“Pride can be a good thing, but pride carried too far is foolishness.”
Chapter 216 - Beatdown
They turned to see a group of martial-looking warrior nuns. Each woman was dressed in short-sleeves and long pants for ease of movement, as well as carrying long staves bound with iron bands.
At their head was a towering woman with a shock of unruly red hair and a large scar across one cheek. Other reminders of injuries and wounds criss-crossed her muscular arms and exposed ankles, her pants being too short for her stature.
Chu Feng, Chu Xiong and Huang Meng could not help but stare at her, a powerfully built woman who would probably seem more at home at a forge or abattoir rather than a monastery. Huang Ming was especially affected: it was as if he was looking at a female version of his brother Huang Ke.
‘This is a woman?’ they thought as they watched this slab of muscle striding over towards them.
“Sister Bian Qing!” the younger nuns chorused excitedly. Their admiration for her was obvious and it was not difficult to see why: even among the other female nuns, she stood out like an angry, sore thumb.
“What’s this about bandits?” she demanded as she frowned at the unfamiliar men gaping at her.
“Oh, there was a bandit attack that struck this miss’s family,” one of the nuns helpfully said, gesturing towards Qiong Ying.
It was as if a bomb went off in Bian Qing’s head when she saw her. Like Chu Feng, she was struck by the delicate aura of a wounded deer around Qiong Ying.
She lurched forward, and the men obediently parted way before her.
“What, what, what happened?” she repeated dumbly as she stepped closer and closer.
Qiong Ying turned her head away and quietly sobbed, causing Bian Qing to be flustered.
“Sister Bian Qing, you’re scaring her!” the younger nuns scolded.
Bian Qing actually backed off. “I didn’t do nothing!”
An older nun shooed her away. “She’s the only survivor of a bandit attack. Go away; your face is scary.”
A look of immense dismay flashed on Bian Qing’s face. For a moment Huang Ming thought she was going to collapse dramatically onto her knees and fade into a shade of grey.
But instead she stayed on her feet and clenched her two fists.
“Where are those bandits!” she howled. “I’ll kill them all!”
“They have already been dealt with,” someone answered her.
“What?” Bian Qing asked with the wind taken out of her sails.
“Prince Chu Feng here had cleared them out after rescuing her,” the nun said cheerfully.
Bian Qing whirled towards the prince, her teeth clenched; like a beast who had its prey snatched away.
She glared at Chu Feng, her eyes travelled up and down the prince as if she was inspecting an insect.
“You?” she demanded disbelievingly.
“What do you want?” Chu Feng managed to squeak.
Bian Qing whirled back to the nuns. “This scrawny guy?” she blurted, jerking a non-too respectful finger at the prince.
“Do not be rude to the prince!” a senior nun warned.
“I don’t believe it!” Bian Qing exclaimed. “Maybe those bandits were his men in the first place!”
“Nonsense!” the senior nun thundered.
“I have patrolled the forests and hills diligently and I have not seen any bandits at all!” Bian Qing insisted.
The senior nun resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Why would the prince of the realm do such a thing?” she asked patiently.
“Well, look at her!” Bian Qing gesticulated with both her hands towards Qiong Ying, as if she was a priceless vase.
“How dare you!” Prince Chu Feng shouted, using his outrage to mask his growing unease. How was it that this uncultured gorilla woman was unmasking his alibi so openly?
“What, want to fight?” Bian Qing sneered.
“Bian Qing, have you forgotten what happened last time?” the senior nun sighed.
“That was different, I had to show the guest instructor what I’ve got,” Bian Qing insisted. “I got my ass handed to me last time by Big Sister, but there’s no way I’m going to lose to some ponce prince!”
“Who are you calling a ponce!” Chu Feng shouted back.
“Oho, so you do want to fight!” Bian Qing said with relish. “Clear a circle!” she bellowed. The nuns hastily obeyed before the senior nun could intervene. She sighed and bowed apologetically.
“My apologies, your highness. Bian Qing is… headstrong and unrestrained,” she said. “We try and try to teach her the scriptures and for her to cultivate patience, but to no avail.”
‘So she’s a muscle-brained idiot…’ Huang Ming summarized mentally.
“Then let me drill some lessons into her thick skull!” Chu Feng seethed.
‘...and here’s the other muscle-brained idiot,’ Huang Ming completed his thought.
“Bring it!” Bian Qing challenged and beckoned to her martial sisters and they tossed several iron-ringed staves into the makeshift fighting circle.
Bian Qing nonchalantly kicked one to the prince’s feet. “I hope you know how to use one, prince,” she said as she twirled her staff easily with one hand.
“I’ll teach you,” Chu Feng growled as he bent to pick it up. Then his face changed, for it was much heavier than he had expected. It was a simple staff, but the myriad of iron bands around the wooden shaft had added substantial weight to it.
“Anything wrong, ponce?” Bian Qing jeered.
“How dare you!” the prince shouted as he felt the blood pulsing in his temple. Already tired from his forced climb up the mountain stairs, he willed himself to keep his hands steady as he held the staff.
Yet, when he saw the woman spinning her staff with hardly a breath out of place, the prince could not help but feel intimidated.
“Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on ya,” Bian Qing said, inwardly smirking. How was the prince to know that the staff in his hands was the heaviest one available that was only used for physical training by carrying pails of water across one’s back? The one in her hands was half its weight.
“Enough words!” Chu Feng shouted indignantly. ‘What the hell is this woman-’
He did not finish formulating his complaint, for Bian Qing really rushed towards him at full speed. She swung her staff in a full swing, and it took all of Chu Feng’s reflexes to block it. Staff met staff with a tremendous thud, and Chu Feng was very nearly knocked off his feet by the sheer power of the swing. The prince could feel the jarring blow rattling his very bones.
His eyes widened with disbelief, but he had no time but to block again when Bian Qing immediately followed up with another blow from the opposite direction. Once more the prince barely blocked the ferocious, wind-cutting swing, once more the prince was staggered.
“Say, isn’t this bad?” the nuns whispered to each other.
Huang Ming discreetly elbowed Chu Xiong who picked up on the cue. The prince laughed, his voice like the refreshing flow of a river.
“Do not worry, my royal brother Chu Feng is someone who enjoys the martial arts. He is someone who pursues strength and not someone who is petty after a loss. In fact, he often cherishes the victor of his duels as a friend,” Chu Xiong lied.
Chu Feng heard his words and very nearly spat blood with indignation, but he could barely cope with the storm of blows that was raining down on him.
Huang Ming flapped his fan open.
“One might say, Prince Chu Feng enjoys being beaten,” he summarized.
This was all too much for Chu Feng, he actually turned his head to shout a retort. But to be distracted during combat was a cardinal sin, and Bian Qing suddenly switched from a swing to a thrust. The blunt staff point slipped through Chu Feng’s guard and struck his sternum.
The prince flew back from the impact and tumbled onto the ground in a cloud of dust.
Down on his luck,
Baited, and thunderstruck.