Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre Chapter 31-35

@Chapter 31 – Saber and Sword Lost, People Perish
Even after the Persian medication was applied, Yin Li’s high fever did not subside; she kept talking in her sleep incessantly. During these past several days on the sea, she had been exposed to cold weather on top of her sickness. The medication was only for external wound, it was not effective to treat internal injury, or even a common cold. Zhang Wuji was very anxious. Toward the afternoon of the third day, he saw a small island in the distant to their east. He instructed the sailor to take them to that island.

Once they were ashore, their spirits lifted up. The island’s circumference was no more than several ‘li’s; and it was covered with shrubs and short trees. Zhang Wuji asked Zhou Zhiruo to look after Yin Li and Zhao Min, while he went around looking for some medicinal herbs. However, the flora on that island was greatly different from the one in the Central Earth that Zhang Wuji did not recognize most of them. He walked farther and farther away without any result until the sky gradually turned dark, he had no choice but to return to their original position. He mashed whatever herbs he could find and fed them to Yin Li.

Six people gathered around the fire, eating and drinking. The air was heavy with the fragrance of the flowers and the freshness of the grass and the forest. It was quite different surroundings from the cramped cabin.

Yin Li was also in good spirits. “Ah Niu Gege,” she said, “Why don’t we spend the night here, and not return to the ship?” They discussed her proposal and decided that it was a wonderful idea. They saw the water on that small island was warm and clear, also, there were no wild beasts around; everyone went to sleep peacefully.

As Zhang Wuji woke up early the next morning, he got up and took a step, but he staggered and almost fell down. He felt his legs were weak, which was quite unusual. He rubbed his eyes and saw the Persian ship was gone. His heart skipped a beat. Rushing to the shore he looked around without seeing any trace of the ship. This time he was really shocked.

“Yifu,” he called out, “Are you all right?” But Xie Xun did not answer. Hastily Zhang Wuji ran to the place Xie Xun slept and saw he was still asleep peacefully, which took most of his anxiety away.

The previous night, Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo and Yin Li went to sleep behind a large rock some distance away. He rushed to take a look, and saw Zhou Zhiruo and Yin Li were still sleeping side by side; but Zhao Min was nowhere to be seen.

In a glance he noticed that Yin Li’s face was full of blood. Stooping down to look closer, Zhang Wuji saw there were more than a dozen sharp blade cuts on her face, but she stayed unconscious. Hastily he reached out to check her pulse and was relieved when he felt faint pulses. Turning his attention toward Zhou Zhiruo, he saw that a large clump of her beautiful hair was cut, along with a piece of her left ear. Her blood had not congealed yet, but her face was smiling, as if she was having a happy dream. Under the light of the dawn, she looked like a sleeping hypericum in the spring; extremely tender and beautiful. His heart was painful was he called out, “Miss Zhou, Miss Zhou, wake up!”

Zhou Zhiruo stirred, but did not wake up. Zhang Wuji gently shook her shoulder and finally Zhou Zhiruo yawned and turned around, but she was still asleep. Zhang Wuji knew she must be drugged. There were too many strange things that happened the previous night; he fell into a deep sleep and this morning he felt weak and tired. He was certain that they were drugged.

After calling Zhou Zhiruo for a while without any result, he rushed back to Xie Xun and called out, “Yifu, Yifu!”

Xie Xun sat up in daze, “What is it?” he asked.

“It’s terrible!” Zhang Wuji said, “We have fallen into a sinister plot.” Briefly he told him about the missing Persian ship and the cuts suffered by Yin Li and Zhou Zhiruo.

“What about Miss Zhao?” Xie Xun asked in alarm.

“I did not see her,” Zhang Wuji grimly said. Taking a deep breath, he tried to circulate his internal energy, but felt that his limbs were devoid of any strength; he could not transmit his energy at all. “Yifu,” he blurted out, “We are poisoned by the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ [ten fragrance muscle softener powder].”

Xie Xun had heard Zhang Wuji’s narration on how the masters of the Six Major Sects were poisoned by Zhao Min with ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ and how they were held captive in the Wan An Temple. He stood up and felt as if he was floating; as his legs were devoid of any strength. Calming himself down, he asked, “Did she take away the Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword as well?”

Zhang Wuji looked around and sure enough, he did not see either the Saber or the Sword. He was so enraged that he almost cried. Never would he imagine that Zhao Min was capable of doing this, taking advantage when he was in grave danger and employed such a sinister plot when he was down.

He was lost in thought for a moment. Then he remembered Yin Li and hastily went back to where Yin and Zhou, two women were sleeping. He pushed Zhou Zhiruo aside, but she was still fast asleep. He thought, “My internal energy is the deepest, hence I was the first to wake up. Yifu was next. Miss Zhou’s internal energy is far below ours. It looks like she won’t wake up for a while yet.” Immediately he ripped a piece of his clothes to wipe the blood from Yin Li’s oval face. He saw seven horizontal and eight vertical thin cuts crisscrossing her cheeks. Apparently, she was cut by the Yitian Sword.

Yin Li had lost a lot of blood after being injured by Zi Shan Long Wang Jin Hua Popo. As a result, the poison of the thousand spiders accumulated in her blood was also dispersed along with her blood, causing the swelling on her face to subside considerably. Hence, for these last several days, her face had slightly returned to its former look; the pretty look Yin Li had when she was younger. But right now, with these dozen of cuts, her face looked severely fearsome.

Zhang Wuji was both grieved and angry. Gnashing his teeth he said, “Zhao Min, oh, Zhao Min, if you fall into my hand and I spare you, then Zhang Wuji has lived in vain.” Calming himself down he went to the hillside to gather some medicinal herbs to stop the bleeding. He chewed the herbs and applied it on Yin Li’s face, also on Zhou Zhiruo’s scalp and ear.

Zhou Zhiruo yawned and opened her eyes. Suddenly she saw Zhang Wuji was reaching out and groping her head. Her face turned red from shyness. Reaching up to shove his arm away, she angrily said, “You … what are you

…” Before finished speaking, she had felt the pain on her ear. Immediately she touched her ear and cried out, “Ah!” and jumped to stand up. “What

…?” she said, but suddenly she felt her knees weaken and she fell into Zhang Wuji’s bosom.

Zhang Wuji reached out to support her. “Miss Zhou,” he comfortingly said, “Don’t be afraid.”

Seeing Yin Li’s terrifying face, Zhou Zhiruo hastily lifted up her hand to touch her own face and asked in fear, “I … Am I also …?”

“No!” Zhang Wuji said, “You only suffer some minor wounds.”

“Did those evil Persians do this? I … Why didn’t I feel anything?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Zhang Wuji sighed and quietly said, “I am afraid … I am afraid Miss Zhao did this. She poisoned our food and drink last night.”

Zhou Zhiruo stared blankly for half a day. She stroked what remained of her ear and broke into tears. Zhang Wuji tried to console her, “You are lucky that the injury is not heavy. Your ear is damaged, but you can always put your hair down to cover it, others won’t be able to see.”

“Still talking about hair?” Zhou Zhiruo snapped, “My hair is also gone.”

Zhang Wuji said, “You only lost some on top of your head; if you arrange the hair on both sides of your head …”

“Why do I want to arrange the hair on both sides of my head?” Zhou Zhiruo angrily said, “Up this moment you are still trying to protect your Miss Zhao.”

This time Zhang Wuji bumped into a wall; he did not know what to say, so he became defensive, “I am not trying to protect her! She is cruel and merciless, harming Miss Yin this way. I … I am not going to forgive her.” Looking at Yin Li’s face, he could not hold tears from coming down his eyes.

Facing this situation Zhang Wuji was at a loss; he sat down and tried to circulate his internal energy, and he realized that the degree of his poisoning was not shallow. Actually, the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ could only be neutralized by the antidote from Zhao Min’s faction; but this time he tried to disperse the poison relying on his profound internal strength. Slowly he pushed the poison from his four limbs, condensed it into his ‘dan tian’, and then bit by bit he forced the poison out of his system.

After working hard for almost two hours, he felt that his effort had brought the desired effect. He was optimistic. Only, this technique required him to have the Jiu Yang Shen Gong foundation, which ruled out the possibility of him teaching it to Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo. He was hoping that after the poison in his system was flushed completely, he would be able to help Xie and Zhou two people driving the poison out of their systems.

This technique sounded simple, yet actually extremely complicated. Toward the afternoon of the seventh day, he only managed to drive out approximately 30% of the poison. Fortunately, this poison only prevent the victim from exerting their internal energy but harmless to their bodies. For the first several days Zhou Zhiruo was angry, but afterwards she gradually got used to it. She helped Xie Xun catching fish and shooting birds, boiling water and cooking their meals. At night she slept alone in a cave on the eastern end of the island, far away from where Zhang Wuji and the others lived.

Zhang Wuji was secretly ashamed, thinking that he was partly responsible for this disaster brought by Zhao Min. This Miss Zhao was obviously a Mongolian princess, an archenemy of his Ming Cult. Countless martial art experts of the Wulin world had fallen under her hands; yet surprisingly he did not guard against her at all. He felt he was so stupid.

Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo did not blame him; they did not even mention this problem to him, but he felt very bad in his heart. Sometimes when Zhou Zhiruo was looking at him, he felt as if she was saying, ‘You are blinded by Miss Zhao’s beauty, resulting in this great calamity.’

Yin Li’s condition was getting worse. This little island was located on the Southern Sea [nan hai], most of the flora was not found in Hu Qingniu’s medical manual. His medical knowledge might be profound, he did know perfectly well how to treat Yin Li’s condition; but he did not have any medication in his hand. The trees on the island were short and small, barely enough to be used as firewood; otherwise, he would have had built a raft early on and braving the danger he would sail away to the sea. Alternatively, he would not be this anxious if he did not know any medical skill. This time he felt like tens of thousands sharp daggers gouging and cutting his heart day and night.

It was late in the evening one day; he chewed some medicinal herbs to be fed into Yin Li’s mouth. This time the herbs entered Yin Li’s throat with difficulty. His heart was broken; tears streaming down his face, dropped onto Yin Li’s face.

Suddenly Yin Li opened her eyes, smiled faintly and said, “Ah Niu Gege, don’t feel bad. I am going to the underworld to see that heartless, short-lived little rascal Zhang Wuji. I want to tell him that in this world there is an Ah Niu Gege who treats me this well; who is a thousand times, ten thousand times better than Zhang Wuji.”

Zhang Wuji’s throat choked; in that moment he was contemplating whether he should reveal to her that he was Zhang Wuji.

Yin Li grabbed his hand and said, “Ah Niu Gege, I have never agreed to marry you, do you hate me? I think you are lying to me because you only want to make me happy. I am ugly, my temperament is strange, why would you want to marry me?”

“No!” Zhang Wuji said, “I am not lying you. You are a good and kind- hearted girl. I consider myself lucky if I can take you as my wife. Why don’t we wait until you are well, all things are settled, and then we can get married? What do you say?”

Yin Li reached out and gently caressed his cheek. Shaking her head she said, “Ah Niu Gege, I cannot marry you. I have given my heart early on to that ferocious heartless Zhang Wuji … Ah Niu Gege, I am a little bit scared; will I meet him when I get to the underworld? Will he still be hateful towards me?”

Zhang Wuji realized she was speaking clearly, her cheeks were red; he was inwardly alarmed, “This is the symptom of the last ray of light, could it be that she is going to die today?” He was lost I thought that he did not hear what she said. Yin Li grabbed his hand and asked him again. Zhang Wuji tenderly said, “He will forever treat you well, as if you are his precious darling.”

“Will he treat me half as good as you did?” Yin Li asked.

“Heaven is my witness,” Zhang Wuji said, “Zhang Wuji eagerly and sincerely loves you with all his heart. He has early on regretted that when he was little he treated you cruelly. He … his feelings toward you are exactly the same as mine; there is not the least bit distinction.” Yin Li sighed; a smile appeared on the corners of her mouth. “Then …” she said, “Then I am happy …” Her grip on his hand gradually loosened, her eyes slowly closed, finally she stopped breathing.

Zhang Wuji hugged her body tight, thinking that until the moment she died, she did not know that he was Zhang Wuji. All these times she had been losing her consciousness that he was unable to reveal the truth to her. Just before her death, when her consciousness was very clear, there was not enough time to talk. Actually, things had come this far, it really did not make any difference whether he revealed the truth or not. His heart was so much in pain that he cried without making any sound. He thought, “If Zhao Min did not cut her cheeks, her injury might not necessarily be incurable. If Zhao Min did not abandon us on this deserted island, we would have reached the Central Plains [zhong yuan] in a few days; surely I would have found a way to save her life.” Bitterly he muttered, “Zhao Min, your heart is like a serpent and scorpion. There will come a day when you will fall into my hand. Zhang Wuji will not spare your life in any way.”

Suddenly he heard a cold voice behind him, “When you see her beautiful, jade-like face, you won’t have a heart to do anything to her.” Turning around, he saw Zhou Zhiruo was standing in the breeze, her face showed contempt.

Zhang Wuji was grieved and ashamed at the same time; he said, “I have made a vow by my cousin’s body, if I do not punish that witch, Zhang Wuji won’t have a face to live on this world.”

“That would be the spirited pledge of a real man,” Zhou Zhiruo said. She rushed a few steps forward and wept bitterly while stroking Yin Li’s body.

Xie Xun also heard the noise of crying and went over. As he learned about Yin Li’s death, he could not help but feel heartbroken.

Zhang Wuji went to a small hill to dig Yin Li’s grave. The soil on that island was so shallow that he only dug for about two feet, and had already met hard rocks underneath. He did not have any shovel, so he had no choice but lay Yin Li’s body in that shallow hole. He was about to heap dirt on her when he saw the blood traces on her swollen face; he thought, “Gravel and dirt piled on her face might scratch her.” Thereupon he took some branches and weaved them above her body, then he carefully piled stones and rocks on top of the branches, as if she was still alive and he was afraid the stones might hurt her.

Finally, he cut a tree trunk, peeled the bark, and then using Yin Li’s dagger he carved these words on it: ‘The Tomb of my Beloved Wife, Zhu’Er Yin Li’ and below it he wrote: ‘Zhang Wuji Sincerely Stated’.

Everything was ready so at last he threw himself down and cried loudly. Zhou Zhiruo consoled him, “Miss Yin’s feelings toward you were so deep and you also have showed her profound kindness. Only, do not forget what you have sworn today: you must kill Zhao Min to avenge her death; then Yin Jia Meizi [lit. (younger) sister of the Yin family] in the underworld will also smile.”

Due to his intense grief, the poison that had been concentrated in Zhang Wuji’s ‘dan tian’ [pubic region] was dispersed once again, wasting his several days’ worth of effort. As a result, he had to work hard for more than ten days to gradually condense the poison and expel it out of his system.

The weather on that small island was sizzling hot; but it had plenty of wild fruits, which they could pick without any trouble to satisfy their hunger, so their lives were not terribly difficult. Zhou Zhiruo was aware that Zhang Wuji was grieved over Yin Li’s death, angered over Zhao Min’s craftiness, and regretted Xiao Zhao’s departure; so she treated him gently with consideration.

After Zhang Wuji transferred his divine internal energy to help Xie Xun expel the poison in his body, he sould have done the same to help Zhou Zhiruo driving the poison out of her body. But this method of transferring energy required him to put one palm on her lower waist, and the other palm on the navel above her lower abdomen; how could a young man and a young woman touch each other in such intimate places? Yet without transferring his Nine Yang Divine Energy, how could he help her? He contemplated for several days without being able to make any decision.

That particular evening Xie Xun suddenly said, “Wuji, how many more days do you think we are going to stay on this island?”

Zhang Wuji was startled. “That is hard to say,” he said, “I just hope there will be a ship sailing by and rescue us and take us back to the Central Earth.”

“We have been here for more than a month,” Xie Xun said, “Have you seen any shadow of a ship even from a distant?”

“I have not,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Exactly,” Xie Xun said, “Perhaps tomorrow there will be a ship coming by, but then again, perhaps there will never be any ship passing by in a hundred years.”

Zhang Wuji sighed, “This uncultivated island is outside the sailing route of the ocean ships; whether or not we can return to the Central Earth, is extremely uncertain.”

“Hmm,” Xie Xun said, “The antidote is hard to come by. Other than weakening the four limbs, if the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ remains in the body, does it have any other adverse effect?”

“If it is not too long, then there is no adverse effect,” Zhang Wuji said, “But this kind of poison invades the muscle and erodes the bones; if it stays in the body too long, all the internal organs would unavoidably receive some damages.”

“That’s so,” Xie Xun said, “Then why don’t you think of some way to expel the poison from Miss Zhou’s body as soon as possible? You said Miss Zhou and you have known each other since your childhood. At that time ‘xuan ming han du’ [the cold poison of Xuan Ming palm] was still inside your body, and she had shown kindness to you. Where else would you find gentle and virtuous woman like her? Could it be that you don’t like her because she is not beautiful enough?”

“No, no,” Zhang Wuji said, “If Miss Zhou is not beautiful then there is no beautiful women in the world.”

“Let me make the decision for you, then,” Xie Xun said, “Marry her. Then you don’t need to worry about this man-woman propriety anymore.”

Zhou Zhiruo was around when they started talking; suddenly hearing her name being mentioned, she was shy and blushed. She stood up and walked away. Xie Xun leaped and opened up his arms, blocking her way. “Don’t go, don’t go!” he said with a laugh, “Today I am the matchmaker, and I have made my decision.”

“Xie Laoye Zi,” Zhou Zhiruo angrily said, “You do not act your age! We are seeking a way to return to the Central Earth; how can you speak such nonsense in time like this?”

Xie Xun laughed heartily. “The joining of a man and a woman is an important matter of a lifetime; why did you say it is nonsense talk? Wuji, your parents were also on a deserted island when they bowed to the heaven and to the earth to become man and wife. If at that time they did not strictly follow the secular propriety and tradition, how in the world would there be a young fellow: you? Much less today you have your Yifu presiding at the wedding for you. Don’t you like Miss Zhou? Don’t you want to repel the poison in her body?”

Zhou Zhiruo covered her face and was about to walk away. Xie Xun pulled her sleeve while laughing, “Where are you going? Don’t you think we are going to see each other tomorrow or the next day? Ah, I know! You don’t want to call a blind man as your father-in-law.”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “Xie Laoye Zi is a hero of this age …”

“Do you agree, then?” Xie Xun asked. Zhou Zhiruo simply replied, “No, no!”

“You think this Yizi [foster child] of mine is not a good husband material?” Xie Xun asked again.

Zhou Zhiruo was taken aback. “Zhang Gongzi’s martial art skill is unquestionably outstanding, his name is revered within the Jianghu,” she said, “To … to have him as a husband, what else can I ask for? Only … only

…”

“Only what?” Xie Xun asked.

Zhou Zhiruo cast a quick glance toward Zhang Wuji and said, “He … in his heart he really likes Miss Zhao. I know that.”

Xie Xun clenched his teeth. “That lowly person Zhao Min has treated us this cruelly, how can Wuji still persist in his own wrong doing? Wuji, I want to hear it from your own mouth.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was torn; he remembered Zhao Min’s cheerful talks and her touching actions. He felt if he could take Zhao Min as his wife and be with her forever, then that would be his entire’s life happiness. But as he remembered the seven horizontal and eight vertical sword cuts on Yin Li’s face dripping-with-blood, he hastily said, “Miss Zhao is my archenemy. I want to kill her to avenge Biaomei’s [younger female cousin] blood.”

“That’s more like it,” Xie Xun said, “Miss Zhou, are you still jealous?”

In a low voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “I am not convinced, unless … unless you tell him to make a vow. Otherwise, I’d rather die with poison in me than asking him to help me drive the poison away.”

“Wuji, quickly make a vow!” Xie Xun said.

Zhang Wuji dropped down on his knees and said, “I, Zhang Wuji, if I ever forget Biaomei’s deep hatred, let me not be forgiven by the Heaven and the Earth.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “I want you to state clearly; what are you going to do to that Miss Zhao?”

“Wuji, state it clearly at once,” Xie Xun said, “What ‘forgiven by the Heaven and the Earth’? Too ambiguous.”

In a loud and clear voice Zhang Wuji said, “That witch Zhao Min works for Tartars’ imperial family, makes our people’s live miserable, harms my fellow Wulin warriors, stole my Yifu’s precious Saber, and harmed my Biaomei Yin Li. As long as I live, Zhang Wuji will not dare to forget this deep enmity. If I violate my vow, let the Heaven loathe me, and the Earth curse me.”

Zhou Zhiruo smiled sweetly; she said, “I am afraid when the time comes, you won’t have a heart to make your move.”

“Listen to me,” Xie Xun said, “There is no particular day that is better than any other day. We are Jianghu’s warriors. We don’t fuss over detailed formalities and womenfolk’s mumbo-jumbo. As long as you, two young people, agree, then you can bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married today. The sooner you get rid of this ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’, the better.”

“No! Yifu, Zhiruo, please listen to me,” Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Yin had a very deep feeling toward me; she had always wanted me as her husband since she was young. In my heart I have also regarded her as my wife. Although there was no ceremony, we could be considered husband and wife. Now that her body and her bones are not yet cold, how can I tie another joyous relationship immediately?”

Xie Xun hesitated before saying, “That’s true. What do you suggest, then?”

“In your child’s opinion,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Child will agree on an engagement with Miss Zhou today, and immediately help her repel the poison from her body; this will be much more convenient. Supposing the Heaven granted us returning to the Central Earth someday, Child will put Zhao Min to the blade and recapture the Tulong Saber, and return it to Yifu. At that time the marriage with Miss Zhou can be consummated. That way we satisfy both sides.”

Xie Xun laughed and said, “That sounds very good; but what if within ten years, eight years, we still are not able to return to the Central Earth?”

Zhang Wuji said, “After three years, no matter whether we can leave this island or not, Child will ask Yifu to preside over our marriage.”

Xie Xun nodded and asked Zhou Zhiruo, “Miss Zhou, what do you say?”

Zhou Zhiruo lowered her head without answering. After half a day she finally said, “I am a lone orphan, what idea do I have? I’ll leave everything on Laoye Zi’s hand.”

Xie Xun laughed heartily and said, “Very good! Very good! It’s settled. You two are engaged. No need to worry about custom and tradition. Wuji, drive the poison from my daughter-in-law away.” After saying this he walked to toward the back of the hill in big strides.

“Zhiruo,” Zhang Wuji said, “That difficulty was caused by me, can you forgive me?”

Zhou Zhiruo smiled and said, “Because I am ugly, you tried to refuse in every possible way. If it was Miss Zhao, I am afraid tonight you would have…” Speaking to this point, she turned her head around as she felt uncomfortable to continue.

Zhang Wuji’s heart skipped a beat as he thought, “When we were adrift on that small boat, I was foolishly and presumptuously thinking of marrying four beauties. Actually the one my heart really loves is that won’t-stop-at- any-crime, evil-and-sly little witch. People call me a hero in vain; in my heart I cannot differentiate good from evil, easily infatuated by a pretty face.” Zhou Zhiruo turned her head back. Seeing he was lost in thought as if in a trance, she stood up to walk away. Zhang Wuji reached out to grab her hand and pulled her down. Unexpectedly Zhou Zhiruo’s internal energy was gone; her feet were weak. She staggered and stumbled back into Zhang Wuji’s bosom. After struggling hopelessly, she angrily said, “Must you bully me for my whole life?”

Seeing her frowning and a bit angry, Zhang Wuji’s heart was touched; he hugged her tender and soft body and said in a low voice, “Zhiruo, when we met on the River Han when we were both little, I have never imagined there will come a day like today. On the Brightness Peak I was alone facing four elders from Kunlun and Huashan, two sects; you gave me directions and saved my life. At that time I appreciated your loving care to me, but I did not dare to have any absurd thoughts.”

Leaning on his bosom, Zhou Zhiruo said, “That day I stabbed you with a sword, don’t you hate me?”

“You did not stab me on the chest,” Zhang Wuji replied, “That’s why I knew that you secretly have a feeling toward me.”

“Pei!” Zhou Zhiruo spat, her cheeks blushed, she said, “If I knew early on that you are going to say that, I’d stab your chest, kill you neat and clean, so I’d avoid being bullied by you later on, listening to your nonsense.”

Zhang Wuji embraced her tighter and said, “Hereafter my love to you will be doubled or tripled, we are husband and wife, two people one body; how can I mistreat you?”

Zhou Zhiruo leaned some more to look at his face; she said, “What if I wrong you or offend you, will you hit me, scold me, kill me?”

Zhang Wuji’s face was only several inches apart from her egg shaped face, he felt her breath was like an orchid; he could not restrain from kissing her left cheek gently while saying, “You are such a gentle and cultured lady, a dignified, worthy, warm and virtuous wife; how can you make a mistake?” Zhou Zhiruo gently caressed the back of his neck. “Even a saint erred,” she said, “Since I was little I had never had a father and a mother to instruct me. It would be difficult not to mess up sometimes.”

“Whatever your mistake is, I can advise you nicely,” Zhang Wuji said.

“Will you always be faithful to me?” Zhou Zhiruo asked, “Are you sure you won’t ever kill me?”

Zhang Wuji kissed her gently on her forehead; “Don’t have absurd ideas,” he said in a tender voice, “How can there be such thing?”

With a trembling voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “I want you to promise me with your own mouth.”

“All right!” Zhang Wuji laughed, “I will always be faithful to you. I won’t ever kill you.”

Staring at his eyes, Zhou Zhiruo said, “I don’t want you to joke around. I want you to take this seriously.”

Zhang Wuji laughed, “I wonder how many weird thoughts are in this small head of yours?” he said, while thinking in his heart, “Because I have shown feeling towards Zhao Min, Xiao Zhao and Biaomei that it is difficult for her to trust me. But from now on, how can there be this matter?” Thereupon he wiped the smile from his face and solemnly said, “Zhiruo, you are my beloved wife. Formerly I was double-minded [lit. three hearts two intentions]. I hope you won’t blame my past. From now on, I will always be faithful to you. Even if you make any mistake, I won’t blame you or scold you.”

“Wuji Gege [big brother Wuji],” Zhou Zhiruo said, “You are a real man; you must remember your own words to me tonight.” Looking at the rising bright moon she said, “The moon in the sky is our witness.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “You are totally correct, the moon in the sky is our witness.” Still holding Zhou Zhiruo in his bosom, he looked at the bright moon on the horizon and said, “Zhiruo, all my life I have suffered a lot because of other people’s deceits, I don’t know the amount of pain I have endured since my childhood; I lost track already. It was only on the Binghuo [ice and fire] Island, when I was with Father, Mother and Yifu, that I enjoyed peace without falling into other people’s deceitful schemes. The first time I arrived at the Central Plains [zhong yuan], I met with a beggar with a snake. He deceived me into poking my head into his sack to take a closer look; unexpectedly he covered the sack over my head and kidnapped me. How could I guess that after going through life and death situation together, sharing the same trials and tribulations; on the very first night we arrived on this little island, Zhao Min has put violent poison in our food?”

Forcing a smile Zhou Zhiruo said, “You are a ‘will-not-stop-until-you-reach- the-Yellow-River’ type of person; but by the time you reach the Yellow River, it is too late to regret.” [Translator’s note: I know that I translated this passage rather literally; but I believe the readers will appreciate the imagery of the original sentence.]

Suddenly Zhang Wuji’s heart was overwhelmed with happiness. “Zhiruo,” he said, “You are the only one who has always loved me. You always treated me kindly. Someday when we return to the Central Plains, you will stay by my side and help me guard against lowly people’s craftiness and deceits. With a worthy wife like you to help me, I can be spared of many hardships.”

Zhou Zhiruo shook her head. “I am the most useless woman,” she said, “I am weak and incapable, plus I am dumb. Let’s not talk about the extremely smart Miss Zhao, whose intelligence compared to mine is as far as the heaven from the earth; I don’t have any chance against Xiao Zhao, who possesses such a profound understanding in her heart. Your Miss Zhou is a naïve and dim-witted little girl; don’t you know it by now?”

“You are an honest and considerate, intelligent and virtuous girl,” Zhang Wuji said, “You will not deceive me.”

Zhou Zhiruo turned around and hid her face in his bosom. “Wuji Gege,” she said in tender voice, “To be able to marry you, my delight is unspeakable. I only hope you won’t belittle me because I am stupid and useless, and bully me because I am unworthy. I … I will do my best to take care of you.”

The next day Zhang Wuji used the Jiu Yang Shen Gong to help Zhou Zhiruo expel the poison. At first they made a good progress; perhaps because she did not eat too much, her level of poisoning was not as severe as Xie Xun. However, toward the seventh day, suddenly he felt a resistance, which was ‘yin’ [negative/female] and cold in nature, coming from her body, fighting his Jiu Yang energy. Although Zhou Zhiruo strived to control this resistance, it was difficult for the Jiu Yang energy to enter her body. In his astonishment Zhang Wuji went to consult Xie Xun.

Xie Xun pondered for half a day before saying, “I don’t know for sure, but most likely it was because her Emei Pai’s masters were always women, the internal energy they train is ‘yin rou’ [negative/female, and soft/flexible] in nature.”

Zhang Wuji nodded his agreement. Luckily Zhou Zhiruo’s internal energy level was far below his, so that he was able to suppress the resisting ‘yin’ energy in her body; but by doing this he was required to use up a lot more energy than when he was helping Xie Xun. Zhang Wuji secretly felt that although at this moment her ‘yin’ energy was still weak, but her achievement in the future would not be a small matter.

“Zhiruo,” he praised, “Zunshi [revered master] Miejue Shitai was truly an expert of her generation. The internal energy cultivation method she passed on to you is extremely profound; I can feel it even now. If you train diligently, your energy level may run neck to neck with my Jiu Yang Shen Gong; you may even surpass me.”

“Don’t mock me!” Zhou Zhiruo said, “How can Emei Pai’s martial art be compared to Zhang Da Jiaozhu’s [great cult leader Zhang] Jiu Yang Shen Gong and Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi?

“You have talent,” Zhang Wuji said, “Although you don’t know too many martial art forms and stances, your internal energy foundation is excellent. My Tai Shifu [grand master, he was referring to Zhang Sanfeng] once said, in the advance study of martial art, oftentimes the level of achievement each individual is closely related to one’s natural endowments. Furthermore, someone who is intelligent and possesses excellent comprehension may not necessarily capable of achieving the highest level of mastery. It was said that your sect’s founder, Zushi [ancestor master] Guo Nuxia’s [heroine Guo] father, Guo Jing Daxia [great hero] was slow, yet his martial art skill shook the world from the ancient time until today. Even Tai Shifu said that his energy level has not reached the level of Guo Daxia of the past. It seems to me that your Emei Pai’s internal energy cultivation technique is superior to the Wudang Pai’s; I’ll say that your future achievement may surpass Zunshi Miejue Shitai’s.”

Zhou Zhiruo rolled her eyes; faking anger she said, “If you want to flatter me, you don’t need to say my martial art is good. If I can master only 10 or 20% of Shifu’s ability, I would be satisfied. If you can teach me one or two techniques from your Jiu Yang Shen Gong and Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, I would be very grateful.”

Zhang Wuji hesitated without answering. Zhou Zhiruo continued, “Do you think I am not fit to become Zhang Da Jiaozhu’s disciple?”

“No!” Zhang Wuji said, “I only aware that your internal energy technique is entirely different than mine. I’ll say our techniques took opposite approach from the start. If you learn my internal energy technique, you are facing a difficult and dangerous problem.”

“It’s all right if you don’t want to teach me,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “The worst thing that can happen if I learn martial art skill is I fail; how can there be any danger?”

“No, no!” Zhang Wuji was serious, “My Jiu Yang Shen Gong is purely ‘yang gang’ [positive/male and hard/firm] in nature. Right now you are training in the Emei Pai’s internal energy, which takes the purely ‘yin rou’ approach. If you also train my internal energy technique, then the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ would collide in your body. Unless it is a martial art genius like my Tai Shifu; he might be able to combine water and fire, harmonize the firm and the supple. Otherwise, if you miss a single step, you’ll face a terrible, terrible disaster. Mmm, let’s wait until your internal energy is strong enough, I’ll teach you the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi theory and you can start training it.”

Zhou Zhiruo laughed, “I was only joking,” she said, “Later on I will always be together with you; your martial art skill, my martial art skill, what difference does it make? I am too lazy, your Jiu Yang Shen Gong is very difficult to train, even if you force me to practice, I am afraid it will be too difficult for me.” Hearing her saying this, Zhang Wuji felt sweetness in his heart.

With love and happiness in their hearts, time was passing swiftly. Several months had passed in a flash. Zhou Zhiruo’s internal energy had been completely recovered; she did not feel anything unusual, hence she believed the poison had been completely expelled from her system.

One particular day, they saw the peach blossom trees on the eastern side of the island were blooming beautifully. Zhang Wuji picked several branches of the peach blossom and planted them in front of Yin Li’s grave. He saw the piece of wood he carved with the characters ‘The Tomb of my Beloved Wife, Zhu’Er Yin Li’ was laying flat on the ground; perhaps it was knocked down by some wild animals. He picked it up and re-inserted it deeply to the ground. He remembered how his cousin lived a miserable life; perhaps she did not even have a single day of happiness.

While he was still reveling in sadness, suddenly he heard the clamoring noise of seagulls on the sea. Lifting his head up, he saw a ship in the distant sailing toward the island. He was overjoyed at this unexpected scene and loudly shouted, “Yifu, Zhiruo, there’s a ship coming in, there’s a ship coming in!”

Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo heard his shout and they rushed together to the shore. In a trembling voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “How can there be a ship coming to this desolate island?” “It’s strange indeed,” Zhang Wuji said, “Could it be that they are pirates?”

In less than an hour that ship had dropped its anchor offshore, and sent a small boat to the island. Zhang Wuji, three people, waiting for them on the beach. They saw the sailors on that small boat wear Mongolian naval military uniforms. Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, “Could it be that Miss Zhao was pricked by her conscience and returned to this island?” Casting a sidelong glance toward Zhou Zhiruo, he saw that her beautiful eyebrows were slightly wrinkled, while her chest was heaving up and down; apparently she was very much concerned.

A short moment later the small boat landed. Five sailors stepped on to the beach. Their leader, a naval officer, bowed respectfully toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Are you Zhang Wuji, Zhang Gongzi [honorable master Zhang]?”

“I am,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Who are you, Officer?”

As that officer heard Zhang Wuji answering in affirmative, he looked delighted and relieved. “Xiao Ren’s [lit. little/lowly person, a subordinate addressing him/herself] humble name is Pastai. I truly am fortunate to be able to find Gongzi today. I have received order to find Zhang Gongzi and Xie Daxia and take you back to the Central Earth.” He did mention Zhang and Xie, two people’s names, but did not mention Zhou Zhiruo.

“Officer has toiled to come from afar, I wonder who has sent you?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Pastai replied, “Xiao Ren is a subordinate of Tawa-chelu, the local naval commander in charge of Fujian defense. We have received order from General Pordu to set sail and meet you. Altogether General Pordu dispatches eight ships to search for Zhang Gongzi and Xie Daxia on the water around Fujian, Zhejiang and Guangdong, three provinces. I can’t believe in the end Xiao Ren is the one who render this great merit.” His meaning was obvious; apparently his superior had promised promotion and great reward to whoever succeeded in finding Zhang Wuji. Hearing that unfamiliar Mongolian general’s name, Zhang Wuji thought the general must have received Zhao Min’s order to find him at any cost. “How did your honorable superior find out about me?” he asked.

“According to General Pordu’s instructions,” Pastai replied, “Zhang Gongzi is a nobleman of high status, also a great hero of the present age. Xiao Ren was ordered that after we find you, we must serve Gongzi attentively. As for why we must find Gongzi, Xiao Ren’s rank is too low for the Mongolian General to explain the reason.”

“Is this Shaomin Junzhu’s idea?” Zhou Zhiruo interrupted.

Pastai was startled, “Shaomin Junzhu?” he asked, “Xiao Ren has not had any good fortune to see her.”

Zhou Zhiruo coldly said, “What good fortune or bad fortune?”

“Shaomin Junzhu is our Mongolia’s most beautiful woman,” Pastai said, “No, she is the world’s most beautiful woman; well-versed in both pen and sword [wen wu quan cai – skilled in both literature and military], she is the Ruyang Wangye’s [prince of Ruyang] ‘qian jin’ [lit. thousand gold, the most valuable, honorable term for a daughter]. How can Xiao Ren have the good fortune of seeing her ‘jin mian’ [lit. golden face]?”

“Humph,” Zhou Zhiruo snorted, but didn’t say anything further. “Yifu,” Zhang Wuji said to Xie Xun, “In that case, let us go aboard.”

“Let’s go back to our cave to fetch some things first before we embark the ship,” Xie Xun said, “Officer, please wait here for a moment.”

Pastai said, “Let Xiao Ren and the sailors get your luggage.”

Xie Xun laughed and said, “What luggage do we have? Please don’t bother.” Taking Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo’s hands, he went to the back of the hill and said, “Out of the blue Zhao Min sends a ship to take us back; she must have a sinister plan. How do you think we must deal with it?”

“Yifu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Do you suppose … do you suppose Zhao Min … she might be on board?”

“If this little witch is onboard, that would be better,” Xie Xun said, “We must watch our food and drink; and not to fall into her trap again.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “We’d better bring the salted fish and the dried fruit we have collected, also water from this island. We must not eat the food from the ship.”

“I think Zhao Min is not onboard,” Xie Xun said, “She wants to copy those Persians’ plot; she lures us onboard, once we are on the open sea, then she’d send Mongolian navy ships to open fire and sink our ship.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart sank, with a trembling voice he said, “She … is she that evil? She has left us stranded on this desolate island, let us live or die on our own, without any chance to return to the Central Earth, wasn’t that enough? The three of us would not bother her anymore, would we?”

With a cold laugh Xie Xun said, “You have freed the masters of the Six Major Sects she held captive in the Wan An Temple; how could she not hate you to the bone? Besides, the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult is missing, at this moment, everybody in the Ming Cult, from the top to the bottom, is involved in the large scale search and rescue operation. There is no guarantee that they will not find this desolate island. Only by burying us in the bottom of the ocean floor would she be free of trouble forever.”

“Firing their cannons?” Zhang Wuji said, “Wouldn’t that mean Pastai and all these Mongolian sailors will deliver their lives in vain?”

Xie Xun laughed out loud, followed by a sigh, he said, “Wuji, Child, those people wield power over the entire Mongolian armed forces; how can they value human lives? If they were like you, kind hearted and merciful, how can the Mongolians conquer four oceans, sweep hundreds of nations? From the ancient times, which great hero, who earned great honor, did not take the bull by its horns, if they must kill then they killed? Let’s not talk about ordinary officers and soldiers, they would even kill their own father and mother, their sons and daughters.”

Zhang Wuji was silent for half a day then grimly said, “Yifu is right.” He had always known that the Mongolians were brutal and merciless toward their enemies, but surely they would cherish their own subordinates and people? At this moment, listening to Xie Xun, he felt as if his heart was torn in two: he wanted to return to the Central Earth, to hold command over the heroes and warriors in driving the Tartars away; but speaking about governing a country to maintain peace and security, he was convinced it was not in his power to do so.

“Yifu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “What shall we do?”

“What is in my daughter-in-law’s mind?” Xie Xun asked.

“Can we not board the boat?” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Let’s tell those Mongolian sailors that we enjoy living in this island and do not have any desire to return to the Central Plains.”

Xie Xun smiled and said, “That is a naïve little girl’s naïve idea. We do not want to go on board, do you think the enemy will let us go just like that? Let’s say we kill everybody on this ship, officers and sailors alike, do you think they will not dispatch ten more, eight more ships to find us? Besides, there are a lot of important matters in the Central Plains, waiting for Wuji to attend to. How can we let him grow old and die on this deserted island?”

Zhou Zhiruo’s pretty face blushed profusely. “Please give us instruction; we’ll listen to Yifu’s advice,” she said in a low voice.

Xie Xun thought of a plan for a moment and then said, “Let’s do it this way.” Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo listened to his plan and agreed that it was a marvelous plan. Zhang Wuji went to Yin Li’s grave to pray and shed some farewell tears before embarking the ship. To fight boredom on the island, Zhou Zhiruo had carved many little wooden horses and wooden figurines. She wrapped everything in one big bundle and carried it on her back.

Zhang Wuji checked the cabin, inside and out, very carefully. Indeed Zhao Min was not onboard; he also made sure that there was nobody onboard who might do them harm. He noticed that the officers and sailors were not martial art practitioners.

After the ship had weighed the anchor, when they only set sail for dozens of ‘zhang’s, suddenly Zhang Wuji reached back and grabbed Pastai’s right wrist, while his other hand snatched the saber hanging on Pastai’s belt, and pressed the saber behind his neck. “Listen to my order,” he shouted, “Tell the helmsman to turn eastward!”

Pastai was shocked, “Zhang Gong … Gongzi,” he trembled, “Xiao … Xiao Ren does not dare to offend you.”

“Listen to my orders,” Zhang Wuji said, “If you disobey, I am going to chop your head.”

“Yes, yes!” Pastai said, and shouted his order, “Helms … helmsman! Quick

… turn the ship eastward!” The helmsman turned the rudder to follow his command. The ship circled around the island and sailed to the east.

Zhang Wuji shouted, “You Mongolians are setting a trap to harm us. I have seen through your scheme. Quickly admit it! If you lie to me, I’ll take your life.” Having said that he raised his right palm and slapped the ship’s edge. Wood debris flew everywhere, as a big chunk of wood came off from the ship’s edge. The officers and sailors onboard watched with amazement.

Pastai said, “Gongzi, please understand: Xiao Ren received my superior’s order to take Gongzi home; we don’t have any other intention. Xiao Ren … Xiao Ren only hoped to render a service and receive the rewards, we really do not have any ill-intention.” Zhang Wuji knew he was telling the truth; thereupon he released Pastai’s wrist, walked to the bow, and lifted the iron anchor with his left hand, while his right hand also reached out and lifted another anchor. “Everybody, watch this!” he shouted, while throwing both anchors to the air. The Mongolians gasped and then cried out in alarm.

As the anchors fell back down, using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi technique, one hand snatched, the other pushed, Zhang Wuji threw the anchors back up to the air. He did this three times, before he finally caught the anchors and gently put them down on the bow. The Mongolians have always admired brave warriors; seeing this astonishing demonstration of prowess, they bowed down in respect and did not dare to disobey.

Following Zhang Wuji’s instructions, the helmsman drove the ship to the east. They sailed on the open sea for three days, until the only thing they could see was mighty waves whose heights reach the sky. Xie Xun anticipated that Zhao Min only dispatched battleships to search on the water around Fujian and Guangdong area; right now their ship had sailed deep into the ocean, so there was no way the battleships would find them.

After five days, they instructed the helmsman to turn northward. They continued heading north for more than twenty days, so that even if Zhao Min was ten times smarter, it would be difficult for her to guess the location of the ship correctly. Thereupon, they instructed the helmsman to turn the ship westward, towards the Central Earth. During their voyage of more than a month, Zhang Wuji and the others did not touch the food from the ship; they either ate the provisions brought from the island, or caught fish from the ocean.

Around the seventh hour one day [between 11am – 1pm], they saw land in the distance. The Mongolian officers and sailors had been on the sea too long; as they saw they were going home, everybody cheered in delight. By the nightfall, the ship had dropped its anchor by the shore.

The landscape of that area was mountainous and the seawater was really deep so the ship was able to moor right next to the stony shore.

“Wuji,” Xie Xun said, “Go ashore and find out what kind of place is this?” Zhang Wuji complied and flew ashore.

He explored for a while and everywhere he went, he saw green thick forest; with the snow that started to melt on the ground, turning the soil into deep mud. After walking for a while, the forest got darker. All around him were gigantic ancient pine trees, the trunks were so big that each one needed several people join hands to encircle it. He flew up a tall tree to get a better view, and no matter which direction he looked he could not see the edge of the forest. Surprisingly, in this sea of trees, he did not see any sign of other human beings either. He thought even if he went further down the forest, he would see the same thing; therefore, he decided to return to the ship.

Before reaching the shore, he had already heard miserable shouts; and these extremely sad and shrill sounds were coming from the ship. He was shocked, rushed to the shore, and immediately flew to the bow.

He saw the deck was full of bodies scattered around; they were the Mongolian officers’ and soldiers’ corpses, from Pastai down to the last sailor. Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo were standing on the deck, but he did not see any trace of the enemy.

In shock he asked, “Yifu, Zhiruo, are you all right? Where is the enemy?” “What enemy?” Xie Xun asked, “Did you see any trace of them?”

“No! But these Mongolians …” Zhang Wuji said. “Zhiruo and I killed them,” Xie Xun said.

Zhang Wuji was even more stunned, “I did not expect these Mongolians would dare to harm us as soon as we return to the Central Earth,” he said.

“They did not dare to harm us,” Xie Xun explained, “I killed them to close their mouths. As they are dead, Zhao Min will not know that we have returned to the Central Earth. From now on, she is in the bright place while we stay in the dark. It will be easier for us to exact our revenge.”

Zhang Wuji sucked a mouthful of cold air, and was speechless for half a day.

“What?” Xie Xun dryly said, “Are you blaming me for my cruelty? Tartars’ officers and soldiers are our enemies; are we supposed to treat them with the kindness of Bodhisattva?”

Zhang Wuji was silent; he remembered how these people had been taking care of them attentively, without the slightest degree of carelessness. Although they were enemies, he would not have the heart to kill them in cold blood like this.

“As the saying goes,” Xie Xun continued, “Those with small hearts are not people of noble characters, those who are not cruel are not real men. We don’t want to harm others, others want to harm us. That Zhao Min has treated us like this so we simply follow her way and do to her what she did to us.”

“Yifu is right,” Zhang Wuji said. But looking at Pastai and the others’ corpses, he could not hold tears from flowing down his cheeks.

“Make fire, burn the boat down,” Xie Xun said, “Zhiruo, search the bodies, take all gold and silver you can find. Also, get three swords or sabers for our self-defense.” Two people set the ship on fire then leaped to the shore.

The ship’s hull was really big hence it burned continuously until midnight before the fire gradually died down. The remnant of the ship, along with the bodies, slowly went down to the bottom of the ocean. It was a clean job, without the least bit of trace. Zhang Wuji had to admit that although his Yifu was merciless, he was a veteran of Jianghu, with experience far exceeding him.

Three people spent the night by the shore. They continued their journey southward early the next morning. It was not until the afternoon of the second day did they finally met seven, eight ginseng pickers. As they asked the men, they found out that that place was Liaodong [East Liaoning], outside the great wall, not too far from Changbai Mountain.

When they left those men, Zhou Zhiruo asked, “Yifu, shall we kill those men to shut their mouths?”

“Zhiruo!” Zhang Wuji snapped, “What are you talking about? These ginseng pickers do not even know who we are. Must we kill everybody we meet along the way?”

Zhou Zhiruo was so ashamed that her face turned completely red. In all her life, Zhang Wuji had never spoken to her like that.

“If it were me,” Xie Xun said, “I’d kill those ginseng pickers. But since Jiaozhu is unwilling to shed too many blood, we must quickly find a way to change our clothes, to remove any trace of our identities.”

They immediately quickened their pace. After walking briskly for two days, they finally left the forest. But it was not after walking another day did they finally see a peasant family’s home. Zhang Wuji took out some silver coins to buy clothes from the peasant, but the family was so poor that they did not have any extra clothes to sell. After going to seven, eight different homes, finally they were able to collect three sets of totally filthy clothes. Zhou Zhiruo was used to cleanness; smelling the stench accumulated over several years, she almost threw up. But Xie Xun was delighted; he instructed his two companions to smear their faces with mud. When Zhang Wuji looked at his reflection in the water, he saw a Liaodong’s beggar. Zhao Min might not necessarily recognize him even if she was standing right in front of him.

As they continued walking southward, they entered the Great Wall. One day they arrived at the suburb of a big town. Three people went straight to a big restaurant.

Zhang Wuji took three ‘liang’s worth of silver from his pocket and gave it to the innkeeper; he said, “You can settle the bill after we are done eating.” He was afraid that the innkeeper would not give them any food because of the way they dressed in ragged clothes.

Who would have thought that the innkeeper stood up respectfully and returned the silver with both hands, saying, “We thank Masters for patronizing our humble establishment; what is some insipid wine and crude rice? Please accept it compliment of our small inn.”

Zhang Wuji was very surprised. As they were seated, he said in low voice to Zhou Zhiruo, “Has our masquerade been exposed? Why did the innkeeper refuse our money?”

Zhou Zhiruo examined their clothes and appearance carefully, they did look like three beggars; which movement or expression of theirs had given them away?

“From the way that innkeeper speaks, I can tell that he is afraid of something,” Xie Xun said, “We must be careful.”

They heard some footsteps on the stairway as seven men walked in. As chance had it, these men also dressed as beggars. These seven men went to sit on the table by the window; their manners were haughty. The waiter appeared and respectfully greeted them, calling them ‘Master this’ and ‘Master that’, as if they were people of nobility or some high-ranking officials.

Zhang Wuji noticed that some of these beggars carried five pouches on their backs, while some others carried six pouches. Apparently, they were some high-ranking disciples of the Beggar Clan.

The waiter took their order and went downstairs. Before he even returned with their wine and dishes, there were six, seven more Beggar Clan’s disciples going up the stairs. In a short period of time, the restaurant upstairs were full with more than thirty Beggar Clan disciples; among whom there were three seven-pouch disciples.

Suddenly it dawned on Zhang Wuji that the Beggar Clan was having their assembly today, and the innkeeper misunderstood them as members of the Beggar Clan. With a low voice he said to better get out of here to avoid trouble. The Beggar Clan people in here are not a few.”

But right at that moment the waiter came back to serve them a large dish of beef and another dish of roasted whole chicken, plus five catties [1 catty is approximately equal to 1 lb or 0.5kg] of white wine. Xie Xun was very hungry; he had gone through the last few months without any decent meals. Smelling the roasted chicken, his index finger twitched and he said, “We are just quietly eating and drinking; we are not on their way, are we?” While saying that he took the bowl and with ‘glug, glug’ noise he drank half bowl of the white wine, while saying in his heart, “Heaven have mercy on me. Xie Xun has wandered overseas for more than twenty years, and today is the first time I can taste wine again.”

The white wine was actually rather strong, the way people in this area brew; but to him it was like the most refined wine. He took a deep sigh as if he was very content. After drinking one full bowl, he suddenly said in low voice, “Watch out, two people of high skill have just walked in!”

Zhang Wuji also heard footsteps on the stairs, and sure enough, two men with high level of martial art skill went up the stairs. As soon as they appeared on the entrance, a clamoring noise was heard as the beggars stood up simultaneously. Xie Xun made a hand signal, the three of them also stood up. These three actually sat inconspicuously by the wall near the corner, but if they stayed seated when everybody else was standing, they were afraid they would draw some unwanted attention.

Zhang Wuji saw the first man was of medium build and his face looked handsome with a triangular-shaped beard. Dressed in beggar’s garments, he looked more like a failed scholar. The man behind him was muscular, with dragon-like whiskers; his face looked ferocious. If he did not have a three- pointed beard, he would look just like Zhou Cang, the warrior holding a broadsword who stood by Guan Gong. These two men were about fifty years of age, their beards had turned grey. On their back there were nine small pouches, which were too small to carry anything, so those pouches were only used to show their rank within the Beggar Clan.

Zhang Wuji mused, “The Beggar Clan is known as the biggest clan in Jianghu. Tai Shifu used to say that in the former days, the Beggar Clan Bangzhu [Clan Leader] Hong Qigong was a righteous hero, with a very profound martial art skill; there wasn’t anyone in both orthodox and unorthodox paths who did not admire him. After him were Huang Bangzhu and Yelu Bangzhu, both were people of outstanding characters. But for the last several decades, the people who held leaderships over the Beggar Clan failed to bring the Clan’s prestige to its former glory. The current Bangzhu, Shi Huolong, is very seldom making an appearance in Jianghu. I wonder what kind of person he is? These two men bear nine pouches on their backs, so other than the Bangzhu, they hold the most revered position within the Clan. That day on the Lingshe Island, the Beggar Clan people came to take the Tulong Saber away from Yifu. I wonder if these two have any connection to them?”

The Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword had been stolen by Zhao Min, but the six tablets of Sheng Huo Ling were still in Zhang Wuji’s pocket. Apparently Zhao Min was afraid that his martial art skill was too strong that even after being poisoned by the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ he would still possess an extraordinary ability, hence she did not dare to grope around his pocket. Seeing they were among these powerful Beggar Clan people, Zhang Wuji did not dare to be careless; he reached into his pocket, tracing the six tablets of Sheng Huo Ling with his hand.

The two nine-pouch elders walked in and sat on the big table in the middle. The crowd of beggars returned to their seats one after another and continued eating and drinking, reaching out to get dishes or raising their bowl to drink the soup. They were as boisterous and uncouth as a pack of wolves.

Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun strained their ears, trying to hear the conversation between those two nine-pouch elders. Surprisingly, those two elders were only busy eating and drinking; other than saying something like ‘Please take another bowl’, or ‘This beef smells so good’, they did not talk about anything in particular. After those two leader-elders [orig. text long2 tou2 zhang3 lao3 – lit. dragon head elders] finished eating and drinking and went down the stairs, and the crowd of beggars also had their fill of wine and food, they dispersed in random. Xie Xun waited until the last of the beggars had left before he said in low voice, “Wuji, what do you think?”

“With so many of their high ranking members gathered together in this place, I don’t think they simply want to have a party,” Zhang Wuji said. “My guess is, they are going to have another meeting tonight at a secluded place to discuss proper business matters.”

“Must be so,” Xie Xun nodded, “The Beggar Clan has always been the enemy of our Cult. They took part in the burning down of our Brightness Peak, they also sent people to seize my Tulong Saber. We have to investigate clearly to see whether they are planning some sinister plot against our Cult or not.”

Three people went down the stairs towards the counter to pay their bill. The innkeeper was flabbergasted, saying that he would not take their money, no matter what. Zhang Wuji thought, “The Beggar Clan is really showing off their power here, that the inn and restaurant around here are afraid of them; they must be used to eating and drinking without paying, and run amuck without any regard of the law.”

Three people went out to find a small inn where they could spend the night. Although the town was teeming with Beggar Clan people, they usually did not stay at any inn, hence there was a slim chance of them meeting any Beggar Clan people in the inn.

“Wuji,” Xie Xun said, “My eyes cannot see a thing, it is very inconvenient for me to go out spying around. Zhiruo’s martial art skill is not high. If she goes out with you, I am afraid she will be a burden to you, so I am asking you to go alone.”

“Certainly,” Zhang Wuji said. He took a rest for a while in the inn, then left. He walked along the main street from south to north, but surprisingly did not see a single beggar on the street. Zhang Wuji mused, “It was less than an hour ago they left the restaurant and suddenly not a single beggar is in sight. They couldn’t have gone too far.”

Immediately he went to a dry goods store nearby. With menacing glance, he reached out over the counter, threatened to strike the shopkeeper while barking, “Hey, shopkeeper! Where did my brethrens go?”

Several shop attendants saw his ferocious and mean appearance; they thought he must be one of those loathsome beggars, they were all scared to death. One of them was braver than the other, he pointed north, and said with a smile, “Your noble clan friends are all heading north. Would you like to drink some tea, Master?”

“I don’t drink!” Zhang Wuji barked, “What damn, stinking tea is that?” Turning around he walked to the north in big strides, while laughing hard inside.

He had not walked far from the town when he saw a moving shadow among the tall grass by the road on his left, a Beggar Clan disciple stood up; it looked like he was about to shout some questions. Zhang Wuji quickened his step and was gone is a flash. That beggar rubbed his own eyes, he was so sure he saw somebody, but that person disappeared in a blink of an eye.

Zhang Wuji thought the Beggar Clan set up checkpoints along the way, their meeting must be heavily guarded; therefore, utilizing his ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] he sped up to the north. He saw the Beggar Clan checkpoints behind trees, among the grass, in between hills and by the rock side; but instead of being obstacles, they became his guide.

Rushing about four, five ‘li’s, Zhang Wuji saw there were roadblocks at every three steps and checkpoints at every five steps, the security got heavier and heavier. These people’s martial art skills were not high, but it was actually not easy to evade their sight under the bright sunny day. In the end Zhang Wuji was forced to leave the main road and continue on the narrow winding back road. Right away he saw a large temple at the end of a mountain passage on the waist of the mountain. He figured that the Beggar Clan people must be having their meeting in that temple. Thereupon he rushed toward the northeast corner, and then bypassing another beggar checkpoint to the west, he went straight to the temple side.

He noticed a plaque at the front of the temple with ‘Mi Lei Fo Miao’ [Buddha Maitreya Temple] written in large characters. The temple looked majestic and grand. Zhang Wuji mused, “This time the Beggar Clan’s important leaders are here in large numbers, it would be difficult to avoid being detected if I mingle among them.”

Looking around, he saw a large ancient pine tree on the left of the courtyard in front of the main hall, while to the right there was an old cypress tree. Both trees stood upright and tall, their thick branches and leaves towered over the main hall, both were perfect for a hiding place. Going around the back of the temple, Zhang Wuji leaped up to the roof, and then crawled to the corner of the eaves and lightly jumped to the top of the pine tree. Positioning himself behind a large branch, he peeked outside and silently acclaimed, “Lucky!” because from among the thick leaves, he could see the entire mail hall clearly.

He saw that the main hall floor was packed with beggars; he estimated their number to be more than three hundred. These beggars sat facing the inside of the hall, and nobody seemed to notice him jumping to the pine tree. There were five empty round meditation mats in the hall; apparently they were still waiting for some people to arrive. What was strange, though, that there were three, four hundred people, but not a single sound was heard; it was a totally different situation from the chaotic, boisterous fight over food and wine in the restaurant earlier. Zhang Wuji thought, “The Beggar Clan has enjoyed several hundred years of reputation. Although their prestige is fading lately, the manner of the olden days is not gone. That scene at the restaurant was an ordinary day situation, hence the elders did not rein them the law enforcement is very strict otherwise.” There was a Buddla Maitreya idol sitting in the main hall, its bare chest exposed its big belly, its mouth frozen in an eternal smile, looking so kind and benevolent. Zhang Wuji was still assessing the situation when suddenly someone in the hall was shouting, “’Zhang Bo Longtou’ [the leader in charge of the alms bowl (small earthenware bowl used by Buddhist monks to ask for alms)] has arrived!

The beggars stood up at once. A nine-pouched elder who looked like a scholar with a broken bowl in his hands, slowly walked in and stood on the right side.

Another shout was heard, “’Zhang Bang Longtou’ [the leader in charge of the (beggar) stick] has arrived!”

The nine-pouched elder who looked like Zhou Cang, lifting an iron stick high in his hands, walked in big strides, and stood on the left side.

That man shouted again, “Zhi Fa Zhanglao’ [law enforcement elder] has arrived!”

A thin and small old beggar walked in, his hand holding a worn-out bamboo mat. His steps were light and he walked without raising a single speck of dust. Zhang Wuji thought, “This man’s ‘qing gong’ is excellent; perhaps he is only a notch below Wei Fuwang [bat king Wei].”

Another shout was heard, “’Chuan Gong Zhanglao’ [instructor/teacher/coach (someone who passes on skills) elder] has arrived!”

This time an old beggar with white hair and white beard appeared. He was empty handed, and his level of martial art skill could not be evaluated from either his stature or his footwork.

The four elders occupied the four meditation mats, but the mat in the middle was still empty. They all bowed down and shouted in one voice, “Inviting Bangzhu [clan leader] to preside!”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, “I heard the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu is called the ‘Jin Yin Zhang’ [Gold and Silver Palm], Shi Huolong [his given name means ‘fiery dragon’],” he mused, “But in the Wulin world, very few people have ever seen his real face. I wonder what kind of character is he?”

In the main hall, all the beggars bowed down together. A moment later, the sound of footsteps was heard from behind the screen, and a large man walked in big strides. He was more than six feet tall, looked healthy and strong, with a red face like a high-ranking government officer. He stopped at the middle of the main hall and stood with his hands on his waist.

The crowd of beggars chorused, “The disciples in attendance pay their respect to Bangzhu.”

The Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu Shi Huolong waved his right hand and said, “That’s enough! You boys are well?”

“We wish Bangzhu well,” the crowd chorused. They waited until Shi Huolong took his seat on the middle meditation mat before they all sat down.

Shi Huolong turned toward Zhang Bo Longtou and said, “Weng Xiongdi [brother Weng], please tell everybody here about Jin Mao Shi Wang and the Tulong Saber.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart beat faster when he heard the name Jin Mao Shi Wang and the Tulong Saber being mentioned, he focused his attention to listen attentively.

Zhang Bo Longtou stood up, bowed to the Clan Leader, and then turned around and said, “Brethrens, the Devil Cult has been in enmity with our Clan for sixty years, the grievance between us is very deep. In the resent years, the Ming Cult has set up a new Cult Leader, by the name of Zhang Wuji. From our members who were involved in the besieging of the Brightness Peak, we learned that this man is an ignorant youngster. A child who is still wet behind the ears, whose yellow feathers have not been shed; which important achievement can he accomplish? How can he resist our Clan’s Shi Bangzhu’s heroism, ability and great accomplishments?” The crowd of beggars broke into thunderous cheers and applause, while Shi Huolong’s face looked pleased and proud.

