Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
Return journey (2)
The procession continued to hurry until nightfall when it slowed up and reached a village. However, how could the village have an inn to accommodate everyone in the procession? Hence, the people from the station set up an encampment to pass the night.
After a painful lesson from being attacked in the night, Zhang Xiaohua pulled Zhang Xiaohu to aside and shared his concerns in private. Zhang Xiaohu stroke Zhang Xiaohua’s head and said, “There shouldn’t be a problem. Look, our encampment is right in front of a village and there are so many witnesses around. Even if anyone has any ill-intentions towards us, they would still hesitate to act so blatantly in front of so many people. Moreover, today is only the first day of our trip so everyone is still being on their guards, a robber would usually wait for a few more days before making their move.”
Zhang Xiaohu paused for a moment and continued, “Furthermore, this route has been tried and tested many times by the escort station. Even if we seem to be hurrying, our progress is all planned beforehand and as long as no accidents occur along the way, the entire journey will be completely within our control. Don’t look down on station head Luo as well, he has contributed much to the station and is very experienced in doing such jobs.”
Seeing Zhang Xiaohua’s unconvinced expression, he said, “Alright, just watch on if you don’t believe me. At the same time, it is also a good opportunity for you to learn how the station works, and perhaps you can become a bodyguard when you grow up. Oh right, I have been meaning to ask you, how are your injuries so far?”
Zhang Xiaohua rolled his sleeves up and extended his hand to show his second brother who felt relieved when he saw that it was more or less recovered. He said, “Fortunately you are still young. It might take an adult several more days to heal from this kind of injury.”
Afterwards, he thought of something else and asked, “Xiaohua, about your right hand, how is it…”
Zhang Xiaohua knew that his second brother was worried for his injury so he smiled cheerfully and said, “It is almost fully recovered. I can still feel that my fingers are more nimble and can exert more strength than before, it seems that there is only a bit more to recover before my fist can clench fully.”
Zhang Xiaohua raised his right hand and clenched it forcefully, and when Zhang Xiaohu saw him do so, he said, “Alright, I can see it” while his eyes became watery.
It was pretty normal for Zhang Xiaohu to react this way since he brought his younger brother out, yet his younger brother got injured for his sake. Therefore, how could he not feel affected?
Now that his younger brother’s right hand is recovering and will be like before soon after, how could Zhang Xiaohu maintain his composure? He would naturally feel ecstatic and relieved.
However, he still had some doubts remaining since Zhang Xiaohua’s hand was personally examined by the physician from the escort station. The physician had practiced for several decades and accumulated much experience in mending fractures and reconnecting ligaments so his judgement could not be overlooked. About this, Zhang Xiaohu could not help but wonder if his younger brother’s recovery had exceeded the physician’s estimation, or if it would no longer get any better than then.
Nevertheless, Zhang Xiaohu still felt pleased as the condition of Zhang Xiaohua’s hand was still far better than his expectations, no matter what the physician said. Even if the latter could no longer practice martial arts, the injury would not be too much of a hindrance to his daily life.
After giving Zhang Xiaohua a few more instructions, Zhang Xiaohu left hurriedly to do his other tasks.
The encampment was set up in an orderly fashion and was finished not long after so Zhang Xiaohua could not find an opportunity to lend a hand. After asking for Zhang Xiaohu’s quarters, Zhang Xiaohua took some stuff from the carriage and headed towards the direction.
Not long later, Yuan Changqing went over to call Zhang Xiaohua. After the former learnt of the matter to separate the accounts, he would dote more on the boy and find him whenever he had something good to eat. Zhang Xiaohua naturally did not stand on the ceremony and followed the man for dinner.
Zhang Xiaohua slept very soundly that night and when he opened his eyes the next morning, the first thing he said was, “Second brother, was there an attack last night?”
Zhang Xiaohu did not know whether to laugh or cry, he mock scolded, “Are you fully awake yet?”
