The Legend of the Condor Heroes Chapter 6-10

Chapter 6 – Mysterious Happenings on the Summit of the Cliff

Remaining in the ger, the Six quietly conferred with each other. “This man taught a superior neigong to our Jing’er,” Han Xiaoying said. “He can’t possible want to hurt him...”

“Then why doesn't he want us to know about it?” Quan Jinfa asked. “And why he doesn't tell to our Jing’er that it’s neigong that he’s teaching him.

“I fear that he’s someone that we know,” Zhu Cong said.

“Someone we know?” Han Xiaoying wondered. “If it’s not a friend, it can only be an enemy!” “Amongst our friends,” Quan Jinfa confirmed, “no one has kung fu this exceptional.”

“But if it is an enemy,” Han Xiaoying pursued, “what reason would he have to teach our Jing’er?”

“Maybe there is a devilish plan behind it.” Ke Zhen’E said with a cold voice. The others froze thinking about his words. “Tonight,” Zhu Cong said, “Sixth brother and I will follow Jing’er discreetly to see who the expert is.” The five approved.

That night, Zhu Cong and Quan Jinfa hid themselves not far from Guo Jing and his mother’s ger. After a half-hour wait, they heard the young man say in a high voice, “I’m going, mom!” He left the ger, discreetly followed by his two masters, who were surprised at the speed of his leaving. Fortunately, there weren’t many obstacles on the arid plain and they could see him from afar. Arriving at the bottom of the cliff, he climbed it without slowing down. By this time, Guo Jing had made huge progress in his lightness technique. Since he climbed the cliff every evening, he didn't need the help of the Taoist anymore and went to the top very quickly. Zhu Cong and Quan Jinfa were more and more astonished and stood for a long time in silence until the other ‘Freaks’ arrived. Afraid of falling into the hands of enemies, they brought their weapons and their hidden projectiles. Zhu Cong explained that Guo Jing was already up the cliff. Han Xiaoying raised her head and saw the summit of the cliff lost in the clouds and shivered. “We’ll have a difficult time getting up there,” she said.

“Let's hide in the bushes,” Ke Zhen’E said, “we’ll wait for them to come down again.” The other five agreed. Han Xiaoying thought about the night ten years ago when they fought the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’. She and her six brothers hid, waiting for enemies. It was as cold a night as this one and the wind cut to the bone. The lonely moon, the desolate hill, the swirling of sand, and the silence of the night only broken by some distant sounds... The only difference was that now she wouldn’t see Zhang Ahsheng and his always smiling face. She felt sadness in her heart.

The hours passed and they didn’t notice any movement on the cliff. Day broke and there was still no trace of Guo Jing or of his mysterious teacher. They tried looking up but couldn’t see anything.

“Sixth brother,” Zhu Cong said, “Let’s see what’s up there.” “Will we be able to climb it?” Han Baoju asked.

“I’m not sure; we’ll only know after we try,” Zhu Cong said. After running back to the ger, he returned bringing back two long ropes, two axes and several big nails. Quan Jinfa and Zhu Cong attached themselves to each other with the rope and began the climb. They dug some holes and planted the nails in them in order to provide sure hand and foot-holds. Sweating, they finally arrived on the summit. Hardly had they put their feet on the top of the cliff when they exclaimed loudly and became pale with fear.

Next to a big rock, they saw nine white skulls perfectly stacked - five at the base, three in the middle and one on the top. It was identical to the arrangement once made by the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’. Examining the skulls, they saw that each also had the five holes in the forehead. The edges of the holes were very clean and without any breaks as if cut with a blade. Obviously, the power of the fingers of the ‘Killer’ had increased considerably when compared to the ones they had seen ten years ago. With their hearts thumping like drums they cautiously examined the surroundings, but saw nothing else unusual. Then they climbed down to tell the others what they had seen. Seeing the look on their faces, Han Baoju was worried.

“It’s Mei Chaofeng!” Zhu Cong said. The other four froze. “And our Jing’er?...” Han Xiaoying asked.

“They must have come down the other side,” Quan Jinfa answered. Then he told them what they had seen.

“Who would have guessed,” Ke Zhen’E sighed, “that for eighteen years, all of our efforts only served to feed a snake amongst us!” “Jing’er is an honest, straight-forward boy and good as gold,” Han Xiaoying disagreed, “he would never betray us.”

“Honest and straight-forward?” Ke Zhen’E sneered. “How could he learn those martial arts from that witch for two years and not tell us anything?” Han Xiaoying stayed uneasily silent, not Knowing what to say.

“Unless,” Han Baoju said, “a blind Mei Chaofeng wants to use Jing’er to harm us?” “That’s probably what she’s planning,” Zhu Cong confirmed.

“Even if Jing’er has bad intentions,” Han Xiaoying protested, “he would never agree to betray us like that!” “Maybe,” Quan Jinfa suggested, “the witch hasn’t decided when the moment to inform him has come.”

“Ok, let's admit,” Han Baoju said, “That Jing’er’s lightness technique is good and he has a good basis in neigong; but what of martial arts? He still is far behind us. Why didn’t the witch teach him any techniques?”

“The witch only uses him,” Ke Zhen’E explained, “She doesn't want to make him good! Didn't her husband die by Jing’er’s hand?”

“That’s it! That’s it!” Zhu Cong exclaimed. “She wants us all to die by Jing’er’s hand, and then she will kill him. That way full vengeance will be gained!” They all shivered, struck by the logic of this reasoning. Ke Zhen’E struck the ground with his staff and quietly said, “Let’s go back and act as if we don’t know anything. When Jing’er arrives, we will eliminate him. Afterward, when the witch arrives to train him, we will take care of her. Even though she may have become stronger than before, she can't see anything; with the six of us together, we should be able to get rid of her once and for all.

“Eliminate Jing’er?” Han Xiaoying exclaimed, frightened. “And what of the challenge we made with Qiu Chuji?”

“Which is more important,” Ke Zhen’E replied coldly, “to keep our lives safe or to go to that challenge?” All remained silent. “No,” Nan Xiren suddenly said. “We can’t do it.”

“What can’t we do?” asked Han Baoju.

“We can’t eliminate him.” Nan Xiren said, shaking his head.

“I agree with the opinion of Fourth brother,” Han Xiaoying said. “It’s necessary to interrogate him in depth in order not to make an irreparable mistake.” “The problem is too serious,” Quan Jinfa said. “If we hesitate and show the slightest weakness and he benefits from that to secretly betray us, what will happen to us?”

“If we don’t make the right decision,” Zhu Cong said, “the consequences may be terrifying. Do not forget that our adversary is Mei Chaofeng!”

“What do you think, Third brother?” Ke Zhen’E asked.

Han Baoju wasn’t sure which way to decide, but he saw tears in the eyes of Han Xiaoying. She seemed so sad: “I’ll take Fourth brother’s side,” Then he said, “I won't ever be able to kill Jing’er.”

Thus, three ‘Freaks’ were of the opinion to use violence on Guo Jing; the other three wanted a more measured approach. “If Fifth brother was still among us,” Zhu Cong sighed, “it would be possible for him to break this deadlock...”

Hearing him mention Zhang Ahsheng, Han Xiaoying was heart broken again. Holding back her tears, she quietly said, “How could we not want to avenge our Fifth brother? Let's obey our elder Brother’s wish!”

“In that case,” Ke Zhen’E said. “Let’s go back to the camp.”

Back in their ger, they stayed silent, the air of death surrounding them.

That night, when Guo Jing arrived at the summit of the cliff, the Taoist was already there. Seeing the young man, he spoke to him in a low voice and showed him something next to the big rock where they usually trained.

“Look!”

Guo Jing approached and saw in the moonlight the pile of nine skulls. He jumped back. “The ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’!” he said with a trembling voice. “They’ve come again!”

“You know of the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’?” the Taoist asked. The young man told him of the terrifying fights that night, in the course of which his Fifth Shifu lost his life. He also told of how he frantically struck out with his knife and killed Chen Xuanfeng. The visions of that night were so vivid in his mind that he could not stop himself from shivering. When he stabbed ‘Copper Corpse’, he was very young, but the terrifying images had been engraved deeply in his memory.

“‘Copper Corpse’ caused so much suffering,” sighed the Taoist, “yet he died by your hand!”

“My Shifus often speak of the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’. My Third Shifu and Seventh Shifu say that ‘Iron Corpse’ should be dead... But Eldest Shifu always says: ‘Not for sure! Not for sure’! For these nine skulls to be here, ‘Iron Corpse’ can’t be dead...” He shivered. “Did you see Mei Chaofeng?” he asked.

“I arrived here not long ago,” the Taoist answered, “And I immediately noticed this pile of skulls. Has ‘Iron Corpse’ come here to take revenge on your Shifus and you?”

“The Eldest Shifu made her blind,” Guo Jing said, “we are not afraid of her.”

The Taoist took a skull in his hand and carefully examined it. “This person has a kung fu of terrifying power,” he said while nodding his head. “I fear that your six Shifus are not strong enough to face her. Even if I lend them some assistance, we still may not defeat her!”

He was so sure of what he was saying, that Guo Jing was stunned. “Ten years ago,” he said, “she was not blind and yet she did not succeed in defeating my seven Shifus. Today, we are eight... You... will you help us in this danger or not?”

“I’ve thought about it for a little while,” the Taoist answered after an moment of silence, “but I don't understand how her fingers can be this powerful... As says the proverb: ‘Those that wish you well don't come to find you, those that come to find you don't wish you well’! Since she dares to come to take revenge, she is very sure of her chances.”

“What reason did she have for arranging the skulls here? Won't we be extra cautious after seeing them?”

“I imagine that it must be a part of the ritual of practicing the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’... Because it is so difficult to climb, she must think that no one comes to the summit of this cliff. By sheer luck, we stumbled on it!”

Fearing that Mei Chaofeng might already be going to fight his masters, Guo Jing said, “I am going to warn my Shifus.”

“Well thought,” the Taoist approved. “Tell them that you pass on a message from a good friend; they are to keep themselves aside for a while and take time to find the best solution... There’s no reason to face her needlessly.”

Guo Jing agreed; but at the very moment he was going to let himself slip down from the cliff, the Taoist grabbed him and jumped behind a large rock where they hid themselves. Guo Jing was going to ask him what was going on when the Taoist put his hand over his mouth. He shrank against the rock, not daring to make a sound, only risking a quick look.

A short time later, a shadow moved up the other side of the cliff. In the moonlight, long hair floated in the wind: it was Mei Chaofeng. The other side of the hill was even steeper than the cliff; because she was blind, she probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. That was a stroke of luck, because the ‘Six Freaks’ were hidden on this side. If she had come up here, she would not have failed to meet them, and they would be fighting already!

Mei Chaofeng turned around suddenly; a frightened Guo Jing lowered his head quickly. Then he remembered that she was blind, and he stood up slowly. He saw that she was sitting with her legs crossed on the big rock where he trained every day. Then she began breathing exercises. He now understood that this way of breathing and mastering the breath constituted the practice of the neigong. He felt a sudden appreciation for the Taoist’s teaching.

A little later, he heard crackling coming from the body of Mei Chaofeng; at first occasional, then faster and faster, just like when one grills peanuts in a wok and they explode. The noise came from the inside of her body that remained immobile. Guo Jing didn't know that it was a strange and superior form of the neigong, but he was still very impressed. The crackling lasted for a long time. Then the rhythm slowed until it stopped completely. Guo Jing saw her rise slowly, her left hand took something from her waist that she swung like a long silver snake. Startled at first, he then saw that it was a very long whip. The Golden Dragon Whip of his Shifu Han Baoju didn't exceed six feet, but this one had to be more than twenty feet long!

She turned around slowly and the light of the moon illuminated a face that still was very pretty. With her long hair and her eyes closed, she seemed sinister and frightening. In the silence, one could hear her sigh and whisper, “My bastard husband, could it be that in the Hell, you also think of me every day?” Holding her whip by its middle section, she quietly laughed and began to train. This whip seemed to dance in a curious way; the movements were slow and didn't make any noise. She made a stroke to the east, followed by an astounding one to the west; every strike more unbelievable than the last. Suddenly her hand slipped and caught the end of the whip so that all of its length reached a big rock. It wrapped around and raised it, as if it was a hand. Guo Jing was stunned by this. The whip, after flinging the rock far away, moved back towards his head. In the moonlight, he could see distinctly that the end of the whip held about ten very sharp hooks.

Guo Jing was already holding his knife. Seeing the whip coming his way, he was going to avoid the stroke, without even thinking about it. Then he felt his arm go numb and a hand pushed him to the ground. Like silvery lightning, the end of the whip passed above his head. Covered with a cold sweat he thought, “If my Taoist friend had not stopped me in time and my knife touched it, the whip would certainly have smashed my skull!” Fortunately, the Taoist did it efficiently and quietly and Mei Chaofeng didn't notice anything.

She trained for a while, and then replaced the whip at her waist. From her bag she took a piece of cloth or leather that she unfolded and spread on the ground. She touched its surface, thought, then stood up to sketch some movements. She knelt again to feel the thing and to think again. Finally, she put it back in the bag and went away to the other side of the hill. Guo Jing sighed and stood up.

“We’ll follow her,” the Taoist said in a low voice. “Let's see what mischievous plan she’s preparing for us!” He caught the young man by the belt and the two slowly slipped down from the hill. When they reached bottom, they saw Mei Chaofeng already far away to the north. The Taoist put his arm around Guo Jing who immediately felt a lot lighter and the two of them went at a great speed across the steppe, following ‘Iron Corpse’. As dawn began, they saw a camp of several score large gers far away. Mei Chaofeng’s shadow soon disappeared among them.

They accelerated their pace, avoiding the sentries and patrols, until they arrived at a big yellow ger. Guo Jing dropped to the ground and raised the flap of the ger slightly to take a look inside. He saw a man draw his large knife and strike a huge man, who collapsed to the floor. As he fell, his face was in the field of vision of the Taoist and Guo Jing. Guo Jing recognized him; he was Temujin’s personal bodyguard! He was stunned. "How could it be that he came to be killed here?" He wondered raising the flap of the ger a little more. At this moment, the murderer turned around and Guo Jing recognized Senggum, the son of Ong Khan.

Senggum wiped the blade on his shoe’s sole and said, “Now you don’t have any more doubts, do you?”

“My brother Temujin is intelligent and courageous,” answered a man, “this plan will not be easy to achieve.” Guo Jing recognized him; it was Jamuka, Temujin’s sworn brother.

“Since you like your sworn brother so much,” Senggum sneered, “you could go and warn him!”

“You,” Jamuka said, “are also my sworn brother. Your father has treated me with kindness, I won’t betray you. Besides, Temujin has ambitions of absorbing my soldiers into his army, this I know very well. It is only because of our oath of brotherhood that I haven’t broken our relationship yet.”

"Could they be plotting against Temujin?” Guo Jing wondered. “How is it possible?”

“The one that takes the initiative always has the advantage,” another man said. “If you wait for him to attack you, you are lost! After the victory, all of Temujin’s goods, his herds, his wives, and his treasures, will come to Senggum. His men, on the other hand, will be incorporated into Jamuka’s army. Accomplish that, and you will receive the title of ‘Conqueror General of the North’ from the Jin Empire.”

Guo Jing could only see his back, so he crawled in a little further in order to see him better. He was clothed in a sumptuous yellow brocade tunic covered with sable. He knew the man, but he took a little time to remember his identity. "Ah yes, he’s the Sixth Prince of the Jin Empire.”

Jamuka seemed convinced by his words. “If my adoptive father, Ong Khan, gives me the order,” he said, “I will obey.”

“Since you put it like that,” a very happy Senggum said, “if my father doesn't give the order, he will offend the Jin Empire. In a little while, I will ask him, he won't be able to refuse the Sixth Prince.”

“Soon,” Wanyan Honglie continued, “the soldiers of the empire are going to descend on the south to conquer the Song. At that time, each of you, at the head of twenty thousand men, will be able to participate in the invasion. After the victory, others rewards will await you!”

“I’ve always heard,” Senggum exclaimed joyfully, “that the south was a marvelous world, paved with gold, and where all women look like flowers. If the Sixth Prince takes us along, it would be perfect!”

“Nothing could be easier,” Wanyan Honglie said, smiling, “I only fear that there might be too many beautiful women in the south and you won’t see all of them!” They exploded in laughter.

“Now,” pursued the prince, “tell me how you intend to take care of Temujin... In fact, I already asked him to help us to destroy the Song, but he refused. He’s a clever man; we can’t give him any reasons to doubt us. That is why we need to double our precautions.”

At that moment, Guo Jing felt the Taoist pull him by the sleeve. He turned around, and saw Mei Chaofeng a little way off. She had caught someone and seemed to question him. "Whatever this witch's intentions,” he thought, “my Shifus aren’t threatened for now. First I am going to find out more about the plot against the Khan and then decide what to do.” Then he turned again to the ger.

“He promised his daughter to my son,” Senggum said, while looking at the body on the floor, “and I sent an emissary to agree to the date of the marriage. I’ll ask him to come here to confer with my father. He will surely come without much of an escort. I will place some men in ambush along the way; even if he had three heads and six arms, he won't escape alive!” He exploded in laughter.

Jamuka said, “As soon as Temujin is eliminated, our armies will invade his camp.”

Guo Jing was filled with anger and concern: “How could the man's heart be so cruel, even to the point of plotting against his sworn brother!” He was about to listen again, but the Taoist pulled him out by his waist. He moved back and was lightly touched by Mei Chaofeng, who was leaving very quickly, holding someone by the neck. The Taoist took Guo Jing by the hand and the two moved away from the gers.

“She’s trying to find out where your Shifus are.” the Taoist said in a low voice. “We must go there immediately; otherwise it will be too late!” The two used their lightless technique and ran briskly. When they arrived at the ger of the ‘Six Freaks’, it was already close to noon.

The Taoist said, “I didn't want to be seen, that is why I ordered you not say anything about me to your Shifus. But now there is an emergency, and I cannot worry about such details any longer. Go to them and say that Ma Yu, of the Quanzhen [Absolute Perfection] Sect, asks to see the ‘Six Valiant Heroes of Jiangnan’.

For two years, Guo Jing had seen him every evening, but it was only at this moment that he learned his name. Without knowing who precisely this character ‘Ma Yu, of the Quanzhen Sect was, he obeyed and ran in the ger shouting, “Eldest Shifu!”

As soon as he entered, his wrists were clutched brutally, and he felt a sharp pain in his knees that made him fall to the floor. He saw that it was his Eldest Shifu, Ke Zhen’E, who had knocked him down with his heavy iron staff. Completely terrified, he didn't even try to struggle or defend himself. He closed his eyes and waited for death. He heard the clank of two weapons clashing, and then felt someone throw themself over him. He opened his eyes and saw his Seventh Shifu, Han Xiaoying, protecting him with her body, while shouting, “Older Brother, one moment please!” Her sword, with which she had blocked the stroke, had flown away.

Ke Zhen’E sighed, and thrust his staff down heavily on the floor, “Seventh Sister has always had too tender a heart!” Guo Jing then realized that Zhu Cong and Quan Jinfa had seized his wrists! He didn't understand anything anymore.

“Where is the person who teaches you neigong?” Ke Zhen’E asked with severity.

“Him ... He...” Guo Jing stammered. “He is... there… outside... He asks to see you...” Surprised at Mei Chaofeng’s coming to find them in daylight, the ‘Six Freaks’ hurried outside, weapons in hand. But all they saw was a white-haired Taoist, hands joined in salute. There was no Mei Chaofeng!

“Where is the witch Mei Chaofeng?” Zhu Cong shouted, without releasing Guo Jing’s wrist. “I first saw her last night,” the Taoist answered, “I fear that she may come soon!”

The Six looked at Ma Yu with puzzlement. He advanced briskly and greeted them. “For a long time I’ve admired the ‘Six Valiant Heroes of Jiangnan’. Today, I finally meet them; it is a huge honor for me.”

Zhu Cong, still holding Guo Jing, nodded his head in answer to the salute and said, “We don't dare to ask for the respected name of the Taoist master.”

Guo Jing remembered that he had not announced the visitor and hastened to say, “He’s Ma Yu, of the Quanzhen Sect.”

The Six Freaks were hugely surprised. They knew that Ma Yu, who had the nickname ‘Scarlet Sun’, was the first disciple of the founder of the Quanzhen Sect, Wang Chongyang. After the death of the founder, Ma Yu became the Elder Master of the Sect. Qiu Chuji, ‘Eternal Spring’, was his younger martial brother. Since he usually lived a reclusive life in the temple, dedicating himself to meditation, he hardly ever set foot in the ‘Rivers and the Lakes’ region [Jianghu]. For this reason, his reputation in the world of the martial arts didn't equal Qiu Chuji’s. As for the power of his kung fu, no one had ever seen him in action and could not judge how strong he was.

“We meet the Elder Master of the Quanzhen Sect,” Ke Zhen’E said. “We are much honored. What brings the Taoist Master up into the steppe of the north? Does it relate to the competition in Jiaxing and our challenge with your martial brother?”

“My impetuous younger brother, when he should be dedicating himself to the practice of the Way, likes to duel with others. He often tries to win and impose his viewpoint; that is quite contrary to our principles. I’ve reprimanded him time and time again about this. I don't have any intentions of interfering in his bet with you, the ‘Six Valiant Heroes’, since it doesn't have anything to do with me. Two years ago, I met this child by chance. Finding him to have a pure and good heart, I took the liberty of teaching him some ritual formulae to fortify his body and to feed his character. This also has the virtue of encouraging longevity. It is true that I took this initiative without having asked for approval from the ‘Six Valiant Heroes’ beforehand; I hope they won’t be angry because of it. I didn't teach him any martial techniques and we don't have a master - disciple relationship. We could say that I merely made myself a young friend and that we never broke any rules of the martial world.” After saying this, he smiled warmly.

The Six were very surprised, and could only accept his explanation. Zhu Cong and Quan Jinfa then released Guo Jing’s wrists.

“So my pupil,” a happy Han Xiaoying said, “it was the Senior Taoist who gave you some lessons? Why didn't you tell us about him earlier? We judged you wrongly!” She tenderly patted him on the shoulder.

“He...” Guo Jing stammered, “It was him who told me not to say anything...”

“How can you say, ‘he’, ‘him’?” Han Xiaoying reprimanded. “Jing’er, that is very disrespectful, you need to say ‘Senior Taoist’...” She scolded him, but her happy face showed her true feelings.

“Yes,” Guo Jing agreed submissively. “The ‘Senior Taoist’…” For two years he always treated Ma Yu on equal terms, without having ever thought to speak to him in the third person as a sign of respect. Ma Yu had never taken offense.

“I travel like a cloud,” Ma Yu said, “without a schedule or final destination, and I don't like to impose on others. That is why, even though I was a neighbor, I didn't come to greet you. I ask you again to forgive me.” He saluted them again.

In fact, after discovering the circumstances behind the journey of the Six Freaks to Mongolia, he felt great admiration for them. He interrogated Yin Zhiping, who confirmed that Guo Jing didn't have any neigong. As a Senior of the Quanzhen Sect he knew perfectly the principles of Taoism. He didn't want Qiu Chuji to impose this challenge on the Six Freaks. He tried to convince his martial brother repeatedly, but Qiu would not hear of it. As last resort he came to the steppe to try to help Guo Jing without telling anyone. Otherwise, how could he have met the child, by accident, in the immensity of the northern plain? What other reason would he have for dedicating two years of his life to give Guo Jing this precious instruction? If Mei Chaofeng had not re-emerged unexpectedly, he would have discreetly left for the south once assured that Guo Jing’s neigong foundations were well established. The result would have been that neither the Six Freaks nor Qiu Chuji would have suspected anything.

For displaying so much nobility and humility, which contrasted with the bravery and contrived arrogance of his martial brother, the Six bowed and saluted him. They were going to ask him about Mei Chaofeng when they heard the sound of horses galloping. They saw several riders heading towards Temujin’s large ger.

Guo Jing realized that it was Senggum’s emissaries who had come to entice him into a trap; he began to panic. “Senior Shifu,” he said to Ke Zhen’E, “it is necessary that I leave for a short time.”

Ke Zhen’E had almost seriously injured him a while ago and regretted it. He felt even more protective of this disciple and feared he’d meet Mei Chaofeng if he left. Therefore, he said, “No, you remain close to us!”

Guo Jing was going to explain to him why he had to leave, but Ke Zhen’E had begun to discuss the titanic fight against the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ with Ma Yu. In spite of his anguish, the young man didn't dare interrupt his Senior Shifu, who got angry for the smallest of reasons. He hoped to be able to benefit from a pause in the conversation to explain the urgency of the situation. Suddenly, a horse arrived at a gallop. The rider was Hua Zheng wearing a short jacket of black fox fur. She stopped ten feet away, making signals. Fearing punishment from his Shifus, Guo Jing didn't dare move away, but signaled her to approach. The girl had red swollen eyes, as if she had cried a lot.

“Dad,” she said while sobbing, “wants me to go marry that Dukhsh...”

“Quickly,” Guo Jing said, “go warn the Khan that Senggum and Jamuka have prepared a trap and want to kill him...” “Is it true?” Hua Zheng asked, stunned.

“Absolutely true,” answered Guo Jing, “I heard it with my own ears. Go warn your father quickly.” “Okay!” Hua Zheng agreed. With a face filled with joy, she got back on her horse and left at great speed.

“Someone wants to murder the Khan and you seem happy?” Guo Jing wondered. Then he understood; she would not have to marry Dukhsh. He cared for the girl like a sister and had always protected her. He had wondered if she was going to be able to avoid this disgraceful marriage; now he was delighted for her and he smiled.