Zhang Bo Longtou continued, “Only, they were originally split up and disunited, and killing each other; the internal strife immediately ceased after the Devil Cult’s new Cult Leader was appointed. This has become a big misfortune to our Clan. Within the last year or so, the Devil Cult leaders are staging numerous rebellions everywhere. In the Huai Si River region, there are Han Shantong and Zhu Yuanzhang; in the Liang Hu [lit. two lakes – Hunan and Hubei provinces], there is Xu Shouhui and his company. They have repeatedly defeated the Yuan soldiers and occupied not a few of places. It can be said that they quite make the grade. If they succeed in this great undertaking by driving out the Tartars, then we are done. Our Clan’s tens of thousands brethrens might die without any burial ground at that time.”

The crowd of beggars angrily shouted, “Must not let them succeed!” “The Beggar Clan swears to fight to the death with the Devil Cult.” “If the Devil Cult rules the world, can our Clan’s brethrens live?” “Tartars must go, but there is no way we would let the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu ascend to the throne.”

Zhang Wuji contemplated, “Who would have thought that while I was overseas for several months, the brethrens have done really great. The Beggar Clan is this apprehensive; apparently, it was not without any reason. The Beggar Clan people are numerous; there are many heroes and warriors among them; if we can join hands with them to fight the Yuan, then this important matter has a greater chance of success. Question is, how do I eradicate their suspicion, converting an enemy into a friend?”

Zhang Bo Longtou waited until the commotion somewhat subsided before continuing, “Shi Bangzhu has always lived peacefully in the ‘Lian Hua Shan Zhuang’ [Lotus Villa (a manor on the mountain)], and did not involve in the Jianghu for a long time; but with this kind of urgent matter, he does not have any choice but to preside over it personally. Also, with the Heaven’s blessing, our Clan’s eight-pouch Zhanglao [elder] Chen Youliang has made an acquaintance with a Wudang disciple and has obtained extremely important information.” Raising his voice he called out, “Chen Zhanglao!” “Here!” a voice from behind the wall responded.

Two men appeared, walking hand-in-hand. One of them was about thirty years of age, with a swift and fierce expression; he was none other than Chen Youliang whose life was spared by Xie Xun on the Lingshe Island. The other was a 27, 28 year-old handsome man; he was none other than Song Yuanqiao’s son, Song Qingshu.

When he heard ‘Chen Youliang has made an acquaintance with a Wudang disciple’, Zhang Wuji assumed it was some ordinary disciple under his martial uncles; who would have thought that it was a Wudang’s disciple who could be regarded as the first among the third generation disciples? “How can Song Shige [martial (older) brother] get mixed up with the Beggar Clan?” he thought. Following which, he thought, “Wudang Pai and the Beggar Clan are both chivalrous organizations, they have a good relationship with each other, so I should not wonder.”

Chen Youliang and Song Qingshu saluted Shi Huolong first, and then they greeted the Chuan Gong Zhanglao and Zhi Fa Zhanglao, Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhang Bo Longtou, before finally turning to face the crowd of beggars and cupped their fists.

“Chen Zhanglao,” Zhang Bo Longtou said, “Please tell the details of this matter to the brethrens here.”

Taking Song Qingshu’s hand, Chen Youliang said, “Brothers, this is Song Qingshu, Song Shaoxia [young hero Song], he is Wudang Pai’s Song Yuanqiao, Song Daxia’s [great hero Song] son. In the future, Wudang Pai’s Zhangmen [Sect Leader] position will no doubt fall into his hand. That Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu, Zhang Wuji, can be considered Song Shaoxia’s Shidi [martial (younger) brother], therefore, I can say with confidence that Song Shaoxia understands the internal matters inside the Devil Cult like the back of his hands. Several months ago, Shong Shaoxia informed me that the Devil Cult’s big leader [da mo tou, lit. big devil-head] Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun has arrived on the Lingshe Island of the East China Sea …”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao interrupted, “The Wulin world has exhausted all efforts in trying to find the Jin Mao Shi Wang, but for dozens of years nobody knows his whereabouts. How did Song Shaoxia suddenly found out? The Old Man here wants to know.”

Zhang Wuji had always had this question lingered on his mind, “Zi Shan Long Wang has forced information from Wu Lie, father and daughter, on my Yifu’s location before taking him south to the Lingshe Island. This is a top- secret information. How did the Beggar Clan find out and hence send some people to the island to seize the Saber?" Xie Xun and he had discussed this matter over several times, but all along they could not find a plausible answer. Now listening to Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s question, he focused his attention even more.

He heard Chen Youliang say, “Due to Bangzhu’s good fortune, we struck a coincidence. On the Eastern Sea there is someone by the name of Jin Hua Popo. I don’t know how, but she knew Xie Xun’s whereabouts. This old granny is highly skilled in maritime and navigational skill. Unexpectedly, she managed to find the desolate island of the far north where Xie Xun lived, and took him to the Lingshe Island. On that Lingshe Island, there were two people, father and daughter, being held captives. Their names were Wu Lie and Wu Qingying; they are the descendants of Dali’s Southern Emperor’s school of martial arts. Taking advantage of Jin Hua Popo leaving the island to visit the Central Plains [zhong yuan], they killed the guard and escaped from the island. They met some danger in Shandong area; luckily Song Shaoxia saved them. After talking for some times, Song Shaoxia learned about Jin Mao Shi Wang’s whereabouts.”

“Hmm, so that’s how it is,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao nodded.

In his heart Zhang Wuji also said, “Hmm, so that’s how it is.” He further considered, “Wu Lie, father and daughter, are not upright people; in the past, along with Zhu Zhangling, they did a painstaking effort to cheat Yifu’s whereabouts from my mouth. But as luck has it, the information was passed on to Zi Shan Long Wang. Speaking about water skill and navigation technique, I am afraid not many people in the world who can surpass Zi Shan Long Wang. If not her, who in the world could have found the Binghuo Island on the boundless North Sea? Even if my father and mother were resurrected from the dead, they might not necessarily be able to do that. It was divine intervention indeed.”

Chen Youliang continued, “Xiongdi [brother, referring to himself] and Song Shaoxia have forged a life-and-death friendship. As soon as I learned this information, I coordinated with Ji and Zheng, two eighth-pouch zhanglao, accompanied by five seven-pouch disciples, we went to the Lingshe Island to capture Xie Xun and seize the Tulong Saber to be presented to Bangzhu. Unexpectedly, the Devil Cult also sent a large army of warriors to the Lingshe Island. Although we did our best to fight, in the end we were defeated; Ji Zhanglao and four of the seven-pouch disciples have fallen. On the detail of the battle on the Lingshe Island, I invite Zheng Zhanglao to report to Bangzhu.”

The maimed Zheng Zhanglao stood up from among the crowd and narrated the battle between the Beggar Clan and the Ming Cult on the Lingshe Island. He did not say that the Beggar Clan people surrounded the lone Xie Xun, but he mentioned how numerous the Ming Cult people were, and how brave their own people fight the enemy, and finally he told about how Chen Youliang had placed his own life at stake to save him and to uphold justice. He was speaking fervently that his spittle flew everywhere. He said Xie Xun was very impressed with Chen Youliang’s uprightness that he did not dare to fight him. As the crowd of beggars in the main hall listened to his story, they were excited, their countenances flushed and they cheered repeatedly.

“Chen Xiongdi is both brave and resourceful, as well as loyal [orig. ‘yi4 qi4’

– spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice/code of brotherhood]. A man like him is truly hard to come by,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao commented.

Chen Youliang bowed and said, “For the sake of following Bangzhu and Zhanglao’s instructions, for the sake of lifting our Clan’s principle of righteousness high, I am willing to go through fire or water. It was a trivial matter. I feel unworthy to receive Zheng Zhanglao’s compliments.” Seeing his modesty and unwillingness to receive credit, the crowd of beggars praised him even more. On top of the tree, the more Zhang Wuji heard, the angrier he was; thinking that this man was despicable and shameless, he unexpectedly dared to go this far. It was obvious that he betrayed a friend to save his own life, but he became the hero who saved his friend instead. Only, his scheme was flawless that even Zheng Zhanglao was deceived. He was indeed a great villain.

Thinking of this, his heart turned sour, “This traitor’s deceit, even Yifu was deceived, even I was deceived,” he mused, “Only Zi Shan Long Wang and Miss Zhao were not deceived. Ay … Miss Zhao is very intelligent; it’s a pity her character is …”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao stood up and coldly said, “Our Clan has this many brothers harmed by the Devil Cult, this blood debt is as deep as the ocean. Are we going to let it go?”

The crowd of beggars responded in such a clamor, “We must avenge Ji Zhanglao!” “Let’s go to the Brightness Peak! Wipe out the Devil Cult!” “Slay Zhang Wuji, slay Xie Xun!” “Our Clan cannot coexist with the Devil Cult; we see one of them, we kill one of them, we see a pair of them, we kill a pair of them!” “Bangzhu, quickly issue an order to the Beggar Clan disciples under the heaven to raise our arms and fight the Devil Cult!”

“Bangzhu,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said to Shi Huolong, “Seeking revenge is an urgent matter, please give us direction on how to proceed.”

Shi Huolong frowned and said, “This … mmm, this is indeed our Clan’s important matter. Hmm, hmm … it needs further consideration. Tell the seven-pouch disciples and under to withdraw momentarily, let us discuss this matter carefully.”

“Yes!” Zhi Fa Zhanglao complied. Turning around he shouted, “Hear Bangzhu’s order: seven-pouch disciples and under to leave the main hall and wait outside the temple.” The crowd shouted their obedience; they bowed down to Shi Huolong, and went out the temple gate. Only eight-pouch elders and the leaders remained in the main hall.

Chen Youliang moved one step forward, bowed down and said, “Reporting to Bangzhu: this Song Qingshu, Song Xiongdi has rendered a great service to our Clan. I am asking Bangzhu’s benevolence to allow him be a part of our Clan, and to confer to him a position commensurate to his skill and status, so that he would be able to contribute even greater service to our Clan in the future.”

“This, apparently, has not …” Song Qingzhu said. He only said the word ‘not’ when Chen Youliang cast him a sharp glance. Song Qingshu noticed his expression and immediately lowered his head and did not continue.

“Very well,” Shi Huolong said, “Song Qingshu is admitted into our Clan. For the time being, I give him the rank of six-pouch disciple, under the eight-pouch elder Chen Youliang’s command. He must abide by our Clan’s laws and regulations, doing his utmost for our Clan’s benefit. His merit will be rewarded and his crime will be punished.”

Song Qingshu’s eyes showed resentment, but he strived to restrain himself. Moving forward he knelt down in front of Shi Huolong and said, “Disciple Song Qingshu pays his respect to Bangzhu. Many thanks for Bangzhu’s kindness in bestowing the six-pouch disciple position to me.” After that, he also paid his respect to the various elders.

“Song Xiongdi,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “Since you are part of our Clan, you are subjected to our Clan’s rules and regulations. Someday, even though you become the Wudang Pai Zhang Men [Sect Leader of Wudang Sect], you will still have to follow our Clan’s order. Do you understand this?” His manner of speaking was very serious.

“Yes,” Song Qingshu replied.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao continued, “Although our Clan and Wudang Pai both follow the same chivalrous way, our approaches are not the same. Since someday the Wudang Sect Leader position will certainly fall into your hands, why did you want to become part of our Clan? You must answer this question truthfully.”

Song Qingshu cast a sidelong glance toward Chen Youliang before answering, “Chen Zhanglao has shown an utmost benevolence toward me, I admire his conduct very much; therefore, I will be satisfied to follow his leadership.”

Cheng Youliang laughed and said, “There are no outsiders here, I don’t see any problem for you to say it. After the Sect Leader of Emei Pai, Miejue Shitai passed away, the newly-appointed Sect Leader is a young and good- looking lady by the name of Zhou Zhiruo. This lady and Song Xiongdi are childhood friends; apparently they are betrothed to each other. Who would have thought that the Devil Cult’s big devil-head Zhang Wuji appeared and stole her heart away, and took her overseas? Obviously, Song Xiongdi was furious and came to me for advice. I vow to help my brother taking that Zhou girl back.”

The more Wuji heard it, the angrier he was; thinking in his heart, “This man spoke nonsense; when did such thing ever happen?” He wanted to jump down into the main hall to confront him, but in the end decided to restrain his rage and keep on listening.

Shi Huolong laughed aloud and said, “It’s always hard for a hero to resist a beauty. I am not surprised. One is the Wudang Sect Leader, the other is Emei Sect Leader; not only a match in social position and economic status, but also the man highly skilled, the woman beautiful. This is a perfect match indeed.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao asked again, “Since Song Xiongdi has this grievance, why don’t you ask Zhang Sanfeng Zhenren [lit. true/real man – a respectable term to address a Taoist priest] and Song Daxia [great hero Song] to mediate?”

Chen Youliang replied, “Song Xiongdi told me: that little thief Zhang Wuji is Wudang Pai’s Zhang Cuishan’s son. Zhang Sanfeng has always been very fond of Zhang Cuishan. For that reason, Wudang Pai is in a good term with the Devil Cult lately. Zhang Sanfeng and Song Daxia are not willing to offend the Devil Cult. Presently, in the Wulin world of the Central Plains, our Clan is the only one who stands against the Devil Cult; furthermore, we are the only one who has enough power to resist those devils.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao nodded. “That’s true,” he said, “Only by destroying the Devil Cult and slaughtering that fellow Zhang Wuji Song Xiongdi’s desire will be satisfied and his grievance compensated only by destroying the Devil Cult and slaughtering that person Zhang Wuji.”

From his hiding place on the tree, Zhang Wuji recalled how in the Western Region’s desert and on the Brightness Peak, Song Qingshu’s treatment toward Zhou Zhiruo had always been rather strange. Only now did Zhang Wuji realize that Song Qingshu had a deep feeling toward her. Yet he was still astonished over what had happened, “A Wudang disciple wants to join the Beggar Clan; this is not right, especially without reporting to Tai Shifu and Song Shibo [martial (older) uncle] first. He is betraying his own school, betraying his own father, for a woman’s sake; wouldn’t he make a very big mistake? Besides, Zhiruo loves me very much, although Song Qingshu received the Beggar Clan’s help, how can he force her to follow him? Song Dage [big brother Song] has made a name for himself in the Jianghu, he holds the reputation as the up-and coming leader of Wudang Pai. How can he make such a blunder?”

He heard Chen Youliang say, “Reporting to Bangzhu: in Dadou [grand capital, modern day Beijing] disciple has captured an important figure from the Devil Cult. This man might be crucial to our Clan’s great endeavor; asking Bangzhu to give your verdict.”

Shi Huolong was delighted, “Bring him in,” he said.

Chen Youliang clapped three times, “Bring that devil head in,” he said.

From the back of the hall came four beggars with unsheathed weapons in their hands, dragging a man whose hands were tied behind his back. Zhang Wuji saw that he was a young man in his early twenties; his face looked very familiar. He remembered he had seen this man during the Ming Cult great assembly on the Butterfly Valley, but he did not remember that man’s name. That man looked furious; when he walked passed Chen Youliang, he suddenly spat on his face. Chen Youliang quickly dodged while striking that man’s cheek with the back of his palm, causing that man’s cheek to immediately swell.

The beggar behind him pushed him down and shouted, “Kneel down and kowtow in Bangzhu’s presence!”

That man coughed and spat thick spittle toward Shi Huolong’s face.

The distance between that man and Shi Huolong was very close, to begin with, plus, he spat with all his might. Although Shi Huolong hastily ducked, he was not able to evade. ‘Splat!’ the spittle landed on his forehead.

Chen Youliang’s leg swept away and kicked that man down, while he blocked in front of Shi Huolong. Pointing his finger to him, Chen Youliang barked, “Daring crazy disciple! Are you bored of your life?”

That man shot back, “Since I have fallen into your hand, your master does not hope to go home alive!”

As Chen Youliang blocked, Shi Huolong had the opportunity to wipe the spittle from his forehead. Chen Youliang moved two steps backward and said, “Reporting to Bangzhu: this fellow is a top ranking expert within the Devil Cult; his martial art skill level appears to be above the four Protector Kings. We must not look down on him.”

Listening to him, Zhang Wuji was astonished, but he immediately understood; Chen Youliang was deliberately exaggerating that man’s martial art to give face to his Clan Leader. Shi Huolong was the Clan Leader of the Beggar Clan, but surprisingly he was not able to evade this spittle attack, which was highly unlikely. Furthermore, after receiving such insult, his face did not show any indignation, but he appeared to be somewhat frightened and was at a loss.

“Chen Xiongdi,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao asked, “Who is this man?”

“His name is Han Lin’er,” Chen Youliang replied, “The son of Han Shantong.”

Zhang Wuji nodded his head silently, “That’s right. During the general assembly in the Butterfly Valley, he was always following his father around and did not speak to me at all, no wonder I did not remember his name.”

“Ah,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao was delighted, “He is Han Shantong’s son. Chen Xiongdi, your contribution is even greater. Reporting to Bangzhu: for the past several years, Han Shantong has repeatedly defeated the Yuan army, establishing for himself a great fame for his military prowess. The generals under his command, Zhu Yuanzhang, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun, and the others, are all important leaders within the Devil Cult. By capturing this fellow, we can use him as hostage, so that we won’t have to worry about Han Shantong not listening to our Clan.”

Han Lin’er opened his mouth in swearing and cursing, “In your mother’s dream! What kind of hero is my Father? How could he submit to your shameless coercing? My Father only listen to Zhang Jiaozhu’s order. Your Beggar Clan wants to contend for supremacy against my Ming Cult? You are overestimating your own capabilities too much! Your stinky Beggar Clan Bangzhu is not even fit to carry our Zhang Jiaozhu.”

Chen Youliang chuckled, “Han Xiongdi,” he said, “You say your Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu is such a hero, all of us admire him very much and want to see his face. Why don’t you take us to see him?”

“Zhang Jiaozhu is dealing with important matters,” Han Lin’er said, “Even our own brethrens cannot easily see him. How can he have time to see you?” [Translator’s note: in this exchange, both Chen Youliang and Han Lin’er referred to Zhang Wuji as ‘lao ren jia’ – Senior, a polite term for someone of higher status or simply older.] Chen Youliang laughed, “Everybody in Jianghu said that Zhang Wuji has been captured by the Yuan army and has been beheaded at Dadou a while ago that his leadership in all levels has been taken over in various regions, yet you are still blowing your horn?”

“Pei!” Han Lin’er spat angrily, “Bullshit! Can Tartars capture our Zhang Jiaozhu? Even if he is surrounded by a thousand soldiers and ten thousands horses, our Jiaozhu can come and go as he wishes. It is true that Zhang Jiaozhu has gone to Dadou, but he went there to rescue the Wulin characters of the Six Major Sects. What beheading? You are but sprouting nonsense!”

Chen Youliang was not angered, still chuckling he said, “That was what I heard from the Jianghu, it’s hard for me not to believe. Why else would in the past half a year or so we only heard about Han Shantong, Xu Shouhui, and some Zhu Yuanzhang, Peng Yingyu Heshang [Buddhist monk], but we have never heard about Zhang Wuji? Surely it is because he is dead. I have no doubt about it.”

Han Lin’er’s face turned completely red, the blue vein on his forehead bulged out. “My Father, Xu Shouhui and the others are executing Zhang Jiaozhu’s command; how can they be compared with Zhang Jiaozhu?”

Chen Youliang incredulously said, “This man Zhang Wuji’s martial art skill cannot be considered bad, but he was destined not to live a long life and will die young. Somebody who has done some divination on him says that he won’t live past the beginning of this year …”

Right at this moment, suddenly a branch of the old cypress tree in the courtyard was shaking lightly, but nobody in the main hall knew about it. Zhang Wuji, however, was able to hear a faint excited breathing noise from behind the branch, but that person immediately controlled his breath that the noise stopped.

“Turn out there is someone hiding on that old cypress tree,” Zhang Wuji thought, “This person must be here before I did. How come I am not aware of his presence for this long? His martial art skill must be not bad.” Focusing his eyes, he saw a shadow among the branches and the leaves. He saw the corner of that person’s green clothes; he knew that person was well prepared, his outfit blended very well with the color of the cypress tree. If not for Zhang Wuji’s astute vision, he would have had a difficult time seeing that person.

He heard Han Lin’er angrily said, “Zhang Jiaozhu has a big heart with a generous nature, the Heaven will most certainly bless him. He is still very young and I will not be surprised if he will live another hundred years.

Chen Youliang gasped and said, “But a man’s fate is hard to predict! I heard that he was framed by a traitor and thus was captured and executed by the imperial government. I don’t find that as a strange occurrence. People who have seen Zhang Wuji all said that he would not live past three times eight, twenty-four years of age …”

Suddenly from the old cypress tree a green shadow flashed, someone jumped down and shouted, “Zhang Wuji is here! Who cursed me as a short-lived man?” The voice still lingered in the air, the person had already entered the main hall.

Zhang Bang Zhanglao, who was standing at the door, stretched out his hand to grab the back of that person’s neck, trying to capture him. With a swift and nimble movement, that person evaded to the side. Now everyone could see that he was wearing a green robe with a rectangular headband, his manner was elegant, his face was like a jade, and his eyes were as clear as water. He was none other than Zhao Min wearing a man’s clothes.

As he saw Zhao Min made an appearance, Zhang Wuji’s heart was shaken; he was startled and angered at the same time, but also felt sweetness and delight in his heart, so that he could not refrain from softly exclaiming. By this time, all the beggars in the main hall had already surrounded Zhao Min, hence nobody paid any attention to his exclamation.

The Beggar Clan people had never seen Zhang Wuji, they only knew that the Ming Cult’s Cult Leader was a young man around twenty years of age with a superb martial art skill. Seeing Zhao Min’s swiftness and agility in evading Zhang Bang Zhanglao’s grab, they knew this person was a top quality martial art expert, hence they all believe the Ming Cult’s Cult Leader had arrived, everybody shivered in fear.

Only Chen Youliang noticed that his face was too pretty, he looked too young, and there was a rather flirtatious tone in his voice. All in all, there was a difference with this man’s appearance and the description of Zhang Wuji in the Jianghu. He shouted, “Zhang Wuji has been dead long ago, where did this impostor come from?”

Zhao Min indignantly said, “Zhang Wuji is alive and well, why did you keep cursing him as dead? Zhang Wuji is flooded with good fortune as vast as the sky, he will live a long life of over-a-hundred-years; he will live another eighty years even after everybody in here is dead.”

Zhang Wuji could hear the sadness in these few sentences; it was as if after abandoning them on that desolate island, she was pricked by her own conscience. But then he thought, “How can this kind of cruel and mean person have any conscience? Zhang Wuji, oh Zhang Wuji, you simply are not willing to part with her. You are simply deceiving yourself with this kind of wishful thinking.”

“Who are you, actually?” Chen Youliang asked.

Zhao Min replied, “I am the Ming Cult Jiaozhu, Zhang Wuji. Why do you hold my subordinate brother captive? Release him quickly. Whatever problem you have, I am here to deal with you personally.”

“Huh, huh!” suddenly someone from the side sneered, “Miss Zhao, others may not recognize you; do you think I, Song Qingshu, don’t know you? Reporting to Bangzhu: this woman is the Ruyang Prince’s daughter, she has many martial art experts under her command, we must guard against them.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao pursed his lips and whistled loudly, “Zhang Bang Zhanglao, take our brothers go out the temple to seek the enemy. Watch for enemies coming in to attack,” he ordered.

Zhang Bang Zhanglao responded and went out the hall. In an instant from every direction came shouts and whistles from the Beggar Clan disciples. Seeing this situation, Zhao Min’s countenance changed slightly, she clapped her hands once, and from the top of the wall two men jumped down; they were the Xuanming Er Lao [Xuanming ‘two’ Elders], Lu Zhangke and He Biweng.

“Get them!” Zhi Fa Zhanglao barked his order. Immediately four seven- pouch disciples pounced on Lu and He, two elders.

Xuanming Elders’ martial arts were exceptionally strong, in just three stances all four seven-pouch disciples were injured. The white-haired, white- bearded Chuan Gong Zhanglao stood up. With a loud shout his palm struck straight to He Biweng, creating a loud gust of wind, a sign of overwhelming power behind that strike.

He Biweng used his ‘Xuan Ming Shen Zhang’ [mysterious and dark divine palm] to parry the attack. With a loud ‘Bang!’ two palms collided. Three palms exchanges later, it was evident that Chuan Gong Zhanglao was not He Biweng’s match.

On the other front, Lu Zhangke, with the deer antler staff in his hand, fought Zhi Fa Zhanglao and Zhang Bo Longtou, two people. For the time being, it was hard to decide which side had the upper hand.

Seeing Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s face was flushed as red as blood, while retreating step-by-step, Zhang Bang Longtou could not help from feeling alarmed. He knew Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s profound power, which could be considered as their Clan’s number one martial art expert; how could he not able to match this old man? By the fifth palm exchange, he saw Chuan Gong Zhanglao was gasping for breath, his white beard fluttered in the air; it was clear that he was in distress. Although he knew Chuan Gong Zhanglao had never liked to be helped in fight, seeing his dire condition, in the end Zhang Bang Longtou could not let him lose his life under the enemy’s hand; Zhang Bang Longtou swept He Biweng’s feet using his iron staff.

As the Xuanming Elders appeared, Zhao Min was about to retreat, but Chen Youliang blocked her way with a sword. In the Wan An Temple, Zhao Min had learned the essence of the Six Major Sects’ martial art skill. With ‘shua, shua, shua’sounds her sword moved. The first stance was Huashan’s sword technique, the second was Kunlun’s, and the last one was Kongtong’s. For the fourth stance, she used the Emei Pai’s ‘jin ding jiu shi’ [golden peak nine styles].

Chen Youliang was taken by surprise and was not able to fend off. Zhao Min’s sword made a circle and stabbed straight toward his chest. ‘Clang!’ a sword was thrust horizontally from the left, diverting Zhao Min’s sword; it was Song Qingshu.

While the battle was raging all over the main hall, Zhang Wuji watched from the top of the pine tree. He saw Song Qingshu was able to fully utilize the Wudang sword technique. His movements were steady and fierce; apparently he had mastered the lessons imparted by is father, Song Yuanqiao. Chen Youliang also attacked from the side. Although Zhao Min possessed a vast knowledge of sword techniques, in the end diversity could not overcome purity. With one against two, already she was forced to defend herself more and attack less.

Zhang Wuji was secretly anxious, but also puzzled, “Why does she use an ordinary sword? If it was Yitian Sword, she would be able to cut her opponents’ swords and break through their siege.” He noticed that she was wearing tight clothes, showing off her slim figure; it was obvious that she was not concealing the Yitian Sword on her waist. After feeling anxious for a while, Zhang Wuji rebuked himself, “Zhang Wuji, this little witch killed your cousin; why are you anxious over her safety instead? You not only offend Biaomei [younger female cousin], but offend Yifu and Zhiruo as well.”

After fighting for a while, several more martial art masters from the Beggar Clan joined the battle, while on Zhao Min’s side no other people came in to help. Realizing the unfavorable situation, Lu Zhangke called out, “Jun Zhu Niang-niang [princess], Shi Di [martial (younger) brother], let’s retreat to the courtyard and find an opportunity to leave.”

“Very well,” Miss Zhao said, “This man surnamed Chen slanders Zhang Gongzi [young master Zhang], saying he is short-lived and will die young. I am mad at him; you two deal with him well.”

“Will do,” Xuanming Elders replied, “Junzhu, please leave first. Leave this kid to us.”

Zhao Min also said, “That Han Lin’er is very loyal to Zhang Gongzi, you must try to save him.”

“Junzhu, please withdraw first,” Lu Zhangke said, “Leave the rescuing business to us, two brothers.” These three people were talking about rescuing people while under the siege of powerful enemies, as if they did not have any regard toward their opponents.

While the battle in the main hall was raging wild, the Beggar Clan’s Clan Leader Shi Huolong was standing quietly on the corner of the main hall. As Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa two Elders listened to Zhao Min’s exchange with the Xuanming Elders, they ordered their people to intercept. Suddenly both Lu Zhangke and He Biweng left their opponents and charged toward Shi Huolong. Their movement was so fast that it was impossible for Shi Huolong to resist. Who would have thought that as Chen Youliang listened to Zhao Min and the Xuanming Elders planning their escape, he had already anticipated this tactic? He preceded everybody else by going around and was ready by Shi Huolong’s side.

Before the Xuanming Elders’ palm strikes arrived, Chen Youliang had already pushed Shi Huolong’s shoulder down, and shoved him behind the Mi Le Fo image. ‘Crack!’ as the Xuanming Elders palms struck down, part of the idol broke with its debris flew everywhere, while the idol itself was swaying, ready to fall down. He Biweng moved another step forward and struck two more times with his palms. The large idol flew to the air and crashed down.

The crowd of beggars cried out in alarm and leaped away to evade. Zhao Min took advantage of this highly chaotic situation to leap out to the courtyard. Song Qingshu and Zhang Bang Longtou, one with a sword the other a staff, pursued together. As she was leaping over the temple gate, three staves suddenly appeared lightning fast to sweep the lower part of Zhao Min’s body. Zhao Min was already busy blocking Song Qingshu’s sword and Zhang Bang Longtou’s iron staff, now she had to evade these three incoming attacks. She managed to avoid two, but failed to evade the third. She felt pain on her left shin as a staff struck her, her feet faltered and she fell down forward. Song Qingshu flipped his sword to strike the back of Zhao Min’s head with the handle, with the intention of knocking her down and capture her alive.

As the sword hilt was only less than half a foot away from her head, suddenly the iron staff in Zhang Bang Longtou’s hand flicked the sword hilt up, diverting Song Qingshu’s sword to the side. Right at that moment a shadow flew up and leaped over the wall.

Song Qingshu turned around and asked Zhang Bang Longtou, “Why did you let her go?”

Zhang Bang Longtuo was angry, “Why did you pull my iron staff up?”

“It was you who used your staff to divert my sword,” Song Qingshu said, “And still …”

“It’s no use arguing,” Zhang Bang Longtou shouted, “Let’s pursue her!”

Immediately two people leaped over the wall, only to see nearby the corner a seven-pouch disciple was lying down; his leg was broken from the fall that he was unable to crawl back up.

“Where did that witch run away to?” Zhang Bang Longtou asked. Several seven-pouch disciples who were on guard outside the wall replied, “Nobody was here; we did not see anybody.”

Zhang Bang Longtou was angry, “Just a moment ago clearly somebody was leaping over the wall over here. Are you all blind?”

A six-pouch disciple stooped down to help the seven-pouch disciple whose leg was broken, he said, “Just now it was this brother who leaped over the wall, there was no other people.”

Zhang Bang Longtou scratched his head and asked that seven-pouch disciple, “Why did you leap over the wall?”

“I … ,” the seven-pouch disciple mumbled indistinctly, “I was grabbed and thrown away. That witch used a weird technique.”

Zhang Bang Longtou turned toward Song Qingshu and angrily shouted, “Just now you used your sword handle to pull up my iron staff, why did you do that? You have just joined our Clan, and already you pulled a stunt?”

Song Qingshu was shocked and angered, he said, “Disciple was just going to use the sword hilt to strike down that witch, it was Longtou Dage [big brother Longtou] who used the iron staff to divert my sword hilt, letting that witch escape.”

“Ridiculous!” Zhang Bang Longtou roared, “Why would I divert your sword hilt? I have been in out Clan for several decades, and have achieved this high-ranking Zhang Bang Longtou position. Why would I help an outsider? Let me ask you this: why didn’t you use the sword blade to stab her but use the sword hilt, pretending to strike her down instead? Hmm, hmm … my old eyes are not blind yet; you cannot deceive me.”

Although within the Wudang Pai Song Qingshu was only the third generation young disciple, everybody in Wudang was aware that he was the future Sect Leader, so even Yu Lianzhou, Zhang Songxi, and the other martial uncles treated him with respect, and had never uttered even half a sentence of harsh words. He was used to being arrogant. Although he knew Zhang Bang Longtou’s position with the Beggar Clan was much higher than his, who had just joined the Clan, he felt he was being wrongly accused in this matter. Not willing to swallow an insult, he immediately retorted, “’Pulling up a stunt’, these words were obviously carelessly said. If Longtou Dage wants to accuse me, you must have some people as witnesses. As Xiao Di [little brother, referring to himself] struck my sword hilt down, it was obvious that you used the staff to block. There are many people in here, I doubt it if nobody saw what had happened.”

Hearing his words, Zhang Bang Longtou understood the table was turned; now he was accused of being pulling up a stunt, by letting Zhao Min escape. His anger blazed like a raging fire. “You, a mere kid, are being rude to your elder, are you flaunting Wudang’s prestige in your background?” He said that while striking down his staff to smash Song Qingshu’s head. Under his violent rage, the staff carried a tremendous amount of force.

Song Qingshu did not yield for even one breath; he lifted up his sword to block. The sword and the staff collided, ‘Clang!’ sparks flew everywhere. Song Qingshu felt searing pain on his palm.

“Surnamed Song,” Zhang Bang Longtou roared, “You dare to defy your superior, did the enemy send you to spy on our Clan?” While saying this, his staff struck for the second time.

Suddenly somebody rushed out of the temple gate, stretched out a sword to take the staff, followed it down and pushed it away, while saying, “Longtou Dage, please don’t be angry.” This man was none other than the eight-pouch elder Chen Youliang. “Where is that little witch, Zhao Min?” he asked.

Zhang Bang Longtou, still seething with anger, pointed his finger toward Song Qingshu and said, “He let her go.”

“No,” Song Qingshu hastily said, “It was Longtou Dage who let her go.” While the two of them were bickering, the Xuan Ming Elders had already whisked out of the temple. They looked everywhere and did not see Zhao Min, so they figured she had already escaped. Letting out a long laugh, their four palms struck together, immediately several Beggar Clan disciples fell down to the ground. By the time Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao and the others came out, the Xuan Ming Elders, the sound of their long laughs had already dozens of ‘zhang’s away, so even if they wanted to pursue, they would not be able to overtake them.

What really happened was Zhang Wuji saw Song Qingshu flipping his sword to strike Zhao Min’s head. He realized the strike could be light or could be heavy; if it was light, it would knock her unconscious, if it was heavy, it would take her life away. Almost without thinking he jumped down from the ancient pine tree and using the divine skill of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, from behind Zhang Bang Longtou he pushed the iron staff in his hand to divert Song Qingshu’s sword. His mastery of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi had already reached unprecedented level, during the past several months on the desolated island, since he had nothing to do, he researched and studied the secret Xiao Zhao translated from the Sheng Huo Ling tablets. By integrating these two techniques, his skill was ten times more ingenious than the Persian Three Emissaries’ strange martial art. This time he darted out from his hiding place, although Zhang Bang Longtou and Song Qingshu were such martial art masters, they were incapable to detect his movement. Zhang Bang Longtou only knew Song Qingshu strike his iron staff, while Song Qingshu clearly see Zhang Bang Longtou stretch out his staff to divert his sword.

Taking advantage while those two people were startled, his left hand reached behind him to grab a seven-pouch disciple and toss him over the wall. Zhang Bang Longtou and Song Qingshu saw someone was leaping over the wall, they assumed it was Zhao Min escaping, so both of them pursued out. Zhang Wuji grabbed Zhao Min and took her to the top of the hall. It was the middle of the day under the sunny sky, so actually, nothing could disappear without anybody else noticing; but as Zhang Bang Longtou and Song Qingshu went out the temple gate, the crowd of beggars also noisily swarmed out the gate. Although there were many eyes, apparently nobody paid any attention to whatever was flying above their heads. Besides, as the Mi Le image collapsed in the main hall, dust and debris rose up, filling the air; everybody went out in confusion from the main hall via both front and rear doors. The martial art experts among them were busy besieging the Xuanming Elders, while those with weaker martial art skill were busy protecting themselves. Thus, it was not surprising that nobody knew what was going on.

As she was rescued in a critical condition, Zhao Min felt she was being carried by a pair of strong, powerful arms. She also felt as if they were soaring amidst the cloud or rising above the fog to the top of the main hall. Turning her head around, under the dazzling sunlight she saw thick eyebrows and handsome eyes, it was Zhang Wuji. Not believing her own eyes, she gasped, “It’s you!”

Zhang Wuji reached out to cover her mouth. His eyes scanned on all directions, and saw the front, the back, left and right of the Mi Le Temple were filled with the Beggar Clan disciples. It was not difficult for him if he wanted to escape even with Zhao Min in his arms; but since he knew the Beggar Clan was secretly conspiring to harm his Cult, and Song Shige [martial (older) brother] of Wudang Pai had now joined the Beggar Clan, it would be a pity if he did not investigate clearly and simply withdrew in light of these matters.

He saw Song Qingshu and Zhang Bang Longtou were still quarrelling. Zhang Bang Longtou’s eyes revealed an ominous look, moreover, there were some malicious people within the Beggar Clan, Song Qingshu may fall into their treacherous hands. Besides, Han Lin’er was very loyal and devoted, he simply must be rescued.

Seeing the dust and debris were still hanging in the air in the main hall, he thought he might as well enter the hall and find someplace to hide. He darted forward toward the eaves, and then with both feet hooked to the eaves, he slowly pulled his legs and slid down toward the back of the idol from the left side. He saw in the room there were only several Beggar Clan disciples left, they were lying on the floor, groaning because of the injury they suffered when the idol fell down, but Han Lin’er was nowhere to be seen, and he wondered where they took him. Zhang Wuji scanned around the room, but was not able to find a good hiding place. Zhao Min pointed toward a large leather drum, supported on a large and tall wooden structure, about a ‘zhang’ away from the ground, with a large bell on its right flank. Zhang Wuji immediately realized it was a perfect hiding place. Creeping around the wall, he went behind the leather drum. He leaped up and his right-hand forefinger slit horizontally on the leather drum. With a light ripping sound there was a large split on the leather. Bracing his left foot on the beam of the wooden structure, his forefinger slit vertically, making a cross-shaped split on the drum. With Zhao Min in his arms he stepped into the large drum. Although the drum was big, there was not enough room to move with two people inside. Zhao Min leaned on Zhang Wuji, breathing tenderly.

The drum was very old, and inside was filled with dust. Amidst the bad smell of dust and dirt, Zhang Wuji could smell delicate fragrance coming out from Zhao Min’s body. His heart was filled with love and hate, his mind was filled with countless words he would like to ask her, but with great difficulty he restrained himself from opening his mouth. He was conscious of Zhao Min’s tender body leaning on his bosom, her soft and silky skin lightly rubbed against his face. Suddenly he was startled, “I should not even save her, how can I be this intimate with her in here?” Lifting up his hand, he pushed Zhao Min’s head away, not letting her to lean against his shoulder.

In her anger Zhao Min elbowed his chest. Zhang Wuji used his internal energy to rebound the incoming force; Zhao Min felt the pain that she could not help but crying out. Zhang Wuji had already anticipated this, so he reached out to cover her mouth.

In the meantime, he heard Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s voice rose up from below, “Reporting to Bangzhu: the enemy has escaped without leaving any trace, subordinate is incompetent and failed to capture them, waiting for Bangzhu’s punishment.”

“It’s all right,” Shi Huolong replied, “The enemy’s martial art skill is very high, everybody has done his best. Damn it! It’s just our bad luck, it has nothing to do with Zhanglao.” “Many thanks, Bangzhu,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said.

After that, Zhang bang Longtou brought the accusation that Song Qingshu has let the enemy escape. Song Qingshu refuted by explaining his own reasoning. Both sides were insistent on their own version, the main hall was filled with anger.

“Chen Xiongdi,” Shi Huolong said, “What is your take on this?”

“Reporting to Bangzhu,” Chen Youliang said, “Zhang Bang Longtou is a senior leader of our Clan, so what he said cannot be wrong. But Song Xiongdi joined our Clan in sincerity, that little witch surnamed Zhao is his adversary, so it would not be in his interest to let her escape. In my humble opinion, this witch surnamed Zhao possesses a strange martial art, she is able to borrow strength to fight strength, hence she pushed Longtou Dage’s iron staff to divert Song Xiongdi’s sword. In confusion, both sides did not realize it and thus this misunderstanding arose.”

Zhang Wuji silently praised him, “This Chen Youliang is very good; he did not see what happened, but his guess is 80, 90% correct.”

He heard Shi Huolong said, “It makes perfect sense. Both brothers, everybody is doing his best for our Clan’s sake, please do not damage the friendship over this minor incident.”

Zhang Bang Longtou furiously said, “Even if he …”

Without waiting for him to finish, Chen Youliang interrupted, “Song Xiongdi, Longtou Dage is a person of good moral standing and reputation, even if he wrongly accused you, you will still benefit from his advice. Quickly apologize to Longtou Dage.”

Song Qingshu had no choice but step forward and cup his fists. “Longtou Dage,” he said, “Xiao Di [little brother, referring to himself] has offended you just now, please accept my apology.” That Zhang Bang Longtou was still furious, but he knew he could not lash it out, so he snorted and said, “It’s all right!”

Chen Youliang’s speech seemingly placed the blame on Song Qingshu, but actually by saying that Zhao Min ‘pushed Longtou Dage’s iron staff to divert Song Xiongdi’s sword’, and ‘Longtou Dage is a person of good moral standing and reputation, even if he wrongly accused you, you will still benefit from his advice’, he placed the blame on Zhang Bang Longtou; all elders of the Beggar Clan understood it clearly. However, Chen Youliang had recently become the Clan Leader’s favorite, Shi Huolong always listened to his advice; what else can they say?

“Chen Xiongdi,” Shi Huolong said, “The little witch that has caused disturbance just now, is the Ruyang Prince’s beloved daughter. The Devil Cult is the imperial household’s enemy, then why did that damned witch stand up for that little devil head Zhang Wuji?”

While Chen Youliang hesitated and did not answer, Zhang Bo Longtou said, “I noticed that that Tartar Junzhu was crying with an extremely angry look on her face. When Chen Xiongdi cursed the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu, that Tartar Junzhu looked like someone was cursing her father or brother. It is indeed confusing.”

Song Qingshu said, “Reporting to Bangzhu: Subordinate has some knowledge about this matter.”

“Song Xiongdi, you may speak,” Shi Huolong said.

“Although the Devil Cult is opposing the imperial government, this little witch Junzhu is captivated by Zhang Wuji,” Song Qingshu said, “It seems to me that she wants to marry him very much. Consequently, she is always trying to protect him.”

“Ah!” as the crowd of beggars listen to this, they all exclaimed in surprise. Inside the gigantic drum, Zhang Wuji also heard it clearly; his heart was thumping madly, but in his mind he had a question, “Is it true? Is it true?”

Zhao Min turned her head around and stared at him. Although the inside of the drum was dim, Zhang Wuji’s acute eyes were able to see that her eyes showed a boundless love. He could not restrain a warm feeling from overflowing his breast. His hands, which were holding her arms, tightened. He felt a strong urge to kiss her cherry lips, but suddenly Yin Li’s tragic death came into his mind; immediately the warm, tender feeling in his heart changed into deep hatred. His right hand grabbed her arm and crushed it. Although he did not use strength, but it was unbearable to Zhao Min nonetheless, so much so that her vision blackened and she almost passed out from the pain, making her want to echo Yin Li’s curse on him, ‘This heartless and short-lived little rascal.’ In the end Zhao Min did her best to control herself not to utter any sound, but big streams of tears flowed down her cheeks and dropped onto the back of Zhang Wuji’s hand, overflowing to the front of his clothes. Zhang Wuji simply hardened his heart and ignored her completely.

He heard Chen Youliang said, “How did you know? Did such a strange thing really happen?”

With hatred in his voice Song Qingshu replied, “This fellow Zhang Wuji’s appearance is only so-so, he is not the least bit handsome nor possesses an outstanding ability, but he practices the Devil Cult’s sorcery. He is good at captivating women’s attractions that many young women are infatuated by him.”

“That’s right,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao nodded, “The Devil Cult’s lecherous and demonic disciples really did practice this kind of ‘flower-picking’ [cai3 hua1] method [Translator’s note: again, I know I translated this phrase rather literally, but I am sure the readers can appreciate the Jin Yong’s imagery], where males and females gather together. Emei Pai’s disciple, Ji Xiaofu, also fell under the Devil Cult Yang Xiao’s sorcery, in the end she lost her reputation and fell from grace. Zhang Wuji’s father, Zhang Cuisan, also fell under the demonic charm of White-browed Eagle King’s daughter. That Tartar Junzhu must have fallen under the little devil head’s ‘flower-picking’ incantation and thus lost her chastity to him. The wood has become the boat, the (grain) rice has become (cooked) rice [Translator’s note: for those of you who are not familiar with rice, in Chinese, the uncooked, grain rice is called ‘mi3’, while the cooked rice we eat is called ‘fan4’]; she is depraved and cannot extricate herself from disgrace.” The crowd of beggars nodded their heads in agreement.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao was filled with righteous indignation, he said, “This kind of Jianghu’s scum, everybody has the right to punish him; otherwise, countless innocent and respectable young women will be harmed by this pervert little thief.”

Shi Huolong stuck out his tongue and licked his lips. “Damn it!” he said with a laugh, “This pervert little thief Zhang Wuji’s luck is not bad!”

Zhang Wuji was so angry that his body, from head to toe, shook. So far he was still a virgin, yet from Emei Pai’s Miejue Shitai down to these people, for countless times he was cursed as a ‘pervert little thief’. He truly suffered injustice and had nowhere to appeal. As for ‘Zhao Min lost her chastity to him, the wood has become the boat’ and so on, he wondered where did those things come from? Thinking to this point he was suddenly startled, “Miss Zhao and I are in each other arms here, they absolutely must not find out; otherwise they will have a confirmation of their slandering.”

He heard Chuan Gong Zhanglao continue, “Emei Pai’s Miss Zhou Zhiruo has fallen into this pervert thief’s hand, whether or not she can protect her chastity, is difficult to say. Song Xiongdi, please don’t worry, we will certainly help you recapture your beloved wife; we cannot let the matter of Ji Xiaofu be repeated today.”

“What Dage [big brother] said was very true,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “Wudang Pai failed to take Yin Liting under their wings in the past, they are not able to shelter Song Qingshu today. Song Xiongdi invests his life in our Clan; if we fail to protect his interest by helping him accomplish his cherished desire, as the Wudang Pai’s future Sect Leader, won’t his agreement to become a six-pouch disciple of our Clan be in vain?” The crowd of beggars loudly responded, they all said an oath to kill the pervert thief Zhang Wuji and take Song Qingshu’s wife back.

Zhao Min put his mouth next to Zhang Wuji’s ears and whispered, “You are a pervert little thief who deserves to die!” She sounded as if she was angered by them, but also mad at him; as if she was complaining and admiring him at the same time, yet her voice also carried a flirtatious tone. Listening to her, Zhang Wuji’s heart was swayed; all of a sudden he was having mixed feelings. He thought in agony, “If only she wasn’t this cruel and treacherous, and did not kill my cousin, I would be happy to be with her for the rest of my life; I wouldn’t have anything to worry.”

He heard Song Qingshu vaguely express his gratitude to the crowd of beggars. Zhi Fa Zhanglao asked again, “How did that pervert little thief charm the Tartar Junzhu? Do you know?”

“As an outsider I don’t know the details,” Song Qingshu replied, “I know that that little witch led the imperial warriors to the Wudang Mountain to capture my Tai Shifu [grand master], but when she saw that pervert thief’s face, she quickly withdrew without a fuss, and the great calamity facing Wudang Pai was thwarted. About twenty years ago my San Shishu [third martial (younger) uncle] Yu Daiyan’s limbs were broken by some people, and that little witch presented some medicine to that pervert thief, thus the broken bones were healed.”

“That is so,” Zhi Fa Zhanglo said, “The Wudang Pai was actually a thorn in the imperial government’s eyes, if that Tartar Junzhu was not captivated by the deceitful lust and has forgotten her natural disposition, she would not have presented the medicine as a gift to help the enemy. That being said, although this pervert little thief’s conduct was despicable, he still have some good feelings toward Tai Shifu and your various martial uncles.”

“Mmm,” Song Qingshu said, “I prefer to think that he has not forgotten his roots.”

Chen Youliang said, “Reporting to Bangzhu: After listening to Song Xiongdi’s explanation, I have  an idea which will make that pervert  little thief, along with the Devil Cult, from top to bottom, to meekly obey our Clan’s order.”

Shi Huolong happily said, “Chen Xiongdi unexpectedly thought an ingenious plan, please explain it quickly.”

“There are too many eyes and ears in here,” Chen Youliang said, “Even though we are all brothers, I am still afraid someone might leak the secret.”

The murmurs in the main hall immediately stopped; some footsteps were heard, about a dozen or so people went out the hall, leaving only several highest-level leaders of the Beggar Clan.

“This matter is to be treated with the highest confidence,” Chen Youliang said, “Song Xiongdi, both Longtou Dage, let us search around this place to make sure nobody is eavesdropping.”

A couple of rustling noise was heard as Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhang Bo Longtou were jumping onto the roof, while Chen Youliang and Song Qingshu went inspecting around the hall. They looked behind the idol, behind the curtain, behind the inscribed overhead board, everywhere. Zhang Wuji secretly praised Zhao Min’s resourcefulness, as other than this big drum, there was no other hiding place in the main hall. Four people finished their inspection and returned to the hall.

In a low voice Chen Youliang said, “This matter is highly dependent on Song Xiongdi.”

“Me?” Song Qingshu asked in amazement.

“That’s right,” Chen Youliang said, “Zhang Bo Longtou Dage, please give some ‘wu du shi xin san’ [five-poison losing conscience powder] and have Song Xiongdi take it to Mount Wudang, let him secretly put it into Zhang Zhenren [a respectful term to address a Taoist priest] and various Wudang heroes’ food and drink. We are going to wait at the foot of the mountain. If everything goes well, we are going to capture Zhang Zhenren and various Wudang heroes. Won’t we then be able to coerce and disturb that pervert little thief Zhang Wuji so that he obeys our Clan?”

Shi Huolong was first to applaud and called out, “Marvelous, marvelous!”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao also said, “This plan is not bad. Our Clan’s ‘wu du shi xin san’ is very fierce, but if we want to put the poison on Zhang Wuji’s food and drink, I am afraid the Devil Cult guard on him is too tight, so it is very unlikely for us to succeed. Song Xiongdi is a Wudang disciple, so if we want to capture Wudang people, it will be like guarding against the thief who is already in the house, truly inconspicuous, a very cunning strategy, it will be very easy.”

“This … this …” Song Qingshu haltingly said, “It means I will have to poison my own father, absolutely impossible.”

Chen Youliang said, “Our Clan’s ‘wu du shi xin san’ is very effective to lose someone’s consciousness, but it is totally harmless to the body. Your honorable father, Song Daxia [great hero Song] is a righteous hero, we respect him very much, we certainly will not harm a single strand of his hair.”

Song Qingshu was still unwilling to comply, he said, “I join our Clan without asking Tai Shifu and my father’s permission first. When they find out in the future, they will certainly hold me accountable; I don’t know what the best way to explain this to them would be. However, our Clan has always taken the path of chivalry, no different than Wudang Pai’s objective, thus this is not considered a capital crime. But if I am asked to do this unfilial thing, defying my elders, I do not dare to accept.”

“Xiongdi,” Chen Youliang said, “You have not given this a careful thought. In order to accomplish a great undertaking, we should not be bothered by trivial matters. The people of old sacrificed their loved ones for the sake of great justice, it happened many times in history; let alone our objective is to deal with the Devil Cult. Capturing the various Wudang heroes is nothing more than a way to gain control over that pervert little thief Zhang Wuji. When the Six Major Sects besieged the Devil Cult, didn’t Wudang Pai also come in full force?”

“If I do this,” Song Qingshu said, “First, my conscience is uneasy. Second, tens of thousands Jianghu people will spit in contempt over me; how can I still have a face to stand on the earth?”

“Do you know why I asked the eight-pouch elders to withdraw from the hall just now?” Chen Youliang asked, “Why did we carefully search from top to bottom, from front to rear? It is exactly because I am afraid somebody might leak the secret. Song Xiongdi, after administering the drug, you also fake losing your consciousness. We will also tie you up along with your Tai Shifu, your honorable father, and your various martial uncles, nobody will suspect you. Other than the seven of us here, who else in this world knows? We will admire you as a hero and a real man who is capable of undertaking an important matter, who would laugh at you?”

Song Qingshu was silent for half a day before haltingly said, “Bangzhu and Chen Dage’s [big brother Chen] order, Xiaodi [little brother] really does not dare to disobey. Furthermore, Xiaodi is a new member of our Clan, supposedly must seize every opportunity to obtain a merit; even go through fire or water, I should do it with all my might. Only, a man’s life in this world must be based on being filial and righteous; so asking Xiaodi to scheme against my own father, I can’t follow this order no matter what.”

[Note: previously, Song Qingshu referred to himself as ‘Xiongdi’ – brother in general term, in this last sentence, he used the term ‘Xiaodi’ – little/younger brother; denoting a definite change of attitude.]

For the Beggar Clan people the word ‘filial’ was extremely revered; as the group of beggars heard his last words, they felt it was inappropriate to force him further. But suddenly Chen Youliang laughed coldly and said, “A junior to defy his senior is the big taboo of the Wulin world, I know it, Song Xiongdi does not need to remind me. But I wonder how does Song Xiongdi address Mo Qixia [Seventh Hero Mo]? Is he your senior, or are you his senior?” Song Qingshu did not answer, after a long while he finally said, “Very well, since Bangzhu and gentlemen give me the order, Xiaodi will comply. But all of you must promise not to endanger my father not even half a part of him, also not to disgrace him in any way. Otherwise, Xiaodi would rather lose my reputation and fall into disgrace than committing this non filial shady business.”

Shi Huolong, Chen Youliang and the others were exulted. Chen Youliang said, “That’s a great answer. Song Xiongdi can work with us brothers very well. Song Daxia is everybody’s respected senior. Even if Song Xiongdi did not mention it, as his nephews we are going to show him our utmost respect.”

Zhang Wuji felt strange, “Song Shige was always unwilling to comply, but as soon as Chen Youliang mentioned Mo Qishu [seventh (younger) uncle Mo], Song Shige suddenly did not dare to refuse? There must be something fishy here. It seems like, to find out the details, I will have to ask Mo Qishu personally.”

He heard Zhi Fa Zhanglao and Chen Youliang discuss in a whisper about how the Beggar Clan group of warriors was going to go up the mountain after Zhang Sanfeng, Song Yuanqiao and the others were drugged. Each time Chen Youliang proposed something, Shi Huolong would always say, “Very good, wonderful!”

Zhang Bo Longtou said, “Today is still the middle of the winter, the five- poison bugs are still dormant under the surface of the earth, Xiaodi [little brother, referring to himself] must go to the foot of Changbai Mountain [a volcanic mountain in Jilin province] to do some digging. At most in a month, at least twenty days, I will be able to concoct the ‘wu du shi xin san’. The toxicity of the five-poison bugs dug from underneath the ice and snow is not too conspicuous; when it is mixed in the food, it won’t be easily detected. It is the best drug to be used against first-class martial art masters.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “In that case, Chen Xiongdi and Song Xiongdi better accompany Zhang Bo Longtou to Mount Changbai to get the drug, while the rest of us proceed southward. Within one month, we are going to reconvene in Laohekou [city in Hubei]. Today is the eighth of the twelveth month, let’s set our meeting date to be the eighth of the first month next year.” He also said, “Having Han Lin’er in our hands is really useful. I am asking Zhang Bang Longtou to guard him well, don’t let the Devil Cult take him back. We’d better leave separately to avoid the enemy’s detection.”

Thereupon, one after another, everybody bid their farewell to the Clan Leader. Zhang Bo Longtou, was the first to leave, heading north along with Chen Youliang and Song Qingshu. A moment later the rest of the beggars left the Mi Le Temple, going their separate ways.

End of Chapter 31. 
@Chapter 32 – Ignorant Grievance, Vain Anxiety,
Conceited Desire

Zhang Wuji waited until the crowd of beggars had gone far and not the least bit of noise was to be heard in the temple before he leaped out of the big drum. Zhao Min followed behind him, brushing her clothes while looking at him with an expression that is a mixture of happiness and anger on her face.

“Humph,” Zhang Wuji angrily said, “You still have a face to see me?”

“What?” Zhao Min’s countenance dropped, “When did I offend Zhang Jiaozhu?”

It was as if Zhang Wuji’s face was covered with frost as he shouted angrily, “You wanted to steal that Yitian Sword and Tulong Saber, I won’t blame you! You abandoned me on that desolate island, I still won’t blame you! But Miss Yin was seriously injured, why did you still treat her ruthlessly? A vicious woman like you is truly rare in the world.” Speaking to this point he was unable to restrain his grief and indignation; moving one step forward, he slapped Zhao Min four times left and right.

Being enshrouded by his overwhelming power, how could Zhao Min evade? ‘Slap, slap, slap, slap,’ both of her cheeks were immediately swollen. Zhao Min was hurt and angered, beads of tears rolled down her cheeks. With a choking voice she said, “You said I stole the Yitian Sword and Tulong Saber, who has seen it? Who said I treated Miss Yin ruthlessly? Tell her to come and confront me directly.”

Zhang Wuji was even angrier, “All right!” he shouted, “I’ll send you to the netherworld to confront her directly.” His left hand circled and his right hand hooked across the back of her neck, while he exerted all his strength.

Zhao Min could not breathe, she stretched out her finger to pierce his chest, but her finger felt like a cotton wool, her strength vanished without a trace. In an instant her face turned purple and she passed out.

Remembering Yin Li’s enmity, Zhang Wuji was about to strangle her to death, but looking at her face like that, his heart suddenly softened and he relaxed his grip. Zhao Min fell backward. ‘Boom!’ the back of her head struck the dark green flagstone of the temple’s hall.

It was quite some time later that Zhao Min finally regained her consciousness. She saw Zhang Wuji was staring at her with an anxious look on his face. Seeing her opening her eyes, he let out a relieved breath. Zhao Min asked, “Did you say Miss Yin has passed away?”

Zhang Wuji’s anger flared again, he snapped, “After you slashed her seventeen, eighteen times, she … how could she stay alive?”

With a trembling voice Zhao Min said, “Who … who said I slash her seventeen, eighteen times? It was Miss Zhou, wasn’t it?”

“Miss Zhou will not say anything bad about anybody behind their backs,” Zhang Wuji said, “She is not her relative, she won’t bring a false charge against you.”

“Was it Miss Yin, then?” Zhao Min asked.

Almost shouting Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Yin had already been unable to talk early on. There were only five of us on that desolate island; are you saying that Yifu did it? Or I did it? Or perhaps Miss Yin did it to herself? Humph, I know what’s in your heart, you were afraid I might marry my cousin hence you committed this violent treachery. Let me tell you: I don’t care whether she is dead or alive, I have already considered her my wife.”

Zhao Min hung her head without saying anything. After being silent for half an afternoon, she asked, “How did you return to the Central Plains?”

With a cold laugh Zhang Wuji said, “It was due to your generosity. You sent your navy to pick us up. Fortunately, my Yifu is not gullible and worthless like me; we have seen through your devious scheme. You dispatched some artillery ships to wait for us on the sea to sink our ship. Your plan has failed.”

Zhao Min was gently stroking her red, swollen cheek; she looked at him with a shock, but after a moment her eyes gradually showed pity and affection toward him, and she heaved a long sigh.

Zhang Wuji was afraid his own heart would succumb to her beautiful face and her tempting tender affection; he turned his head around to avoid her eyes, stomped his foot and said, “I have made an oath to avenge Biaomei [female younger cousin]. Just consider me weak and worthless that I am not able to do that today. You committed all kinds of evil and there will come a day you will fall into my hand.” As he said that, he walked toward the temple gate in big strides.

He had walked away for about a dozen ‘zhang’s when Zhao Min pursued and called out, “Zhang Wuji, where are you going?”

“What does it have to do with you?” Zhang Wuji replied.

“I want to speak to Xie Daxia [great hero Xie] and Miss Zhou,” Zhao Min said, “Please take me to see them.”

“My Yifu will act without mercy, aren’t you going to deliver your life away?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhao Min sneered and said, “Your Yifu may be cruel and merciless, but he is not muddle-headed like you. Besides, if Xie Daxia killed me, your Biaomei’s enmity would be avenged, wouldn’t your wish come true?”

“What do you mean I am muddle-headed?” Zhang Wuji asked, “I only don’t want you to see Yifu.”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Zhang Wuji, you are muddle-headed. In your heart, you really do not want to lose me; you don’t want Xie Daxia to kill me. Am I right, or am I right?”

As his heart’s deepest secret was revealed, Zhang Wuji could not help but blush. “Don’t talk rubbish!” he snapped, “I let you get away with so many unrighteousness without killing you. It would be best if you stay far away from me, or else I would lose control over myself and kill you personally.”

Zhao Min slowly walked near and said, “I must clear something up with Xie Daxia and Miss Zhou; I do not dare to say anything bad behind anybody’s back, I need to talk clearly with them face to face.”

Zhang Wuji was curious, “About what do you want to talk to them?” he asked.

“Naturally you’ll know it when I see them,” Zhao Min said, “I am not afraid to take my chances; are you afraid?”

Zhang Wuji said rather doubtfully, “It is you who wanted to go, I will not save you if my Yifu do not show mercy on you.”

“You don’t have to worry for me,” Zhao Min said.

“Worry for you?” Zhang Wuji was angry, “Humph! I am looking forward to the day you die.”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Kill me, then.”

“Pei,” Zhang Wuji spat, ignoring her remark. He quickly walked toward the town. Zhao Min followed him behind.