After breakfast, the people from the station broke camp and continued on their journey.
After over a dozen of such days, there was still no robbery or wild animal attacks so Zhang Xiaohua began to suspect if Ou Yan’s trip was out of the ordinary for such a trip.
As they reached closer to the north, the weather became colder and the chilly wind blew harder. The triangular flags with the two words “Lotus” fluttered more violently and loudly against the wind.
On that particular day, the procession was travelling on a long mountainous path so their speed was slower than on the highway.
Zhang Xiaohu was riding his mount at the back of the procession beside the carriage Zhang Xiaohua was sitting in at a leisurely pace.
Zhang Xiaohua looked at the forest on both sides of the road which was covered in snow, he thought to himself, “Isn’t this similar to the first robbery our party faced during our trip? Will mountain bandits appear here?”
While he was preoccupied with his thoughts, a loud voice boomed from ahead, “These trees belong to me, this path was opened by me. Pay a toll if you wish to pass!”
Zhang Xiaohua’s eyes gleamed and he called out, “Is there a robbery?”
Zhang Xiaohu glanced at Zhang Xiaohua helplessly, he said, “Why are you so excited about being robbed?”
Zhang Xiaohua smiled and said, “The previous time our party met with mountain bandits, they had three sparring matches with us so it was quite entertaining. Furthermore, don’t we have dozens of people on our side? Why would we be afraid of them? Won’t we defeat the other side very quickly?”
“Sigh…” Zhang Xiaohu thought secretly, “Xiaohua wants to watch the action.”
He scolded, “Even though you only met a dozen over people during your robbery, not all mountain bandits have that many members. Even if we have many people on our side, how can we control the situation if we are facing a hundred opponents? Won’t we still become a slain tiger?”
“Ah… so it’s like this.” Zhang Xiaohua cried in shock, “What should we do then? Who knows how many people do they have and how skilled they are? Will second brother be fine?”
Zhang Xiaohu comforted the latter, he said, “Xiaohua, stay in the carriage while I go up to the front. Perhaps station Luo already has everything under his control.”
Zhang Xiaohua disobeyed and begged, “Second brother, bring me along with you as well. I don’t get to see mountain bandits often so let me see them too, alright?” As he spoke, he began to act cute and adorable.
Zhang Xiaohu looked at his younger brother adoringly, he pondered for a moment and said, “Alright, you can sit behind me. However, remember to remain silent when we are over there.”
Zhang Xiaohua immediately jumped off the carriage upon hearing his reply and in a puff of smoke, he reappeared in front of Zhang Xiaohu’s mount. Zhang Xiaohu bent over to grab his hand, exerted some force, and pulled Zhang Xiaohua onto his back before urging the mount to move forward.
The twenty carriages made a long procession and the bodyguards and delivery hands from the station took out their weapons and surrounded all the carriages warily, unlike Zhang Xiaohua who moved forward to watch the action.
Zhang Xiaohu urged his mount to the front unhurriedly, there was an empty space in front of the first carriage and several bodyguards were already standing there. Station head Luo who usually showed a lazy and unreliable side was mounted on his horse with a long spear in his hands and a cold expression on his face.
Zhang Xiaohua carefully peeped from behind his second brother’s back, he could not help but gasp at the scene before him.
There were not just ten over people like he expected. Instead, ten over men were on horseback bearing various types of weapons were glaring coldly back at them, while dozens of men were standing in neat rows behind them. There was no hint of disorder like the group of mountain bandits Zhang Xiaohua met previously, but the thing that made Zhang Xiaohua most frightened was the seemingly many people hiding in the forest on both sides of the road surrounding the procession completely.
Zhang Xiaohua asked softly, “Second brother, what shall we do? Do we have to fight with them even if we are no match for so many people? Where is your weapon? You have to stay careful.”
Zhang Xiaohu was calm and he replied softly, “Do not talk, Xiaohua. Just watch on quietly.”