“I don't mean to glorify the enemy nor to belittle us,” Ma Yu said, “but Mei Chaofeng knows the essence of the Senior of Peach Blossom Island’s teachings. Her ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ is practically invincible, and the strokes of her ‘Silver Whip of Two Zhangs’ nearly unstoppable. If we unite our strength, we may not lose, but we certainly won't defeat her without suffering some harm.”

“That woman is dangerously effective,” Han Xiaoying said, “but we, the Six Freaks of Jiangnan, avow her an implacable hate.”

“Someone told me,” Ma Yu said, “that your Fifth brother, Zhang the Valiant Knight, as well as ‘Divine Dragon soaring through the Sky’, the valiant Ke, had both been killed by Chen Xuanfeng. But since you killed ‘Copper Corpse’, one could consider that the debt has been paid. As the Ancients say: ‘It is better to unknot a hate than to tie it’. Mei Chaofeng is a lone woman, affected by a serious handicap, and deserves some pity...” The Six stayed silent for some time.

“She’s mastered this perverse and dangerous technique,” Han Baoju said, “that will cause the deaths of innumerable innocents! Senior Taoist, even though you are moved by compassion, you can’t let her go with impunity...”

“This time,” Zhu Cong said, “she came looking for us and not the opposite...”

“And even if we avoid it this time,” Quan Jinfa said, “if she wants to take vengeance on us, we will never be safe.”

“I’ve thought of a small stratagem,” Ma Yu said, “but it is necessary that the ‘Six Valiant Heroes’ be magnanimous and have mercy on this poor wretch. Let her have the possibility of redemption.” Zhu Cong didn't want to speak, letting Ke Zhen’E make the decision.

“We, the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’,” Ke said, “have a coarse and direct temperament. We only know how to fight the barbaric ones. If the Senior Taoist wants to show us a path, we would be very thankful. You only have to speak.” From listening to Ma Yu, he understood that, during these past ten years, Mei Chaofeng had made considerable progress. It appeared that the Taoist was trying to save the life of ‘Iron Corpse’, but in reality he was trying to save the face of the Six Freaks. His real intention was to show them a way to escape the terrifying claws of Mei. The other Freaks thought that their Senior Brother had become merciful and were astonished.

“By showing mercy, Senior Brother Ke,” Ma Yu said, “you will receive the blessings of the Heavens. There is something else that is very important. According to my inquiries, during these past ten years, Mei Chaofeng received more of the teachings of Huang Yaoshi [the Alchemist].”

“But they say,” Zhu Cong wondered, “that the Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ were renegade disciples of the Peach Blossom Island Senior. How would Huang Yaoshi justify teaching her again?”

“This is what I also believed,” Ma Yu said. “But according to the description of the fight you had, her kung fu was much lower than what she displays today. If she didn't receive the instruction of an illuminated Senior, it would be impossible for her, training alone, to arrive at her present level. If so, and if we kill ‘Iron Corpse’ today, we risk Huang’s anger...” Ke Zhen’E and Zhu Cong had already heard of the kung fu of Huang Yaoshi, often in such exaggerated terms that they had difficulty believing in the man's power. The Quanzhen Sect represented the orthodox martial arts. If Ma Yu felt fear regarding Huang, it was evidently something to take into account.

“The Senior Taoist thinks of everything,” Zhu Cong said, “we can only be filled with admiration. Please make us part of your undoubtedly wise plan.”

“This miserable plan,” Ma Yu said, “may appear a little snobbish I’m afraid; I ask the Six Valiant Heroes not to laugh at it.”

“The Senior Taoist is too modest.” Zhu Cong said, “The reputations of the ‘Seven Disciples’ of Wang Chongyang are so well established that the admiration is general in the martial realm!” Zhu Cong felt a genuine respect for Ma Yu. Indeed, he would not hold such respect for Qiu Chuji, who was also one of the Seven Masters of Quanzhen.

“Thanks to the virtues of our deceased founder,” Ma Yu said, “the seven martial brothers benefit from a small reputation in the world of martial arts. I think that Mei Chaofeng would not dare to come against us alone. This is why I thought of a ruse to make her leave, based on the belief in our vain reputation. This stratagem lacks nobility; but since our intention is good, the end justifies the means, and it won't harm the reputations of the Six Valiant Heroes.” He then explained the deception. The Six Freaks found it rather depreciating. They thought to themselves that even though Mei Chaofeng had made great progress, and even if Huang Yaoshi came in person, what would they risk? At most they would lose their lives, as Zhang Ahsheng had ten years before. Ma Yu undertook to convince them. Finally the Six Freaks, out of respect for him and recognition for everything that he had done for Guo Jing, accepted.

After having sharing some refreshments, they moved towards the cliff. Ma Yu and Guo Jing undertook the climb ahead of them. The Six noticed that the Taoist didn't try to show off his skills as he slowly climbed behind Guo Jing. But his steps were firm and his movements displayed great stability, showing the power of his kung fu. "He is certainly not weaker than Qiu Chuji, so why is Qiu’s reputation so great, whereas one hears practically nothing about Ma Yu? The explanation must be their difference in character...” Arriving at the top, Ma Yu and Guo Jing dropped long ropes, and then pulled the Six to the summit. There on the rocks they could examine the traces left by Mei Chaofeng’s whip. They were stunned, and finally believed Ma Yu’s words.

The eight sat down and waited. Night had fallen and it was already late. Han Baoju began to lose patience, “How come she’s so late?” “Quiet!” Ke Zhen’E urged, “There she is!”

They all listened carefully, without hearing anything. Only Ke Zhen’E, with his incredibly developed hearing, had discerned the footsteps of ‘Iron Corpse’ while she was still several li away. But she was coming. They saw, in the moonlight, a blurred black shadow that approached at a very quick pace. In the blink of an eye she’d reached the foot of the cliff and she began to climb with agility. Zhu Cong exchanged a glance with Quan Jinfa and Han Xiaoying; he saw that their faces were pale and full of anguish. He thought that his must look the same.

Very quickly, Mei Chaofeng reached the summit. She carried on her back someone who wasn’t moving and they couldn't tell if the person was alive or already dead. Guo Jing had the impression that this person wore clothing that was familiar to him. He watched more attentively and recognized Hua Zheng’s short black fox jacket. Alarmed, he was going to call out when Zhu Cong, with the quick eyes and fast moves, put his hand over his mouth, while saying in a high voice, “That vicious witch, Mei Chaofeng, if she falls into my hands, I, Qiu Chuji, won't let her escape!”

Surprised at hearing a voice on the summit, ‘Iron Corpse’ was even more astonished to hear the name of Qiu Chuji and her own. She hid behind a rock to listen to the conversation. Ma Yu and the Six Freaks clearly saw her intentions and, in spite of the tension, wanted to laugh. Only Guo Jing, worried about the safety of Hua Zheng, trembled with anguish.

“Mei Chaofeng arranged these skulls here,” Han Baoju said, “she is certainly going to come, and we only have to wait for her.” Not knowing how many powerful enemies were gathered in this place, she remained immobile behind the rock.

“She certainly caused us a lot of pain, but the Quanzhen Sect is always compassionate and merciful towards others. Let's give her the option of repenting.”

“The ‘Sage of Tranquility’ has always had a tender heart,” Zhu Cong said while laughing. “It’s not surprising that Master always said that you can reach the Way easily!”

Wang Chongyang, the founder of the Quanzhen Sect, had seven disciples, whose reputations are well established in the world of martial arts. The first in rank was Ma Yu, called ‘Scarlet Sun’, the second Tan Chuduan, called ‘Eternal Truth’, followed by Liu Chuxuan, called ‘Eternal Life’, Qiu Chuji, called ‘Eternal Spring’, Wang Chuyi, called ‘Jade Sun’, Hao Datong, called ‘Infinite Peace’, and finally the last disciple, Sun Bu’Er, was called ‘Sage of Tranquility’, and had been the wife of Ma Yu before she entered the Taoist religion.

“Brother Tan,” Han Xiaoying asked, “what do you think about it?” “Her crimes deserve an extreme punishment!” replied Nan Xiren.

“Brother Tan,” Zhu Cong said, “of late you’ve made much progress in your technique the ‘Finger Calligrapher’. When this evil one arrives, will you give us a demonstration?”

“It’s better to let Brother Wang show us his technique the ‘Foot of Iron’,” Nan Xiren said. “One kick and he will send her down the cliff where she will lose both body and soul.”

Among the Seven Masters of the Quanzhen Sect, Qiu Chuji was the most well known, then came Wang Chuyi, ‘Jade Sun’. Once, on a bet, he stood close to an abyss on one foot, swaying back and forth in a violent wind that blew his large sleeves wildly. Several heroes of Shandong and Hebei watched this event and were astounded. This exploit earned him the nickname of ‘Foot of Iron’. He had lived as a recluse in an underground cave for nine years, dedicating himself to the practice of martial arts. Even Qiu Chuji appeared to much admire his kung fu. He had dedicated a poem to him, in which he told of the ‘Nine summers standing in the sun, three winters laying down in the snow’ celebrating the power of his neigong.

All of this conversation between them had been studied in advance. Only Ke Zhen’E, who had previously spoken to the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’, remained silent, so that Mei Chaofeng wouldn't recognize him by his voice.

‘Iron Corpse’ was more and more astonished. “Apparently, the Seven Masters of the Quanzhen Sect are here! I am not really certain of being able to beat a single Taoist, how would I withstand the seven united! If they discover me, I am dead!”

At that moment, the moon illuminated the summit clearly. Zhu Cong said, “This night, black clouds cover the sky, one can't even see the fingers of his hand! Everybody be watchful so that the witch doesn't take advantage of the darkness to escape!”

“It's a good thing that it is a black night,” Mei Chaofeng reassured herself, “otherwise they would have discovered me already. I give thanks to the Heaven and Earth, so long as the moon doesn't appear!”

Guo Jing had not stopped looking at Hua Zheng. He suddenly saw that she had opened her eyes. Delighted to see her regain consciousness, he made signals with his hands hoping that she would remain calm. However, the girl had also seen him, and yelled, “Help…Help!”

“Don’t say anything!” Guo Jing shouted.

These shouts surprised Mei Chaofeng. She immediately pushed a finger onto one particular point on Hua Zheng’s body which made the girl mute. But suspicions were roused in her mind.

“Zhiping,” Zhu Cong said, “was that you that spoke?”

Indeed, Guo Jing was supposed to play the role of the young Taoist Yin Zhiping. “Yes... Yes, it was me...” “I believe,” Zhu Cong said, “that I heard a woman's voice.” “Precisely,” confirmed Guo Jing.

“If this is a trap,” Mei Chaofeng thought, “is it likely that the Seven Masters of the Quanzhen Sect would be together on the steppe and on the summit of this cliff? What a coincidence that would be! Maybe someone is trying to deceive me and take advantage of my blindness.”

Ma Yu saw her slowly standing up behind her rock and understood that she had become suspicious. If she discovered the scheme and immediately went to the attack, he himself probably wouldn’t risk much; but Hua Zheng would certainly die and the Six Freaks would, without a doubt, suffer some injuries. He was therefore quite upset. He’d never had a quick mind and he didn't know what to do.

Seeing Mei Chaofeng with her long silver whip in hand, seeming about to attack, Zhu Cong hastened to say, “Senior Brother, for all these years you’ve practiced the most sophisticated techniques taught by our founder, you must have gotten extraordinary results. Would you demonstrate it for us?”

Ma Yu knew that Zhu Cong was asking him to show the power of his kung fu, in order to impress Mei Chaofeng. “I am certainly the eldest of our brothers,” he then said, “but my slow nature makes me less capable than you. The formulas transmitted by our founder, I am ashamed to say, I hardly understood a sentence of it...” He pronounced each of his words very slowly, while feeding them his breath fully. The tone was quiet and humble, but the voice carried very far. He had not finished pronouncing his last words when the echo of the first came back with winds, like the growls of tiger and the screams of dragons. Witnessing this demonstration of extraordinarily powerful neigong, Mei Chaofeng, impressed, lowered herself slowly behind her rock.

“I have heard” Ma Yu said, “that this woman has lost her mind and that she is worthy of pity. If she repents her past sins, if she promises to no longer harm the innocent, we might be merciful. Should she also promise that she will not trouble the Six Freaks of Jiangnan, then we could let her continue to live because of our departed master’s respectful relations with the Master of Peach Blossom Island. Brother Qiu, you are the friend of the Six; you should speak to them, and ask them to no longer seek a reckoning with her. If both parties make an effort, the vendetta can extinguish itself.” This time, he spoke without using his internal energy, so that there did not appear to be such a great power difference between himself and the others.

“That will be easy,” Zhu Cong replied. “But the real problem is knowing whether or not Mei Chaofeng will agree to redeem herself.”

Suddenly, they heard an icy voice. “Many thanks to the Quanzhen Seven for their benevolence! I, Mei Chaofeng, am here!" Suddenly and surprisingly, she came forth. Ma Yu had hoped to frighten her and make her leave, regretting her deeds and would mend her ways. But, confident of her new power, she had the audacity to come and confront her opponents directly.

“Being a woman,” Mei Chaofeng said, “I would not dare to test myself against the Taoist masters. But for a long time I have admired the kung fu of the ‘Sage of Tranquility’; I ask for the honor of measuring myself against her.” Armed with her whip, she stood at the ready, waiting for Han Xiaoying's response.

All the while, Guo Jing was acutely aware that Hua Zheng had fallen motionless to the ground. He’d grown up with her and felt the affection of an elder brother for the girl. Without a moment's thought, without even worrying about the terrifying presence of Mei Chaofeng, he leaped out and freed Hua Zheng. With a quick move, 'Iron Corpse' seized his left wrist. Guo Jing had practiced orthodox Taoist internal energy with Ma Yu for two years and his healthy body was strengthened by this natural force. With his right hand, he propelled Hua Zheng towards Han Xiaoying, while he pivoted his left hand with force and released himself from Mei's control. She possessed extremely swift skills so when she felt Guo Jing escape she moved her hand immediately to recapture him. This time, she held him firmly, compressing the point of the principal artery in his arm so precisely that he could no longer move.

“Who are you?” she demanded in a terrible voice. “Zhiping,” Zhu Cong called, “listen!”

Guo Jing, who had panicked because he could not free himself, was going to reply instinctively “I am Guo Jing!” when he heard Zhu Cong’s warning.

“I am...” he stammered, “I am Yin Zhiping... Disciple... disciple of the Quanzhen... Spring.” Although he had repeated those words thirty or forty times, in his panic he was not able to say it without stammering.

“He is only a simple apprentice,” Mei Chaofeng said to herself, “yet his neigong already is capable. Not only did he succeed in saving someone from under my nose, he was even able to release himself from my first hold! I think it is better that I retreat this time.” She dropped his hand. Guo Jing recovered and hastily returned to his masters. Five finger marks were deeply indented into the flesh of his left arm! He knew full well that she had not used all of her power; otherwise his wrist would have been broken.

Mei Chaofeng no longer dared to challenge the false Sun Bu’Er, played by Han Xiaoying. She suddenly asked, “Taoist Master Ma, what is the meaning of 'Lead and mercury preserve well'?”

“Lead is heavy,” Ma Yu responded automatically, “it resembles the kidneys; mercury is liquid, it is a metaphor for internal warming. ‘Lead and mercury preserve well’ means that it is good to stabilize the kidneys and to extinguish the internal fire, in order to obtain results from meditation.”

“And what is the meaning of ‘Baby of the girl Cha’?” Mei Chaofeng pursued.

Ma Yu suddenly became aware that she was asking him to explain secret formulae of neigong! “Heretical witch,” he shouted, “Do not try to extract the secrets of my sect from me! Leave quickly!”

Mei Chaofeng laughed, “Thank you for your answer, Taoist Master!”

She suddenly jumped forward, armed with her silvery whip, and glided to the bottom of the cliff at unbelievable speed. Those remaining looked on, relieved to have escaped a conflict. Far away on the steppe, a shadow sped away like a phantom.

Ma Yu unsealed Hua Zheng's accupoints which returned her ability to move. The girl lay on a boulder resting.

“In ten years,” Zhu Cong said, “that woman made so much progress, that if the Taoist Master had not lent us a strong hand today, our accounts would have been settled!” Ma Yu responded modestly, but he was frowning, as if an inner worry tormented him.

“If there is some task to finish,” Zhu Cong said, “even though we are not capable of great things, we can at least do your bidding. Do not hesitate to ask it of us.”

“Because of my inattention,” Ma Yu said, “I was tricked by that crafty woman!” “Were you injured by a secret weapon?” the Six asked.

“No,” replied Ma Yu, “it is nothing like that. When she asked me a question, I replied without thinking, and I fear that it might result in further evil.” His friends were perplexed and seemed not to understand. The Taoist explained, “The external technique of ‘Iron Corpse’ has already reached a level that we cannot even imagine. Even if my brothers Qiu and Wang really had been present here, we might not have been able to overcome her. That the Master of Peach Blossom Island succeeded in producing a disciple of such strength...proves his own power. Only the neigong of Mei Chaofeng is not at all advanced. I do not know where she succeeded in finding the secret formulae to practice Taoist neigong, but without pointers from a master, she was not able to understand them. When she asked me to explain a formula, it was because the lack of understanding had arrested her progress. I realized something was wrong and did not reply to her second question; but my first explanation will allow her to make great progress with her neigong.”

“Let us hope,” Han Xiaoying said, “that she will regret her past crimes and do no more evil.”

“May it be so!” Ma Yu said. “If her neigong should become stronger, she will be more difficult to contain... Ah, this is my fault, I was too naïve and should have distrusted her...” After a moment's thought, he continued, “One thing intrigues me. The skills of the Peach Blossom Island are completely different to those of Taoism. Nevertheless, these two formulas that she quoted correspond precisely with our Taoist neigong. How is that possible?”

Hua Zheng suddenly leapt off her boulder, “Ah!” she cried, “Guo Jing! Father did not believe me, he left to visit Ong Khan!” “Why?” Guo Jing asked.

“I explained to him,” Hua Zheng said, “that Uncle Senggum and Uncle Jamuka plotted against him. He burst out laughing, saying that because I don’t want to marry Dukhsh, I invented lies! I said to him that you had heard it with your own ears; but he didn’t want to believe it. He even said that he would punish you on his return. I saw him leave with my three elder brothers and a small escort. I hurried to come to find you, but on the way, that blind woman caught me. She wanted to bring me to see you, isn't that right?"

“If we had not been here,” one the Six said ominously, “you would have had five holes in your skull by now!” “When did the Khan leave?” Guo Jing demanded anxiously.

“A long time ago,” Hua Zheng responded, “father said that he wanted to get there as soon as possible. He didn’t even wait for sunrise. Their horses are very fast; they must be far away by now. Is it really true that Uncle Senggum wants to harm Father? What will we do?” She began to weep. This was the first time in his life that he found himself confronted with a matter so grave and he was distraught.

“Jing’er,” Zhu Cong said, “Descend the cliff quickly and take your little red horse and rescue the Khan. Even if it is not true, we’ll send someone to ascertain Senggum's intentions. Hua Zheng, will you ask your brother Tolui to muster soldiers and follow to rescue your father." Guo Jing understood and quickly descended the cliff. Ma Yu, holding on to a long rope, went next descending with Hua Zheng.

The young man dashed to his ger, mounted his horse and set off at a frantic gallop. At that moment, the sun started to rise. Guo Jing, very worried, muttered to himself, “I fear that the Khan might already have fallen into Senggum's trap; then it will be impossible to rescue him!”

The small red horse loved to run without its bridle and its heart danced with joy. It galloped more and more quickly on the plain. Fearing that it would fall, Guo Jing tried to rein it in a little; but the animal resisted and rushed on whinnying with joy. Besides, even galloping at great speed, it showed no signs of fatigue. After more than two hours of galloping, Guo Jing slowed his mount to rest a little. Then they continued on their way. One hour later, they saw in the distance three groups of riders, three squadrons, it seemed. While approaching, he recognized the standards of Ong Khan. The riders advanced, arrows strung and sabers drawn, ready for battle.

“The Khan is further ahead,” Guo Jing lamented, “but his line of retreat is already blocked!” He pressed his thighs and his horse raced on like an arrow, passing Ong Khan’s soldiers. They called for him to stop, but he was already long gone.

Guo Jing did not dare dally. He saw another three squadrons lying in wait, before he saw, far away, the high plume of white feathers that signaled the presence of Temujin. Escorted by several hundred riders, they rode tranquilly north. Guo Jing rose to his full height and called, “Great Khan! Stop, you mustn't go on!” Temujin, taken aback, halted, “Why not?”

Guo Jing recounted to him what he had heard in Senggum’s ger, and explained that his line of retreat had been cut. Temujin glanced at him skeptically, not knowing whether he should believe him, “I never got along well with that fool Senggum,” he said to himself, “but my adopted father Ong Khan needs me now. Jamuka is my sworn brother; how could they plot against me... unless the Sixth Jin Prince is trying to sow dissension!”

He hesitated, and Guo Jing said, “Great Khan, you have only to send someone back the way you have just traveled and you will see...”

Since childhood, Temujin had lived in the middle of plots and treacheries; he had survived hundreds of battles thanks to his bravery and his caution. Even though he had said that it was absolutely impossible that Ong Khan and Jamuka could have allied themselves against him, he said: “To be careful ten thousand times is not excessive; but to die through carelessness one time is.” He then ordered his second son, Chagatai, to leave with Tchila'un. The two men went back the way they had come.

Temujin observed the lay of the land and ordered, “Let us go up that hill and make ready!” His escort was only made up of some hundreds of men, but they were all elite soldiers and officers. Without needing other orders, they dug trenches, raised barricades, and got ready to withstand a siege. Shortly after, they saw dust clouds rising in the south, raised by several thousand riders galloping in pursuit of Chagatai and Tchila'un. Jebe had particularly good eyesight and recognized the banners of the pursuers.

“They are Ong Khan’s soldiers,” he shouted. They had divided themselves into several detachments and tried to surround Chagatai and Tchila'un. The two men leaned forward on their saddles and desperately whipped their mounts.

“Guo Jing,” Jebe cried, “to their aid!”

Both of them descended the hill. The small red horse, glad to meet its herd mates, arrived quickly in front of Tchila'un. Guo Jing loosed three arrows with a rush of wind, cutting down the three closest pursuing soldiers, before interposing himself between the pursuers and the pursued while continuing to fire his arrows in all directions. Jebe had arrived also and his arrows flew as well, swift and deadly. Nevertheless, Ong Khan’s men, too numerous to overcome, rushed forward like an irresistible tide. Chagatai, Tchila'un, Jebe and Guo Jing at last reached the hill. Their companions rained arrows on their pursuers who did not dare to launch a frontal attack, and for the moment, waited out of range.

Standing on the hill, Temujin observed the surroundings. Soon, Ong Khan’s regiments came rushing in from all directions. Under a yellow flag, a man rode on a great horse; it was Senggum, son of Ong Khan. The Khan well knew that it was impossible to break the encirclement and that it was better to stall for time. “Why is Brother Senggum afraid to approach and parley?” he called.

Under the protection of his guards, who covered him with their shields, Senggum approached, confident and arrogant, “Temujin, make your retreat!”

“How,” Temujin demanded, “did I offend my adopted father Ong Khan, so that you attack me?”

“For generations and generations,” Senggum said, “the Mongolians lived in separate tribes, at the heart of which the flocks were spread and divided in common. Why do you want to run counter to the traditions of our ancestors, by mixing the tribes? My father has often said that you are wrong to want to do that.”

“We Mongols,” Temujin replied, “are subordinate to the Jin Empire that demands of us each year, a tribute of tens of thousands of cattle. Is this just? If that continues, all of us will starve to death! If we did not fight amongst ourselves, why should we be afraid of the Jin Empire? I have always maintained good relations with my adoptive father; there is no hatred between our two families. It is the fault of the Jin, who wants to sow disunity between us!” Senggum’s soldiers, hearing this debate, thought that his words had merit.

“We Mongolians are valiant warriors,” Temujin continued, “why should we not go and take the treasures of the Jin? Why should we furnish tributes to them every year? Amongst the Mongolians, there are some that work hard to husband the herds, and then there are lazy ones. Why should those that work tire themselves nourishing those that do nothing? Why should those that sweat not have more cattle and sheep? Why do they not leave the lazy ones to die of hunger?”

At that time, the Mongolians lived according to a type of tribal socialism. Their principal wealth, cattle and sheep, belonged to all. During the last few years, the flocks had increased in size. The tribes had learned from the Chinese to work iron for the manufacture of tools and weapons. Most of the animal herders wished to keep the wealth that they produced for themselves; just as the warriors that, at the risk of their lives, won battles and did not want to divide prisoners and loot with those that did not go to war. These matters went straight to the hearts of all the soldiers.

Seeing that Temujin was beginning to influence his men, Senggum cried, “Lay down your weapons at once and surrender! Otherwise, it will take but a signal from my whip to rain down ten thousand arrows! You have no chance of escape!”

Guo Jing saw that the situation had become critical, but did not know what to do. Then he saw, at the foot of the hill, a young officer, his armor covered by a coat of grey fur, with a saber in his hand, proudly parading back and forth on his war horse. It was Dukhsh, the son of Senggum, with whom he had fought in his childhood. He was the villainous rascal that had wanted to unleash leopards on Tolui. Guo Jing did not really understand why this was happening, and especially why Ong Khan, Senggum and Jamuka wanted to plot against Temujin. “The Khan and Ong Khan have always lived in harmony,” he said to himself, “it must mean that Dukhsh, at the instigation of the Sixth Jin Prince, has spread misleading and malicious lies. If I capture him and force him to admit his lies, then everyone will be able to reconcile!” Spurring his small red horse, he descended the hill and, taking advantage of the surprise, forced his way to Dukhsh.