As they arrived in town, Zhang Wuji halted his steps, turned around and said, “Miss Zhao, I have given you my promise that I will do three things for you. The first was to find the Tulong Saber for you. We can consider this task accomplished. I still owe you two things. If you see my Yifu, you will certainly die. Please leave. Let me handle those two things for you. It won’t be too late to see my Yifu afterwards.

Zhao Min smiled sweetly and said, “I know the real reason you do not want to kill me is because you can’t bear to lose me.”

Zhang Wuji angrily said, “Granted, I don’t have a heart to kill you, so what?”

“I am very happy,” Zhao Min replied, “I’ve always wondered if you love me, but now I know.”

Zhang Wuji sighed and said, “Miss Zhao, I beseech you, please leave now.” Zhao Min shook her head and said, “I definitely must see Xie Daxia.”

Since she was adamant, Zhang Wuji had no choice but entered the inn and went to Xie Xun’s room. He knocked twice on the door and called out, “Yifu!” while he positioned himself in front of Zhao Min.

He called out twice without receiving any answer from inside the room. Zhang Wuji tried to push the door open, but it was actually locked. He felt strange; his Yifu possessed a very keen pair of ears, as soon as he arrived at the door, his Yifu would most certainly be awakened. If he was somewhere else, why was the door bolted from the inside? He pushed the door exerting a little bit more force and ‘crack!’ the latch broke. The door swung wide open but Xie Xun was not inside. He saw that one of the window panes was half open; he thought his Yifu must have left from the window.

He went to Zhou Zhiruo’s room and called out, “Zhiruo!” two times without receiving any answer. Pushing the door open, he also did not see Zhou Zhiruo inside, but her clothes were folded neatly on the ‘kang’ [heatable brick bed of northern China].

Zhang Wuji was alarmed, “Could it be that they met some enemies?” he mused. He called the innkeeper to inquire, but the innkeeper said he did not see those two people go out, he also did not hear any noise which would suggest there was some dispute or even fighting.

Zhang Wuji was somewhat relieved; he thought, “Most likely they heard some suspicious noise and went out to track down the enemy.” He also thought that although Xie Xun’s eyes were blind, his martial art skill was strong; it was a rarity to find someone who could be his match in the present age. Besides, he had the cautious and prudent Zhou Zhiruo as his company, so it was unlikely for them to meet any mishap. Leaping out from Xie Xun’s window, he looked to all directions without seeing anything unusual, thereupon he returned to the room.

Zhao Min said, “Why do you look relieved to see that Xie Daxia is not here?”

“Still talking nonsense,” Zhang Wuji said, “When did I look relieved?”

Zhao Min smiled, “Can’t I see it on your face?” she said, “As you open the door, you were tense, but now the skin on your face is relaxed.”

Ignoring her, Zhang Wuji leaned against the ‘kang’. With a chuckle Zhao Min sat on a chair and said, “I know you were afraid Xie Daxia might kill me, luckily he is not here so you are saved from a difficult situation. I know you really cannot bear to lose me.”

“What if I really cannot bear to lose you?” Zhang Wuji angrily said. “I am very happy,” Zhao Min replied.

Zhang Wuji bitterly said, “Then why are you repeatedly trying to harm me? Can you bear to lose me?”

Suddenly Zhao Min blushed, “You are right,” she said quietly, “Previously I was determined to kill you, but after the Green Willow Manor incident, if I ever have the intention to harm you, let the Heaven punish and the Earth destroy me, Minmin Timur. After I die, let me perish forever in the eighteenth level of hell, never to be reincarnated for tens of thousands of years.”

Listening to her speaking very seriously, Zhang Wuji interrupted, “Then why did you abandon me on that deserted island for the sake of a sword and a saber?” “Since you said so, I can’t dispute it even if I have a hundred mouths,” Zhao Min said, “Let us wait for Xie Daxia and Miss Zhou to come back, so that the four of us can sort things out clearly.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Your mouth is full of sweet but insincere words. You have deceived me one person, must you also deceive my Yifu and Miss Zhou?”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Why are you resigned on being deceived by me? Because in your heart you like me, do you not?”

“What if I do?” Zhang Wuji vehemently said.

“I am very happy,” Zhao Min replied. Zhang Wuji saw her talking and laughing as sweet as a flower, moving the hearts of those who watch her. Noticing that her cheeks were still red and swollen from his four heavy slaps earlier, he could not restrain from feeling regret and pity; therefore, he turned his head around to avoid looking at her.

Zhao Min said, “We were delayed in the temple for half a day, I am starving.” She called for the innkeeper. Producing a small ingot of gold, she told him to quickly prepare a set of the highest quality dish and wine. The innkeeper repeatedly obeyed, and in an instant he had some fruits and light appetizers delivered to their room, followed by the wine and the main course.

Zhang Wuji said, “Let’s wait for Yifu to come back, then we’ll eat together.”

“My life might be gone as soon as Xia Daxia is back,” Zhao Min said, “I’d rather be a ghost with a full stomach.” Zhang Wuji noticed that although she said such a thing, her manner and her face showed confidence. Zhao Min continued, “I still have plenty of gold here, we can always tell the innkeeper to prepare another set of banquet.”

Zhang Wuji coldly said, “I do not dare to eat and drink together with you. Who knows when you are going to apply the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’.”

Zhao Min’s face sank as she heard that, “You don’t want to eat, then don’t eat,” she said, “Otherwise you will be killed by my poison.” Without waiting for an answer, she started to eat.

Zhang Wuji called for the kitchen to deliver some flatbread, and then staying as far as possible from her, he sat on the ‘kang’ to gobble his food.

There was a very sumptuous dish of broiled lamb and roasted chicken, fried beef and chopped fish, on Zhao Min’s table. She ate for a while before tears starting to drip on her rice bowl. She managed to control herself and ate some more before she finally put the chopsticks down and she dropped her head on the table, sobbing.

After crying for half a day, she wiped off her tears, apparently she felt better. Looking out the window, she said to herself, “It will be dark in a couple of hours. I wonder how that Han Lin’er is. Once we lost his track, it would not be easy to rescue him.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold. “That’s right,” he said while standing up, “I need to rescue Han Xiongdi first, and then I’ll come back.”

“Shameless,” Zhao Min said, “Nobody speaks to you, who wants you to interfere?”

Seeing her angry at one time and bashful at another, happy at one time and anxious at another, Zhang Wuji could not help to feel both hatred and affection toward her at the same time; truly he did not know how to deal with her. Hastily he finished the half flatbread in his hand in three mouthfuls, and then went out the door.

“I’ll go with you,” Zhao Min said.

“I don’t want to take you,” Zhang Wuji replied. “Why?” Zhao Min asked.

“You are the murderer of my Biaomei,” Zhang Wuji replied, “How can I be together with an enemy?”

“All right,” Zhao Min said, “Go alone, then!”

Zhang Wuji went out the door, but suddenly he turned around and asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I am going to wait for your Yifu to come back,” Zhao Min said, “I’ll tell him that you are going out to rescue Han Lin’er.”

“My Yifu hates evil people as if they are his personal enemy,” Zhang Wuji said, “How can he spare your life?”

Zhao Min heaved a deep sigh. “Then that is my cruel fate,” she said, “What can I do?”

Zhang Wuji hesitated for a moment before saying, “You’d better avoid him for now, we’ll talk when I come back.”

Zhao Min shook her head, “I don’t have any good hiding place.”

“Very well!” Zhang Wuji said, “We’ll go save Han Lin’er together, and come back here to face him together.”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “This time it is you who wants me to accompany you; definitely it is not me who clings for dear life to you and insists on going out with you.”

“You are my black star,” Zhang Wuji said, “Just consider it my bad luck to bump into you.”

Zhao Min gave him one of her captivating smiles, “Wait here for a moment,” she said, as she slipped out the door. Quite some time later, Zhao Min opened the door, now wearing woman’s clothing, with mink fur coat and scarlet embroidered garment inside; she looked extremely stunning. Zhang Wuji did not expect she would bring such exquisite and expensive clothing inside her bundle; he thought, “This woman is very shrewd, her actions are beyond anybody’s expectations.”

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Zhao Min asked, “Do these clothes look nice?”

“Face like a peach blossom, heart like a viper,” Zhang Wuji said.

Zhao Min burst out in laughter and said, “Many thanks for Zhang Da Jiaozhu’s [great cult leader] highest compliment. Zhang Jiaozhu, why don’t you change into some nice clothing?”

Zhang Wuji sounded hurt, “I have always been wearing tattered clothes since I was little. If you don’t like my ragged attire, you are free not to travel with me.”

“Don’t be overly sensitive,” Zhao Min said, “I only want to see how you look wearing some nice clothes. Wait here, I am going out to buy some clothes. Those beggars must have entered the great wall anyway, with our speed, I am not afraid we cannot overtake them.” Without waiting for his answer, she slipped out the door again.

Zhang Wuji sat on the ‘kang’, while secretly scolding himself for not able to stand firm and letting this girl play with him on her palms. “Obviously, she was my Biaomei’s murderer, yet I talked and laughed with her. Zhang Wuji, oh, Zhang Wuji, what kind of man are you? How can you have a face to be the Ming Cult Jiaozhu, in command over all those warriors?”

He waited for a long time and Zhao Min had not returned, the sky gradually turned dark. “Why do I have to wait for her?” he thought, “I’d better go alone to rescue Han Lin’er.” But as soon as he had that thought, he remembered something else. What if she returned, bringing all those clothing, and bump into Xie Xun? What if with one slap Xie Xun strikes the top of her head, bursting her skull open and scattering her brains, and she died a violent death? He saw it in his mind clothes and shoes scattered around the room. Thinking about this possibility, he broke into a cold sweat.

He sat down, and stood up, sat down, and stood back up, while letting his imagination run wild, until at last he heard dainty footsteps and delicate fragrance assaulting his nostrils as Zhao Min entered the room with two large packages on her hands.

“What took you so long?” Zhang Wuji said, “No need to change, let us go pursue the enemy!”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “You have waited this long, what harm does it have to wait a little bit longer just to change you clothes? I have also bought a pair of horses, so we can pursue all night long.” While saying that she untied the packages and produced clothes, shoes and socks. “This is such a small town,” she said, “There is nothing nice to buy. You’ll have to make do with it. Wait till we get back to Dadou [grand capital, modern day Beijing], we’ll buy mink fur coat and some nice clothing.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold, “Miss Zhao,” he grimly said, “If you think I am after riches and honor by submitting to the royal government, you’d better give up that idea now. I, Zhang Wuji, am a descendant of Han people, even if conferred the title of prince, there is no way that I would surrender to the Mongols.”

Zhao Min sighed and said, “Zhang Da Jiaozhu, look closely, is this Mongolian clothing, or Han clothing?” While saying that she lifted up a set of gray leather-lined garment. As he saw that she had bought Han people’s attire, Zhang Wuji nodded his head. Zhao Min turned around and said, “Look carefully, am I wearing a Mongolian Princess’ attire, or a common Han woman clothing?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was thumping madly, previously he only noticed that her clothes was exquisite and expensive, he did not pay attention whether it was Mongolian or Han clothing. Now that she mentioned it, he realized that she was dressed up as a Han girl. He saw her cheeks were blushing, while her eyes were moist. Suddenly he understood her heart clearly. “You … you

…” he stammered.

In a low voice Zhao Min said, “Now that I know you don’t want to lose me, I don’t care about anything else. I don’t care about Mongol or Han. You are a Han, I am also a Han. You are a Mongol, I am also a Mongol. In your mind you are always thinking about important matters such as army and country, the difference between Chinese and barbarians, and about their rise and fall, their influence and military prowess. Wuji Gege [big brother Wuji, term of endearment], in my heart I only have one thing: you. I don’t care whether you are a good man or a scoundrel [lit. bad egg], to me it doesn’t make any difference.” [Translator’s note: before I offend anybody, the dictionary gives the character ‘yi’ a definition of ‘non-Han people, especially to the east of China, or barbarians.’]

Zhang Wuji was touched listening to her expressing her infinitely tender feeling, he was dizzy with confusing thoughts and was dumbfounded for a long time before he finally able to speak, “Did you kill my Biaomei because you were afraid I was going to take her as my wife?”

Zhao Min said, nearly shouting, “I did not kill Miss Yin. You believe me, fine. You don’t believe me, fine. I am telling you the truth.”

Zhang Wuji sighed. “Miss Zhao,” he said, “You love me this much; I am not a piece of wood nor am I a stone, how can I not appreciate it? But why is it that to this very day you are lying to me still?”

Zhao Min said, “I used to think that being intelligent and shrewd, I would gain an upper hand on everything; who would have thought that the things of the world are difficult to predict? Wuji Gege, let us not go out today, you wait for Xie Daxia here, I wait for Miss Zhou in her room.”

“Why?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

“Don’t ask me why,” Zhao Min replied, “You don’t have to worry over Han Lin’er, I assure you that we will rescue him alive.” Finished speaking, she whisked out the door, walking toward Zhou Zhiruo’s room, and closed the door.

Zhang Wuji did not immediately understand what she was saying. He sat on the ‘kang’, pondered deeply. Suddenly he a thought came into his mind “Is it possible that she found out that Zhou Zhiruo and I are engaged, and thus feeling that harming my Biaomei one person is not enough, is she thinking to harm Zhou Zhiruo as well? Could it be that after leaving the Mi Le Fo Temple, the Xuanming Elders came to this inn to deal with Yifu and Zhiruo?”

Once he remembered Xuanming Elders, he was panic-stricken. Lu Zhangke and He Biweng were very strong martial art-wise, even if Xie Xun’s eyes were not blind, he might not necessarily be able to fight them one against two. He leaped up and briskly walked toward Zhao Min’s door. “Miss Zhao,” he called out, “Where did your subordinates, the Xuanming Er Lao, go?”

From behind the door Zhao Min replied, “Most likely they thought I managed to escape and withdraw inside the Wall, so they pursue to the south.”

“Are you telling me the truth?” Zhang Wuji asked.

With a cold laugh Zhao Min said, “Why do you ask? Since you don’t believe what I say…”

Zhang Wuji was at a loss for words; he stared blankly at the door. Zhao Min said, “Supposing that I told you I sent the Xuanming Er Lao to this inn to kill Xie Daxia and your beloved Miss Zhou, would you believe me?”

Her last words had touched the most sensitive spot on Zhang Wuji’s mind; immediately his foot flew up to kick the door open. With the veins on his forehead bulging out and a trembling voice he shouted, “You … you …”

“Seeing him like that, Zhao Min was scared; she regretted having said such things. “I was just scaring you,” she hastily said, “There is no such thing. You must not take it seriously.”

Staring hard at her, Zhang Wuji slowly said, “You are not afraid of coming to this inn to see my Yifu. You kept saying that you want to confront them directly. Could it be that it was because you knew they are no longer alive?” While saying that, he moved two steps forward until he was less than three feet away from her. He raised his palm high, ready to strike her to her death.

Looking directly into his eyes, Zhao Min gravely said, “Zhang Wuji, let me tell you this: in the matters on this earth, you cannot rashly believe what other says unless you witness it with your own eyes. Furthermore, you cannot let your own imagination run wild. You want to kill me, fine, just do it. But what if your Yifu comes back? How would you feel then?”

Listening to her reprimand, Zhang Wuji was somewhat ashamed; he said, “As long as my Yifu is safe and sound, I’ll consider myself very fortunate. You must not joke about my Yifu’s safety and well-being.”

Zhao Min nodded. “I shouldn’t say those things, I only have myself to blame; you should not feel bad.”

Hearing her admitting her own mistake, Zhang Wuji’s heart softened. Smiling slightly he said, “I was too rude and rash, and thus offended you.” Finished speaking he returned to Xie Xun’s room.

He waited all night, but until dawn neither Xie Xun nor Zhou Zhiruo came back. Zhang Wuji was even more anxious. He took a quick breakfast then had a discussion with Zhao Min about where they would go next. Zhao Min creased her eyebrows and said, “This is really strange. I think we’d better try to overtake Shi Huolong and his company, and think of a way to eavesdrop.”

Zhang Wuji nodded. “Let’s do it.” Immediately they settled their room bills, and left a message with the innkeeper that if Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo return, they were to wait in that inn. The inn helper led a pair of red steeds from the stable. Zhang Wuji saw that the steeds’ hides were smooth and shiny, with long legs and strong bodies, the signs of top quality horses. He could not restrain from clucking his tongue in admiration, thinking that these horses must belong to the people under her command who were trailing the Beggar Clan to this place. She must have fetched them when she went out to buy some clothes the previous day. Zhao Min showed a faint smile as she mounted the horse.

Two riders galloped side by side heading south. To the onlookers, their horses looked like dragons, the two riders, a man and a woman, were wearing exquisite and expensive-looking clothes, their appearances smart and beautiful, they must be a young couple from a rich, high-ranking government official’s family who were out travelling.

That day they galloped for more than two hundred ‘li’s [1 li is approximately 0.5 km], and after spending the night en route, they continued their journey at daybreak the next morning. By midday, they felt the north wind was blowing stronger on their backs, with overcast clouds seemingly hanging over close to their heads. After twenty more ‘li’s, big, goose down-like snowflakes started to fall. Along the way, Zhang Wuji did say almost nothing to Zhao Min. Seeing that the snow was getting heavier, he still did not utter a single word from his place in the front. That day, they were actually riding through a remote mountainous path. By nightfall the snow had reached over a foot deep, although their mounts were divine steeds, they could not go further. Zhang Wuji realized the sky was getting darker and darker. He stood on the saddle and looked around, but did not see a single building; he was indecisive.

“Miss Zhao,” he said, “What do you think? I am afraid our horses won’t be able to take it anymore if we hurry along.”

With a cold laugh Zhao Min said, “You only know the horses won’t be able to take it anymore, but you don’t care whether the people will live or die.”

Zhang Wuji was regretful; he thought, “I have Jiu Yang Shen Gong [divine energy from the Nine Yang Manual] in my body, I don’t feel weary or cold. In my eagerness to save people, I am being inconsiderate towards her.”

Traveling a little bit more, he suddenly heard a cracking noise, a roebuck fled from their left, running toward the mountain. “I’ll catch it for our dinner,” Zhang Wuji said.

Leaping down from his saddle, he followed the roebuck trail on the snow, chasing it straight down the mountain. After circling a small hill, under the dim evening fog he saw that roebuck was running straight into a cave. Exerting his strength, he flew like an arrow toward the roebuck, and caught it by the back of its neck before it entered the cave. The roebuck turned its head around trying to bite Zhang Wuji’s wrist. Zhang Wuji exerted all his strength to his fingers and ‘crack’ he snapped the roebuck’s neck.

He noticed that although the cave was not too big, it could easily give shelter to two of them for the night. Carrying the roebuck, he returned to Zhao Min and said, “There is a cave over on that side, let us spend the night here. What do you think?”

Zhao Min nodded, but suddenly she blushed. Raising the reins, she steered the horse toward the cave.

Zhang Wuji led the horses towards the slope and tied them underneath two big pine trees, to protect them from the snow, and then he looked for some dried branches to build a fire on the cave entrance. The cave was clean, with no trace of filthy animal excrement inside. Looking toward the inside, all he could see was impenetrable darkness. Thereupon he skinned the roebuck, washed it with snow, and roasted it on the fire.

Zhao Min took her mink fur coat and spread it on the ground. Under the blazing fire, the cave was as warm as springtime. Zhang Wuji happened to turn his head around. Under the flickering fire light, he saw her pretty face was even more stunning. They looked at each other and smiled; it was as if the hunger and cold of the day melted in that one smile. When the roebuck was done, each of them ripped the hind leg and ate. Zhang Wuji heaped more firewood to the fire. Leaning against the wall of the cave he said, “Why don’t you sleep?” Zhao Min smiled sweetly. Leaning against the opposite wall, she closed her eyes. Zhang Wuji’s nose caught an intermittent whiff of fragrance coming from her body. He saw her cheeks were rosy, and he felt a strong urge to kiss her, but he held back the thought and closed his eyes to sleep.

They slept until midnight when suddenly they heard hoof beats from a distance. Zhang Wuji woke up with a start. Cocking his ears he could hear four horses coming from the south running to the north. The snow was still falling heavily outside the cave. He thought, “In the middle of the night, under a heavy snowfall, rushing along braving cold weather, they must have an extremely urgent matter to attend.”

The sound hoof beats suddenly stopped as they came near to their place. A moment later the hoof beats started again, surprisingly, the sound turned toward their cave. Zhang Wuji was alarmed, “This cave is remotely located on the back of the mountain, if I did not chase that roebuck, I would not have found this place. How can they find their way over here?” But immediately he realized, “That’s right, we left our tracks on the snow. The tracks must still be visible although it has been snowing heavily for half a night.”

By now Zhao Min was awake; in a low voice she said, “Perhaps some enemy are coming. Let us hide and see what kind of people they are.” As she was saying that, she grabbed some snow outside the cave and quenched out the fire with it.

By that time the sound of hoof beats ceased, but they heard four people walking on the snow toward the cave. In a short while they have came within a dozen ‘zhang’s away [1 zhang is approximately 10 ft or 3.3 meters] from the cave mouth.

In a low voice Zhang Wuji said, “These four people’s movement is very agile, they must be very high skilled martial art masters.” If they went out to cave to seek hiding place, they would definitely be detected by these four people. Without argument Zhao Min pulled his hand to enter further into the cave.

The deeper they went, the narrower the cave became, but surprisingly the cave was very deep. About a ‘zhang’ later there was a bend on the passageway. Suddenly they heard one of the people outside say, “There is a cave here.”

The voice sounded very familiar to Zhang Wuji, since it belonged to his Si Shishu [fourth martial (younger) uncle] Zhang Songxi. While he was pleasantly surprised, the other man said, “The hoof prints and footprints are indeed heading towards this cave.” It was Yin Liting.

Zhang Wuji was about to call when Zhao Min reached out to cover his mouth. She whispered in his ear, “It would be very awkward if they saw you and I in this cave together.”

Zhang Wuji realized she was right; Zhao Min and he did not do anything shameful, but if the various martial uncles saw a young man and young woman pair sleeping together in a cave, how could they explain? Moreover, Zhao Min was a Mongolian princess who had held Zhang Songxi, Yin Liting, and the others captive at the Wan An Temple, where they were disgraced. It would be extremely awkward if the enemies meet here. He thought, “I’ll wait until Zhang Si Shu [fourth (younger) uncle Zhang, Yin Liu Shu [sixth (younger) uncle Yin] and the others leave the cave, and then I’ll appear alone and meet them; and thus avoiding this awkward situation.”

He heard Yu Lianzhou’s voice saying, “Uh! There is a remnant of some firewood in here. Hmm, and some blood-soaked roebuck skin too.”

Another voice responded, “My heart has always been disturbed. I hope nothing bad happened to Qidi [seventh (younger) brother].” It was Song Yuanqiao’s voice.

Learning that his four martial uncles, Song, Yu, Zhang and Yin, were going out at together to find Mo Shenggu, and hearing from the tone of their voices, Zhang Wuji deduced that his Qi Shishu [seventh martial (younger) uncle] must have met some powerful enemy; he was somewhat anxious.

He heard Zhang Songxi laugh and say, “Da Shige [first martial (older) brother] always takes a good care of Qidi, just like when he was the inexperienced, teenage martial brother; while in fact, for the past few years Mo Qixia [seventh hero Mo] has earned an awe-inspiring fame for his fighting prowess. He has early on surpassed his own former prestige. Even if he met a powerful enemy, Qidi alone would not necessarily be unable to deal with it.”

Yin Liting said, “I do not worry over Qidi as much as I worry over that child Wuji. His whereabouts is unknown. Currently, he is the Ming Cult Jiaozhu. A tall tree invites strong wind. A lot of people want to deal with him. Although his martial art skill is high, he is too naïve, he does not understand the sinister crisis of the Jianghu. I am afraid he might fall into some villain’s wicked scheme.”

Zhang Wuji was touched, thinking that his martial uncles’ kindness to him was very deep; they kept thinking about his safety all the times. Zhao Min put her mouth on his ear and whispered, “I am a villain and at this moment you have fallen into my wicked scheme. Do you know it?”

He heard Song Yuanqiao say, “Qidi is heading north to look for Wuji. Apparently, he has picked up some scents on his whereabouts. Only, the eight-character message he left in a hurry in that Tianjin’s inn is confusing.”

Zhang Songxi said, “A change in our Sect, needs to be taken care of urgently. [men2 hu4 you3 bian4, ji2 xu1 qing1 li3 – eight characters] Could it be that there is a scum in the community’? Could it be that that child Wuji

…” Speaking to this point, he suddenly stopped. His voice was filled with deep anxiety.

Yin Liting said, “This child Wuji is not the kind who would corrupt his own Sect, I am sure of that.” “I am afraid that little witch Zhao Min is too treacherous for him,” Zhang Songxi said, “Wuji is still too young and hot-blooded; he might be seduced by a pretty face like his father, who in the end brought ruin and shame upon himself …”

Four men no longer talked; they all sighed deeply. A moment later, Zhang Wuji heard the sound of flint as they lighted the wood to build a fire and cook their meals.

The fire light reached the back of the cave. Although they were hidden behind the bend, Zhang Wuji was still able to see Zhao Min’s face vaguely. Her expression showed resentment and anger; he thought Zhang Songxi’s words earlier must have angered her very much. Zhang Wuji understood her resentment, yet he was also startled, “What Zhang Si Shu [fourth uncle] said is reasonable. My mother did not do anything evil, yet my father was implicated by her actions. This Miss Zhao has killed my Biaomei, disgraced my Tai Shifu [grand master] and my numerous martial uncles. But how can she be compared to my Mama?” Thinking to this point, his heart was thumping madly, he thought, “If they find out Miss Zhao and I are in here, the entire water of the Yellow River would not wash me clean.”

He heard Song Yuanqiao speak with a trembling voice, “Si Di [fourth brother], there is suspicion in my heart, but I feel uncomfortable to say it out loud. I am afraid I am offending our own deceased Wu Di [fifth (younger) brother].”

Zhang Songxi slowly said, “Is Dage [first brother] afraid that Wuji might suddenly harm Qidi?”

Song Yuanqiao did not answer, but although Zhang Wuji could not see him, he thought that Song Yuanqiao must have nodded his head slowly.

He heard Zhang Songxi continue, “This child Wuji is honest and generous. Reasonably speaking, that is very unlikely. I only worry that Qidi is hot- tempered and acts rudely. He might force Wuji and put him into a difficult position. Add to the fact that little witch Zhao Min is very crafty, she might incite those two against each other. If that happens, then … then … Ay, a man’s heart is unfathomable, the matters of this world are difficult to predict. Till from the ancient times, it is difficult for a hero to resist a beautiful face. I only hope Wuji will be able to control his emotions well when facing important matters.”

“Dage, Si Ge,” Yin Liting said, “You are talking empty talk, isn’t that a groundless fear? [lit. the man of Qi fears the sky falling] Qidi might not necessarily face a grave danger.”

“But after seeing the sword Qidi used to carry, I cannot help but feel fearful and apprehensive; I can’t eat and sleep in peace,” Song Yuanqiao said.

“This matter is very unclear,” Yu Lianzhou said, “For people like us, martial arts practitioners, we can’t casually leave our weapon anywhere. Let alone this sword which was given by Shifu. The sword exists the person exists, the sword perished, the person …” Speaking to this word ‘person’, he suddenly stopped; he could not endure to say the word ‘perishes’.

Hearing that Mo Shenggu abandoned the sword given by his master and that his four martial uncles suspected he had something to do with it, Zhang Wuji was very concerned, but he was also angry.

A moment later, he faintly smelled a whiff of aroma coming from inside the cave, mixed with the smell of wild beast. Apparently, the cave was very deep and either at that moment there was a wild beast hiding inside, or the cave was actually some wild beasts’ den. He was afraid that Song Yuanqiao and the others might also smell the aroma and investigate and then he would be found out. Without daring to open his mouth, he pulled Zhao Min’s hand, quietly taking her deeper into the cave. He stretched out his left hand forward to guard against bumping into some protruding rocks.

They only walked for three steps when they rounded another turn. Suddenly Zhang Wuji’s left hand bumped into something soft and smooth; seemingly it was a human body. He was shocked, as if a lightning stroke him, “It doesn’t matter whether this person is a friend or foe, as soon as he makes the slightest noise, Da Shibo [first martial (older) uncle] and the others will know we are here.”

Immediately his left hand moved downward to press the five vital acupoints on that person’s chest and abdomen, followed by a grab towards that person’s wrist. To his surprise, Zhang Wuji felt as if he was touching an ice- cold object. It turned out that person had given up his breath for a long time. Under the very dim light from outside, he focused his eyes to look at that man’s face and vaguely recognized this lifeless body as his Qi Shishu [seventh martial uncle] Mo Shenggu. In his shock, without thinking whether Song Yuanqiao and the others might hear him, he carried the corpse several steps toward the mouth of the cave. Under the brighter fire light, he could see clearly that it was indeed Mo Shenggu. He saw that Mo Shenggu’s face was bloodless and his eyes had not been closed yet, as if he was afraid of what he saw before death. Zhang Wuji was shocked and grieved, and stared blankly for a moment.

As he was walking, Song Yuanqiao and the others heard the noise. “There is someone inside!” Yu Lianzhou shouted. Cold rays flashed as the Four Heroes of Wudang unsheathed their swords at the same instant.

Zhang Wuji groaned inwardly. “I am carrying Mo Qi Shu’s [seventh uncle Mo] body while hiding in here. I cannot escape the accusation of being his murderer in any way.” Recalling how Mo Shenggu had always treated him lovingly, and now he had lost his life in such a miserable state, Zhang Wuji’s mind was extremely sorrowful. Within that short period of time, 1,100 thoughts flashed in his mind; he actually did not give any thought on how he was going to defend himself against Song Yuanqiao and the others.

Zhao Min was able to think a lot quicker than Zhang Wuji; brandishing her sword she dashed out toward the exit. ‘Swish, swish, swish, swish!’ four times, she executed Emei Pai’s staking-it-all sword stances toward the Four Heroes of Wudang. While the Four Heroes raised their swords to parry, Zhao Min had already broken through the cave entrance, and leaped on one of the horses the Four Heroes rode. As Song Yuanqiao’s sword arrived, she blocked it backhandedly while giving the horse’s stomach a good kick. The horse neighed in pain and galloped away. While Zhao Min was still basking in her successful attempt to escape, suddenly she felt so much pain on her back that she saw stars and was not able to breathe, as Yu Lianzhou flew and struck his palm down. She heard the Four Heroes of Wudang utilizing their qing-gong [lightness kungfu] to pursue. She thought, “If I can escape farther, he’ll have time to get away from the cave. Otherwise, how can we wash away this undeserving injustice? Luckily all these four people are pursuing me, they do not think that there is someone else in the cave.” Yet she felt the pain on her chest was unbearable. Stretching the sword behind, she pricked the horse’ butt; the horse let out a long neigh and ran even faster.

At first Zhang Wuji was startled to see Zhao Min break through, and then he realized she was luring the tiger out of the mountain to give him a chance to escape. Thereupon he hurriedly went out the cave carrying Mo Shenggu’s body. He heard Zhao Min and the Four Heroes of Wudang were heading east; thus he ran to the west.

After running for about two ‘li’s, he hid the body behind a large rock, before returning to the main road, and then jumped to the top of a big tree. His heart was still beating madly even after a long time. He thought about Mo Shenggu’s tragic death and could not restrain his tears from flowing down his cheeks.

“Our Wudang Pai has never experienced a disaster like this,” he thought, “I wonder who might have killed Qi Shishu? The ribs on his back are broken, obviously he was killed by a palm strength.”

About an hour later, he heard three horses coming from the east. By the light reflected from the snow, he could see Song Yuanqiao and Yu Lianzhou each riding a horse, while Yin Liting and Zhang Songxi shared a mount. He heard Yu Lianzhou said, “This witch has eaten my palm. Both the rider and the horse fell into a ravine, I don’t think they are going to live.”

“Only today can we pay back the disgrace of the imprisonment at the Wan An Temple,” Zhang Songxi said, “To think that she was unexpectedly hiding in that cave, human affairs are like a fantasy, totally beyond anybody’s guess.”

“Si Ge [fourth brother],” Yin Liting said, “What do you think she was doing, sneakily being alone in that cave?”

“That is hard to guess,” Zhang Songxi said, “Killing that witch is nothing. We will be really happy if we can find Qidi.”

Four people went farther and farther away, until their voices could not be heard anymore. Zhang Wuji waited until Song Yuanqiao and the others went far before he hastily jumped down the tree and rushed to the east, following the horse hoof prints on the snow. All along, his anxiety was unbearable, he thought, “Although she is crafty, this time she was risking her life to save me. If because of this she met her fate, I … I …” He ran faster and faster that in a short moment he had covered four, five ‘li’s until he finally reached the edge of a cliff.

He saw blotches of dark red blood on the snowy ground, with random footprints all around him. There was a large indentation, where a large rock was perched by the edge of the cliff. It seemed like when she reached this place, in her confusion Zhao Min could not see the way, and thus both she and her horse had fallen together into the ravine below.

“Miss Zhao, Miss Zhao!” Zhang Wuji called out. He repeated his call four, five times, but there was no answer. He was even more anxious. Looking down from the edge of the cliff, he saw a deep ravine, but in the dark of the night, he could not see the bottom. The cliff wall was very steep; there was no place for him to set his feet on.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped over the edge with his face against the cliff wall, and then slid down. After sliding about three, four ‘zhang’s, he slipped even faster. Immediately he exerted his strength on his ten fingers, trying to grab the snowy cliff wall, and thus he manages to slow down before coasting down again. By doing this five, six times, finally he reached the bottom of the ravine. He felt his feet were landing on a soft object. Hastily he leaped sideways. Turned out he was stepping on the horse’s belly. He saw Zhao Min was still seated on the saddle, with her hands tightly grabbed the horse’s neck. Zhang Wuji reached out to feel her breath, and to his relief he felt a slight breathing, but she was unconscious.

The bottom of the ravine was dark, the winter snow had not yet melted, and the accumulation of snow actually reached his waist. He presumed since Zhao Min was seated on the saddle, the horse took the full brunt of the falling momentum and died from the impact, but Zhao Min’s live was saved, she only fainted. Zhang Wuji checked her pulse and found out that although she was heavily injured, her life was not in danger. Thereupon he embraced her in his bosom with their four palms holding each other, and he transmitted his internal energy to treat her internal injury.

Since the injury Zhao Min received was from his own Wudang Sect, treating it was not too difficult. In less than an hour she slowly squirmed and regained her consciousness. Zhang Wuji kept sending out the Jiu Yang energy steadily into her system.

In more than an hour later, the sky gradually brightened. ‘Wah!’ Zhao Min vomited a mouthful of blood. “Are they gone?” she said in a weak voice, “Did they see you?”

Zhang Wuji was very appreciative and grateful that her main concern was whether he could escape the undeserved accusation. “They did not see me,” he said, “You … you have suffered a lot.” His mouth was speaking, but the stream of energy flowing out did not stop.

Zhao Min closed her eyes. Although her limbs were void of any strength, her chest and abdomen felt very warm and comfortable. After the Jiu Yang energy circled her system several times, she turned her head and smiled. “Take a rest, I feel much better,” she said.

Zhang Wuji’a arms encircled her waist and pressed his right cheek to her left cheek. “You have saved my reputation,” he said, “That is more important than saving my life ten times.”

Zhao Min giggled and said, “I am a treacherous, evil little witch. To me, reputation is nothing; life is more important.”

Right at that moment, they suddenly heard an angry voice from above the cliff, loud and clear, “Damn witch! So you have not died yet. How did you kill Mo Qixia [seventh hero Mo]? Quickly admit it!” It was Yu Lianzhou’s voice.

Zhang Wuji was very shocked; he did not expect his four martial uncles would return. Zhao Min said, “Turn your head around, don’t let them see your face.”

“Thief witch!” Zhang Songxi shouted, “If you don’t answer, we’ll smash you with big rocks!”

Zhao Min looked up and saw Song Yuanqiao and the others, four people, were all holding a big rock in their hands. They only need ready to throw the rocks down, and Zhang Wuji’s and her own lives would be difficult to protect. She whispered into Zhang Wuji’s ear, “Tear off your leather coat, cover your face, and carry me out of here.”

Following her instruction, Zhang Wuji tore off a piece of his leather coat and covered his face by tying a knot behind his head; he also pushed down his fur hat on his forehead, until only his pair of eyes was exposed.

The Four Heroes of Wudang had been successful in chasing Zhao Min and forcing her to fall into the ravine, but these four men were veterans of the Jianghu; they were vastly experienced and well-informed. They knew with her honorable position as a princess, she would not wander alone without any bodyguard. Four people pretended they went far away on horsebacks, but after several ‘li’s, they tied the horses on a tree by the roadside, and then quietly came back. They returned to the cave first and lighted some torches to explore the inside. They saw the carcasses of two ‘fragrant deer’ [??, xiang1 zhang1 – I don’t know what kind of animal this is], which were covered with blood after being bitten by some wild beast, the fragrance from their bodies was still lingering in the air. Four people continued exploring around the cave, and finally found Zhang Wuji’s tracks. They followed the tracks and found Mo Shenggu’s body, but saw his hands and feet were badly bitten by some wild animals. The Four Heroes’ grief and indignation was indescribable; Yin Liting broke out in crying.

Wiping the tears from his eyes, Yu Lianzhou said, “This witch Zhao Min’s martial art is not weak, but she could not possibly kill Qidi based on her skill alone. Liu Di [sixth (younger) brother), don’t be too sad. We will look for all the murderers, and kill them one by one to avenge Qidi’s life.”

Zhang Songxi said, “Let us wait in hiding around the cave. Come daybreak, that witch’s subordinates might come here looking for her.” His thought was usually full of wisdom and strategy, Song Yuanqiao and the others had always listened to his counsel; therefore, suppressing their sadness, they looked for large rocks on either side of the cave and went hiding.

When dawn came and they still did not see anybody looking for Zhao Min, the Four Heroes returned to the cliff where Zhao Min fell to take a look. They faintly heard voices from down below, and when they looked down, they saw a man in brocade clothes was holding Zhao Min in his arms; turned out this witch had not died yet. The Four Heroes wanted to find out the cause of Mo Shenggu’s death, hence they did not want to kill these two with the rocks.

This snow covered ravine was shaped like a deep well, with steep cliff all around it. The only way out was a narrow crevice on the northwest corner. Zhang Songxi shouted, “Yuan dogs! Hurry up and climb from that crevice. If you tarry, we’ll throw the rocks down.”

Zhang Wuji realized his Si Shibo [fourth martial (older) uncle] did not recognize him and thought he was a Mongolian, which was not surprising, considering he was wearing a fancy-looking clothes, also because he was with Zhao Min. But looking around, he did not see any place he could hide; if the Four Heroes threw the rocks down, he might be able to jump and escape, but Zhao Min’s life would be difficult to protect. Therefore, his only choice right now was go up and take whatever comes one step at a time. Consequently, he carried Zhao Min and slowly crawled up via the narrow crevice.

He made deliberately made his martial art skill look weak, he would walk several steps, then slipped back down again. It turned out that this narrow crevice was really difficult to climb, he pretended to be even weaker by loudly gasping for breath and looked to be in a very difficult situation. Within an hour he had fallen down seventeen, eighteen times, before he finally reached the level ground.

Initially he was thinking of running away with Zhao Min as soon as they were out of the snowy valley. He thought relying on his qing gong, although he carried one person, the Four Heroes might still not able to catch up with him. But Zhang Songxi was very smart, he had already noticed that the way this man climb up the mountain in a distressed manner was somewhat artificial; he then informed his three martial brothers to spread out on four corners; as soon as Zhang Wuji set his foot on the ground, the tip of four unsheathed swords were less than half a foot from his body.

“Thief Tartar,” Song Yuanqiao hatefully said, “Do you think you can escape alive by covering your face with fur? Who killed Wudang Pai’s Mo Qixia? Quickly tell us! If you lie even for half a word, I am going to cut your Tartar dog’s flesh a thousand slashes, ten thousand pieces; open up your belly and split open your chest.”

Actually, Song Yuanqiao was a calm and composed man, but seeing how Mo Shenggu died in such a wretched way, he could not bear not to use such hateful language; which did not happen too often in the last dozen of years.

Zhao Min sighed and said, “General Yalupuwa, things have come this far, you can just tell them!” And then she whispered in a low voice, “Use the martial art from the Sheng Huo Ling.”

Zhang Wuji did not want to fight his four martial uncles, but looking at their current state, he truly did not have any other way to escape this awkward situation. Thereupon he gritted his teeth and rolled on the ground, while tossing Zhao Min toward Yin Liting. He shouted and grunted in a hoarse voice while leaping to the air, somersaulting, and stretched out his arm to grab Zhang Songxi. Yin Liting caught Zhao Min without any trouble. He hesitated for a moment before sealing her acupoint and put her down to the ground.

In this very short period of time, Zhang Wuji had unleashed the strange martial art from the Sheng Huo Ling; his fist struck Song Yuanqiao, while his leg kicked Yu Lianzhou. At the same time his head hammered toward Zhang Songxi, while his hand reached backward to snatch the sword in Yin Liting’s hand. His movements were as swift as a falcon catching a rabbit, very fast and very strange.

The Four Heroes of Wudang’s martial arts were refined and strong, they could be considered as first class fighters of the Wulin world; but facing these successive seven, eight strange attacks, they were thrown into confusion and were forced to defend themselves with difficulty. On the Lingshe Island, although Zhang Wuji’s martial art skill was high, he could not hold up against the Persian’s Liuyun, three emissaries’ martial art from the Sheng Huo Ling. By this moment, he had already mastered the martial art from all six Sheng Huo Ling tablets; his skill was several levels higher compared to the Liuyun, three emissaries, how could the Four Heroes hold up against him?

Actually, the martial arts contained in the Sheng Huo Ling were not the most profound or even intricate martial art techniques, only, they was very strange and unpredictable. If they were fighting one on one under normal circumstance, it would not be a match for Wudang Pai’s orthodox martial art based on strong inner power. But Zhang Wuji was using the Jiu Yang Shen Gong as his foundation, Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi as the general scheme of his movements, on top of that he possessed a profound knowledge of Wudang Pai’s martial art; stance by stance, form by form, he attacked the weakest point on Four Heroes’s defense.

After about twenty stances or so, the Sheng Huo Ling’s martial art was getting more and more fantastical. Lying down on the snowy ground, Zhao Min called out, “General Yalupuwa, these Han people are always proud of their own ability; they did not know we, the Mongolians, have inherited this divine wrestling technique, let them taste it today!”

“Use Taiji fist technique for self defense!” Zhang Songxi called out, “This Tartar’s fist technique is very strange.” Immediately the four people’s fist technique changed; they all used the Taiji fist technique to create a watertight defense.

Suddenly Zhang Wuji dropped down and sat on the ground, both of his fists fiercely pounding his own chest. During their entire lifetime, the Four Hero of Wudang had fought countless powerful enemies, and they had encountered countless strange stances. Zhang Wuji’s Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi could be regarded as the pinnacle of martial art study, yet not only they had never seen something like this Tartar sitting down on the ground and beating his own chest, they had never heard about it as well.

The Four Heroes were using swords to form a tight defense line with the Taiji Fist technique. This time, with a sudden movement the three swords of Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou and Zhang Songxi were thrust into Zhang Wuji’s torso. Yin Liting’s sword was snatched by Zhang Wuji earlier, but he had Mo Shenggu’s thin saber on his side, which he pulled out and thrust toward Zhang Wuji. Suddenly Zhang Wuji’s leg swept horizontally, scattering the snow on the ground toward the Four Heroes.

It was one of weird martial art stances recorded on the Sheng Huo Ling, which originated from the Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan-i-Sabah. Before founding his Hashhashin Sect, he used to rob and plunder merchants traveling along the Persian desert. Whenever he saw a caravan from the distant, he would sit on the ground and beat his on chest, while crying out to the Heaven. The passing caravan would then stop to inquire. Hassan would suddenly kick the sand toward their eyes, and immediately his long saber would kill dozens of merchants, spilling their blood on the yellow sand, scattering their corpses on the great desert. It was a truly malicious technique. This time Zhang Wuji kicked the snow, but the efficiency was the same as if he was kicking sand. The Four Heroes of Wudang suddenly felt snow flying into their faces, rendering them blind for an instant. Four people reacted fast by leaping back immediately, but Zhang Wuji moved even faster; he rolled around and grabbed Yu Lianzhou’s legs. His hand reached out and sealed three major acupoints on his legs. After that he somersaulted and while his body was still mid-air, his right knee knocked the top of Yin Liting’s head, unexpectedly hitting the ‘wu chu’ [lit. five spots] and ‘cheng guang’ [lit. light receiver] acupoints on the top of his head. Yin Liting was dazed and fell to the ground.

Song Yuanqiao flew to the rescue, but Zhang Wuji stepped backward and bumped into his chest. Song Yuanqiao could not use his sword, his left hand withdrew the sword and his right palm struck out, but before his palm reached its target, his chest had already been numbed, as both of Zhang Wuji’s elbows hit his acupoint.

Zhang Songxi was shocked; in a blink of an eye, from four people, he was the only one still standing. He realized he was not this man’s match, but his martial brothers were in distress, he determined not to escape alone. Raising his sword straight up, ‘swish, swish, swish’ he thrust it toward Zhang Wuji three times. Zhang Wuji noticed that although he was facing a difficult situation, his steps were unflustered, the sword stance was not in the least chaotic; these three attacks came swiftly and fiercely, but each stance strictly followed Wudang principle.

Zhang Wuji secretly acclaimed, “If I have not learned this strange martial art, resisting four martial uncles’ converging attack would have been not an easy matter at all.”

Suddenly Zhang Wuji moved his head randomly, swaying back and forth, and making circles. But Zhang Songxi remained unmoved; he was not affected by Zhang Wuji’s attempt to distract his attention. With a ‘chi’ noise his sword was splitting the air, straight toward Zhang Wuji’s chest.

Zhang Wuji lowered his head, aiming his skull toward the tip of the incoming sword. Suddenly he dropped to the ground and pounced forward; all acupoints on Zhang Songxi’s lower abdomen and left leg were sealed and he fell down to the ground. The acupoints Zhang Wuji sealed could disable only the lower part of Zhang Songxi’s limbs; he was about to reach the ‘zhongshu’ [lit. center or hub] acupoint on Zhang Songzi’s back when suddenly Zhang Songxi cried out miserably, his eyes turned white and his upper body convulsed, and then he dropped down stiffly.

Zhang Wuji was scared out of his wits. He thought he did not use too much force in sealing the acupoints just now; certainly it was not a deadly attack, it would not even cause any minor injury. Could it be that Si Shibo [fourth martial (older) uncle] suffered an unmentionable illness, and the hit he suffered just now had caused it to break out? He broke out in cold sweats and hastily reached out to check Zhang Songxi’s breath. Suddenly Zhang Songxi’s left hand moved and pulled the fur covering his face.

Two people looked at each other in blank dismay. After a long time Zhang Songxi said, “Good Wuji, turns out ... turns out … it is you. We have treated you with love in vain.” His voice broke, his face was full of anger, tears streaming down, but it was unclear whether he was angry or grieved.

It turned out that he realized he was not the enemy’s match and thought that he would die without seeing the enemy’s face. If the Four Heroes of Wudang were defeated by an unknown enemy, they would die with their eyes still open. Therefore, first he faked death, and then pulled the fur covering the enemy’s face.

First of all, Zhang Wuji was naïve, secondly, he cared about his Si Shibo very much, hence he had never guarded against him. At this moment, he felt worse than if he were put to death by the sword; he felt as if his soul had left him, and he was completely dumbfounded. He only stammered, “Si Shibo, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me … Qi Shishu, it wasn’t me … I did not harm him …”

Zhang Songxi laughed a bitter laugh and said, “Very good, very good. Hurry up and kill us all. Dage, Erge, Liu Di [first brother, second brother and sixth brother, respectively], look clearly: this Tartar dog is not an outsider, he is none other than our beloved child, Wuji.” Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou, and Yin Liting were immobilized; they only stared at Zhang Wuji in disbelief.

Zhang Wuji was completely at a loss; all he could think of was picking up a sword on the ground and slashing his own neck. Zhao Min suddenly called out, “Zhang Wuji, a real man can endure a momentary injustice; what’s the big deal about it? Nothing in this world can be kept secret forever. You must find the ominous criminal who killed Mo Qixia and avenge his death then the Wudang Heroes’ love to you won’t be in vain.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred; he realized what she said was very reasonable. “What are we going to do now?” he asked, while walking toward her and massaged the acupoints on her back and waist to unseal them.

In a tender and consoling voice Zhao Min said, “Don’t be so sad! You have so many experts within your Ming Cult; I am also not short of warriors with wisdom and ability. With our combined effort, we will capture the real criminal.”

“Zhang Wuji!” Zhang Songxi called out, “If you still have any conscience, just kill us four people. I cannot bear to see you and this wicked witch showing affection to each other.”

Zhang Wuji’s face turned ashen, he had no idea how to respond. Zhao Min said, “We must save Han Lin’er first, then come back to find your Yifu, while investigating the real criminal who killed your Mo Qi Shu along the way, and looking for your Biaomei’s murderer.”

“Wh ... what?” Zhang Wuji was taken by surprise.

Zhao Min coldly said, “Did you kill Mo Qixia? Why do your four martial uncles insist it was you? Did I kill Yin Li? Why do you insist it was me? Don’t tell me you have the right to treat others unjustly and won’t allow others to do the same to you?”

These words were like a thunder in a broad daylight, shaking Zhang Wuji’s eardrums and straight into his heart. At this moment he realized, based on his personal experience that human affairs are often difficult to judge. Deep in his heart, he knew he was a victim of an ignorant grievance; he thought, “Could it be that Miss Zhao, she … she … is also going through the same thing that I do? Is she being wronged by others?”

“The acupoints you sealed on your four martial uncles; can they unseal them?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji shook his head, “I was using the strange technique from the Sheng Huo Ling; Shibo and Shishu will not be able to unseal the acupoints themselves. But after 24 hours, the sealed acupoints will loosen themselves.”

“Hmm,” Zhao Min said, “In that case, let us take them to the cave before we leave. You cannot see them again before the real criminal is found.”

“There are some wild beasts in that cave,” Zhang Wuji said, “They will be ripped badly just like the roebuck and Mo Qi Shu’s body.”

Zhao Min sighed, “I can see that you are muddle-headed and cannot think straight. If one of them can move his upper body, and he has a sword in his hand, what wild beast can bother them?”

Zhang Wuji could only say, “That’s right, that’s right.” Immediately he carried the Four Heroes of Wudang and set them behind a big rock to shelter them from the wind and the snow. The Four Heroes continuously shot abusive words at him. Zhang Wuji could only keep his mouth shut with tears on his eyes.

Zhao Min said, “The four of you are the Wulin experts, but are completely ignorant. If Mo Qixia was killed by Zhang Wuji, at this time he only needs to pick up a sword and kill you all to shut your mouths; how difficult is that? If he has the heart to kill Mo Qixia, do you think he will not have a heart to harm you, four people? If you keep shouting malicious talks, I, Zhao Min, will give each of you a slap in your face. I am a treacherous wicked witch; I am capable of doing what I say. At the Wan An Temple, it was because I looked at Zhang Gongzi’s face that I treated you with respect. I cut the fingers of the experts from Shaolin, Kunlun, Emei, Huashan, and Kongtong, five Sects; but have I ever shown even half of disrespect toward the heroes of Wudang?”

Song Yuanqiao and the others looked at each other. They still believed Zhang Wuji killed Mo Shenggu, but they were afraid Zhao Min would really slap them. Real men could be killed but could not be disgraced; if this little witch did indeed give them a slap in their faces, they would suffer the disgrace for the rest of their lives. Hence, they shut their mouths immediately.

Zhao Min smiled faintly and said to Zhang Wuji, “Go get our mounts to take them to the cave.”

Zhang Wuji hesitated before answering, “I can carry them.”

Something clicked in Zhao Min’s mind; she knew what he was thinking. With a cold laugh she said, “Even if your martial art skill is higher, do you think you can carry four people simultaneously? You are afraid as soon as you are away, I would harm your four martial uncles. You have never believed me. Fine, I’ll go get the horses; you stay here to guard them.”

Zhang Wuji blushed as what she said was right on target, but he really did not dare to leave the fate of his four martial uncles’ lives in the hands of this temperamental, unpredictable girl. He simply said, “I’ll be obliged if you’ll go get the animals. I will stay here to guard the four martial uncles. How is your injury? Are you sure you can walk without any problem?”

Zhao Min laughed coldly and said, “Even if you were more attentive and had more good intentions, others still don’t believe you. You are baring your heart and intestines, other people still think you have a wolf’s heart and a dog’s lungs.” With her speech over, she turned around to fetch the horses.

Zhang Wuji pondered on what she said. It was as if she was speaking about his martial uncles’ suspicion towards him, but he also felt that she was speaking about his own suspicion towards her. He turned his gaze to her, and noticed that she was limping; her footsteps were slow and unsteady. Apparently, her injury had made her walk with difficulty. In his heart he took pity on her, also could not bear to let her go like that.

Zhao Min had not walked too far when suddenly they heard rapid hoof beats on the main road, coming from the north. There were three riders: one in the front and two at the back. Zhao Min quickly retreated as she heard the hoof beats. “Some people are coming!” she said.

Zhang Wuji beckoned to her. Zhao Min went to the back of the large rock in a hurry and crouched down next to him. She noticed that half of Yu Lianzhou’s body was protruding outside the rock; she pulled him behind the rock.

Yu Lianzhou glowered and barked, “Don’t touch me!”

With a cold laugh Zhao Min said, “I want to touch you. What are you going to do with me?”

“Miss Zhao,” Zhang Wuji snapped, “Don’t be rude to my Shibo!” Zhao Min stuck out her tongue and made faces toward Yu Lianzhou.

By this time, the horse in the front was not too far away, while the two riders chasing behind him were flying close to him, perhaps about twenty, thirty ‘zhang’s away from him. As the first rider got closer, in a low voice Zhang Wuji said, “It is Song Qingshu, Song Dage [big brother]!”

“Stop him, quick!” Zhao Min said. “What for?” Zhang Wuji was surprised. “Don’t ask too much,” Zhao Min replied, “Have you forgotten what they said in the Mi Le Temple?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred; he picked a chunk of ice from the ground and flicked it out. ‘Swish!’ the chunk of ice flew straight to the front leg of Song Qingshu’s mount. The horse neighed in pain and knelt down to the ground. Song Qingshu leaped up and tried to pull his horse back up, but as the horse fell, it broke its left leg.

Seeing the pursuers were getting closer, Song Qingshu hastily ran to the side. Zhang Wuji flicked another piece of ice and hit the acupoint on his right leg. Zhao Min reached out and successively sealed the Four Heroes’ mute acupoints, to stop Song Yuanqiao from calling out.

“Ah!” they heard Song Qingshu cry out and tumble down on the snowy ground. Because of these two hindrances, the two riders quickly overtook him; they were none other than the Beggar Clan’s Chen Youliang and Zhang Bo Longtou.

Zhang Wuji felt strange, “The three of them are going to Mount Changbai together to get the necessary poison to make the drug; how come one was running away and the other pursued to this place?” he thought, but then he remembered, “That’s right, it must be that Song Dage was pricked by his own conscience and was not willing to do this unfilial and unrighteous thing. Fortunately he came across me, so I can save him.”

Chen Youliang and Zhang Bo Longtou dismounted their horses. They only knew that Song Qingshu had been riding the horse for a long time, perhaps he was exhausted, so that when the horse stumbled, Song Qingshu also fell down from his mount. But they also thought that Song Qingshu’s martial art was not weak; even if he was injured, his injury must be light. Two people came close with their weapons pointed toward Song Qingshu’s body.

Zhang Wuji had prepared another piece of ice in his hand, ready to be flicked toward Chen Youliang. Zhao Min touched his arm and shook his hand. Zhang Wuji turned around to look at her. Zhao Min placed her own left palm on her ear, and then pointed her finger toward Song Qingshu. Her meaning was clear, she wanted to listen to what they were going to say.

“Surnamed Song,” they heard Zhang Bo Longtou indignantly said, “You sneaked out in the middle of the night, what is your intention? Are you going to leak our secret by telling your father?” In his hand was a purple- gold eight-trigram [ba gua] saber, which he brandished above Song Qingshu’s head, ready to be chopped down.

Hearing the wind the Ba Gua saber produced, Song Yuanqiao was concerned over his beloved son’s safety; he grew exceedingly anxious. Zhang Wuji happened to turn his head around and saw the anxious look on his face, which very soon turned into a pleading look. Zhang Wuji nodded his head, meaning, “Don’t worry, I will in no way let Song Dage suffer any harm.” While thinking in his heart, “The love parents have for their children is very profound [lit. as high as the sky, as thick as the earth]. Da Shibo [first martial (older) uncle] is very angry with me; if he could, he would chop me into thousand pieces, yet as he sees Song Dage is facing a danger, he immediately asks me for help. If it was Da Shibo himself who is facing a danger, as a brave warrior, he would never show any weakness by asking somebody else’s help.” Almost instantly he also thought that Song Qingshu was very fortunate to have people who cherished and showed loving care to him, while he was an orphan without any parents’ love.

He heard Song Qingshu reply, “I am not about to tell my Father.”

Zhang Bo Longtou said, “Bangzhu [Clan Leader] ordered you to come with me to Mount Changbai to pick some medicine, why are you disobeying the order by leaving?”

“You were also born from your parents,” Song Qingshu said, “You want me to harm my own father, how can my heart endure it? I refuse to do this beastly act.”

In a stern voice Zhang Bo Longtou said, “You have made up your mind to defy Bangzhu’s order, then? Do you know what punishment we impart to those who revolt against the Clan?”

“I am a criminal in this world,” Song Qingshu replied, “I do not hope to be alive. In these past few days, as soon as I closed my eyes, I saw Mo Qi Shu come to demand my life. His ghost does not want to go away, it keeps entangling me. Zhang Bo Longtou, please just chop me dead, I will be very grateful to you.”

Zhang Bo Longtou lifted his Ba Gua Saber high, and shouted, “Very well! I will help you!”

“Longtou Dage,” Chen Youliang stopped him, “If Song Xiongdi is not willing, killing him won’t do us any good. Let’s just let him go.”

“Are you saying we should let him go in just like that?” Zhang Bo Longtou was surprised.

“That’s right,” Chen Youliang said, “He has killed his own martial uncle Mo Shenggu, there will be people from his own Sect who’d kill him. This kind of injustice involves a sinful disciple’s blood, do not defile our chivalrous weapons.”

At the Mi Le Temple, Zhang Wuji had heard Chen Youliang bringing up Mo Shenggu’s name to Song Qingshu, he said something about ‘a junior defying his senior’. At that time, Zhang Wuji suspected that Song Qingshu had offended his martial uncle, but never in his wildest imagination Zhang Wuji would guess that Mo Shenggu died under Song Qingshu’s hands. Although Song Yuanqiao and the others were hidden behind a large rock, they were able to hear Song Qingshu clearly; they were all greatly shocked. Zhao Min was the only one who had guessed about 30% of the story; a smile of disdain appeared on the corners of her mouth.

“Chen Dage,” they heard Song Qingshu’s trembling voice, “You have given me a heavy oath that you will never divulge this secret. How can my father find out as long as you do not say anything?” Chen Youliang smiled dryly, “You only remember my oath, but you don’t remember your own even heavier one. You said that from that day forward, you would obey what I say. Was it you who break your promise first, or was it I who did not keep my word?”

Song Qingshu hesitated for half a day before saying, “You wanted me to put poison in Tai Shifu and my father’s food; I would rather die than obeying your word. Just get your sword and kill me.”

“Song Xiongdi,” Chen Youliang said, “There is a saying that to understand the directions of the age is an outstanding talent. We do not want to murder your father and elders, we only want to drug them so they will lose consciousness. Didn’t you agree to it at the Mi Le Temple?”

“No, no!” Song Qingshu said, “I did agree to drug them, but the poison Zhang Bo Longtou gathered was from vipers and centipede; this is a poison to kill people, not a common drug to lose someone’s consciousness.”

Slowly and unenthusiastically Chen Youliang raised his sword, saying, “Emei Pai’s Miss Zhou is as beautiful as a goddess, there is no other girl like her, yet you resign to the fact that she is going to fall into that guy Zhang Wuji. This is really strange. Song Xiongdi, that day, deep into the night, you went to peep into the room occupied by Emei Pai’s female disciples. Your Qi Shishu caught you doing that, and he pursued you down. You fought him by the rocky ridge, and thus a nephew killed his uncle. Why did you do that? Wasn’t it for the sake of this gentle and tender, good- looking Miss Zhou? This matter has come this far, once you have done it, you can’t stop. Can the horse turn back once it enters a narrow pathway? I see that you have climbed the mountain 90% of the way, but fail for lack of a final effort. It’s a pity! It’s a pity!”

Song Qingshu stood up shakily. “Chen Youliang,” he angrily said, “Your words are sweet but insincere! You have forced me. That night I was defeated by Mo Qi Shu; I was not his match. I have brought disgrace to Wudang Pai. It would be a hundred times better if I died under his hands; who wanted you to interfere by giving me a hand? I have fallen into your scheme so deep that my reputation is swept away and I cannot free myself.” “Fine, fine!” Chen Youliang laughed, “Mo Shenggu died because of the ‘zhen tian tie zhang’ [iron palm shaking the heaven] on his back; was it you who hit him, or was it me, Chen Youliang who hit him? Isn’t it your Wudang Pai’s martial art? Certainly I cannot do that. That night I helped you, not only I saved your life, but protected your reputation as well; so you say I was wrong? Song Xiongdi, you and I came across each other, let’s not raise the matters of the past up. About you killing your uncle, my mouth is as tight as a drum; I will never leak even for half a word. The mountain is far, the river is long, we will see each other again in the future.”

