AOH – Chapter 67

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CHAPTER 67: NORTHERN BADGER

ZHANG LIAO BAO

TAIGUO REGION

TAIJIAN

After the battle there is nothing noteworthy that happens so we are traveling in relative peace. No bandits or martial artist searching for us.

It seems Lishan sect did adhere to their promise. We made a few stops here and there, camping and rest at night in some forest or caves.

After a few weeks finally we have arrived at Taiguo region and we stop at Taijian a small but lively city, where the trade of the region of Taiguo is centered, especially the trade product from the South.

Behind me is Zhengping and Zhaou Lu. I hold my horse by his reins as I glanced left and right scanning the city environment.

It is bustling indicating an active city and full of life with performers and trader selling their wares outside the city wall.

It has been a long journey from the Tiger Gorge, a very long journey, passing Yuan and now here at Taiguo.

A few days more of riding and we will reached Shanhai Pass. I hear that we need to have certain level of influence to pass the Shanhai Pass but thankfully I have the Princess as my companions.

Surely a person of her birth can get us safely through the customs.

My eyes is still glancing right and left looking at the vibrant city. I am in awe but I heard from the traders I met in my journey you have never seen a city unless you have seen Acro.

I have living my adolescent life in the capital but never have I travelled this far.

Even when I was a child the fact that I need to always stay around the Pleasure House is a fact I couldn’t forget.

A fact I begrudge

‘Senior Brother let us rest and eat’ Zhengping said from the back.

She seems wide eyed looking at the people trading. I imagine she must have a very sheltered life. Which begs the question why did she were let out.

I look at my knapsack and I only see 1 gold.

It might be enough for us to eat. Usually in the forest and caves or the forest we only hunt where I took the opportunity to train my technique.

But even when we hunt Zhao Lu always cook even the unappetizing game to look like a royal cuisine and the Princess eat it grace while I usually ate other places mostly because I would like to avoid the Princess looking at how I eat.

Zhao Lu realizes I’m looking at the knapsack and he said

‘Do not worry about the gold Liao Bao. The Chu household will pay for the Princess and you as repayment.’

‘You would do that?’

‘You are our savior.’

I smiled.

In this few couple of weeks my relationships with Zhao Lu has been getting better.  Mostly because we always hunt together looking for food.

Different from my initial assumption he is not in love with the Princess. I could almost swear that he likes her but that is mostly because of his protective side.

He told me this in one of our campfire talk, that he has a sweetheart in the Chu residence.

His younger martial sister Lian Yi.

He said that she has quit the temper. But a beauty all the same. Well, when you think about it, stubborn girl is usually pretty.

But he still dodges my question why they are running away from the Lishan sect. Then my stomach growled.

The Princess chuckled.

‘It seems even Hero Zhang is hungry.’

I smiled sheepishly.

As we looked around the city I found this one large restaurant and we decided we will replenish our belly and quench our thirst at the establishment.

We tied up our horse in front of the door and went in.

‘What will you eat Hero Zhang?’ The Princess asked me she said already bringing out her pouch of gold.

‘It is not gentlemanly to let the lady pay’ I said.

‘It is the least I could do and it would be an honour’ she said.

The inn boy’s comes to our table and ask for our order. I sighed. And then I look at the menu with assortments of beef and food, fruits and vegetable dishes.

‘I would have Taijian Beef, Zicheng pancake, and wrapped meat’ I ordered.

‘And give us some good wine.’ Zhao Lu retorted.

I nodded.

‘I would like some vegetables dish’ the Princess said as she pointed to the menu picking her dishes.

The inn boys nodded and went to the kitchen. A few moment later our orders are being served.

Usually I would have attacked the food but since there is a lady here, I restrained myself and eat with great civility copying the noble emissaries that used to frequent the Imperial Palace.

I could see that the Princess is impressed with my civility.But truth be told it is kind of annoying to eat like that but I have no choice.

We all enjoyed our dish when suddenly we heard a disturbance at the door of the inn.