Attacking with his blade, Guo Jing leaned out of his saddle, the blade held above his head, and with his right hand he trapped the principal artery on Dukhsh’s wrist. It was a movement of the famed technique ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’ perfected by Zhu Cong and Dukhsh could not withstand it. With a pull, Guo Jing snatched him out of his saddle. He heard the hissing of heavy projectiles from his left, about to fall upon him. He pressed lightly with his knees; the small red horse obeyed immediately and flew like an arrow towards the hill.

Senggum’s soldiers called, “Fire arrows!” Guo Jing placed Dukhsh behind him, using his body as a shield, so well that the enemy did not dare to fire.

Arriving at the summit of the hill, Guo Jing threw Dukhsh to the ground laughing, “Great Khan, this rascal is surely the person responsible for this treachery! Let us make him acknowledge it!”

Temujin, very happy, pointed his lance at Dukhsh’s chest and shouted in the direction of Senggum, “Move your men back two hundred zhangs!” [1 zhang = 3.3 meters / 11+ft]

Senggum, upset and worried to see his well armed son fall into the hands of the enemy, could do nothing but back up his army. He ordered them to encircle the hill with ordered ranks of wagons, so that Temujin’s horsemen would be unable to sally out.

On the hill, Temujin praised Guo Jing warmly, and ordered him to tie the prisoner's hands behind his back.

Three times Senggum sent a messenger to negotiate. If Temujin released Dukhsh and left, his life would be spared. Each time, the Khan cut the ears off the messenger before he returned them to their master.

The sun moved towards the horizon. Fearing that Senggum would use the dusk to attack, Temujin ordered that everyone should double their vigilance.

Towards midnight, a man clothed in white approached the foot of the hill. “I am Jamuka,” he called out. “I wish to see my sworn brother Temujin.”

“You may come up!” the Khan said.

Jamuka ascended slowly and saw Temujin standing at the top of the slope. He advanced and made as if to embrace him, but the Khan, not letting his guard down, said roughly, “You still consider me a brother?”

Jamuka sighed and seated himself cross-legged. “Brother,” he said, “You are already the chief of a tribe, why do you have this ambition to unify all of the Mongols?”

“What do you believe?” Temujin replied.

“The chieftains of the tribes say: ‘our ancestors lived this way for hundreds of years, why does Temujin want to change tradition? Heaven will not allow it’!”

“Do you remember the history of our ancestor Lady Alan Qo’a?” Temujin said. “She had five sons that lived in discord. She asked all of them to come and eat with her. Then she gave an arrow to each and asked them to break it. This they did very easily. Next, she tied five arrows together, and asked again that they break them. Each tried in turn, but none were able to break the five arrows. Do you recall what she said to them then?”

“If you are not united,” Jamuka said in a low voice, “you can be broken by those of no importance, just like a single arrow. If you unite, you will be as solid as the five arrows and no person will break you.”

“So,” Temujin said, “you remember that. What happened next?”

“The five sons united their efforts and conquered an immense territory. They are the ancestors of our Mongol tribes.”

“Exactly! Both of us are brave and heroic; why not unite all of the Mongolians? If we do not quarrel amongst ourselves, we will be strong enough to destroy the Jin Empire!”

“But how?” Jamuka asked, “The Jin Empire is powerful and its armies and wealth are immeasurable; how can we Mongolians defeat them?”

“Then you prefer to remain submissive to the Jin?”

“The Jin Empire does not oppress us,” Jamuka protested. “The emperor has even made you a ‘Northern Ambassador’!”

“At first,” Temujin said honestly, “I also believed that they had good intentions. But the greed of the Jin has no limits, and they demand more from us each time. First they want cattle, next horses, and now they ask that we send soldiers to help them make war. The country of the Song is far removed from our lands! Even if the Song dynasty falls, all the lands conquered will belong to Jin alone. We will lose warriors, to win what? Since when would our cattle stop eating the green grass of our plains to go eat the sand on the other side of the mountains? If we must battle, it should be against the Jin Empire only!” “Ong Khan and Senggum do not want to betray the Jin.” Jamuka said. “To betray?” Temujin mocked. “Betray? And you?”

“I beseech you, brother, do not let your anger get the better of you; release Dukhsh, and Senggum and I will guarantee to let you leave safely.”

“I have no confidence in Senggum; now I have no confidence in you!”

“Hear the words of Senggum,” Jamuka said. “If a son dies, other sons will be born. If Temujin dies, there will never be another Temujin! If you do not release Dukhsh, you will not see another sunrise!”

Temujin knew well the characters of Senggum and Jamuka. If left in their hands, he knew that he would have no chance of survival. If Ong Khan was there, he might possibly live. He brandished his saber and whirled around.

“I would rather die in battle,” he cried, “than to surrender! Under heaven, there is a Temujin who will die on the field of honour and no Temujin that flees!”

Jamuka said, “You give all of the loot to the warriors, saying that it belongs to them and not to the whole tribe. The chieftains of the tribes say that you do wrong; that you run counter to our traditions.”

“But the young warriors are delighted!” Temujin said harshly. “The chieftains pretend that the treasures of war cannot be distributed equitably to each warrior, so they keep it all for themselves. Such practices insult the warriors who risked their lives to support them. When we are at war, do we need stupid and greedy chieftains, or do we need young courageous warriors?”

“Brother,” Jamuka said, “You’ve always acted on your own and never listened to the leaders of the other tribes. Don't call me ungrateful or traitor. These past days, you’ve been sending people to convince my soldiers to join your army by telling them that, once back home, the resources gained in battle belong to the ones that fought for them. They won't be distributed amongst all the tribe's members. Did you think that I didn't know of it?”

"If you are aware of it,” Temujin thought, “then we won't ever live in peace with each other.” He then took a small bag out of his clothing and threw it at the feet of Jamuka. “Here are the gifts that you offered me when we swore, three times, loyalty to each other. Take them. Later, when you cut off my head with your saber, you will only kill an enemy and not a sworn brother. I am a hero, you are also a hero. The plains of Mongolia are vast, but it cannot contain two heroes.”

Jamuka picked up the bag. He then took a small leather bag from his own clothing, dropped it at Temujin’s feet in silence, and moved down the hill.

Temujin looked at him as he moved away; then he stood a long time in silence. He slowly opened the bag, withdrew the stones and the arrowheads from it, and remembered the games that they’d played when they were children. He sighed, dug a hole with a dagger and buried the gifts he’d given to his former sworn brother in it.

Guo Jing was next to him, also feeling heart-broken. What Temujin buried, he well knew, was an infinitely precious childhood friendship.

The Khan stood up and studied the scene. As far as he could see there were fires lit by the armies of Senggum and Jamuka illuminating the plain, looking like the myriads of stars in the sky. He remained divided in his thoughts. He turned around and saw Guo Jing close to him. “Are you afraid?” he asked.

“I was thinking about my mother,” answered the young man.

“Indeed, you are a brave son,” said Temujin, “a true brave son!” He pointed to the thousands of fires on the plain, “They also,” he continued, “are brave! We Mongols have so many brave sons, but we spend time making wars on ourselves. If we could unite them, we could take over the world and make it a huge field for our herds!”

Guo Jing, hearing these very ambitious words, felt even more admiration for Temujin. He stuck out his chest and said, “Great Khan, we are surely going to win, because we cannot be beaten by a coward like Senggum!”

“Precisely,” Temujin answered with a smile. “Let's remember what we say tonight. If we manage to survive, henceforth I will consider you as my own son.” He then hugged the young man.

As they spoke, the new day had begun. Horns sounded repeatedly in the ranks of the enemy.

“Help won't come,” Temujin said. “Let's prepare ourselves to die on this hill.” They heard, in the adversary’s army, the jangle of the weapons and the neighs of horses; the attack was imminent.

“Great Khan,” Guo Jing suddenly said, “my red horse is extremely fast. Take it and bring back help. In the mean time, we will remain here to face the enemy.”

Temujin smiled and stretched his hand to caress the hair of the young man.

“If Temujin,” he said, “was capable of abandoning his friends and his men to run away in fear for his life, he wouldn’t be worthy of being your Khan!” “That’s true, Great Khan,” Guo Jing acknowledged, “I was wrong...”

They hid themselves behind protective mounds of earth, ready to fire arrows at the attackers.

Shortly thereafter, three men left the enemy's ranks preceded by a yellow standard and moved forward. On the left was Senggum, on the right, Jamuka, and in the center, surprisingly, was the Sixth Prince of the Jin Empire, Wanyan Honglie! He was covered with armor, a golden helmet and had a shield of gold on his arm. He shouted, “Temujin, do you dare betray the Jin Empire?”

Jochi, Temujin’s eldest son, shot an arrow at him, but a man in his escort seized it from the air with astounding speed.

“Capture Temujin!” Wanyan Honglie shouted. At these words, four men hurried up the hill. Their movements were a surprise to Guo Jing. He noted that the newcomers, who used a lightness technique, were experts in martial arts and weren’t warriors of the plains. Arriving at mid-hill, they avoided with agility the rain of arrows that Jebe, Borchu and the others shot. “We have officers and brave men of great strength here,” Guo Jing worried, “but they won’t be a match for experts in martial arts! What can we do?”

One among them, clothed in black, bounded to the summit of the hill.

Ogedai tried to stop him, but the newcomer hit his neck with a dart and swung down with his saber at the injured man. However, as quick as lightning, a sword came down to hit his wrist with a great speed and precision. The movement so well executed that he was forced to move back three steps. Surprised, he saw a young man with a strong build standing in front of Ogedai. Not expecting to find an expert swordsman amongst Temujin’s soldiers, he exclaimed, in Chinese, “Who are you? What is your name?”

“I am called Guo Jing!”

“I’ve never heard anyone speak of you! Surrender now!”

Guo Jing took a look around and saw that the three other attackers were on the summit of the hill and already engaged in an unarmed fight with Tchila’un, Borchu and the others. He struck again at the man with the saber who defended, then retaliated.

Just as Senggum’s soldiers got ready to assault the hill, Muqali put his saber on the nape of Dukhsh’s neck. “If you come,” he shouted, “my blade will be without mercy!”

Senggum, very worried, turned toward Wanyan Honglie and said, “Lord Zhao, tell your men to come back, we will find another way! There’s no reason to sacrifice my child!”

“Don’t worry,” Wanyan Honglie smiled and said, “Nothing will happen to him!” But in reality he wanted to force Temujin to kill Dukhsh and create a lasting hate between the two tribes.

Senggum’s men didn't dare move, while those of the Prince were in a violent fight.

Guo Jing used the techniques of the ‘Sword of the Yue Maiden’ that Han Xiaoying had taught him. After several exchanges, he was faced with danger. His opponent’s saber was powerful, his strength abundant and all his techniques were backed with internal energy so he was not a weak adversary. Guo Jing’s long sword made swift movements and seemed to have turned into flashes of light. His sword tip was aimed at the critical places on his adversary and every technique was intended to harm his opponent. Guo Jing’s opponent felt a bit overwhelmed by his fast attacks and became flustered.

His three companions, who had already defeated several Mongol officers, saw him in difficulty. One among them, armed with a big spear, approached with a jump, “Big Brother, I’ve come to give you a helping hand!”

But the man with the saber shouted, “Don't move and admire the dexterity of your Older Brother!”

Taking advantage of his distraction, Guo Jing, delivered a stroke ‘The Phoenix Flies off and the Snake Bounds’, as he pointed the tip of his sword at the lower part of his opponent’s body. The man moved back, but the blade had already split his left sleeve.

The man with the saber moved back and shouted, “Who is your master? Why do you look for death here?”

Guo Jing remained in a defensive posture and answered in the language of the Rivers and Lakes region [Jianghu] taught by his masters, “I am the disciple of the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’. What are your honorable names and surnames?” He had practiced these polite forms of address for a long time, but this was the first time that he’d actually used them.

“Our names,” the man with the saber said, while casting a glance towards his brothers-in-arms, “even if I told you, you would not know them. Defend yourself!”

After the first clashes, Guo Jing truly felt that his adversary was stronger than him. But the techniques taught by his Seventh Shifu were extremely sophisticated and provoked a lot of apprehension in his enemy; so much so that he could take the initiative and attack without moving back. The man with the saber used the stance ‘Survey the Sea and Behead the Dragon as his saber slashed towards Guo Jing’s legs. In a matter of moments they had exchanged twenty or thirty stances. Both sides intently observed the fight. The man with the saber began to get nervous and his strokes became more and more violent. Suddenly, he attacked Guo Jing’s waist. Guo Jing twisted and replied with a stroke called ‘Turn Around to Pick the Fruit’ towards the arm that held the saber. His adversary, seeing that he didn't bother about defending, believed that his hour had come: “When your sword touches its goal,” he thought, “my saber will have already cut you in two!” However, Guo Jing, sure of his strong neigong, moved his waist to the side without moving the rest of his body, and avoided the saber and planted his sword in the man’s chest.

The man screamed, released his saber and struck the blade of the sword with his hand causing it fall to the ground. But the tip of Guo Jing’s sword had already penetrated a half inch into his chest! He had saved his life, but his palm was cut and bled profusely.

He then heard the hiss of a weapon behind him and heard Jebe shout, “Watch out, behind you!”

Without even looking back, Guo Jing executed a backwards kick and blocked the stroke that came at him. At the same time, he grabbed the fallen saber and executed a saber cut at the hand of the enemy. Guo Jing delivered the stroke ‘Advancing a Pace to Seize the Basket’, deflecting the lance with his left hand. He turned his left palm and seized his opponents spear while his right hand holding the saber hacked towards the spear wielder. The man used all his strength to pull back his spear, but when he saw the saber about to hit him, he released his grip and retreated.

With this victory, the young man felt renewed again. With a flourish, he threw the saber to the foot of the hill, and picked up the lance. The fourth man jumped at him shouting and attacking with his two short axes. Guo Jing’s spear techniques were taught by Quan Jinfa. After several exchanges Guo Jing feigned a flaw that the man with the axes was thrilled to see and he hacked at him. Suddenly, he felt pain in his stomach; he had been kicked by Guo Jing. He flew backwards while the force remaining in his left hand moved his axe towards his own head. The third martial brother of the axe man blocked it with his iron whip. When the two weapons met there was a ‘clang’ and sparks flew. The man released his axe when the weapons collided and sat down on the ground with a frightened look on his face, dumbfounded but alive. The man was a fool and it took him a minute before he realized that he had lost. He shouted angrily and picked up his axes to attack again. After a few axe slashes he hacked Guo Jing’s spear into two pieces. Guo Jing had lost his weapon, so he used his palms to counter him. The man with the iron whip came to his martial brother assistance and Guo Jing saw that he was at a disadvantage but had no choice but to keep fighting.

This provoked indignation amongst the soldiers. Mongols are simple and direct and respect men of courage. They were scandalized to see these four men taking turns fighting Guo Jing, and now, they were pitting themselves two against one unarmed man! They regarded that as dishonorable, and shouted for them to stop. Guo Jing was a worthy opponent and they cheered him.

Borchu and Jebe drew their sabers and joined the battle; they did so well that the other two assailants also joined in the battle. The two Mongolians were invincible on the battlefield, but they were out of their depth in single combat against experts in martial arts. They fought only a couple of exchanges with great difficulty before they were disarmed and had to retreat. Guo Jing saw that Borchu was in danger and stormed towards him to attack the man that used the saber. Guo Jing struck a palm towards the back of the eldest martial brother who used his saber to hack at Guo Jing’s wrist. Guo Jing retracted his palm and used his elbow to attack the second martial brother to save Jebe. His attempts to provide some assistance to them proved futile.

The four assailants had only one obsession, to kill Guo Jing. They doubled their efforts to attack Guo Jing. The soldiers on the summit and at the foot of the hill redoubled their shouts and insults; but the four turned a deaf ear on them. The spearman had collected a javelin from the ground. Coming at him Guo Jing saw, at the same time, a saber, javelin, whip and axes! Since he was unarmed, he could not parry or reply, so his only option was to avoid the blows employing his lightness art [Qinggong]. He moved back and forth and avoided numerous attacks in him.

For another twenty odd stances the men continued their attacks on Guo Jing. His arm, cut by the saber, was bleeding and he was in a dire position.

Suddenly a disturbance disrupted the ranks of Senggum’s army as six individuals nimbly brushed through the soldiers and ascended the hill. The Mongolians thought that they were more lackeys of Wanyan Honglie coming to lend assistance to their comrades, and noisily voiced their disapproval.

Temujin’s men prepared to shoot arrows at them to prevent their approach when Jebe, whose vision was particularly acute, saw that it was the ‘Jiangnan Freaks’. “Jing’er,” he cried, “Here come your teachers!”

Guo Jing, nearly unable to resist any longer, was cheered up.

Arriving first, Zhu Cong and Quan Jinfa realized right away the perilous position their disciple was in. Quan jumped forward and struck the four weapons with a blow of his balance scale, “Have you no shame!” he cried.

Feeling great pain in their hands, the four men realized that a more powerful opponent had just arrived and drew back. Zhu Cong had rescued Guo Jing. Meanwhile, the other Freaks arrived.

“Shameless scoundrels,” Quan Jinfa scolded. “Be off! Have you no face?

The man with the saber was well aware that they had lost their advantage, and if they continued the fight, they would be defeated. But if they backed down, they would lose face and could no longer dare to serve the Sixth Prince!

“Are you the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’?” he demanded, to give himself some breathing space. “Indeed,” Zhu Cong replied, laughing. “Who are you?”

“We are the disciples of the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’.” The ‘Freaks’ were very surprised, for, given that these individuals had openly abused their numerical superiority, they believed that they must be vagabonds without a master. But the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’, Sha Tongtian, is a weighty personality in the martial arts world.

“Are you misusing that name, or not?” Ke Zhen'E demanded in an icy voice. “The ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ is a renowned personage, how could he have disciples as miserable as you?”

“Misusing a name?” the axe man said. “This is Elder Brother Shen Qinggang, nicknamed ‘Saber Breaks Down The Soul’; this is Second brother, Wu Qinglie, nicknamed ‘Lance Seizes Life’; this is Third brother Ma Qingxiong, nicknamed ‘Whip Captures Spirit’; and I, Qian Qingjian, am nicknamed ‘Axe Buries Family’.”

“So,” Ke Zhen’E said, “it seems to be true. You really are the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’. You occupy a certain position in the Jianghu world; how could you lower yourselves to attack four against one?”

Wu Qinglie said cunningly, “What, four against one?” he argued. “Isn't your disciple helped by all these Mongols? Indeed, we are four against several hundred!”

“Third brother,” Qian Qingjian demanded of Ma Qingxiong, “this blind person appears to be very boastful. Who is he?”

He had asked the question in a low voice but Ke Zhen'E heard him. Very upset, he leapt forward and struck with his staff at Qian. Grabbing him by the collar he threw him to the bottom of the hill. Ke Zhen'E, already among them, grasped them one after the other and pitched them far away. The Mongolian soldiers called out joyfully. The ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, covered with sand, rose painfully to their feet with their limbs aching and shame on their faces.

At that moment, immense dust clouds rose in the distance, as if tens of thousands of horsemen were coming. A flutter of nervousness immediately moved through Senggum’s army.

Temujin, delighted to see reinforcements arriving, knew that iron discipline reigned in the army of Jamuka. Its officers and soldiers were all battle hardened. Senggum, protected by the reputation of his father, was a less formidable commander in chief. Temujin pointed to the left wing of Senggum’s army and shouted, “Attack in that direction!”

Jebe, Borchu, Jochi and Chagatai signaled the first ones. One could hear the faraway cries of the warriors of the relief column. Muqali swept his saber down on the nape of the neck of Dukhsh and shouted, “Get out of the way! Get out of the way!”

Senggum, who was going to order his men to intercept them, hesitated upon seeing that his son menaced. In a wink, Temujin’s small troop moved to the foot of the hill. Jebe carefully aimed and loosed an arrow headed for Senggum’s head. He shielded himself quickly, but the projectile struck his left cheek and he tumbled down from his mount. Seeing their chieftain fall, his men made their escape in pitiful disarray.

Temujin and his companions broke out of the siege, firing arrows at those that pursued them. Several li away, in the cloud of dust, was Tolui and his soldiers. The pursuers had always feared the bravery of Temujin. Now that they no longer had the advantage of numbers, they turned tail.

It turned out that because Tolui was young, the chieftains and generals refused to obey him since he didn’t have Temujin’s command seal. He could only convince a few thousand young soldiers to follow him here. He then conceived the idea of attaching branches to the tails of the horses, so that quantity of dust thus raised concealed the number of his soldiers. The ploy was a success.

Temujin’s army returned to his camp. On the way they met Hua Zheng leading a small company of soldiers. When she saw that they were unharmed, she was so happy that she wouldn’t stop talking.

That evening, Temujin gave a large banquet to reward his soldiers, but he placed Dukhsh in the place of honor, which caused general indignation. The Khan offered three toasts to pay homage to Dukhsh and said, “Ong Khan, my adoptive father, and my brother Senggum have always treated me well. There is no reason for hatred between our families. Please present my excuses to them, which will be accompanied with gifts of great value. I won't hold a grudge against you because of what you have done. After you return, you will prepare for your marriage to my daughter. We will hold a great feast and we will invite the chiefs of all the tribes. There will be great rejoicing. You will be my son-in-law and thus my son. From now on the two families must be united as one and not let themselves be divided by gossip.”

Dukhsh, relieved at not being killed, accepted all that was offered. He noticed that when Temujin spoke, he kept his right hand on his chest under his tunic, and coughed nonstop. He wondered, “Could it be that he's wounded?”

“This day,” the Khan said, “I was hit by an arrow. It will take three months to recuperate before I'm healthy again; if this hadn’t happened, I would accompany you back myself. He withdrew his hand from under his tunic; it was covered with blood! “There’s no need to wait for my wound to heal before you get married. Otherwise…otherwise you’ll have to wait too long.”

All the officers present were amazed and outraged to see their Khan afraid and apprehensive about Ong Khan, and much too eager to marry Hua Zheng to Dukhsh. The son of the division commander that was part of Temujin's escort had been killed defending the hill. The commander, insane with anger, unsheathed his saber and wanted to kill Dukhsh. The Khan had him seized and beaten in front of Dukhsh, until he fainted, covered with blood.

“He will be imprisoned,” Temujin ordered, “and he will be beheaded with all of his family in three days time!” The following day, Dukhsh returned home, taking along two carts filled with gold and furs, a thousand fat sheep, one hundred war horses, and escorted by fifty soldiers. Temujin also sent an emissary known for his eloquence, to plead his cause with Ong Khan and Senggum. At the time of the departure, Temujin, who seemed not to have the strength to ride a horse, arrived on a stretcher and bade him farewell, still coughing.

Eight days later, Temujin brought his officers together. “Gather your soldiers,” he ordered, “we will attack Ong Khan!” All the officers looked aghast. He continued, “Ong Khan has a very large army, whereas we are few. If you can’t win a frontal battle, a ruse is needed. I let Dukhsh go, heaping him with gifts, while I pretended to be wounded by an arrow and near death. I did all that to take him off guard!”

The officers expressed their admiration. At this moment, Temujin freed the commander he had beaten and gave him a large reward. Learning that the army was going to attack Ong Khan, the commander felt joy. He knelt down to express his thanks and asked for the honor of commanding the vanguard, which Temujin granted him. The army of the Khan was divided into three columns, which marched during the night using little used trails and bivouacked during the day. When they met shepherds, they took them captive and brought them along, to avoid any indiscriminate talk.

In the beginning, Ong Khan and Senggum, fearing that Temujin would come to seek revenge, kept their guard up. But the triumphal return of Dukhsh, the gifts he brought back, the servile remarks of the emissary and the news of the serious wound to the Khan reassured them completely. They even withdrew their forward sentinels and spent their time feasting with Wanyan Honglie and Jamuka. One night, the three columns of Temujin’s army fell on them like lightning! The many soldiers of Ong Khan and Jamuka, panic stricken, lost much of their combativeness and the battle turned into a rout. Ong Khan and Senggum fled towards the west where they were killed shortly after by the Naïman and Liao. In the confusion, Dukhsh was trampled by horses.

Wanyan Honglie, for his part, escaped in the middle of the night, in the protection of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ and headed back to the Jin capital. Abandoned by his soldiers, Jamuka took refuge at Tangnu Mountain with his five bodyguards. They betrayed him and brought him to Temujin. Temujin was furious, “Bodyguards who betray their master!” he cried. “How can I let such people live?” He ordered them decapitated in front of Jamuka. Then he turned to Jamuka, “Shall we become friends again?”

“Even if you spare my life,” answered Jamuka with tears in his eyes, “I haven't the honor left to live in this world. I only beg that you let me die without bloodshed, so that my soul will not leave my body.”

[According to the beliefs of the shamans, the soul resides in the blood. Princes that are to be killed but still honored were put to death by strangulation.]

Temujin remained sadly silent for a long time. “Well,” he finally said, “I agree to such a death and I will bury you at the place where we played as children. Jamuka knelt before him, then rose and left the ger. A few days later, Temujin united the tribes on the banks of the Onon River in a kuriltai (general assembly). The river’s fame stretched beyond the steppe, and the tribes, warriors and all the shepherds fear and revere it. Ong Khan and Jamuka’s men had been integrated into Temujin’s army. During the kuriltai, Temujin was acclaimed Grand Khan of all Mongolia; he carried, from that time on, the title of ‘Genghis Khan’, which meant ‘Supreme Chief’.