In a trembling voice Song Qingshu said, “Chen … Chen Dage, you … what are you going to do to me?” His voice was full of doubt and uncertainty.

Chen Youliang laughed. “What am I going to do to you?” he said, “I am not going to do anything. Let me show you something. What is this?”

From their hiding place behind the rock, Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min were dying to stick out their heads to see the thing Chen Youliang took out, but in the end they decided against doing so.

“Ah!” they heard Song Qingshu cried out in alarm, “This … this is the iron ring of Emei Pai’s Sect Leader,” his voice was trembling, “It is Miss Zhou’s

… You … you … where did you get it from?”

In his heart, Zhang Wuji also shuddered, he thought, “When I left Zhiruo, I plainly saw her still wearing this Sect Leader iron ring; how did it fall into Chen Youliang’s hand? Most likely it is a fake one, he forged it to swindle other people.”

But he heard Chen Youliang laugh lightly and said, “Look carefully, whether this is the real thing or a fake one.”

A moment later Song Qingshu said, “In the Western Region I asked Miejue Shitai for some pointers in martial art, I saw this ring on her finger. I believe this is real.” A ‘clang!’ noise was heard, a sound of metal striking against metal. Chen Youliang said, “If it was fake, this sword should cut it into two. Look here, there is an inscription inside the ring, ‘liu yi xiang nu’ [bestowed to daughter Xiang] four characters, it can’t be fake, can it? This is the Emei Pai founder, Guo Xiang Nuxia’s [heroine Guo Xiang] xuan tie [black/mysterious iron – Yang Guo’s heavy sword] ring.”

Song Qingshu said, “Chen Dage, you … where did you get it from? Miss Zhou, she … is she all right?”

Chen Youliang laughed again, he said, “Zhang Bo Longtou, let’s go. From now on, the Beggar Clan has nothing to do with this person.” Footsteps were heard, the two of them turned around and left.

“Chen Dage, come back!” Song Qingshu called out, “Has Miss Zhou fallen into your hands? Is she still alive, or is she dead?”

Chen Youliang came back. With a smile on his face he said, “That’s right. Miss Zhou is in my hands. A beautiful woman like her, no man’s heart in this world will not be moved upon seeing her. Until now I am still single. I am thinking of asking Bangzhu earnestly to grant me Miss Zhou as my wife, chances are, Bangzhu will grant my request.”

Song Qingshu mumbled indistinctly, apparently, he was at a loss of what to say. Chen Youliang continued, “Actually, a gentleman should not take someone else’s prized possession. In order to win this Miss Zhou, Song Xiongdi has braved a grave disaster; how could for the sake of a beauty Chen Youliang ruin the ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice/code of brotherhood] between brothers? But since you have revolted against the Clan, there is no more kindness and righteousness between us; nothing is out of question anymore, right?”

Song Qingshu mumbled some more. From the corner of his eye, Zhang Wuji noticed there were two streams of tears flowing down Song Yuanqiao’s cheeks; it was obvious that the grief in his heart had reached its peak. Suddenly they heard Song Qingshu say, “Chen Dage, Longtou Dage, as your little brother, I was confused; I beg your forgiveness. I hereby admit my guilt.”

Chen Youliang laughed out loud and said, “Right, right! Now, that is my good brother. I put my hand on my heart to guarantee you that you only need to take this drug [orig. ‘meng1 han4 yao4 – a medicine to knock someone’s consciousness] to Mount Wudang, and then quietly put it into everybody’s cup of tea. Your honorable elders’ lives will not be harmed; the beautiful Zhou Zhiruo will certainly be your wife. We only want to coerce Zhang Sanfeng, Zhang Zhenren [respectable term to address a Taoist priest] and the Wudang heroes into forcing Zhang Wuji to listen to our command. Supposing that we harmed Zhang Zhenren and your honorable father’s lives, Zhang Wuji will only come to the Beggar Clan to exact the revenge; what good will that do to us?”

“That’s correct,” Song Qingshu said.

Chen Youliang continued, “Wait till the Beggar Clan has subdued the Ming Cult, driven out the Tartars, and ruled the earth; our Bangzhu will ascend to the throne [orig. long2 wei4 – dragon position], you and I will render meritorious service to the founder of the kingdom, needless to say, not only our wives and descendants will enjoy titles and positions, but your honorable father will benefit from your bright face.”

With a bitter smile Song Qingshu said, “My Father does not seek fame and fortune. I only hope he will not kill me; then I will be satisfied.”

“How can your father know about the party before it is over?” Chen Youliang said with a smile, “Unless he is a deity who can predict the future. Song Xiongdi, is your foot injured from the fall? Come, we can share the ride. We’ll buy another horse in the next town.”

Song Qingshu said, “A chunk of ice has bumped my calf because I was in such haste. As bad luck has it, it hit right on my ‘zhu bin’ [lit. building visitor] acupoint. There is indeed such a coincidence in this world.” Because he was so preoccupied by Zhang Bo Longtou and Chen Youliang who were pursuing him, he had never thought that there were people who were plotting against him behind the large rock ahead. He only knew that he was being careless and the piece of ice happened to strike him on his acupoint.

“What bad luck?” Chen Youliang laughed and said, “I’ll say it was Song Xiongdi’s lucky day, to marry a beautiful woman as your wife. If there was no such strike, we would not be able to overtake you, and then you would be lost in your own confusion. Not only your reputation would be swept away, but you would ruin our major undertaking. If this sweet smelling, tender Miss Zhou become Chen Youliang’s possession, wouldn’t it be like a phoenix married a crow, a fresh flower stuck into a pile of manure?”

“Hmm,” Song Qingshu said, “Chen Dage, it’s not that Xiongdi is unable to tell good from bad, and does not believe you …”

Without waiting for him to finish, Chen Youliang cut him off, “You want to see Miss Zhou, don’t you? That’s easy. At this moment Bangzhu and the elders are in Lulong [a city in Hebei], Miss Zhou is with them. As soon as we get to Lulong, you can see her. When the Mount Wudang task is accomplished, your Gege [elder brother] will hold the wedding celebration for you, to fulfill your greatest desire; and then you will be grateful to your Chen Youliang Dage for the rest of your life. Ha ha, ha ha …!”

“All right,” Song Qingshu said, “Let us go to Lulong. Chen Dage, how did Miss Zhou … how did she join our Clan?”

Chen Youliang laughed and said, “That was to Longtou Dage’s credit. That day Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhang Bo Longtou went eating and drinking in a restaurant. They saw three strangers who dressed like our Clan disciples, mingled among us. Later, they sent some people to investigate, and unexpectedly found one of them is this lovable and charming Miss Zhou. Zhang Bo Longtou then sent someone to invite her to come with us. Don’t worry, Miss Zhou is auspiciously well; not a single strand of her hair is injured.” Zhang Wuji groaned inwardly, “Turned out that we were already detected on the restaurant that day. If only Yifu were not blind, he would certainly raise the alarm. Ay, to think that all along Zhiruo and I were not aware. But I wonder if Yifu is also well?”

However, all throughout the conversation, Chen Youliang did not mention a single word about Xie Xun. He said, “Miss Zhou and you are engaged, Emei and Wudang two Sects will be under the Beggar Clan’s command, add to that the Ming Cult; just how powerful can we be? We only need to defeat the Mongolians, and then this beautiful country [orig. jiang1 shan1 – river and mountain], heh, heh, will change its master.”

His voice was full of smugness, as if not only the Beggar Clan had already conquered the world, but he, Chen Youliang, had already ascended to the throne, and was sitting comfortably in the imperial courtyard. Zhang Bo Longtou and Song Qingshu followed him laughing ‘heh, heh’, hollow laughs.

“Let’s go,” Chen Youliang said, “Song Xiongdi, Mo Qixia died around here; the cave where we hid his corpse is not far from this place, is it? You ran to this place and suddenly stumbled, could it be that Mo Qixia’s spirit showed up? Ha ha, ha ha!” Song Qingshu did not reply. The three of them walked toward the horses and then left that place.

Zhang Wuji waited until they had gone far before he quickly unsealed Song Yuanqiao and the others’ acupoints, and then he knelt to the ground and kowtowed over and over again. “Shibo, Shishu,” he said, “Nephew was under suspicion and could not explain myself. I have offended you heavily, please punish me.”

Song Yuanqiao heaved a deep sigh, tears streaming down from his eyes; he looked up to the sky without saying anything. Yu Lianzhou busily raised Zhang Wuji up and said, “We all have wrongly accused you. It was our own fault. We are as close as a flesh and blood family, let’s not talk about this anymore. I just can’t believe Qingshu … ay, if we did not hear it with our own ears, who could have believed it?” Song Yuanqiao pulled his sword out and said, “Turned out Qidi came across Qingshu, that little animal … when he was peeking into Emei heroines’ bedroom. We must put our school’s internal affair in order. Three Shidi’s, Child Wuji, let us pursue them; let me slay that animal with my own hand.” Finished speaking, he launched his qing gong and ran to the direction Song Qingshu went.

“Dage, come back!” Zhang Songxi called out, “Everything needs to be considered further.”

In his disturbed mind, Song Yuanqiao ignored his call; he kept running with the sword in his hand. Zhang Wuji lifted up his feet to give a chase. Several leaps later, he cut off in front of Song Yuanqiao. Bowing down he said, “Da Shibo, Si Shibo wants to talk to you. Currently, Song Dage is under other’s influence; someday, he will come to his senses. If Da Shibo wants to punish him, you don’t have to do it right away.”

Song Yuanqiao sobbed, “Qidi … Qidi … your big brother has done you wrong.” Suddenly he remembered how Zhang Cuishan had killed himself because he felt he had done Yu Daiyan wrong; right at this moment he suddenly understood the depth of his Wu Di’s [fifth brother] feeling. Raising up his sword, he slashed it across his own neck.

Zhang Wuji was startled; using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi to the fullest, he snatched the sword from Song Yuanqiao’s hand. But the blade had already cut the neck, creating a long strip of bloody cut. By this time Yu Lianzhou and the others had already caught up.

“Dage,” Zhang Songxi persuaded, “Qingshu is going astray by committing this kind of treason and betraying his own Sect, Wudang people will hold him responsible; but cleaning up our school is a small matter, our country’s safety is big. We can’t lose sight on the big matter for the sake of a small one.”

Song Yuanqiao’s eyes grew big; he was angry. “You … you said cleaning up our school is a small matter? I … I fathered this disobedient son …”

“Listening to that Chen Youliang,” Zhang Songxi said, “The Beggar Clan wants to borrow Qingshu’s hands, scheming to harm our En Shi [benevolent master] and gain control over the major Sects of Wulin world, and conspiring against our country. En Shi’s safety and well-being is the number one priority of our Sect; whether the Wulin world and the common people will have disaster or good fortune is even more important. This child Qingshu has done too much injustice; he will get his retribution sooner or later. We still need to discuss important matters.”

Song Yuanqiao realized Zhang Songxi was very reasonable, he bitterly put the sword back into its sheathe and said, “My mind is troubled, I’ll hear what Si Di has to say.”

Yin Liting took out some cut-wound medication and wrapped it around Song Yuanqiao’s neck. Zhang Songxi said, “The Beggar Clan has already sought to cause En Shi harm, and at this moment En Shi still does not know the facts. We must travel day and night to return to Wudang. Although that Chen Youliang is going to use Song Qingshu, we will never know; perhaps this devious villain will make his move sooner than what is planned. Right now our most urgent task is to protect En Shi. En Shi is advanced in years; if that fake-Shaolin-monk-pretending-to-be-a-news-bearer case is repeated, we can’t redeem it as his disciples even if we were to die ten thousand times.” While saying that, he cast a glance toward Zhao Min, who was standing some distance away; he still resented how she had sent someone to assassinate Zhang Sanfeng.

Song Yuanqiao broke in cold sweats. “That’s right, that’s right!” he said in a trembling voice, “In my eagerness to kill that disobedient child, I pushed En Shi’s safety and well being to the back of my brain. I truly deserve to die to put the cart before the horse. Such a muddle-head.” And then he called out, “Let’s go, let’s go!”

“Wuji,” Zhang Songxi turned toward Zhang Wuji, “We’ll leave the rescuing of Miss Zhou to you. Come to Wudang whenever you are finished, then we’ll talk again.”

“I receive and obey Shibo’s instruction,” Zhang Wuji said.

Zhang Songxi continued in low voice, “This Miss Zhao has a heart of the wolf, you must be very careful. Song Qingshu is a bad example of a real warrior who cannot resist a beauty. You should not follow his example.” Zhang Wuji nodded with his face blushing.

Immediately the Four Heroes of Wudang and Zhang Wuji buried Mo Shenggu behind a large rock. The five of them kowtowed and cried bitterly in front of his grave. And then Song Yuanqiao and his martial brothers, four people, left.

Zhao Min slowly walked towards Zhang Wuji and said, “Your Si Shibo told you to be careful and do not get deceived by this witch, and that Song Qingshu is a bad example, didn’t he?”

Zhang Wuji’s face turned completely red and he bashfully asked, “How do you know? Do you a super ear?”

“Humph,” Zhao Min said, “Let me tell you this: After considering this matter, Song Daxia and the others will not blame Song Qingshu for having an animal heart, instead, they will blame Zhou Jiejie [older sister Zhou] as the source of trouble [lit. red face muddling the water], by destroying a Wudang young hero.”

In his heart Zhang Wuji silently agreed that she might be right, but his mouth said, “Song Shibo and the others are reasonable gentlemen; how could they recklessly blame others?”

With a cold laugh Zhao Min said, “The more they are gentlemen, the more they will blame others recklessly.” She was silent for a moment before laughing and saying, “Quickly go and save your Miss Zhou; it would be terrible for you if she fell into Song Qingshu’s hand.” Zhang Wuji blushed again and asked, “Why would it be terrible?”

End of Chapter 32. 
@Chapter 33 – Long Flute, Short Zither, Flowing Yellow Clothes
Zhang Wuji went to fetch the horses, and then together with Zhao Min, they rode across the Great Wall. He thought his Yifu must have fallen into the Beggar Clan, but since the Beggar Clan wanted to use him to coerce the Ming Cult into submission, he supposed they would not do him any harm; although some humiliation would be unavoidable. However, Zhirou was as clear as crystal and as clean as jade; if the devious and cruel Chen Youliang and the shameless Song Qingshu forced her, her only option would be to die. Thinking to this point, he wished he would grow wings and fly to Lulong. Only, Zhao Min was still injured, they could not possibly travel without any sleep or rest.

That night, the two of them spent the night at a small inn. While lying down on the ‘kang’ [a heatable brick bed common in northern China] Zhang Wuji was deep in thought; the more he thought, the more anxious he got. He went outside Zhao Min’s window; he heard her even breathing as she fell into a deep sleep, so he went to the front desk to get pen and ink. Tearing down a piece of paper from the registry book, he hastily wrote a letter, saying that because the matter was urgent, he made up his mind to continue the journey the very same night, and that he would find her after the matter is settled. He advised her to continue her journey home leisurely while she was still recuperating from her injury. He placed the paper on the table and put a piece of rock on it, and then he jumped out from the window and rushed southward.

By daybreak he managed to buy a horse, and kept changing horses along the way. After several days of traveling day and night like that, he finally arrived at Lulong. However, even by pursuing that fast, he did not see Chen, Song and Zhang Bo Longtou along the way. He figured that while he was traveling during the night, they were resting in an inn someplace, hence he missed them.

Lulong was a strategic city in Hebei province, where the Tang Dynasty’s Jie Du Shi [provincial governor; in Tang times having military and civil authority, but only civil authority during Song] took his residence. It was attacked several times during the transition between the Songs and the Jins and suffered major damages. The city had never recovered all through the Yuan Dynasty, yet it had quite a large population.

Zhang Wuji went all over Lulong’s main streets and small alleys, visited teahouses and wine shops, but surprisingly he did not see a single beggar. He felt very strange, “Such a big city, yet not a single beggar on the street; this is very unusual. Chen Youliang said that the Beggar Clan would have an assembly in here, certainly he was not lying. I think all beggars big and small within the city walls have gone to pay their respect to the Clan Leader. I must look for their meeting place, this way I can eavesdrop to find out whether Yifu and Zhiruo are really captured by the Beggar Clan.”

He then visited all the temples, ancestral halls, abandoned gardens, and any open area around the city, but did not find a single clue. He even went to the villages on the outskirts of the city, but still did not see anything unusual. When evening came, he grew impatient, and could not help but thinking about Zhao Min. “I wouldn’t be this clueless if she were here” he thought. Finally he decided on going to an inn.

After taking his dinner, he took a short nap, and then around the second hour [between 1 – 3 am], he flew out of the window and went everywhere to see if there was anything astir. But after looking to all directions, he saw the night was serene, without the least bit of sign that Jianghu characters were having a meeting.

He was disappointed; but suddenly he saw a light on a tall building toward southeast from where he was. He thought, “This building must belong to a high-ranking government official or some rich family; it has nothing to do with the Beggar Clan …” He had not finished his train of thought when he saw a shadow flash; someone was leaping out from the window on the second floor. Only, he was quite some distance away from the building that he could not see clearly. He thought, “Can it be that there are some ‘lu lin’ [lit. green wood, a term usually refers to ‘world of outlaws’] characters who are visiting this rich family house to commit a criminal act? Since I have nothing to do, I’d better check it out.”

Utilizing his ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill], he immediately rushed towards that big building. As he was leaping over the enclosing wall, he heard someone say, “Chen Zhanglao [elder Chen] is really bothersome; it was decided that we are going to assemble on the eighth of the first month in Laohekou [city in Hubei], yet he dispatched an urgent message for us to hurry along and wait over here. He is not Bangzhu, why does he have a say anyway? Ridiculous.”

The voice was loud and clear, the speaker was obviously indignant; it turned out that they were on a Beggar Clan’s business. As Zhang Wuji heard this, he was delighted. The voice came from the main hall, so he quietly crept toward it.

He heard Shi Huolong’s voice reply, “Chen Zhanglao is a genius; that damn Jin Mao Shi Wang [golden-haired lion king] Xie Xun, who knows how many Jianghu people have been looking for him in these past twenty years, yet nobody has even caught the shadow of a lion hair’s fart. But Chen Zhanglao managed to capture him just like that. Nobody in the Wulin world has ever accomplished that, let alone people within our own Clan …”

Zhang Wuji was startled, but also glad that finally he heard something about his Yifu. He believed the Beggar Clan did not have any extraordinary masters and rescuing his Yifu would not be too difficult. He scanned the room pressing his eyes against a crack in the window. He saw that Shi Huolong was sitting inside, with Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa two Elders, Zhang Bang Longtou and three eight-pouch elders sitting on the lower positions. There was another well-dressed middle-aged fat man; judging from his appearance, he looked like a rich government officer, but on his back he carried six pouches. Zhang Wuji quietly nodded his head, “No wonder” he thought, “Turns out that there is a rich Beggar Clan disciple in Lulong. Who would have thought a whole bunch of beggars will be having an assembly in a rich man’s house?”

He heard Shi Huolong continue “Since Chen Zhanglao urgently wants us to wait in Lulong, he must have a valid reason. We are planning this important matter; his granny, this … this … we must be very cautious over this matter.”

“Bangzhu,” Zhang Bang Longtou said, “Please be informed that the reason the warriors in Jianghu are looking for Xie Xun is because they want to snatch the ‘wu lin zhi zun’ [the most revered in the martial art world], the precious Tulong Saber. Presently, this precious saber is not within Xie Xun’s possession. No matter how much we persuade or threaten him, he is not willing to reveal the precious saber’s location. We are wasting our time capturing this blind man; what use do we have of him other than making him to drink our wine and eat our food? In my opinion, we’d better torture him harshly; I want to see if he’d keep his mouth shut.”

“No, that would be inappropriate,” Shi Huolong replied, “We might spoil something by using force. Let’s just wait for Chen Zhanglao and then we can talk about it at length.”

Zhang Bang Longtou’s face showed discontent; he seemed to be upset that Bangzhu always wanted to hear what Chen Youliang had to say in everything.

Shi Huolong took out a letter and handed it over to Zhang Bang Longtou. “Feng Xiongdi [brother Feng],” he said, “I want you to go to Haozhou immediately and deliver this letter to Han Shantong. Tell him that his son is with us, he is safe and sound. We only want Han Shantong to submit under our Clan’s authority, and then we will view his son in a new light.”

“Delivering a letter is a minor matter,” Zhang Bang Longtou said, “Do I need to personally take the trip to do it?”

Shi Huolong’s countenance slightly dropped, he said, “Speaking of military accomplishment, Han Shantong and his comrades have created quite a stir within this last half a year or so. I hear his subordinates, that damn Zhu Yuanzhang, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun and the others, have raised up their arms and very much all of them have some stinking ability. This time I am asking Feng Xiongdi to personally deliver this letter, first, to make sure Han Shantong will submit under our Clan; and while you are hanging around them, make sure you find out what kind of plan he and his generals are cooking. Second, I want you to investigate what kind of strange secret those damn Ming Cult people are hiding. Feng Xiongdi, the task you are bearing on your shoulder is not light; how could you say it is a minor matter?”

Zhang Bang Longtou did not dare to say anything anymore; he simply said, “I respectfully follow Bangzhu’s instructions.” He accepted the letter, saluted Shi Huolong, and then left the main hall.

Zhang Wuji kept on listening, but they were only talking about how in the future, after the Ming Cult, Shaolin, Wudang, Emei, and all other Sects were subdued, the Beggar Clan would flourish with awe-inspiring prestige. This Shi Huolong’s wild ambitions were not as lofty as Chen Youliang’s; if the Beggar Clan had a sole domination over the Jianghu and warriors in the Wulin world, he would be very satisfied. He was not thinking of ruling over the country [orig. jiang1 shan1 – river and mountain] by becoming the emperor. His language was vulgar, with a lot of dirty words.

After listening for a while, Zhang Wuji was fed up; he thought, “It seems like Yifu and Zhiruo are imprisoned here. I need to rescue them first then I’ll give this big mouth, shameless beggar, a lesson.”

His right foot moved slightly, he gently leaped toward a tall tree. Looking to all directions, he saw a dozen or so Beggar Clan disciples on the lower level. They had their weapons in their hands, going back and forth patrolling the area. Zhang Wuji thought that must be the place where they kept Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo prisoners. Slipping down the tree, he sneaked to the tall building nearby and hid behind a fake decorative hill. As soon as the two Beggar Clan disciples turned around and walked the other way, he leaped vertically up toward the second floor, where he saw bright light from lamps and candles. He stooped down underneath a window, trying to hear any sound of activity inside.

To his astonishment, after listening for a while, he did not hear anything inside. “How come there is nobody inside?” he thought, “Could it be that the person in here is a martial art master who is able to stop his breathing?” But after listening a moment longer and still did not hear any breathing noise, he stretched out his neck to peek into the room via a crack in the window.

He saw a pair of large candles on the table, which had been burned more than half of their original length, but there was not a single human shadow to be seen. There were three rooms on the second floor, located side by side. The one on the immediate east of him was unoccupied, so he peeked into the room on the west. This room was also brightly lit. He saw cups and bowls scattered on the table, about enough to be used by seven, eight people. The wine in the cup had not dried up, the vegetable and meat dishes had not been finished, but there was not a single human being inside the room. It looked like the people had not been eating and drinking too long when they had to leave the room in a hurry.

The room in the middle was pitch-black like a cave. He lightly pushed the door, but it was bolted from the inside. “Yifu, are you in there?” he called out in low voice. Nobody answered. Zhang Wuji thought, “Apparently, Yifu is not here. But why do the Beggar Clan people set up such a strict security? Could it be that they are running the ‘real is fake, fake is real’ tactic?”

Suddenly he caught a whiff of smell of reeking blood coming out from the middle room. He was alarmed. With his left hand pressed against the door, he exerted his internal energy and ‘crack!’ the bolt broke. Quick as a flash he darted inside to catch the broken bolt so that it would not fall on the floor and create some noise.

He only took one step forward when his foot stumbled on an object on the floor. It felt soft like it was a human body. He stooped down to touch the object and indeed it was a lifeless human body. This person had ceased breathing, but his face was still a bit warm; looked like he died not too long ago. Zhang Wuji traced the corpse’s head and found the head to be small with pointy chin, definitely it wasn’t Xie Xun’s head. He was relieved. Taking another step he bumped into two more bodies. He went to the western wooden partition and poked his finger to let the candlelight from the adjacent room passing through. He saw seven, eight Beggar Clan disciples scattered around the room, all dead. Obviously, they were killed because of heavy internal injury. He lifted a corpse up and tore the clothes off. He saw a deep fist imprint on that corpse’s chest, breaking up his ribs; apparently, the power behind the fist was extraordinarily strong.

Zhang Wuji was delighted, “Turns out Yifu unleashed his mighty power and struck these guards dead.” He looked around the room, and saw on a corner of the wall a picture of blazing fire, engraved with the tip of a sword; it was undoubtedly the symbol of the Ming Cult. He also noticed that the latch of the window was snapped off; the window was open. “That’s right,” Zhang Wuji thought, “The dark shadow I saw fleeing out the upstairs window a moment ago must be Yifu escaping. I wonder how was he captured by the Beggar Clan? It must be because his blindness made it difficult for him to guard against the Beggar Clan’s deceit. If they did not use ‘meng han yao’ [drug, see Chapter 32], then they must have used some kind of trap [orig. ban4 ma3 suo3, dao3 gou1, yu2 wang3 – large rope to trip horses, hook to topple someone, fishnet] to capture him.”

He went out the room in delight. Crouching by the door he looked downstairs and saw that the beggars were going back and forth on their patrol duty; they were completely oblivious of the accident happened on the second floor. Zhang Wuji thought, “Yifu has not left too long, I can still overtake him. And then we, father and son, will come back and make an earth-shattering disturbance here, to teach these beggars the way we Ming Cult deal with our enemies.” Thinking to this point, his spirit rose. Remembering that the dark shadow he saw earlier went out from the west side, he jumped out to the enclosing wall using a tall tree as a stepping-stone, and then rushed to the west.

Following the main road, he ran for several ‘li’s before arriving on a fork on the road. He looked around looking for clue, and saw a blazing fire mark behind a rock, pointing to the road going southwest. Zhang Wuji was very happy thinking that now his Yifu’s whereabouts was clear and he would see him very soon.

Yang Xiao had explained the markings and signs used by the Ming Cult to communicate to each other to him in detail. He noticed that although this blazing fire sign had only several strokes the lines were bold; not many people within the Ming Cult were able to produce this kind of drawing other than people of Xie Xun’s caliber who was well-versed in both sword and pen [orig. wen2 wu3 quan2 cai2].

His doubts were gone. Hurriedly he took the small lane, straight to the relay station of Shahe [city in Hebei]. It was already dawn; he stopped by any restaurant along the way to buy some steamed buns and flatbreads to satisfy his hunger and then hurriedly continued his journey westward until he arrived at the small town of Bangzi. He saw another blazing fire symbol on the lower part of a wall on the corner of the street, pointing toward an abandoned ancestral hall. He was very happy thinking that his Yifu might be hiding in that hall.

As he got near the gate, he heard a clamoring noise of people talking and shouting as rowdy characters and people of obscure background who gathered around the main hall, gambling. It turned out that this place was some kind of a gambling establishment.

The manager saw Zhang Wuji and noticed his fancy and expensive-looking attire, he knew a rich customer had arrived; busily he smiled and mumbling some welcoming words, “Gongziye [young master], come and roll the dice; your luck must be good, beat these three villagers.” Turning his head he called out the crowd of gamblers, “Make room for Gongziye. Everybody, put your bet down, let Gongziye have his hands on the money!”

Zhang Wuji frowned, he knew these gamblers were not Jianghu characters. Raising his voice he called out, “Yifu, Yifu! Are you Senior in here?” He waited for a while, but nobody answered. He called out again several times. Seeing he did not come to gamble, but shouting and creating disturbance instead, a ruffian called out, “Good child, your Senior is here, hurry up and roll the dice!” The main hall resounded with the sound of the ruffians’ laughter.

Zhang Wuji asked the manager, “Did you see an elderly gentleman, big and tall, yellow hair, and blind eyes?”

As the manager realized this person did not come to gamble, but to look for someone, he was disappointed. He said with a laugh, “What a joke! You are saying that there is a blind man who came here to roll the dice? This blind man must be crazy!”

Zhang Wuji was not in a good mood as he failed to find his Yifu. Listening to the manager and that ruffian being rude and make fun of his Yifu, he took two steps forward, grabbed the manager and the ruffian, and casually flung them to the roof. Although these two men were not injured, they were scared out of their wits and screamed like a pig being slaughtered.

Zhang Wuji pushed the crowd over and took two silver ingots from the gambling table. He said, “Gongziye is having his hands on the money.” He put the silver into his pocket, and left the ancestral hall in big strides. The ruffians froze in fear; who would dare to chase him?

Zhang Wuji continued his journey westward. Not too long afterwards he saw another blazing fire sign. It was already evening, and he had arrived at Fengrun, another big city on the northern part of Hebei. Following the sign, he found a whitewashed wall with a black gate. The copper-ring door knockers were shiny, inside the wall plum blossoms were half-blooming; it was a quiet, elegant and clean house.

He picked the doorknockers and knocked three times. A short moment later he heard footsteps approaching. With a creaking noise the black door opened. A strong fragrance immediately attacked his nostrils. The one who answered the door was a girl wearing a pink leather jacket with a small knot on top of her head. She pursed her lips, laughed, and said, “Gongziye, long time no see. Jiejie [older sister] misses you very much. Come in and drink some tea.” Her words were followed by another laugh, and then she threw a coquettish look at him.

Zhang Wuji was flabbergasted. “How did you know me? Who is your Jiejie?” he asked.

The girl laughed and said, “You still ask? Hurry up, don’t let my Jiejie die of loneliness [orig. qian1 du3 gua4 chang2 – pulling the tripe, hanging the intestines].” Reaching out, she grabbed Zhang Wuji’s right hand and pulled him in.

Zhang Wuji was greatly astonished, “Why does she act like she has known me for a long time?” he wondered. But then he remembered, “Ah, right, Zhiruo must be staying in here; she knew I was following the sign all day looking for them, so she told this girl to wait for me. Ay, we haven’t seen each other for many days now, Zhiruo must be dying of loneliness because she misses me very much.” He felt tenderness in his heart and without hesitation, followed the girl inside.

They walked through a small pathway of cobblestones, passed a courtyard, and entered a side room. He saw a parrot perched beneath the eaves, which said in throaty voice, “Qing Gege [big brother Qing, or lit. ‘passionate brother’. I am not sure whether the character ‘Qing’ here is someone’s name, or it refers to ‘beloved brother’] is here. Jiejie, Qing Gege is here.”

Zhang Wuji blushed profusely, “Even a parrot knew,” he thought.

He saw the chairs in that room were padded with embroidered cushions; the charcoal fire was raging, warming the room so that it felt like spring. There was a small incense burner on the table. The girl turned around and left, but a short moment later returned with a tray of six different fruits and a pot of green tea. She slowly poured the tea and handed it over to Zhang Wuji; and she actually pinched his wrist gently.

Zhang Wuji frowned; “How could the girl be this frivolous?” he thought. If Zhou Zhiruo saw them, wouldn’t she be offended? Thereupon he asked, “Where is Xie Laoye [old master Xie]? Where is Miss Zhou?”

The girl laughed, “Why are you looking for Xie Laoye? Are you jealous? What if my Jiejie came in and saw your expression? Look at you, you don’t have any conscience; you come to our place, yet in your heart you keep thinking about some Miss Zhou and Miss Wang.”

Zhang Wuji was startled, “”What kind of nonsense are you talking about?” he asked. That girl only pursed her lips, smiled and left the room.

A moment later, he heard the tinkling noise of bracelets. The curtain was lifted open, the girl returned, holding the hand of a woman around twenty one or twenty two of age. Her skin was snowy white, her face was quite beautiful with arched eyebrows and a grain of mole on the right corner of her mouth. She glanced at him gracefully, and smiled before she said anything. Her figure was elegant, and she welcomed him in a charming manner. Zhang Wuji felt a rich fragrance assailing his nostrils; he was really uncomfortable.

That woman said, “Xiang Gong [honorable master], what is your precious surname? Today you have come to pay me a visit, Xiao Nuzi [little/lowly girl, referring to herself] feels very honored.” As she was speaking, her left hand landed on Zhang Wuji’s shoulder.

Zhang Wuji blushed profusely and tried to evade. “My humble surname is Zhang,” he said, “Is there a gentleman by the surname of Xie and a lady by the surname of Zhou in here?”

The woman smiled and said, “This is the ‘li xiang yuan’ [fragrance peach courtyard]; if you are looking for Zhou Xianxian, she lives at ‘bi tao ju’ [jade-green peach residence]. Are you so infatuated by that girl that you lost your mind and looking for Zhou Xianxian at the ‘li xiang yuan’? Hee hee

…!”

Suddenly it dawned on Zhang Wuji that this place was a brothel. “Please forgive me,” he said. Quick as a flash he slipped out the door. The girl pursued him and called out, “Gongzi, in what way my Jiejie is inferior to Zhou Xianxian? Aren’t you going to sit down even for a moment?”

Zhang Wuji repeatedly shook his hand; he fished out the silver ingot he took from the casino and tossed it to the ground, while flying out the gate. His mind was so troubled that he was not able to calm himself for a long time.

By this time, it was already dark. He was afraid he might miss the blazing fire signs along the way; therefore, he decided to find an inn to spend the night, while his heart was filled with disquieting thoughts. “Why did Yifu go to the casino and to the brothel? There must be a profound meaning behind all these actions, but what is it?” Sleeping to the middle of the night, he suddenly awakened, “Yifu is blind, how could he leave so many clear markings along the way? Could it be that Zhiruo was by his side giving him directions? Or could it be that the enemy deliberately faking our Cult signs to play a trick on me? Are they trying to lure me into ambush? Humph, entering the dragon’s pool or the tiger’s lair, I’ll have to get to the bottom of this good or bad.”

Early the next morning, he saw another blazing fire outside Fengrun’s city gate, the sign was still pointing to the west. By following the sign, he arrived at Yutian [still another city in Hebei] around noon. Now the sign pointed toward a large house of a rich family. There were lanterns hung on the gate; seemed like the family was celebrating a joyous occasion. The lanterns were adorned with red characters ‘zhi zi yu gui’ [???? – I don’t know how to translate this, the dictionary gives me ‘marry/wedding’]; apparently, their daughter was getting married. The sound of music and the noise of guests filled the air. Zhang Wuji had learned his lesson; he did not rush in to ask Xie Xun’s whereabouts, instead, he mingled with the guests to observe. But since he did not see anything unusual, he went out to look for another sign, and he did indeed find one on the trunk of a big tree nearby.

The blazing fire sign took him from Yutian to Sanhe, and then he was directed to the south until he arrived at Xianghe. By this time he was starting to have a thought, “Most likely the Beggar Clan is already aware that I am on their trails, therefore, they play the ‘luring the tiger from the mountain’ trick to get me as far away as possible, so that they can proceed with their shady evil business.”

Although he was anxious, he did not dare to stop following the blazing fire signs fearing that it was really Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo who left them. “Supposing they were running away from strong enemies, and left these signs along the way with the hope that I will find and save them, but because I think I am smart, I return to Lulong, what if Yifu and Zhiruo finally die? Things have come this far, I have no choice but keep following these signs until everything comes to light.”

From Xianghe to Baocheng, toward Dabaizhuang, Panzhuang, and then turning to southeast, toward Ninghe [a city in Tianjin], from here the blazing fire vanished without any trace; Zhang Wuji could not find any more signs. He explored the city of Ninghe, but did not see anything unusual. “It was definitely the Beggar Clan who led me over here, causing me to lose several days running around in vain.” Thereupon he bought a horse to return to Lulong, and then at the second hand clothing store he found a white long gown. Borrowing a pen and some red ink, he drew a large blazing fire on the white gown; having determined to face the Beggar Clan head-on as the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult.

Wearing the white gown, he went to the rich man’s mansion in big strides. The main gate was a pair of huge red double-doors, which were tightly closed at that time. The shiny copper nails on the doors were the size of the mouth of a cup. Zhang Wuji pushed with both of his palms. ‘Crash!’ the huge double-doors flew up and landed in the middle of the courtyard. A series of resounding ‘Bing! Bing! Bang! Bang!’ sounds were heard as two large goldfish vats were smashed.

On top of his concern over Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo’s safety these past few days, he felt that he was a victim of some practical joke, which made him going in circles around the Hebei province; he needed to vent up his frustration. This time coming back to the Beggar Clan headquarters, he was determined to confront them once and for all. As he split the gate open, he walked in big strides and shouted in a thunderous voice, “Beggar Clan people, hear me: have Shi Huolong come out and see me.”

There were around a dozen four and five-pouch Beggar Clan disciples standing in the courtyard; they were already shocked when the gate suddenly flew in, now they saw a young man wearing white robe breaking in, some seven, eight people immediately shouted almost simultaneously and blocked this unwelcome guest, “Who are you?” “What do you want?”

Zhang Wuji raised both of his arms, a successive ‘slam, slam’ noise was heard as he struck the seven, eight Beggar Clan disciples, sending them flying toward a row of windows. Passing the courtyard, he went straight to the main hall. ‘Bang!’ he smashed the door to the hall, and saw a banquet table in the middle of the room, with Shi Huolong sitting on the head of the table.

As soon as the leaders of the Beggar Clan heard the loud commotion on the entrance, they immediately sent someone to investigate. But Zhang Wuji was so fast that as that seven-pouch disciple was hurrying outside, he met him halfway. With one hack Zhang Wuji grabbed his chest and threw him toward Shi Huolong.

The rich-looking host was sitting a few seats away from the head of the table. As he saw the seven-pouch disciple flying towards the banquet table, he stretched out his arms and caught the flying man. He felt the incoming force was earth shattering so he immediately launched the ‘qian jin zhui’ [a thousand-catty drop] to steady himself. To his surprise, ‘bang, bang, bang’ he was forced to repeatedly take seven, eight steps backward and did not stop until his back was against a large pillar. Loosening up his grip, he let the seven-pouch disciple down on the floor. He panted heavily, his body weakened, and he dropped to the floor right in front of that large pillar.

The crowd of beggars witnessed this scene with amazement. Right at that moment, they heard Zhang Wuji exclaim; he was both astonished and delighted, because he saw sitting on that round table, to the left of the head of the table, was a young woman, who was none other than Zhou Zhiruo. And the man who was sitting next to her was Song Qingshu.

“Wuji Gege!” Zhou Zhiruo cried out in shock. She tried to stand up, but her body swayed and she fell to the floor.

Zhang Wuji was startled, he rushed forward to hold her. But before he straightened his back up, a ‘Slap!’and a ‘Bang!’ were heard as his back were simultaneously struck by Song Qingshu’s palm and a Beggar Clan master’s fist. But Zhang Wuji had already protected his whole body with the Jiu Yang Shen Gong so that the power of the palm and the fist was immediately neutralized.

Holding Zhou Zhiruo in his arms, he jumped out to the courtyard. “How is Yifu?” he asked.

“I ... I …,” Zhou Zhiruo’s voice was shaky.

“Is he [orig. lao3 ren2 jia1 – senior] all right?” Zhang Wuji asked. “My acupoint is sealed by them …” Zhou Zhiruo said.

Zhang Wuji only cared about Xie Xun, “How is Yifu?” he asked again.

“I don’t know,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “I was captured by them and brought here. I don’t know Yifu’s whereabouts.”

Zhang Wuji laid her down on the ground and massaged several points on the joint of her leg. Who would have thought that Zhou Zhiruo’s acupoint was sealed using a special technique and his massage did not show any result. Her feet were planted on the floor, yet she was unable to stand up; her knees bent and she sat back down.

All the beggars left their seats and stood on the steps in front of the courtyard. Shi Huolong cupped his fists and said, “Are you the Zhang Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult, Sire?” Zhang Wuji knew he was facing a leader of a clan, so he must not fail to show courtesy; immediately he cupped his fists in return and said, “I don’t dare. I beg Shi Bangzhu’s forgiveness for breaking into your Clan’s headquarters.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu’s name has shaken the Jianghu in the past few years,” Shi Huolong said, “It’s like thunder … ringing in my ear, and today seeing the old chap’s skill, which is really fierce, hey hey, my utmost admiration.”

Zhang Wuji said, “I come recklessly and have become Shi Bangzhu’s laughingstock. Where is my Yifu, Jin Mao Shi Wang [Golden-Haired Lion King]? Please let him, Senior, come out to see me.”

Shi Huolong’s face flushed, and then he laughed and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu is young, but your words are this bold. We invited Xie Shi Wang [Lion King Xie] with a good intention, to come … to drink a cup of wine, but not only Xie Shi Wang left without bidding us farewell, he harmed our eight disciples with heavy hands; damn it [orig. ta nai nai, lit. his granny; a curse phrase], how are we going to settle this business? Why doesn’t Zhang Jiaozhu advise us on this?”

Zhang Wuji was startled, he thought, “Those eight Beggar Clan disciples were indeed the victims of Yifu’s heavy hands. It seems that he, Senior, is really not here. But where did he go?” Thereupon he said, “What about this Miss Zhou? Why did your Clan hold her captive here?”

“This …,” Shi Huolong was startled.

Chen Youliang quickly interjected, “I hear people say that although Zhang Wuji of the Ming Cult possesses a strong martial art, he is a barbarian little devil head who does not have any regard of reason … ha ha …”

“Why?” Zhang Wuji’s face stayed calm and collected.

Chen Youliang said, “I have witnessed it today; hey hey, as sure  as the shadow of a tree, as plain as your name.”

“Why did you call me barbarian without any regard of reason?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“This Miss Zhou is the Sect Leader of Emei Pai,” Chen Youliang replied, “She is the leading figure of an upright Sect; what relation does she have with your heretical Cult? This Song Qingshu Xiongdi is an up-and coming young leader of Wudang Pai, Miss Zhou and he are a perfect match [orig. lang2 cai2 nu3 mao4, lit. skilled young man, beautiful woman, and ‘zhu lian2 bi4 he2, lit. pearl matches with jade]; it is truly a harmony in social position and economic status, a pair of two-goodness. The two of them are passing by, and the Beggar Clan invited them to stay as our guests, to share a cup of wine with us. Why did the Ming Cult Jiaozhu unexpectedly come and intervene? That is funny, really funny!” Echoing what he just said, the crowd of beggars burst into loud laughter.

Zhang Wuji said, “If Miss Zhou is your guest, why did you seal her acupoints?”

“Miss Zhou was nicely sitting and drinking in here, talking and laughing. Who said her acupoints were sealed?” Chen Youliang said, “The relation between the Beggar Clan and Emei Pai is very deep; it goes for generations. The founder of Emei Pai, Shizu [martial ancestor] Guo Nuxia [heroine Guo] was our Clan’s previous leader, Huang Bangzhu’s beloved daughter. Our previous generation Yelu Bangzhu was Guo Nuxia’s brother-in-law. Unless you belong to the ignorant, wet-behind-the-ear generation, all Wulin people are aware about these historical facts. How can we, the Beggar Clan, offense the current Emai Pai’s Sect Leader? Zhang Jiaozhu’s accusation is unfounded, how can you prevent the heroes under the Heaven from sneering at you?”

Zhang Wuji laughed coldly and said, “So you are saying Miss Zhou sealed her own acupoints?”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Chen Youliang said, “We have everybody here as our witness, Zhang Jiaozhu rushed in, snatched her by force without any propriety, and then took Miss Zhou out. Miss Zhou struggled to free herself, and then Sire sealed her acupoints. Zhang Jiaozhu, although it is difficult for heroes to resist beautiful face, and even though you are lecherous and want to have possession over her, this is a public place with numerous people; everybody’s eyes are on you. Zhang Jiaozhu, aren’t you degrading your own position by committing this reckless act?”

Zhang Wuji’s eloquence was far inferior to Chen Youliang, as he was receiving such a false countercharge, he was furious and it was even more difficult for him to refute. Hid countenance turned ashen and he shouted, “So you said you have decided not to tell me where my Yifu is?”

Chen Youliang also raised his voice, “Zhang Jiaozhu, your Cult’s Guang Ming Shi Zhe [emissary of the brightness] Yang Xiao has caused the death of Emei Pai’s Ji Xiaofu Nuxia. Everybody in the Wulin world knows about it, no need to point my finger. Now you are relying on your superior martial art to come over here and commit this kind of despicable, filthy shady business; I am afraid it will be difficult for you to escape justice.”

Zhang Wuji turned his head toward Zhou Zhiruo and said, “Zhiruo, tell me, how did they capture and take you here?”

“I … I … I …” Zhou Zhiruo said the word ‘I’ three times, then suddenly her body went limp and she passed out.

The crowd of beggars broke into a commotion; they called out, “Ming Cult’s devil head killed her!” “Zhang Wuji could not deny the charge and killed Emei Pai’s Sect Leader!” “Kill the pervert thief Zhang Wuji, rid the world of trouble!”

Zhang Wuji was livid, he stepped forward in big strides toward Shi Huolong, thinking, “To subdue the criminals must capture the leader first; as long as I can catch Shi Huolong, good or bad is in his hands. I can force them to reveal my Yifu’s whereabouts.” Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhi Fa Zhanglao blocked together. Zhang Bang Longtou brandished his iron stick, while Zhi Fa Zhanglao had a steel hook in his right hand and iron crutch in his left hand. Two men with three different weapons simultaneously attacked Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji let out a light whistling noise and launched Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. ‘Clink! Clank!’ Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s right hand steel hook parried Zhang Bang Longtou’s iron stick, his left hand’s crutch threatened to smash his lower body.

On the side, Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s sword was also thrust in; he called out, “This fellow’s martial art is very weird, everybody must be careful.” ‘Swish, swish, swish!’ three times, his sword curved like a rainbow, aiming Zhang Wuji’s chest and lower abdomen.

“Good swordmanship!” Zhang Wuji praised his swift and fierce move. Evading sideways, his left forefinger pointed toward Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s thigh.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao turned his sword over and the tip of the sword aimed toward Zhang Wuji’s fingertip. This change happened so fast that the tips of the sword and the finger were only less than a hair-width apart. This sword move was a rarely seen masterpiece in the Wulin world. Zhang Wuji silently praised, “The Beggar Clan’s name is revered in the Jianghu, for a hundred of years did not decline. There are truly crouching tigers and hidden dragons within the Clan, such as this outstandingly capable man.”

That day in the Mi Le Temple he saw the battle between the Xuan Ming Elders and the Beggar Clan’s masters, but he was hidden on the tree and did not dare to expose himself to look closely. This time he experienced it first hand and found out that Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa two elders were truly top ranking martial art experts of the present age. Zhang Bang Longtou was the weakest among them, but still, he was only a notch inferior to the other two.

In a flash, the Beggar Clan’s three elders and Zhang Wuji had exchanged more than twenty stances. Suddenly Chen Youliang loudly called out, “Arrange the Killing Dog Formation!”

The crowd of beggars shouted and yelled; their blades flickered with a snowy white ray of light. There were 21 Beggar Clan martial art masters, each with a curved saber in their hands; they quickly spread out, surrounding Zhang Wuji in the middle. These twenty-one beggars were singing the ‘lian hua luo’ [falling lotus (flower)]. Some of them were moaning and groaning as if they were in pain, while some others beat their own chests with their fists, and some called out in loud voices, “Laoye, Taitai [master, mistress (or madam)], have compassion! Share us your cold rice!”

At first Zhang Wuji was stunned, but then he understood; these weird shouts and actions were to disturb the enemy’s mind. He saw these beggars moved in a random pattern; they were advancing and retreating in haste, but upon a closer inspection, he found that actually they were following some strict pattern.

“Stop!” Chuan Gong Zhanglao shouted; he took two steps backward and lifted his sword horizontally across his chest. Zhi Fa Zhanglao and Zhang Bang Longtou also leaped backward, but the ‘killing dog formation’ was still jumping around here and there, their movements did not cease in the least bit.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao called out, “We are relying on large number to gain victory; it is improper. But within the Beggar Clan there is not a single person who is worthy to be Sire’s match. Other than using this cowardly act, we can never fight you following the way of chivalry.”

Zhang Wuji smiled slightly and said, “Well said, well said.”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao continued, “All of us are wielding some weapons, while Zhang Jiaozhu is bare-handed; the Beggar Clan should not take too much advantage over you. Whatever weapon Zhang Jiaozhu desires to use, we will respectfully offer that weapon to you.”

Zhang Wuji said in his heart, “This Chuan Gong Zhanglao not only possesses a high level of martial art, he is also chivalrous; he is totally different from that sly Chen Youliang.” He said, “Since I am playing around with you, why should I whirl a saber or sweep a staff? If I want to use weapon, can’t I fetch it myself?” As he was speaking, his shadow flashed to leave the ‘killing dog formation’. His hands moved and pressed both Chen Youliang’s and Song Qingshu’s shoulders. In a twinkling of an eye, he had already snatched their swords. His shadow flashed again and he returned to his original position.

The way he moved out and re-entered the formation was so fast that none of the moving twenty-one blades even touched the hem of his clothes. The crowd of beggars was frozen in amazement as they heard his loud and clear voice say, “Your precious Clan’s ‘killing dog formation’ has earned a very good reputation. Only, killing a dog is easy, but if you want to subdue a dragon or overcome a tiger, this formation is not of much use.” While saying that, he raised the swords and transmitted his strength into the swords’ blade. ‘Crack, crack!’ both the swords snapped into pieces.

“Everybody, move!” Zhang Bang Longtou shouted, his iron stick pointed toward Zhang Wuji’s chest. Zhi Fa Zhanglao also brandished his hook and crutch into two circular snow flowers, sweeping toward Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji dashed to the left, but his body was slanted to the right, according to the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi technique. A series of white rays flashed by, followed by a series of ‘pop, pop, pop’ noise, as all the curved sabers in the hands of the beggars of the ‘killing dog formation’ were snatched by Zhang Wuji and thrown to the beam of the main hall. The twenty-one curved sabers were stuck neatly in one row, each saber entered the beam about one foot deep.

Suddenly Chen Youliang’s voice was heard, “Zhang Wuji, aren’t you going to stop?”

Zhang Wuji turned his head only to see Chen Youliang had a sword in his hand, with the tip pressed toward Zhou Zhiruo’s back. With a cold laugh Zhang Wuji said, “For a hundred years the people of Jianghu say, ‘the Ming Cult, the Beggar Clan, and the Shaolin Pai,’ among the Jiao-Pai [cults and sects], the Ming Cult ranks first; among the Bang-Hui [clans and associations/societies] the Beggar Clan holds the highest honor. With your action, aren’t you afraid of bringing disgrace on the prestige of Hong Qigong Laoxia [old hero]?”

“Chen Zhanglao,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao angrily said, “Release Miss Zhou. We are fighting a life and death battle with Zhang Jiaozhu. The Beggar Clan is pouring out the entire Clan’s power to face Ming Cult Jiaozhu one man. If we do this despicable act, will any of us still have face to live an honorable life?”

Chen Youliang laughed. “Real men fight with wits and not with strength. Zhang Wuji, haven’t you surrendered yet?”

“All right!” Zhang Wuji loudly laughed, “Today Zhang Wuji experienced the Beggar Clan’s impressive power.”

Abruptly he took two steps backward and flipped backward into the air; and when he fell back down, his legs landed on Shi Huolong’s shoulders. His right palm laid flat on top of Shi Huolong’s head, while his left palm grabbed the main artery on the back of Shi Huolong’s neck. It was a stance from the martial art of Sheng Huo Ling, which was executed rather easily so that it surprised even Zhang Wuji himself.

His original intention was to take Shi Huolong by surprise with one of his weird moves. He had prepared three stances of the most difficult to be dealt with, combined with his lightning fast movement, to capture Shi Huolong. His only concern was that Chen Youliang would be truly cruel and merciless; perhaps he would really stab Zhou Zhiruo as soon as Zhang Wuji made his move. Who would have thought that he did not even need a single stance form the three fiercest stances he had already prepared, since Shi Huolong did not even attempt to resist and let himself be captured.

Zhang Wuji rode on Shi Huolong’s shoulder just like a child riding on an adult. It was not the most elegant scene to behold, but since he had already gained control over the vital acupoints on the enemy’s head, he was not willing to jump down and thus give the enemy a chance to take back control.

As they saw their Clan Leader was captured, the crowd of beggars cried out in alarm. Zhang Wuji’s right palm laid flat on the ‘bai hui xue’ [hundred- meeting acupoint]; which was the intersection of the ‘tai yang jing’ [sun passage] and the ‘du mai’ [supervise artery]. It was the most important point on the human body. Zhang Wuji only need to tap it lightly, Shi Huolong’s passages and arteries would be shaken and he would die violently; no medicine would be able to revive him.

Nobody within the Beggar Clan dared to move. From the clamoring noise of shouting and yelling, the main hall suddenly turned very quiet. All eyes were looking at Zhang Wuji and Shi Huolong; nobody knew what to do.

Right this moment, suddenly they heard the soft but clear sound of ‘qin’ [zither] and ‘xiao’ [flute, but not the modern traverse orchestral flute]. It sounded like there were several zithers and several flutes were being played together. The cheerful sound of music floated in the air, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, sometimes distinct, sometimes vague, but everybody was able to hear it clearly. Sometimes the music came from the east, another time it came from the west; nobody knew for certain from which part of the roof the sound of music came from.

Zhang Wuji was greatly surprised; he could not figure out the meaning of this zither-flute music.

In loud and clear voice Chen Youliang said, “Which Master has bestowed the Beggar Clan the honor of your arrival? If you are the devils from the Ming Cult, you might as well show yourselves; why would you play tricks on us?”

Suddenly the zither played three notes successively, ‘zheng, zheng, zheng’, and four young women wearing white appeared on the east and west eaves, floating gently into the courtyard below; each woman had a zither in her hands. The zithers were half as long and half as wide as the ordinary seven- string zither of those days, yet they also have seven strings just like ordinary zithers. As the four women landed on the ground, they stood on the four corners of the courtyard.

Following them, from outside the door entered four young women in black, each with a black long flute in her hands. The flutes were twice as long as the commonly seen flutes of those days. These four women also took their positions on the four corners. Four women in white and four women in black, stood across from each other. Eight women forming a square, the four zithers played a happy tune, joined by the four flutes; together they made a beautiful instrumental ensemble. The music was very gentle and elegant. Zhang Wuji did not understand music, but it was as if the melody were dancing in the air, bringing a pleasant feeling to his ears. Although he was in a dangerous situation, he was willing to stop for a moment and listen to the music.

Amidst the sound of music, a woman entered the courtyard, wearing a soft yellow light robe; her left hand was taking along a twelve, thirteen years old girl. The woman appeared to be around twenty-seven, twenty-eight of age; her movements were graceful and her face was very beautiful, albeit looked a little pale, as if devoid of any blood.

On the contrary, the little girl was ugly; her nose curved upward, her mouth was wide, revealing two big front teeth, and she was carrying a mean and no-nonsense attitude. One of her hand was holding that beautiful lady’s hand, while the other hand was holding a dark green bamboo stick. Ever since the crowd of beggars saw these two women walked in, their eyes had never stopped staring at that dark green bamboo stick.

Seeing these many women suddenly appear, Zhang Wuji was aware that he was still riding on Shi Huolong’s shoulder and it looked like they were playing some kind of children’s game; but Chen Youliang’s sword had not left Zhou Zhiruo’s back, certainly he could not easily release the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu. However, he also noticed that the eyes of everybody there were fixed on the bamboo stick on that little girl’s hand, as if that bamboo stick was the most important object in the world. They did not even look at the women in white, the women in black, the beautiful lady in light yellow, or even looked at the ugly girl. Zhang Wuji was astonished. He silently examined the bamboo stick with his eyes, and saw the bamboo was very dark green, smooth and shiny; who knows how many hands this stick had passed on rubbed and stroked it. Other than that, he did not see anything unusual about it.

The beautiful lady in yellow scanned the hall; her eyes were as cold as lightning, gazing at everybody present. Finally, her eyes rested on Zhang Wuji’s face. With an icy cold voice she said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, you are not a child anymore. Instead of acting properly, you are making a scene in here.” She sounded like she was chiding Zhang Wuji, but her tone was friendly; it was as if an older sister was reprimanding her younger brother.

Zhang Wuji blushed. “The Beggar Clan’s Chen Zhanglao used a dirty trick,” he said in way of defense, “He holds my … my companion hostage. In return, I captured their Bangzhu.”

That beautiful lady showed a faint smile and said in gentle voice, “Don’t you think riding on others’ Bangzhu is a bit too much? I came from Chang’an [ancient name of Xi’an, the capital of China during the Tang Dynasty], and have heard along the way that the Ming Cult Jiaozhu is a young devil-head. Today I see it with my own eyes. Ay, ay!” While saying that, she shook her pretty head, with a disapproving look on her face.

Suddenly Shi Huolong shouted, “Zhang Wuji, you pervert little thief, get down quickly!” He reached up to pull Zhang Wuji’s legs, but since the main artery on the back of his neck, through which the vital energy flowed, was seized, he did not have the least bit of strength left.

Because he was cursed as ‘pervert little thief’ in front of these women, Zhang Wuji was furious and ashamed; he transmitted a whiff of internal energy through his left hand to the back of Shi Huolong’s neck. Shi Huolong felt tingling sensation on his entire body, along with unbearable pain. “Aiyo! Aiyo! Aiyo!” he screamed.

The crowd of beggars were angry at seeing Zhang Wuji’s rudeness, but also ashamed and upset at their Bangzhu’s display of weakness. They felt that as Shi Huolong moaned and groaned under the enemy’s hand, he was degrading his position as a hero and a warrior. Even an ordinary Beggar Clan disciple would not bow his head and show such weakness in front of the enemy, much less the leader of the number one clan in Jianghu.

“Zhang Wuji,” Chen Youliang said, “Why don’t you release our Shi Bangzhu while I pull my sword away?” Without waiting for a reply, he immediately put his sword back into its sheath. He knew Zhang Wuji would comply his request, and sure enough, Zhang Wuji replied, “Very well.”

A shadow flashed, and Zhang Wuji was standing by Zhou Zhiruo again. He saw her eyes were deep and her expression weary; he could not help but feeling compassion and pity. Holding her hands, he helped her to sit down on a round rock stool in the courtyard.

Chen Youliang turned toward that beautiful lady in yellow; he cupped his fists and said, “Your presence has honored our Clan. I wonder what instructions do you have for us? May we have the honor of learning your precious surname and your great given name?” To the ugly young girl he asked, “Young Miss, where did you get this bamboo stick?”

In a cold voice the beautiful lady in yellow said, “Where is Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou [Lightning Hand of the Originating Formation] Cheng Kun? Tell him to come out and see me.”

Zhang Wuji felt strange as he heard the seven characters ‘Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun’; he saw Chen Youliang’s expression suddenly changed, but he recovered quickly, and then with an indifferent voice he said, “Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun? Isn’t that Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun’s shifu? You’d better ask Zhang Jiaozhu of Ming Cult.”

“Who are you, Sire?” the beautiful lady in yellow asked.

“My surname is Chen, given name Youliang,” Chen Youliang replied, “I am a Beggar Clan eight-pouch elder.” The beautiful lady in yellow cast a sidelong glance toward Shi Huolong, and asked, “And who is this fellow? He looks like a warrior with a valiant spirit, why is he so useless? [orig. nong2 bao1 – cloth used to wrap a boil wound with pus on it] He was only punished lightly by others, and already screaming and crying. Truly unfit of his image.”

The crowd of beggars felt their faces were lost; they were inwardly ashamed. Some of them cast their glances toward Shi Huolong with 30% disdain and 20% anger.

“This is our Clan’s Shi Bangzhu,” Chen Youliang said, “The Senior has just recently recovered from a serious illness. His body is still not well. You are the guest; we are yielding 30% to you. Don’t blame us for offending you if you speak anymore nonsense.” The last two sentences were spoken in stern voice and expression.

The beautiful lady in yellow was unfazed; she turned toward one of the women in black and said, “Xiao Cui, return the letter to him.”

“Yes!” the girl in black replied. Taking a letter from her bosom, she held it on her hand.

Zhang Wuji took a glance and saw these characters on the envelope, ‘To Master Han Shan Tong of the Ming Cult. Confidential.” And a smaller row of four characters, ‘Shi of the Beggar Clan.’

As Zhang Bang Longtou saw the letter, immediately his face turned purple. “Little [female] slave,” he cursed, “Turned out the joker who stole the letter from the Old Man along the way is you, the dead slave girl.” In his anger he raised his iron staff high, ready to stake his all and pounce on the girl.

The girl in black chuckled and said, “I am a slave girl indeed [Translator’s note: the word ya1tou2 literally means ‘slave’ or ‘servant girl’, but can also be translated as ‘little girl’]; but I am not dead yet. Such a big man like you, but failed in a simple task of delivering a letter. What a shame.” Finished speaking, she waved her delicate hand and the letter flew smoothly toward Zhang Bang Longtou. Immediately Zhang Bang Longtou lifted his hand to catch the letter.