Zhao Lu quickly holds the edge of his sword. He is always on alert. Always on the edge. I commend his vigilance but he is a bit stiff.

‘I’ll check it out.’I said to Zhao Lu

‘Stay here’ I said to the Princess and she nodded in understanding.

I fear that maybe the ruffians from Lishan Sect are here again and at the same time fearing for our mounts being let out.

I rushed to the doorway jumping from the second floor where our table is and landed on the first floor with ease.

Some of the restaurant customers look in awe. There must not be many martial artists around here.

I glance around our mounts and the horses is quietly eating its fodder while three inn boys are trying to deter a slender old man, clothed in patches of stitched rags.

On his head he wore an old leather hat with holes and he appear to be fifty and ten or sixty and ten.

His white beard are long and his face and hands are dirty. There is even some mud in his left cheek.

He held a chicken wing in his left hand and laughed like he has no care in the world revealing his out of place teeth and he has black eyes.

But for some reason I could fell something from him. It is faint but it is there.He is also Eastian like me.

‘Hey you!’ one of the manager came screaming out from the kitchen

‘Get lost old man. We do not serve people like you.’

He stopped laughing and looked terribly hurt by the screaming.

‘Fine, if you want me to leave I will leave.’ He turned his heel to go but the manager screamed again

‘Leave the chicken, idiot.’

He grinned foolishly and from his knapsack he handed the chicken, a wing missing. Probably in his belly already

The manager looked at the chicken and he is furious beyond reason. The chicken is so dirty with mud and other stuff stick at it.

How can the manager sell it? His face is red with anger and even his employees look scared. The manager is so furious and launched a blow with his fist and this is where it gets bizarre.

The old man ducked but not in any normal way. I could feel that he used an internal energy to dodge that.

The feeling is there.

Which mean this man in front of me is an exponent maybe more than me. If he can hide the presence of his internal energy then surely he is an expert.

This is an opportunity.

I jump in front of the manager as he prepared to beat the old man again.

‘There is no need for violence, good sir. Please put this old man chicken on my account’ The old man look pleased.

‘Are you hungry?’ I asked

He nodded

‘Then please follow me.’ I gestured him to follow me.  The old man followed me inside the restaurant and stay there looking at me fixedly.

‘Please Elder, order some food’ I said

‘Elder?’ He said amused.

‘I rarely heard people call me Elder.’

‘You are older than me. I need to show some respect.’

‘Ah respect. To think I could meet such man in my journey.’

‘Who is this man?’ Zhao Lu said as the old man sit in the table beside us.

‘Please forgive me, princess but I will drink with this man.’

‘Hero Zhang is also a charitable person it seems’ she said. I shake my head.

“No,I’m not’

It is not so much charity but opportunity.

He is an expert and it is better to befriend people especially in the martial arts world where enemies can be made in a seconds and friends too.

I moved my chair to sit with the old man.

‘You have left a young and handsome and a beautiful girl to sit with a dirty and unkempt old man .People would call you weird, young man’ he said.

‘No, no,’ I said

‘I have always wondered about the people that lived around in Taiguo region. My mother said my father came from Taiguo and your Taiguo accent delighted me.’

‘Is that so?’ He laughed.

‘Inn boy’ I yelled and the inn boy came.

He looked at the old man dirtiness and brutish manner the look on his face changed. The old man feels insulted and I could feel again the internal energy that seeps around out of his body.

Like I suspected. In front of me right now is a man of great internal energy.

‘Hmph!’ he spit to the first floor.

‘You take me for a beggar and unworthy to eat here. Even if you should serve me your finest dish, who knows if it’ll be to my taste?’

‘Is that so?’ the inn boy stared at the old man.

‘Can you pay?’ he asked. And the old man get flustered

‘I will pay for him’ and the old man perked up.

‘Young and generous’ he said.

‘Please order Elder ‘I asked maintaining perfect gentleman behavior. Surely he would only order a few meat and wine but I saw a glint in the old man eyes.

‘First we will have dry fruits, four fresh fruits and fruits preserved in honey and do you have longan here?’ He asked

The inn boy is shocked.