Genghis Khan rewarded the most deserving soldiers: the Four Aces, Muqali, Borchu, Boroqul, Tchila’un, while the officers, Jebe, Jelme and Subotai were made generals. During the battle, Guo Jing had rendered exceptional service and he was made a general as well! A young man, who had not yet reached twenty years of age, was regarded as an equal to officers of great reputation! During the banquet, Genghis Khan accepted homage from his faithful ones and drank without restraint. Slightly drunk, he said to Guo Jing, “My good boy, I will give you the most valuable thing I have.” Guo Jing knelt down to thank him. “I give Hua Zheng to you,” Genghis Khan said. “From tomorrow onwards, you will be the Golden Saber Prince. [Jin Dao Fu Ma]”

All the warriors let out cries of joy and congratulated the young man, “Son-in-law, wearing the large golden knife! Well done, hurrah!”

The happiest with all this was, without any doubt, Tolui, who embraced his sworn brother. But the person at the center of interest remained dazzled. He had always regarded Hua Zheng as his sister and he did not feel any other kind of love. He had devoted all his time to martial arts; when had he time to think of other things? The words of Genghis Khan distressed him and he didn't know what to do. Seeing him speechless, everyone burst out laughing.

After the banquet, Guo Jing went to inform his mother. Li Ping remained thoughtful for a long time, and then asked him to invite the Six Freaks from Jiangnan to their ger. They were delighted to see their beloved disciple covered with honors and they congratulated his mother. But she did not say a word. Then she fell suddenly to her knees in front of the Six.

“Please rise,” they protested. “If you have something to say to us, do so, why such ceremony?”

Han Xiaoying helped her up. “Thanks to the teachings of the six Shifus,” Li Ping said, “my child finally became a man. I can never express my gratitude to all of you. But now, I face a difficulty and I need your enlightened counsel.” She then told about the marriage which had been arranged by her late husband and his sworn brother, Yang Tiexin. “That the Khan wants my son to be his son-in-law,” she began again, “is of course a great honor. But if Brother Yang had a girl and I do not keep my husband's promise, how could I, in the underworld, face my husband and Brother Yang?”

“You don't have to worry,” Zhu Cong said laughing. “The honorable Yang actually has a descendant, but it is not a girl…it's a boy!” Li Ping was astonished and delighted at the same time. “How do you know, Zhu Shifu?”

“A friend, who remained in the Central Plains, wrote to inform us. By the way, he wishes that we take Jing’er to Jiangnan to meet the son of Yang, and to compare their kung fu.”

The Six Freaks had never made known to Li Ping and her son about the challenge with Qiu Chuji. Whenever Guo Jing raised questions about the young Taoist Yin Zhiping, they merely murmured something without really answering. Knowing the kind nature of their disciple, they thought that, were he suddenly to know the story of Yang Kang, he would not show all of his potential at the time of the combat; it would distort the competition irretrievably.

Zhu Cong’s words charmed Li Ping. She asked if the Mrs. Yang was still in this world, and asked questions about the character of Yang Kang, but the Six were unable to answer her. Li Ping and the ‘Six Freaks’ decided that the six would take Guo Jing to Jiangnan to meet Yang Kang. At the same time they would try to find Duan Tiande and seek vengeance. Afterwards they would come back and Guo Jing would marry Hua Zheng. Guo Jing went to report this arrangement to Genghis Khan.

“Well,” Temujin said. “Since you go to the south, will you bring back the head of the Sixth Jin Prince, Wanyan Honglie, for me? My sworn brother Jamuka betrayed me and lost his life, and it's the fault of that scum. How many men do you need to achieve this mission?”

After unifying the Mongolian tribes, Genghis Khan posed a serious threat to the Jin Empire. Confrontation would take place sooner or later, it was inevitable. Having met Wanyan Honglie on several occasions, Temujin knew his intelligence and his competence, so it was important that he be gotten rid of as soon as possible. As for his break with Jamuka, the true reasons were elsewhere; he had uprooted traditions, had left the spoils of war to his own warriors, and had sought to attract Jamuka’s soldiers to his own army. The truth was, they both broke their oath of fidelity and they did not want to recognize their responsibilities and preferred to blame it on Wanyan Honglie.

Throughout his childhood, Guo Jing’s mother had told him stories about the past and he had developed a great hatred towards the Jin. This was reinforced by his battle with the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ who were employed by Wanyan Honglie. Thinking of an answer to Genghis Khan’s question, he said to himself, “If my six Shifus will lend me a hand, certainly my mission will be a success. If I take along brave soldiers who do not know martial arts, they are likely to be a hindrance.” He then answered, “If my six Shifus accompany me, I won't need anybody else.”

“Very well,” Genghis Khan said. “We are still weak at the moment and we cannot face the Jin Empire directly. It will be necessary for you to be careful and not to let them guess our intentions.”

Guo Jing agreed. The Khan gave him ten taels of gold for his journey and offered the Six Freaks a part of the spoils plundered from Ong Khan. Learning that he was to leave on a mission to the south, all of Guo Jing’s Mongol friends also offered gifts to him.

“My Anda,” Tolui reminded, “the people of the south don't keep their word, you must be careful, and not get duped ...”

At dawn three days later, Guo Jing and his Shifus left for the grave of Zhang Ahsheng to pay homage. Then they returned to bid farewell to Li Ping before taking the road to the south. Li Ping watched the tall silhouette of her son riding the small red horse as it disappeared on the steppe. She thought of his birth on that desolate battlefield, and felt her heart tighten with concern and sadness.

After riding about ten Li, Guo Jing saw two white eagles soaring in the sky; Tolui and Hua Zheng had come to bid him farewell. Tolui offered him a valuable coat of flawless black sable which he had taken from Ong Khan. Hua Zheng, with glowing cheeks, looked at her future husband without saying anything.

“Oh go ahead, little sister,” Tolui said, “speak to him! I will not listen to what you'll say!” He burst out laughing and moved away. Hua Zheng bowed her head, not finding anything to say... “Return quickly!” she finally murmured.

Guo Jing nodded his head. “What else do you want to say to me?” he asked. She shook her head. “Then, I'll go ...” She lowered her head without saying another word.

Guo Jing leaned over, lightly pressed her to him, then rode towards Tolui and hugged him also. Then he urged his horse into a gallop in order to catch up with his six Shifus who were already far ahead.

Him being so formal and not showing any tenderness, even though they were promised in marriage and he was traveling faraway, Hua Zheng felt a surge of anger. As she rode off she violently whipped her horse even though the poor animal had nothing to do with the situation ... 

Chapter 7 – Joust to Find a Spouse

The ‘Six Freaks of Jiangnan’ and Guo Jing took the southeastern route. The journey promised to be long and many days passed before they’d even left the steppe. One day, they were not very far from Zhangjiakou [known as Kalgan at this time]. It was the first time that Guo Jing had put his feet on Chinese soil; everything was new to him and he was full of enthusiasm. He loosened his hold on the reins of his horse and it ran so quickly that the wind whistled in his ears and the landscape changed quickly before his amazed eyes. The little red horse galloped without interruption until he reached the Black River [Amur River or Heilong Jiang], then Guo Jing stopped at a roadside hostel in order to wait for his masters.

After this long run, the horse was covered with sweat, so Guo Jing took a handkerchief to wipe it down. He was stunned to see traces of blood on the handkerchief! After passing his hand along its neck, he saw more blood when he withdrew it. He almost burst into tears, blaming himself for not stopping his horse and not taking better care of it. He was the one responsible for its loss! He embraced the horse and caressed him nearly one thousand times; yet somehow, the animal seemed to be very healthy and didn’t appear to be suffering any ill affects.

While waiting for his Third Shifu, who would properly care for the horse, he couldn't stop turning his head toward the road, hoping to see him. Suddenly he heard the tinkling of bells as four snow white camels arrived running full speed on the road. Each was ridden by an individual clothed in white. Guo Jing had grown up near the steppe, but he had never seen any camels as beautiful and couldn’t stop staring fixedly at them. The four camel riders, of about twenty years in age, had similar faces with fine lines and attractiveness; a type of beauty rarely seen in Mongolia. With graceful agility they got down from their mounts to enter the hostel. Guo Jing could not take his eyes off them.

One of the four, embarrassed by his staring, blushed and lowered her head. Another one, who was bolder, got angry, “Little fool! Why do you look at us like that?”

Guo Jing, taken aback, turned his head in embarrassment. The newcomers whispered in low voices and laughed. “Congratulations!” one said to another. “You really dazzled that fool!”

Guo Jing knew that the speaker ridiculed him and felt ashamed. His cheeks turned red. Just as he was wondering if he should remain or leave, Han Baoju arrived on his stallion ‘Wind Chaser’. The young man hastened to tell his Shifu of his misadventure with his horse.

“How is this possible?” Han Baoju wondered. He approached the horse, caressed it, examined his hand attentively, and then exploded in laughter. “It’s not blood,” he said, “it’s sweat!”

“Sweat?” Guo Jing stammered, almost speechless. “Red sweat?”

“Jing’er, it is a horse that sweats blood, a rare beast and of inestimable value!” Guo Jing, happy beyond belief to learn that his horse was not injured asked, “Third Shifu, how can sweat look like blood?”

“I heard from my late Shifu, that there existed in the kingdom of Ferghana [a central Asian Valley, shared today by Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan.] in the Territories of the west, celestial horses whose sweat was red as blood. At a gallop they looked like they were flying and could cover more than one thousand li per day. But that was just a story and since no one had ever seen one, I didn't believe it myself. However, here is this legendary animal and it let himself be tamed by you!”

By this time, the other Freaks had also arrived. They took a room in the hostel then ordered something to eat. Zhu Cong, whose learning was incomparable, said while nodding his head, “It is an anecdotal story confined to historic records in the dynastic history of the Han. The story tells that the Emperor Han Wudi, having heard rumors of the horse that sweats blood, sent an emissary to the Kingdom of Ferghana with a full size gold statue of the animal. The emissary asked to have one of them but the king of Ferghana refused.”

“How did the emperor react?” Han Xiaoying asked. “Did he give up on having the horse?” Sitting at another table, the camel riders in white, turned to listen to the story. At that moment, more bells were heard and four more individuals, also clothed in white, entered and sat down with the others.

“Of course not,” Zhu Cong said. “He became enraged and invaded Ferghana. He began a long and vicious war, during which the kingdom was destroyed. He finally captured one of the famous horses, but at such a price!” All commented on the madness of men and continued to eat.

The eight camel riders had listened to the story attentively and gave covetous looks at the red horse tied outside. They kept whispering in low voices. Ke Zhen’E, whose hearing was especially acute, heard them distinctly even though the tables were relatively distant from each other.

“If we’re going to take it,” one of them said, “we need to do it right away. If he rides his horse again, we won’t be able to catch him!” “There are too many people here,” retorted another. “And he has some friends...”

“If they dare to interfere,” said a third, “we’ll have to kill them all!”

“How can these eight individuals scheme so cruelly?” Ke Zhen’E wondered, but he didn't let anything show and continued to swallow his food greedily.

“We will offer this precious horse to the young Master,” one of them said. “Mounted on such beast, his arrival in Yanjing will be a lot more spectacular! No one will be talked of as much as him, not even vain people like the ‘Ginseng Immortal’ or the ‘Virtuous Supreme Lingzhi’!”

Ke Zhen’E heard them speak of the ‘Virtuous Supreme Lingzhi’, who was an eminent personality from a secret school in Tibet, known in the whole of the southwest for his technique ‘Stamp of a Big Hand’. On the other hand, he didn't know anything about the ‘Ginseng Immortal’.

“These past few days,” another said, “we met a lot of outlaws on the road; they were all Peng Lianhu’s men. They call him ‘Butcher of One Thousand Hands’. They are probably going to the gathering in Yanjing. If they happen on this precious horse, do you think that we’ll get another chance to take it?”

Ke Zhen’E froze. He knew that Peng Lianhu was a dangerous outlaw chief who terrorized the region of Hubei and Shanxi. He had many henchmen under his command and acted with cruelty. He had killed so many people that he had received the nickname ‘Butcher of the One Thousand Hands’. “Why,” he wondered, “are all these sinister outlaws going to meet in the capital? And where did these eight women come from?”

The women continued to plot in low voices and decided to lie in ambush on the road outside of the town, in order to seize Guo Jing’s horse. Then they chattered, talking of clothes and other things of that kind. “It’s you that the young Master prefers”, or “The young Master must be thinking about you now”, etc. Ke Zhen’E angrily raised his eyebrows, but he could not close his ears and he heard everything in spite of himself.

“If we offer the blood sweating horse to the young Master,” asked one of them, “what reward do you think he is going to give us?” “He is surely going to spend more nights with you,” answered another, laughing.

The first sulkily protested, and they continued to bicker while laughing. “Be quiet,” one of them said. “Don’t reveal our intentions, because they don't look to be that easy to...”

“The woman over there,” another said in a low voice, “carries a sword; she practices martial arts for sure. And she is rather good looking! If she were ten years younger, the young Master would certainly be interested in her!”

Ke Zhen’E knew that they were speaking of Han Xiaoying and felt even angrier. “This ‘young Master’ that they speak of can’t be someone very admirable!” The eight women finished their meal, mounted their camels and left.

After their departure, Ke Zhen’E asked Guo Jing, “Jing’er, what do you think of the abilities of those eight women?” “What women?” Guo Jing wondered.

“They were disguised as men,” Zhu Cong explained, “but you didn't realize it, did you?”

“Who knows of the ‘Mount of the White Camel’?” Ke Zhen’E asked. No one had heard of it. Ke told them of the conversation that he had heard. The other Freaks decided that these shameless women didn't lack boldness, but their audacity in wanting to tackle someone stronger than them was something to laugh at.

“Two among them,” Han Xiaoying said, “have big noses and green eyes; they probably aren’t Chinese...” “Very true,” confirmed Han Baoju. “And those pure white camels only exist in the territories of the west.”

“That they want to steal the horse,” Ke Zhen’E said, “is not too serious, but they also said that numerous dangerous personalities are going to a meeting in Yanjing. It may involve an important plot to harm the Song dynasty. It could have disastrous consequences for our people! Since we accidentally discovered this business, we cannot wash our hands of it.”

“Certainly not,” Quan Jinfa said, “but the appointment at Jiaxing is near, we can’t waste any time.” They hesitated, because it appeared impossible to reconcile the two missions.

“Jing’er goes there first,” Nan Xiren suddenly said.

“What Fourth brother wants to say” Han Xiaoying interpreted, “is that Jing’er must go to Jiaxing alone, and that we will join him once we have dealt with this matter in Yanjing.” Nan Xiren nodded his head.

“It’s true,” Zhu Cong said, “it is time that Jing’er traveled alone to acquire some experience by himself...” The young man was saddened to part with his Shifus.

“You are now grown up,” Ke Zhen’E reprimanded. “Don't behave like a child!”

“You go and wait for us there,” Han Xiaoying said, comforting him. “In less than one month, we will join you.”

“We didn't explain the appointment in Jiaxing in detail to you before,” Zhu Cong said. “When the time arrives, on the twenty-fourth day of the third lunar month, at noon, you absolutely must be at the ‘Pavilion of the Drunken Immortal’, even if the sky falls on your head!” Guo Jing agreed.

“Those eight women want to steal your horse,” Ke Zhen’E continued. “Don't look for a fight; your horse is fast and they won’t be able to catch up to you. You have important things to attend to, so don’t get involved in useless distractions.”

“If those women dare to cause any trouble,” Han Baoju said, “the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ will stop them!”

Zhang Ahsheng died more than ten years ago, but the six still called themselves the ‘Seven Freaks’, never forgetting to associate their dead brother with all their actions.

Guo Jing bade farewell to his teachers. They had witnessed his battle with the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, and were not greatly worried for his safety. The young man had proved that he knew how to use the skills that had been taught to him. Therefore they let him leave alone. On one hand, the meeting of the outlaws in Yanjing worried them greatly and they couldn’t just ignore it. On the other hand, a youngster has to travel Jianghu alone, in order to learn lessons that no teacher can pass on.

At the moment of parting, each gave his last bit of advice. As usual, when the Six spoke, Nan Xiren was the last one to express himself, “If you cannot defeat an enemy,” he said. “Flee!”

Knowing Guo Jing’s determined nature, he knew that he would rather die than to surrender. If he met a master, he would certainly fight to the bitter end, even at the risk of death. That was the reason Nan Xiren gave him this common-sense warning.

“The martial arts have no limits,” Zhu Cong added. “As the proverb says: 'For every peak there is one higher', so for every man there is someone stronger. Whatever your power, you will one day meet a foe stronger than you. A true man knows to retreat when necessary. When facing grave danger, it is necessary to contain one's impetuosity and anger. This is what is meant by the adage: ‘If one preserves the earth and its forests, one does not fear the lack of firewood.’ It is not cowardly to take good advice! When the enemy is too numerous and you cannot face them, it is very necessary to avoid being too reckless. Keep in mind Fourth Shifu's advice!”

Guo Jing agreed and kowtowed to his teachers before mounting his horse to head for the south. He felt great sadness at parting from his masters with whom he had lived every day for the past ten years. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He thought also of his mother, whom he had left alone on the steppe. Of course, she didn’t lack for anything, since Genghis Khan and Tolui had promised to look after her, but his loneliness weighed upon him nonetheless, and he worried for her.

After traveling about ten li, he arrived in a mountainous region. The road wound along the bottom of a valley dominated by craggy slopes dotted with strange boulders. Since it was the first time that he had faced the outside world, he could not help but feel a little apprehensive at the sight of this threatening landscape. With one hand on the hilt of his sword, he paused and smiled, “If Third Shifu saw me thus, trembling and terrified, he would certainly make fun of me!”

The road climbed the mountain flank, becoming narrower and serpentine. Rounding a bend, he suddenly became aware of a group of white shapes in front of him; four women clothed in white, mounted on white camels, blocked the road. Guo Jing, pulling back the reins of his horse, halted. From a distance, he shouted, “Excuse me! May I please pass?”

The four women laughed. “Little man,” one of them replied. “What do you fear? Why don't you come over! We won't eat you!” Red- faced, Guo Jing did not know what to do. Could he amicably negotiate passage, or would it be necessary to rush forward and make the pass by force of arms?

“Your horse is not a bad animal,” another woman said. “Come here; let me have a look at him!” She spoke to him as if to a little child. Guo Jing felt anger rise within him, but the layout of the terrain worried him. To his right rose a craggy cliff, to the left, there was a mist-covered precipice, whose bottom could not be seen.

“Eldest Shifu,” he said to himself, “has given me good advice not to seek trouble. If I ride at them swiftly, those girls will be obliged to let me pass!” He lashed his reins, pressed with his thighs, and the red horse sped forward like an arrow. Sword in hand, Guo Jing cried, “Listen to me, you people! Let me pass! If someone is jostled and falls from the precipice, it won't be my fault!” In the blink of an eye, he arrived in front of the four women. They had leapt down from their camels and attempted to seize the bridle of the horse. With a whinny, the horse leapt over the camels! Guo Jing had the impression that he was flying in the clouds as he landed beyond his opponents, who were just as surprised as him!

Hearing them scream out in anger, he turned and saw the flash of two projectiles flying toward him. This being his first time traveling the Jianghu, he had taken heed of the prudent advice of his masters. Worried that the missiles were poisoned, he did not wish to seize them with his bare hand. He waved his leather cap and intercepted them.

“Well done!” two of the women called. “Pretty good kung fu!”

Guo Jing dipped his head and saw, inside his cap, two silver darts tipped with extremely sharp fish bones. Deadly weapons! He felt both disturbed and upset. “There is no ill-will between us,” he said to himself. “You covet only my horse and yet you are ready to mortally injure me!” He placed the missiles in his pouch, and fearing to meet the other four women, he slackened his horse's reins, not holding it back any longer. It galloped like the wind and in less than an hour had covered 80 li. The other assailants must have been lying in ambush further down the road, but he passed by so quickly that they did not have the time to launch it. After a brief rest, he continued on. Before night fell again, he had arrived in Kalgan [the Mongolian name for Zhangjiakou], sure that he had left those following him far behind.

Kalgan, at the crossroads of commerce between the South and the North, was a small but very lively city, where the trade of the region was centered, especially the fur trade. Holding his red horse by the reins, Guo Jing glanced right and left with great curiosity. Never had he seen a town of such importance and everything appeared strange and new to him. Arriving in front of a large restaurant he felt the pangs of hunger. He tied up his horse in front of the door and went in. Once seated at a table, he ordered a dish of beef, with two pancakes, and having a good appetite, he ate in the Mongol manner, wrapping the meat in the pancake and taking bites out of it. While he satisfied his hunger, he suddenly heard a disturbance at the door of the inn. Fearing for his mount, he rushed to the doorway.

The little red horse was quietly eating its fodder while two inn boys were scolding a young, slender boy, clothed in rags. He appeared to be fifteen or sixteen years of age and on his head he wore an old leather hat with many holes. His face and hands were dirty; so much so that one could not distinguish his features clearly. He held a big bun in his hand and laughed foolishly, revealing two rows of beautiful white teeth that seemed out-of-place in comparison with his general appearance. His black, very lively eyes, shone with intensity.

“Hey you!” one of the boys screamed. “Get lost!”

“Sure.” the young lad said, “Since you want me to go, I'll go…” As he turned on his heels the other inn boy interrupted, “Leave the bun!” He handed the bun back, but it was covered with the marks of dirty fingers and could no longer be sold. The inn boy was furious and launched a blow with his fist that the boy ducked.

Guo Jing, feeling pity for him and thinking that he had to be hungry, interposed himself. “There's no need for violence,” he said. “Put that on my account!”

He took the bun and gave it to the young man who took it and said, “This bun is no good! Poor thing, this is for you!” He threw the bun to a small skinny dog that started to devour it.

“What a waste!” the inn boy disgustedly said, “giving a dog such a good bun!”

Guo Jing was taken aback, for he had believed that the boy suffered from hunger... He returned to his table to continue his meal. The young man followed him inside the establishment and stayed there, looking at him fixedly. Guo Jing felt a little bothered and asked, “Do you want to eat here, too?” “Gladly,” replied the young man with a laugh. “I was bored being all alone and I've been looking for a buddy...”

He had a Jiangnan accent and its familiarity delighted Guo Jing. In fact, his mother was from Lin’an, in Zhejiang province, and the Freaks all came from Jiaxing. Since childhood he had been immersed in the accent of Jiangnan. The young boy seated himself at the table. Guo Jing called the waiter. When he saw the rags and dirtiness of the new guest, the look on his face was not very nice. It was necessary to call him several times before he finally, dragging his feet, brought over a bowl and plate.

“You take me for a pauper,” the young boy said, “and unworthy to eat here. Pah! Even should you serve me your finest dish, who knows if it’ll be to my taste?”

“Ah yes,” the waiter said coldly. “We will assuredly follow your orders, sir. The problem is that we don't know if anyone will pay!” “Whatever I order,” the boy demanded of Guo Jing, “will you treat me?”

“Of course…of course!” Guo Jing replied. He then told the waiter, “Quickly cut up a plate of roast beef and a half plate of mutton liver!” To him, roast beef and mutton liver constituted the ultimate in delicacies... “Do you drink wine?” he asked the boy.

“Wait,” the boy replied. “Don't rush into the meat. Let us begin first with fruit. Eh, waiter! First we’ll have four dry fruits, four fresh fruits, two salted sweetened ones, and four preserved fruit in honey.”

Not expecting such an order the waiter was shocked,. “Which fruit and sweets do you wish, sir?” he inquired.

“In this little establishment, in this pathetic little town,” the boy said, “I imagine it's impossible for you to come up with anything great. We’ll have to content ourselves with lesser things. The four dry fruit are lichis, longans, steamed jujubes and gingkos. For the fresh, you will choose seasonal fruits. For the salted sweetened, perfumed cherries and plums and filaments of ginger, but I don't know if you’ll find those here. As for the honey preserved fruit, you will bring rose perfumed tangerines, preserved grapes, sugar frosted peaches, and pear slices." This knowledge of culinary matters impressed the waiter, who no longer dared to act superior.

“There are no fresh fish or fresh shrimp to accompany the wine,” continued the boy, “so I will be content with eight average... dishes.” “What else do you desire, sir?” asked the waiter.

“Of course,” said the boy with a sigh. “If I don’t explain all the tiniest details, you will be incapable of doing anything properly! Here are the eight dishes: steamed pheasant, fried ducks feet, chicken tongue soup, deer stomach in rice wine, beef ribs with chives, rabbit in chrysanthemum petals, stir-fried thigh of wild boar, and pork feet in ginger vinegar... I'm choosing simple dishes only; it's not worth mentioning more sophisticated ones." The waiter's mouth gaped.

“Those eight dishes,” he said, “are rather expensive! For the duck feet and the chicken tongue soup, we will require a lot of poultry!" “The gentleman is paying,” the boy responded, pointing at Guo Jing, “Do you believe that he does not have the means?”

The waiter saw that Guo Jing wore a sable coat of great value. “Even if you have no means of payment,” he thought to himself, “this coat will suffice to cover the expenditure!” Then he demanded, “Is that all?”

“You will also bring,” the boy said, “twelve more dishes to accompany the rice and eight different dimsum.” The waiter didn't dare to ask for details concerning the dishes, fearing that the boy would order dishes he could not provide. He went to the kitchen and told the cooks to prepare the best.