That night Zhang Wuji witnessed how Shi Huolong ordered Zhang Bang Longtou to deliver a letter for Han Shantong, while holding Han Lin’er hostage to coerce Han Shantong to surrender to the Beggar Clan. Listening to the above exchange, he presumed it was these girls in white and in black who played joke on Zhang Bang Longtou along the way by stealing the letter, and thus forcing Zhang Bang Longtou to return to Lulong. But Zhang Bang Longtou had a strong martial art; listening to his words, it seemed like until this moment he did not know who had played the joke on him. Therefore, either these eight women possessed an outstanding resourcefulness, or they possessed a very high martial art skill; or it could be that the beautiful lady in yellow was behind all this, deliberately throwing the masters from the Beggar Clan into confusion. Thinking to this point, he felt grateful toward that lady in yellow.

The beautiful lady in yellow said, “Han Shantong is fighting around the rivers Huai and Si to drive the Tartars away. Along the way, I heard that he is kindhearted and chivalrous; he has never disturbed common people. A hero of his caliber, how can he betray the Ming Cult and surrender to the Beggar Clan for the sake of his son? If this letter ever reach the hand of Han Da Ye [master Han], the joke will be on you. I saw this Longtou Dage [big brother Longtou] is muddle-headed and funny; furthermore, there is an important matter within the Beggar Clan that requires his presence, hence I intercepted the letter.”

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Many thanks Dajie [big sister] for your assistance. Zhang Wuji pays his respect.”

The lady in yellow returned the respect. “Don’t be overly courteous,” she said. And then she addressed the Beggar Clan again, “Do you really believe that by capturing Han Lin’er you can compel Han Shantong to surrender? Zhang Bang Longtou Dage, along the way your trip was hindered several times. Do you think by detouring to smaller pathways you can evade the obstructions? Hey hey, even if you did evade the obstructions and deliver this letter to Han Shantong; your Beggar Clan will not enjoy any advantage at all.”

Chen Youliang’s heart sank; he took the letter and saw that the envelope was still intact. Ripping the envelope open, he took the letter and as he browsed it, his countenance changed greatly. Originally it was a letter compelling Han Shantong to surrender, now it became a letter from the Beggar Clan begging the Ming Cult to accept its surrender. The language was very humble, in which the Beggar Clan was bowing and bending its knees, assuming the lowest position by cursing its own past conducts and deeds, admitting that they were ten thousands of unpardonable evil. Furthermore, it declared that from that day onward, the Beggar Clan decided to rectify its wrongdoings and asking the Ming Cult’s benevolence by not holding them responsible of their former misdeeds. It also promised to submit under the Ming Cult’s authority and be willing to be the vanguard in the great undertaking of expelling the Yuan.

“That’s right,” the lady in yellow coldly said, “I have seen the letter, but it wasn’t me who changed it. As I saw this letter, I realized Zhang Bang Longtou had already been tricked by others. My parents had a close relationship with the previous generation of the Beggar Clan. I do not wish the awe-inspiring prestige of the biggest clan in the world, which has been built since the days passed, to be disgraced like this today; hence I decided to interfere. Just think, if Zhang Bang Longtou delivered this letter to the Ming Cult, do you think the Beggar Clan would still have a face to stand in the Jianghu?”

One by one Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao, Zhang Bo Longtou, Zhang Bang Longtou and the others read the letter, and every single one of them was shocked and angered; in their hearts, they all cried out, “We’ve been shamed!” They realized the truth in what that lady in yellow was saying, if this letter did indeed fall into the Ming Cult’s hands, the Beggar Clan would be so disgraced that it would be difficult for the Beggar Clan disciples to stand straight in front of other people. Speaking of which, by intercepting the letter, the lady in yellow was actually doing a big favor toward the Beggar Clan. The question was: who stole the letter in the first place?

Xiao Cui, the maiden in black, laughed and said, “You want to know who changed the letter, don’t you?” No one in the Beggar Clan responded, but their faces revealed their anxious desire to know.

“Zhang Bang Longtou,” Xiao Cui said, “Take your outer robe off; you’ll find the answer.”

Early on Zhang Bang Longtou’s face had turned red, with his veins bulging on his neck. As soon as he heard Xiao Cui, he ripped his outer robe with both hands. A series of ‘Snap, snap’ noise was heard as his buttons were pulled. He tossed the robe backward and barked, “Then what?”

“Ah!” he heard the crowd of beggars behind him cry together in alarm; obviously they had seen something strange.

“What?” Zhang Bang Longtou asked, while turning his body around, only to see six, seven people pointing their fingers toward his back.

Zhang Bang Longtou had never been known for his patience. Again his hands grabbed the lapels of his inner robe and ripped it open, revealing his muscular body. Spreading the inner robe open, he saw a picture of large bat in dark green ink, its wings spread wide; its face bore a ferocious and terrifying expression, with some red dots representing drips of blood on the corner of its mouth.

“Qing Yi Fu Wang [green-winged bat king] Wei Yixiao!” Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao and the others exclaimed in unison.

Previously, Wei Yixiao very seldom visited the Central Plains [zhong yuan], only a few people knew his name; but over the past few years, he had made several mysterious appearances in the Jianghu, displaying his full capabilities. As a result, his fame soared and in a short period of time it was in par with the Bai Mei Ying Wang [white-browed eagle king]. Zhang Wuji rejoiced secretly, “Other than Wei Xiong [brother Wei] with his superb ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu], which enables him to come and go without leaving any trace, it would be difficult to play a joke on Zhang Bang Longtou and leave him senseless.”

Zhang Bang Longtou was startled, he raised his inner robe and threw it on Zhang Wuji’s face, while cursing, “Fine! Turns out it was one from your group of evil bastards who played a joke on the Old Man.”

Zhang Wuji flicked his sleeve up and that inner robe floated slowly upward and landed on a forked branch of a ginkgo tree on that courtyard. As the robe fluttered in the wind, the picture of blood-sucking bat appeared to be alive.

“Zhang Bang Longtou,” Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “My humble cult’s Wei Fu Wang [bat king Wei] has shown you mercy; don’t you understand? What if he decided to take your life?” As Zhang Bang Longtou thought about it, he could not help but shiver.

Chen Youliang realized that the longer he let this matter go on, the more disadvantageous it would be for them; the best plan would be to turn their attention someplace else. Thereupon he asked the lady in yellow, “May I ask Miss’ honored surname? I wonder what relationship do you have with us?”

The lady in yellow laughed coldly and said, “What relationship do I have with you? I only have a relationship with this Dog Beating Stick.” She pointed her finger to the dark green bamboo stick in the ugly girl’s hand.

The crowd of beggars had early on recognized the stick to be the Dog Beating Stick [da gou bang], the symbol of authority of their own Clan’s Clan Leader; however, they were not clear on how this stick could fall into someone else’s hand. Everybody turned their attention toward Shi Huolong. They saw his face was deathly pale and looked desperate.

“Bangzhu,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao asked, “Is the Dog Beating Stick in this girl’s hand fake?” “I … I …” Shi Huolong stammered, “I think it is a fake.”

“Fine,” the lady in yellow said, “Take the real Dog Beating Stick out so that we can compare the two sticks.”

“The Dog Beating Stick is the Beggar Clan’s most precious article, how can we casually show it to anybody?” Shi Huolong replied, “I don’t have it with me, because if I lose it, won’t it be terrible?”

As the crowd of beggars listened to him, they felt he did not make any sense; as the Clan Leader of the Beggar Clan, how could he be afraid to lose the Dog Beating Stick?

The little girl lifted high the bamboo stick and with a loud voice said, “Everybody, come and see. This Dog Beating Stick is our Clan’s … our Clan’s heritage, which was passed on from the first generation to the next. How can it be a fake?”

As the crowd of beggars heard her saying ‘Our Clan’, they were astonished; so they came near to examine the stick. They saw the stick was as crystal- clear and smooth as jade, and as hard as iron; without any doubt this was the real Clan Leader’s symbol of authority. They looked at each other in confusion.

The lady in yellow said, “It is widely known that the Eighteen Dragon- Subduing Palms and the Dog Beating Stick technique are two of the Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan’s most famous divine skills. Xiao Hong, go and ask Shi Bangzhu for some advice in the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms first, and then Xiao Ling, after Xiao Hong Jiejie [elder sister] has won, ask Shi Bangzhu for some advice in the Dog Beating Stick technique.” Two flute-player young girls responded and jumped out; they stood side by side in the courtyard.

Chen Youliang indignantly said, “By not willing to reveal your name, Miss has already despised the Beggar Clan; and now you ordered two little maids to fight our Bangzhu. How can there be such logic in the Jianghu? Shi Bangzhu, let disciple deal with these two maids first, and then we can ask this Miss to show her expertise. In the end we will see what kind of master has showed such contempt toward the Beggar Clan.”

“Damn it! [orig. ta1 nai3 nai5 – his granny]” Shi Huolong said, “Very well, Chen Zhanglao, please take care of this matter for me.”

‘Swish!’ Chen Youliang unsheathed his sword, and slowly walked to the courtyard.

Xiao Hong said, “Miss told me to ask some advice in the Eighteen Dragon- Subduing Palms. Do you know this palm technique? Does the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms technique use a sword?”

“What kind of position do you think Shi Bangzhu holds?” Chen Youliang shouted in response, “How can he fight a lowly servant like you? The Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms is a divine skill, how can a lowly servant like you see it that easily?” While saying that, he took another step forward.

The lady in yellow turned toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, please do me a favor.”

“Just say it,” Zhang Wuji replied.

The lady in yellow said, “Could you get rid of this fellow surnamed Chen for me? And then, unmask that big fraud who pretends to be Shi Bangzhu.”

When Zhang Wuji was successful in capturing Shi Huolong with only one move, he had thought that his martial art skill was only mediocre. He also recalled when Han Lin’er spat some phlegm to him, surprisingly Shi Huolong was not able to evade. Doubt started to rise in Zhang Wuji’s heart; especially after witnessing that in everything he had always listened to Chen Youliang without any ideas of his own. Based on his martial art skill, knowledge and experience, he was unfit to become the leader of the Beggar Clan. This time he heard the lady in yellow say that he was a ‘big fraud who pretends to be Shi Bangzhu’, his suspicion was confirmed and thus he understood 60, 70%. He nodded and immediately went toward Shi Huolong.

Shi Huolong launched the ‘chong tian pao’ [shattering the sky cannon]. ‘Bang!’ his fist hit Zhang Wuji’s chest.

Zhang Wuji laughed out loud and said, “Is the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms this useless?” [again, the original word is ‘nong bao’, see above] Reaching out, he grabbed Shi Huolong’s collar and lifted him up.

Chen Youliang realized he was not Zhang Wuji’s match; he quietly withdrew into the crowd without waiting for Zhang Wuji to make his move.

The ugly girl suddenly wailed and pounced toward Shi Huolong, hitting and pulling his clothes like crazy, while crying out, “You killed my Father, killed my Father, wicked thief!”

The acupoints on Shi Huolong’s back were grabbed by Zhang Wuji so he was not able to move. He was a burly man and the girl’s little fists only reached his belly. Zhang Wuji bent his arm to push his head down. The girl grabbed and pulled his hair. Suddenly the entire hair on Shi Huolong’s head fell off, revealing his shiny bald head. Turned out he was bald and was using a wig. The girl continued randomly grab, scratch and pull; and she pulled away his nose, but no blood gushing out. Everybody was astonished. They looked closely and saw that the fallen piece of nose was a fake; his high nose was also a fake.

The crowd of beggars broke into a commotion; they asked together, “Who are you?” “Why did you pretend to be Shi Bangzhu?”

Zhang Wuji raised him up and then with a jerk he tossed him to the ground. Shi Huolong was knocked out and was speechless for half a day. Zhang Wuji smiled faintly and withdrew; thinking that this man was masquerading Shi Huolong, and now that the fact was known, the crowd of beggars would certainly deal with him.

Zhang Bang Longtou was hot-tempered; he stepped forward and slapped that man left and right, ‘Slap, slap, slap, slap’ seven, eight times.

The fake Shi Huolong’s cheeks were red and swollen. “It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me,” he cried out loudly, “It was Chen … Chen Zhanglao who told me to do it.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s heart was stirred, he shouted, “Where is Chen Youliang?” But Chen Youliang’s shadow was nowhere to be seen. Apparently as Chen Youliang realized his plot was uncovered, he quickly escaped and was already gone for a long time.

“Quickly chase him!” Zhi Fa Zhanglao barked his order. Several seven- pouch disciples responded and ran out of the gate to pursue.

“Mother of a thief! [this is a literal translation]” Zhang Bang Zhanglao cursed, “Who do you think you are, telling the Old Man to kowtow to you and call you ‘Bangzhu’?” Raising his palm, he was about to slap again.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao quickly reached out to grab his hand. “Feng Xiongdi [brother Feng],” he said, “Don’t be reckless. If you kill him, we won’t find out anything from him.” Turning toward the lady in yellow, he cupped his fists and respectfully said, “If Miss did not expose this man’s deceitful scheme, we would still be kept in the dark. By your illustrious name, Miss was able to see through this deception. My humble Clan, from the biggest to the smallest, all are indebted to you.”

The lady in yellow only gave a slight smile and said, “Xiao Nuzi [lit. little/lowly girl – referring to herself] lives in the deep of the mountain, and has never had any contact with outsiders; so knowing my name would be quite useless. As for this little sister, could it be that nobody in your clan recognize her?”

The crowd of beggars looked at the little girl, but nobody recognized her. Something suddenly stirred in Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s heart; he took a step forward and said, “She … she … she looks a bit like Mrs. Shi … could it be

… could it be …” “That’s right,” the lady in yellow said, “Her surname is Shi, given name Hongshi [lit. red rock; different character from her surname ‘Shi’]; she is the only daughter of Shi Huolong, Shi Bangzhu. When Shi Bangzhu was dying, he sent Mrs. Shi and this girl, with the Dog Beating Stick in their hands, to look for me, asking me to avenge his grievance.”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao was shocked, “Miss!” he said, “Did you say Shi Bangzhu has already returned to Heaven? He … how did the Senior die?”

After Yelu Qi, none of the previous generations Clan Leaders had been successful in mastering the entire Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms; the most any Clan Leader had ever learned was fourteen stances. Shi Huolong had mastered twelve stances. About twenty years ago, even though his internal energy was not strong enough, he forced himself in training of this heritage palm technique of his Clan. As a result, the upper half of his body was paralyzed; he could not move his arms. Thereupon he took his wife and went wandering on remote mountains in search of efficacious treatment of his illness, and left the Beggar Clan affairs to Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa two elders, and Zhang Bang and Zhang Bo two ‘longtou’ [leaders; lit. dragon head]. However, there was no clear coordination between the two elders and two leaders; everybody was taking care of his own business only. As a result, once again the Dirty Clothes and the Clean Clothes Factions were on bad terms with each other, and such a big clan gradually declined in power.

Before the sudden appearance of this fake Clan Leader, the younger Beggar Clan disciples had never seen their Bangzhu, plus Chuan Gong Zhanglao and the others had not seen Shi Huolong for more than twenty years, and so looking at this fake Bangzhu’s appearance, which held a very close resemblance with the real Bangzhu, who would have thought that this one was only an impersonator?

The lady in yellow sighed and said, “Shi Bangzhu died under the hands of Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun.”

“Ah!” Zhang Wuji exclaimed; thinking that he had personally seen Cheng Kun’s body lying on the ground at the Brightness Peak, how could he kill Shi Huolong? Or perhaps it must be before he was killed at the Brightness Peak.

“Can I ask you a question, Miss?” he asked, “How long has Shi Bangzhu passed away?”

“Last year, on the sixth of the tenth month,” the lady in yellow replied, “So it’s been more than two months now.”

“That’s strange,” Zhang Wuji said, “I wonder how does Miss know that Shi Bangzhu died under Cheng Kun that old thief’s treacherous hands?”

The lady in yellow replied, “Mrs. Shi told me that Shi Bangzhu fought this old man for twelve stances before than old man vomited blood and ran away. But Shi Bangzhu was also injured by that old man’s palm strength. Shi Bangzhu knew his injury was very serious, and he expected that the old man would recover within three days and would return to pick a fight with him again. Immediately he talked to Mrs. Shi, telling her that the enemy was Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun. By that time Shi Bangzhu’s paralyzed arms were actually about 90% recovered. With his mastery of the twelve stances of the Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms, his martial art skill could be considered one of the top ranking masters in the Jianghu, yet after exhausting his entire skill and strength, after the twelve stances were launched, he still could not escape the enemy’s treacherous hands.”

Listening to this point, the little girl Shi Hongshi broke into a loud cry. Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s face also showed grief and indignation; he wiped the tears from Shi Hongshi’s face with his dirty sleeve while saying, “Little Sister, Bangzhu’s grievance is our Clan tens of thousands disciples’ grievance. We will certainly capture that Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou Cheng Kun and tear his body into ten thousand pieces to avenge Bangzhu’s great hatred. I wonder where is your Mama?”

Shi Hongshi pointed at the lady in yellow. “My Mama is recuperating in Yang Jiejie’s [elder sister Yang] home,” she said. And that was when everybody knew the lady in yellow’s surname was Yang, but as for what kind of person she was, nobody had the least bit of clue.

The lady in yellow sighed softly and said, “Mrs. Shi also suffered from Cheng Kun’s palm. Her condition was not light. After making a long and wearisome journey, she arrived at my humble home totally exhausted. Whether she would recover, it’s … it’s hard to say.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao hatefully said, “I wonder what kind of enmity this Cheng Kun has against our Lao Bangzhu [old/previous Clan Leader], that he dealt with him with such a treacherous hand?”

The lady in yellow said, “According to Mrs. Shi, who rephrased Shi Bangzhu’s last words, Cheng Kun and he did not know each other personally, so there was no ground for enmity or revenge. Therefore, until the moment he died, Shi Bangzhu was unclear of the reason behind it. Mrs. Shi speculated that someone from the Beggar Clan somehow offended Cheng Kun that he exacted his revenge on Shi Bangzhu.”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao was silent for a moment before saying, “To avoid Xie Xun, this Cheng Kun went into hiding from the Jianghu people dozens of years ago. How could a Beggar Clan disciple offend him? It seems like there is a misunderstanding involved here.”

Zhang Bo Longtou had been listening quietly on the side without saying anything, but suddenly to grabbed a curved saber and placed it on Shi Huolong’s impersonator’s neck while shouting, “What’s your name? Why did you impersonate Shi Bangzhu? Speak up! And if you lie, even half a word… humph, humph!” While saying that, his curved-saber hacked diagonally and split a nearby chair into two pieces, and then he immediately returned the saber on the bald-man’s neck.

The bald man was so scared that he felt his soul was leaving his body. “I … I

…” he stammered, “Xiao Ren [little/lowly person] is called ‘lai tou yuan’ [Scabies Turtle Head] Liu Ao. I was the chief of a mountain stronghold on the Jixian county of Shanxi province. That day I went down the mountain to do our business without any capital, when we met Chen Youliang, Chen Zhanglao, and Chen Zhanglao’s Shifu. With one kick Chen Zhanglao made Xiao Ren flip on the ground. He raised his sword ready to kill. Xiao Ren promptly kowtowed asking for mercy. Chen Zhanglao looked at Xiao Ren carefully. He suddenly said, ‘Shifu, this little thief looks very much like the man we met the day before yesterday.’ His shifu shook his head and said, ‘Hey, hey, the age is not right, nose is too low, plus he is bald.’ Chen Zhanglao laughed and said, ‘Disciple has a way to fix that.’ Thereupon he told Xiao Ren to follow them to Jiexian, and we went into an inn. Chen Zhanglao applied some plaster to make Xiao Ren’s nose higher, and then he put a wig on Xiao Ren’s head so that I assumed the appearance … of that old gentleman. Even if Xiao Ren had a nerve as high as the sky, I would never have dared to play any trick on you. Only Chen Zhanglao said so, what could Xiao Ren do? Xiao Ren’s dog life is in his hand, there … there is no other way. Xiao Ren still has an eighty-year old Mother at home, please spare my life.” While saying that, he bent his knees and kowtowed, knocking his head on the ground repeatedly.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao pondered for a while before saying, “Chen Youliang’s school background is Shaolin Pai; his shifu must be a senior monk in the Shaolin Temple. He … does he have any other shifu?”

His words reminded Zhang Wuji of something. “That’s right,” he interjected, “His shifu is Cheng Kun.” Thereupon he told them briefly how Cheng Kun assumed the name Yuan Zhen and mingled among the Shaolin monks by becoming Kong Jian Shenseng’s [divine monk] disciple. He also told Yuan Zhen’s sneak attack of the Brightness Peak, and how in the end he was killed by Yin Yewang, but his body was suddenly missing.

Zhang Bo Longtou and Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “No doubt about it. Cheng Kun faked his death on the Brightness Peak, and quietly slipped out amidst the confusion.”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao angrily said, “Turns out the mastermind behind this treachery is that traitor Chen Youliang. Those two, master and disciple, have a wild ambition; in their futile attempt to dominate the world, they have killed Shi Bangzhu and sent this impersonator to be their puppet. Not only they wanted to force the Ming Cult into submission, they also want to subdue Shaolin, Wudang and Emei, three major sects. This scheme is not only treacherous we very seldom hear something like this either. Where is Song Qingshu? Where did Song Qingshu go?”

Up to this time, everybody had been focusing their attention toward the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu, the lady in yellow, Shi Hongshi, and the others; nobody knew when Song Qingshu unexpectedly slipped away right on Chen Youliang’s heel. His departure confirmed their confidence that Chen Youliang’s sinister plot had finally been thwarted.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao bowed deeply toward the lady in yellow and said, “Miss has truly shown a great kindness towards our humble Clan. The Beggar Clan does not know how to pay you back.”

The lady in yellow smiled slightly and said, “My ancestors had a deep relationship with your honorable Clan’s previous generation, this tiny deed does not worth mentioning. Please take a good care of this Shi little sister.” Bowing in respect, her yellow shadow flashed and she had already flown to the roof.

“Miss,” Chuan Gong Zhanglao called out, “Please stay for a while.”

The four girls in black and the four girls in white also jumped to the roof, accompanied by the tinkling sound of the zither and the mellow sound of the flute. In a short moment, the zither-flute ensemble drifted away, until finally their music vanished. As sudden as their arrival, their departure was also swift. Everybody felt as if something was lost from their lives.

Holding Shi Hongshi’s hand, Chuan Gong Zhanglao said to Zhang Wuji, “Zhang Jiaozhu, would you please come into the inner hall to talk.”

The crowd of beggars respectfully stood on the side, opening up a way for Zhang Wuji to walk in. Zhang Wuji went into the hall and was seated as Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s honorable guest. Zhou Zhiruo sat next to him. After asking the names of Chuan Gong Zhanglao, Zhi Fa Zhanglao and the others, Zhang Wuji said, “Cao Zhanglao, if my Yifu Jin Mao Shi Wang is with your honorable Clan, would you please have him come out to see me; if he is not, would you please tell me his whereabouts?”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao heaved a deep sigh and said, “That traitor Chen Youliang has played a trick on us, making the Beggar Clan ashamed to face the heroes of this world. As Zhang Jiaozhu has mentioned, it was indeed we who invited Xie Daxia [great hero Xie] and this Miss Zhou outside the Great Wall. Xie Daxia was sick and lost his consciousness on the bed. Without any fight we brought them both to this place. Five days ago in the evening, Xie Daxia suddenly struck dead our humble Clan disciples who happened to guard him, and then he escaped. The coffins of Beggar Clan disciples who died violently are still on the rear courtyard. If Zhang Jiaozhu does not believe me, you can go to the rear courtyard and see for yourself.”

Zhang Wuji could hear the sincerity in his words; besides, he had seen with his own eyes the corpses of the Beggar Clan disciples scattered around that second floor room the other night. Thereupon he said, “Cao Zhanglao has stated the fact, how can I dare not to believe?” And then he asked, “From Lulong going westward, there are signs used by my humble Cult people to communicate with each other, I thought they were left by our Cult brethrens; I wonder if your Clan has anything to do with it?”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “I am not sure if it was that fellow Chen Youliang’s doing, but to my shame, Xiongdi [brother] does not have any knowledge of it.”

Zhang Wuji nodded. He pondered a while and then he understood. “At the Brightness Peak that Cheng Kun was able to come and go as he pleased; obviously he knew our Cult’s signs. Since this man is not dead, the one who left the signs to deceive others must be him. But if my Yifu really fell into Cheng Kun’s hands …” Thinking to this point, sweats broke on his forehead. Calming himself down, he asked Shi Hongshi, “Little Sister, where does this Yang Jiejie live? Did you know her previously?” Shi Hongshi shook her head, “I did not know her. After Father died, Mama took me, taking Father’s bamboo stick along, riding on a cart for many days. And then we did not ride the cart anymore, but climbing the mountain instead. Mama could not walk anymore, she took a rest. And then she crawled on the ground. And then we got to the outside of a forest. Mama called out several times. And then Xiao Jiejie [‘little’ elder sister] wearing black came out. After that Yang Jiejie came out. She asked Mama many questions. And then she took the bamboo stick and left for half a day. Afterwards Mama passed out. And then Yang Jiejie took me, she also took eight Xiao Jiejie wearing black and wearing white. We rode on a cart and came here.”

She was too young and did not understand much; when asked about the place, the day and the time, she could not give any answer, there was not the least bit of useful information came out of her mouth.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Your precious Cult’s Master Han Shantong’s young master is still with us.” Turning around he gave some orders to a Beggar Clan disciple, who then left in a hurry.

Not too long afterwards, they heard Han Lin’er’s loud voice from the rear hall, cursing and scolding, “You are a bunch of stinky no-good beggars, you still want to deceive your father? Our Zhang Jiaozhu holds a highly respected position; how can he come to your stinky beggars’ lair? Hurry up, send your father to the western sky. Your sneaky evil plan won’t work against me.”

As the elders heard him, they all had ashamed look on their faces. Zhang Wuji respected Han Lin’er’s guts and his unyielding character; he stood up and rushed several steps forward. In big strides Han Lin’er angrily walked in from behind the wall. Zhang Wuji met him and said, “Han Dage [big brother Han], I am here. I am sorry that you have suffered these past few days.”

Han Lin’er was startled; in his extreme delight he knelt down immediately and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, you [orig. lao3ren2jia1 – Senior] are really here. Xiao Ren [little/lowly person – reference to self] is relieved. Please issue an order to wipe these stinky beggars out.”

With a smile on his face Zhang Wuji helped him up and said, “Han Dage, the Beggar Clan Elders have also fallen under other people’s sinister plot; there has been some misunderstanding. But everything is clear now, everybody becomes good friends. Looking at my face, I hope Han Xiongdi [brother Han] do not take any offense.”

Han Lin’er stood up, while giving Chuan Gong Zhanglao and the others a glowering look. He wanted to shout some abusive words to vent his anger, but since the Cult Leader had already told him so, he had no choice but trying hard to repress his anger.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhi Fa Zhanglao said, “With your bright presence today, you have given our humble Clan the greatest honor. Quickly reset the banquet table! Everyone, first, we welcome Zhang Jiaozhu; second, we apologize to the Emei Pai’s Zhou Zhangmen [Sect Leader Zhou]; third, we apologize to Han Dage.” Before he even finished talking, several disciples had already carried out his order.

Zhang Wuji still had his Yifu’s safety hanging in his mind, plus he had many questions he would like to ask Zhou Zhiruo, therefore, he was not in the mood to eat and drink. Cupping his fists he said, “Your good intentions are highly appreciated, but I am anxious to find out about my Yifu. I will have to come back in the future to disturb you. Please excuse me.”

Chuan Gong Zhanglao and the others kept asking him to stay. Seeing their sincere invitation, Zhang Wuji thought that if he walked away, he would unavoidably offend the Beggar Clan. Therefore, he was obliged to stay and join the feast.

During the feast, the leaders of the Beggar Clan seriously reiterated their apology; they further promised to send the Beggar Clan disciples everywhere to inquire Xie Xun’s whereabouts, and to let the Ming Cult know as soon as they get any information. Zhang Wuji thanked them and from that day forward, he became friends with the ‘Zhanglao’s and ‘Longtou’s of the Beggar Clan. They drank to their hearts contents.

The Beggar Clan leaders noticed that Zhang Wuji was a young man highly skilled in martial arts, yet he was not arrogant, but generous and open- minded. Plus, he ardently made an effort to engage the Beggar Clan in the effort of driving the Tartars away. Everybody’s hearts were won over with respect and admiration. When Zhang Wuji left, they sent him off ten ‘li’s outside the city of Lulong, before bidding him goodbye.

End of Chapter 33. 
@Chapter 34 – The Bride Tore the Red Dress Barehanded
Zhang Wuji, Zhou Zhiruo and Han Lin’er three people went south along the main road, riding the steeds given to them by the rich men of the Beggar Clan. Han Lin’er was very respectful toward his Cult Leader, he did not dare to ride abreast, but followed some distance behind. Along the way he would serve tea and attend to Zhang and Zhou’s needs, acting as their servant. Zhang Wuji felt uncomfortable and said, “Han Dage, although within the Cult you are my subordinate brother, I do respect your character. In business matters you listen to my command, but in day-to-day relationship, we are of the same generation, just like brothers or friends.”

With a terrified look on his face Han Lin’er replied, “Subordinate holds Jiaozhu in the highest regard, how can I be worthy to be considered of the same generation with you? In normal time I am not fortunate enough to be close to Jiaozhu; today I can provide my insignificant service to Jiaozhu with all my heart and that is subordinate’s lifelong good fortune.”

Zhou Zhiruo smiled and said, “I am not your Jiaozhu, you don’t have to be this respectful to me.”

Han Lin’er replied, “Miss Zhou is like a deity. Xiao Ren [little/lowly person

– referring to self] can speak with you, it is already the good karma of my previous life. I am asking Miss’ forgiveness for my uncouth behavior.”

Zhou Zhiruo could hear the sincerity in his voice, while his eyes showed utmost respect as if she were really a deity. She knew she was beautiful, enough to shake any man’s heart and make them beat faster; but she had never met somebody like Han Lin’er, who admire her almost to the point of worshipping her. It made her young heart extremely happy.

Zhang Wuji asked her how they were captured by the Beggar Clan. Zhou Zhiruo told him that not long after he left the inn that day, suddenly Xie Xun started shivering and became delirious. She was so scared and did all she could to comfort him, but apparently Xie Xun did not recognize her. He jumped madly around the room for a while before he collapsed to the ground and fainted. Right at that moment six, seven masters from the Beggar Clan broke into the room. She did not have enough time to pull her sword, and in the end the two of them were brought to Lulong.

When he was little, Zhang Wuji had heard that because of the main artery injury when training the ‘Qi Shang Quan’ [Seven-injury Fist], combined with the fact that his entire family was decimated by Cheng Kun, his Yifu would occasionally fall into mental confusion. However, Zhang Wuji had never expected that his Yifu’s illness would breakout suddenly in such an unfortunate time that he was unable to resist the Beggar Clan’s attack. Thinking of this, he could not restrain himself from sighing.

The two of them mulled over Xie Xun’s whereabouts, but neither of them had any clue. Zhang Wuji said, “The Capital is the meeting place of all kinds of people, it is in our way going south. Let us stop by Dadu [lit. grand capital, modern day Beijing] to find some information. I think the Green- winged Bat King Wei Xiong [brother Wei] might holds some clues in his hands.”

Zhou Zhiruo pursed her lips then she laughed and said, “Do you really want to go to Dadu to see Wei Yixiao?”

Zhang Wuji understood very well what she was saying, he could not help blushing while replying, “We might not see Wei Xiong, but if we can see Yang Zuoshi [left emissary Yang], Ku Toutuo, Peng Heshang [Buddhist monk] or the others, they might be able to give me some ideas.”

Zhou Zhiruo smiled and said, “I know someone with divine ability in strategy, plotting and scheming. If you go to Dadu to find her, she will help you find a good idea. Yang Zuoshi, Ku Toutuo, Peng Heshang and the others are simply not equal to this Miss in term of intelligence.”

Zhang Wuji did not dare to mention that he met with Zhao Min. This time she mentioned her name, he could not help but feeling bashful. “You always remember Miss Zhao,” he said, “And are always happy to make me feel awkward.”

Zhou Zhiruo laughed and said, “I am not the only one who always remembers her; there is someone else beside me. I wouldn't be able to see what is in your heart unless you have guilty feelings.”

Zhang Wuji thought that Zhou Zhiruo and he were engaged [orig. bai2tou2zhi1yue1 – arrangement/agreement to live together until their heads are white]. This time they were facing a life and death situation together, their feelings could not be divided and he could not conceal anything from her. Thereupon he said, “Zhiruo, there is something I want to tell you. Please don’t be angry.”

“I will be angry if I deserve to be angry,” Zhou Zhiruo said.

Zhang Wuji’s heart sank. He thought that he had made a heavy oath in her presence that he would kill Zhao Min to avenge his cousin Yin Li, but when he saw Zhao Min, not only he did not kill her, he spent the night in the wilderness and traveled side-by-side with her instead. This matter was really difficult to explain. He was not good in fabricating lies, and he was ashamed of his own conduct, his awkward expression easily revealed his feelings.

While he was still musing, their rides had reached a small town. Noticing that the day was almost spent, they decided to lodge for the night in a small inn. After dinner, he massaged the acupoints on Zhou Zhiruo’s back. He was not familiar with the Beggar Clan’s sealing acupoint technique, but a long time had passed; after massaging her arteries all around, finally the acupoints were unsealed. He said in his heart, “Although the Beggar Clan Elders’ martial art skill was not extremely strong, their acupoint sealing technique is really marvelous. Zhiruo is too proud to ask them to unseal the acupoints during the banquet, and the man who sealed her acupoint pretended to forget. Hey, hey, these beggars wanted to save face at all cost; after suffering a crushing defeat from me, they wanted to show their superiority in acupoint sealing technique.”

Zhou Zhiruo did not like the musty smell of that inn. “Let us go out for a walk,” she said, “I need to work my blood circulation.”

“All right!” Zhang Wuji said. Holding her hand, he took her outside the town.

By this time the sun was setting, the western sky was as red as blood. They leisurely wandered for a while before finally sitting down under a big tree. They watched as the sun slowly disappeared behind the mountain and the sky gradually turned dark. Zhang Wuji gathered his courage and told her how he met Zhao Min at the Mi Le Temple, how they found Mo Shenggu’s corpse inside a cave, how he met Song Yuanqiao and the others, and how he followed the Ming Cult’s blazing fire signs in circle around the Hebei province; he told her everything. Finally he grabbed Zhou Zhiruo’s hands and said, “Zhiruo, you and I are not married yet, but we can be considered husband and wife already; I am not going to conceal anything from you. Miss Zhao insists to see my Yifu face to face; she says she has some important matters to ask him. At that time, a suspicion started to rise in my heart. Now, the more I think about it, the more afraid I am.” As he was saying the last few sentences, his voice started to tremble.

“What are you afraid of?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Zhang Wuji felt the pair of small hands in his palms was as cold as ice and slightly trembled. “I remember Yifu’s illness,” he said, “Whenever it breaks out, he would not recognize other people. In the past his madness suddenly flared-out, and he almost killed my Mama, thereupon Mama shot his eyes blind. When I was born, Yifu was about to kill my Papa and Mama, luckily he heard my cry and regained his consciousness. I am afraid … I am really afraid …”

“What are you afraid of?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Zhang Wuji sighed and said, “Actually, I cannot bear to say it, but I am really worried that my cousin was … was … killed by Yifu.”

Zhou Zhiruo jumped up and with a shaky voice said, “Xie Daxia [great hero Xie] is a chivalrous hero who always upholds justice; he has always shown kindness and love toward us, his juniors. How can he kill Miss Yin?” “It was a wild guess,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Totally unfounded. Even if my cousin were really killed by Yifu, it was because of his chronic illness breaking out suddenly, just like a nightmare; certainly it was not his [orig. lao3ren2jia1] true intention. Ay, come to think about it, it was all because of Cheng Kun that evil villain.”

Zhou Zhiruo was deep in thought for half a day before shaking her head and said, “Something is not right! Are you telling me that all of us being poisoned by the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ was also because of him? Where did he get the poison from? Someone suddenly losing his sanity and killing people is not a strange occurrence, but how can he cautiously put poison in our food and drink?”

Zhang Wuji felt as if there was a thick fog hanging over his head, through which he could not see the least bit of bright light. He heard Zhou Zhiruo coldly say, “Wuji Gege [brother Wuji], you are doing your best to free Miss Zhao from any suspicion.”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Supposing Miss Zhao was the real killer, it would be better for her to avoid Yifu. Why did she insist on seeing Yifu, saying that she had some important questions she’d like to ask him?”

With a cold laugh Zhou Zhiruo said, “This Miss’ shrewdness is unparalleled. She wanted to clean herself from all charges. Don’t you think she could not concoct some ingenious way?” All of a sudden her tone turned gentle and soft; she cuddled close to Zhang Wuji’s body and said, “Wuji Gege, you are the most honest and upright person in the world. Speaking about shrewdness and resourcefulness, how can you be Miss Zhao’s match?”

Zhang Wuji sighed, thinking that her words made perfect sense. He stretched out his arm to gently embrace her soft body; in a tender voice he said, “Zhiruo, I only feel that there are endless troubles in this world. Even someone close to me like Yifu cannot avoid my suspicion. I only wish we can accomplish our main task of driving out the Tartars, and then you and I will live in seclusion in some remote mountain, sharing a peaceful life and forget about the matters of this mundane world.”

“You are the Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Supposing the Heaven blesses us that we can really drive the barbarians away, at that time, all important affairs of this world will fall into your Ming Cult’s hand, how can they let you live a peaceful life?”

“I am incompetent to be the Jiaozhu, and I don’t want to be the Jiaozhu,” Zhang Wuji said, “If the Ming Cult gains power, there must be a wise, righteous hero who would undertake the Jiaozhu position.”

“You are still young,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Although your competence is currently lacking, can’t you learn? Besides, I am the Sect Leader of Emei Pai; there is a heavy burden on my shoulders. When Shifu bestowed this Sect Leader’s iron ring to me, she commanded me to work hard for the glory of our school. Even if you could live in seclusion in some remote mountain, I am afraid I would not have that luxury.”

Zhang Wuji gently stroked the iron ring on her finger and said, “When I saw this ring in Chen Youliang’s hand, I was extremely anxious; I was afraid you might have been disgraced by those villains. I was wishing that I had wings so I could fly to you. Zhiruo, I was not able to rescue you sooner that you had to suffer wrongdoings longer. When did they return this iron ring to you?”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “It was Wudang Pai’s Song Qingshu Shaoxia [young hero] who returned it to me.”

Hearing her mentioning Song Qingshu’s name, suddenly Zhang Wuji remembered seeing her sitting side by side with Song Qingshu on the banquet table, eating and drinking together in the hall full of Beggar Clan people. “Song Qingshu treated you very well, didn’t he?” he asked.

Zhou Zhiruo could hear the difference in his tone. “What do you mean by ‘treat you very well’?” she asked. “Nothing,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I am just asking. Song Dage [big brother Song] is infatuated with you, so much so that he did not hesitate to betray his school and rebel against his father, killing his martial uncle and scheming against his grandmaster. But to you, he was very good.”

Zhou Zhiruo looked up toward the crescent moon rising on the eastern horizon and quietly said, “I will be satisfied if you can be half as good to me as he did.”

Zhang Wuji replied, “I definitely cannot show you the kind of feeling Song Shige [martial (older) brother] has for you; I cannot commit these unfilial and unrighteous acts for your sake.”

“For my sake, you certainly cannot. For Miss Zhao’s sake, you can,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “On that little island you have made a heavy oath to kill this witch to avenge Miss Yin. However, as soon as you saw her face, you forgot your pledge completely.”

“Zhiruo,” Zhang Wuji replied, “If after careful investigation I find out that it was indeed Miss Zhao who stole the Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword, and that my Biaomei [(female) cousin] did indeed perish under her hands, I definitely will not spare her. But if she is innocent, I certainly cannot kill her without any reason, can I? Perhaps I made a mistake when I made that heavy oath on the island that day.”

Zhou Zhiruo was silent.

“Did I say anything wrong?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“No!” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “I only remember on the Wan An Temple’s pagoda, I also made a very heavy oath in Shifu’s presence. I hate myself for not telling you about this heavy oath when you proposed to me on that island.”

Zhang Wuji was alarmed. “You … what heavy oath did you make?” he asked. Zhou Zhiruo said, “I was repeating what Shifu said, that if I became your wife in the future, my departed parents in the ground would not rest in peace, that my Shifu would become a malicious spirit, haunting me night and day for the rest of my life; and if I give birth to sons and daughters with you, let our sons become slaves and our daughters prostitutes.”

As he heard this kind of heavy and ominous oath, Zhang Wuji could not help but shiver. He was silent for half a day before saying, “Zhiruo, that oath does not count. Definitely it does not count. It was because your Shifu thought that the Ming Cult is an evil-doer devil cult, and that I was crafty and evil, a shameless pervert thief, that she forced you to make that heavy oath. If she [orig. lao3ren2jia1 – Senior] knew the truth, she would definitely free you from this oath.”

With tears streaming down her face, Zhou Zhiruo sobbed, “But she … Senior would not know this.” As she said that, she threw herself into his bosom, while crying uncontrollably.

Zhang Wuji gently stroked her soft hair and consoled her, “If your Shifu in the netherworld knew it, she would definitely not blame you for violating your oath. Tell me, do you think I am really crafty and evil, a shameless pervert thief?”

While embracing his waist, Zhou Zhiruo said, “Right now you are not. But if you are bewitched by Zhao Min later, maybe … maybe you will turn into crafty, evil and shameless.”

Zhang Wuji lightly nudged her cheek with his finger and said with a laugh, “You underrate me too much. Is your husband that kind of person?”

Zhou Zhiruo looked up, her cheeks were still wet with tears, but her eyes bore a happy expression. “You are shameless,” she said, “You are not my husband yet. If later on you sneakily go out with that little witch Zhao Min, I won’t want to be with you anymore. Who will guarantee that in the future you will not be like that Song Qingshu, who for the sake of a woman committed a lot of contemptible, shameless shady acts?”

Zhang Wuji lowered his head and planted a kiss on her cheek, before laughing and saying, “Who told you as an immortal to descend to the earth? We are mere mortals, how can we resist your charm? I’ll say it was your father and mother’s fault that they bore too beautiful of a woman, who has the power to kill us, men!”

Suddenly, from behind a large tree about two ‘zhang’s away came ‘hey, hey’, sound of cold laughter. Zhang Wuji was hugging Zhou Zhiruo in his bosom. He was startled and turned his head only to see a shadow dashing away and gone far in a short moment. Zhou Zhiruo jumped up immediately. Her face paled. “It’s Zhao Min!” she said in a shaky voice, “She is following us.”

As Zhang Wuji heard the cold laugh, he knew it was a female voice, but it was hard for him to say it was Zhao Min for sure. In the dark of the night he could not distinguish whose shadow he had seen. ‘Was it her?” he asked doubtfully, “What is she doing following us?”

“She likes you!” Zhou Zhiruo indignantly said, “Are you telling me that you didn’t know it? Most likely the two of you have a secret rendezvous to deliberately make a fool out of me.”

Zhang Wuji repeatedly denied the accusation. Zhou Zhiruo stood unmoving in the cold wind, thinking about her fate and could not restrain her tears from falling down. Zhang Wuji gently wrapped his left arm around her shoulder, while with right sleeve he wiped away the tears from her eyes. “Why are you crying while we are having a good time?” he said tenderly, “If I did have a rendezvous with Miss Zhao in here, let the Heaven punish me and the Earth swallow me. Just think, if in my heart I did like her, and I knew she was near, why was I so crazy about you and said those affectionate words? Wouldn’t that mean I deliberately make her angry and put her in an awkward situation?”

Zhou Zhiruo sighed, “That’s true,” she said, “Wuji Gege, my heart is troubled.” “What is it?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“I can’t forget my heavy oath in Shifu’s presence,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “I also think this Zhao Min will not let me go. I am too far inferior to her both in martial art and intelligence.”

Zhang Wuji said, “I will do my best with all my strength to protect you all around. How can I allow her to harm even a strand of my beloved wife’s hair?”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “If I die in her hand, so be it; I only have my own cruel fate to blame. My only fear is that she manages to confuse you that you believe her sweet talk and fall into her trap and come to kill me. If that happens, I will die with my eyes open.”

Zhang Wuji said with a laugh, “That is truly a groundless fear [orig. ‘the man of Qi fears the sky falling]. Who knows how many people in this world have harmed me, offended me, but I have not killed any of them; why would I kill you?” Unbuttoning his clothes, he showed her the sword scar on his chest and said with a smile, “You stabbed me with the sword here! The deeper the wound, the deeper my love for you.”

Zhou Zhiruo stretched out her tender hand to gently stroke the scar on his chest, with disquieting thoughts filling her heart. Suddenly her face paled, and she said, “An eye for an eye. In the future, you will stab me dead, I will not regret.”

Zhang Wuji opened up his arms and pulled her into his embrace, while softly said, “Wait till we find Yifu, we’ll ask him, Senior, to preside over our wedding. And then the two of us will never leave each other, we’ll grow old together. If you like, you can stab me a few more times, I will not say a single harsh word to you. Is that good enough for you?”

Zhou Zhiruo nuzzled her cheeks on his fiery warm chest and said in low voice, “I do hope you are a real man who will keep your word, and won’t forget what you have said today.”

The two of them cuddled with each other for a long time. It was almost midnight and the wind grew stronger when they finally returned to the inn and went their separate rooms to sleep.

The next morning, three people continued their journey south; they did not see any sign of Zhao Min along the way. They reached Dadu in less than a day. By the time they entered the city gate, it was already evening. They saw the residents, men and women, were busy sprinkling water to the dusty streets and sweeping the streets and alleys clean. There was an incense- burning table in front of every home. Zhang Wuji and the others found an inn and asked the attendant what major event was going on in the city.

“Honored guests came from afar and did not know that you have come at the right moment,” the attendant replied, “You will enjoy a fine sight, for tomorrow is the ‘Great Tour of Imperial City’ day.”

“What is a ‘Great Tour of Imperial City’ day?” Zhang Wuji asked.

The attendant replied, “Tomorrow is one day of the year when the Emperor will travel through the Imperial City. The Emperor is going to offer sacrifice and burn incense in the Qing Shou Si [Celebrate Life Temple], tens of thousands men and women will dress up in a parade, from start to finish the route is about thirty, forty ‘li’s long. Now, that will be a remarkable sight. I suggest the honored guests turn in to bed earlier tonight, and as you wake up really early tomorrow, go to the Jade Virtue Gate of the Palace to watch. If you are lucky, you might be able to see the Emperor, the Empress, the Concubines, the Prince and the Princess. Just think, as a lowly common people, how could we have the good fortune of seeing the Emperor with our own eyes if we weren’t living in Beijing [orig, Jing Shi]?”

Listening to this, Han Lin’er anger rose up; “Shameless traitor! [Translator’s note: the literal translation of the original sentence is: ‘regarding the enemy as (one’s) father, shameless traitor to Han (people)]” he scolded, “What good is the Tartar Emperor?”

The attendant’s eyes grew really big; pointing at him he said, “You … you

… what you said is the word of a rebel. Aren’t you afraid your head might be chopped off?”

“You are a Han,” Han Lin’er said, “The Tartars have harmed us miserably, yet you keep saying the Emperor this and the Emperor that; don’t you have the least bit of patriotic spirit?”

Seeing his ferocious and threatening expression, the attendant turned around and left; Zhou Zhiruo lifted up her finger and quickly sealed the acupoint on his back. “If this man went out,” she said, “He would open his mouth; I am afraid very soon there will be soldiers coming in here to give us trouble.” While saying that she kicked the attendant under the bed. “Let him starve for a few days,” she said with a laugh, “We’ll let him go when we leave the city.”

Before long, they heard the innkeeper calling out from outside, “Ah Fu, Ah Fu! Are you still chatting incessantly again? Quickly fetch some face- washing water for the guest in room three!”

Han Lin’er was amused; he slapped the table and called out, “Quickly send us some food and wine, your masters are hungry!”

A moment later, another attendant came in delivering food and wine, while muttering to himself, “Ah Fu must have gone to the palace to watch the fireworks. This kid has never done anything proper; he wants to have fun all the time.”

Early morning on the next day, Zhang Wuji was just getting out of bed when he heard a clamorous noise on the street. He went to the door and saw the street was packed with men and women wearing bright colored and fancy clothes. Everybody was heading north, while laughing and joking; the atmosphere was livelier than the New Year celebration, with incessant sounds of firecrackers coming from all directions. Zhou Zhiruo also came to the door; she said, “Let us also go and watch.”

“I have fought the warriors from the Ruyang Palace,” Zhang Wuji said, “They must not find out I am here. If we want to go, we must go in disguise.”

Immediately, along with Zhou Zhiruo and Han Lin’er, they disguised themselves as farmers and villagers, by smearing yellow mud on their faces and hands; and then following the crowd on the street, they went to the Imperial Palace.

It was around the end of the fourth hour [between 5 – 7 am], and the beginning of the fifth hour [between 7 – 9 am], the ground around the Imperial Palace was like a sea of people; already they could not find a place to set their feet on. Zhang Wuji stretched out his arms to gently shoved people around to clear the way. Finally they stopped under the eave by the Yan Cun [lit. extended spring (season)] gate of a rich family home. The stairs rose several feet upward, which gave them an advantageous spot to watch the show.

They had not stood too long when they heard the banging noise of a gong. “They are here! They are here!” the crowd cried out. Everybody craned their necks to watch. The gong was getting nearer. They saw 108 big and tall men wearing dark green clothing. Their heft hands lifting up big gongs, about three feet in diameter, and their right hands struck the gongs with mallets. When these 108 gongs were struck together, the noise was deafening.

The gong formation was followed by 360-man drum formation. After that it was people singing, blowing horn and beating the drum; followed by western region people playing ‘pipa’ [Chinese lute], and then Mongolian bugle horn. Each formation consisted of at least more than a hundred people, at most about four, five hundred people. After these marching ensembles, there were a couple of large red satin banners, flying high in the air. One banner carried these letters: ‘An Bang Hu Guo’ [peace to the nation, protecting the country], while the other said: ‘Zhen Xie Fu Mo’ [suppressing demonic influence, subduing the devil]. Other than these large letters, the banners were also full of bright golden Sanskrit characters. Before and after the banners each were two hundreds Mongolian elite troops, the imperial guards, with their long sabers glittering like snow, and their spears like the clouds; these four hundred men all rode on white horses. As the common people watched this display of formidable military prowess, they loudly cheered.

Zhang Wuji sighed inwardly, “In other places there aren’t any common people who do not hate the Mongolian soldiers to the bones, but the people of Beijing have become shameless slaves of the government. To think that for decades day in and day out these people have seen Mongolian imperial household’s impressive power, and thus have forgotten their own perished country.”

As the two banners passed, suddenly from among the west crowd several white light flashed by; two rows of flying daggers flew straight toward the two flagpoles. Each row of flying daggers consisted of seven daggers. These seven daggers neatly pierced the flagpole. Although the flagpoles were thick, after receiving seven cuts, they swayed and finally broke; with a couple of whishing noises they fell down. People were yelling and screaming miserably, as dozens of them were crushed by the flagpoles; while the rest of the people were also shouting and scrambling away. It was total chaos.

This change was so abrupt that even Zhang Wuji and the others were taken by surprise. Han Lin’er was very happy and was about to cheer when suddenly a soft palm reached out and cover his mouth; Zhou Zhiruo managed to curb his shout in time. The four hundred elite troops moved their weapons and charged into the crowd, randomly searched for the shooter.

Zhang Wuji noticed that whoever launched these fourteen flying daggers had a tremendous strength, obviously it was a martial art master of the Wulin world; only among those many onlookers, nobody could tell who the person was. If he could not see who did it, then how could the Mongolian soldiers? They blindly searched among the crowd and not too long afterwards dragged seven, eight men out, who called out miserably, “Injustice …” But the Mongolian soldiers struck their blades and spears and killed those men on the spot.

Han Lin’er was very angry; “The flying daggers shooter has gone for long, what can this useless bunch do? They massacred innocent people to vent off their anger instead,” he said.

“Han Dage, hold your voice!” Zhou Zhiruo hissed, “We are here to watch the ‘Great Tour of Imperial City’, not to create ‘Great Trouble in the Imperial City’.” [Translator’s note: play of words here, ‘Da You Huang Cheng’ against ‘Da Nao Huang Cheng’]

“Yes,” Han Lin’er said; he did not dare to open his mouth anymore.

The chaos only lasted a few moments; the sound of music quickly followed, other groups marched by one by one: acrobats who swallow knife and spit fire from their mouths, and various western region entertainers, which sent the crowd cheering and clapping again, quickly put the bloody incidents on the street out of their minds. Next came group by group of puppeteers, jugglers, performers balancing plates over sticks and all kinds of acrobatic acts. After these groups came large parade floats pulled by beautiful steeds. On each float there were handsome men and beautiful women dressed as characters of the classical stories, such as ‘Journey to the West’ [orig. Tang Sancang went to western sky to fetch the scripture], ‘Emperor Tang Ming Touring the Moon Palace’, ‘Li Cunxiao Beat the Tiger’, ‘Liu Guanzhang Fought Lu Bu Three Times’, ‘Zhang Shengyue Gathered the Hawks’, and so on; legendary battles and wonderful accomplishments, presented with the best of workmanship.

Zhang Wuji and the others, all three people, grew in poor rural environment; they had never seen this kind of bustling festive atmosphere. They sighed inwardly, thinking today their horizons were broadened. On each float there was an embroidered silk banner, with inscriptions such as ‘Humble Presentation of so-and-so, the Prefect of Hu Guang [Hubei and Hunan provinces]’, or ‘Respectfully Presented by so-and-so, the Governor of Jiangsu and Zhejiang’. As the procession passed by, the official who presented the float became progressively higher in rank; the float itself became progressively fancier, the men and women playing the characters were now wearing pearls and bright jewels, the hairpins and necklaces were also made of precious jadeite and precious stones. First, the Mongolian princes, dukes, and chancellors wanted to curry favor from the Emperor; second, they also wanted to flaunt their prosperity; therefore, no expense was spared in the building and the adornment of the float.

Amidst the melodious sound of string and woodwind instruments, a float with the ‘Liu Zhiyuan’s Chronicle of the White Rabbit’ theme passed by. Suddenly the cheerful melody changed into an awkward melody of old tune; the plain banner on the float read ‘Zhou Gong banished Guan Cai’. On the float there was a middle-age man with a tablet in his hands [this is the tablet held by officials during imperial audience], he was playing the role of Zhou Gong. On his side sat a small child wearing an Emperor clothes, he was playing the part of the Emperor. Guan Shu and Cai Shu were standing on the side, whispering to each other and pointing their fingers to Zhou Gong. This float was followed by another float with ‘Wang Mang’s Hypocritical Act of Generosity’. The man on this float wore a very thick white face-powder, with gold and silver in his hands, pretending to give generously to poor people. Following these two floats was a cart with white banners on all four sides, with these writings on them, ‘When Zhou Gong feared the days of rumor, Wang Mang enjoyed being praised as a polite and modest scholar. If both of them died at that time, their loyalty and talent would be hidden for eternity.’

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred; he mused, “The right and wrong, black and white, in this world is really not easy to know. Zhou Gong was a great sage, but when he banished Guan Shu and Cai Shu, everyone said he was scheming to usurp the throne. Wang Mang was a great traitor, but when at first he bought the people’s hearts, there wasn’t anybody in this world who did not sing praises to him. I heard these two stories on the Bing Huo [ice and fire] Island from Yifu. This is the so-called ‘the distant road tries the horse’s strength, the course of time proves the man’s heart’. A man’s real character cannot be recognized in just a dawn-to-dusk period.” Further, he thought, “These two floats are different than the rest of them. They obviously carry a profound meaning. The man who prepared them must have a character of scholarly knowledge.” And then he silently recited that poem twice in his mind.

Suddenly he heard sounds like broken gongs. A float came by, pulled by a pair of thin horses. The float was very plain and simple without any decoration. As the crowd saw the float, they roared in laughter. “This ragged float also joins the ‘Tour of the Imperial City’, won’t it be the laughingstock of the people?” they said. As the float got near, Zhang Wuji was able to see clearly and he was shocked! He saw a large man on the cart, with his long yellow hair reaching his shoulder. His eyes were closed, and he was sitting on a couch. What character did he play if not Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun? Next to him stood a good-looking young woman wearing green, she had a teacup in her hands, as if she was attentively serving the man. Although her appearance was inferior to Zhou Zhiruo’s beauty, her clothing and adornments were exactly the same as the ones she was wearing at the Wan An Temple Pagoda.

“Miss Zhou,” Han Lin’er said in a low voice, “That girl looks like you.”

“Hmmph,” Zhou Zhiruo snorted, but did not say anything. Zhang Wuji turned his head and saw her complexion went pale, while her chest was heaving; he knew she was enraged. Thereupon he reached out to hold her right hand; while not fully understanding the intention behind this float.

The next float was still depicting the Xie Xun – Zhou Zhiruo story. The actor playing Zhou Zhiruo giggled while walking around toward the corner, then ‘she’ stretched out two fingers and suddenly struck ‘Xie Xun’s back with all ‘her’ might. “Ah!” the fake ‘Xie Xun’ exclaimed loudly, then collapsed to the couch. ‘Zhou Zhiruo’ lifted her foot to step on him, and then raised her sword ready to kill. The spectators broke in loud cheer, “Good! Good! Kill him!” The third float of this ‘Xie Xun – Zhou Zhiruo’ theme depicted six or seven men dressed as beggars capturing the ‘Xie Xun’ and ‘Zhou Zhiruo’.

By this time all doubts were gone from Zhang Wuji’s mind; he knew these three floats were built by Zhao Min. Expecting Zhou Zhiruo and him to come to Dadu, she arranged for these floats to humiliate Zhou Zhiruo. He stooped down to pick several small pebbles from the ground, and lightly flicked them with his middle finger. ‘Swish, swish!’ the right eyes of the pair of horses pulling the third float were blinded. The pebbles entered the horses’ brains. With long neigh, those horses fell down to the ground, dead. The float flipped over and the actors rolled down to the ground. The street was thrown into chaos.

Zhao Zhiruo bit her lower lip and said quietly, “This witch insulted me this way, I … I …” Speaking to this point, her voice turned into sobs.

Zhang Wuji felt her hand was ice-cold, her body trembled; hastily he tried to assure her, “Zhiruo, this little bitch [orig. ‘muddy egg’] can think of hundreds of weird tricks, don’t pay her any attention. As long as I know your sincerity, even if others sow dissension, how is it possible for me to believe them?”

“Ah, I remember,” Zhou Zhiruo suddenly said, “That day Yifu was fine, before he suddenly convulsed and fell down to the floor, and then he started talking deliriously. Could it be … could it be that at that time this witch was hiding in that inn and she shot a secret projectile toward Yifu’s back?”

Zhang Wuji pondered for a moment before saying, “If she made her move then, she might still have enough time to make it to the Mi Le Temple in time. But based on her martial art skill, I don’t think she could evade Yifu’s detection. I am leaning more toward the Xuanming Elders who attacked him.”

While they were talking, the Mongolian soldiers had already pushed the people back and cleared up the street from the dead horses, so that the procession of floats could continue. Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo’s minds were still occupied by the recent events and they did not have any interest in watching the subsequent floats.

After the last float passed by, they heard intermittent sound of Buddhist monks chanting, followed by the appearance of row after row of foreign monks in red kasaya. After these monks, they heard the tinkling of iron armor, as two thousands ‘Yu Lin Jun’ [special force, the Emperor’s personal bodyguards] troops, in full armor, each one with a lance in his hand, made their appearance, followed by three thousand archers.

After the archers, incense smoke rose up to the sky, as one by one the idols were carried on sedan chairs by porters wearing embroidered clothes; from the Tu Di [Earth God], Cheng Huang [deity in Chinese mythology], Ling Guan [lit. spirit of government official – don’t know the exact translation], Wei Tuo [Celestial Guardian], Cai Shen [God of Wealth]. [Translator’s note: there is one more idol mentioned, but my copy missed one character] A lot of people muttered their prayers, while some went down on their knees to worship.

These idols were followed by guards of honor, carrying ceremonial articles like golden gourd, golden hammer and so on. Next, came feathered fans and jeweled parasols in pairs. The crowd called out, “The Emperor is here! The Emperor is here!” as from a distant came a large sedan chair covered in yellow silk, carried by thirty-two ‘shi wei’ [This is also personal bodyguards of the Emperor. Perhaps someone out there can explain the difference between Shi Wei and Yu Lin Jun] wearing embroidered clothes.

Zhang Wuji focused his attention to see the Mongolian Emperor. He noticed that the Emperor’s countenance was thin, pallid, and dispirited. In just one glance it was obvious that he indulged in wine. The Crown Prince rode a horse next to the sedan chair. Contrary to his expectations, the Crown Prince actually showed a heroic spirit. He had a gilded long bow, inlaid with jade, on his shoulder; truly fit the image of a Mongolian young hero.

“Jiaozhu,” Han Lin’er whispered on Zhang Wuji’s ear, “Let subordinate make an assault, with a stab of my blade I can assassinate the Tartar Emperor, and thus rid the common people of one big evil.”

“No, you can’t go!” Zhang Wuji said, “The Tartar Emperor is surrounded by martial art masters as his guards. If we are going to do it, I am the one who must go.”

“That is inappropriate,” suddenly the man standing on Zhang Wuji’s left opened his mouth, “Replacing one tyrant with another, I have never seen it work.”