Zhang Xiaohua immediately shut his mouth.
At that moment, station head Luo made the first move and rode his horse to the front, cupped his fists and said, “May I know which friends am I meeting right now, and who is your representative?”
Upon hearing this, a red faced man also rode his horse forward from the other side and stopped in front of station head Luo, he cupped his fists and replied, “I am Withered grass mountain’s head Yang Shuo, may I know how to address you?”
Station head Luo said, “I am Pingyang city’s Lotus escort station head Luo Duanhe, and am currently on a mission to protect my client, so would this friend please spare his fist?”
The mountain bandit head wrinkled his brows and said, “So it’s a friend from the afar Piaomiao sect, may I take a look at your banner?”
Upon hearing this, station head Luo followed the rules and replied, “Head Yang, please wait for a moment.”
He rode his horse back to re-join the procession and shouted aloud, “Raise the banner”. Two bodyguards got off their horses in response and respectfully took down the banner from the first carriage before walking over to the station head Luo and passing it to him. Station head Luo received the banner and rode back to where the other representative was waiting and displayed the banner. Head Yang studied the banner, nodded and cupped his fists again. He smiled and said, “It is indeed friends from Piaomiao sect, I have delayed you unintentionally. If there is an opportunity in the future, you are welcomed to visit our mountain again.”
Station head Luo smiled and replied, “Alright, it’s a promise then. We are currently in a hurry so we will pay our proper greetings next time instead.”
Head Yang replied, “In that case, I wish you a smooth trip. This mountain is ours so there should be no obstructions for five hundred li.”
After finishing his sentence, he threw a plaque which station head Luo caught. Station head Luo replied, “Many thanks in that case. Our escort station is very grateful of head Yan’s kind generosity.”
Head Yang nodded and said, “Station head Luo is too kind, I won’t be sending you off.”
He then raised his hands and instructed the few men behind him to follow his lead as they left.
When station head Luo saw that the other party had left, he also rode back and ordered the bodyguards before carrying on with the procession again.
Zhang Xiaohu brought Zhang Xiaohua back to the tail of the procession after he saw that everything ended. However, Zhang Xiaohua refused to get off the horse no matter what so Zhang Xiaohu said helplessly, “I shall let you ride a little longer, and you will have to return to your own carriage after I reach the front of the procession.”
Zhang Xiaohua nodded his head profusely.
When Zhang Xiaohua followed the procession to the empty space where the exchange occurred earlier, the carriages already left the area and Zhang Xiaohua saw a bodyguard whom station head Luo instructed previously pass an item to one of the bandits who was waiting at a side. After the bandit received the item, he checked it before flashing a smile and cupping his fists and rode away.
The bodyguard also rode off to catch up with the rest of the procession.
Zhang Xiaohua was confused on what he just saw so he whispered to Zhang Xiaohu, “Second brother, why is the robbery so strange? How come it ended without any fighting or three sparring matches?”
Zhang Xiaohu smiled and asked, “What do you think a robbery should look like? Just fighting and killing?”
Zhang Xiaohua replied, “Isn’t it fighting and killing with the victor obtaining all the other party’s possessions?”
Zhang Xiaohu was not surprised by the question and he replied, “Haha, there is nothing wrong which what you are assuming, I used to think the same way as well and sweated so profusely during my first case of robbery. However, after a few times of thunderstorm that turned into a drizzle, I finally understood the situation.”
Zhang Xiaohua asked curiously, “Can there be something else behind the scenes?”
Zhang Xiaohu smiled and explained, “It is actually very simple. Mountain bandits rob merchants to obtain the wealth that we carry. If they were to fight and kill every time they see a merchant, wouldn’t they die off very fast? As the saying goes, one loses eight hundred men to kill a thousand men, while it might be rewarding if their robbery was a success, how can there such easy money-making business in this world? Not to mention us, there are many merchants passing by this area so wouldn’t it be a goldmine for robbers? If there was fighting and killing all the time, how many brothers would you lose as a result? Hence, robbing is an art and robbers would tend to avoid fighting if possible. Even if they earn less each time, wouldn’t it add up to a significant sum over time?”