I was shocked.

Alright this is not what I expect from an old man. But again, appearance are deceiving.

‘For the fruits bring cherries, perfumed’ he said and his saliva is already salivating, ‘and plum and ginger, tangerines perfumed with rose, preserved grapes, peaches, frosted or do you not have ice here?’

‘we d-‘ and before the inn boy even have the chance to speak he continued

‘and pear slices sprinkled with a bit of sweetened cherries.’

The inn boy is surprised by the old man culinary expertise and mastery and I am the most shocked.

The inn boy looked confused while the Princess on the opposite table also tries to hear the old man, now interested seeing the old man too have such dignified plate of taste resembling that of  a noble.

The old man then approached the boy and told him in detail what he want for me while I looked at my gold.

From what he orders I doubt 1 gold would be enough.

I whisper to the Princess

‘Can you help me if I could not pay my lady?’

She giggled and looked at th old man arguing with the young boy.

‘Why not? He looks interesting’

‘Your kindness will not be forgotten’

‘Don’t say that hero Zhang. I owe you my life’ she said.

‘Is that all?’ the young boy said now looking impressed with the old man..

Half an hour later the dish is finally prepared. Zhao Lu and Zhengping have already finish their dish and is waiting for me an dthe old man for our dish.

In that half an hour,the old man told me the stories, famous stories about Taijian and the news and events around the Continents.

He tells me of how the dragons have defeated the Shield forces in Aetherland, the civil war that happen between brother finally has ended and the path to reconciliation has begun.

He also tells me of the missing case of the King of Vangua, the emergence of House Orleans as the major player in Vangua, and the mystery of the King disappearance and the unrest that followed.

The Pretender War in Dostov is also relayed to me, and the brutal punishment that King Terris did to his opposition, Seren infighting among their Radiant Rulers, the development of Renasia armies that has begun to move attacking Cora and moving their armies to Tuca.

Surely war will happen if nothing is done.

In Zettel about the marriage of Marilyn of House Roth to King Adrian of Aetherland which has secured Aetherland position as a Kingdom.

Then there is the Church business.

The Church in Cori and in Vern, both Liberate and Orthodox has release an edict hunting Knight Lord Orval the Knight Master of the Knight Academy in Aetherland and his Left and Right Commander.

No one knew why they are hunted but the Church seems pretty intent on killing them, so much, that the two sect of the religion even set off their conflict and unanimously release the edict.

So right now Knights of Alan academy has been ravaged by the Inquisitors. Monster of the Church, Eastian called them. Brutal and cruel.

It is clear to me that not only this old man is strong he is also quite knowledgeable if he knew all that happens in other Kingdom.

Then the inn boy came to our table s and brings out three large tables and joined with our tables.

Then one by one the dish is brought out from the kitchen.

My senses were attacked by great scent, roasted chicken with honey; beef slathered with Zhengjing wine and so many others even the vegetable one of my least favourite food look appetizing.

Whatever the old man ordered all looked appetizing.

My stomach grumbled and I could see Zhengping is looking at our dish with reverence.

‘Join us’ I said and as quickly I said that Zhengping brought her chair to sit own in our table.

Even Zhao Lu also changes tables.

Now the whole restaurant looks at our table as they saw they assortments of dishes is brought out from the table and served in our table.

‘How much would this cost’ I whispered to Zhao Lu.

‘34 gold’ he said

And I almost spurted out the wine.

‘Can you pay?’ I asked worried that he doesn’t have the money.

He said ‘don’t worry Liao Bao. We can pay.’

Then we eat and talk and laughed. Until evening came and night came as we begin a drinking game. It is at this time I try to worm out some information out from him.

‘If I may ask Elder’ I said carefully ‘what are Elder doing here?’

He looked a little red, drunk probably.

‘Hic ,hic.’

‘You see I was in the capital a month ago.’ I nodded.

‘Oh, I see.’ And I poured another cup of wine for him.

‘What are you doing in the capital, if it’s not rude to ask?