Zhang Wuji, Han Lin’er and Zhou Zhiruo were startled; they turned to see this man, and saw he was about fifty years of age, dressed like a medicine peddler, carrying a medicine sack on his back, his right hand held a tiger- head stick. That man turned his thumb up and put his hand in front of his chest, making a Ming Cult’s blazing fire signal, and said in a low voice, “Peng Yingyu pays his respects to Jiaozhu. Jiaozhu is well, I am very happy.”

“Ah, you are Peng …” Zhang Wuji was very happy. It turned out that man was Peng Yingyu. His disguise was so ingenious that although he had been standing next to them for a long time, Zhang Wuji and the others did not have the slightest idea of his real identity.

In a low voice Peng Yingyu said, “This is not a good place to talk. The Tartar Emperor must not be killed.” Zhang Wuji was aware of his wisdom and knowledge, therefore, he simply nodded and did not ask anymore questions. He only reached out to grab Peng Yingyu’s left hand and gently shook it a few times.

In the meantime, the Emperor and the Crown Prince were followed by three thousand armored Yu Lin Jun. After them, the tens of thousands of crowds went down the street to watch the festivities. “Let us go see the Empress, let us go see the Princess,” they said to each other while heading westward.

“Let us also go and see,” Zhou Zhiruo said. The four of them mingled with the crowd until they arrived outside the ‘Yu De Dian’ [Jade Virtue Palace]. They saw that seven beautifully decorated raised platforms erected outside the Palace. The platforms were surrounded by the Yu Lin Jun holding rattan sticks to prevent the people from coming too close. Although it was very crowded, Zhang Wuji and the others, four people, managed to squeeze their way through by gently pushing forward and before long they had reached at the front of the platforms.

The Emperor sat on the highest platform, with the two Empresses on either side of him. The Empresses were middle-age fat women, bundled inside robes inlaid with pearls, jade and precious jewels. Needless to say, they glittered with brilliant lights. On their heads, they wore ridiculously strange-looking tall crowns. The Crown Prince sat on the platform to the left of the Emperor, while on the right platform sat a young woman about twenty or so, wearing embroidered gown. She must be the Princess.

Zhang Wuji’s eyes scanned the rest of the platforms; he saw that on the second platform on the left sat a young woman wearing sable fur coat, with a pearl necklace on her neck. Her smile was captivating, her eyes dreamy. It was none other than Zhao Min. On this same platform sat a long-bearded Prince with a majestic expression. He was Zhao Min’s father, the Ruyang Prince, Khakan Timur. Zhao Min’s brother, Kuku Timur, was pacing back and forth on the platform, with eyes like an eagle and steps like a tiger. He looked particularly imposing.

By this time the foreign monks were performing the ‘Tian Mo Da Zhen’ [Heaven and Devil Great Formation]. Five hundred monks with Buddhist religious articles in their hands circled around, to the left and to the right, jumping high and stooping low; the changes and variations were marvelously strange. The crowd broke into cheers and applause; everybody sighed in admiration.

Zhou Zhiruo kept her gaze on Zhao Min for half a day. Finally, she sighed and said, “Let’s go home!” The four of them squeezed their way out and returned to the inn. Peng Yingyu paid his respects properly toward Zhang Wuji, and then they both recounted what happened since they parted. Zhang Wuji asked whether he heard any news about Xie Xun. Peng Yingyu had just arrived at Dadu from the Huai Si River area; he did not even know that Xie Xun had returned to the Central Plains. He told the accomplishments of Zhu Yuanzhang, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun and the others over the past year. They besieged and captured towns; they performed outstanding military successes and lifted the Ming Cult’s prestige high.

“Peng Da Shi [lit. grand/great master, also used to refer a Buddhist Monk, Reverend],” Han Lin’er said, “Just now if we attacked the platform, with one knife we could chop that Tatar Emperor; why did you let him go?”

Peng Yingyu shook his head, “This Emperor is a stupid tyrant and he is precisely our biggest helper. How can we kill him?” he said.

Han Lin’er was baffled. “The Tatar Emperor is a stupid tyrant; he has caused endless misery to the common people. How can he be our biggest helper?” he asked.

“Han Xiongdi [brother Han], you don’t understand,” Peng Yingyu said, “The Tatar Emperor appointed foreign monks for official businesses, and thus muddling the government; he also ordered the people to build a new road by excavating the Yellow River, tiring the people and squandering the resources, making the people angry and causing them to resent him. In recent years we managed to route the Tatars completely. Do you think that was because our ragtag troop is really superior of the Mongolian crack troops? It was because this muddle-headed Emperor did not use good officers. The Ruyang Prince is very capable of leading the troops. He managed to take things under control in everywhere the Tatar Emperor sent him to quench rebellion. The Emperor is afraid that if he rendered too many services, he would usurp the throne. Therefore, he continually reduces his authority, and dispatches some braggarts, good-for-nothing generals to lead the troops. As the Mongolian army fought the battle, these bastard generals can only lead them to defeat. Tell me, don’t you think this Tatar Emperor is our biggest helper?” Zhang Wuji and the others nodded their heads in agreement. Peng Yingyu continued, “If we killed this Tatar Emperor, the Crown Prince would rise to the throne. Looking at his appearance, the Crown Prince is not someone easy to deal with. Granted, as the new Emperor, he might lack experience, but he is certainly better than his muddle-headed father. It would be really bad if he appoints veteran generals seasoned in battles to fight us.”

Zhang Wuji said, “It’s good that Da Shi promptly warned us, otherwise, we might act rashly today and spoil an important matter.”

Han Lin’er repeatedly slapped his own mouth while swearing, “I deserve to die! I deserve to die! Later on, don’t you dare to talk rubbish and propose stupid ideas!” Zhang Wuji, Zhou Zhiruo and Peng Yingyu laughed at his silliness.

Peng Yingyu said, “Jiaozhu, you hold a very important role, you bear the heavy responsibility of driving the invaders away and recapture our land; you must not brave unnecessarily danger. Subordinate noticed that among the guards who surrounded the Emperor, the number of masters is truly not a few. Although Jiaozhu is divinely brave and skilled, ultimately you will be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. If you fail, what good will it bring?”

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “I receive Da Shi’s invaluable advice.”

Zhou Zhiruo sighed and said, “What Peng Da Shi said was absolutely right; how can you recklessly brave danger? Wait until our great undertaking is accomplished, then the one sits on this dragon-chair platform will be you, Zhang Jiaozhu.”

Han Lin’er clapped his hands; he said, “That time, Jiaozhu will be the Emperor, Miss Zhou will be the Empress, Yang Zuo Shi [left emissary Yang] and Peng Da Shi [different ‘shi’] will be the Left and Right Prime Ministers. Now, that will be good!” Zhou Zhiruo’s cheeks blushed, she bashfully lowered her head, but the corner of her eyes revealed that she was extremely happy.

Zhang Wuji repeatedly shook his hands. “Han Xiongdi,” he said, “You cannot say such thing again. Our Cult’s goal is to save the common people under the Heaven from the fire and the water. The goal accomplished, we retire. Don’t be greedy of riches and honor. That is the character of upright and real men.”

Peng Yingyu said, “Jiaozhu possesses a strong aspiration that not many people will be able to reach. It’s just that by that time, you may not necessarily be able to refuse the yellow robe [Translator’s note: only Emperor could wear yellow robe at that time]. During the Chen Qiao military revolt [960AD, the founding of Song Dynasty], did Zhao Kuangyin [given name of the first Emperor of the Song, the Song Taizu] think of becoming the Emperor?”

“No, no!” Zhang Wuji kept saying, “If I have the least bit of desire to be the Emperor, let the Heaven punish me and the Earth swallow me, let me die a wretched death.”

Listening to his determination, Zhou Zhiruo’s expression changed slightly, she turned her gaze outside the window and no longer said anything.

Four people talked a bit more, and then after dinner, Zhang Wuji said, “Peng Da Shi and I are going out to inquire information about Yifu.” He thought that Han Lin’er was hot-tempered, if he saw any injustice, he would certainly not hesitate to let his fists do the talking and thus inviting some unwanted disaster; thereupon he said, “Han Xiongdi, you and Zhiruo better stay in the inn tonight. Have a good rest.”

“Yes,” Han Lin’er said, “Jiaozhu, please be careful!”

Zhang Wuji and Peng Yingyu made an agreement right away that one of them would go to the west, and the other to the east. They would meet again at the inn to discuss their findings. Zhang Wuji went out the inn heading west. Along the way he heard the people were still talking about the ‘Great Tour of the Imperial City’ that morning. He heard somebody was saying, “The Ming Cult is staging a rebellion in the south. Today the Guardian Bodhisattva of the Emperor was brought out in front of the people. Looks like those rebels will be crushed soon.” Another man argued, “The Ming Cult is under the blessing and protection of Mi Le Pu Sa [Maitreya Bodhisattva]; looks like the Guardian Bodhisattva of the Emperor will have a battle against the Mi Le Pu Sa.” Yet another man commented, “The excavation of the Yellow River has unearthed a stone figure with one eye. There are two lines of characters on the back of that figure: ‘Do not say that because the stone figure only has one eye, it is incapable of provoking the Yellow River world.’ This has caused some speculations that some things simply cannot be forced.” [Translator’s note: I am not sure about the last man’s comment.]

Zhang Wuji paid no attention to all these unfounded comments by simple people; he wandered aimlessly until the path he took started to get quieter. Suddenly he looked up and realized that he had reached the small inn where he had a drink with Zhao Min the other day. He was startled and mused, “How did I get here? Could it be that in my heart I still cannot let her go?”

He saw that the door of the inn was ajar, and noticed that it was very quiet inside, apparently there was no guest drinking inside that night. He hesitated for a moment then he pushed the door open and walked in. He saw the attendant was dozing off on the counter table. On a table toward the corner, there was a lone candle flickering weakly in the dark. Next to the candle sat a guest. This table was precisely the table they used both times Zhao Min and he had a drink. Other than this single patron, there was nobody else in sight.

As that guest heard the footsteps approaching, the guest stood up. The candlelight swayed and shone on that person’s face. To Zhang Wuji’s surprise, that person was Zhao Min.

Neither of them expected to see the other. “Ah!” they both exclaimed in shock. “You …” in a low voice Zhao Min said, “Why are you here?” Her voice trembled, revealing her exceedingly excited heart.

Zhang Wuji replied, “I was passing through, and came in to take a look. I don’t expect …” while talking, he walked toward her table, and saw that there was another set of cup and chopsticks on the seat opposite hers, thereupon he asked, “Are you expecting someone?”

Zhao Min blushed, “No,” she said, “It was because twice we had a drink here; you were sitting over there, so … so I told the attendant to set another set of cup and chopsticks.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was touched. He also noticed that the four dishes of food and wine on the table was exactly the same as the food and wine Zhao Min prepared the first time she invited him over. From the bottom of his heart he knew the depth of Zhao Min’s feeling; he could not stop himself from reaching out to grab her hands in his. “Miss Zhao!” he said, his voice shaky.

“I hate it,” Zhao Min gloomily said, “I hate it that I was born to a Mongolian Prince family, and become your enemy …”

Suddenly, from outside the window came two ‘hey, hey’ cold laugh sounds, followed by something flew in. ‘Slap!’ that thing extinguished the candle on the table, that the room suddenly turned dark.

As they heard the sneer, Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min knew it was Zhou Zhiruo. While they were still at a loss, they heard indistinct footsteps on the roof and Zhou Zhiruo was gone like a wind.

“You are engaged to her, aren’t you?” in a low voice Zhao Min asked. “Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I shouldn’t conceal the truth from you.”

“I was hiding behind the tree that day,” Zhao Min said, “I heard your sweet words to her. I wished I could die immediately, I wish I have never been born in this world. That day I laughed coldly twice, and today she paid me back by laughing coldly twice. But … but you have not even said half a word to make me happy yet.”

“Miss Zhao,” Zhang Wuji said apologetically, “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t even see you. I have my people to think about, I shouldn’t make you upset. You are a golden-branch-and-jade-leaf kind of person, from now on you should forget this village kid, farm boy like me.”

Zhao Min lifted his hand up and gently ran her finger over the scar on his hand. “This is where I bit you,” she said in a tender voice, “Even if your martial art skill were higher, your medical skill were better, you would still not able to take this scar away. If you cannot get rid of the scar on your own hand, how can you take the scar in my heart away?” She wrapped her arms around Zhang Wuji’s neck, and then planted a deep kiss on his lips.

Zhang Wuji’s mind was chaotic to suddenly feel cherry soft lips on his, and sweet fragrance assaulting his nostrils. Suddenly Zhao Min bit his upper lip as hard as she could, until he was bleeding. And then she pushed his shoulder away from her as she turned around and escaped from the window, while calling out, “You are a pervert little thief! I hate you! I hate you …!” o0o

As Zhang Wuji and Peng Yingyu left the inn, Han Lin’er said to Zhou Zhiruo, “Miss Zhou, you’d better go to bed earlier tonight.” Without daring to say anything else, he stood up and left the room.

“Han Dage [big brother Han,” Zhou Zhiruo smiled, “Are you afraid of me? You are not willing to be alone with me even for a second.”

Han Lin’er blushed profusely. “No, no,” he hastily said, but his steps were getting faster. He quickly entered his own room, closed the door behind him, and bolted it; while his heart was thumping madly. Trying to calm himself, he reclined on the ‘kang’ [heatable brick bed common in northern China], while thinking of Zhao Zhiruo’s tender and beautiful, simple yet elegant, countenance, and her soft but warm voice. He mused, “In the future, Miss Zhou will become Madame Jiaozhu. I will diligently follow Jiaozhu’s orders and will stake everything to set up a few merits. I will make Miss Zhou happy, and then she will say, ‘Han Dage, really, you troubled yourself too much to do this!’ When that happens, then my, Han Lin’er’s, life will not be in vain.” His daydream made him smile, and he drifted off to sleep.

He slept until midnight, and was awakened by some light tapping on his door. Han Lin’er sat up with a start and asked, “Who is it?”

“It’s me,” he heard Zhou Zhiruo’s voice outside the door, “Please open the door, I need to talk to you.”

“Yes, yes,” Han Lin’er said. He went to the door barefooted, pulled the latch open, then quickly turned around to light the candle. He saw that Zhou Zhiruo’s eyes were red and puffy, her expression looked greatly different. Han Lin’er was scared. “Miss Zhou, you … you …” he stammered, without able to continue whatever he was going to say. Suddenly he got an idea; he dashed out the room while saying, “I’ll fetch some water for you to wash your face.”

A short moment later, he returned with a washbasin in his hands, still barefooted. Zhou Zhiruo gave him a mournful smile. She sat on the table, supporting her chin with her hand, staring blankly at the candle.

“You … please wash your face,” Han Lin’er said.

Zhou Zhiruo did not say a single word; she merely shook her head and suddenly tears start flowing down. In his fright, Han Lin’er was stumped. He relaxed his hands while still standing; wondering why she was so upset, and dying to know what it was she wanted to tell him.

The two of them maintained the silence for a long time. Suddenly a light ‘crack’ was heard as the wax snapped off the candle. Zhou Zhiruo trembled as if she had just awakened from a sleep. “Mmm,” she mumbled softly then she stood up to leave. “Miss Zhou,” Han Lin’er said loudly, “Who offended you? I, the man surnamed Han will take my dagger to him. Even if I have to die, I will make a few holes on his body. Please tell me!” Zhou Zhiruo only shook her head sadly, and then returned to her room.

From the time she entered his room, Zhou Zhiruo only sat quietly for a long time. It appeared that she had wanted to unburden herself from her troubled mind; but all along she did not utter a single word, so that a hot tempered and rash man like Han Lin’er can only scratch his head in confusion. As she left, he stood absentmindedly, occasionally curling his fist to hit his own head. After thinking for a while without finding anything, he heard ‘bang, bang, bang!’ three times from a distance, and he thought, “Why haven’t Jiaozhu and Peng Da Shi come back yet?” Since there was nothing else he could do, he laid down on the ‘kang’ again to sleep.

While he was dozing off, suddenly he heard a couple of loud noises, as if a chair was knocked down to the floor, coming from the room to his east; it was the room where Zhou Zhiruo slept. In his anxiety, Han Lin’er leaped up from his bed and ran toward that room.

Under the moonlight he saw a dark shadow inside that eastern room, swaying lightly, as if it was hanging in the air. Han Lin’er was shocked. “Miss Zhou, Miss Zhou!” he called out, while stretching out his hand to push the door, but it was bolted from inside. Using all his strength he pushed the door with his shoulder and the bolt snapped. Rushing into the room, he struck the flint to light the candle first, and then turned around to see Zhou Zhiruo’s feet which were hanging in the air, while a rope was wrapped around her neck, and the other end of the rope was tied onto the beam.

Han Lin’er felt as if his soul was about to leave his body. Hastily he jumped up to pull the rope from the beam, and then laid Zhou Zhiruo on the bed. He felt for her breathe and luckily she was still breathing.

“Miss Zhou, Miss Zhou,” he called in a very loud voice, “You … why didn’t you look at the bright side? Why did you … why …”

Suddenly he heard someone from outside the door calling out, “Han Dage, what is it?” A man walked in, it was Zhang Wuji.

As Zhang Wuji saw what happened, he felt as if a lightning bolt had just struck him. With trembling hands he broke off the rope around Zhou Zhiruo’s neck, and then he felt her chest and found that her heart was still beating. “She is all right,” he happily said, “I can save her.” Reaching down toward her back and lower abdomen, he massaged her acupoints, while transmitting the Jiu Yang divine energy from the palms of his hands. After one round, ‘Wah!’ Zhou Zhiruo regained her consciousness and started to cry.

“Good, very good!” Han Lin’er exclaimed in exultation, “Miss Zhou is alive!”

Zhou Zhiruo opened her eyes and as she saw Zhang Wuji, she cried again, “Why do you care about me? Let me die in peace.” Suddenly she noticed Zhang Wuji’s upper lip was still bleeding, with some fine tooth marks on it. She could not suppress her fury; she raised her hand and heavily slapped Zhang Wuji’s face left and right.

Han Lin’er was flabbergasted; how could anybody beat the Cult Leader? But in his eyes, Zhou Zhiruo was like an immortal; so he was confused and did not know what to do. Right that moment, someone gently tapped his shoulder twice. Han Lin’er turned his head and saw Peng Yingyu. In his delight he said, “Peng Da Shi, you’re back! Quick, quickly advise Miss Zhou.”

Peng Yingyu laughed, “Advise what?” Toward Zhang Wuji he said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: I did not find any information regarding Jin Mao Shi Wang [golden-haired lion king].”

“Hmm,” Zhang Wuji mumbled. He looked awkward. “Han Xiongdi,” Peng Yingyu said, “Let’s go and take a walk outside.”

“No, no, we can’t,” Han Lin’er replied, “They are going to fight. Miss Zhou is certainly not Jiaozhu’s match.”

Peng Yingyu laughed out loud, “Silly brother!” he said, “Do you think even if the two of us are ganging up with Miss Zhou, we can beat Jiaozhu? I’ll say Jiaozhu is not Miss Zhou’s match.” He winked at Han Lin’er, and pulled his hand out of the room. Han Lin’er was still trying to turn his head, his face showed a deep concern. Zhou Zhiruo could not help but try to stifle her laugh, and then threw herself on the bed and wept again.

Zhang Wuji sat on the edge of the bed, gently tapped her shoulder and said in a tender voice, “Zhiruo, I did not have any appointment to meet her; it was truly an incidental meeting.”

Zhou Zhiruo randomly kicked her feet, while sobbing, “I don’t believe you, I don’t believe you. Whatever lies you are saying, don’t tell me to believe you.”

Zhang Wuji sighed, “’When Zhou Gong feared the days of rumor, Wang Mang enjoyed being praised as a polite and modest scholar,’” he quoted, “The matters of this world is so easy to be misunderstood …”

Zhou Zhiruo snorted and sat up, “That Junzhu Niangniang [princess] uses those verses to insult me, yet you consider it so poetic that you memorize it in your heart. Look at your lip, aren’t you ashamed? Where is your dignity?” Speaking to this point, she could not restrain her own cheeks from blushing.

Zhang Wuji thought that whatever he said, the incident today was very difficult to debate. Besides, he had determined to marry Zhou Zhiruo and grow old together. So the only thing he could do was suppress his emotions, and wish that this incident would eventually fade away from her memory as well. Under the candle light, he saw her pretty face was slightly red, with a deep rope mark around her neck, causing the neck swell on both sides. He thought that if Han Lin’er had been late in realizing what was going on and not rescued her, by the time he returned to the inn, she would have been dead, and no matter what kind of power he had, he would hate himself. Thinking of this, he was both ashamed and felt compassion toward her. He reached out to embrace her and kissed her cherry-red lips.

Zhou Zhiruo turned her head to avoid his kiss, and indignantly said, “You have committed dirty things with others, and come here to annoy me. Do you think you can take advantage of me?”

Zhang Wuji tightened his embrace so that she was unable to free herself, and then he deeply kissed her lips again. Because she could not struggle free, in the end Zhou Zhiruo’s heart softened. Zhang Wuji thought that although they were engaged, they were not married yet. Being together in a room deep into the night, unavoidably some people would find it unacceptable. Besides, it would not be good in the eyes of Peng Yingyu, Han Lin’er and the others. Thereupon he let her go and said, “Zhiruo, take a good rest. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. If I lied to you and went to see Miss Zhao, although you chop me with a thousand knives and cut me into ten thousand pieces, I will die without any regret.”

Zhou Zhiruo’s face blushed, her chest was heaving. Taking a deep breath, she said, “What nonsense are you talking about? You know that I will never chop you with a thousand knives and cut you into ten thousand pieces.”

Zhang Wuji laughed. “You can always chop my both legs, what do you think?” he said.

Zhou Zhiruo lowered her head, beads of tears streaming down like rain. Zhang Wuji felt bad to walk out the room, he returned to her side, wrapped his arms around her shoulder and gently said, “What makes you sad?”

Zhou Zhiruo did not answer, but she kept crying. Zhang Wuji asked her again and again, but to his surprise, the more he asked, the sadder she was. Zhang Wuji cursed himself and swore, saying that he was a heartless and ungrateful man. Zhou Zhiruo covered her face with her hands and said, “I blame my own cruel fate; I am not blaming you.” “Everybody is suffering right now,” Zhang Wuji said, “The Tatars suppress the people of the Central Plains; everybody lives in suffering and great difficulty. Later on, when we get married and also have driven out the Tatars, then we will live a happy life and not suffer anymore.”

Zhou Zhiruo raised her head. “Wuji Gege,” she said, “I know you are being sincere to me. It’s just that that little witch Zhao Min is trying to seduce you, it’s not that you are of a double-minded person [orig. ‘three-heart two- intention’]. Only … only she is too smart, her martial art skill is superior, her beauty, her power, everything in her is ten times better than I am. After all is said and done, I simply cannot beat her. It is better for me to die than to live a broken-hearted life. Who would have thought that that fool Han Lin’er would revived me. I have tried to die once, I don’t have the courage to try again. I … I want to be like Shifu, I want to shave my head and become a Buddhist Nun. Ay, in the end, our Emei Pai’s Zhang Men [Sect Leader] is not a family woman.”

“You are always anxious,” Zhang Wuji said, “Let’s do this: tomorrow, we are leaving for the Huai Si River, we will get married over there.”

“We haven’t found Yifu,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “Besides, you haven’t destroyed the Barbarians, how can you get married? In the end … in the end we can’t get married yet.” While saying that, tears started to flow again.

“Naturally we must intensify the search for Yifu,” Zhang Wuji said, “But it will be a lot easier for us to find information if we are among our brethren. As for driving the Tatars away, nobody can tell when would that be. Are you saying that we should wait until we become ‘lao gong gong’ [old man or grandfather] and ‘lao po po’ [old woman, also grandmother] before we can bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married? A pair of an old man and an old woman getting married is not strange, but we certainly can’t get any children, then the Zhang family of mine will die without any heir.”

Zhou Zhiruo blushed and covered up her mouth. “An honest and naïve person like you, I wonder where did you learn to talk garrulously like that?” It was as if the anxiety clouds and the miserable fog in the sky were lifted up and scattered away with their laughter.

Early morning the next day, Zhang Wuji requested Peng Yingyu to stay in Dadu for three more days to inquire about any news on Xie Xun; while he took Zhou Zhiruo and Han Lin’er heading south toward the Huai Si River area. When they entered Shandong’s border, they saw a large group of defeated Mongolian army, dragging their armor and losing their helmets, swarm in. Seeing the condition of these defeated soldiers, Zhang Wuji and the others avoided them by taking a detour. Later on, they saw a lone soldier fall behind, they captured and interrogated him, and found out that in Huaibei, Zhu Yuanzhang had repeatedly won several big battles and completely routed the Yuan army.

The three of them were unable to restrain their delight; they picked up their speed and reached the Lu Wan [Anhui province] boundary, which had fallen under the Ming Cult’s rebel army [orig. ‘yi4 jun1’ – justice/righteous army] territory. Someone in the rebel army recognized Han Lin’er and quickly reported to the general mansion. As the three of them approach Haozhou, Han Shantong, leading Zhu Yuanzhang, Xu Da, Chang Yuchun, Deng Yu, Tang He, all the senior generals, were already out welcoming them within thirty ‘li’s [about 15 km] of the city limit. It was their first meeting after a long separation, so everybody was very happy. As Han Shantong learned about Han Lin’er being captured by the Beggar Clan and how their Cult Leader battled his captors to rescue him, he did not cease from expressing his gratitude. Amidst the clamoring gongs and drums, and dazzling armored entourage, they entered the city of Haozhou.

Zhou Zhiruo rode a horse right behind Zhang Wuji. She looked to the left and glanced to the right, and thought that although this parade was not as glamorous as the Emperor and Empress’ ‘Tour of the Imperial City’, she was quite pleased with it.

Zhang Wuji rested inside the city for a few days. As Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Yin Tianzheng, Wei Yixiao, Yin Yewang, Priest Tieguan [‘iron hat’], Shuo Bude, Zhou Dian, and all leaders of the Five-Element Flags received the news about his arrival, they all came from all over the country. Zhang Wuji told them that Xie Xun had returned to the Central Plains; and how he was captured by the Beggar Clan but went missing later on. He told them everything related to this incident.

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Yin Tianzheng, and the others discussed this matter over and over again, but nobody was able to offer any explanation. Fan Yao said, “The origin of that lady in yellow is unknown, but perhaps she holds the key to the information on Xie Xiong’s [brother Xie] whereabouts.”

Nobody had ever heard about that in the Wulin world there existed this lady in yellow. They could not offer anything except exhorting Zhang Wuji not to worry. “Judging from her speech and conduct, this lady in yellow does not hold any ill intention,” they said, “If Jin Mao Shi Wang has fallen into her hands surely he won’t come into any harm. Perhaps all this woman wants is some information on the Tulong Saber.”

Zhang Wuji was still feeling an inexplicable concern in his heart, but he could not do anything except dispatch the Five-Element Flags to go everywhere to find information.

The next day Peng Yingyu arrived from Dadu; he also said that he could not find any news about Xie Xun.

Although the Ming Cult’s rebel army had achieved great victory everywhere, the casualties in their side were also very serious. Hereafter they would be busy in the next two, three months to reorganize their troops and recruit new soldiers; hence, they were unable to engage the Yuan army in a large-scale battle for the time being.

Peng Yingyu knew that Zhou Zhiruo attempted suicide that night. Although he was unclear of the real reason behind it, he speculated that it had something to do with jealousy between the two. Fan Yao and the others were also aware of Zhang Wuji’s unusual relationship with Zhao Min. If the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult took a Mongolian princess as his wife, the threat facing their great undertaking of resisting the Yuan would not be small. Since currently there wasn’t any important matter at hand, they all agreed to urge Zhang Wuji to conclude his marriage with Zhou Zhiruo. Since Zhang Wuji had had a talk with Zhou Zhiruo beforehand, he readily agreed. Yang Xiao immediately decided that the fifteenth day of the third month would be an auspicious day.

The entire Ming Cult was jubilant; straightaway they busied themselves making preparation for their Jiaozhu’s wedding. By this time, the Ming Cult’s name had shaken the world. To the east, Han Shantong repeatedly scored major victories around the Huai Si River area. To the west, Xu Shouhui also defeated the Yuan army again and again around the northern Hubei and southern Henan. As the big news of the Cult Leader’s marriage spread out, the Wulin world’s figures’ congratulatory gifts came flooding in like a tidal wave of the river.

Kunlun, Kongtong, and various other Sects were originally in enmity with the Ming Cult. However, first, Zhang Wuji had rescued them from the Dadu’s Wan An Temple, and thus each Sect felt indebted to him; second, Zhou Zhiruo was the Sect Leader of Emei, so that each Sect Leader was obligated to send their representative to deliver their gift. Kongtong Five Elders’ [Kongtong Wu Lao] gift was especially lavish.

The gift from Zhang Sanfeng consisted of calligraphy of four characters, ‘Jia Er Jia Fu’ [lit. excellent son (husband), excellent woman (wife)], and his own writing of the ‘Tai Ji Quan Jing’ [Taiji Fist Manual], which were delivered by Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou, and Yin Liting, three of his chief disciples. By this time, Yin Liting had already married Yang Buhui, who also came to Haozhou.

Zhang Wuji welcomed her with a big smile on his face. “Liu Shi Shen [sixth martial aunt]!” he called out loudly. Yang Buhui blushed profusely. She pulled his hand away to reminisce about the past; with a heart full of joy and gratefulness.

Zhang Wuji was afraid Chen Youliang and Song Qingshu had not given up on their wicked scheme and would take this opportunity to strike. Thereupon he sent Wei Yixiao as his envoy to convey his gratitude to Wudang Mountain. He quietly told Wei Yixiao in detail how Song Qingshu had killed Mo Shenggu, and how he had conspired to harm Zhang Sanfeng. He asked that after Wei Yixiao paid his respects to Zhang Sanfeng, to collaborate with Yu Daiyan and Zhang Songxi in guarding against Chen Youliang’s evil plan; and that he should wait until Song Yuanqiao and the others return to Wudang before he leaves.

Wei Yixiao spitefully said, “Following Jiaozhu’s order, Wei Yixiao does not dare to suck others’ blood; but this time, if I ever come across those two traitors, I must suck their blood dry.”

Zhang Wuji hastily said, “About that Chen Youliang, I don’t care if Wei Xiong [brother Wei] get rid of him. But Song Qingshu is my Song Da Shibo’s only beloved son, he is also Wudang Pai’s future Sect Leader. Besides, we should let Wudang clean up their own school. We must avoid hurting my Song Da Shibo’s feelings.” Wei Yixiao complied and left immediately.

By the tenth of the third month, the heroines of Emei arrived at Haozhou bringing gifts. Ding Minjun sent her gift, but she did not personally come.

When the fifteenth of the third month came, everybody from the Ming Cult, from top to bottom, were wearing new clothes. The wedding ceremony was to be held at the mansion belonging to the richest man in Haozhou. The reception hall was adorned with hanging lanterns and colorful embroidered banners of congratulations. Zhang Sanfeng’s calligraphy, ‘Jia Er Jia Fu’ was hung in the middle.

Yin Tianzheng presided over the groom’s family, while Chang Yuchun presided over the bride’s side. Priest Tieguan was in charge of Haozhou’s security; he deployed the Cult disciples to patrol around town, to guard against the enemy mingled in and caused trouble. Tang He stationed his army of elite troops to guard the city’s perimeter.

That morning, the delegations from Shaolin Pai and Huashan Pai also arrived with their gifts.

When the ninth hour [between 3 – 5 pm] came, the wedding ceremony started. Cannons were fired repeatedly. The guests flooded the reception hall. Upon the command of Master of Ceremony, Song Yuanqiao and Yin Yewang walked Zhang Wuji into the hall. The string and woodwind ensemble started to play; the mood was bright.

Accompanied by eight of Emei Pai’s young heroines, Zhou Zhiruo willowy and elegantly stepped into the hall. Zhou Zhiruo was wearing red embroidered dress, with phoenix crown and red-cloud cape on her head, and red veil covered her face. The male on the left and the female on the right, the bride and the groom stood side by side.

“Bow to the Heaven!” the Master of Ceremony shouted.

Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo were about to kneel down on the red-felt rug when suddenly from outside the main gate someone shouted, “Hold it!” A dark green shadow flashed, and a young woman in dark green clothes stood in the middle of the hall, smiling softly; it was none other than Zhao Min.

As the crowd saw that it was her, they exclaimed in surprise. Many masters from Ming Cult and various Sects had suffered under her hands; they did not expect her to be as bold as to enter this dangerous place alone. The hot- tempered among them were ready to pounce forward.

“Hold it!” Yang Xiao spread out his arms and shouted. To the guests he said, “Today is our humble Cult’s Jiaozhu and the Emei Pai’s Zhang Men’s [Sect Leader] day of happiness. Since Miss Zhao has come to join us in this celebration, she is also our honored guest. Therefore, I am asking everybody to look at Emei Pai and Ming Cult’s humble faces and willing set aside the old grudges temporarily; and thus not to treat Miss Zhao impolitely.”

He cast a meaningful glance toward Shuo Bude and Peng Yingyu. They understood his intention. Circling to the rear of the hall, they went outside to investigate, to observe how many martial art masters Zhao Min took with her.

To Zhao Min he said, “Miss Zhao, please have a seat over here and watch the ceremony. Later on I will salute you with three cups of insipid wine.”

Zhao Min smiled slightly and said, “I have something I want to say to Zhang Jiaozhu. I will leave as soon as I am finished. I will come back later to accept your hospitality.”

“Whatever it is that Miss Zhao wants to say, it won’t be too late to wait after the ceremony is over,” Yang Xiao said.

“After the ceremony, it will be too late,” Zhao Min said.

Yang Xiao and Fan Yao exchanged a look, knowing that she had come today to deliberately create trouble. Whatever it was, they must prevent it at any cost, so as to avoid disruption of the ceremony, embarrassment, and to displease the guests.

Yang Xiao took two steps forward and said, “As your host today, we have exhausted our propriety. Miss Zhao is asking us to act harshly.” He had decided that if Zhao Min kept making disturbance, he would swiftly seal her acupoints and deal with her later.

“Ku Da Shi,” Zhao Min turned to Fan Yao, “Others are going to attack me, are you going to help me or not?”

Fan Yao knitted his brows and said, “Junzhu [princess], in the matters of this world, 80, 90% of them do not happen according to one’s wishes. Since we have come to this, you should not force me to do anything.”

Zhao Min said, “I want to force you.” Turning toward Zhang Wuji she said, “Zhang Wuji, you are the Ming Cult Jiaozhu, as a real man, will you or will you not do what you have promised?” Ever since he saw Zhao Min arrive, Zhang Wuji’s heart had been beating faster; he had hoped Yang Xiao would be able to deal with her nicely and had her leave without any struggle. Now that she directly asked him, he had no choice but answered, “Of course I will do what I promised.”

Zhao Min continued, “When I saved your Yu Sanshu [third martial uncle] and Yin Liushu’s [sixth uncle] lives, you promised to do three things I would ask you to do, did you or did you not?”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji replied, “You wanted me to borrow the Tulong Saber for you to look at, and not only you have looked at it, you have even stolen the precious saber.”

For the last several decades, the Jianghu people had been concerned about this ‘wu lin zhi zun’ [the most revered in the Wulin world] Tulong Saber’s whereabouts. Now that they suddenly heard that the Saber had fallen into Zhao Min’s hands, they were in an uproar.

“Only Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia knows into whose hands the Tulong Saber has fallen” Zhao Min said, “You can go and ask him personally.” Actually, not too many Wulin people aware that Xie Xun had returned to the Central Plains; hearing her mentioning ‘The Golden-Haired Lion King’, they were thrown into commotion again.

“I am most concerned about my Yifu’s whereabouts these days,” Zhang Wuji said, “I hope Miss could shed some light on this matter.”

Zhao Min smiled mysteriously and said, “I have asked you to do three things for me, and you have promised to comply as long as the matter does not violate the Wulin world code of brotherhood or the chivalrous way. As of borrowing the Tulong Saber to look at, although I did not really look at it, but I have seen it after all; I cannot blame you if the precious Saber was stolen later. Just consider you have accomplished the first matter. Right now I have the second matter I’d like you to do. Zhang Wuji, in front of these heroes and warriors of the world, you cannot back off on your word.” “What do you want me to do?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“Miss Zhao,” Yang Xiao interrupted, “Whatever it is you want our humble Cult’s Jiaozhu to do, since he has made a promise, as long as it does not violate the Wulin world’s way of chivalry, not only Zhang Jiaozhu will do it, our entire Cult, from top to bottom, will do our utmost to accomplish it. However, now is the time Zhang Jiaozhu and his new bride to bow to the Heaven and the Earth, other matter can wait, so please do not say too much and disturb the ceremony.”

By the last sentence, his tone was rather stern. But Zhao Min looked as if she did not care much about this Ming Cult’s Left Emissary of the Brightness, whose prestige had shaken the Jianghu.

“My business is even more important,” Zhao Min languidly said, “It cannot be delayed even for a second.” Suddenly she took several steps toward Zhang Wuji, stood on her toes, and whispered in Zhang Wuji’s ear, “My second request is that you do not marry Miss Zhou today.”

“What?” Zhang Wuji was stunned.

Zhao Min said, “That was my second request. I’ll think about the third and let you know later.”

Although she was speaking in a low voice, it was loud enough so that Zhou Zhiruo, as well as those who stood nearby, such as Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou, Yin Liting, and the eight Emei female disciples, could heard her clearly. Everybody’s face was changed. The eight Emei disciples silently curled their fists inside their long sleeves; as soon as Zhao Min said anything else to disgrace the Emei Pai Sect Leader, they would make her suffer.

Zhang Wuji shook his head. “I can’t do it,” he said.

“So you decide not to honor your own word?” Zhao Min asked. Zhang Wuji replied, “We have stated explicitly that it cannot violate the ‘xia yi’ [code of brotherhood/chivalry]. Miss Zhou and I are engaged; if I do what you said, I will violate this ‘xia yi’.”

With a cold laugh Zhao Min said, “If you marry her today, then you are unfilial and doing an injustice. Didn’t you see how your Yifu fell into others’ wicked plot during the ‘Tour of the Imperial City’ at Dadu?”

Zhang Wuji felt anger rising in his breast. “Miss Zhao,” he said in a loud voice, “Today I respect you as my guest, therefore, I yield to you 30%. If you keep talking rubbish, don’t blame me for offending you.”

Zhao Min was unfazed. “So you have decided not to comply with my second request?” she asked.

Zhang Wuji remembered that with the honor she had as a princess, she did not hesitate to show her face in public [this is a literal translation of ‘pao1 tou2 lou4 mian4’, but I am sure the readers will understand what Jin Yong was saying], and ask him earnestly in the presence of all these heroes and warriors not to get married. It must be because of her feelings toward him. He could not restrain his heart from softening. “Miss Zhao,” he said gently, “Since we have come to this, I am asking you … I am asking you to understand. I, Zhang Wuji, am only an uncouth peasant; I am not worthy … not worthy …”

“All right,” Zhao Min said, “Why don’t you look; what is this?” Extending her right arm, she held out her hand in front of Zhang Wuji’s face.

As Zhang Wuji saw it, he was so shocked that his body shivered. “This … this is my …” he said in a shaky voice.

Zhao Min quickly withdrew her hand and put that thing back into her pocket. “It’s up to you whether you want to comply with my second request or not,” she said, and then turned straight toward the main gate.

Nobody knew what kind of object she showed to Zhang Wuji, which made him looked so frightened and at a loss. Zhou Zhiruo’s eyes were covered by the red veil, so although she heard the exchange between Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min, she was not able to see what it was.

“Miss … Miss Zhao,” Zhang Wuji anxiously called, “Please don’t go.”

“If you want to follow me, you must not bow to the Heaven and the Earth with your new bride too quickly,” Zhao Min said, “A real man without a strong determination will suffer a lifelong regret.” She was speaking in a loud and clear voice, but her steps were not hindered at all; quickly she had walked pass the main gate.

“Miss Zhao, please wait! We need to discuss it further,” Zhang Wuji called out.

Instead of slowing down, she picked up her speed and called back, “All right, as long as you do not get married today,” Zhao Min halted her steps, “Then you can come with me.”

Zhang Wuji turned his head around and looked at Zhou Zhiruo; his heart full of regret and guilt. He wanted to say something to her, but Zhao Min had already out of his sight. The matter on hand was very urgent, he must take the bull by the horn. Thereupon he gritted his teeth and pursued after Zhao Min.

Zhang Wuji had just reached the main gate when a red shadow flashed by his side; someone had already reached Zhao Min’s back From the inside of the red sleeve came a bare hand, with its five fingers struck down on top of Zhao Min’s head. This move was like a rabbit evading the falcon; it was unbelievably fast, and it was more surprising since it came from the bride, Zhou Zhiruo.

Zhang Wuji felt strange, “This move is so fierce! Where did Zhiruo learn this exquisite stance from?”

He saw Zhou Zhiruo’s palm had already covered the top of Zhao Min’s head; with her five fingers threatened to crush Zhao Min’s brain. Almost without thinking Zhang Wuji flew forward and reached Zhou Zhiruo’s main artery. In an abrupt movement, Zhou Zhiruo retracted her arm and ‘bang’, her elbow struck his chest. The Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside Zhang Wuji’s body reacted automatically and neutralized this incoming force, but he felt his blood was bubbling up inside his chest, and his feet staggered slightly.

Fan Yao saw the dangerous situation and immediately stepped forward to help; stretching out his palm he pushed toward Zhou Zhiruo’s shoulder. Zhou Zhiruo’s left hand moved slightly and lightly brushed away. Fan Yao felt his wrist go numb and his push failed. But because of these hindrances, Zhao Min was able to move half a step backward and thus avoid the strike on her head; however, she felt a stabbing pain on her shoulder, as the five fingers of Zhou Zhiruo’s right hand penetrated her shoulder near her neck.

“Ah!” Zhang Wuji exclaimed, and pushed Zhou Zhiruo away.

Although the red veil on her head had not been removed, she could hear the wind to distinguish the movement. She turned her left palm around and hacked down on Zhang Wuji’s wrist. Zhang Wuji did not want to fight her, but he saw her attacks to be extremely swift and fierce. Each one of those attacks could take Zhao Min’s life. He had no choice but to fend her off.

Zhou Zhiruo’s upper body did not move, her stance was steady, but her pair of hands successively launched eight dangerous attacks. Zhang Wuji was forced to use the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi just to ward her off.

Eight attacks, eight blocks, all movements happened lightning fast that it was over in just the blink of an eye. Everybody in the main hall held their breaths and stood still with a shock expression on their faces. Zhao Min’s shoulder was seriously wounded. She fell down to the floor with blood gushing out from the five holes on her shoulder, and in a short moment dyed her clothes red.

Zhou Zhiruo held her hands and said, “Zhang Wuji, you have been so enchanted by this little witch that you really want to give me up?” “Zhiruo,” Zhang Wuji pleaded, “Please understand my difficulty. We are engaged. Zhang Wuji will not regret that. I only ask for a few days delay

…”

Zhou Zhiruo said coldly, “Once you leave, don’t ever think to come back. I only hope you won’t regret your decision.”

Zhao Min gritted her teeth and stood up. Without saying anything she walked gingerly outside. Blood was still flowing out from her shoulder, drenching her clothes.

Although the crowd of heroes and warriors had seen almost everything in the Jianghu, they had never seen two women fighting over a husband, blood splashing all over the hall and the bride with red veil on her head injuring her rival with some mysterious martial art. There was not anyone who was not shocked and alarmed; nobody was able to utter anything.

Zhang Wuji stomped his foot and said, “Yifu’s kindness to me is as heavy as the mountain. Zhiruo, Zhiruo, please forgive me.” Having said that, he ran after Zhao Min. Yin Tianzheng, Yang Xiao, Yu Lianzhou, Yin Liting, and the others were not clear of what had happened; nobody dared to stop him.

Zhou Zhiruo reached up and tore the red veil from her face away; in a loud voice she said, “Everybody, you are my witnesses today: It was he who abandoned me, and not I who abandoned him. From this day on, Zhou Zhiruo and that surnamed Zhang have no relation whatsoever.” Then she lifted up the phoenix crown from her head, grabbed a pearl from it and tossed the phoenix crown to the ground. As she rubbed the pearl in her palms, the pearl turned into powder, which then trickled down to the floor. She said, “If I, Zhou Zhiruo, do not wash away today’s disgrace, let me be just like this pearl.”

Yin Tianzheng, Song Yuanqiao, Yang Xiao, and the others wanted to console her, telling her to wait for Zhang Wuji to return, and then discuss it further; but they saw Zhou Zhiruo pulled her dress with her bare hands. ‘Rip!’ the red long embroidered gown was torn into two pieces, and then she tossed it to the ground. She kicked the ground and flew up, making a graceful somersault in the air, and landed on the roof. Yang Xiao, Yin Tianzheng and the others were taken by surprise; they saw her like a floating red cloud, flying to the east. Her ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] was superb, looked like it was not inferior to the Green-winged Bat King Wei Yixiao.

Yang Xiao and the others knew it was useless to pursue her. They were at a loss and stood silently outside for half a day before finally returning to the main hall. In a blink of an eye, Zhao Min’s disturbance had made a joyous celebration like a cloud dispersed by the wind. All the Ming Cult people felt a slap on their faces, while the guests who came to congratulate them were also disappointed. Everybody tried to guess what kind of object Zhao Min showed to Zhang Wuji, which made him forget everything and pursue her. Listening to his words, obviously, this object had a very important relation to Xie Xun; but the truth was, nobody knew anything for sure.

The Emei heroines were talking among themselves in low voices, and then indignantly they took their leave. Yin Tianzheng repeatedly apologized to them, saying that he would make Zhang Wuji come to Emei to seriously apologize and conclude the matrimony, that he sure hoped the good relationship between two families would not be damaged. The Emei heroines declined to make any comment; they dispersed to look for Zhou Zhiruo, while muttering quietly that the man who should be blamed was not worthy to enjoy the good fortune.

o0o

Actually, the object Zhao Min held in her palm and showed to Zhang Wuji was a lock of yellow hair. As soon as he saw it, Zhang Wuji recognized it as Xie Xun’s hair. Xie Xun practiced an unusual type of internal energy cultivation, plus, he had a different innate characteristic, so that by the time he was middle-aged, the long hair on his head had turned light yellow, however, the color was not the same as the western region color-eyed people’s blonde hair. Zhang Wuji thought that since Xie Xun’s hair was cut by Zhao Min, then the person must have fallen into her hands as well. If Zhang Wuji had bowed to the Heaven and the Earth with Zhou Zhiruo, in her anger, Zhao Min might kill Xie Xun. He could not take that risk, but he also could not explain the real reason to Zhou Zhiruo in front of all the heroes and warriors. He knew that practically everybody present at the hall, other than people from the Ming Cult and Wudang Pai, would love to know Xie Xun’s whereabouts. Some of them wanted to seek revenge of the killing spree Xie Xun committed in his former days, but most of them had the real intention of snatching the precious Tulong Saber away.

As Zhang Wuji saw Zhao Min was leaving, he knew he would extremely offend Zhou Zhiruo, yet to him his Yifu’s life was more important, therefore, he decided to run after Zhao Min. He saw Zhao Min running as fast as her feet could take her, with blood still dripping from her shoulder to the road along the way. Taking a deep breath, he flew several ‘zhang’s [1 zhang is approximately 10 feet or 3m] forward to cut her off.

“Miss Zhao,” he said, “Please don’t compel me to be an unrighteous person that I will be reviled by the heroes and warriors of the world.”

Zhao Min’s shoulder injury was rather serious. At first, driven by her anger, he made an effort to walk away. But now, listening to Zhang Wuji’s words, she said, “You … you …” Her anger subsided and she collapsed to the ground.

Zhang Wuji stooped down. “Tell me where my Yifu first,” he said.

“Take me to rescue him,” Zhao Min said, “I will … I will … give you directions.”

“Is he [Senior] alive?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhao Min had the will, but not the strength. “Your Yifu … Yifu fell into Cheng Kun’s hands,” she said.

As he heard the name ‘Cheng Kun’, Zhang Wuji felt as if blood had been drained from his body; this man was not only an expert in martial art, he was also very crafty and cruel. There was a deep enmity, as deep as the ocean, between Xie Xun and him, so if Xie Xun fell into his hands, he would face an unspeakable danger indeed.

“You can’t do it alone,” Zhao Min said, “Call … call Yang Xiao and the others to come with you.” As she saying that, she pointed her finger to the west, but suddenly her head limped backward and she passed out.

Zhang Wuji imagined all kind of sufferings his Yifu was subjected to right at this moment; he felt as if his five internal organs were burning. Immediately he embraced Zhao Min, hurriedly ripped her clothes and wrapped the wound. Seeing a Ming Cult disciple by the side of the road, he beckoned him to come, and gave his order, “Quickly report to Yang Zuo Shi [left emissary], tell him to lead everybody to the west at once, tell him that I have an important matter to attend.” The disciple complied and ran to report the order.

Zhang Wuji thought the sooner he leaves the better. Who knows? Perhaps this delay for few minutes would cost him the opportunity to save his Yifu’s life. He carried Zhao Min immediately, and walked quickly toward the city gate, where he ordered the soldier guarding the gate to fetch a steed. Flying up, he mounted the steed and galloped it westward.

After speeding up several ‘li’s, he felt Zhao Min’s body in his bosom gradually turn cold; checking her pulse, he found it to be weak. He was in panic. Stopping down to un-wrap the wound, he saw the five holes were very deep, reaching the shoulder bone, and the skin around the wound had turned blackish purple, an obvious sign of poisoning.

Zhang Wuji was startled, “Zhiruo is Emei disciple,” he mused, “How did she learn this kind of poisonous martial art? Her move was very fierce, even fiercer than Miejue Shitai’s; how is that possible?” He knew that if Zhao Min did not receive help immediately, she would die of poisoning. But he was wearing the groom clothes, why would he bring any anti-poison drug? He pondered for a moment then leaped down from the horse. Carrying Zhao Min in his arms, he jumped toward the mountain on his left. He looked around trying to find some herbs to treat poisoning, but after looking for a while he did not find even an ordinary herbal medicine.

With his heart thumping madly, he ran around the hills and the valleys, while muttering a silent prayer. Suddenly his eyes caught some bright color; he saw ahead of him, slightly to the right, there was a bush of about four, five little red flower trees. They were the ‘fo zuo xiao hong lian’ [little red lotus, seat base of Buddha], which had quite some effect of fighting poison. Although by this time it was the second month of spring, when hundreds of flowers were in full bloom, but to be able to find this red flower right then and there was truly a Heaven’s blessing.

In his great delight he carried Zhao Min across two mountain streams toward the bushes. He took some red flowers, chewed them in his mouth, and then he fed half into Zhao Min’s mouth, while applied the other half on her shoulder. Everything done, he carried Zhao Min again and continued westward.

Rushing about thirty ‘li’s, Zhao Min stirred and moaned, and then she awoke, “I … am I still alive?” she asked in a low voice.

Knowing that the ‘fo zuo xiao hong lian’ was really effective, Zhang Wuji was very happy. He laughed and replied, “How do you feel?”

“My shoulder itches very much,” Zhao Min said, “Ay, Miss Zhou’s hand this time was very fierce.”

Zhang Wuji gently put her down, and looked at her shoulder again. He saw the black was not diminishing, but her pulse was not as weak as before. Zhang Wuji thought for a moment. He knew ‘fo zuo xiao hong lian’ was very slow and was not enough to neutralize the poison. Thereupon he stooped down to put his mouth on her shoulder, and sucked the poisonous blood from her wounds, which he then spat on the ground. The stench attacked his nose and he wanted to vomit. Zhao Min looked at Zhang Wuji with the corner of her eyes then she reached up and gently stroke his head. “Wuji Gege,” she sighed, “Have you figured out what was happening?”

Zhang Wuji had finished sucking the blood and was going to a small creek to rinse his mouth. He walked back and sat by her side. “What is happening?” he asked.

Zhao Min said, “Miss Zhou is a disciple of a famous upright sect. How did she learn this kind of poisonous, heretical martial art?”

“I myself also thought it strange,” Zhang Wuji said, “I wonder who taught her that skill?”

Zhao Min laughed sweetly and said, “It must be the little thief from the heretical sect Devil Cult.”

Zhang Wuji laughed, “Although the Devil Cult has many devil-heads, nobody knew this kind of martial art. Only Qing Yi Fu Wang’s sucking- blood-from-people’s-neck skill is similar to Zhang Wuji’s sucking-blood- from-people’s-shoulder skill.” And then he asked, “How did my Yifu fall into Cheng Kun’s hands? Where is he right now?”

“I’ll take you there and help you to think of a way to rescue him,” Zhao Min said, “As for the exact location, that is Bu Dai Heshang [cloth sack monk] Shuo Bude. [Zhao Min was playing with words here, Shuo Bude means ‘can’t say’, he was one of the Five Wanderers, and his title was ‘Bu Dai Heshang’. I guess for those of you who have not read the missing chapters, you will have to wait patiently to know a little bit more about him.] As soon as I tell you, you will dash ahead and drop me without giving me another thought.”

Zhang Wuji sighed. “Surely I am not that heartless and without any sense of righteousness, am I?” he asked. “For your Yifu’s sake, you were willing to abandon your pretty-as-a-flower, precious-as-a-jade new bride; much less me?” Zhao Min said, while slowly leaning her body against his. “Today I disrupted your wedding [orig. dong4 fang2 hua1 zhu2 – lit. cave room flowery (or fancy) candle], are you blaming me?”

Without knowing the reason, right at this moment Zhang Wuji felt happy and content. Other than his concern over Xie Xun’s safety, he was even more happy and content than when he was going to bow to the Heaven and the Earth with Zhou Zhiruo. But why he felt like that, he could not explain. However, he could not admit that he was happy because Zhao Min had disrupted his wedding ceremony; therefore, he said, “Of course I blame you. Next time, when you and that elegant hero who will become the ‘jun ma ye’ [princess’ husband] are bowing to the Heaven and the Earth, I will also come and create a great disturbance; I will not let you be the new bride peacefully and easily.”

A trace of blush arose on Zhao Min’s pale face. “If you come and disrupt, I am going to kill you,” she said with a laugh.

Suddenly Zhang Wuji heaved a sigh, he was silent and looked low-spirited. “What is it?” Zhao Min asked.

“I wonder,” said Zhang Wuji, “That Jun Ma Ye must have done many good deeds in his previous life that he deserves such a good fortune.”

Zhao Min said with a smile, “It is not too late for you to do some good deeds right now.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart skipped a beat. “What?” he asked.

Zhao Min blushed, and suddenly went silent. At this point, the two of them felt uncomfortable to continue having an intimate talk, so after they rested for a moment, Zhang Wuji re-applied the medicine and carried her westward. Zhao Min was carried on his back, her cheek were close to the left side of his face. Zhang Wuji’s nose caught the fragrance of her perfume, his hands were supporting the soft flesh her warm body; he could not help his heart from racing like a wild horse and his mind jumping around like an ape. If only he was not anxious to rescue Yifu, he was seriously contemplating of slowing down his pace to enjoy this once-in-a-life-time opportunity of strolling in the wilderness.

That evening they spent the night on the uncultivated hills at the western suburb of Haozhou. It was only the next day that they found a small town, where they bought two healthy horses. Zhao Min’s poisoned wounds were very difficult to heal that quickly, her body was still too weak to ride the horse alone; she had to lean on Zhang Wuji, riding one horse together. Riding this way, after five days they arrived within the boundary of Henan.

They were riding along that day, when suddenly they saw the dust was raising ahead of them, as more than a hundred riders gallop their way. They heard the tinkling of iron armors, and saw that it was the Mongolian cavalry. Zhang Wuji held the rein and stopped by the side of the road to make way.

As this Mongolian cavalry group galloped past, dozens of ‘zhang’s behind them there was another group of riders. This latter group was not arranged in neat formation, some were riding ahead, some were lagging behind, in a very loose array.

Zhang Wuji took a glance and to his surprise saw that the ‘shen jian ba xiong’ [Eight Divine Archers] were among these riders. “Not good!” he silently groaned, and quickly turned his head away.

These twenty-odd riders saw Zhang Wuji’s clothes to be expensive and fancy, with a young woman in his bosom, their faces were turned the other way, actually they did not give these two any thought. The Eight Divine Archers also did not recognize them. As the riders past, Zhang Wuji was just about to pull the rein to continue forward, when suddenly they heard the sound of hooves beats again. Three riders flew by. The horse in the middle was white, the rider wore an embroidered robe and gold crown. On the either side of him was a chestnut horse. On their saddles Lu Zhangke and He Biweng, the Xuanming Elders, were sitting impressively.

Zhang Wuji was about to turn his head around when Lu Zhangke saw these two and called out, “Jun Zhu Niang-niang [princess], don’t worry, help is on the way!” While He Biweng made a long whistle.

The Eight Divine Archers and their company heard his whistle and immediately turned around, encircling Zhang Wuji two people in the middle. Zhang Wuji was startled; he looked at Zhao Min in his bosom as if he was saying, “So you are secretly preparing an ambush here to attack me?” But then he noticed her anxious expression and realized he had wrongly accused her, so his heart was relieved.

“Gege [big brother],” he heard Zhao Min say, “I did not expect to see you here. Is Father well?”

It was only after hearing Zhao Min said ‘gege’ two characters did Zhang Wuji pay attention to the young man in embroidered robe; he recognized him as Zhao Min’s brother, Kuku Timur, who adopted a Han name of Wang Baobao. Zhang Wuji had seen him at Dadu twice, but this time his full attention was on Xuanming Elders, so he did not recognize the third person right away.

As Wang Baobao saw his beloved sister again, he was pleasantly surprised; but he did not know Zhang Wuji. Frowning, he said, “Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment], you … you …”

“Gege,” Zhao Min said, “I fell into the enemy’s evil plot and suffer a heavy poisoned wound. Luckily this Zhang Gongzi [young master] came to help me; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to see Gege today.” Lu Zhangke put his mouth next to Wang Baobao’s ear and said in a low voice, “Xiao Wangye [young prince], that man is the Devil Cult’s Cult Leader, Zhang Wuji.”

Wang Baobao had long heard Zhang Wuji’s name; he believed Zhao Min was under his control and was forced to say such thing. He waved his right hand, and Xuanming Elders immediately came to within five feet to the left and to the right of Zhang Wuji. Four of the Eight Divine Archers also bent their bows, with the arrows aimed toward Zhang Wuji’s back.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Wang Baobao said, “Sire is the leader of a cult, a renowned hero within the Wulin world, yet you are bullying my weak little sister; won’t you be a laughingstock of the people? Quickly release her and I’ll spare your life today.”

“Gege,” Zhao Min said, “Why did you say that? Zhang Gongzi definitely showed kindness to me, why did you say he was bullying me?”

Wang Baobao still believed that his sister was under the enemy’s power that she did not have any choice but saying like she did. “Zhang Jiaozhu,” he said loudly, “Although your martial art skill is strong, a pair of fists cannot match four hands; quickly put my sister down. Today we, both sides, are not going to fight each other. I, Wang Baobao, is true to my words, you don’t have to be overly suspicious.”

Zhang Wuji thought, “Miss Zhao’s poisoned wound in serious; if she is busy running around with me for a thousand ‘li’s, she won’t be easily recovered. Now that we meet her brother, she’d better go with him. The renowned doctors in the prince’s palace will certainly do her good.” Therefore, he said, “Miss Zhao, your honorable brother wants you to go back, let us part here then. Only, please tell me my Yifu’s location, I’ll think of some way to rescue him. We will meet again in the future.”

While saying that, he could not help but feel heartbroken, knowing full well that they were of different tribes, a Han and a Mongolian, of different status, a royalty and a commoner; the enmity between two sides was very deep. But on the verge of this separation, he had to admit that he felt strong attachment to her. To his surprise, Zhao Min replied, “All along I was intentionally unwilling to tell you Xie Daxia’s whereabouts. I only promised to take you there, but I can’t tell you the place.”

Zhang Wuji was taken aback. “Your heavy injury is not healed yet,” he said, “It won’t be beneficial for you to make a long and wearisome trip with me. I think you’d better follow your honorable brother to go back home.”

Zhao Min’s face bore a stubborn expression. “If you cast me away, you won’t know Xie Daxia’s whereabouts,” she resolutely said, “My injury is getting better by the day. The longer we go, the faster I will heal. If I return to the palace, I will die of suffocation.”

“Xiao Wangye,” Zhang Wuji turned to Wang Baobao, “Please persuade your honorable sister.”

Wang Baobao felt strange, he thought for a moment then said with a cold laugh, “Hey hey, your acting is not bad. What kind of trick are you playing? Your palm is on her vital acupoint, of course she will say whatever you want her to say. Such rubbish!”

Zhang Wuji dismounted the horse immediately. Two of the Eight Divine Archers assumed he was going to attack Wang Baobao. ‘Swish, swish!’ two arrows flew with a strong gust of wind toward him. Zhang Wuji’s left hand pulled and pushed, utilizing the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi divine skill, two wolf- tooth arrows turned around with an even stronger gust of wind. ‘Bang, bang!’ the arrows struck and broke the bows in their masters’ hands. If those two archers did not move fast enough, they would have suffered serious injuries. Even after they struck the bow, the power of these arrows did not diminish; they continued their flight until they hit the ground, with the arrow tails sticking up, the eagle feather vibrated incessantly. Everybody was stunned.