“Which wine do the gentlemen wish?” he returned to ask. “We have clear rice wine ten years of age. What would you say to two horns to start?”

“Why not,” the boy said.

A little later the waiter brought fruits and cookies. Guo Jing tasted each plate and marveled at all these delicious things he had never known of. The boy talked continuously, telling of local customs and habits, describing famous characters and anecdotes about the country of the South. Guo Jing was fascinated by his eloquence and his immense knowledge. Guo Jing's Second Shifu was a well-read man and a great scholar, but Guo Jing, who had devoted all of his time and energy to martial arts, and had only learned from Zhu Cong, during their rare free time, some basic characters.

It seemed to him that this young boy was as cultivated as his Second Shifu and he was filled with wonder. “I believe,” he thought, “that what seems a poor beggar is in reality a well-read man of culture. The people in China are definitely quite different from those in Mongolia.”

Half an hour later the dishes were ready. It took two large tables together in order to serve them all. The young boy drank very little and ate in the same way and was satisfied with picking at the less spicy dishes. Suddenly, he called to the waiter and thundered, “This rice wine is five years old! How do you dare to serve it with the food?”

“Your palate is really very refined!” the manager came begging for forgiveness. “Please excuse us. The fact is, our humble establishment did not have it, and it was necessary to borrow some from the nearest larger restaurant, The House of Eternal Celebration. In general, one does not find aged wine in Kalgan.”

The young boy made a gesture to remove it and resumed his conversation with Guo Jing, asking him a thousand questions about the steppe and Mongolia. Since his Shifus had urged him to be discreet so as not to reveal his identity, he was content to tell anecdotes of hunting for hares and wolves, shooting eagles, horse races etc. The boy listened with fascination, applauding the sharpest accounts and often bursting into fresh and childish laughter.

Guo Jing had lived all his life on the steppe. He had certainly had a close friendship with Tolui and Hua Zheng. But Temujin, who loved his youngest son very much, often kept his son near him, so that Tolui didn't have much time for play. As for Hua Zheng, she had a headstrong character and often quarreled with Guo Jing, who was reluctant to do everything she wanted. Although they always reconciled in the end, the relationship wasn't an easy one. However, it was very different with this young boy; they were eating and conversing so that Guo Jing, without knowing why, felt a joy he’d never experienced before.

Usually he spoke little and expressed himself with difficulty. A person needed to ask him questions that forced him to hesitatingly answer. Han Xiaoying gently made fun of him by saying that he was the preferred disciple of his Fourth Shifu, because he had adopted Nan Xiren's motto, "silence is golden". But now, surprisingly, he could talk nonstop, not hiding anything of his life, except his martial arts training and things related to Temujin. He even told of all silly and stupid things. He spoke easily and, at a certain moment, forgot himself and grabbed the left hand of his questioner. He was surprised because this hand was soft, smooth and so flexible it seemed boneless. The boy smiled slightly and bowed his head. Guo Jing noticed that, whereas the boy's face was smudged with dirt, the skin at the nape of his neck had the whiteness of jade. Guo Jing found this a bit strange, but he did not give it further thought.

“Well we've chatted for such a long time,” the boy said, withdrawing his hand, “everything is cold now, the dishes and also the rice ...” “Yes,” Guo Jing said, “but it is not spoiled. It is still good ...” The boy shook his head. “Then we'll get it warmed up ...”

“No,” the boy said, “When it’s warmed up it isn't good anymore ...” He called the waiter, ordered him to throw everything away and prepare new dishes with fresh ingredients. The manager, the cooks and waiters found this attitude quite strange, but they did it readily. The Mongols show extreme hospitability to their guests, and besides, it was the first time in his life that Guo Jing handled money and he didn't know its value. But even if he had known, he got along so well with the boy and he felt such pleasure in his company, he would have spent ten times as much without batting an eye. The new dishes were served and after a few mouthfuls he had had enough.

“You are really an idiot,” the waiter thought, “This little urchin has taken advantage of you.” He brought the bill, which amounted to nineteen taels, seventy-four bao. Guo Jing took out a gold ingot [yuan bao] and ordered the waiter to exchange it for taels at the money changer after which he paid for the food. As they left the restaurant the north wind blew strongly. The young boy seemed to feel the cold. He shivered and said, “I've disturbed you enough... Now, it’s goodbye.”

Seeing that the boy was not dressed warmly enough, Guo Jing felt concerned. He removed his black sable coat and covered the shoulders of the boy. “Brother,” he said, “I feel like we've known each other forever. Please accept this coat.” He had four gold ingots left; he took two and slipped them into the coat's pocket. Without even thanking him, the boy, wearing the sable coat, walked along dejectedly. After walking about ten steps, he turned and saw Guo Jing, holding his horse by its bridle, watching him. He knew that Guo Jing did not want to part like that; he made a gesture with his hand. Guo Jing approached him eagerly and asked, “Does the worthy brother still need something?”

“I haven't asked for the name of my big brother,” said the boy smiling.

“That’s true,” Guo Jing said laughing, “we forgot about that. My name is Guo and Jing is my first name. And yours, brother?” “My name is Huang and my first name is Rong.”

“Where are you bound?” Guo Jing asked. “If you are heading towards the south, we could travel together. What do you think?” “I’m not going south,” Huang Rong said, shaking his head. Suddenly he said, “Big brother, I'm still hungry ...”

“Very well,” Guo Jing happily said. “Let us eat something together.”

This time, Huang Rong took him to the House of Eternal Celebration, the principal restaurant in Kalgan. Its decorations accurately imitated the great establishments of the ancient capital of Song, Bianliang [Kaifeng]. He did not order a feast this time, but only asked for four plates of fine pastry, a pot of longjin tea (aka Dragon’s Well tea, famous green tea of the province Zhejiang), and they continued their rambling conversation.

Having learned that Guo Jing had tamed two white eagles, Huang Rong expressed a certain desire. “Very good,” he said, “I did not know exactly where to go. Tomorrow I'll leave for Mongolia, to catch two white eagles for my amusement.”

“They are not easy to find,” Guo Jing remarked. “Then how did you find them?”

Guo Jing didn't answer and only smiled. “The climate is severe in Mongolia,” he thought, “and the north wind blows icy and hard, how would this slight young boy withstand it?”

“Where do you live?” he asked. “Why don't you return home?” Huang Rong had tears in his eyes, “Dad doesn't want me anymore!” “Why not?” Guo Jing asked. “He locked somebody up,” Huang Rong answered, “and did not wish to set that person free. I took pity on the prisoner because he was lonely; I brought good things for him to eat, and I tried to converse with him. Dad got angry and cursed at me, so I ran away in the middle of the night.”

“I’m sure your dad thinks of you at this moment”, Guo Jing said. “What of your mom?” “She died a long time ago! I haven’t had a mom since I was very small ...”

“If you’ve had your fun, it would be better to return home.” “Dad does not want me anymore,” Huang Rong said crying. “That's impossible!” Guo Jing said.

“Then why doesn't he look for me?”

“Perhaps he is still looking, but hasn't found you ...”

“You’re probably right,” Huang Rong said, who’d changed from crying to laughing. “When I’ve had my fun, I'll return. But first of all, I need to tame two white eagles!”

They chatted again about what they had seen or experienced. Guo Jing told of the incident with the eight women in white, disguised as men, and who wanted to take possession of his horse. Huang Rong asked questions about the small red horse, its capabilities, its character, and seemed full of envy. He drank a mouthful of tea and said smilingly, “Big brother, I want to ask for something of great value to you. Would you agree to that?”

“Of course, why wouldn't I?”

“What I would like, is your horse that sweats blood!”

“All right,” Guo Jing said without hesitating, “I'll give it to you gladly.”

In fact, Huang Rong was joking. He knew very well that Guo Jing adored his invaluable horse. Since they had just recently met and by chance, he was curious to see how this good chap was going to refuse his improper request. However, Guo Jing answered with such generosity and simplicity that he was taken by surprise. Moved beyond words, he could not stop himself breaking into sobs and hiding his face with his arms. Guo Jing was even more surprised, “Brother,” he asked with concern, “what’s happened, don't you feel well?”

Huang Rong raised his head. He had been crying, but now a big smile lit his face. The running tears had washed away the dirt, revealing white skin like pure jade. “Big brother,” he said, “let’s go!”

Guo Jing paid and they left the restaurant. Guo Jing took his horse by its bridle caressing it gently and gave it the following advice, “I've given you to my good friend here. You will act obediently and especially do not show your foul temper!” Then he addressed Huang Rong, “Brother, mount the horse!”

The small red horse usually did not allow anyone else to mount it, but, during the past few days, it had quieted a lot. Since its master had ordered it to do so, it didn't make a fuss. Huang Rong leapt on the horse and Guo Jing let go of the bridle, and clapped him lightly on the rump. Rider and horse disappeared in a cloud of dust. Guo Jing waited until he could see them no more before he turned back.

It was very late when he obtained a room at an inn. Just as he was going to extinguish his candle and to go to bed, he heard a scratch at the door. He thought that it was Huang Rong who had returned, and felt great joy. “Is that you, brother?” he asked. “That's great!”

“It's your old man!” replied a hoarse voice. “What's so great?”

Surprised, the young man opened the door and saw, by the glimmer of the candle, five men. Looking at them more closely, he felt a shiver go down his spine; four of them, armed with a saber, a lance, a whip and twin axes, were none other than the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, whom he had previously fought on the hill. The fifth one was a lean man of about forty years, with a long dark face with three big lumps on his forehead that gave him an extremely ugly appearance. The lean man sneered and swept grandly into the room. He seated himself arrogantly on the bed of bricks [kang], then turned his head to regard Guo Jing. [In northern China, sleeping arrangements generally were installed on top of a kind of brick "oven", that allowed for heating underneath.]

The senior brother of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, Shen Qinggang, nicknamed ‘Saber Breaks Down the Soul’, declared coldly, “This is our martial uncle, the renowned Hou Tonghai, known as ‘Three-Headed Dragon’! Kowtow before Lord Hou right now!”

Guo Jing realized that he was cornered. He could never defeat the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ together, to say nothing of their martial uncle, who had to be fearsome. “What do you want?” he demanded, while clasping his fists in greeting.

“Where are your teachers?” Hou Tonghai questioned. “My six Shifus are not here.”

“Huh,” sneered Hou Tonghai. “Then I will give you a half-day respite. If I killed you now, people could say that the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ was taking advantage of an opponent weaker than him. Tomorrow at noon, I will await your six Shifus in the ‘Black Pine Wood’, ten li to the west of here.” He left without even waiting for Guo Jing's reply. Wu Qinglie, nicknamed ‘Whip Captures Spirit’, closed the door and locked it from the outside.

Guo Jing put out the candle, lay down on the bed, and saw, on the paper of the window, a shadow that came and went continuously. The enemy, clearly, were mounting a watch over him. A short time later, he heard a noise on the roof, someone was tapping the tiles with a weapon, while saying, “Little fellow, don't even think about running away, your old man is watching you.” Knowing that escape was impossible, Guo Jing lay still, glancing at the ceiling, and wondering how he was going to leave tomorrow. He fell asleep before he found even the beginnings of a solution.

The next morning, the inn boy brought hot water for his bath and noodles for breakfast. He was closely followed by Qian Qingjian, armed with his two short axes. Guo Jing reflected that his Shifus were far away and probably would not arrive in time to save him. Since he could not flee, it would be necessary to fight and die like a man! His Fourth Shifu, who had advised him well, said, “If you can't beat the enemy, flee!” But to flee without even being beaten, would not be accurately following the advice... In fact, it would not have been difficult for him to escape from Qian Qingjian alone, for he was not very quick or resourceful. If only Nan Xiren had said to him, “Flee from danger!” he probably would have taken to his heels, and Qian Qingjian certainly would not have been in any position to catch him. The ‘Three-Headed Dragon’, Hou Tonghai, believed that the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ were located in this area, and that, given their fame, they never would fail to keep an appointment. He never would have imagined that Guo Jing would flee on his own.

Seated on the bed, he practiced meditation and controlled his breathing according to the pointers given to him by Ma Yu. Standing next to him, Qian Qingjian whirled his axes while shouting and criticizing his methods. Guo Jing paid no attention to him. Towards noon, he rose. “Let's go,” he said to his jailer.

He paid his bill to the innkeeper and both headed to the west. Ten li further on, they indeed came across woods of thickly foliaged pines. Qian Qingjian left Guo Jing and entered the woods.

The young man pulled out the supple whip that he always carried at his side and cautiously entered the undergrowth. Progressing slowly and watching carefully in all directions, he followed the small path for a little more than one li without seeing anyone. All was silent, with an occasional bird call now and then. As he advanced, his apprehension grew. “No one is watching me,” he said reassuringly to himself, “and since the wood is so thick, why not hide? Hiding is not fleeing!" Just as he prepared to slip into a bush he heard swearing above his head, “Little bastard! Idiot! Moron!”

Guo Jing jumped back, his whip held at the ready. He looked up, and then burst out laughing; there, at the top of four big trees, the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’, hands tied behind their backs and each hanging at the end of a rope, wriggled in the air. They struggled hopelessly but could not escape. Seeing Guo Jing, they renewed their cursing.

“You guys playing at swings?” Guo Jing asked, still laughing. “This is very funny, isn't it? Good-bye then, I'll take my leave.” He took a few steps away, and then returned. “How did you guys end up like that?”

“Damn you!” Qian Qingjian growled. “We were taken by surprise; this is not worthy of a real man!”

“Little man,” Shen Qinggang shouted, “if you're brave enough, let us down, and we will fight one on one to decide between us. If we all attacked you, we would be cowards!"

Guo Jing wasn't very intelligent, but neither was he completely stupid. He burst out laughing again and said, “I'll concede that you're brave, without needing to match blows!” Afraid that Hou Tonghai, the Three-Headed Dragon, might arrive, he had no desire to linger; he hastily departed and returned to the city. He bought a horse and resumed his journey south without delay.

“Who secretly helped me?” he asked himself. “Those ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ have excellent kung fu; who was it that succeeded in tying them up, and suspending them from the trees? And the Three-Headed Dragon that had seemed so frightening, why didn't I see him again? My Shifu always said, ‘When an appointment is made, it is necessary to keep it, even if the sky falls on your head’. I kept his appointment; if he didn't arrive himself, that's not my fault."

The journey went on without incident. One day, he finally arrived in Yanjing. It was the capital of the Jin Empire and the most prosperous city in the country. Even the former capital of the Song, Bianliang, or the new one, Lin’an, could not compare with it. Guo Jing, who had grown up on the steppe, had never seen anything even slightly similar. Red buildings of stunning architecture with decorated panels and majestic doors. Splendid attachments graced the front of the sumptuous residences. Fiery standards impeded passage in the streets. Merchandise of all sorts was displayed in immense stores. A colorful crowd of people in luxurious clothes crowded themselves in the tea parlors and the wine houses. The streets were full of brilliant signs, multicolored standards, and the air resounded with the sound of music. A hundred perfumes filled the air with fragrance. Guo Jing did not know where to turn his head. There were so many things before his eyes that he did not recognize one object out of ten!

Not daring to enter a restaurant that was too richly furnished, he chose a small stall where he ate quickly, then continued to walk randomly about. Suddenly, he heard continuous cheering and saw a crowd in the distance, massed around something.

Pressed on by his curiosity, he approached and slipped in amongst the onlookers. They pressed themselves around a wide open area, in the middle of which was planted an ornamental standard with the phrase ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’ embroidered upon it. Beneath the standard, two people faced each other in unrelenting combat; one was a girl dressed in red, the other a big fat fellow. Guo Jing saw right away that the girl, whose every movement was measured and controlled, had good kung fu, while the fat fellow was clearly not up to her level. After a few exchanges, the girl feigned lowering her guard, and the fat fellow advanced to attack with a blow ‘Twin Dragons Leaving their Lair’, projecting both fists towards the chest of his opponent. But the girl stepped back lightly; her left arm pivoted and struck the back of the fat fellow, who tumbled to the ground. He got up, covered with dust and an embarrassed look on his face, before disappearing into the crowd. The spectators applauded and acclaimed the girl.

She rearranged a strand of hair and returned to the standard. Guo Jing regarded her more attentively; she was about eighteen years in age, very graceful and her face extremely pretty and lightly marked by life. Gusts of cold wind made the standard flutter. On either side of it an iron spear and two short halberds had been planted.

The girl exchanged some words in a low voice with a middle-aged man. He nodded, and stepped forward, clasped his hands and saluted the onlookers. “Your servant is named Mu Yi. I am from Shandong. Visiting your honorable city, I seek neither fame nor fortune. Because my girl is of the age to put a comb in her hair (after the age of fifteen years, the girls, now considered adults, can groom and hold their hair in place with a comb) and she has no fiancé. She made a vow and, though she does not desire a prosperous husband or a noble one, she will accept a valiant martial arts expert. That is the reason we have the audacity to propose a contest for her to find a husband. All young men, aged less than thirty years and who are unmarried, can match themselves against my girl. If he can vanquish her in a single move, I will give her to him in marriage. We’ve traversed the country from the south to the north, but all the renowned experts are already married, and the young brave ones doubtless did not dare to try...that is the reason we have not yet been able to find a good husband... Yanjing is a place where 'tigers and dragons hide in the shadows'. There are certainly many heroes and valiant men here. If my actions seem presumptuous, I beg your kind pardon!"

This Mu Yi looked sturdy and strong to Guo Jing, but his back was slightly hunched. He was white-haired and his face wrinkled. He appeared melancholy and was clad in coarse fabric, patched in several places, while the girl was clothed in lively colors. After making his speech, Mu Yi listened for some time. He heard louts making vulgar comments, but they did not dare to enter the arena. He raised his eyes to the sky, saw leaden clouds gathering and the wind grew stronger.

“It appears that a blizzard threatens,” he said in a low voice. “Ah, it was so dark, that day...” He turned back, took down the banner from the standard and prepared to stow it away. Two simultaneous shouts were heard from the east and west. “One moment!” and two men leaped into the open space.

Seeing them, the crowd burst out laughing. The one who had come from the east was obese and elderly. He had a large beard and had to be at least fifty years old. The one that come from the west was even more comical; he was a shaven-headed monk.

“What are you laughing at?” the fat one shouted to the crowd. “Isn't this a contest to find a spouse? I am not married, why can't I try my luck?”

“Venerable ancestor,” the monk said, giggling, “Even if you win, you wouldn't want this girl, as beautiful as a flower, to become a widow right away!”

“And you,” the fat one angrily said, “what are you here for?”

“If I can have such a pretty girl,” the monk replied, “I'll return to the secular world!” The crowd was roaring again.

The girl frowned, apparently annoyed. She removed the cape which she used to cover herself and readied to continue the fight. Mu Yi held her arm, told her not to be irritated, and replanted the banner in the ground. The monk and the obese person continued their bickering; each wanted to fight the girl first.

“Why don't you start by fighting against each other?” the spectators hilariously suggested. “The winner will have the honor of fighting the girl!”

“All right,” the monk said. “Old fellow, let's have a little fun!” He threw a blow with his fist; the obese one avoided it by lowering his head, before returning the blow.

Guo Jing recognized the style of the monk, the Arhat style from the Shaolin Temple. The obese one practiced the style of the ‘Five Movements’. Thus both were practitioners of external kung fu. The monk showed himself to be of great agility, whereas the obese one, in spite of his age, made use of heaviness and power. The monk stealthily struck three blows at the stomach of his adversary, who fought stoically, waiting to batter his right fist on the head of the monk. The blow succeeded and the monk fell to the ground, dazed; then he regained his senses, took a knife out of his robe and ran to the attack. The crowd let out a cry of surprise. The obese one leapt back before wielding an iron whip which had been rolled up around his waist. Both had come armed! The fight began again, still desperate, but more dangerous. The spectators applauded while moving back, fearing injury by straying blows.

Mu Yi approached the two men and said with a loud voice, “Stop! We are in the imperial capital, it is forbidden to display weapons! The two adversaries, carried away by their fight did not pay any attention to him. Mu Yi leapt forward suddenly, kicking away the knife of the monk while seizing the end of the whip. He pulled with force, and the obese one could not resist and released his whip. Mu Yi threw the whip onto the ground. The two adversaries, not daring to fight any longer, collected their weapons shamefaced and disappeared enduring the jibes from the crowd.

Then the tinkling of small bells attached to the harnesses of horses was heard and a flamboyant company appeared. Several tens of vigorous servants accompanying a young nobleman had arrived. He looked at the brocade banner and examined the girl from head to toe. Then he smiled, got down from his horse and came forward. “Is this the girl who seeks a husband through a contest?” he asked. The girl blushed and turned her head without answering. Mu Yi advanced, clasped his fists and greeted him, “My name is Mu. What does the young Lord wish?” “What are the rules of this contest?” Mu Yi explained them to him. “Then I want to try my chances as well...” He was a young and handsome nobleman of about eighteen or nineteen years old, dressed in a lavish brocade coat.

“At last a boy,” thought Guo Jing, “who could make up a beautiful couple with this girl? Fortunately the monk and the old fat one a while ago were not up to par, if not... if not...”

“Your Lordship is joking,” Mu Yi said, mortified. “What do you mean?” the young man said.

“We are only wanderers without abode, how would we dare to measure ourselves against you? And it is not an ordinary contest, because it decides the marriage of my daughter ... Please forgive us.”

“How long have you been holding this contest?” he asked.

“It has been more than six months that we have traveled the roads.”

“That long and nobody could overcome your daughter?” the young nobleman said with disbelief.

“It is undoubtedly,” Mu Yi answered smiling, “because the experts in martial arts are all already married, or they won’t condescend to be measured against her.”

“OK, OK!” the young dandy exclaimed. “I will test ...”

“This is a young man with a refined and distinguished bearing,” Mu Yi thought. “If he came from an ordinary family, he would make a husband of choice for my child. But obviously, he belongs to the nobility. We are in the capital of the Jin and his family is perhaps well known at the Court. In any case, he is certainly rich and powerful. If my daughter wins, that could bring great trouble to us; if she loses, how could I marry her to such a person?”

“We are just wanderers in the realm of Rivers and Lakes [Jianghu],” he said, “We cannot measure ourselves with you. Please forgive us! We will leave!”

“This is an honorable contest,” the young nobleman said, laughing. “I assure you, I will not harm your daughter.” He then turned to the girl and said amiably, “It will be enough for the young lady to touch me to win, all right?”

“In a contest, it is necessary to comply strictly with the rules,” the girl protested.

“Hurry up with the fight!” a cry came from the crowd. “The speedier you fight, the more quickly you will be married, and the more quickly you will have babies!” The spectators burst out in laughter. The girl raised her eyebrows and removed her cape moodily. She greeted the young nobleman, who bowed in return.

“This young dandy grew up in affluence,” Mu Yi thought, “Does he know martial arts? It is better to defeat him quickly and leave the city as soon as possible, in order to avoid trouble.”

“All right,” he said, “perhaps Your Lordship wishes to get rid of his coat.” “That is not necessary,” the young dandy said, still smiling.

The spectators, who knew the abilities of the girl, thought that, for him to act that carelessly, he was going to suffer! But some of them thought that since the Mus have experience in the Jianghu realm, they certainly will not cause offense to the son of a noble family. They will probably make sure that he does not lose face.

“Do you believe,” whispered some, “that they are really performing a ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’? It’s likely that old Mu only wants to benefit from the beauty and kung fu of his daughter to extract money from fools! This young dandy should watch his wallet!”

“Ready?” the girl said. The young nobleman swiveled toward the right, while his left sleeve flew with flashing speed towards the shoulder of the girl. She, surprised by the speed and skill of the attack, leaned and ducked, thus escaping the blow. But the actions of her adversary were stunning, and the right sleeve had already arrived near the head of the girl, endangering both sides. She had to leap back with the quickness of an arrow.

“Good!” the young nobleman shouted. Then he advanced without giving her the time to settle on her feet. The girl, still in the air, twisted and attacked to defend herself, kicking with her left foot in the direction of the young man’s nose. He had to move back hastily, and both landed simultaneously on their feet. The young man had attacked with three stances, and the girl had defended herself with agility; they both began to feel respect and watched each other closely. The girl blushed, and took the initiative. The battle started anew, but more desperate; it was performed so quickly that the young man looked like a shadow of shining brocade, whereas the girl resembled a red cloud.

Guo Jing was increasingly amazed: “These two young people are of my age,” he said to himself, “and yet they possess such a high level of martial arts; it is really extraordinary! They would make a perfect pair. If they marry, they could, during their leisure hours, replay some of the ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’, and it would be fun!” With his mouth agape, he followed the spectacle with anticipation. Suddenly, the girl clutched the sleeve of her adversary and tore it off with force. She jumped back immediately, holding her trophy up. “Young Lord,” Mu Yi shouted, “We apologize!” Then he turned to his daughter. “Let us go now.”

“Not so fast,” the young man shouted with a grim look on his face. “Nothing is really decided yet!” He caught the two sides of his coat and pulled, causing the jade buttons to pop off. One of his servants helped him remove his coat, while another collected the buttons. Underneath, the young man wore a water green satin tunic, tightly held to his waist by a delicate green scarf, which gave him an even more captivating air. He raised his left palm and sent a blow, showing his true kung fu this time. An extremely violent gust of air passed very close to the girl.

Guo Jing, Mu Yi and his daughter were dumbfounded. “How could,” they wondered, “a person of such distinction have such a cruel and brutal kung fu?”

The young nobleman was not looking for fun any longer; his blows were so powerful that his adversary could no longer approach him.