Zhang Xiaohua nodded as he pondered deeply, he thought, “As the saying goes, there are exemplary people in all types of occupations, even being a mountain bandit requires talent.”
Zhang Xiaohu continued, “When a merchant sets off on a journey, he is usually aware of such dangers so if he is not carrying anything valuable, he would naturally not be afraid of bandits. If they are carrying many goods, they would need to find an escort and that is what escort stations do. Escort stations and mountain bandits are similar entities; they use their power to pursue wealth. If you solely rely on power each time, every mountain bandit will have poor relationships with you and your escort station will fail soon after because you will end up fighting too much. Hence, reputation is important among escort stations. If you have a better reputation, more mountain bandits’ groups will recognize you and cooperate more willingly.”
“Cooperate?” Zhang Xiaohua was slightly surprised.
“That’s right, cooperate, which is to say that the escort station will give the mountain bandits some money which is proportional to the value of goods they are protecting. The mountain bandits will be happy to accept this money like you saw earlier, and thus, escort stations do not need to fear mountain bandits even when travelling as far as hundreds of li.” Zhang Xiaohu explained.
Zhang Xiaohua was still confused and he said, “Second brother, from the sound of things, it seems that both of you are good friends with each other.”
Zhang Xiaohu’s eyes curved into a smile as he said, “A family of snakes and mice, that’s what we are.”
Zhang Xiaohua continued to ask, “Will the merchants have to pay the same amount of money if there is no escort team escorting them?”
Zhang Xiaohu smiled and said, “If there was no escort team, the merchant becomes a tantalizing piece of fresh meat so how can they resist swallowing them? Mountain bandits would not let them off at all.”
Zhang Xiaohua asked again, “There were so many mountain bandits earlier, we would have succumbed to them anyway so why don’t they attack us? Even if they suffer casualties, their harvest would still make their efforts worthwhile.”
Zhang Xiaohu smiled and said, “Another factor that comes into play is the size of the escort station. If we were a small escort station, there might be such an outcome earlier on. However, the Lotus escort has the backing of Piaomiao sect. In other words, we are the business arm of Piaomiao sect so if they had dared to attack us, the Piaomiao sect would easily dispatch a few disciples to clear out their hideout. Do you think they would be willing to risk this danger?”
Zhang Xiaohu grew more excited as he spoke, “There is also another point I have yet to cover. Mountain bandits usually cannot survive by themselves without any support from Jianghu, meaning if this bandit group attacked us, the sect behind them would be challenging the authority of Piaomiao sect indirectly. A war might result and Piaomiao sect might call a mountain bandit group they are affiliated with to clear out this group of mountain bandits.”
Zhang Xiaohua nodded in understanding, he said, “Okay, I got it. In short, power is might. If one is strong enough, everyone will be happy to work harmoniously with you. Otherwise, you can only set yourselves up to the wolves. In that case, do you think that Piaomiao sect was the backer of the Xicui mountain bandits at our hometown?”
Zhang Xiaohu smiled and said, “I am unsure about this, but the Xicui mountain bandits are too weak a group so even if Piaomiao sect was their backer, they would not pay much attention to the group.”
Zhang Xiaohua let out a sigh, he said, “The Jianghu world is so complex.”
He then said joyfully, “In that case, isn’t our escort team very safe and not likely to enter any fight?”
Zhang Xiaohu smiled bitterly and said, “How can it be as easy as you think? There are always stupid mountain bandits who would rather chose to step towards their death. Don’t you see the escort station recruiting new delivery hands and bodyguards every year? However, I am only a delivery hand so I still won’t be called to arms if a real fight breaks out.”
Zhang Xiaohua turned quiet when he heard this.