Zhang Wuji stood some distance away from Zhao Min and said, “Miss Zhao, please return home to tend your injury, I will find a way to see you again.”

Zhao Min shook her head. “Which palace doctor is better than you are?” she asked, “You are sending me to my death.”

Wang Baobao saw that Zhang Wuji had left his sister’s side, yet she still insisted on going together with him. He was surprised, but also angry. He said to the Xuanming Elders, “I will have to bother two gentlemen to protect my humble sister. Let us go!”

“Yes!” the Xuanming Elders replied, and went to Zhao Min’s horse.

“Mr. Lu and Mr. He,” Zhao Min said in loud voice, “I have an important matter I need to take care with Zhang Jiaozhu. Our power is not enough. The two of you better come with me.”

The Xuanming Elders cast a glance toward Wang Baobao. Lu Zhangke said, “The Devil Cult’s devil head is so crafty, it is inappropriate for Junzhu [princess] to be associated with him too much. We’d better come home with Xiao Wangye to the palace.”

Zhao Min knitted her pretty brows, “So the two of you are listening to my brother’s order, but not mine anymore?” she asked.

Lu Zhangke smiled and said, “Xiao Wangye has Junzhu’s well-being in his mind.”

“Humph,” Zhao Min snorted. To Wang Baobao she said, “Gege, I have received Father’s permission long ago to roam the Jianghu alone, you don’t have to worry about me, I can take care of myself. When you see Father, please send my respects to him.”

Wang Baobao knew their father had always doted on his beloved daughter, so he did not want to force his will too much; but if he let her go alone with the Devil Cult’s Cult Leader, he would never be able to set his own mind at ease. He looked at Zhao Min who was crouching on the saddle, she looked so frail and tender; but as she was lifting the rein to go west, he spread out his arms to block her and said, “Good sister, Father will be here shortly. Why don’t you wait for a little while? It won’t be too late for you to go after reporting everything to him.”

Zhao Min laughed, “As soon as Father comes, I can’t leave,” she said, “Gege, I don’t meddle in your business, I ask you not to meddle in mine.”

Again Wang Baobao looked at Zhang Wuji, sizing him up; he noticed that Zhang Wuji’s body was like jade, his face handsome. It was obvious from his sister’s manner of speaking that she had fallen in love with him. But the Ming Cult revolted against the government and caused lots of problem; thus this man was the enemy of the imperial government. If his sister was bewitched by this devil, the disaster they were facing was not small. Thereupon he waved his left hand and shouted his order, “Arrest this devil head first!”

Lu Zhangke brandished his deer staff, He Biweng moved his crane pens; together they created one golden ray and two circular black shadows striking toward Zhang Wuji.

Zhao Min knew the Xuanming Elders’ power very well. Even if Zhang Wuji were stronger, but with one against two, plus he did not have any weapon in his hand, Zhao Min was afraid he might be injured. “Xuanming Er Lao!” she called out, “If you harm Zhang Jiaozhu, I am going to report it to Father, and he will not spare you.”

Wang Baobao was indignant. “Everybody has the right to punish a rebel,” he said, “Xuanming Er Lao, kill this little devil head, Fu Wang [Father King] and I will reward you handsomely.” And then he added, “Mr. Lu, Xiao Wang [young prince – referring to self] will add four beautiful women for you, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.”

These brother and sister were giving them conflicting order; one wanted to kill him, the other said he must not be harmed. The Xuanming Elders were in a difficult position. Finally, Lu Zhangke winked at his martial brother and said in a low voice, “Seize him alive.”

Suddenly Zhang Wuji launched the martial art from Sheng Huo Ling; his body slanted slightly, his right arm bent from the elbow, and then turned around from an unthinkable direction and ‘Slap!’ Lu Zhangke’s ear was slapped heavily. “Try to seize me alive!” he shouted.

As he suddenly suffered a great setback, Lu Zhangke was startled and angry at the same time; but he was a top ranking martial art expert, his mind was clear. He twirled his deer-head staff that even wind and rain would not penetrate it. Zhang Wuji wanted to continue with another sneak attack, but he was unable to do so because of this tight defense.

Zhao Min pulled her reins to make her horse jump forward, but Wang Baobao swept his whip. ‘Crack!’ it hit Zhao Min’s horse right above its left eye. The horse made a long neigh in pain, and its front legs gave up.

Zhao Min was still weak from her injury, she was almost thrown away from her saddle. “Gege,” she angrily said, “Must you stop me?”

“Good sister,” Wang Baobao said, “Follow me home. Gege will apologize to you later.”

“Gege,” Zhao Min said, “If you stop me, someone is going to die a terrible death then Zhang Jiaozhu is going to hate me to the bone. It will be hard for your meizi … your meizi to live.”

“What are you talking about?” Wang Baobao said, “The martial art experts in the Ruyang Palace are as numerous as the clouds, they can protect you all around. Let’s not talk about this little devil head trying to harm you; he cannot even see you even if he wants to.”

Zhao Min sighed. “It’s exactly because I am afraid I cannot see him again,” she said, “If that happens, I … I don’t want to live anymore.”

These two, brother and sister, were very close ever since their childhood; they always told each other everything. Therefore, she did not hesitate to tell him her true feelings for Zhang Wuji.

Wang Baobao was angry. “Meizi,” he said, “You are confused. You are a Mongolian princess, you are like a tree with golden branch and jade leaves, how can you fall in love with a crude man, a lowly dog? If Father finds out, how can he, Senior, not be angry with you?”

He waved his left hand, and three of his warriors went forward to attack. By this time Zhang Wuji and the Xuanming Elders were competing internal energy. A few ‘zhang’s around them, the strong gust of wind was as sharp as the knife, how could these three warriors launch their attacks?

“Zhang Gongzi,” Zhao Min called out, “If you want to save Yifu, you must save me first.”

Seeing he could not change his sister’s mind, Wang Baobao was very anxious. He reached out and grabbed her. Putting her in front of him on the saddle, his legs squeezed and the horse jumped forward and ran.

Zhao Min’s martial art skill was actually higher than her brother, but her strength was gone because of the heavy injury; all she could do was crying out, “Zhang Gongzi, save me! Zhang Gongzi, save me!”

‘Whoosh! Whoosh!’ Zhang Wuji sent out two palm attacks with all his power, forcing the Xuanming Elders to withdraw three steps backward. Utilizing his ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill], he ran after Wang Baobao’s horse.

The Xuanming Elders and the three warriors were shocked; they also ran after him. Each time these five people were closing in, Zhang Wuji would launch a backward palm strike, sending out the formidable power of his Jiu Yang Shen Gong [divine energy from Jiu Yang]. Each time his palm struck, the Xuanming Elders were forced to evade, since they did not dare to take his palm head on. After three times of such strike, Zhang Wuji was able to take the speeding horse over. He leaped up and grabbed the back of Wang Baobao’s neck. His grab was coupled with an acupoint sealing technique that Wang Baobao’s upper body was immediately paralyzed and his embrace on Zhao Min loosened. Zhang Wuji lifted him up and threw him toward Lu Zhangke.

Lu Zhangke hastily opened up his arms to catch him. Meanwhile, Zhang Wuji had caught Zhao Min, leaped down from the horseback, and dashed toward the hillside on their left. He Biweng and the rest of the warriors ran after them shouting and yelling. But the hill was several hundred ‘zhang’s tall, climbing it would really test their ‘qing gong’. Although the Xuanming Elders possessed strong internal energy, their ‘qing gong’ was actually not top-ranking. Even four or five warriors were able to run ahead of He Biweng.

Zhang Wuji picked up some rocks and threw them down. Immediately some of the pursuers were hit and fell rolling down the hill. The rest of the pursuers were scared. Although they did not dare to stop because their young prince was watching, their steps were slowing down nonetheless. They saw Zhang Wuji carry Zhao Min higher up the hill and they did not dare to pursue farther.

Wang Baobao opened his mouth to curse, and then he called out, “Release the arrow, release the arrow!” While he also picked up his bow and shoot. ‘Swish!’ the arrow flew toward Zhang Wuji’s back.

His shooting power was actually quite strong, but the distance was simply too far. The tip of the arrow was still a few ‘zhang’s away from Zhang Wuji’s back when finally it fell down to the ground.

Zhao Min was holding tight on Zhang Wuji’s neck. Knowing that the pursuers had stopped pursuing, finally she put her heart at rest. She said with a sigh, “Luckily I have known it all along and did not tell you Xie Daxia’s whereabouts. Otherwise you, the heartless little devil head, will not be willing to save me with all your might.” Zhang Wuji was running around a depression on the mountain, his steps were not slowing down the least bit. “You tell me,” he said, “Won’t you be satisfying both sides if you are going home to tend to your injury? Why did you even bother to offend your brother and come with me facing the hardship?”

“I have decided to face hardship with you,” Zhao Min said, “As for that brother of mine, I will offend him sooner or later anyway. My only fear is that you won’t let me be with you. I don’t care much of everything else.”

Although Zhang Wuji knew that she loved him, he had always thought that it was a young girl’s infatuation, which would pass in a moment. He had never thought that she loved him this much that she would consider riches and honor as dung and dirt, abandon royalty and honor like worn-out shoes. He looked down on her face, and saw the deep emotion on her thin and pale visage; her eyes were looking back at him with a passion similar to the flowing waves. He could not even describe the boundless charm she had on him. Unable to restrain himself, he lowered his head and kissed her slightly trembling cherry lips.

As soon as she was kissed, Zhao Min’s face turned completely red. The excitement was too much for her and she unexpectedly passed out.

Zhang Wuji possessed enough medical knowledge to know that she was all right; actually, the appreciation in his heart was growing. But suddenly he remembered, “Even Zhiruo has never treated me this good!”

Zhao Min only lost her conscience for a moment; as she woke up, she saw his pensive look and asked, “What are you thinking? Are you thinking about Miss Zhou?”

Zhang Wuji did not try to lie; he simply nodded. “I am thinking that I have treated her badly,” he said.

“Do you regret your decision?” Zhao Min asked. “When I was about to bow to the Heaven and the Earth with her, I thought about you; and I could not help but feel sad,” Zhang Wuji said, “This time I am thinking about her, I actually feel sorry for her.”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “That means you love me a lot more, don’t you?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Honestly speaking: you, I love and I hate; Zhiruo, I respect and I fear.”

“Ha ha!” Zhao Min laughed, “I would rather have you love and fear me, and respect and hate her.”

Zhang Wuji smiled. “Well, it’s different now. I hate you and I fear you. I hate you because you broke up my happy marriage, and I fear that you won’t pay me back for the damage.”

“How do I pay to you?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “I want you to pay it with your own self, so that I can continue the wedding festivities [orig. dong4 fang2 hua1 zhu2 – see similar occurrence above].”

“No! No!” Zhao Min blushed profusely, “You’ll have to speak with my father [orig. die1 die1] first … and I need to make amends to my Gege. Only then … only then …”

“And if your Papa wouldn’t let you?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhao Min sighed. “Then marry the devil follow the devil. I have no choice but follow you, the little devil head, to become the little devil mother.”

With a straight face Zhang Wuji roared, “Audacious witch! You follow Zhang Wuji, the pervert thief who rebels and creates trouble. What punishment do you think you deserve?” With the same straight face Zhao Min unflinchingly said, “As your punishment, the two of you are to be a happy couple, to live together to old age, and after you die, you are to be banished to the eighteenth level of the underworld, and will not be reincarnated for ten thousand years.”

Speaking to this point, they both broke out in laughter. Suddenly from ahead of them came a loud and clear voice, “Junzhu Niang-niang, Xiao Seng [lit. little/lowly or humble monk – referring to self] have been waiting here for a while.” About twenty something foreign monks appeared from behind the mountain. All of them were wearing red robes.

Zhang Wuji recognized these monks’ clothing and adornment; that night, on the ground below the Wan An Temple Pagoda, these monks had tried to stop him. Their martial art skill was very strong; luckily Wei Yixiao had set the Ruyang Palace on fire thus forcing them to retreat. Otherwise, it would not be easy for him to rescue the warriors from the Six Major Sects.

One of the foreign monks clasped his palms and bowed, while saying, “Xiao Seng receives the Prince’s order to accompany Junzhu return to the Palace.”

“What are you doing here?” Zhao Min asked.

“Junzhu is injured,” the foreign monk replied, “The Prince is very concerned, he ordered Xiao Seng to take Junzhu home.” While speaking, he lifted up a white pigeon in his hand.

Zhao Min understood that her brother had sent a message to their father via a homing pigeon, and so their father must have dispatched these foreign monks to intercept them. “Where is my Father?” she asked.

The foreign monk replied, “The Prince is waiting at the foot of the mountain. He is anxious to see the condition of Junzhu’s injury.”

Zhang Wuji knew too much talking would not do them any good; he strode forward straight toward them, while shouting loudly, “If you want to live, quickly move aside. Otherwise, don’t blame me for being merciless.”

Two foreign monks stepped forward side by side, they both stretched out their right palms pushing against Zhang Wuji’s chest. Zhang Wuji’s left hand made a turn in a pulling and pushing action, he sent the two monks’ palms strength back.

The two foreign monks cried out together, “Ami amihong, ami amihong!” It sounded like they were chanting an incantation, or it could be that they were cursing.

Zhao Min was not willing to be overdone; she also shouted, “Ami amihong yourself!”

‘Tap, tap, tap!’ the foreign monks took three steps back. Two other foreign monks behind them stretched out their right palms to stop the first two monks’ backs, and pushed them forward again. These two foreign monks kept using the same stance from the ‘pai shan zhang’ [‘row of mountains’ palm].

Zhang Wuji was not willing to fight them strength with strength and thus waste his energy; so he launched the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi to divert the monks’ force away. To his surprise, as his fingers were barely touching the edge of those two monks’ palms, he felt just like iron pulled by magnet, his fingers stuck firmly onto the monks’ palms.

The two monks cried out again, ““Ami amihong, ami amihong!”

Twice Zhang Wuji tried to shake them off, but both times he failed. He had no choice but strike back with the Jiu Yang Shen Gong through his fingers. Surprisingly, he failed to push the two monks away. And then he saw that behind these two monks, the other twenty two monks arranged themselves in two rows, with each one’s right palm on the back of the monk in front of him. Twenty four foreign monks lined up neatly in two rows.

Zhang Wuji suddenly remembered, “I have heard Tai Shifu [great master – referring to Zhang Sanfeng] said that in the martial art world of India there is a technique to combine power. These twenty four foreign monks are combining their strength to fight my palms. Even if my internal strength were stronger, I still cannot defeat the combined power of these twenty four men.”

He was afraid the pursuing soldiers would soon arrive, so letting out a long whistle, he added 30% more power to his palms and then abruptly pushed diagonally down, while he dodged to the left. He knew that these twenty four foreign monks could not possibly combine their strength in one straight line. The six foremost monks had already faltered from the direct impact of the push. Zhang Wuji immediately sent both his palms out, ‘Slap, slap, slap, slap, slap, slap!’ six times, the six foreign monks tumbled down on the ground with blood spurting out from their mouths. But the seventh and the eighth foreign monks continued their attacks forward.

“You want to follow your comrades?” Zhang Wuji thought. His right palm struck out to block these two monks’ palms. Focusing his strength, he was about to push diagonally again when suddenly he heard light footsteps from behind; somebody was sending him a palm attack. He swung his left palm backhandedly to parry this incoming palm attack, but his Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi was relying on his Jiu Yang Shen Gong, while right at that moment he was using his entire strength to deal with the combined power of the eighteen foreign monks in front of him; therefore, his strike backward only carried not more than 20% of his normal strength. He felt a blast of cold energy penetrating his palm and went straight into his body. His whole body shivered, he staggered, his body bent down and he fell. It was Lu Zhangke who launched a sneak attack on him with the Xuanming Shen Zhang [black/mysteriously dark divine palm].

“Mr. Lu, stop!” Zhao Min cried out in fear, throwing her own body on top of Zhang Wuji’s. “Who dares to make a move?” she shouted.

Actually, Lu Zhangke wanted to follow up with another palm strike, and thus take the life of the number one formidable enemy he had ever faced in his entire life. But seeing how the princess was protecting him, he had no choice but to hold his hand up and step back. He let out a long and loud whistle to signal his companions that everything went well so that it was safe for them to come over.

“Junzhu Niang-niang,” he said, “The Prince only wishes Junzhu Niang- niang to come home; no more than that. This man is the leader of the rebels; why does Junzhu care about him this much?”

Zhao Min was bitterly angry with him, and was thinking of scolding him badly, but she changed her mind as she did not want to incite his anger that he would harm Zhang Wuji’s life. Therefore, keeping her peace, she sat down, embracing Zhang Wuji in her arms.

A short moment later, they heard jingling bells, as three riders came up the mountain. One of them was He Biweng, the other as Wang Baobao, and the last one was the Ruyang Prince himself. As they came near, they jumped down from their horses. The Ruyang Prince frowned and said, “Minmin, what’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you obey your brother but deliberately create trouble in here instead?”

With tears flooding down her cheeks, Zhao Min cried out, “Father, you sent people to bully your daughter like this.”

The Ruyang Prince took several steps forward, putting out a hand to pull her up. Zhao Min flipped her right hand over, a white ray flashed as she took a dagger from her bosom and pointed it toward her own abdomen. “Father,” she called out, “If you don’t let me go, your daughter will die in your presence today.”

The Ruyang Prince was frightened that he retreated two steps backward. In a trembling voice he said, “We can talk, don’t be like this! You … what do you want?”

With her left hand Zhao Min pulled the clothes covering her right shoulder. She took off the bandage to reveal five finger holes. The poison had been taken away, but the wounds had not healed yet. Her flesh was vaguely exposed underneath traces of blood, making the wound looked even more ghastly.

Seeing her terrible wounds, Ruyang Prince’s heart melted; she was, after all, the beloved daughter he dearly loved. “What happened? How did the wound become this bad?” he repeatedly asked.

Zhao Min pointed toward Lu Zhangke and said, “This man was having an ill intention; he was going to rape your daughter. Of course I resisted him to the death. He … he … then grabbed me like this. Please, Father … Father must help me.”

Lu Zhangke was so frightened that he felt as if his soul was fleeing out of his body. “Even to the death Xiao Ren will not dare. How can … how can there be such thing?”

“Humph!” the Ruyang Prince stared at him angrily. “Such a nerve!” he said, “I was being lenient to you by not investigating the Han Ji affair, now you have the guts to offend my daughter. Seize him!”

By this time, one by one his personal bodyguards and warriors had caught up with them. Even though they knew the severity of Lu Zhangke’s martial arts, upon hearing their prince shouting his order to seize the man, four of them stepped in to surround him.

Lu Zhangke was shocked and angered; thinking that the princess was taking advantage of their father-daughter relationship. Just because she was angry he had injured her boyfriend, she had unexpectedly framed him. Like the saying goes, ‘blood is thicker than water’. The princess was exceptionally crafty. How could he retaliate to her? In the meantime, he swept away with his palm, forcing the four warriors to retreat. He sighed and said, “Shidi [martial (younger) brother], let’s go!”

He Biweng hesitated. Zhao Min called out, “Mr. He, you are a good man, not a lecher like your Shixiong [martial brother]. Quickly arrest your Shixiong, my Father will bestow a high-ranking official position to you, and will reward you handsomely.”

The Xuanming Elders’ martial art skills might be outstanding, but they were greedy of rank, fame and fortune. Ignoring the dignity of their master, they threw themselves into the Palace for worldly gain. He Biweng knew very well his martial brother’s excessive lascivious nature. Listening to what Zhao Min had said, he was 70, 80% convinced. The offer of promotion had made his heart racing. Only, Lu Zhangke and he were not only martial brothers, they were also best friends; how could he make his move against him? So for a moment he was unable to make a decision.

Lu Zhangke’s face showed his grief; with a trembling voice he said, “Shidi, if you want promotion, come and arrest me.”

He Biweng sighed. “Shige,” he said, “Let’s go!” Walking side-by-side, Lu Zhangke and He biweng left.

The Xuanming Elders’ prestige had shaken the capital [orig. Jing Shi – modern day Beijing]; the warriors of the Ruyang Palace respected them as immortals. Who would dare to step out and stop them?

The Ruyang Prince shouted his order over and over again, but the warriors only put on an act of shouting and moving around; they just looked on as the Xuanming Elders went down the mountain.

“Minmin,” the Ruyang Prince said, “You are injured. Quickly come home with me to recuperate.”

Zhao Min pointed toward Zhang Wuji and said, “This Zhang Gongzi saw me being bullied by Lu Zhangke. Seeing the injustice, he went out of his way to save me. But Gege did not know the real story, he accused him of being some leader of the rebels. Father, I have an important business I need to take care with Zhang Gongzi. As soon as we are done, I am going to take him to see you.”

From her words, the Ruyang Prince deduced that his daughter wanted to marry this man, but his son had told him that this man was the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. Right that moment, his leaving the capital heading south was to consolidate the troops, to deal with the Ming Cult rebels on the Huai Si and Henan-Hubei region. How could he let his daughter go with this man? He asked, “Your Gege said that this man is the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu. Is that true?”

“Gege loves to joke,” Zhao Min said, “Father, take a look at him and tell me how old do you think he is? How can he be the brain behind the rebellion?”

The Ruyang Prince sized Zhang Wuji up; he saw a young man, not more than 21 or 22 years old, his face pale from the injury, hence it was devoid of the heroic and valiant air he used to have, he looked even less like someone who was in charge of hundreds of thousands strong rebel army. But the Prince also knew that his daughter was very shrewd. In addition, the Ming Cult had caused the nation some major disasters. Perhaps this man was not the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, but he must be one of the important characters within the Ming Cult. Certainly he could not let him go. “Take him inside the city,” he finally decided, “We’ll examine him carefully. If he is not one of the Devil Cult people, I will grant him rewards.” He said that to save his daughter’s face, so that in front of all these people she would not look like a spoiled brat.

Four warriors immediately responded; they walked toward Zhao Min.

“Father,” Zhao Min cried, “Do you really want your daughter to die?” She pressed the dagger in her hand about half an inch [orig. ‘cun’ – thumb, approximately equal to an inch] into her stomach; immediately blood seeped out and dyed her clothes red.

The Ruyang Prince was shocked. “Minmin,” he said, “Please don’t make a scene here.”

Zhao Min cried even louder. “Father, your daughter is unfilial. I have secretly become man and wife with Zhang Gongzi. Please just consider you have never had any daughter. Let your daughter go. Otherwise, I’d rather die in your presence.”

The Ruyang Prince kept pulling his beard with his left hand; cold sweats started to form on his forehead. He had held command over generals and soldiers, he had battled and crushed enemies; he was used to make decision in split second. But today, confronted by his own beloved daughter’s embarrassing affair, his hands were bound and he was unable to do anything.

“Meizi,” Wang Baobao said, “Both you and Zhang Gongzi are injured. Let us all come home with Father. We will invite renowned doctors to treat you. Afterwards, we will have Father to preside over your wedding. Father will have an ideal son-in-law, and I will have a hero as my brother-in-law. Won’t that be good?”

His words were pleasant to be heard, but Zhao Min had been aware early on that he was trying to buy time. If Zhang Wuji fell into their hands, how could he keep his life? He would be executed in less than an hour. Thereupon Zhao Min said, “Father, things have come to this, your daughter marries a chicken, she will follow the chicken; she marries a dog, she will follow the dog. In life or in death, I will follow Zhang Gongzi. Whatever trick you and Gege are playing, you can’t hide it from me. I will not fall on it. Right now there are only two choices: if you are willing to spare your daughter’s life, let me go. If you want your daughter’s death, you won’t have to waste any effort.”

“Minmin,” the Ruyang Prince was angry, “You may want to think it over. Once you follow this rebel thief, you can’t be my daughter anymore.”

Zhao Min felt as if her intestines were tied in hundreds knots. She did not want to part with her father and her big brother, remembering that they loved her dearly and had always pampered her. She felt as if her heart was sliced by a knife; but she knew that if she hesitated even so slightly, Zhang Wuji’s life will be gone immediately. Right now, the most important thing was saving her lover’s life; she would seek her father and her brother’s forgiveness later. “Father, Gege,” she said, “All this is Minmin’s fault. You … please forgive me.”

Seeing he would not be able to change her daughter’s mind, the Ruyang Prince regretted that he had spoiled her too much. He let her roam the Jianghu unrestrained to such an extent as to cause this kind of trouble. He knew she was strong-willed ever since her childhood, if he forced her, she would certainly commit suicide by stabbing herself. All he could do was heave a long sigh, with tears pouring down from his eyes. “Minmin,” his voice was hoarse, “Take a good care of yourself. Father is leaving … you

… you have to be careful in everything.”

Zhao Min only nodded, she did not dare to look at her father anymore. The Ruyang Prince turned around and slowly walked down the mountain. His personal attendant followed him behind, leading his horse, but he seemed oblivious; he did not even remember to mount the horse.

After walking for a dozen of ‘zhang’s, he suddenly turned his head around and said, “Minmin, is your injury all right? Do you have enough money?”

Swallowing her tears, Zhao Min nodded.

To his personal attendant the Ruyang Prince said, “Give my two horses to Junzhu.” The personal attendant warrior complied and led the horses to Zhao Min, and then he followed the Ruyang Prince and walked down the mountain.

The six foreign monks were still lying on the ground; they were incapable of standing up. The rest of the foreign monks, with two monks helping one, carried them follow behind. A short while later everybody had left, leaving only Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min two people.

End of Chapter 34. 
@Chapter 35 – Casualties of the Lion-slaying Assembly
Lu Zhangke’s sneak attack came when Zhang Wuji was resisting the combined power of eighteen foreign monks. The internal energy protecting his body, which formed a barrier on his back, was removed. As a result, the Xuanming cold poison entered his body without resistance and hence his injury was really heavy. He sat cross-legged and circulated the Jiu Yang energy three times around his system. After vomiting two mouthfuls of blood, he felt the constriction in the pit of his stomach loosened somewhat. As he opened his eyes, he saw Zhao Min was looking at him with anxious expression on her face.

“Miss Zhao,” Zhang Wuji said in tender voice, “You are suffering greatly.”

“Are you still calling me ‘Miss Zhao’ after all this?” Zhao Min asked, “I am no longer a royalty, I am not a ‘Junzhu’ anymore. You … are you still regarding me as a little witch in your heart?”

Zhang Wuji slowly stood up. “Let me ask you one question, please answer me truthfully” he said, “Did you or did you not cut the sword wounds on my cousin Yin Li’s face?”

“I did not!” Zhao Min answered.

“Then whose malicious hand did it?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“I cannot tell you,” Zhao Min said, “If you can find Xie Daxia, he can tell you all the details.”

“My Yifu knows all the details?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

“Your internal injury has not been healed yet, asking too much question is harmful to your peace of mind,” Zhao Min said, “Let me tell you one thing: if after your careful investigation you can prove that it was I who harmed Miss Yin, you don’t need to make any move. I will kill myself in your presence to make amends.”

Listening to her speaking with confidence, Zhang Wuji had no choice but to believe her. He was silent for half a day before saying, “Looks like there was a martial art master hiding in the Persian Ming Cult ship. Using some kind of demonic method, he sneaked out in the middle of the night and drugged us all, harmed my cousin, and stole the Yitian Sword and the Tulong Saber. After rescuing Yifu, we need to go to Persia and inquire with Xiao Zhao.”

Zhao Min pursed her lips and laughed. “You just want to see Xiao Zhao,” she said, “Hence you fabricate some story to give you the reason to do so. Listen to me: don’t indulge in fantasy, the sooner your injury is healed, the sooner we can go to the Shaolin Temple to pay them a visit.”

“Shaolin Temple?” Zhang Wuji was surprised, “What do we do there?” “Saving Xie Daxia, of course,” Zhao Min replied.

“Is my Yifu in the Shaolin Temple?” Zhang Wuji was even more surprised, “How can he be in Shaolin Temple?”

“It’s a complicated story, and I don’t claim to know all the details,” Zhao Min said, “But I am quite certain Xie Daxia is in the Shaolin Temple. Did I tell you one of my warriors became a monk in the Shaolin Temple? He sacrificed his life to bring me news.”

“Why did he sacrifice his life?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhao Min said, “In order to bring me proof, my informant tried to cut a bunch of Xie Daxia’s yellow hair. But the Shaolin Temple guarded Xie Daxia very strictly. After cutting Xie Daxia’s hair, my informant went out the temple, but in the end he was spotted and had to receive two palm strikes. He struggled to deliver the hair into my hand, and died not too long afterwards.”

“Hey! How fierce!” Zhang Wuji exclaimed. It was not clear however, whether his ‘how fierce’ exclamation was praising Zhao Min’s operation, or was referring to the danger of the situation. Because his mind was upset, his internal condition was affected that he vomited another mouthful of blood. Zhao Min anxiously said, “If I knew the severity of your injury, I would have not continually vexed you like this. I am not going to talk to you anymore.”

Zhang Wuji sat down with his back on a large mountain rock. He tried hard to focus his attention and calm his mind, but there was simply too much in his mind that he was unable to do so. “Shaolin Shen Seng [divine monk] Kong Jian was killed by my Yifu’s ‘qi shang quan’ [seven-injury fist],” he said, “The Shaolin monks and disciples, from top to bottom, have been waiting for more than twenty years to seek vengeance. Furthermore, that Cheng Kun has become a monk in the Shaolin Temple. Since my Yifu has fallen into their hands, how can he keep his life?”

“Don’t worry,” Zhao Min said, “There is something that will keep Xie Daxia alive.”

“What thing?” Zhang Wuji hastily asked.

“The precious Tulong saber,” Zhao Min replied.

Zhang Wuji’s mind was stirred, and he understood. The Tulong Saber was known as the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’. The Shaolin Pai had been leading the martial art world for the last several hundred years, of course they would want to get their hands on this valuable saber. For the sake of this saber, they would not easily harm Xie Xun’s life, but disgrace and humiliation would be difficult to avoid.

Zhao Min continued, “I am thinking that the matter of rescuing Xie Daxia should be handled quietly by just the two of us. The Ming Cult is full of heroes, but if we carried out a large scale attack against Shaolin, the damage to both sides will be heavy. Supposing the Shaolin Pai is not able to defend against the Ming Cult’s attack, they might not want to keep Xie Daxia, maybe they would resort to deceit and begin to harm him.” Listening to her thorough consideration, Zhang Wuji was very appreciative. “Min Mei [younger sister], you are right.”

It was the first time Zhang Wuji had ever called her ‘Min Mei’. Zhao Min felt unspeakable sweetness in her heart; but immediately her parents’ kindness and her brother’s love came into her mind, which, from this time on, were no longer hers. She could not stop the sweetness turn to bitter.

Zhang Wuji understood her feelings, but he felt inadequate to offer any consolation. He merely mused, “She had entrusted herself fully to me, how can I ever repay her affectionate kindness? Zhiruo is engaged to me, how can I let her down? Ay! Right now, the most important thing is trying to save Yifu; this kind of man-woman love relationship has to be set aside.” He exerted his strength to stand up. “Let us go!” he said.

Zhao Min saw that his complexion was ash-grey, she knew his injury was really not light. Slightly knitting her beautiful brows, she thought aloud, “My Father loves me very much; he won’t give us any trouble. I am only afraid Gege will not let us go. As soon as he can have an excuse to leave Father, he would definitely send people to take us back within these next four hours [orig, two ‘shichen’s – 1 ‘shichen’ is 2 hours].”

Zhang Wuji nodded. He had noticed how firm Wang Baobao handled his affairs; he was truly not an easy person to deal with, he certainly would not give up easily. Presently, both he and Zhao Min were injured; it looked like their journey west to Shaolin would be very slow and full of obstacles. Other than that, they did not have any plan.

“We must leave this dangerous place immediately,” Zhao Min said, “We can stop again when we get to the foot of the mountain.”

Zhang Wuji nodded and he walked toward the horses with faltering steps. But when he was going to mount the horse, he felt a severe pain in the pit of his stomach, and did not have enough strength to climb up. Zhao Min bit her lips and exerted her strength on her right arm to give him a boost. But as she was doing that, the knife stab wound on her abdomen opened up and quite a lot blood seeped out. She also struggled to climb up the horse and sat behind Zhang Wuji. At first it was Zhang Wuji who supported her, now she had to wrap up her arms around his to support him up. Both of them had to stop for half a day to catch their breaths before they finally let the horse went forward. The other horse followed behind them.

Two people sharing a ride went down the mountain. They traveled along the main road, turning slightly to the east to avoid meeting Wang Baobao. After walking for a while, they turned toward a small pathway. They were feeling slightly relieved, since they thought that even if Wang Baobao dispatched some people to pursue, they would not easily find this small and remote pathway. They will have more chance of escaping when the sky turned dark and they entered deeper into the mountain.

While riding leisurely, suddenly they heard hoof beats from behind; a pair of riders galloped near. Zhao Min’s countenance sank; she tightened her hold on Zhang Wuji’s waist while saying, “My Gege comes very quick. It’s just our cruel fate, in the end we can’t escape from his cruel hands. Wuji Gege, let me go home with him. I am going to ask Father earnestly that we will see each other again later. As eternal and unchanging as the universe, let us not fail each other.”

With a bitter smile Zhang Wuji said, “Your honorable brother might not necessarily be willing to let me go.”

Just as he was saying that, the riders had come within several dozens ‘zhang’s behind them. Zhao Min held the rein to let the riders pass. She pulled her dagger out, thinking that if they had a chance, they would escape, but if her brother had made up his mind to kill Zhang Wuji, then the two of them would die together. However, when the two riders came near, they did not even slow down. They were wearing Mongolian soldiers’ uniform. They galloped passed them, giving them only a quick glance, and continued forward.

Zhao Min had just mused, “Thank Heaven and thank the Earth. Turned out they are only two low-ranking soldiers, not our pursuers.” When she saw those two Yuan soldiers held their reins to slow down their horses, talked to each other, and suddenly turned their horses around and returned toward the two of them.

One of them, a full-bearded Yuan soldier, shouted, “Audacious barbarians! Where did you steal these two good horses from?”

As she heard the tone of his voice, Zhao Min understood that they coveted the pair of steeds given by her father. The horses of the Ruyang Prince were naturally divine steeds, with golden stirrups and silver reins, extraordinarily magnificent and expensive ornaments. The Mongolians loved horses like they loved life itself, so when they saw a pair of excellent horses, how could their hearts be not moved?

Zhao Min thought, “Although these two horses were given by Father, but if these two wicked thieves want to seize them by force, we’d better let them go.” She spoke in Mongolian, “Which General’s subordinates are you? Why do you dare to be so impolite to me?”

That Mongolian soldier was startled. “Who are you, Miss?” he asked. He saw that these two were wearing expensive looking clothes, the horses they were riding were no small matters either; and now she was speaking fluent Mongolian. He did not dare to be careless.

“I am General Waerl Puche’s daughter,” Zhao Min said, “This is my brother. We met some robbers along the way and are injured.”

The two Mongolian soldiers exchanged a glance, suddenly they laughed loudly. The bearded soldier said in loud voice, “One can’t escape, two will not live. We might as well kill these two babies.” Unsheathing his saber, he charged forward.

Zhao Min was alarmed. “What are you doing?” she asked, “I’ll tell the General and have the two of you pulled by four horses.” Execution by pulling by four horses was Mongolian army’s capital punishment, in which the lawbreaker’s limbs were tied to four horses. As the signal was given, a long whip cracked, the four horses would run to different directions at once, tearing the convict into four parts. It was the cruelest punishment.

The full-bearded Mongolian soldier laughed menacingly. “Waerl Puche was unable to defeat the Ming Cult army,” he said, “He randomly executed his subordinates, venting his anger to us, his soldiers. Yesterday the army revolted and chopped your father to be meat sauce. Nothing can be better than to bump into you, two puppies, in here.” While saying that, he raised his saber, ready to chop down.

Zhao Min jerked the rein, her horse leaped forward to evade. The soldier pursued to kill. The other Yuan soldier called out, “Don’t kill this young girl who is pretty-as-a-flower. We can have fun with her first.”

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” the bearded soldier replied.

Zhao Mi had an idea so she jumped down the horse and ran to the side. The two Mongolian soldiers immediately dismounted their horses to chase her.

“Aiyo!” Zhao Min screamed, while falling down to the ground. The bearded solder pounced on her, reaching out to grab her back. Zhao Min’s elbow struck backward and hit the vital acupoint on his chest. The bearded soldier grunted and fell on the spot. The other Yuan soldier did not see clearly what had happened to him, he continued his pounce toward her. Zhao Min repeated her trick earlier and struck his acupoint too.

Normally, she would be able to do these two strikes effortlessly, but this time she had to exert her entire strength that her head was soaked in cold sweat, and she felt as if all her strength was drained out. Propping herself against the ground, she stood up, and then helped Zhang Wuji dismount the horse. With the dagger in her hand she shouted, “Dog thieves! You have defied your superior. Do you want to live or not?”

Because their acupoints were sealed, the two Yuan soldiers felt their upper bodies were numb; they were unable to move their hands. Their lower parts still had feeling, but they were unbearably sore and ache all over. They expected Zhao Min to kill them, so they were surprised when they heard that she seemingly wanted to give them an opportunity to live. “Miss, have mercy!” they hastily said, “Xiao Ren really were not the ones who harmed General Waerl Puche.”

“All right,” Zhao Min said, “I will spare your lives as long as you do what I say.”

The two Yuan soldiers did not care how difficult the matter she was going to tell them to do, they complied immediately, “We’ll do it! We’ll do it!”

Zhao Min pointed toward her own horses and said, “You two must ride these two horses quickly to the east. Within a day and a night, you must cover 300 ‘li’s; the faster the better. You must not fail.”

The two soldiers looked at each other in confusion. They did not expect her instruction to be this trivial. They thought she must mean the opposite of what she was saying.

“Miss,” the bearded soldier said, “Even if Xiao Ren have enormous courage, we will not dare to ride on Miss’ horses …”

“This is important,” Zhao Min cut him off, “If anybody asks you along the way, you must say that you bought these pair of steeds at the market. You must never mention us two people’s appearances. Do you understand?”

The two Mongolian soldiers were still half believing and half doubting, but Zhao Min repeatedly urged them. They thought that even if she was playing a trick, going away was certainly better than being killed by her dagger. Therefore, step-by-step they slowly walked away from her, and then turned around and jumped onto the saddles.

The Mongolians grew up on horseback. For them, riding a horse was as easy as walking. Although their limbs were still stiff, they were able to drive the horses forward. They were afraid Zhao Min gave them the order out of temporary confusion and would regret her decision, so after a few dozens of ‘zhang’s, they squeezed the horse with their legs and they sped away as fast as they could.

“This is a very good idea,” Zhang Wuji said, “If your Gege’s men see these horses, they must think that we are going east. Where are we going actually?”

“We are going southwest,” Zhao Min replied.

They took the horses the Mongolian soldiers left behind, and leaving the main road, they walked toward the southwest on the wilderness. It was actually a rugged rocky path, full of brambles, which pricked their horses’ legs so that they were dripping with blood. Stumbling and limping, they only managed to cover twenty some ‘li’s within two hours of travel.

The sky turned dark. Suddenly they saw a wisp of smoke coming from a chimney of some building in the valley ahead. Zhang Wuji was delighted. “There are houses ahead, we can lodge in someone’s home,” he said.

When they got near, under the shadow of a big tree they saw the corner of a yellow wall. Turned out it was a temple. Zhao Min helped Zhang Wuji dismount the horse, and then she turned the horses’ heads toward the west. Picking up a thorny branch from the ground, she whipped the horses’ buttocks several times. The horses let a long neigh, and leaped away to the west.

By what she did, Zhao Min was trying to create yet another diversion to Wang Baobao’s pursuing soldiers. By losing their rides, the journey would be more difficult; but she did not give it too much thought. Right now, she was taking their journey one step at a time.

Two people supporting each other walked toward the front of the temple. They saw the tablet by the door had a four-character inscription, ‘zhong yue shen miao’ [Mount Song (in Henan, one of Five Sacred Mountains) divine temple]. Zhao Min lifted the ring of the gate and knocked three times. She waited for half a day without anybody answering the door, so she knocked three more times. Suddenly from behind the door came a grim voice, “Is it a man or a ghost? Or is it a living corpse?”

The wooden gate opened with a creaking noise. Behind it they saw a shadow. It was dusk, the dark was deepening. That man’s back was against the light, so they could not see his face clearly. But from his bald head and the monk robe he was wearing, he was obviously a Buddhist monk.

Zhang Wuji said, “We [orig. ‘zai4 xia4’ – ‘under’] brother and sister, were robbed an injured during our journey. We hope we can spend the night in your precious monastery, we are asking Da Shi [‘great master’, reverend] to show mercy.”

“Humph,” the man snorted, and then with a cold voice said, “Those who leave home [meaning, becoming Buddhist monks or nuns] do not usually provide convenience to others. You better go.” Immediately he closed the door.

“Helping others is helping self,” Zhao Min hastily said, “By helping us, you might not necessarily be without any benefit.”

“What benefit?” that man asked.

Zhao Min reached up to her ears to take her pair of pearl earrings out, and handed them over to him. The monk saw that each earring had a bead of pearl as big as the tip of his little finger. He sized the two people up, and then said, “All right, helping others is helping self.” He moved aside to let them in.

Holding up Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min led him entered in. The monk took them pass through the main hall and a courtyard, to a room on the eastern side of the temple. “You can sleep here,” he said.

There was neither light nor fire inside the room, it was as dark as a cave. Zhao Min groped around on the bed. There was nothing else on the bed other than a sheet of straw woven mat. They heard a loud and clear voice calling out from outside, “Hao Si Di [fourth younger brother Hao], whom did you let in?”

“A couple of guests seeking lodging for the night,” the monk replied, while stepping out of the room.

“Reverend,” Zhao Min called, “Could you please donate two bowl of rice and some plain vegetable dish?”

“Those who left homes receive alms; we do not give to charity,” the monk said in haughty tone while striding away.

“This monk is terrible!” Zhao Min bitterly said, “Wuji Gege, you must be very hungry. We must find something to eat tonight.”

Suddenly they heard several footsteps coming from the courtyard, as seven, eight men came in. Flame flickered, the door was pushed open and two monks lifted up candlesticks in their hands to illuminate the faces of Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min. In a glimpse Zhang Wuji saw eight monks, short and tall, one had thick eyebrows and huge bulging eyes, the other had face full of wrinkles; none of them had a friendly face.

The old monk with wrinkles said, “Whatever money and jewelry you have, take them all out.”

“What for?” Zhao Min asked.

The old monk laughed and said, “Because of fate two benefactors have come over here, just happened to visit this little temple, which is about to carry out a great undertaking: reconstructing the main gate, and repairing the inlay of the golden idol. The benefactors’ money and jewelry must be donated. If not, you are offending the Buddha; and then you will be in great trouble.” Zhao Min was indignant. “Isn’t that the misdeed of the robbers?” she asked.

“It’s sin! It’s sin!” the old monk said, “We, eight brothers, used to kill people and burn their houses; we robbed and did all kinds of shady businesses. But recently we laid down our sabers to follow the teachings of Buddha, and so we became casual Buddhist monks. Benefactors have been brought here by karma; the fat sheep has arrived to our door on its own account. Ay, you have made things difficult for us who have left our homes; we are no longer able to keep our purity.”

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min were very shocked; they did not expect these eight monks were former big bandits. This old monk had been speaking quite bluntly. It sounded like he was going to kill them; he did not even try to keep it a secret, neither did he show any intention to let them go.

Another fierce looking monk said with a laugh, “Miss Benefactor need not be afraid; while we eight monks are robbing and plundering, we lack a mistress to take care of the temple. You have such a beautiful face, truly as if the ‘Guan Shi Yin Pu Sa’ [Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Goddess of Mercy] descends to the earth. Even if Buddha himself saw you, his heart would have been moved. Wonderful! Wonderful!”

From her pocket Zhao Min pulled out some seven, eight golden ingots and a string of pearls, and placed them all on the table. “All I have is here,” she said, “We, brother and sister, are also Wulin people. Gentlemen must respect the Jianghu’s ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty, code of brotherhood].”

The old monk laughed and said, “So you two are Wulin people, nothing can be better than that. I wonder which school do you belong to?”

“We are Shaolin disciple,” Zhao Min said. Shaolin Pai was the number one major sect in the Wulin world. Zhao Min was hoping that these if eight men were not Shaolin disciples, perhaps one of their friends or relatives were somewhat related to Shaolin.

The old monk was startled, his eyes suddenly shone with murderous look. “Shaolin disciples?” he said, “That’s truly unfortunate! You two babies should really blame yourself for belonging to the wrong school.”

He reached out to pull Zhao Min’s wrist. Zhao Min quickly withdrew her hand so the old monk ended up grabbing empty air. Zhang Wuji realized the critical situation they were in. Both Zhao Min and he were heavily injured; it was extremely difficult to fight the enemy. They had battled countless well-known Wulin characters these past several years; would they lose their lives today in the hands of eight nameless lowly robbers? No matter what, he could not let Zhao Min being disgraced without him doing something. Thereupon he said, “Min Mei, hide behind me. I have a way to deal with these eight lowly thieves.”

Zhao Min’s brain was usually full of bright ideas and clever tricks, but this moment her hands were bound and she was unable to do anything about it. “What kind of people are you?” she asked.

The old monk replied, “We are renegades that the Shaolin Temple chased away. To come across other Sect’s Jianghu people, we can sill show mercy and not make our moves; but to come across Shaolin disciples, we cannot do anything but kill you. Little Miss, this brother actually wanted you to be the custodian of the temple, but after finding out that you are a Shaolin disciple, we have no other choice but to kill you first, so that we will not leave any witness behind.”

With a low and deep throaty voice Zhang Wuji said, “Good, huh! You are Yuan Zhen’s disciples, aren’t you?”

“Ah!” the old monk exclaimed in surprise, “That’s strange! How did you know?”

Zhao Min interrupted, “Actually, we are on our way to Shaolin Temple to see Chen Youliang Dage [big brother], to support Yuan Zhen Da Shi [‘great master’ – reverend] to become the Shaolin Temple Fangzhang [abbot].”

“Shan zai! Shan zai! [exclamatory remark used by Buddhist monks, means ‘good, peace’]” the old monk said, “Our Buddha reaching perfection, restoring all living beings.”

“That’s right,” Zhao Min said, “We must join our hearts and minds, accomplishing virtuous acts together.” As she said that, all eight monks broke out in laughter.

Turned out these eight monks belong to the same party as Yuan Zhen and Chen Youliang; they were inducted by Chen Youliang to be Yuan Zhen’s disciples. For the past few years, Yuan Zhen had coveted the Abbot position and thus recruited capable people from everywhere. However, Shaolin Temple monastic discipline was strict, each time they accepted a disciple, the disciple must undergo a rigorous examination by the monastic authorities, a detailed verification of their family background and origins, so that Yuan Zhen found it difficult to do whatever he pleased. Consequently, he cooked up a plan with Chen Youliang, to recruit the warriors of underworld organizations, pirates and bandits, and gathered them outside the Temple as Yuan Zhen’s disciples, yet they were not Shaolin disciples. They were waiting for an opportunity then together they would take this great undertaking.

Yuan Zhen’s martial art skill was very profound and he was able to defeat the Jianghu warriors into submission as soon as he put his hands into it. These Wulin characters had always been admiring Shaolin’s fame as the prestigious upright Sect; they had also seen Yuan Zhen’s divine martial art skill, therefore, they willingly submit under his tutelage. There were a small number of disciples who were not willing to betray their own original school. Yuan Zhen immediately removed these people. That was the reason they had not been exposed even though they had been engaged in this deceitful scheme for a long time.

When that old monk said ‘Our Buddha reaching perfection, restoring all living beings’ he actually was saying their secret code. If the other party replied with ‘the blooming flower meets Buddha, the heart draws near to Lingshan [a mountain in Guangxi]’; then they would know that they belonged to the same school. As Zhao Min heard the undertone of the old monk’s words, she knew they were Yuan Zhen’s disciples, and she deduced that Yuan Zhen had his eyes on the Abbot position; but how would she know they had agreed on some secret code to communicate to each other?

“Fu Dage [big brother Fu],” a short and stout monk said, “This little girl says something about supporting our master to become Shaolin Temple Fangzhang; where did she learn it from? This is a very important matter, we must inquire clearly.” Although these eight people had become monks, they still addressed each other as ‘Dage’, ‘Erge’ [second brother], and so on; the habit they acquired when they were still involved in the ‘lu lin’ world. [‘lu lin’ means ‘green forest’, usually refers to the criminal world]

As soon as Zhang Wuji heard these eight men laugh, he knew something had gone wrong. He regretted that his back was seriously injured so he was unable to concentrate his internal energy [see note below]. He had no choice but to painstakingly focus his attention, trying hard to force the ‘chi’ to break free. He felt the warm energy gathered in a clump in the east, and formed together in a block on the west, but the ‘chi’ did not want to flow along in the blood vessels.

[orig, ‘zhen qi’ – true ‘chi’. Translator’s note: previously, I translated ‘qi’ as simply ‘energy’ or internal energy. When reading some martial art related publication, I realized that ‘chi’ has become an English word. Here are two examples I found:

Ch'i or qi (pronounced "chee" and henceforth spelled "chi") is the Chinese word used to describe "the natural energy of the Universe." (Skeptic Dictionary)

In Chinese culture, Qi (spelled in Mandarin Pinyin romanization), pronounced IPA: [tchi], also ch'i (in Wade-Giles romanization) or ki (in Japanese romanization) is a kind of "life force" or "spiritual energy" that is part of every living thing. It is frequently translated as "energy flow", or literally as "air", "breath", or "gas". (For example, "ti'enqì", literally "sky breath", is the ordinary Chinese word for "weather"). (Wikipedia) Hereafter, I will leave the word ‘qi’ as it is, or translate it as ‘internal energy’.]

Zhang Wuji saw the old monk’s five fingers striking toward Zhao Min like a bird’s claw. Zhao Min was powerless to ward it off; she eluded by withdrawing into the bed. Zhang Wuji’s mind was very anxious, but he kept sitting cross-legged, hoping that he could restore 20, 30% of his strength, which would be enough to drive these eight wicked thieves away.

Seeing that Zhang Wuji was still arrogantly sitting in meditation in a time like this, the short and stout monk angrily roared, “This kid is so arrogant; let the old man [referring to self] send him to the western sky first, so that he won’t be in the way here!”

When saying that, he raised his right arm while his bones made cracking noise. With a ‘whoosh’ he sent a fist toward Zhang Wuji’s chest. Seeing this desperate situation, Zhao Min’s shrill voice cried out in fear; but she saw that as the stout monk’s fist landed on its target, his right arm went limp, his eyes rolled until only the whites were visible, and he stood motionless.

The old monk was shocked; he stretched his hand to pull his comrade’s hand. The plump monk’s hand did not give any resistance, as he had already died. The rest of the monks were startled and angered. They cried out one after another, “This kid uses witchcraft! He is a sorcerer!”

What happened was: when the plump monk used his entire strength to strike Zhang Wuji’s chest, he inadvertently hit the ‘shan zhong xue’ [lit. sheep odor acupoint]. Zhang Wuji’s ‘Jiu Yang Shen Gong’ was not enough to attack the enemy, but it was more than sufficient to protect his own body. Not only did it rebound the fist strength of the enemy’s strike, but also because the incoming strike was powerful, it spurred the Jiu Yang ‘zhen qi’ [real/true/genuine ‘chi’ – see above] inside his system, increasing the rebound force, adding strength behind the strength, so that the plump monk was killed instantly.

The old monk thought that Zhang Wuji’s pocket must be loaded with poison-tipped arrows or some other venomous stingers, so that the plump monk died of severe poisoning. Stretching out his palm, he struck Zhang Wuji’s right arm, which was exposed outside his sleeve, thinking that he had better break Zhang Wuji’s arm first before dealing with him further.

As the powerful palm struck Zhang Wuji’s arm, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi inside his body was incited again. The old monk was thrown outside immediately; he flew like an arrow and ‘crack!’, breaking through the window lattice, he struck the big locust tree in the courtyard, his skull was smashed and his brain burst forth.

The rest of the monks were shouting and screaming. One monk used both of his hands to attack Zhang Wuji’s ‘tai yang xue’ [sun acupoint]. Another monk used the ‘shuang long qiang zhu’ [a pair of dragons fought over the pearl], stretching out his fingers to dig into Zhang Wuji’s eyeballs. Yet another monk flew up and kicked Zhang Wuji’s ‘dan tian’ [pubic area].

Zhang Wuji lowered his head to evade the attack to his eyes, letting the attacker’s two fingers to hit his forehead. A series of ‘Bang! Bang!’, ‘Aiyo!’, ‘Crack! Crack!’ was heard; all three monks were shaken to their death one after another. The third monk’s flying kick was so powerful that his right leg was broken on the spot. As Zhang Wuji’s ‘dan tian’ received the kick, the ‘zhen qi’ in his body was aroused; unexpectedly the arteries and veins on the right half of his body were open. He mused, “It’s a pity this wicked monk died too early. If he had kicked my dan tian several times, he might have helped me restoring my internal energy sooner. Apparently, although my injury is heavy, the recovery is not as difficult as I thought. I think I will need about ten days to half a month of recuperation to recover 100%.”

Out of eight monks, five had died miserably. The remaining three wicked monks were frightened out of their wits; they raced against each other to get out of the room, and went straight out of the temple gate. After they were sure that Zhang Wuji did not run after them, they stopped and discussed among themselves. One monk said, “This kid must have used some witchcraft.” The other monk said, “I think it was not witchcraft; this kid’s internal energy is very strong, he could rebound the strike to injure the enemy.” The third monk said, “That’s right. In any case we must avenge our brothers’ death.”

The three of them talked for half a day. One monk suddenly said, “This kid must be suffering a heavy injury. Otherwise, why didn’t he run after us?”

“That’s right!” the other monk happily said, “Most likely he can’t walk. When our five brothers hit him by fist and kick, he fought them by inciting his internal strength. If we use blades to chop him or pierce him, I don’t think he has copper muscles or iron bones to resist us.”

As the three monks made a decision, one of them got a lance, the other unsheathed his saber, and the third wielded a sword; together the returned to the courtyard. They noticed that the eastern room was extremely quiet, as if it was unoccupied. They peeked over the broken window lattice, and saw that young man was still sitting cross-legged on the bed; his face looked weary, his body was shaky, as if he would fall down any minute. The young girl was wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. The three monks looked at each other; they did not dare to rush in.

One of the monks called out, “Stinky kid, if you have some skills, get out and fight your master for three hundred stances.”

Another monk cursed, “What skill does this kid have? All he has is some witchcraft to harm others. That is such a cheap trick, despicable to the lowest end, totally without any sense of shame.”

The three monks saw that Zhang Wuji did not reply and he did not get down from the bed either, so they became bolder and bolder, their cursing and swearing were getting dirtier and dirtier. In term of dirty talk, perhaps among the disciples of Buddhism there was nobody who could surpass these three monks.

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min were not angry at all. They were more afraid of these three monks leave and not return, rather than being annoyed by their coming back to seek revenge. That place was not too far from the Shaolin Temple of the Song Shan [Mount Song in Henan]. If those three monks went to inform Cheng Kun, they would face an even graver problem. It would be almost impossible for Zhang Wuji to treat his injury in less than ten days. Within that period, it would not take as much as Cheng Kun to personally come, one or two martial experts of Chen Youliang’s caliber would be difficult for him to resist. Thus, Zhang Wuji was secretly delighted to see these three monks return.

After receiving the five monks’ attacks, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi inside Zhang Wuji’s body had been somewhat more controllable, so although he still could not use it to attack the enemy, his heart was not as frightened as it was before.

Suddenly a loud ‘Bang!’ was heard as a monk kicked the door open and rushed in. A dark green light flashed by, the red tassel trembled, as the lance in his hand came straight toward Zhang Wuji.

“Aiyo!” Zhao Min cried out. Hastily she handed over the dagger in her hand to Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji shook his head without moving his hand. He groaned inwardly, “I don’t have the least bit of strength on my hand; how would I resist the enemy even though I have a weapon? My flesh and blood won’t withstand the enemy’s weapon.” He had not finished musing when the tip of enemy’s lance formed a circle, with its red tassel blooming like a flower, had already reached in front of Zhang Wuji’s chest.

The lance strike was fast, Zhao Min’s mind worked even faster. She reached into Zhang Wuji’s pocket to take a Sheng Huo Ling tablet out, and placed it on Zhang Wuji’s chest to shield it against the spearhead. ‘Bang!’ the tip of the lance struck the Sheng Huo Ling.

Even an extremely sharp weapon like the Yitian Sword was not able to scratch the Sheng Huo Ling, much less an ordinary spearhead. Again, this strike had aroused the Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside Zhang Wuji’s body, which reacted naturally. “Aahhhhh …” a long and miserable cry was heard as the lance’s pole penetrated the monk’s chest.

This monk had not fallen down when the second monk’s saber was hacking down on the top of Zhang Wuji’s head. Zhao Min was afraid one Sheng Huo Ling would not suffice to block the saber, so grabbing a Sheng Huo Ling in either hand, she swiftly placed them on Zhang Wuji’s head.

Her action was truly effective. With another ‘bang!’ the saber bounced, its back crashed into that wicked monk’s forehead, smashing his skull; but the tip of Zhao Min’s left little finger was also sliced off. In the excitement of the moment, she did not feel the pain.

The third monk, wielding a sword in his hand, was just about to enter the door; seeing his two companions meet their cruel fate, he screamed in terror and ran out the door.

“We can’t let him escape!” Zhao Min called out, while throwing one Sheng Huo Ling tablet over the window. Her throw was accurate, but she lacked the strength, so it fell down even before touching that monk’s body.

Zhang Wuji wrapped his arms around her and called out, “Throw again!” He concentrated his internal energy in his chest and transmitted it to Zhao Min’s back. Zhao Min threw the Sheng Huo Ling in her left hand. Two more steps, then that monk would have stepped over behind the wall; but the Sheng Huo Ling was so fast that it struck his back. Immediately blood spurted from his mouth and he died on the spot. As soon as the Sheng Huo Ling left their hands, Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min fainted and fell on the bed.

At this moment, there were six dead monks in the room, with two more dead monks in the courtyard, so Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min had fainted in the pool of blood. The temple was so small and it was located on a remote hill. Under the cold moon and cool breeze, there was not a sound to be heard.

After a long while, Zhao Min gained her consciousness first. Still in daze, she reached out to feel Zhang Wuji’s breathing. She felt that the breathing was weak, but it was long and steady. Propping up herself she arose slowly. Because she was too weak to get him out of bed, she had no alternative but pulling him down, and then rested his head on one of the dead monk bodies. Just this little exertion forced her to sit among the dead bodies, gasping for breath.

After half a day, Zhang Wuji opened his eyes. “Min Mei,” he called out, “You … where are you?”

Zhao Min gave him one of her captivating smiles. The bright and cold moonlight streamed in from the window. They both saw the other’s face was full of blood, so they’ll know their own faces must be frightening. But after going through a life and death situation together, they felt that the other’s face was very handsome and beautiful. Without realizing it, they both reached out and embraced each other tightly.

In this dramatic battle, Zhang Wuji was able to kill the first seven monks without the least bit of strength on his part; he simply borrowed strength to fight strength, and contrary to his expectation, he did not suffer any harm. However, when throwing the Sheng Huo Ling to kill the eighth wicked monk, both Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min had exhausted the remainder of the strength they had after the injury. Right now, the two of them were incapable of moving; all they could do was leaning on dead people’s bodies and quietly wait for their strength to return. Zhao Min wrapped her cut left- hand little finger, and then, still in daze, she went back to sleep.

Around noon the next day, they started to awake. Zhang Wuji sat up and circulated his ‘chi’, trying to harmonize the flow. After meditation for more than an hour, he felt his spirit return. He stood up by pushing himself against the floor, and suddenly heard his tummy was growling. He went to the kitchen by leaning on the wall. He saw a pot of rice, where half of the rice had already turned black, and the other half was also burned that it carried a strong burning smell. He filled a bowl full of burnt rice and returned to their room.

Zhao Min said with a laugh, “You and I are in such a distressed situation today. The Heaven knows, the Earth knows, you and I know, but nobody else knew about it.”

They both laughed heartily, and then ate the rice with their bare hands. To them, the burnt rice tasted so good that it was better than any exotic delicacies they had ever had.

They had not finished this bowl of rice, when suddenly from the distant came the muffled noise of hooves against mountain rocks. ‘Crash!’ the bowl in their hands crashed down on the tiled floor. Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji looked at each other. Their hearts were beating rapidly. They heard two horses were coming their way, and stopped in the front of the temple’s main gate. They heard the brass ring on the door was knocked four times, and then someone banged the door. The noise stopped for a moment then the knocker banged four more times.

“What should we do?” Zhang Wuji asked in low voice.

They heard someone outside the door calling out, “Shangguan San’ge [third (older) brother Shangguan], it is me, Qin Laowu [old fifth Qin]!”

“They are going to break in,” Zhao Min said, “Let’s pretend we are dead; we’ll act according to the circumstance.” The two of them lied down among the corpses, with their faces on the floor.

They had just lied down when with a loud crash the door was pushed open. From the noise generated by the broken door, it was obvious that the newcomers had quite a bit of strength. Zhao Min had an idea. “Go lie down near the door,” she said, “Don’t let these people escape.”

Zhang Wuji nodded and crawled toward the entrance. Right at that moment, they heard two people cry out in fear, followed by ‘swish, swish!’ as the two people who entered the temple were pulling their weapons out. Obviously they had seen the two corpses in the courtyard.