“We have a formidable expert here,” Guo Jing thought, “The girl is no match for him. It appears that marriage is in sight. And I am quite content for them ... My six Shifus always said that there are legions of exceptional men in the Central Plains. Indeed, this young nobleman has an original palm style with sophisticated variations. Should we fight, I would probably not win against him!"

For his part, Mu Yi could also foretell the outcome of the duel. “My daughter,” he shouted, “it is useless to continue. The young Lord is much stronger than you!”

“This young man has excellent kung fu,” he said to himself, “thus he is not like one of those idle, gambling and whoring sons of certain families. I will ask for information about his family. If he is not related to the Jin government authorities, I will approve the marriage. My daughter's future will be secured ...” He shouted to both to stop their fight. But the battle was full blown and they did not stop.

“If I wanted to injure you now,” the young man thought, “nothing would be easier; but I do not have the heart to do it.” Suddenly, his left palm changed into a claw, and he clutched the wrist of the girl. Surprised, she sought to break loose. The young man pushed slightly forward and the girl lost her balance. As she was about to fall, the right arm of her adversary pulled her gently, and she fell into his arms. The spectators applauded and hollered with enthusiasm causing a great tumult.

Shame-faced and blushing, the girl begged in a low voice, “Release me, quickly!”

“Say ‘my dear’ to me,” he answered, laughing, “and I'll release you!” Outraged by such impudence, she struggled, but he held her firmly and she could not break loose.

Mu Yi advanced and said, “You've won, please release my daughter!” The young nobleman burst into laughter but did not release her.

Losing patience, the girl directed a kick in the direction of the solar plexus of her adversary, trying to make him release her. He indeed released his right arm, parried the blow and caught the foot immediately; his qinna [grabbing and holding] technique was perfectly timed and he could seize anything he wanted. The girl panicked, and sought to release her foot by pulling with force. She at last succeeded, but in doing so she lost her small shoe which was embroidered with red flowers. She sat down on the ground, head lowered and flushed with shame, holding her foot covered by a white fabric sock. The young aristocrat smiled unsteadily, moved the embroidered shoe to his nose and sniffed it. In this situation, the hooligans were obviously not going to let this action pass without comment. “Bet that smells good!” they shouted in chorus. [Women’s feet were considered erotic in ancient China, hence her embarrassment.]

“What is your name?” asked Mu Yi.

“It's not worth saying,” laughed the young aristocrat. He put on his brocaded coat, cast a glance in direction of the girl, and placed the small embroidered shoe in his pocket. At that moment, the wind doubled in strength and large snowflakes began to fall.

“We live at the Inn of Prosperity,” said Mu Yi, “in the western part of the city. Let us go there together, in order to make plans.” “To plan what?” the young aristocrat retorted. “It's snowing now, it is necessary that I hurry home.”

Mu Yi turned pale. “You won this challenge, and I made a promise that I would give you my daughter in marriage. This is a serious business; one cannot treat it so lightly!"

The young aristocrat burst out laughing. “We had a little fun with martial arts,” he said, “it was rather interesting... as for the marriage, ha, I am obliged to decline that honor!”

Anger choked Mu Yi and prevented him from speaking, “You... You...”

“What do you take our young Prince for?” shouted a servant while laughing. “Do you believe that he would wed the daughter of vulgar traveling performers from Jianghu? Only in your dreams, old man, in your dreams"

Mu Yi was so angry that, with a blow, he struck the servant senseless. The young aristocrat did not seek any explanations. He had his servant carried away and was at the point of mounting his horse.

“You make fools of us!” Mu Yi shouted, clutching him by the left arm. “In any event, my daughter cannot marry such an insolent person as you. Please return the shoe to her!"

“It was her that gave it to me!” the young aristocrat said, laughing again, “Why do you make a nuisance of yourself? I won the tournament, I've declined your marriage, but I'll keep the consolation prize!” He pivoted his arm, exerted some inner force and pulled away.

“It won't happen like that!” Mu Yi exclaimed, trembling with anger. He leapt and struck with both fists, sending a blow called the ‘Bell and Drum Sound Together’, towards the temples of his adversary. The young man dodged, placed his left foot in his stirrup and propelled himself from it into the arena.

“If I beat you, old man,” he said, laughing, “then you won't try to force me to become your son-in-law any more?” The crowd, indignant at the impudent and arrogant attitude of the young man, remained quiet. Only some hooligans and good-for-nothings coarsely burst out laughing.

Without saying a word, Mu Yi tightened his belt, and attacked with the move ‘Sea Swallow Skimming the Flood’ at the young aristocrat. The young aristocrat knew that he was extremely angry and did not take the attack lightly. He dodged, replied with a blow to the belly, ‘The Poisonous Snake Seeks its Den’. Mu Yi dodged, and struck with his left palm at his shoulder. The young man turned, advanced his right palm under Mu Yi’s left arm. It was an extremely vicious blow, called ‘Benefit from the Cloud to Change the Sun’, executed without the knowledge of his adversary. However, Mu Yi parried effectively and clapped his two hands on the cheeks of the young aristocrat.

At that moment, no matter what move the aristocrat made, he could not avoid the blow! He frowned, bit his lips, and decided to employ another technique. His two hands flew like flashes and his ten fingers were planted in the back of the hands of Mu Yi. When he withdrew them, the ends of his fingers were smeared red! The spectators shouted in surprise. The girl, now in a panic, supported her father. She tore a strip from her tunic to wrap his hands, which bled profusely.

Mu Yi pushed his daughter back. “Move aside,” he said. “This day, it's either him or me!”

The girl, pale faced, looked at the young aristocrat fixedly, and drew a dagger intending to plunge it into her own heart. Surprised, Mu Yi sought to stop her hand, and the girl did not have time to pull the blade aside, which was planted in the hand of her father.

The spectators sighed. They deplored seeing a beautiful scene finishing in such a bloody way! Even the hooligans seemed indignant at such an outcome. The comments started to focus on the improper attitude of this young aristocrat.

Faced with such unrighteousness, Guo Jing could not remain standing by. He gently moved aside the people in front of him and advanced into the open space. “Ha!” he shouted, “to act like that, that's not good!”

Disconcerted for a moment, the young aristocrat laughingly retorted, “Ah, not good? Just why is it necessary to act well?" The young aristocrat’s servants, noticing that Guo Jing was dressed like a peasant and that he spoke with a marked southern accent, made fun of him.

Guo Jing did not understand the mockery, and said seriously, “You should marry this young lady!” “And if I don't marry her?”

“If you didn't want to marry her, why did you come down to fight? It was well marked, on the banner, ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’!” “Kid, why are you interfering?” the young aristocrat retorted, in a threatening voice.

“This young lady is not only very beautiful, but she has excellent kung fu. Why don't you want her? Didn't you see that she felt so offended that she wanted to commit suicide?”

“You're such a moron that it isn't worthwhile explaining it to you...” The young aristocrat turned on his heels to leave. Guo Jing restrained him. “Huh! How can you leave like that?”

“What do you want?”

“Didn't I tell you to marry this young lady?” The aristocrat laughed and again was about to leave.

Mu Yi, seeing Guo Jing’s intervention, understood that he was affronted but naive and little acquainted with the ways of the world. He approached and said to him, “Little brother, don't worry about him. So long as I have the breath of life, I will avenge this insult.” Then he shouted at the young aristocrat, “At least leave your name!”

“I told you I can't call you ‘father-in-law’,” he retorted insolently, “why do you still want to know my name?”

Very annoyed by this, Guo Jing leapt forward while shouting, “Then return that embroidered shoe to the young lady!”

“Is this any of your damn business!” the nobleman said furiously. “You've taken a fancy to this young miss yourself, haven’t you?”

Guo Jing shook his head and said, “No! Are you going to return it, or not?” The young aristocrat stiffened his hand suddenly and slapped Guo Jing heavily. Guo Jing moved instantly, and employed a qinna technique, seizing the wrists of his adversary by crossing his hands.

He sought to escape, in vain. “Do you want to die?” he shouted, surprised and annoyed, while aiming a kick towards Guo Jing's lower abdomen.

He flexed his muscles and pushed the young aristocrat back towards the open space. Obviously, this person had a good lightness technique [Qinggong], for, instead of falling on his back, he kept his balance and landed on his feet. He nimbly removed his brocaded coat and exclaimed, “Don't you want to continue living, little fool? If you've got guts, come and test yourself against me!”

“Why would I fight with you?” Guo Jing said, shaking his head. “Since you do not want to marry the young lady, return her embroidered shoe!”

The spectators, seeing the intervention of Guo Jing, wanted to see what he was capable of and didn't think that he would retreat. Some hooligans even hooted, “Talk without action, it's unworthy of a hero!”

For his part, the young aristocrat, having been caught by Guo Jing, realized that his kung fu wasn't insignificant and especially noted that he had powerful internal energy. He was happy not to fight; but, of course, he couldn't return the embroidered shoe without losing face! He therefore gathered his coat and laughing, turned on his heels.

Guo Jing caught him by the side of the coat and repeated, “How can you just leave?”

The young aristocrat had a sudden idea. He cast his coat over the head of his opponent and struck two fists into his chest. Wrapped up in the coat, Guo Jing could not avoid the impacts. Fortunately, he had practiced two years of orthodox neigong with Ma Yu, so that these blows, although extremely painful, could not truly injure him. Goaded by anger, he successively launched nine fast kicks while alternating stances; it was a skill technique developed by Han Baoju, which had already enabled him to beat other enemies. Even if the disciple did not yet have the skill of the master, and even if the kicks were made while he was blinded, they disturbed the young aristocrat, who could avoid the first seven, but was caught by the last two fully on his chest.

The two young men simultaneously leapt back. Guo Jing, still amazed, got rid of the coat that hampered him. He could not believe such treachery on behalf of his adversary. “He knew full well,” he thought, “that he’d entered a ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’. He won, and yet refused to marry the young lady! Moreover, when I tried to reason with him, not only was it he who struck first, but he used a shameful trick! If I hadn't practiced neigong, he would have broken my ribs and crushed my internal organs!” Being of a simple and open nature, and since he had always lived with decent people, he did not know anything about the perfidy of human nature. Even though, during the past years, his Masters had not failed to warn him about tricks and treacheries which one might meet in Jianghu, he’d listened to them the way one listens to stories and they did not remain in his memory long since they had not been experienced. At that moment, he was furious and perplexed, not able to believe in the existence of such low methods.

The young aristocrat, angered by the two kicks he had received, advanced on Guo Jing with his fist raised. Guo Jing defended, but could not avoid the rain of blows which fell on him and he fell down. The servants were laughing. Their Master puffed out his chest and said while laughing, “So you think you can play the deliverer of justice with your three-legged cat technique? Go back home and tell your Shimu [this is a put-down of his Shifus since it means ‘the wife of a teacher’] to give you lessons for twenty more years!”

Guo Jing got up, breathed in deeply, circulated his chi in his whole body so that the pain diminished. “My Shifu doesn't have a wife,” he retorted.

“Then tell him to marry one quickly!”

Guo Jing was going to answer, “I have six Shifus, and one of them is a woman..." but did not have time. He saw that the other was going to leave, so he advanced on him, fist raised, and shouted, “Prepare yourself!”

The young aristocrat dodged, Guo Jing swung a left hook right at his face which the other blocked. They stood, their arms holding onto their adversary's, each one trying to use internal energy to overcome the other. Guo Jing was a little stronger but his opponent had better techniques and it was difficult to decide between them.

Guo Jing breathed in deeply to concentrate his internal energy, while the other suddenly loosened his pressure. Guo Jing fell forward. As he tried to regain his balance, he felt a stroke coming from behind. He hastened to avoid it but, not having regained full balance, he stumbled. While falling, he supported himself on his elbow, rebounded and, while spinning in the air, delivered a kick with his left foot. Watching this fast and spectacular recovery, the crowd applauded.

The young aristocrat moved away and attacked with two palms, one was a feint to confuse his adversary, while the other was the real stroke. Guo Jing then used the technique ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’; his hands fluttered in all directions, aiming at all the tendons and joints of the body. Seeing the violence of this attack, the aristocrat suddenly changed tactics; he began to use the same technique! There was a difference however; the one learned by Guo Jing had been invented by Zhu Cong, the ‘Magical Hands Scholar’. It diverged from the orthodox technique taught by the masters of the central Plains considerably. The two looked similar in their principles, but had some differences in execution. One extended his index and middle fingers trying to seize the opponent’s ‘Supporting the Old’ [Yang Lao] accupoint behind the wrist; the other tried to hook and seize the opponent’s knuckles. The two felt mutual apprehension and didn't dare to commit completely, barely sketching a movement before changing to another. After forty or so exchanges, they still couldn’t tell who had the upper hand.

Snow continued to fall and a fine white layer covered the heads and the shoulders of the spectators that surrounded them. Suddenly, the young aristocrat seemed to leave an opening on his chest. Guo Jing saw it immediately and tried to benefit from it by pointing his index finger at the point ‘Tail of Turtledove’ on his adversary. But he had some reservations about using this action. “There is no hate between us,” he said to himself, “I can’t use such a deadly stroke on him!” He then diverted his finger and touched another point which had no effect on his adversary. The young aristocrat had enough time to catch his wrist and pull him, while hooking him with his foot. Guo Jing lost his balance and fell once again.

Mu Yi, whose hand had just been bandaged by his daughter, also watched the two. He saw Guo Jing fall for the third time and understood that he was not experienced enough to face the insolent youngster and he hastened to lift him from the ground. “Little brother,” he said, “let it go. There’s no point in staying among scoundrels of this kind any longer!”

Guo Jing had seen stars and was hurt, but he felt rage mounting in his head. He moved away from Mu Yi and rushed at his adversary, while increasing the number of strokes. The young aristocrat, surprised to see him insist on continuing in spite of the beating that he had received, moved back three steps. “Don't you admit your defeat?” Guo Jing didn't answer and continued to attack.

“If you don't stop,” the young aristocrat threatened, “I am going to be obliged to kill you!” “If you don't return the shoe,” Guo Jing retorted, “I will never be finished with you!”

“But this girl is not even your sister, why do you persist in wanting to be my brother-in-law?”

“To be the brother-in-law of someone,” constituted an insult in the Jin capital, and the scoundrels in the crowd exploded with laughter when they heard it. Guo Jing didn't understand any of it.

“I don't even know her,” he said, “and she isn’t my sister!”

The young aristocrat no longer knew whether to laugh or to be angry! He ended up saying, “Then protect yourself you stupid fool!”

The two young people continued to fight. This time, Guo Jing was more prudent and didn't fall into the repeated traps that his adversary prepared for him. In fact, from a strictly technical viewpoint, the kung fu of the young aristocrat was superior, but Guo Jing never gave up and fought like a barbarian. Even after he received blows, he continued to attack with persistence and without retreating. He had fought like this when he was small, during the fights with the kids of Dukhsh’s gang. Even though he had acquired more agility while learning martial arts, his way of fighting hadn’t fundamentally changed and it was in his nature to fight with savagery. He had forgotten the recommendation of his Fourth Shifu. ‘If you can’t defeat the enemy, flee!’ In his mind, the more important formula had always been, ‘If the enemy is unbeatable, persist!’, except that he didn't realize it!

The spectacle attracted more and more spectators and the area was completely filled. The wind and snow had increased in intensity, but no one left.

Mu Yi, with much experience in the Jianghu region, well knew that, if the fight continued, the crowds were going to attract the attention of the authorities and maybe provoke their intervention. He knew that it would be better to not expose themselves to that possibility! But, this young man had generously come to help them; he could not leave him here alone. He felt very anxious. He raised his eyes and was vaguely viewing the assembly, when he noticed in the crowd, several individuals who seemed to belong to the martial world. He had been so focused on the fight that he had not even noticed their arrival.

He then moved slowly, approaching the servants of the young aristocrat who were standing in a group. Watching them out of the corner of his eye, he saw, among them, three characters with a martial look. The first wore a scarlet Buddhist monk’s dress and a golden cap; it was a very tall Tibetan lama. The second, medium-sized, had silvery white hair and a ruddy, beaming face with smooth skin like a baby, without one wrinkle. He was clothed in a long robe, but one couldn’t tell if it was Taoist or Buddhist. The third was very small, but his blood-shot eyes had a piercing look, and he wore a proud small mustache.

The presence of these unusual faces astonished Mu Yi. He then heard one of the servants say, “Supreme Virtue, have the goodness to rid us of this stupid fool, please! If this continues and something serious happens to the young Prince, we servants could face death!”

Hearing this, Mu Yi was shaken. “So,” he thought, “this young scoundrel is a prince! If the fight continues, misfortune might happen to him. Apparently all these experts are part of the royal house and the servants have summoned them here to lend assistance to the prince.”

The Tibetan llama smiled without saying a word. The old man shouted while laughing, “The ‘Supreme Virtue’ Lingzhi is an eminent member of a secret school in Tibet, he cannot stoop so low as to exchange stances with a lowly skilled fighter of this kind, it would be too demeaning... If something should happen, the Prince would at most break your legs; he wouldn’t go so far as to kill you, would he?”

“Anyway,” intervened the small man with the blood-shot eyes, “the young Prince is stronger than this kid, what do you have to fear?” He was small, but also had a piercing voice. The spectators around them jumped when they heard it and turned around to look at him. Made nervous by his menacing look, they lowered their eyes immediately.

“Our young Prince did put in a lot of hard work to learn this kung fu,” the silvery haired old man said, “if he can’t give a public demonstration of it, he would really be frustrated if all these years of effort remains unseen! If someone actually helps him, he will surely be vexed...”

“Venerable Liang,” the small man said, “to what school does the palm technique of the young Prince belong?”

“Brother Peng,” the old man answered, laughing, “Do you want to put me to the test? The young Prince has a palm technique combining agility with complexity that is indeed difficult to acquire. If I am not mistaken, he has learned his kung fu from a Taoist of the Quanzhen Sect!” Mu Yi was again startled. “Could this inconsiderate youngster be a disciple of the Quanzhen Sect?”

“The Venerable Liang has a remarkable eye,” the small man said. “You’ve spent your life at the foot of the Mountain of Eternal Whiteness and you’ve dedicated yourself to meditation and to alchemical practices. People say that you rarely come into the Central Plains, and yet you seem to know by heart the styles of the Chinese schools. I admire you greatly.”

“Brother Peng is too generous with his praise,” the old man said, while smiling.

“But,” the small man pursued, “the Taoists of the Quanzhen Sect are of bizarre and surprising character. How could they accept the young Prince as a disciple? That would be rather astonishing.”

“If the Sixth Prince wants to, who can he not entice to join him? Just like you Brother Peng, you are a great hero who dominates Shandong and Shanxi, yet you are now part of the Prince's household.”

The small man acknowledged this. Their attention was again focused on the fight. They noticed that Guo Jing had changed styles again; the rhythm of his palm technique slowed, and his defense was extremely tight. The young Prince had repeatedly searched for ways to attack but had been repulsed by very heavy strokes.

“In your opinion,” the old man asked the small man, “where does this young boy’s kung fu come from?”

“His kung fu is very mixed,” he answered after a moment of hesitation. “One would say that he had several Shifus...” “Chief Peng is right,” interrupted someone nearby. “This kid is the disciple of the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’.”

Mu Yi examined the person who had just spoken. It was a skinny man with a dark face and three lumps on his forehead. “He called him Chief Peng; would this small man be the bandit Peng Lianhu, the ‘Butcher of One Thousand Hands’, who slaughters without frowning! As for the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’, it has been a long time since I heard their name mentioned, could they still be part of this world?”

At this time, the skinny man with the dark face suddenly roared, “Little brat, I finally found you.” He drew a steel trident, rolled up his sleeves and bounded into the arena. Hearing the noise behind him, Guo Jing turned around and was nose to nose with the man with the three lumps on his forehead; it was the Three-Headed Dragon, Hou Tonghai, the martial uncle of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ . Surprised and worried, he hesitated, not knowing what to do. The young Prince took advantage of this hesitation to hit him on the shoulder bringing Guo Jing back to the fight.

Seeing Hou Tonghai bound into the arena, weapon in hand, the spectators believed that he was going to help one of the fighters and, finding this unworthy, began to hoot. Mu Yi, who now knew that he was also part of the royal household, moved forward, ready to fight him if he tried something against Guo Jing. He remained conscious of the fact that the enemy was superior in numbers. However, Hou Tonghai was not angry at Guo Jing. He sped along to the other side and into the crowd where a puny young boy in rags jumped up after seeing him and turned tail. The ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ rushed after him, followed by four men.

Out of the corner of his eye, Guo Jing realized that it was Huang Rong, the new friend that he had gotten acquainted with in Kalgan. Hou Tonghai pursued him with his weapon in hand, followed by the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’. Very worried, he threw a kick and jumped backward. “A moment please!” he exclaimed. “I need to stop for one moment; we will continue our fight later.”

The Young Prince, tired of this fight, had lost all desire to continue. This request could not have come at a better time. “If you admit your defeat,” he sneered, “you can go...”

Preoccupied with his friend's safety, Guo Jing got ready to lend him assistance when he heard the sound of footsteps; it was Huang Rong who had come back dragging a worn-out old shoe and laughing. Hou Tonghai pursued and called him names and tried to hit him on the back with his trident. But Huang Rong was extraordinarily agile and the trident always missed its target by a small margin. The young boy adroitly slipped through the crowd and had already come out again on the other side. When Hou Tonghai came nearer, one could see the black marks of two palms on his cheeks; obviously, the fragile boy had managed to slap him twice. Hou Tonghai pushed aside everyone in his way and managed to find a path through the crowd, but Huang Rong was already far away. Hou Tonghai stopped and made gestures to show Huang Rong what he had in mind. “If I don't succeed in catching and slicing you up,” Hou Tonghai howled, insane with rage, “I don't want to be called a man any longer!”

Huang Rong waited until Hou Tonghai came nearer before fleeing again. Everyone burst out laughing. In the meantime, three breathless men arrived, they were three of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’; the one missing was Qian Qingjian, known as ‘Axe Buries Family’.

Seeing such a spectacle, Guo Jing was surprised and pleased at the same time. He thought, “This friend of mine must have excellent kung fu. The other day, in the Black Pine Woods, it must have been him who lured Hou Tonghai away and hung the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ from the trees!” The surprise was not less in the opposition camp.

‘Supreme Virtue Lingzhi’ asked: “Ginseng Immortal, that little beggar has remarkable agility, to which school does he belong? Apparently, Brother Hou has lost this skirmish...”

The white-haired Master of the Mountain of Eternal Whiteness was called Liang Ziwong. Since his youth he had consumed natural ginseng and other herbs which had protected him from the advance of old age. He didn't recognize the kung fu style of the little beggar and shook his head. Then, after a moment, he said, “When I am outside the Pass (the border crossing between China proper and the lands to the north), I’ve often heard claims that the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ was a frightening expert; who would have thought that his martial brother was such a pitiful figure, even to the point of not being able to handle a mere child?”

The small man was Peng Lianhu. He frowned without answering. He was a great friend of the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’, with whom he often collaborated and assisted in robbing raids. He knew the kung fu of Hou Tonghai, which was not bad, but couldn't explain how he could be toyed with that easily.

The diversion with Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai had stopped the duel between Guo Jing and the young Prince. The latter clearly had the edge on Guo Jing, since he’d succeeded in making his adversary fall several times; but he himself had received a multitude of blows and felt tired out. He wiped off the sweat which ran down his face with the scarf he wore as a belt.

Mu Yi, who had stowed the brocade banner, held Guo Jing’s hand, thanking him warmly and urging him to leave this place. Suddenly, the pitter-patter of feet was heard as Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai returned, one chasing the other. The former held two pieces of fabric, two pieces which matched pieces missing from the tunic of the latter; the torn tunic exposed a hairy chest. A little later, Wu Qinglie and Ma Qingxiong appeared, weapons in hand, faithfully and breathless following. Missing was Shen Qinggang, whom Huang Rong apparently managed to dispose of in some mysterious way. The commotion provoked more laughter and jibes from the audience.

Shouts came from the west as several tens of soldiers, wicker rods in their hands, shouted and struck the onlookers to open the way for a large red and golden sedan chair carried by six well muscled men. “It is the Princess,” exclaimed the servants of the young Prince.

“Which idiot had the insolence to inform my mother?” the latter thundered, frowning. The servants, who did not dare to answer, hastened to approach the sedan chair which halted at an emptied spot.

“Why are you fighting?” a soft female voice was heard from inside. “It’s snowing and you don't have your coat on, you will certainly catch a cold ...”

Hearing that voice from a distance, Mu Yi seemed as if struck by lightning. “How is this possible?” he thought, dumbfounded. “That voice resembles hers so much! But that's impossible, she is a Jin princess ... Perhaps I've thought too much about my wife and I've become crazy ...” Despite everything, he could not stop himself from edging nearer to the sedan chair. He saw a dainty hand with a handkerchief appear from inside the sedan chair and tenderly wipe the sweat from the face of the young nobleman, who listened to the words pronounced in a low voice, undoubtedly of reproach and admonition ... “But mom,” the young Prince said, “I was just having fun, all is well ...”

“Put your coat on quickly,” the Princess said, “and let us go home ...”

“How could two voices be that similar?” Mu Yi, still astonished, saw the white hand disappearing behind a silk curtain on which peonies were embroidered in gold wire. He tried to peer in but couldn’t see through the bright curtain.