‘No, not rude at all. I was meeting a few friends, and then that Serpent,’ then he throw one of the wine bottle so the wood pillars and the wine bottle smashed.

Whoever this serpent man he has made this old man mad and angry

‘That little conniving bitch. No wonder people called her serpent, backstabbing ungrateful wench’ the old man said.

Oh, not a man. A woman. But a serpent

Serpent who is he talking about? It couldn’t be the Western Serpent could it? I was about to whisper to Zhao Lu if the Western Serpent is a she.

I was about to ask Zhao Lu then I realize he is already passed out from the wine. So does Zhengping.

Both of them are red in the face and Zhao Lu is burping as I shakes my head. So stiff but when he got drunk it seems even he would show me his most embarrassing moment.

I am fine because my Absorbing technique. The poison in my body assimilated and one of the effects that I only recently found out is that I cannot get drunk. I don’t know if that is a good thing or not.

And even poison does not work in me.

Most poison doesn’t.

I was remembering this one night when I was bitten by a Sable Snake only to have a little itch and by the morning even the itch is gone.

‘Anyway,’ the old man continued his story

‘Then I heard my disciple Shu Ren Gui lost his knife’ and hearing that name I almost drop my wine cup.

‘I came here looking for the thief’ he finished

Shu Ren Gui? That Shu Ren Gui? And suddenly I’m aware of the knife hidden under my sleeve. Wait! If he is Shu Ren Gui teacher, he just spilled his secret unconsciously.

Meaning the person in front of me is….Xiang Shun Guai, The Northern Badger that lives in the Nanshan.

I’m dead. I’m really dead this time My hand is trembling, my heartbeat quickened and sweat are formed in my forehead.

He is powerful.

Then bright idea comes to my mind. I cupped my hand if front of the old man.

‘You see Elder I have a difficulty but I don’t know if saying this too you might be imposing’ he looked at me and said

‘Oh young man, you have feed me and shown me a good time’ he said looking amused that I speak to him so formal.

“Tell me what troubles you and if I can help you I will’ I smiled.

The bait is thrown. Now the hook.

‘You see these two people is a person of the martial arts world’ I said as I gestured to the two drunk at the table

“But I’m not. I am not talented like they are. I have some basic but in this dangerous part of the Empire I am out of my elements. I am about to go to Aetherland to search for a job but I fear that I might get robbed in the journey. Even a few weeks ago we are nearly robbed.’

‘Hmm’ he said ‘that is serious indeed.’

‘But alas, I have no teacher to teach me. I am ashamed that I need to rely to these two people to protect me, while I become only a burden’ I said and a fake tear streamed down my eyes.

The old man patted me in the back

‘Now, now.’ He said then he looked at me.

And rubbed his chin.

‘Well..ummm…..’he sighed.

‘You see, I’m not an expert but I can teach you a few moves to help you’ I quickly rubbed my tears and said

‘REALLY!’

‘Yes, a few moves anyway.’

‘That is good enough’ and I kneeled.

‘What are you doing?’ he said.

‘I must perform kowtow to pay you homage.’

‘No, no I could not take any more disciples’ he said.

‘Too much of a hassle’ he said.

‘After all I will only be teaching you a few moves.’

‘A few moves, a hundred moves, I’m grateful and if you even teach me 1 moves then that means you are my teacher. Please accept my kowtow.’

And I kowtow to him until finally he relented

‘Fine, I will accept you as my disciple. If you pass my test tomorrow.’

I smile.Hook, line and sinker.

‘Thank you, Teacher’

Then he lost his balance but quickly he corrected his stance. He seems drunk enough yet he still has the ability to correct his stance.

50 bottle of wine are all empty because of him and it amazes me someone that could drink that much without my unique technique can still be conscious.

‘Maybe we have to resume this tomorrow’ he said and he jumped from the second floor to the first floor and with incredible speed he is no longer in the inn.

Then I looked at my companion and one question is formed in my head. Do I have to carry them to their room? I sighed as I took them both and began walking to their room.

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