“Careful!” one of them said in low voice, “Watch for the enemy’s ambush.” The other man loudly shouted, “Friends, sneaking and hiding in the dark, what kind of heroes are you? Come out and fight Laozi [the Old Man – referring to self] to the death if you have the nerve.” This man’s voice was strong and heroic, a sign of his abundant internal energy. He must be the one who pushed the gate open.

He shouted several times, but did not hear the least bit of voice answering his call. “The thieves must have left far away,” he said.

The other man said in a hoarse voice, “We must look up everywhere, make sure the enemy is not setting up an ambush.”

“Shou Laodi [lit. ‘old’ (younger brother) Shou],” the one who called himself Qin Lauwu said, “You look to the east and I’ll search to the west.”

Apparently, the one surnamed Shou was a coward; he said, “I am afraid the enemies are numerous. We’d better go together.” Qin Laowu did not say anything.

Suddenly the one surnamed Shou exclaimed in terror while pointing his finger toward the room on the east, “There … there are more dead people inside!”

The two of them went to the door and saw that in that small room there were about seven, eight corpses lying around on the floor.

Qin Laowu said, “This temple … this temple’s eight brethrens have lost their lives at the same time. I wonder whose treacherous hands have done it!”

“Qin Wuge [fifth (older) brother Qin],” the surnamed Shou said, “We must return to the Temple immediately, to report … report … report this to Shifu.”

Qin Laowu hesitantly said, “Shifu has urgently ordered us to deliver these invitations promptly, since the guests are expected by the fifth day of the fifth month [orig. ‘duan1 wu3 jie2’ – Dragon Boat (or Duanwu) Festival day] for the Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly [orig, tu2 shi1 ying1 xiong2 hui4]. If we fail, I am afraid we will be punished.”

As he heard the words ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’, Zhang Wuji was slightly taken aback; and then he was shocked, delighted, ashamed and angry, as a hundred feelings filled up his heart. He mused, “His Shifu issued invitations for some ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’, his intention must be to gather the heroes and warriors under the Heaven, and then to kill Yifu publicly. From what he said, it seems like before the Duanwu, Yifu’s life will not be harmed. I cannot protect Yifu completely; I let him down by letting him fall into others’ hands that he has to suffer this disgrace. I am unfilial and unworthy; there is nothing worse than this.”

The more he thought, the angrier he got; he wished he had a weapon in his hand and kill these two villains, but he was afraid they might escape while he was powerless to pursue them. Therefore, all he could do was to wait for these two men to enter the room and then cut their way out. Just like before, he hoped the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi in his body would get rid of these two traitors. Unexpectedly, because these two saw the room was full of dead bodies, they did not dare to enter, but simply stood and talked in the courtyard

“This is most important,” the one surnamed Shou said, “The sooner we report to Shifu the better.”

“Let’s do this then,” Qin Laowu said, “We take our separate ways; I deliver the invitation, you go back to the Temple to report to Shifu.”

The surnamed Shou was afraid he might run into the enemies on the road; thereupon he did not answer immediately. Qin Laowu was angry, “Take your pick, then. Would you rather deliver the invitations? It is up to you.”

The surnamed Shou contemplated the options in his mind. In the end he decided that returning to their mountain was safer; thereupon he said, “I will follow Qin Wuge’s instruction; let me return to the mountain and give report to Shifu.” Straightaway both of them turned around to leave.

Zhao Min moved slightly and groaned lightly twice. Qin and Shou two people were startled. Turning their heads around they saw Zhao Min were moving. This time they looked carefully and saw that she was a woman.

“Who is this woman?” Qin Laowu was surprised. He walked into the room. Although the one surnamed Shou was a coward, seeing that it was a woman, a seriously wounded woman, he gathered up his courage and followed in.

Qin Laowu reached down to pull Zhao Min’s shoulder. Zhang Wuji coughed and sat up. He took a meditation position with his eyes half open. Qin and Shou two people were extremely shocked to see him suddenly sit up, with his face full of blood and a terrifying appearance.

“Not good!” the surnamed Shou cried out, “It’s a zombie. This corpse … this corpse is haunted by a ghost. Qin Wuge must … must be careful.” He hastily jumped on top of the bed.

“Bad zombie!” Qin Laowu called out, “The one surnamed Qin is not afraid of you.” Lifting up his saber, he ferociously hacked it down on the top of Zhang Wuji’s head.

Zhanh Wuji had been ready with two Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands. As soon as the saber hacked down, he raised his tablets and placed them on top of his head. ‘Bang!’ the saber hacked the Sheng Huo Ling and immediately bounced back and smashed Qin Laowu’s brain that he died immediately.

The one surnamed Shou was holding a saber in his hand, but he was trembling all over; how could he dare to slash it on Zhang Wuji’s body? Zhang Wuji was waiting for him to attack, so that his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi might strike him dead.

Zhao Min saw that the surnamed Shou was not moving for a long time; she was getting anxious, “This coward is scared out of his wits and does not dare to make his move. If he throws his saber away and run out, how can we stop him?” She saw his teeth were chattering, and then ‘clank!’ his saber fell down from his grip.

“Chop me if you dare,” Zhang Wuji said, “Strike me with your fist.”

“Xiao … Xiao De [little/lowly one] don’t have any guts,” he replied, “Don’t

… don’t dare to fight Laoye [old master].” “Kick me, then,” Zhang Wuji said.

The man replied, “Xiao De … Xiao De do not dare even more.”

“You are such a useless man [orig. ‘nong2 bao1’ – wrapping cloth of boiled wound], you’d better be dead,” Zhang Wuji indignantly said, “Quickly chop me once or twice. If I see that your strength is not bad, I might spare your life.”

“Yes, yes!” the man scrambled to pick up his saber. He took a glance on the wretched condition of the smashed skull of Qin Laowu, and thought that this zombie’s magical power was superior, so it would be better for him to ask for mercy. Hence, he knelt down immediately and knocked his head on the floor, “Laoye have mercy! You have died an unjust death. It has nothing to do … nothing to do with Xiao Ren [little/lowly man]. Please don’t … don’t take revenge on Xiao Ren’s life.”

Listening to him addressing Zhang Wuji as a dead man, Zhao Min was angry. “Humph,” she snorted, “I am surprised in the Wulin world there is this kind of peon with no future.”

“Yes, yes!” that man said, “Xiao De has no future, no future. I am only a peon, only a peon.”

The more he did not dare to act, the more Zhang Wuji was baffled. Suddenly he had an idea. “Come here!” he barked. “Yes!” that man hastily replied. He crawled several steps forward, still in kneeling position.

Zhang Wuji stretched out his arms and placed his thumbs on that man’s eyeballs. “I’ll dig out your eyeballs first!” he roared.

In his great shock, without thinking that man raised his hands to ward off Zhang Wuji’s arms with all his strength. Zhang Wuji was expecting this push; borrowing this strength, he slid his arms downward and sealed the ‘shen feng’ [lit. divine seal (‘seal’ as in official ‘seal’ on a letter)] and ‘bu lang’ [lit. walking/pacing porch] acupoints on his chest.

The man’s entire body went numb and he slid down to the floor. “Laoye have mercy! Laoye have mercy!” he loudly cried, “Turns out Laoye is not a zombie. That’s very good! Then … then you have even more reasons to spare my life.” By now he was prostrating right in front of Zhang Wuji, after looking clearly that the other party was a living person.

Zhao Min realized that Zhang Wuji sealed the acupoints using a borrowed strength, but the sealing force was really too small. He could only immobilize that man’s limbs for a short time; that man’s strength was not completely gone. In less than an hour, the sealed acupoints would be opened; and then they would be in trouble. She also knew that there were so many questions she would like to ask him, so obviously they could not kill him yet.

“Your fatal acupoints have been sealed by this Master,” she said, “When you take a deep breath, you feel a dull pain deep in the side of your left chest, don’t you?”

Following her words, he took a deep breath and did feel pain on the muscle and bones of his left chest. Actually, it was the natural reaction when the flow of ‘qi’ and the blood was stopped momentarily; but that man did not know, so he wailed and cried for mercy even louder. “Do you want to save your life?” Zhao Min asked, “I must use a golden needle to unseal the fatal acupoints. But it won’t be easy.”

The man kowtowed and said, “Miss, no matter the difficulty, you must save me. Even if Xiao Ren has to become an ox or a horse, I will still implore you.”

Zhao Min smiled sweetly and said, “This is the first time I ever see a Jianghu character like you. All right, go find a brick and come back here.”

“Yes, yes!” that man busily said. Stumbling out to the courtyard, he picked a brick and walked back.

“What do you need the brick for?” Zhang Wuji said in a low voice. Zhao Min smiled mysteriously, “I have an ingenious idea.”

With a brick in his hand, that man respectfully walked in. Zhao Min pulled a golden hairpin from her hair and placed the hairpin on that man’s ‘que pen xue’ [lit. empty basin acupoint] on his shoulder. She said, “I am going to use this golden needle to unseal the blood vessels on the upper part of your body first, so that the deathly ‘qi’ from the fatal acupoint will not flow into your brain. If that happens, you are beyond help. But I don’t know whether this Master is willing to spare your life or not.”

That man looked at Zhang Wuji with a piteous face. Zhang Wuji nodded. That man jubilantly said, “This Daye [grand master] has agreed. Miss, please start immediately.”

“Hmm, are you afraid of pain?” Zhao Min said.

“Xiao Ren only fears death, I don’t fear pain,” the man replied.

“Very well!” Zhao Min said, “Use the brick to tap this golden needle in.” That man knew that inserting the golden needle into his shoulder would mean his skin and flesh would be injured. But without wrinkling his brows, he lifted up the brick and struck the tail of the hairpin.

As the brick went down, the golden hairpin pierced the ‘que pen xue’. That man did not feel pain at all, on the contrary, he felt comfortable, so his confidence in Zhao Min grew and he did not stop expressing his thanks to her. Zhao Min told him to draw the pin out, and then pierced his ‘hun men’ [soul gate], ‘po hu’ [spirit entrance], ‘tian zhu’ [pillar of the Heaven], ‘ku fang’ [storage room], and other acupoints, seven or eight in total.

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “That’s enough! That’s enough!” He stood up, knowing that with these acupoints pierced, if that man wanted to escape, as soon as he exerted his strength to run, these acupoints would flare-up, and he would meet his doom.

“Go fetch two buckets of water,” Zhao Min told him, “We want to wash our faces. And then you can cook some rice. If you want to die, go ahead and put some poison in the food, and then the three of us will become ghosts together.”

“Xiao De does not dare, Xiao De does not dare,” that man said. And thus Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min had a servant to attend to their needs.

Zhao Min asked his name. Turned out his surname was Shou [long life], given name Nanshan [southern mountain]; he was known in Jianghu as ‘wan shou wu jiang’ [ten thousand long life without limit]. Actually, his friends were making fun of him since he had always shrunk from battle, so they said that he would have a long life because he would never be killed in a battle.

Although he belonged to the group of ‘lu lin’ [lit. green forest, outlaws – see similar occurrence above] warriors who joined Yuan Zhen’s school, Yuan Zhen regarded his talent as lacking, his intelligence low, so Yuan Zhen only used him to do the leg work but had never imparted any martial art skill to him. Even after his acupoints were sealed, Shou Nanshan did not lose his physical strength; he carried out Zhao Min’s instructions diligently. He was the one who dragged all nine corpses and buried them in the rear yard, and he also fetched water to clean the temple from all the bloodstains. His martial art skill might be mediocre, but his culinary skill could be considered first class. As Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min enjoyed the meat and vegetable dishes he prepared, they heaped him with praises.

After everything was settled, Zhang and Zhao two people began interrogating him about the ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’. Contrary to their expectation, Shou Nanshan did not even try to conceal anything from them, but too bad his companions did not regard him too highly, so that in many things nobody had ever told him anything. He only knew that the Shaolin Temple Abbot, Reverend Kong Wen, had assigned Yuan Zhen to preside over this assembly. Yuan Zhen, acting on behalf of Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, two divine monks, had broadcasted invitations to all heroes and warriors from all schools and sects, clans and societies around the world, to gather at the Shaolin Temple on the Duanwu day, to discuss a very important matter.

Zhang Wuji asked to see the invitation. It was addressed to Fu Chenzi, Gu Songzi, Gui Zangci, and other sword masters of Diancang Pai of Yunnan. The sword masters of Diancang had been famous for quite a while, but they were living way down south in Yunnan, and had never had any contact with the Wulin characters of the Central Plains. This time even Shaolin Pai invited them to come. It was clear that the scale of this assembly was to be magnificent. Shaolin Pai was the Wulin leader. When Kong Wen and Kong Zhi personally issued an invitation, no matter what important matter the addressee was facing, they would lay it aside and come to attend the meeting.

Zhang Wuji noticed that the invitation did not have too many characters on it; it simply said, ‘Respectfully inviting (you) on the Duan Yang festival, to get together at Shaolin, to enjoy goblets of wine and be merry with the heroes of the world.’ There was no reference on ‘lion-slaying’ at all. “Why did that Qin Laowu say this meeting was called ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Shou Nanshan, with a smug look on his face, said, “Zhang-ye [Master Zhang] did not know it, but my Shifu has captured a very important character who is called Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun. For this kind of accomplishment, our Shaolin Pai wants to show our face in front of all the world’s heroes. We are going to kill this Jin Mao Shi Wang in public, that is why this meeting is called the ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’.” Suppressing his anger Zhang Wuji asked again, “What kind of character is this Jin Mao Shi Wang? Have you seen him? How did your Shifu capture him? Currently, where is this person being detained at?”

“This fellow Jin Mao Shi Wang,” Shou Nanshan said, “Hey, hey, he is truly magnificent. He is twice as tall as Xiao Ren, his upper arm is thicker than Xiao Ren’s thigh. Apart from everything else, whenever he is staring at you with that pair of sparkling bright eyes of his, you would feel that your soul is flying out of your body. Even without fighting, you would kowtow and beg for mercy …”

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min exchanged a glance, while Shou Nanshan continued, “My Shifu battled him for seven days and seven nights without clear decision of victory and defeat. Later on, my Shifu has gotten angry and launched his earth-shattering ‘qin long fu hu gong’ [capturing dragon, subduing tiger skill]; finally he was able to defeat him. Right now, this Jin Mao Shi Wang is detained in a large iron cage inside our Temple’s Da Xiong Bao Dian [lit. great heroism precious hall]; with seven or eight pure steel chain links bound around his body …”

The more Zhang Wuji listened, the angrier he got. “I told you to tell me the truth, and not such rubbish!” he roared, “Do you want me to take your life? Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia has lost his vision, how can you say he has a pair of sparkling bright eyes?”

As his lies were exposed on the spot, Shou Nanshan busily said, “Yes! Yes! Xiao Ren must be mistaken.” “Now tell me, have you or have you not seen him [orig. lao3 ren2 jia1 – senior]?” Zhang Wuji asked, “What does Xie Daxia look like? Tell me.”

In reality, Shou Nanshan had not seen Xie Xun at all. Knowing that he could no longer lie, he was afraid of his life, so he hastily said, “Xiao Ren does not dare to lie. Actually, I only heard what other brothers have said.”

All Zhang Wuji wanted was the exact location of Xie Xun’s imprisonment; but after repeated interrogation, Shou Nanshan still was not able to give him any new information. He thought this matter must be of great importance and was held in the strictest confidence, so of course a small peon like Shou Nanshan did not have any access to the information. Therefore, Zhang Wuji had no choice but to let it go. Luckily, the Duanyang festival was still some times away, since it was only the second month, so he still had time to wait until they were fully recovered from their injuries.

The three of them stayed in the Divine Temple of Mount Zhong [‘zhong yue shen miao’] for several days. They spent their days in peace and quiet, since Shaolin Temple did not send anybody to establish any contact with the former occupants. Toward the eighth day, Zhao Min’s injury had been 70, 80% healed, while Zhang Wuji’s internal energy was flowing better progressively. He gradually regained the strength of his four limbs, so now it would not be difficult for them to escape even if the enemies arrived.

Shou Nanshan was waiting on them with all his heart, he did not dare to have the slightest idea of rebelling. Zhao Min said with a laugh, “‘Wan Shou Wu Jiang’, your mediocre martial art skill is nothing to be talked about, but your talent to be a ‘guan jia’ [housekeeper/butler] is actually top- notch.”

“Well said, Miss,” Shou Nanshan answered bitterly.

Everyday Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min enjoyed the delicacies Shou Nanshan meticulously prepared for them, making their stay at the Zhong Yue Shen Miao a comfortable and enjoyable experience. After about ten more days, the two of them were fully recovered. Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min began to discuss their plan on rescuing Xie Xun.

“Actually, the best way would be to seal Wan Shou Wu Jiang’s fatal acupoints, and then we can send him to Shaolin Temple as our spy,” Zhao Min said, “But this man is so useless [orig. nong2 bao1], that he would most likely give himself away and spoil the important matters. Let’s do this: right now, let us go to the foot of Shaoshi [the western peak of Mount Song, where Shaolin Temple is located]; we will act as the opportunity arises. Only we must change our appearances first.”

“What should we disguise ourselves into?” Zhang Wuji asked, “Shall we shave our heads clean and become a monk and a nun?”

Zhao Min’s face slightly blushed. “Pei!” she spat, “Only you can think of such thing! A young monk hanging around with a young nun all day; what would people think?”

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Well then, let’s become husband and wife, a couple of villagers who go to the foot of Shaoshi Peak to open up rice field and gather firewood.”

“Can’t we be brother and sister?” Zhao Min laughed, “If we become husband and wife, I am afraid if Miss Zhou sees it, I would have five more finger holes on my left shoulder.”

Zhang Wuji also laughed, but he felt uncomfortable in continuing their conversation. After asking about the situation and the layout of the Shaolin Temple in details from Shou Nanshan, he said, “The sealed fatal acupoints in your body have been loosened. You can go.”

“However,” Zhao Min added sternly, “For the rest of your life, you must live in the southern area. As soon as you see snow and ice, you will lose your life. I suggest you move to the south as soon as possible; you must live in a warm climate; the hotter the better. See to it that you do not subject yourself to cold wind; if you ever catch a cold or cough, your life will be in grave danger.”

Shou Nanshan took her advice seriously; he took his leave from the two people, and left the temple heading south that very same day. He spent the rest of his life on the hilly area of the south, being careful not to catch any cold or cough. He died during the years of Yong Le [the third Ming Emperor, 1403 – 1424], of the Ming Dynasty. Although he did not actually live an unlimited life for ten thousands of years [wan shou wu jiang], he did live a long and enjoyable life.

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min waited for him to walk far before they carefully cleared up any evidence of their presence from the temple. They went for more than 20 ‘li’s before stopping by at a farmer house to buy two sets of male and female farmer clothes. They changed their clothes in the wilderness, and buried the clothing they were formerly wearing in the ground, before continuing their journey to the foot of Shaoshi Peak in a leisurely pace.

Before they were within seven, eight ‘li’s of the Shaolin Temple, they had already met monks from the Temple three times. “We cannot get any further,” Zhao Min said.

They saw there was a thatched hut by the mountain path, with a patch of vegetable garden in front of it. An old farmer was busy watering the plants.

“Let’s ask for lodging here,” Zhao Min said.

Zhang Wuji went forward, cupped his fists in respect, and said, “Excuse me, Uncle. We, brother and sister, are traveling. We are tired and wondering if you could give us a bowl of water to quench our thirst.”

It was as if the old farmer did not hear him at all, or he ignored him; he kept scooping manure mixed with water with a ladle and splashed it on the root of his vegetables. Zhang Wuji repeated his words, but the old farmer was still ignoring him. Suddenly the wooden door of the hut opened with a creaking noise, a white-haired granny came out. She laughed and said, “My husband is deaf and mute. What do you [orig. ke4 guan1 – honorable guest] need?”

“My sister is too tired to walk,” Zhang Wuji said, “May I ask for a bowl of water for her?”

“Please come in,” the old granny said.

They followed her in, and saw that the hut was very clean and tidy. The wooden table and stools were spotless. Although her clothes were made of coarse homespun fabric, they were very clean. Zhao Min was very happy; after drinking a bowl of water, she took out an ingot of silver and said with a smile, “Popo [granny], my Gege is taking me to see our maternal grandmother. My legs gave up along the way. I was wondering if we can spend the night here and continue our journey tomorrow early in the morning.”

“I don’t have any problem with you staying overnight in here, and I don’t need your money,” the old granny said, “But we only have one bedroom with a single bed in it. Granted that my husband and I can spend the night outside, but you, brother and sister, cannot possibly sleep in one bed, can you? Hey, hey, little Miss, you’d better tell Popo the truth, didn’t you run away from home to be with your beloved Gege here?”

As the secret of her heart was revealed, Zhao Min blushed, thinking that this granny had very keen eyesight. She also thought that she did not speak like an old woman of an ordinary peasant family. Thereupon she took a second look at her and noticed that although her back was hunched, her eyes were mysteriously bright; perhaps she was a martial art expert in hiding. Zhao Min also realized that Zhang Wuji did not look like an ordinary farmer either, while her own appearance and mannerisms were certainly not those of farmer women’s.

“Popo,” she said quietly, “Since you have already guessed correctly, I can’t lie to you. This Zeng Gege [big brother Zeng] is my childhood friend. My Father does not like him because his family is poor; he won’t let me marry him. My Mama was aware I would rather die than not to be with him, so she told me to go … to go with him. Mama said that after two, three years, when we … we get a baby, we may come home. By that time, Father will have no choice but to let us marry each other.”

While she was speaking, her face turned deep red, while she often stole a glance toward Zhang Wuji, with eyes full of love. She continued, “My family is quite respectable [orig. you3 mian4 zi5 – have a face] in Dadu. Father is a government official. If we were ever caught, Father would certainly beat Ah Niu Gege to his death. Popo, I have told you everything, you must not tell anybody.”

The granny laughed out loud and said, “When I was young, I also belonged to a respectable family. Don’t worry, I will let you, two young married, to use our room. This is a remote place, your family certainly won’t look for you this far. Even if there is someone who will give you trouble, Popo will not stand on the side doing nothing.”

She saw that Zhao Min was tender and beautiful, and she had entrusted her secret with her; so in her heart she regarded Zhao Min favorably. Thereupon she decided to do her best to help this young couple and to see a successful conclusion to their good deed.

Listening to her last words, Zhao Min was convinced that she was a Wulin character. Only this place was so close to the Shaolin Temple, she wondered whether this granny was related to Cheng Kun or not. She decided they must be very careful and must not reveal the least bit of flaw. Thereupon she gracefully knelt down and bowed while saying, “Popo is willing to take care of us, we are very grateful. Ah Niu Gege, come quickly and say thank you to Popo.”

Zhang Wuji came following her instruction; he bowed in respect to express his gratitude. The granny smiled and nodded; immediately she let them use her room, while she built another bed in the main room with a plank, padded with some straw, and spread out a woven straw mat on it.

As they entered the room, in a low voice Zhang Wuji said, “The old farmer watering his garden has an even higher martial art skill, did you see that?” “Ah, I did not see that,” Zhao Min replied.

Zhang Wuji said, “He was carrying buckets of manure mixture using a shoulder pole, and he walked very slowly, but surprisingly the two buckets were very steady. That is a sign of a very high internal energy skill.”

“How is he compared with you?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Let me try it, and we’ll see.” He lifted her up and carried her on his shoulder just like someone carries something with a shoulder pole.

“Aiyo!” Zhao Min giggled, “You think I am a bucket of manure mixture?”

From outside the room the granny heard these two people were affectionately laughing and joking; any remnant of suspicions she previously had in her heart immediately vanished.

That evening, the two of them sat for dinner together with the old farmers, husband and wife. To their surprise, they had some chicken and meat dishes. Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min deliberately made a show of pinching each other hands under the table, or bumping each other with their elbows, just like a pair of eloping lovers, or like honey mixed with oil, neither one was willing to part with the other even for a moment. At first they were just acting, but later it became quite natural for them to show affection to each other. The granny saw everything, but she simply smiled. It seemed like the old farmer did not see anything; he just looked down and ate his meal quietly.

After dinner, Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min went into their room and bolted the door. After teasing each other on the dining table, part pretending and part real, they could not help but feel excited.

Zhao Min whispered, her pretty face blushing, “We are only pretending, we are not doing it for real.”

Zhang Wuji embraced her in his bosom, kissed her mouth and replied in low voice, “If we are only pretending, how can we have a baby in two, three years, and return home so that your Father can see the baby?”

“Pei!” Zhao Min bashfully spat, “Turns out you were eavesdropping on the side and heard everything I said.”

Although Zhang Wuji seemed unrestrained in talking and joking with Zhao Min, in his heart he always remembered that he was engaged to be married to Zhou Zhiruo. Although he hoped that he would live a happy live, he also hoped that after his marriage with Zhou Zhiruo he would be able to sort things out with Zhao Min. At this moment, with a warm and tender body in his embrace, he could not help but feel confused. But finally he restrained himself and only kissed her cherry lips and tender cheeks; and then he carried her to the bed, while he lied down on a wooden bench in front of the bed. He finally fell asleep after circulating his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi for twelve rounds along his entire body.

In the meantime, Zhao Min felt her face flush and her heart beat faster; she tossed and turned on the bed until deep into the night, unable to sleep at all. When she finally drifted off to sleep, suddenly, she heard footsteps from a distance. Someone was coming with great speed and had arrived at the door. She reached out to wake Zhang Wuji up. Coincidentally, Zhang Wuji had also heard the noise and was reaching out to wake her up; so two hands touched and they held each other tight.

They heard a clear and bright voice from the outside, “The virtuous husband and wife of the Du family, we meet again. Old friends come to visit in the night, we hope that we are not being rude”

After half a day, the granny replied from inside the hut, “Is it the ‘Qinghai San Jian’ [Qinghai (or Tsinghai – a province in western China) three swords]? From Chuanxi [western Sichuan] we, husband and wife, have exiled ourselves to this place, out of fear of your Yuzhen Guan [genuine jade Taoist monastery]. Our dispute was over a small misunderstanding, there is no deep animosity or a major offense between us. Why is it that after so many years Yuzhen Guan has not let it go and force us into hardship? As the saying goes, ‘killing the man does not necessarily mean to snatch his land.’”

The man outside laughed and said, “If the two of you are really afraid, kowtow to us three times, then Yuzhen Guan will forget the past and forgive your previous offense.”

With a creaking noise the wooden door opened. The granny said, “You are able to pursue to this place, your source of information is quick.”

The full moon had just risen, its silver light flooding the earth. Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min peeked from a crack on the wooden partition. They saw three Taoist priests wearing yellow crowns stand outside. The one in the middle was short and plump, the tip of his short beard was branched into two points.

“Will the virtuous husband and wife kowtow to apologize, or should we decide life and death with a pair of hooks and a spear?” the short Taoist priest asked.

The granny had not answered him yet when the deaf old man came out in big strides and stood in front of the door. With hands on his waist, he gave the three Taoist priests a cold look. The granny followed him out and stood by her husband’s side.

The short-bearded priest said, “Why hasn’t the Venerable Du uttered a single word? Do you think it’s beneath your dignity to talk to the Qinghai Three Swords?”

“My humble husband is deaf,” the granny said, “He could not hear anything you say.”

“Ah,” the short-bearded priest exclaimed, “Venerable Du’s technique in listening to the wind to distinguish the secret projectile was Wulin’s unique skill; how did he become deaf? Pity, it’s a pity.”

The priest next to him was even fatter than him. ‘Swish’ this priest unsheathed his sword and said, “Du Baidang, Yi Sanniang, are you sure you are not going to use any weapon?”

The granny, Yi Sanniang, replied, “Ma Daozhang [Taoist priest Ma], you are still this impatient? Shao Daozhang, we haven’t seen each other for several years, the hair on your heads have turned gray. Hey, hey, you can’t even let go of a small childish matter, why should we bother talking to you?”

Swiftly she raised both her hands. Bright rays of light flickered from her palms, as each palm held three short blades, less than half a foot each; so she had a total of six blades. The old man Du Baidang followed her lead; his palms also hold six short blades. He swiftly switched the blades in his left hand to his right and the ones in his right hand to his left. It was as if his fingers were crossing each other with matchless dexterity.

The three priests were startled. They had never seen this kind of weapon in the Wulin world. It looked like a flying dagger, but there was no such technique among the flying dagger users. Du Baidang’s pair of hooks had shaken the Western Sichuan, while his wife, Yi Sanniang, was very adept at using a spear. But this time both husband and wife had unexpectedly discarded the weapons they had trained for dozens of years; so these twelve short blades must have extremely fierce and strange stances.

The fat priest raised his sword and he recited with deep veneration in his voice, “Three element-sword formation, heaven, earth and mankind [San Cai Jian Zhen Tian Di Ren].”

The short-bearded priest, Shao He, continued, “Lightning rapidly comes out of Yu Zhen, pursuing the star [dian zhu xing chi chu yu zhen – remember that their monastery was called ‘Yuzhen Guan’].” The three priests moved around in a circle, always keeping the Du husband and wife in the center.

Zhang Wuji saw that the priests were moving to the left and all of a sudden to the right and vice versa. It looked like a three-element formation, but not quite a three-element formation. Their three swords were weaved into one bright net, but they did not attack the enemy.

After the three priests had moved for seven, eight steps, Zhang Wuji started to understand the principle behind the formation. He mused, “These three priests are very sly; they said it was a three-element sword formation, but it actually has the five-element principle hidden in it. If the enemy believes it was a three-element formation and fights the heaven, the earth and the mankind, three positions, they would be devoured by the five elements. Then it would be difficult for them to escape, and they would be either killed or injured. They are only three people, but launching a five-element formation; each one has to occupy more than one position and overcome their many variations. Their ‘qing gong’ and their sword techniques must be extraordinary.”

The Du couple stood with their backs against each other. Four hands flickered with silver rays, twelve short blades were constantly exchanged. Not only they switched the blades from their left to right hands and vice versa, but Du Baidang’s blades moved to Yi Sanniang’s hand, and Yi Sanniang handed over her blades to Du Baidang’s hands. All along not a single blade fell down, the short blades exchanged hands smoothly.

Zhao Min was baffled by their movement. “What kind of magic trick they are playing?” she asked in low voice.

Zhang Wuji knitted his brows without answering. He watched intently for a moment and suddenly said, “Ah, I understand. He is afraid of my Yifu’s lion’s roar.”

“What lion’s roar?” Zhao Min asked. Zhang Wuji kept nodding his head, and suddenly sneered, “Humph, based on their skill, they want to slaughter a lion and subdue a tiger?”

Zhao Min was more confused than ever, “Are you talking in a riddle?” she asked, “Why are you talking to yourself and leave the listener in bewilderment?”

“These five are my Yifu’s enemies,” Zhang Wuji said in low voice, “That old man is afraid of Yifu’s lion’s roar, hence he punctured his own ear to deafness …”

‘Dang, dang, dang, dang, dang ….’ Suddenly they heard a series of clanging noises close to each other, just like a string of pearls; the five of them had begun fighting. Three Swords of Qinghai sent out five attacks in succession, all of which were parried by the Du couple. The twelve short blades in their hands went back and forth between the two of them. Under the moonlight the blades looked like three rings around the body, their defense was very tight.

The Qinghai Three Swords tried to penetrate their defense for a long time without any outcome and they immediately changed their tactic into defense. Du Baidang took the opportunity to enter their defense line; his short blade attacked the small and thin Taoist priest, Shao Yan’s abdomen.

There was a saying within the martial art practitioners, ‘an inch longer, an inch stronger; an inch shorter, an inch more dangerous.’ The short blades were less than five inches long, so they were extremely dangerous. ‘Swish, swish, swish!’ Du Baidang launched three blades which all were meant to kill without any regard for his own safety.

Ma Fatong and Shao Yan immediately launched a double attack, which was fended off by Yi Sanniang’s blades. Now they know that the blade technique this couple trained was based on close coordination between the two; one attacks the other defends. The one who attacks focused his/her attention only on the attack. Likewise, the one who defends only care about the defense. Neither one needs to divert his/her attention. As Shao Yan received three successive attacks, he was forced to block frantically, and retreated several steps back. Du Baidang pounced on his chest, all his blades were aimed to Shao Yan’s vital points. Shao Yan’s condition was getting more and more critical.

Shao He let out a long whistle, and his sword movements changed. Together with Ma Fatong, the two swords formed a sword net between Du Baidang and Shao Yan, keeping Du Baidang three feet away from them. Now three swords joined together in a very tight defense, so tight that even water would not be able to penetrate.

Zhang Wuji let out another cold laugh and whispered in Zhao Min’s ear, “Both of the sword and the blade techniques are meant to battle my Yifu. Look at them, they all concentrate on defense and do not attack too often. More defense less offense; we won’t find the outcome of the battle even if they fight for another day and night.”

Indeed, after several failed offensive attempts, Du Baidang also changed his tactic into defensive. In low voice Zhao Min said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang’s martial art skill is outstanding. These five fellows only concentrate on defense, how can they score a victory?”

They saw the five people exchange blade and swords stances, and successively use seven, eight different moves, but victory or defeat was still difficult to be seen.

“Hold it!” Ma Fatong suddenly shouted, while leaping out of the circle.

Du Baidang also withdrew. His silver beard fluttered, showing off his might and power.

Ma Fatong said, “The blade technique virtuous husband and wife employed, was it trained to slay the lion?”

“Ah!” Yi Sanniang exclaimed, “Your vision is very good.” “Virtuous husband and wife’s son was killed by Xie Xun, of course this great enmity must be avenged,” Ma Fatong said, “Since you have scouted the enemy’s whereabouts at the Shaolin Temple, why didn’t you make your move at the earliest convenience?”

Yi Sanniang cast him a sidelong glance. “This is our husband and wife’s personal affair,” she said, “We don’t see any need to trouble Daozhang [respectable term to address a Taoist priest] over it.”

Ma Fatong replied, “Yuzhen Guan and virtuous husband and wife’s dispute, as Yi Sanniang said, was over a small matter. It certainly does not worth fighting with our lives at stake, does it? How about we turn the enemy into friend by working together to find Xie Xun?”

“What kind of enmity does Yuzhen Guan have against Xie Xun?” Yi Sanniang asked.

“There is no enmity, hey hey,” Ma Fatong said.

Yi Sanniang said, “If you don’t have anything against Xie Xun, why would you painstakingly train this set of sword technique? We both train different techniques to achieve the same goal, which is to fight the Seven-Injury Fist.”

“Yi Sanniang’s vision is also very good!” Ma Fatong said, “In front of a sage we do not tell a lie; Yuzhen Guan only wants to borrow the Tulong Saber.”

Yi Sanniang nodded. She rapidly wrote several characters on Du Baidang’s palm. Du Baidang replied by writing several characters on her palm. Both husband and wife communicated using their fingers instead of their tongues. Using such technique, they were having a discussion for a while.

Yi Sanniang said, “We, husband and wife, only want to seek revenge. For that, we are willing to shed our lives. We have no interest in Tulong Saber whatsoever.” “That’s great!” Ma Fatong happily said, “The five of us work together to break into Shaolin. Virtuous husband and wife get your revenge, Yuzhen Guan get the precious saber. By combining our minds and strengths, we can accomplish a great merit. Both sides obtain their desire, friendship will not be harmed.”

Five people struck each other’s palms to seal their oath straightaway. Then the Du couple invited the three priests to come into their house to have a detailed discussion on their plan to seek revenge and snatch the Saber away.

As the Three Swords of Qinghai were seated, they saw that the wooden door of the bedroom was closed; unavoidably they eyed it suspiciously. Yi Sanniang said with a laugh, “Don’t worry, they are a young couple from Dadu, running away from their homes. The girl is as pretty as jade, the boy is an uncouth fellow; both do not know the least bit of martial art.”

“Sanniang please don’t blame us,” Ma Fatong said, “It’s not that we don’t believe virtuous husband and wife’s explanation, it’s just that what we are about to accomplish is of the greatest importance, involving the life and death of the word’s heroes; if our secret is leaked, I am afraid …”

Yi Sanniang laughed, “We have fought for half a day, yet this young couple is still sleeping like a dead pig. It’s very prudent of Ma Daozhang to be cautious. You’d better see it with your own eyes.”

While saying that, she pushed the door, but the door was bolted from the inside. Zhang Wuji thought that it would be better for him to learn whatever information he could get from these five people before trying to find a way to rescue his Yifu, so he did not want to get rid of these people so soon. He immediately carried Zhao Min and put her on the bed. Quickly he removed his shoes and pulled the blanket over their bodies.

‘Snap!’ the latch broke by Shao He’s internal energy exertion. With a candlestick in her hand, Yi Sanniang walked in, with the Three Swords of Qinghai followed behind her. Seeing the candlelight, Zhang Wuji turned his eyes toward Yi Sanniang with a blank expression on his face. ‘Swish’ Ma Fatong slashed his sword toward his throat. His action was very swift and fierce.

“Ah!” Zhang Wuji cried out in fear, and jumped out of bed, as if he was delivering his neck toward the blade of the sword. Ma Fatong immediately held his sword, thinking that this man truly did not know any martial art, because no matter how brave, a martial art practitioner would not dare not to evade the sword.

Zhao Min mumbled and turned her body around as if she was still deep in slumber. Under the candlelight, her face looked captivatingly beautiful and tender.

“Yi Sanniang was right,” Shao He said, “Let’s get out of here!” The five of them returned to the living room.

Zhang Wuji jumped down the bed and put on his shoes. He heard Ma Fatong say, “Have virtuous husband and wife confirmed that Xie Xun is really at the Shaolin Temple?”

“We are absolutely certain,” Yi Sanniang replied, “Shaolin Temple has already sent out invitations to invite all heroes for a ‘Lion-slaying Assembly’ on the Duan Yang Festival. If they had not captured Xie Xun, they would certainly lose face in front of the world’s heroes. How could they do that?”

“Hmm,” Ma Fatong was silent for a moment before continuing, “Kong Jian Shen Seng [divine monk] of Shaolin Pai died under Xie Xun’s fist; of course Shaolin monks and disciples would want to avenge him. Actually, all virtuous husband and wife need to do is enter the Temple on the Duan Yang Festival, and open your eyes to see your enemy stretch out his neck to die. Without uttering any word or exerting the least bit of strength, your enmity will be avenged. Why did Mr. Du sacrifice his ears and risk the danger of offending the Shaolin Pai?” With a cold laugh Yi Sanniang said, “My humble husband destroyed his ears five years ago. Besides, without any reason our only beloved son was murdered by that wicked thief Xie Xun. Our hatred toward him is as deep as the ocean. With this kind of enmity, would we leave the revenge in other people’s hands? In order to deal with this wicked thief surnamed Xie, our first step was to pierce his pair of ears deaf. We, husband and wife, will strive to die together with him. Hey, hey, ever since our beloved child was killed by him, we don’t have anybody to love in this world anymore. We don’t care if we offend Shaolin or Wudang, or die under thousand blades and ten thousand cuts.”

In the adjacent room, Zhang Wuji could hear a very deep hatred in her voice; he shivered involuntarily while musing, “Because of his suffering under Cheng Kun’s hands, Yifu has vented off his anger to many innocent people in the past. This Du couple does not look like bad people, yet because they are heartbroken over their son’s tragic death, they endured pain and suffering just to kill my Yifu. This kind of enmity will not be easily resolved. As soon as I rescue Yifu, I will have to take him far away to avoid further shedding of innocent blood.”

By this time, Zhang Wuji did not hear the least bit of noise from the five people on the other side of the door. He took a peak from a crack on the wooden partition and saw the Du couple and Ma Fatong, three people, were dipping their fingers on the teacups and writing on the table. “These five people are truly cautious,” he thought, “Although they are convinced that Zhao Min and I are not Jianghu characters, they are still afraid we might leak their plan. Ay, too many families in Jianghu want to seek revenge on Yifu. There are even more people who covet the Tulong Saber. I am afraid there are countless people who want to get their hands on him even before the Duan Yang Festival. These people not only made extraordinary painstaking effort, they are also martial art experts. Yifu would certainly face a catastrophic suffering if Shaolin Temple is somewhat negligent. Looks like the sooner I can save him the better.”

As five people continued their silent, secret discussion, Zhang Wuji lied down on the wooden bench and slept. They woke up at dawn the next day, and saw the Three Swords of Qinghai had already left.

“Popo,” Zhang Wuji asked Yi Sanniang, “Why did those three Taoist masters come here last night with shining knives in their hands? At first, I thought they came here to capture us that I was scared out of my wits. Only later I found out that it wasn’t the case.”

Yi Sanniang was secretly amused to hear him calling the sword a ‘knife’; but keeping a straight face she said, “They were astray travelers; they left after drinking a bowl of tea. Zeng Xiaoge [young big brother Zeng], after lunch we are going to take three bunches of firewood for sale in the Shaolin Temple. Would you help us carry a bunch? If the monks in the Temple ask, I will say that you are our son. This might inconvenience you a bit, but I just want to avoid making them suspicious. Your wife who is as-pretty-as-a- flower, must not go out to take a walk on her own.”

Although she talked as if she was asking Zhang Wuji’s opinion, her tone carried an authority, which did not give Zhang Wuji any chance to say otherwise. As soon as Zhang Wuji heard her, he understood her intention. “She thinks I really am a farmer boy,” he thought, “And she wants me to accompany her scouting the Temple. Nothing can be better than that!” Therefore, he immediately agreed.

“Whatever Popo said, Xiaozi [little child – referring to self] will obey,” he said, “All I ask is that Popo will give the two of us shelter. We have been running to the east and fleeing to the west with fear and trepidation, without a day of peace.”

Right after the seventh hour [between 11am – 1pm], Zhang Wuji followed behind the Du couple, each one carried a pile of firewood on their shoulder pole, walking toward the Shaolin Temple. He wore a wide bamboo hat on his head, a short hatchet on his waist, and a pair of straw shoes on his feet. Among the three, he carried the largest bunch of firewood. With a smile on her face, Zhao Min stood by the door, sending him off with her gaze.

The Du couple deliberately walked slow, huffing and puffing along the way, until at last they arrived at a pavilion just outside the Shaolin Temple, where they put down their loads and took a rest. There were two monks chatting idly in the pavilion. They did not think much of seeing these three people.

Yi Sanniang took off her head scarf to wipe her perspiration. She also reached out to wipe the sweats on Zhang Wuji’s head while asking, “Child, are you tired?”

At first Zhang Wuji was embarrassed, but then he realized that she said those words with genuine affection; he could not help but look in her eyes. He saw tears were forming on her eyes, so he knew she must be thinking of the son Xie Xun had killed. He saw she was looking at him with lingering emotion, apparently she was expecting a reply. He was touched, and said, “Ma, I am not tired. You are tired.”

When he said, ‘Ma,’ he was remembering his own mother, hence, his voice was full of emotion too. As Yi Sanniang heard him call her ‘Ma,’ the dam broke and tears streamed down her cheeks. Instead of wiping the sweat off her head, she used the head scarf to wipe her tears away.

Du Baidang stood up, heaved the firewood and waved his left hand while walking out of the pavilion. Even though he could not hear the two people’s conversation, he knew that his wife was overwhelmed with the memory of their perished child. He was afraid she would expose some weakness and the two monks would see through their scheme.

Zhang Wuji went to Yi Sanniang’s pile of firewood, took two bunches and added them to his own pile, and said, “Ma, let us go.”

Seeing him showing this much consideration, Yi Sanniang thought, “If my child were still alive today, he would be several years older than this young man, and I would have had several grandchildren.” For a moment she was only staring blankly and unable to move. Then, seeing Zhang Wuji walking out of the pavilion carrying his load, she stood up to follow. But because she was still excited, she slightly staggered. Zhang Wuji turned around to help her, thinking, “If my Mama were still in this world, I would hold her like this …”

One of the monks said, “This young man is actually very filial, which is rare nowadays.”

The other monk said, “Popo, are you going to sell this bunch of firewood to the Temple? These past several days Fangzhang [abbot] has issued an order that no outsiders will be allowed to enter the Temple. You’d better come back.”

Yi Sanniang was quite disappointed; she thought, “Shaolin Temple has indeed elevated their security, then it won’t be easy to go in.”

Du Baidang had already proceeded several ‘zhang’s ahead, but realizing the other two did not follow, he stopped and wait.

The first monk said, “This village family’s mother is a loving mother, the son is filial, we must help them. Shidi [younger martial brother], take them through the back door to the kitchen. If anybody asks, just tell them they are the villagers who used to sell firewood. I don’t think there will be any problem.”

“Yes,” the second monk said, “The Supervisor forbid the outsiders to enter the Temple to avoid casual onlookers. These people are honest and upright villagers, why would we hurt their livelihood?” Thereupon he led the Du couple and Zhang Wuji to enter the Temple through the back door. They dropped the firewood in the kitchen and the monk in charge of the kitchen counted some coins to pay them.

Yi Sanniang said, “We have some nice ‘da bai cai’ [bokchoy, Chinese cabbage], I will send Ah Niu to deliver several catties tomorrow. You don’t have to pay, just consider it our gift to all the Shifus to taste something new.”

The monk who took her there laughed and said, “Starting tomorrow, you can’t come in anymore. If the Supervisor finds out, the blame we have to endure will not end for a lifetime.”

The kitchen manager looked at Zhang Wuji, sizing him up, and then suddenly said, “Around the Duan Yang Festival, we are going to have more than a thousand guests in the Temple. We are going to be too busy to fetch water and chop the firewood. This Xiongdi [brother (general term)] looks healthy and strong. How about you come and help us for a couple of months, and I’ll give you five silver coins per month for your wages?”

Yi Sanniang was delighted. “That’s great,” she hastily said, “Ah Niu does not have anything important at home to do. It will be better for him to stay and do errands for all Shifus, while earning one or two coins of silver to help the family out financially.”

Zhang Wuji hesitated, he thought, “Many people in the Shaolin Temple know me. Once in a while they are bound to wander into the kitchen then I would be in trouble. If I have to live in the Temple for two months, I must avoid going out to prevent being recognized.” Thereupon he said, “Ma, my wife …”

Yi Sanniang thought it was a heaven-sent opportunity, which could never be expected but could only be accepted. “Your wife is fine at home,” she hastily said, “Are you afraid your Mama will mistreat her? You just stay here and listen to the Shifu’s words, don’t be lazy. After several days, Mama and your wife will come to visit you here. You are a big boy now; can’t you get away from Mama for even a day? Do you still want Mama to nurse you and help you urinate?” As she said that, she tussle his hair, with eyes brimming with love.

Actually, the monk in charge of the kitchen had been upset for many days. Around the Duan Yang Great Assembly, heroes from all over the world would gather there; providing rice and vegetable dishes, and preparing tea were the most difficult parts to be dealt with. Although the Temple Supervisor had allocated more manpower to help in the kitchen, these monks were not in the habit of practicing meditation and Buddhism dharma; they were more interested in training martial arts. Therefore, they were not willing to do menial kitchen works. They went to the kitchen just because the Temple Supervisor told them to; but they carried their haughty attitude in the kitchen, staring a lot at the other kitchen workers, but did not do too much work. By this time, it was still all right, but as soon as they guests arrived, they would be in big trouble. He saw Zhang Wuji was an honest, simple, hardworking villager, so he was determined to retain his service; thereupon he constantly persuaded Zhang Wuji to stay.

Zhang Wuji considered, “I can stay in the kitchen during the day to avoid seeing the Temple masters, while leisurely looking for Yifu’s whereabouts in the evening.” But he was still pretending to drag his feet, until the monk who took him inside also persuaded him, then he reluctantly complied by saying, “Shifu, I want to get six coins of silver per month from you; five silver coins for my Ma, and one silver coin for my wife to buy some clothes

…”

The monk in charge of the kitchen laughed and said, “It’s a deal! Six silver coins a month it is.”

After repeatedly exhorting Zhang Wuji to work diligently, Yi Sanniang slowly went down the mountain with Du Baidang. Zhang Wuji ran after them and said, “Ma, please take a good care of my wife.”

“I know,” Yi Sanniang replied, “Don’t you worry.”

In the kitchen, Zhang Wuji was extremely busy with chopping firewood and removing the ashes, lighting fire and fetching water. He deliberately let the ashes smeared onto his face, and let the ashes fell on his hair, so that when he looked at his own reflection in the water jar, he could not recognize his own face. That night he slept with numerous kitchen helpers in a little cabin next to the kitchen. He knew the Shaolin Temple was full of crouching tigers and hidden dragons. Oftentimes there were martial art masters hidden among the kitchen helpers. Thereupon, he was very cautious in all aspects, he did not even dare to speak half a sentence more than necessary.

In this way he passed seven, eight days already, during which time Yi Sanniang took Zhao Min to visit him twice. He worked hard from morning till night, and had never refused any task given to him. The kitchen manager monk was very happy. He also got along well with the other kitchen helpers. He did not dare to ask any question, but he opened his eyes and ears wide, trying to find any clues within the idle talks around him. He expected someone would be sent to deliver food to his Yifu, and then he would follow and try to find where his Yifu was imprisoned. Who would have thought that after waiting patiently for several days, he neither found any clues nor heard any news.

By the evening of the ninth day, he was sleeping on his bed, when suddenly around midnight he heard some faint shouting from about half a ‘li’ [1 li is approximately 0.5km] away. He arose quietly, and after making sure nobody else was awake, he launched his ‘qing gong’ towards the direction of the noise.

It seemed like the noise came from the wooded area to the west of the Temple. Leaping up to a big tree, he crouched to look around. After making sure nobody was hiding among the grass around him, he leaped from tree to tree toward the noise. By this time he started to hear clashing weapons; and then he saw several people who were engaged in a fierce battle.

Hiding behind a tree, he saw flickering light from sabers and swords, as six people, divided into two sides, were fighting each other. The three men wielding swords were none other than the Three Swords of Qinghai, who arranged themselves in the fake ‘three-element’ formation, which was actually a five-element formation. Their defense was very tight. Their opponents were three monks, each with a saber in his hand, trying hard to penetrate the defense.

After about twenty, thirty stances; ‘stab!’ one of the Qinghai Three Swords fell by the saber. The fake three-element formation was broken. The other Two Swords of Qinghai were not able to hold much longer. Several stances later, with a miserable ‘Ah!’ one of them was chopped by the saber. Judging from his voice, it was the short and fat Ma Fatong. The last man’s arm was already injured, but he kept fighting to the death. One of the monks shouted in a low voice, “Hold it!” Three monks with sabers in their hands surrounded him, but did not continue their attacks.

An old-sounding monk said, “Your Yuzhen Guan of Qinghai has never had any enmity or hatred toward our Shaolin Pai; why did you trespass our territory in the middle of the night?”

The last of the Three Swords of Qinghai was Shao He; with grief in his voice he said, “Since the three of us martial brothers have already been defeated, we can only blame our own inadequacy; why do you ask any questions?”

The old-sounding monk said with a cold laugh, “You came for Xie Xun, and wanted to get the Tulong Saber, didn’t you? Hey hey, I have never heard Xie Xun killed anybody from the Yuzhen Guan; so you must be after the Tulong Saber. Based on your child’s play skill, do you think you can wander around the Shaolin Temple? The Shaolin Temple has been the leader of the Wulin world for more than a thousand years; it never occurred to me that some people actually look down on us like this.”

‘Swish!’ Shao He took advantage while the monk was talking happily to thrust his sword straight forward. The monk hastily evaded, but he was one step too slow and the sword pierced his left shoulder. The other two monks from either side of him slashed together with their sabers, Shao He’s head was immediately separated from his body.

Without saying anything, the three monks picked up the bodies of the Three Swords of Qinghai and walked toward the Temple. Zhang Wuji was just thinking of following them to know the outcome of this affair, when suddenly he heard faint breathing from among the tall grass ahead of him and slightly to the right.

“What a close call!” he silently sighed, “Turns out they set up an ambush here.” Immediately he crouched back and remained motionless.

About almost an hour later, he heard from among the grass someone softly clap twice. And then from some distant away someone else also clapped in response. Zhang Wuji saw six monks arose from all around him, each with a weapon in his hand, either a monk’s staff, a saber, or a sword. They walked in a fan-shaped formation toward the temple.

Zhang Wuji waited until those six months were far away before he returned to the cabin. The rest of the kitchen helpers were still sleeping soundly; nobody knew he was away. He sighed inwardly. “If I did not see it with my own eyes, I would not believe three warriors have just lost their lives in a very short moment.” From what he had just experienced, he knew that the Shaolin Temple has set up a thorough security system, far tighter than usual, so he had to be even more careful.

A few more days passed; it was the middle of the fourth month already. The weather gradually turned warm. They were a day closer to the Duanyang Festival with each passing day. Zhang Wuji mused, “If I keep doing this heavy manual labor in the kitchen, in the end it would be difficult for me to find out Yifu’s whereabouts. Tonight I must take a risk by going everywhere to investigate.”

That night he slept until the third hour [between 3 – 5 am]. He quietly got up and jumped to the roof, crouching behind the stony roof ridge. He had just settled down into position when he saw two shadows from the south, light as a feather, swept passing to the north; their monks’ robes floating in the air, the sabers in their hands flicker under the moonlight. They were patrolling monks of the Temple.

After these two monks passed, Zhang Wuji quickly moved several ‘zhang’s forward. He heard footsteps on the tile floor ahead, as two more monks leaped up. He saw shadows of monks going back and forth everywhere. The security was very tight; he thought that even the security inside the imperial palace was not this strict. Seeing this kind of situation, he knew that if he proceeds, he would be unavoidably detected. Therefore, he decided to return in disappointment.

Toward the third evening, a storm was brewing; thunderclaps boomed and heavy rain poured down from the sky. Zhang Wuji was delighted. “Heaven helps me!” he thought. He saw the rain was getting heavier, everywhere he looked all he saw was total darkness.

Quick as a lightning, he moved toward the main hall, thinking, “The Luohan Hall, the Damo Hall, the Banruo [lit. great wisdom] Court, the Abbot’s lecture hall, are all Shaolin Temple’s most strategic places. I will explore them all one by one.” However, there were so many buildings and rooms in the Shaolin Temple; in reality, he did not know which way was the Luohan Hall, which way was the Banrou Court.

Trying to hide from the flashes of lightning, he wandered aimlessly until he arrived at a small bamboo grove. He saw ahead of him was a small cottage, and a flicker of light coming through the window. By this time his body was totally soaked; raindrops as big as soybeans hit his hands and face, and bounced back from his skin. Stealthily he crept toward the window, and he heard someone speaking inside; the voice belonged to Reverend Kong Wen, the Abbot of the Shaolin Temple.

Zhang Wuji heard him say, “Because of this Jin Mao Shi Wang, the Shaolin Temple has killed twenty-three people in one month. We are heaping sins on ourselves, contrary to the teaching of Buddha about showing mercy. The Ming Cult’s Guangming Zuo Shi [left emissary of the brightness] Yang Xiao, You Shi [right emissary] Fan Yao, Bai Mei Mo Wang [white-browed devil king] Yin Tianzheng, Qing Yi Fu Wang [green-winged bat king] Wei Yixiao, one after another sent their envoys to the Temple, asking me to release Xie Xun …”

Hearing this, Zhang Wuji’s heart was reassured, thinking, “Turns out my grandfather [orig. wai4 gong1 – maternal grandfather], Yang Zuoshi, and the others have learned this information and have already sent people to come over here.”

He heard Kong Wen continue, “Of course our Temple refused, but how can the Ming Cult let the matter drop? That Zhang Jiaozhu has reached the pinnacle of the martial art mastery, until now he has not appeared. I am afraid he is operating surreptitiously. Kong Zhi Shidi [younger martial brother] and I owe him for saving our lives. If he personally came and asked for favor, how can we answer him? This is a serious problem. Shidi, Shizhi [martial nephew], do you have any honorable idea?”

An old and deep voice coughed lightly. As Zhang Wuji heard this cough, his heart was shaken, for he recognized this person as Cheng Kun, who changed his name to Yuan Zhen. Zhang Wuji had never spoken with him face to face, but at the Brightness Peak, when Zhang Wuji was inside the cloth-sack, he heard him recounting the past events, and then from behind the rock, he heard him shouting; he was very familiar with Cheng Kun’s voice. In a flash, suddenly Xiao Zhao came into his mind. One part of his heart was sweet, the other part was bitter.

He heard Yuan Zhen say, “Xie Xun is being guarded by three Tai Shishu [martial granduncle], so nothing will happen to him. The heroes’ assembly this time concerns our Shaolin Pai’s thousands of years’ prosperity and decline, our glory or disgrace. Some small kindness or resentment from the Ming Cult should not worry Fangzhang Shishu [abbot martial uncle] too much. Besides, the Wan An Temple affair was a collusion between the Ming Cult and the imperial government to make things difficult for the Six Major Sects, doesn’t Fangzhang Shishu know it?”

“How can the Ming Cult collude with the imperial government?” Kong Wen was surprised.

Yuan Zhen said, “The Ming Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu was engaged to the Emei Pai Zhangmen [sect leader], Miss Zhou. On their wedding day, the Ruyang Prince’s Junzhu Niangniang [princess] suddenly took that fellow surnamed Zhang away. This matter has shaken the Jianghu; Fangzhang Shishu must have heard about it.”

“That’s right,” Kong Wen said, “I heard it was so.”

“One of that Junzhu Niangniang’s subordinate is a very capable warrior, called Ku Toutuo,” Yuan Zhen continued, “Both Shishu must have seen him at the Wan An Temple.”

At the Wan An Temple, Kong Zhi was forced by Zhao Min to demonstrate his martial art. Once he was humiliated by Ku Toutuo, because at that time his internal strength was gone, and thus he was not able to resist. He still bore some resentment until this moment. “Humph,” he said, “Once this important business is finished, I am going to Dadu to find Ku Toutuo and challenge him.”

“Shishu [plural], do you know who this Toutuo really is?” Yuan Zhen asked.

“This Ku Toutuo’s knowledge is very vast,” Kong Zhi replied, “He seems to know the martial art skill of every school and every sect. In all honesty, I can’t pinpoint his school origin.”

“Ku Toutuo is actually the Ming Cult’s Guangming You Shi Fan Yao,” Yuan Zhen said.

“Is that so?” Kong Wen and Kong Zhi exclaimed together. They sounded very surprised.

“How can Yuan Zhen dare to deceive Shishu?” Yuan Zhen said, “If he has the guts to appear on the Duan Yang Festival, once Shishu sees it, you will know.”

Kong Wen was deep in thought. “If that’s the case, then Zhang Wuji definitely collaborates secretly with that Junzhu. As the Junzhu captured the leaders of the Six Major Sects, Zhang Wuji sold his kindness by rescuing us.”

“I am 80, 90% sure that was what really happened,” Yuan Zhen said.

“But I still think that Zhang Jiaozhu looks honest, considerate and upright,” Kong Wen said, “It’s hard to imagine he is that kind of man. We must not wrongly accuse a good person.” Yuan Zhen said, “I am sure Fangzhang Shishu remember the saying, ‘knowing a man by his face, not knowing his heart’ [zhi1 ren2 zhi1 mian4 bu4 zhi1 xin1]. That Xie Xun is Zhang Wuji’s Yifu, he is also one of the four Great Protector Kings [hu jiao fa wang – see my note in Chapter 30] of the Devil Cult. The Devil Cult will disregard everything to save its own people. In the upcoming Lion-slaying Assembly, everything will become apparent.”

Thereupon the three of them continued their discussion on how to welcome the guests, and how to stop the enemies who wanted to abduct Xie Xun; they also estimated how many masters from each school and sect would attend the assembly. Yuan Zhen strived to provoke all schools to fight each other. Then, after they had been defeated and suffered some injuries, Shaolin Pai would take advantage by killing the tiger inside the village, subduing all sects, so by right they would obtain the Tulong Saber and kill Xie Xun as a sacrifice for Kong Jian.

Kong Wen strongly emphasized that they should not shed too much blood and offended the Wulin people of the same principle; also, it seemed like he did not want to insult the Ming Cult.

Kong Zhi, however, wanted to embrace both ideas. He said, “When all is said and done, the most important matter is forcing Xie Xun to reveal the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts before the Duan Yang Festival. Otherwise, this ‘lion-slaying assembly’ will be meaningless and in turn will degrade our Sect’s prestige.

“Shidi has stated it well,” Kong Wen said, “We must show the Saber without fail at the meeting to set up our prestige. We’ll say that this ‘most revered in the Wulin world’ [wu3 lin2 zhi4 zun1], the precious Tulong Saber has returned under our Sect’s control. Then our Sect will rule the world, and nobody would dare to disobey.”

“All right,” Kong Zhi said, “Let it be so. Yuan Zhen, go and talk with Xie Xun again. Persuade him to hand over the precious Saber and we’ll spare his life.” “Yes!” Yuan Zhen replied, “I respectfully follow Shishu’s instruction.” Footsteps were heard as Yuan Zhen went out the room.

Zhang Wuji was delighted, but he knew that these three Shaolin monks possessed extremely high martial art skill; if he made the slightest noise, he would be immediately detected. If he had to fight the three of them together, he was afraid it would be difficult for him to score a victory. The best he could do would be escape, but then his efforts to save his Yifu would be a thousand times, ten thousand times more difficult. Thereupon he held his breath and stayed perfectly still.

He saw that Yuan Zhen’s slim figure was moving to the north. A loud pitter- patter noise was heard as the heavy rain struck the oilpaper umbrella in his hand. Zhang Wuji waited until he was more than a dozen of ‘zhang’s away before he lightly slipped out to follow him.

End of Chapter 35.

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