One of the servants collected the brocade coat of his Master and yelled at Guo Jing, “Animal! Look at the state this coat is in and you’re the cause!” One of the soldiers that came with the Princess raised his wicker rod and violently slashed down at Guo Jing's head. Guo Jing dodged, seized the wrist of his attacker, took the rod away, and tripped him. The man fell on the ground and Guo Jing whipped him with the rod. “You dare to strike wrongly and viciously?” he shouted. The crowd, some of whom had received blows from the rod, applauded in appreciation. The other soldiers shouted and hastened to the rescue of their companion, but Guo Jing took them by pairs and tossed them away.

“Still showing off?” the young Prince shouted. He leapt at Guo Jing and both exchanged blows again. The Princess shouted for him to stop, but the son did not seem to fear his mother, “Look at me, mom,” he exclaimed. “This bloody peasant is doing wicked things in the capital! If he is not taught a good lesson, he won't respect his old man!” He wanted to give his best performance and he doubled his efforts. Guo Jing, not being able to parry his nimble and fast palms, was struck by several blows and stumbled twice.

Mu Yi, for his part, was still hypnotized by the sedan chair. A corner of the curtain had been opened; he saw two caring eyes, some hair strands and part of the face of a mother, full of tenderness and worry for her son. Mu Yi remained frozen.

Guo Jing’s moves had changed for the better but he was confronted with an adversary with renewed vigour. The young Prince sought to deliver mortal blows, hoping to injure his adversary seriously, in order to put a definite end to the combat. But Guo Jing had a thick skin and a good neigong basis so he was able to endure many blows. Moreover, the techniques of the prince lacked sophistication; his power was limited because of his youth and lack of experience. He tried on several occasions to grab Guo Jing with ten fingers forming claws, using the technique which had enabled him to injure Mu Yi, but the disciple of the Six Freaks defended himself using the technique ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’. As the brawl reached its climax, one could again see Huang Rong and Hou Tonghai running after each other. This time, the latter had a long straw in his hair. Usually this is a sign indicating an item is on sale. A bit of straw on his head thus meant that the head was to be sold. It was obviously Huang Rong’s doing, of which Hou Tonghai was not yet aware because he was so occupied with the chase! The remaining two ‘Demons of the Yellow River’ had also disappeared, obviously disposed of in some way ...

Liang Ziwong and his companions racked their brains over the identity of Huang Rong. They watched Hou Tonghai running swiftly, but he never managed to catch up with the boy in rags. “Could this kid be a member of the Beggar Clan?” Peng Lianhu asked suddenly. The Beggar Clan was at this time the most powerful secret society in the realm of Jianghu (Rivers and Lakes region). Liang Ziwong twitched, but didn't answer.

The two young people attacked each other more swiftly and with increasing strength. Occasionally Guo Jing received a palm blow on his shoulder and sometimes the prince got a kick on his thigh. They fought body against body, raging and panting. Even an amateur could see that the fight was becoming increasingly dangerous; the least distraction could cause a fatal injury. Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziwong prepared their hidden projectiles covertly, in order to intervene when necessary. Although Guo Jing was a very obstinate person, his kung fu was not yet a match for the young prince. The two experts persuaded themselves that they would be able to take control of the situation in time to prevent a disaster.

Guo Jing's type of development was difficult to reproduce. Having grown up on the steppe, he had undergone all the rigors of life there and had experienced and was hardened by numerous battles. The Prince, on the other hand, had always lived in luxury; it was no wonder, that in this utterly brutal and merciless endurance battle, he began stumbling as he began to suffer from fatigue. Guo Jing suddenly uttered a great cry, seized his adversary by the collar, raised him high and violently threw him to the ground. It was neither the technique ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’ nor qinna [the art of seize and control], but a unique Mongolian wrestling technique that Jebe, his archery teacher, had taught him.

The Prince reacted promptly by jumping up as soon as he touched the ground and seized Guo Jing’s legs so that they both fell. He got up quickly, tore a long lance from the hands of a soldier and thrust it towards Guo Jing's stomach. Guo Jing rolled to the side, while the other continued handling the long lance with dexterity. Guo Jing tried to grab the lance with the stance ‘To Seize the Blade’, but in vain!

“My son,” the Princess exclaimed, “do not injure him! Be satisfied with winning!” However, the Prince, who seemed really eager to pin Guo Jing down with the lance, turned a deaf ear.

Guo Jing, seeing the gleaming tip of the lance a few inches from his nose, parried with his arm, and something collapsed behind him. He seized Mu Yi’s brocade banner. Using the stance ‘Drawing Aside the Clouds to Peer at the Sun’, he used the pole like a long staff to counter the circling lance.

With both fighters armed now, Guo Jing employed the techniques of the ‘Exorcizing Staff’ taught by his First Shifu. In spite of the length of the pole, which obstructed him a little, he could deploy all subtleties of this art methodically developed by Ke Zhen' E to counter Mei Chaofeng. Each movement used variants, often unexpected, but always effective. Surprised by the ability of that weapon, the Prince was forced to defend. But his dexterity with the lance was still impressive.

As Mu Yi watched the Prince handling that weapon, he was astonished; all his stances corresponded with the spear style of the Yang family. This technique, which was only handed down from father to son, was rarely seen even in the South. He was really dumbfounded seeing it now in the capital of the Jin. In spite of his nimble movements, this version of the lance style did not seem completely orthodox; it appeared devoid of its essence as if it had been copied without the knowledge of its rightful owner. The watchers saw the crossing and swaying of the lance and the banner pole, scattering the snowflakes in all directions.

The Princess, seeing her son almost sweating blood, could not contain her anxiety any longer, “Stop!” she exclaimed. “Stop fighting both of you!”

Hearing these words, Peng Lianhu advanced with large steps into the arena and he struck the banner pole brutally. Guo Jing felt a sharp pain in his hands and released the pole, which flew away. The brocade banner spread in the wind and one could read, through the falling snowflakes, the golden letters: ‘Joust to Find a Spouse’. Very surprised, Guo Jing did not even have time to see the face or the silhouette of his adversary as he felt the coming blow. He leapt back, but was too slow; the palm of Peng Lianhu had already touched his arm and he lost balance and fell to the ground.

“Young Prince,” Peng Lianhu said, laughing, “I will get rid of this thoughtless young man, so that he can not intrude any longer ...” He raised his palm, inhaled deeply, and sent a brutal blow at Guo Jing’s head. Guo Jing, who was on the ground, knew that he did not stand a chance, but regardless, he raised his arms to parry the blow. ‘Supreme Virtue’ Lingzhi and the ‘Ginseng Immortal’ exchanged glances; the arms of the young man would be lost, the blow of the ‘Butcher of One Thousand Hands’ was violent and was obviously going to smash them.

At this critical moment, a shout came from the crowd, “Hold on!” A gray silhouette holding a strange weapon leapt forward and wrapped up the right wrist of Peng Lianhu. Peng Lianhu withdrew with force, cracking and breaking the weapon, then attacked with his left palm immediately. The man avoided the blow by lowering his head, while seizing Guo Jing by the waist and carrying him away. The spectators saw a middle-aged Taoist, dressed in gray, who had been holding a fly-whisk in his hand, of which only the handle remained. The torn-off strands of the fly-whisk were still around Peng Lianhu’s wrist. They looked at each other; although they had exchanged only one stance, they’d been able to fathom each others kung fu.

“You are undoubtedly the famed Master Peng?” the Taoist said. “It is a great honor to meet you here today.” “You are overly courteous. May I ask the name of Master Taoist?”

The Taoist, on which all eyes were fixed, did not answer. He stepped forward with his left foot and then withdrew it. One could see on the ground, covered with a very fine layer of snow, a ten inch deep hole! The simple pressure of his foot had dug such a deep hole, revealing extraordinary kung fu.

Peng Lianhu was startled and said, “Are you the ‘Immortal with the Iron Foot’, Jade Sun Wang?”

“Now Master Peng is over praising,” the Taoist answered. “I am indeed Wang Chuyi, but I am not worthy of the title ‘Immortal’.”

Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziwong and ‘Supreme Virtue’ Lingzhi knew very well that Wang Chuyi was an eminent member of the Quanzhen [Absolute Perfection] Sect; his fame was only slightly less than that of ‘Eternal Spring’, Qiu Chuji. They had only heard of, but never seen him. They examined him attentively. He was a man with fine features and a little goatee on his chin. He wore immaculate white socks, gray shoes, and seemed to take much care to his clothing. If he had not demonstrated his kung fu, nobody there would believe that he was indeed the ‘Immortal with the Iron Foot’, who, by keeping one foot on a cliff's edge and swaying like a "lotus leaf in the wind", had much impressed the brave men of Hebei and Shandong.

Wang Chuyi smiled and said, pointing at Guo Jing, “I don't know this young friend at all, but seeing him intervening with such bravery and courage, I was full of admiration. That is why I permit myself to beg Master Peng to let him live.”

“The request was made with such courtesy,” said Peng Lianhu, “and when an eminent Quanzhen master intervenes, who wouldn't grant him a request?”

“Very well,” Wang Chuyi answered, cupping his hands, “thank you     ”

After thanking Peng, he asked Guo Jing his name. Then Wang Chuyi turned and his expression changed; his face darkened and he asked the young Prince sternly, “What is your name? Who is your Shifu?”

The young Prince, after having heard the name of Wang Chuyi, felt ill and would have liked to disappear unnoticed. However, the Taoist had kept an eye on him, “My name is Wanyan Kang,” he answered, “I cannot reveal the name of my Shifu.”

“Your Shifu has a red mole on his left cheek, hasn't he?” Wanyan Kang wanted to divert the question with a witty remark, but the terrible glance of the Taoist frightened him; he suppressed what he intended to say, and nodded. “I suspected it,” Wang Chuyi said, “You are the disciple of Brother Qiu. What did your Shifu tell you before teaching you martial arts?”

Wanyan Kang understood the situation had become very untenable for him. He thought, “If Shifu hears of what has happened today, it will be a catastrophe!”

“If Master Taoist knows my Shifu,” he said in a servile manner, “you deserve my complete respect. Why don't you come to my modest residence, so that I can benefit from your advice?” Before Wang Chuyi could answer, the prince turned to Guo Jing and said while bowing, “After exchanging blows, a friendship may grow,” he said smiling. “I admire the kung fu of Brother Guo very much. I invite you both to come to my house in order for us to get to know each other better.”

“And what will happen about the marriage?” Guo Jing asked, pointing at Mu Yi and his daughter. Wanyan Kang seemed embarrassed. “This matter deserves further pondering ”

“My friend,” Mu Yi said, after approaching and drawing Guo Jing by his sleeve, “let us go, we don't need to occupy him any longer.”

Wanyan Kang bowed again to Wang Chuyi. “Master Taoist, I will await you at home; you only have to ask for the residence of Prince Zhao. The weather is very cold, all things are freezing. It is an ideal time to sit together by a fire and admire the snow. We shall drink to celebrate this meeting.” He climbed on the horse, whose bridle his servant held, and galloped off into the crowd without any concern about trampling somebody. This contemptuous behavior triggered Wang Chuyi’s anger, “My little friend,” he said to Guo Jing, “come with me.”

“I must wait for a very dear friend,” Guo Jing said. As he said these words, he saw Huang Rong jumping up in the middle of the crowd and shouting to him, “Don't worry about me, I'll find you in no time at all!” Huang Rong turned and his diminutive figure soon disappeared into the crowd. Hou Tonghai, the ‘Three Headed Dragon’, gave chase. Guo Jing turned and kowtowed in the snow, to thank Wang Chuyi for saving his life. The Taoist raised him and took his arm. Both found a path through the crowd and ran in the direction of the outskirts of the city. 

Chapter 8 – Each One Demonstrating His Skill

Wang Chuyi went extremely quickly. In little time, they’d left the city. Some li further, they arrived at the foot of a hill. Eager to test the abilities of Guo Jing, the Taoist did not slow and ran more and more quickly.

At the time Ma Yu taught Guo Jing how to control his breathing; he had climbed and descended a high mountain cliff many times. Today, even after a heated battle, this race did not intimidate him. Running against the wind as heavy snow fell, Wang Chuyi sprang up a small hill with its slope covered with slippery snow. Near the top, the slope became increasingly steep, but Guo Jing’s progress made him wonder. He advanced without breathing hard, as if his pulse had not accelerated and as if the ground were flat. The Taoist, extremely surprised, released Guo Jing's arm, “Your kung fu foundation is rather well established! How is it possible that you were not able to beat him?" Guo Jing had no answer and could only remain silent. “Who is your Shifu?” Wang continued.

Guo Jing knew of the Taoist, since, at the top of cliff, he had received instructions to play the part of Yin Zhiping, to mislead Mei Chaofeng. He remembered that Wang Chuyi was one of the martial brothers of Ma Yu and he did not hesitate to tell the truth. He quickly told of how he had been taught by the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ and also by Ma Yu.

“My senior brother gave you lessons!” Wang exclaimed, delighted. “He is formidable, so I see no reason why I should worry about you!” Guo Jing's eyes widened as he looked at him without understanding.

“This so-called Young Prince, Wanyan Kang,” Wang explained, “is the disciple of my martial brother Qiu Chuji. Did you know?”

“Ah,” Guo Jing was astonished. “I was unaware of it...” Indeed, Ma Yu had taught to him some basics for the control of internal energy, as well as the qinggong technique called ‘Flight of the Golden Eagle’, to enable him to climb the cliff. But he had not given him the least instruction in battle techniques or weapons skills. This is why Guo Jing did not know any Quanzhen kung fu. Hearing the remarks of Wang Chuyi, he remembered his battle with the young Taoist Yin Zhiping, whose movements seemed to come from the same style as those of Wanyan Kang. He believed that he had done wrong and bowed his head. “I did not know,” he said humbly, “that this Young Prince was a disciple of Master Qiu. I behaved out of order with him; please do not hold it against him...” Wang Chuyi burst out laughing. “Your righteousness and gentlemanly spirit appeal to me. How could I reproach you? The rules of our Sect are extremely strict. If a disciple is at fault, he will be punished accordingly and justice will be done. This young boy was impudent and arrogant; I will ask Brother Qiu to punish him severely.”

“If he agrees to marry the young lady, Mu,” Guo Jing pleaded, “please agree to forgive him...”

Wang Chuyi shook his head without answering. He could see that Guo Jing had a good heart and that he forgave readily; he looked on him with even more sympathy. “Brother Qiu has always hated evildoers, and especially the Jin,” he thought. “How did it come about that he agreed to take on a Jin prince as his disciple? Even more strange is that the knowledge he seems to have of our kung fu appears rather thorough. That would mean that Brother Qiu devoted much time and energy on him! However, in his kung fu, one senses the pernicious influences of unorthodox and perverse schools. I'm totally mystified!”

“Brother Qiu told me he was coming to Yanjing,” he said to Guo Jing. “He should arrive in the next few days. We will ask him for an explanation when we see him. I intended to mention that he took a disciple by the name of Yang, who must contest himself against you in Jiaxing. I do not know how powerful this boy is but don't be concerned, I will be there and I’m sure you will come out on top."

Guo Jing was obeying the order given by his six Masters, to go, at the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, to the prefecture of Jiaxing. But they had not explained to him for what reason. “Master Taoist,” he then asked, “why must I test myself against him?”

“If your teachers did not think it needful to explain it to you,” Wang answered, “it would be wrong for me to do it in their place.” He had learned, from Qiu Chuji, the origin and outcome of this business and he felt, for the generous sacrifice made by the Six Freaks, immense admiration. He’d had the same thoughts as Ma Yu and hoped for the victory of the Six. However, as his junior, he could not ask Qiu to back down. Today, encouraged by the personality of Guo Jing, he wondered how he could help him secretly, without damaging the reputation of his martial brother. Then he decided to go to Jiaxing, and to think, on the spot, of some way to aid him. “Let’s go back and visit Mu Yi,” the Taoist proposed. “His daughter seems to be rather stubborn and I fear this will cause him problems...”

They went to the Prosperity Inn, in the western part of the city. When they arrived at the door of the Inn, ten servants richly clad in brocade were waiting there. They came to them and greeted, “Our master humbly requests of the Master Taoist and Lord Guo, if they will agree to attend a banquet held at his modest residence." The red invitation card carried the respectful inscription "Your disciple Wanyan Kang invites".

“Well then,” Wang Chuyi said, shaking his head. “We will come presently.”

“These cakes and fruits,” declared the leader of the servants, “are modest gifts from the Young Prince. If the Master Taoist and Lord Guo indicate to me where to place them, I will put them there.” The servants presented twelve large boxes filled with various fresh fruits and fine cakes, all looking very appetizing.

“Brother Huang Rong likes finely made pastries,” Guo Jing thought, “I’ll keep some for him.” Because of his aversion to Wanyan Kang, Wang Chuyi intended to return the gifts. But, seeing that Guo Jing seemed to appreciate them, he ordered them to leave them at the counter. “Young people are covetous,” he thought with a smile. “It's normal...” They then went to Mu Yi’s room. He was stretched out on the bed, his face pale, his daughter in tears sitting by his bedside. Seeing Wang and Guo entering, they let out a gasp of surprise. The girl rose to her feet and the man tried to get up.

Wang Chuyi examined Mu Yi’s wounds. On each hand, the five wounds dug by the fingers of Wanyan Kang were open to the bone; as if they had been inflicted by a weapon. The hands were extremely swollen so they had been coated with alleviating balsam but, because of the fear of infection, no bandages had been applied. Wang Chuyi could not understand the nature of the wound, “Who taught Wanyan Kang such a cruel and brutal technique? Looking at the seriousness of those wounds, it seemed it would take a long time for someone to reach this level of power. How could Brother Qiu not realize this; or, if he had some idea about it, why didn't he do anything to stop him?” He turned to the girl, “Young lady, you are...?”

“I am called Mu Nianci (Nianci: ‘to remember the mother’),” she answered, casting a grateful glance towards Guo Jing before bowing her head. Guo Jing saw that the banner pole was at the foot of the bed, but the banner itself, with its inscription ‘Joust to find a Spouse’, had been torn to shreds.

“Don't you want to find a husband?” he wondered in surprise.

“Your father's injury is quite serious,” continued Wang. “It should be looked after properly.” Seeing the destitute manner in which they lived, he understood that the father and the girl had few means and would have probably found it very hard to find money for medicines. He took two silver yuan bao [small boat shaped silver ingots] from his pocket and placed them on the table. “I will return to see you tomorrow,” he promised. Without awaiting the thanks of Mu Yi and his daughter, he took Guo Jing by the arm and they left. At the door of the inn, the four brocade clothed servants advanced towards them and bowed, “Our young Master awaits your honored visit, please follow us.” Wang Chuyi agreed.

“Master,” Guo Jing said, “wait for me one moment.” He turned and ran to the counter of the inn, opened the boxes of delicacies given by Wanyan Kang, chose four cakes, carefully wrapped them in a handkerchief and put them in his pocket. Then he followed Wang Chuyi to the residence.

On the two sides of the large bright red door, flags were hung on high poles. Two jade lions, majestic and fierce, stood guard. A flight of white jade stairs led to the large hall. The effect was impressive. Above the large door, there was an inscription in gold letters: ‘Residence of Prince Zhao’. Guo Jing knew that ‘Prince Zhao’ is the title of the Sixth Prince of the Jin Empire, Wanyan Honglie. “So,” he said nervously to himself, “this Young Prince is the son of Wanyan Honglie. He knows me; it'll be dangerous if I come across him!" As he hesitated, there came the sound of drums and trumpets.

The Young Prince, wearing a gold crown, a red tunic, and a gold belt tied around his waist, descended the stairs to meet them. However, he had a black eye, and a swollen face, marks from the keen combat of a few hours earlier. Guo Jing was not much better off, having a swollen eye, swollen lips and a bruised face. Both were amused, and could not prevent themselves from smiling. Seeing Wanyan Kang’s luxurious garb, Wang's eyebrows came together and he followed him to a large room without saying a word. Wanyan Kang invited him to sit in the place of honor.

“It's a distinguished honor that Master Taoist and Brother Guo have agreed to come here!”

Since he did not kowtow to him and did not seem to recognize his membership in the Quanzhen Sect, Wang felt anger rise within him. “How many years were you taught martial arts by your Shifu?” he asked.

“I know nothing of martial arts,” Wanyan Kang answered, laughing. “My Shifu gave me lessons for several years, but what he taught me would make you laugh, because it was no more than a three-legged cat's skills.”

“The skills of the Quanzhen Sect are nothing exceptional,” Wang said, containing his anger, “but it is nonetheless better than a three- legged cat’s skill. Did you know your Shifu will arrive in a few days?”

“My Shifu is here,” retorted Wanyan Kang, still smiling. “Do you wish to see him, Master?” “Where is he?” exclaimed Wang Chuyi, amazed.

Without waiting for him to answer, Wanyan Kang struck his hands together, and ordered, “Serve the banquet!” Then he took his two guests towards the banquet hall. They crossed through several corridors and several decorated pavilions. Guo Jing, who had never seen such a luxurious residence, was overwhelmed. But he was especially worried about the coming confrontation with Wanyan Honglie because he didn’t know what he should do. “The great Khan wants me to assassinate the prince,” he thought, “but it turns out his son is the disciple of Taoist Elder Qiu! Should I kill the prince or not?” He could not decide, so uneasiness plagued him.

In the banquet hall, six or seven people already awaited them. One of them had three lumps on his face; it was Hou Tonghai, the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’. He looked at them with hands on his hips and an angry face. Guo Jing made a movement of retreat, then, reassured, he thought that the presence of the Taoist Elder at his side would dissuade Hou from undertaking anything. However, not being able to suppress a feeling of apprehension, he averted his head and avoided the glance of his adversary. Then, recalling the foolish behavior of Hou during the chase with Huang Rong, he laughed inside.

“Taoist Elder,” Wanyan Kang said with a charming expression on his face, “Here are several people who admire you and have wished, for a long time, to get acquainted. You have already met Chief Peng. This is the honorable Liang Ziwong, also called the ‘Ginseng Immortal’, who is from the Mountain of Eternal Whiteness.”

Liang Ziwong, an old man with a florid face and immaculate hair, greeted him by joining his hands. “What an honor to meet the Perfect Wang, the ‘Immortal with the Iron Foot’! I will now be able to claim that my voyage beyond the Pass has not been in vain. This is Supreme Virtue Ling Zhi, also known as Distinguished Big-hand, from the ‘Secret School’ of Tibet. I myself come from the northeast, he from the southwest; it had required a voyage of tens of thousands of Li so one could say that ours is a predestined encounter.”

Obviously, Liang Ziwong was a very glib talker. Wang Chuyi greeted Supreme Virtue Ling Zhi, and the lama [a Tibetan religious leader] answered by joining his hands. Suddenly, a raucous voice was heard. “Because they feel supported by the Absolute Perfection Sect [Quanzhen] maybe that is why the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan dare to be so conceited!”

Wang Chuyi turned his head and saw a completely bald man with a gleaming skull and bulging red eyes. That man reminded him of someone. “Is it possible that are you the venerable Sha, the Dragon King of the Demonic Group?”

“Precisely,” the man retorted with an angry voice. “So, you still remember my name!” “We have never met,” Wang thought, “in what affair could I have offended him?”

“I've long heard of your great reputation,” he answered in a conciliatory tone, “and I much admire you.”

This Dragon King of the Demonic Group was Sha Tongtian, and he was much abler than his martial brother Hou Tonghai. However, he possessed a quick temper and was constantly angry when teaching. That was why he had only been able to transmit a negligible part of his ability to his four disciples. It was also the reason why the ‘‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’’, when they fought against Guo Jing in Mongolia, were not able to win and lost face in front of Wanyan Honglie. Since then, Prince Zhao did not grant the four men any credibility. When he heard about that, Sha Tongtian fell into a terrible rage; he punished his unworthy disciples viciously and the four demons nearly turned into four ghosts. He ordered his brother-in-arms to capture Guo Jing, but Hou Tonghai turned into a teasing object for Huang Rong and underwent an even greater humiliation.

More and more annoyed, Sha Tongtian, no longer concerned about courtesy in front of others, sprang towards Guo Jing, his hands forming claws. Guo Jing retreated two steps. Wang Chuyi, with a protective move, put himself in front of Guo Jing. “Do you really want to protect this little rascal?” Sha exclaimed angrily. And he struck a palm in the direction of Wang. Wang, considering the brutality of the attack, was forced to defend himself. Their two palms clashed, and as they were about to channel their internal energy, a man suddenly appeared. With his hands, he pressed their wrists and separated them. Wang and Sha felt a shock sensation and withdrew their hands immediately. Being eminent personalities of the Jianghu realm both had anticipated the real abilities of their adversary and had already activated their internal energy. That someone was able to separate them so easily with such a move was unbelievable to them!

The man, dressed in white, wore a light fur coat and a broad belt. Aged about thirty-five or thirty-six years, he moved elegantly, had a distinguished appearance and an undeniable martial air. He seemed to be the scion of a noble family. “This is,” Wanyan Kang said laughing, “the Junior Chief of the White Camel Mountain from the Kunlun mountain range in the Western Territories. His name is Ouyang Ke. The Honorable Ouyang has never been in the Central Plains before. You all meet him for the first time.”

The sudden appearance of this man surprised not only Wang Chuyi and Guo Jing, but Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziwong as well, who also didn't know him. After seeing a demonstration of his ability, everyone secretly felt respect; but nobody had ever heard of the White Camel Mountain in the Western Territories.

“Brothers, I should have arrived in the capital several days ago,” Ouyang Ke said, greeting everyone. “But I ran into a small hitch along the way which caused a delay; that is why I have just arrived, please excuse me.”

