused. He touched his bald head, didn’t know what to say. The female donor seemed almost crying. she resolutely denied: “I… I have nothing related to them! I…” Qianqian was about to tell the truth, but when she saw Duan hunling was looking at her, she hesitated. She knew that she was actually a prisoner of the court. This little monk has nothing to do with it. They might hurt him if I got him involved, so she hold back.
Duan hunling saw that she was no longer talking nonsense, he turned to the boy monk, asked politely again: “Please grant us a convenience to stay in the temple, it’s too late to look for other place!”
The boy monk disregarded the relationship between these people, just firmly said: “The female donor can not stay in the temple. This is for sure…. but there is an abandoned guesthouse up on the mountain. After slightly cleaned and swept, it is still available for your family to stay one night, why don’t you try this?”
Duan hunling of course, realized what this boy monk mentioned about. He was trying to avoid this place but seemed like he has no choice. As well, when he heard that the guesthouse was abandoned, he was surprised. He didn’t expect that the Please come guesthouse that was always full in the past was abandoned. Then he asked: “The Baiyun Temple used to be very prosper, why is it so quiet now?”
The boy monk smirked and replied, “How could I know? When it changed, it changed. What can I do about it?”
After listened to his answer, Duan Hunling looked very lonely. But he consoled him: “The Baiyun Temple has hundreds years of history, it is already unchangeable and timeless.” Then he got on the horse, took the lead up on the mountain. The boy monk quickly chased and shouted: “After the evening class is over, please come back to get the meals!”
Duan hunling raised his hand but did not look back. He had already leapt forward and bumped in the mountain trail. Soon, He saw a building on the front road. In the twilight, the building faintly discernible. The door, the stairway, the windows was almost demolished. Only several tables and benches left in the dining hall. Fortunately, the wooden ladder leading to the attic next to the shopkeeper was still here. There were two guest rooms in the attic, as he remembered. Duan hunling got off the horse, stepped on the ladder. The wooden ladder squeaked immediately, but it was still firm. He went up to the attic, pushed the door of the first room. The red painted windows, pale white wall, the half opened green curtains, a short table in front of the bed, two round chairs, arranged as same as before. Duan hunling entered the room, overlooked the Baiyun Temple half hidden in the dark forest, was faintly visible…
More than ten years ago, Duan Hunling left the Qinglong Gang and wandered into the area of Lonxi. He stayed in this Please come guesthouse with this room. That night, he ordered wine and food. The waiter brought to his room and put on the table. While he smiled and said: “My guest please enjoyed it slowly!” the gap between the half opened screen door was passing by a lady figure. Duan hunling immediately recognized her, he rushed out of the room, saw her stepping down the stairs, he called firmly: “Yiyi!”
The woman dressed in pink skirt with a few plum blossoms on it. She looked back. Her face like a hibiscus, like a new moon, exactly what the Liu Yiyi was. Duan has already been enraptured. They have been separated for 18 years. He never thought today when he felt so dejected, was grant a chance to see her again. He smiled and said: “Yi…. Mrs. Ren, have been a long time! why don’t you come up to raised a cup with me?”
Liu Yiyi smiled, lifted a bit her skirt and walked back without a moment hesitation. Duan hunling was overjoyed. Immediately, he asked the waiter to add a pair of chopsticks and bring few more bottles of wine. The waiter hurriedly set the table for them. Duan then greeted Yiyi to his room. He half-shut the door intentionaly and sat opposite to her to assure she felt comfortable with him. They smiled at each other for awhile without talking. Duan hunling didn’t know where to start, at last was Liu Yiyi asked first: “According to Yicun, he said you became the white head of Qinglong gang in Jinling. Why do you suddenly come to Taibai Mountain today?”
Duan hunling knew that Liu Yiyi is now the lady of Songhu Island. Her status is superb in the rivers and lakes. Every word she said was counted. On the contrary, he was just expelled by the Qinglong. He was inevitablely ashamed of himself. He avoided to look at her, said: “Years ago, I have left the Qinglong Gang already.”
Liu Yiyi sighed and noticed that he had not passed fifty, but was already full of white hair. She imagined that he must had passed through many hardships for these years. When he saw that Yiyi was silent, he tried to cheer her up, smiled and added : “In fact, it wasn’t a bad thing to leave Qinglong gang. I have been doing a lot of wrong things. It is time to change.”
Unexpectedly, Liu Yiyi was even more speechless after hearing that. Duan Hunling couldn’t bear to see her sorrowful face. He quickly poured the wine and sipped by himself.
He has drunk a dozen of cups! but the cup in front of Yiyi was still empty. Duan Hunling did not pour any wine for her. He just asked: “How was the days in Songhu Island?”
Liu Yiyi answered with a smile of contentment: “I have eight daughters.”
Duan Hunling was drunk almost. When he heard that she has eight daughters, he laughed: “So many?” he took a serious look at her with his drunken eyes. Her face was just like the first time he met, said: “Isn’t it very good? You like children very much.”
Thinking of her eight daughters, Liu yiyi smiled from heart, but suddenly her smile disappeared and said: “Unfortunately, I have never had a son, so I came to Baiyun Temple to pray for him today.”
Duan hunling knew that the Songhu Island martial arts did not pass to daughters, no wonder she was anxious. Thus, he comforted her: “Are the daughters not good? Are they just like you?”
Liu Yiyi smiled and said: “They don’t look like me, they all look like Wanli.”
Once mentioned Ren Wanli, Duan hunling was suddenly cracked. He poured wine, kept drinking without looking at her. His hands started shaking and looked really stoned, said: “He…is good to you!”
Liu Yiyi sighed. Thinking of he was ambitious, determined and enthusiastic when he was young. She was unbearable painful to see him so depressed now. She was already tearful, and dared not to look up, only muttered: “Good! Very good.”
Duan Hunling finished all the bottles. He instantly fuddled, but he was still holding the cup and pouring the bottles. He saw someone standing in front of him, pressing his hand on his bottle. Duan hunling glanced at her and saw her face was shinned with tears, said, “Ye Lang! Don’t drink any more!”
Duan Hunling drank the empty cup, and smirked: “Don’t drink, don’t drink, l listened to you, of course!”
Before the words has finished, he fell on the table unconsciously.
The next day, when he woke up, he found that he was lying on the bed, sleeping with clothes and boots. He quickly flipped over the bednet, saw the dishes on the table intact but the bottles were in a mess. The door was still half-shut, but Yiyi has already gone. Last night? It seemed that he was embracing her, the pillow was still warm and scented. Is this again his dream of spring? He was muddled.