After learning that he was the Junior Chief of the White Camel Mountain, Guo Jing knew that he was connected to those young women wearing white clothes who had tried to steal his horse on the road. He felt his heart tighten. “Have my six Shifus clashed with him?” he wondered. “Have they been injured?”

Wang Chuyi knew that all the men were of frightening ability. He had experienced the pressure of Ouyang Ke's hand and had displayed internal energy by no means inferior to his own, though it contained a strange viciousness.

If dialogue turned out to be impossible and it became a fight, he was not even sure of being able to beat Ouyang Ke. Should they attack en masse, how could they defend themselves? “And your Shifu,” he asked Wanyan Kang, “why don't you ask him to come in?”

“I will,” the young man agreed, turning to his servants. “Request Shifu to come and meet the visitors.”

Wang Chuyi felt reassured. “If Brother Qiu is here,” he mused, “though the enemy are dominant in numbers, we will be able to at least remain unscathed.”

Some time later, they heard the noise of boots. Through the large door a big old officer of forty years, with a thick beard and dressed in brocade entered with a martial air. Wanyan Kang advanced. “Shifu,” he said respectfully. “This Taoist Elder wishes to see you, and has already asked about you on several occasions.”

Wang felt an upwelling of anger. “Ah, wicked one,” he thought, “you dare to make fun of me? The way this officer moves, he can't have any remarkable skills; he is certainly not the one who taught this rascal his strange techniques.”

“Taoist,” the officer said, “what do you want from me? Normally I hate seeing monks or priests.”

Wang’s anger was so strong that he burst out laughing. “I would like,” he said, “to request alms from Your Excellency, a thousand silver taels.”

The officer was called Tang Zude, captain of Prince Zhao's personal guard. When Wanyan Kang was small, Tang Zude had given him some martial arts lessons; that's why everybody in the household called him ‘Shifu’. Hearing this outrageous request from Wang Chuyi, he was startled. “Rubbish!” he retorted.

“A thousand taels of silver,” Wanyan Kang said, “is nothing, nothing at all. Let someone quickly prepare a thousand silver taels and present it to the venerable Taoist.” Tang Zude remained baffled. He examined Wang Chuyi from tip to toe with his mouth agape, then upwards again, without managing to understand why anyone should show such benevolence.

“Everyone please take a seat,” Wanyan Kang invited. “Taoist Elder Wang, it's the first time you've come to us, the place of honor is reserved for you.”

Wang Chuyi refused modestly, but ended up settling in the place of honor. Three rounds of wine were served. “You are all eminent personalities of the Jianghu realm,” Wang declared then. “You all shall judge how we'll settle the affair of Mr. Mu and his daughter.” All eyes were fixed on Wanyan Kang, waiting to see his reaction.

Wanyan Kang poured wine and raised the wine cup. Respectfully presenting the cup before Wang, he said, “Senior [qianbei], do me the honor and accept this cup first. As for the affair in question, it will be dealt with according to Senior's instructions, your Junior [wanbei] dare not disobey.”

Wang was amazed to hear him giving in so easily. He took the cup and drank the wine in one go. “Very well,” he said. “Let us bring Mr. Mu here and let him speak.”

“Someone must bring him here,” Wanyan Kang said. “Could I charge Brother Guo with the task of bringing Mr. Mu here?” Wang Chuyi nodded.

Guo Jing immediately left the banquet to go to the Prosperity Inn. But Mu Yi’s room was empty; the father and the girl had left, taking all their belongings with them. When asked, the boy at the inn answered that someone had come seeking them, paid for the room and the meals, but he could not say who. Guo Jing hurriedly returned to the residence of Prince Zhao, where Wanyan Kang greeted him with a great smile. “Brother Guo, thank you for your efforts. Where is Mr. Mu?” Guo Jing told him that he had sought him in vain. “Ah, it is my fault,” Wanyan Kang sighed. Turning to one of his servants, he ordered, “Take several men with you and go quickly in all directions. We absolutely must find Mr. Mu!” The servant obeyed and left.

Without the main person of interest, it was impossible to continue. Wang Chuyi could say nothing, but his head was full of suspicions. “To go and seek Mr. Mu,” he said to himself, “one or two servants are enough. This rascal insisted that Guo Jing should go, obviously he wanted Guo Jing himself to discover the departure of Mu, and give testimony of it.”

“It doesn't matter that a mysterious thing happened,” he sneered, “in the end the truth will always triumph.”

“Taoist Elder, you have reason to believe that Mr. Mu did mysterious things?” Wanyan Kang answered laughing, “That is really odd!”

The officer Tang Zude, already furious to see how easily the Taoist had extorted a thousand silver taels, found it intolerable to see him also showing insolence to the Young Prince. He vented his anger, “Taoist, to which temple do you belong? What right do you have to swindle our Master?”

“Officer,” Wang Chuyi retorted. “To which country do you belong? What right do you have to occupy an official position here?” He had noticed that Tang Zude was Chinese, but occupied an officer’s rank in the Jin army. He was benefiting from the oppression of his compatriots, and it was for this reason he made fun of him. The thing that Tang Zude hated most was people mentioning that he is Chinese. He regarded himself to be highly skilled in martial arts, loyal and willing to risk his life for the Jin, yet they still do not allow him to lead an army. He had worked hard for twenty years but was kept in Prince Zhao’s residence for show. Wang Chuyi’s comments had hit his sore point and his face changed as he roared in anger. He stood up, opposite Liang Ziwong and Ouyang Ke and released a fist towards Wang Chuyi’s face.

The later glanced at the fist coming towards him, stretched out two fingers of his left hand to grab Tang Zude’s wrist, laughing, “Even if you are not willing to answer, there is no need to resort to violence is there?”

Tang Zude’s fist was stopped in mid-air and was unable to move. He was surprised but angry, and scolded, “Brilliant witchcraft, you used witchcraft!” He used his strength to release his fist but was unable to. He scowled, feeling very embarrassed.

Liang Ziwong, who was sitting beside him, laughed, “General, do not fret, come and sit down for a cup of wine.” And with that, he stretched out his fingers towards Tang Zude’s left shoulder.

Wang Chuyi was aware that although his two fingers could suppress Tang Zude’s fist, he knew they would be unable to stop Liang Ziwong’s move. He released Tang’s wrist and aimed a finger at Tang Zude’s right shoulder. With this quick change of moves, Liang Ziwong was unable to restrain himself and two fingers pressed both sides of Tang Zude’s shoulder at the same time. It is really an honor for Tang Zude to have two highly skilled fighters ambushing him at the same time. Both his hands uncontrollably punched forward. With the sounds of two crashes, his left hand punched into a plate of left-over fish and his right hand entered a bowl of hot and sour soup. The two dishes broke into small pieces. The fish bones and broken fragments of the dishes pierced Tang Zude’s hands, mixing flesh and blood with remains of the soup, causing him to yell in pain.

The crowd laughed loudly and quickly moved aside. Tang Zude, by this time very embarrassed and furious, dashed out of the hall. The servants, suppressing their laughter, moved forward to clean up the mess. Sha Tongtian marveled, “The Quanzhen Sect really lives up to its name! This Brother wants Taoist Wang to enlighten me on something.”

Wang Chuyi replied, “It’s nothing much, please ask, elder Sha.”

Sha Tongtian replied, “The Yellow River Clan and Quanzhen Sect have long been at peace; why does Taoist Wang make things difficult for this brother by going out of his way to support the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’? The Quanzhen Sect may have many disciples, but this brother is not afraid.”

Wang Chuyi replied, “I think there is some misunderstanding. I have heard of the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ but I don’t know any of them. I have a martial brother who made a little bet with them. But I have never planned on helping the ‘Seven Freaks of Jiangnan’ against Yellow River Clan.”

Sha Tongtian exclaimed, “That’s good. Then please hand over this rascal to me.” As he spoke, he reached forward to grab Guo Jing’s throat.

Wang Chuyi knew that Guo Jing would be unable to avoid that grab and would get injured. He stretched out his arm to push Guo Jing’s shoulders gently. Guo Jing fell out of his chair uncontrollably and a “ke cha” sound was heard, as Sha Tongtian’s five fingers changed direction towards the floor and the back of his chair was broken. This ‘Claw Smashing Wood like Bean Curd’ is indeed one of the least seen but powerful moves in the Wulin world.

Sha Tongtian, who failed to grab Guo Jing, furiously asked, “So you are going to protect this rascal?”

Wang Chuyi replied, “I brought this child in, so I will naturally bring him out safely. Why does brother Sha not let him off today and find him on another day?”

Ouyang Ke spoke up, “This young chap offended brother Sha, let’s talk this out shall we?” Sha Tongtian thought, “This Taoist priest’s skills are definitely not below mine; my martial brother and I, together, may not be able to make that little rascal stay behind. This Ouyang Ke has good skills and I’m not sure of his background; if he joins up with that idiot, then there will be trouble.” He then spoke, “I have four useless disciples who followed Prince Zhao to Mongolia on a big mission. They were about to succeed when this rascal, whose surname is Guo, appeared and spoiled everything, making Prince Zhao extremely furious. Gentlemen, please think, if we cannot even overcome a little rascal, how can we accept the invitation to eat and drink in the residence of Prince Zhao?”

Although Sha Tongtian was very bad-tempered and rash, he was not stupid; with this speech, Guo Jing immediately became the centre of suspicion. With the exception of Wang Chuji and Guo Jing, everyone else here was invited by Prince Zhao. Wanyan Kang is Prince Zhao’s eldest son. After hearing what Sha Tongtian said, he too was a little displeased, so everyone present decided to capture Guo Jing and present him to Prince Zhao.

Wang Chuyi was anxious deep down and tried to think of a plan to escape, but there were so many strong opponents that it was quite impossible to do so. He’d actually thought that, since Wanyan Kang is his martial brother’s disciple and even though he is a Jin, he wouldn’t dare attack his teacher’s martial brother. However, he did not expect Wanyan Kang to be so arrogant and had even planned to trap them with the help of skilled experts. If he had known this would happen, he would not have come so rashly; but even had he known, he wouldn’t have brought Guo Jing along. If he wanted to leave, no one had any reason to stop him; but escaping with Guo Jing would be very difficult. He thought, “In this situation, it’s best to delay things.” Then he said, “Every single one of you is highly skilled and well-known; I have the utmost respect for each of you. To be able to meet you all today is my honor.” Pointing to Guo Jing, “This child is unaware of the serious trouble he has caused all of you by offending elder Sha. If you want him to stay, I am powerless to stop it, but even so, I cannot agree to it. Thus, I daringly request that each of you display your superior skills to Guo Jing so as to let him know that it is not that I don’t want to fight, it’s because I am unable to help him.”

Hou Tonghai had been suppressing his boredom all the while and immediately jumped out of his chair and pulled up his sleeve, “Let me be the first to taste your skills.”

Wang Chuyi replied, “My shallow skills are unworthy to exchange moves with those present. I hope that brother Hou’s superior skills will impress and teach this little rascal a lesson, and allow him to become aware of the existence of many skilled experts so that he won’t dare to be arrogant in the future.” Hou Tonghai had the feeling that there was sarcasm hidden in his words, but didn’t know what it was and was unsure how to answer.

Sha Tongtian thought, “It’s very tough to compete with Taoists from the Quanzhen Sect. It’s also good that I don’t have to do so.” Turning to Hou Tonghai, “Martial brother, why not display the ‘Burying One in the Snow’ skill for elder Wang.”

The snow outside had not stopped. Hou Tonghai rushed to the centre of the courtyard and swept both of his arms up, drawing the snow in until there was a huge pile in front of him. He used his legs to arrange the pile neatly, retreated three steps then flipped upside down and with a ‘pa’ sound, he thrust himself forward and landed in the middle of the snow pile. The snow was not up to his chest. Guo Jing rubbed his head in confusion when he saw this skill because Hou Tonghai’s head was in the snow pile, motionless.

Sha Tongtian turned to Wanyan Kang and the others and said, “Everyone, please kick all the remaining snow onto the pile which my brother Hou’s head is in.” The audience was curious and laughingly kicked the snow, making the pile even deeper. Sha Tongtian and Hou Tonghai frequently practiced in the Yellow River, thus their water skills are excellent. Those who practice water skills focus on controlling their breathing while under water and Hou Tonghai was able to bury his head in the snow without breathing and then use kung fu to fly out after a long while. The audience raised their cups of wine and praised this display of skill; after along while, Hou Tonghai finally use both his palms to sweep his head out of the snow and flipped back to a normal standing position. Guo Jing, being an inexperienced youth, was the first to applaud loudly. However, Hou Tonghai merely returned to his seat and drank a cup of wine, before staring at Guo Jing fiercely.

Guo Jing saw that there were the remains of snow on Hou Tonghai’s head and couldn’t control himself, he said, “Third master Hou; there’s snow on your head.” Hou Tonghai angrily retorted, “I am known as the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’, but I am not third in position, why call me third master? Even if I am fourth master Hou, is it any of your business? How would I not know if my head has snow on it? I wanted to wipe it away, but now that you mentioned it, I will purposely not do it!” The warm temperature in the room caused the snow on his head to melt and drops of water ran down Hou Tonghai’s head. But he is a stubborn man who keeps to his word, so no matter what, he did not even try to wipe the water off his face.

Sha Tongtian said. “My martial brother’s skills are rough and clumsy, please pardon him.” With that, he stretched his hand into a plate, grabbed some melon seeds, and shot the seeds out in a straight line with a flick of his middle finger. The seeds stuck into the snow pile which Hou Tonghai had earlier made and formed a ‘huang’ [yellow] character. The snow pile was quite a distance from Sha Tongtian’s seat and yet, he was still able to neatly form a word on it using the melon seeds. His eyesight and accuracy was indeed amazing.

Wang Chuyi thought, “No wonder the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ rules the Yellow River area, his skills are indeed spectacular.” Turning his head, he saw that the snow pile had received another wave of seeds, forming the ‘he’ [river] character and the ‘jiu’ [nine] character; it seemed Sha Tongtian wanted to form four words, reading ‘huang he jiu qu’ [Nine Songs of the Yellow River].

Peng Lianhu laughed, “Brother Sha, I cannot help but admire your remarkable finger skills. Let us make a deal; since elder Wang wants to study our skills, I will borrow Brother Sha’s finger skills to display some of my own.” With that, he threw his body forward and landed near the doorway. By this time, Brother Sha had already shot out the rest of the seeds to form the remaining ‘qu’ [song] character. Peng Lianhu suddenly stretched out both hands to catch the seeds; it looked as if he were picking the seeds from midair. The seeds were very tiny and traveled at amazing speed, but Peng Lianhu did not miss a single one and had them all in his hands. The audience broke into praise and Peng Lianhu retuned to his seat with a smile. Only then did Sha Tongtian manage to finish forming the ‘qu’ [song] character with the seeds. Peng Lianhu’s sudden display did steal away some of Sha Tongtian’s limelight, but the two were very close and Sha Tongtian did not seem displeased and even smiled a little. He turned to Ouyang Ke and asked, “What does master Ouyang plan on displaying to enlighten us inexperienced people?”

Ouyang Ke heard the sarcasm in Sha Tongtian’s words and knew that he was still sore at him for interrupting his hits earlier. He thought hard about what to display so as to make Sha Tongtian admire him. At that moment, the servants brought in four types of dessert and replaced the used chopsticks with clean ones. Ouyang Ke snatched up the used chopsticks and, with a wave of his hand, twenty chopsticks flew out at the same time, stuck into the snow and neatly formed four flower shapes. To throw a chopstick and stick it into the snow with a wave of the hand is child’s play, but to neatly form the shape of a flower using twenty chopsticks was more difficult. This skill was deep and complex, so much so that Guo Jing and Wanyan Kang were not able to comprehend it fully; but people such as Wang Chuyi and Sha Tongtian secretly praised him.

Considering the high number of experts, Wang Chuyi thought, “One of them would be quite a handful, yet there are so many gathered together here. Why? Even people like the young Chief of White Camel Mountain, ‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi and the ‘Ginseng Immortal’, who do not reside on the central plains are here. There must be a dangerous plan here!”

The ‘Ginseng Immortal’, Liang Ziwong laughed as he stood up and acknowledged the group. He reached the centre of the courtyard with light steps. He stretched out his right foot and lightly landed on the chopsticks, which Ouyang Ke had stuck into the snow. Then he started his display of skills , ‘Hugging the Moon’, ‘Two Gentlemen up the Hills’, ‘Pulling the Arrow’, ‘Turning Without Shoes’, and then displayed his ‘Sparrow Light Fists’. His feet looked like he was jumping one moment and flying at the next moment; every step he took would end by landing on a chopstick. After his ‘Giving Way to Step on a Tiger’ and ‘Retreating to Wrap it Up’, Liang Ziwong finished his display with his ‘Sparrow Light Fists’. The amazing thing was that the twenty chopsticks were still neatly in place. With a satisfied smile on his face, Liang Ziwong retreated back to his seat. The hall exploded into applause and even Guo Jing praised him. At this moment, the banquet ended and the servants brought golden bowls of warm water for the guests to wash up a little.

Wang Chuyi thought, “Now, Superior Virtue, Ling Zhi will display his skills before they all attack.” Wang Chuyi glanced his way only to see him still dipping his hands in the water slowly, disregarding everything else. After everyone finished washing, his hands were still in the bowl of water, as if thinking of something. Everyone was feeling a bit curious and after a while, steam began rising from his bowl. The bowl made a noise just before bubbles rose from the bottom of the bowl as if water was boiling. Wang Chuyi was secretly anxious, “His internal energy is powerful! I have to take a chance and attack first.”

Because all the attention was focused on Ling Zhi, Wang Chuyi thought, “I have to take them by surprise and make the first move to gain the upper hand.” Suddenly, he flew forward, with supreme speed, caught and pulled Wanyan Kang away with his right hand, before sealing his accupoints. Sha Tongtian and the rest were taken by surprise and did not know how to react.

Wang Chuyi picked up a bottle of wine with his left hand and said, “To be able to meet with so many heroes today is my honor, let me give a toast to everyone.” From the bottle he took a large mouthful, spat out and drops of wine landed in everyone’s cup. It didn’t matter whether the person’s cup was near or far away from him, or whether the cups were half-filled or empty, the wine kept landing accurately in the cups. Afterwards, every cup had the same proportion of wine, and there was not a single drop of wine spilled. From the way Wang Chuyi spat the wine, ‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi knew that he had excellent internal energy. Also he was able to hold the wine bottle in one hand while holding Wanyan Kang with the other. Although they knew that it was possible to attack Wang Chuyi at this moment, no one dared to for fear of Wanyan Kang getting hurt. Wang Chuyi poured wine for himself and Guo Jing, and then, raising his cup, said calmly, “I have no animosity towards anyone and have no strong ties with little brother Guo; but seeing that he is compassionate, heroic and has backbone, I want to plead with all present to let him go on my behalf.”

Everyone was silent. Wang Chuyi continued, “If everyone is magnanimous, I will free the little prince. A royal descendent in exchange for a commoner is a very good trade, right?”

Liang Ziwong laughed, “Since Taoist Wang is so forthright, it’s a deal.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Wang Chuyi released Wanyan Kang. Wang Chuyi knew that although these people were well-known for their evil, cold-blooded, unorthodox and underhanded ways, they would not dare to break their promise and attack in front of their fellow Wulin experts for fear of tarnishing their reputation.

Wang Chuyi took Guo Jing’s hand and said, “I bid you farewell and may we meet again”. The crowd, unable to stop them, watched their prey escape from the trap, sighed and looked crushed.

Wanyan Kang recovered and laughed, “Taoist Wang is superior, please feel free to visit anytime so that I can learn from the great elder.”

Wang Chuyi snorted, “I haven’t solved our problem; we will definitely meet again.”

As they walked towards the doorway, ‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi suddenly said, “The Taoist elder has brilliant skills of which I am in awe.” He joined his palms in the prayer position and bowed. Suddenly, he released both palms in the air and dashed forward with all his might.

Wang Chuyi also pushed out both his palms in defense, using internal energy to meet Ling Zhi’s blow. Just as the palms were about to meet, Ling Zhi suddenly switched from internal to external energy and used his left hand to grab Wang Chuyi’s wrist. Wang Chuyi reacted swiftly by grabbing his opponent’s wrist; both sides used their utmost force and both wrists met briefly before separating.

Ling Zhi’s face paled but he forced himself to say, “I really admire the Taoist skills.” Before retreating Wang Chuyi laughed, “The Abbot is famous throughout Wulin, but why do you not keep your word?”

‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi was furious and spat out, “I wanted to make you stay behind, not the Guo rascal….” He had received a blow from Wang Chuyi and was injured; had he quietly sat down to recuperate, it would not have become serious. But being mocked by Wang Chuyi had made him furious and he had not finished speaking when he vomited a mouthful of blood. Wang Chuyi did not dare stay any longer and took Guo Jing’s hand and quickly made his way out. Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu and the rest did not want to break their promise and, seeing that ‘Supreme Virtue’ Ling Zhi had suffered, they did not move forward to stop them.

Wang Chuyi had left quickly and was quite a distance from Prince Zhao’s residence before he turned back to check if there was anyone behind them. When he confirmed that there was no one, he quietly said to Guo Jing, “Carry me back to the inn.”

Hearing his weak voice, Guo Jing was shocked; he studied Wang Chuyi’s face and saw that it was pale and he looked very sick. It was a vast difference from the quick and swift Wang Chuyi of earlier on. Guo Jing quickly asked, “Taoist Wang, are you injured?”

Wang Chuyi nodded and could not balance himself properly. Guo Jing quickly lowered his back to carry Wang Chuyi and hurried to a large inn. He was about to enter when Wang Chuyi whispered, “Find…find the most isolated…. and smallest…. smallest inn.”

Guo Jing thought for awhile and then understood that Wang Chuyi was afraid that enemies may be looking for them. If they met rivals, with Wang Chuyi injured and him lowly skilled, they would definitely lose. With that thought, Guo Jing lowered his head and started running to look for another inn. Guo Jing was unfamiliar with the city and headed for roads with very few people on them; the further he went, the more deserted the road became. He felt Wang Chuyi’s breathing getting weaker and weaker before he found a very small inn. The inn was small and dirty, but fearing for Wang Chuyi’s safety, he immediately dashed in and laid Wang Chuyi down.

Wang Chuyi said, “Find me a big tub…of water…..fresh…clean water…hurry…hurry up.” Guo Jing asked, “Is there anything else?”

Wang Chuyi remained silent and just waved his hands to hurry Guo Jing. Guo Jing hurried out of the room and asked a waiter to help him prepare the water. He gave him some money for doing so and then rewarded the boy with some extra coins.

Since Guo Jing had come to the central plains, he’d learned the importance of bribing. The inn boy was overjoyed and quickly fetched a huge tub and filled it with clean water. Guo Jing went back to inform Wang Chuyi that the water was ready. Wang Chuyi responded, “Good…good child, now put me in the water…don’t allow…anyone to come in here.”

Guo Jing did not understand why Wang Chuyi wanted to do this but did as he was told. The clean water covered Wang Chuyi except for his head. Guo Jing instructed the inn boy to keep everyone out. Wang Chuyi sat quietly with his eyes closed and breathed deeply. After awhile, the water turned black and colour began to return to his cheeks. Wang Chuyi said to Guo Jing, “Help me out and change the water.”

Guo Jing changed the water and helped Wang Chuyi in again. It was some time before Guo Jing realized that Wang Chuyi was using his internal energy to force out the poison in him and allowing it to float in the water. Guo Jing changed the water four times before no more poison came out of Wang Chuyi and the water stayed clear.

Wang Chuyi finally smiled and said, “It’s okay now.” He climbed out of the water and sighed, “That lama’s skills are deadly.” Guo Jing was relieved and asked whether there was poison on the lama’s palms. Wang Chuyi replied, “Yes, I have seen the ‘Poison Sand Palms’ many times, but this is the strongest one yet. It almost cost me my life.”

Guo Jing replied, “Luckily you are alright now. What do you want to eat? I’ll ask the inn boy to buy something.” Wang Chuyi asked Guo Jing to borrow some ink and a brush before writing down a list of medicines.

Wang Chuyi explained, “ Although my life is not in danger now, my internal organs are not fully cleansed of the poison; if I do not cleanse the poison in twenty-four hours time, I may be crippled for life.”

Guo Jing took the medicine list and rushed out; he saw that there was a medicine shop nearby and quickly asked the owner for the medicine on the list. The owner checked his shelves, but returned empty-handed and said, “So sorry, you came at the wrong time, the medical herbs that you need are out of stock.”

Guo Jing did not wait for him to finish and dashed off to find another medicine shop. To his surprise, the second medicine shop he went to also didn’t have the things he wanted; it was the same result even after he went to eight other shops. Guo Jing was anxious and angry by then and ran to all the medicine shops in the city, only to get the same answer. They’d had a huge stock of the herbs he wanted but they’d been bought by someone earlier. It was then that Guo Jing realized that the people at the Zhao residence must have guessed that Wang Chuyi needed the medicine for his injury and purposely bought up all the medical herbs.

Dejected, Guo Jing returned to the inn and told Wang Chuyi what had happened. The latter responded with a sigh and also looked dejected. Guo Jing was so miserable that he leaned on top of a table and cried. Wang Chuyi laughed, “Everyone has to die sooner or later; when is up to heaven, and we have no say. Besides, I may not die, so why all this crying?” Then he started singing.

Guo Jing dried his tears and felt better. Wang Chuyi laughed and sat upright on the bed and began using inner strength to recuperate.

Guo Jing did not dare to make any noise and crept out of the room, he suddenly thought, “If I rush to another nearby city, they may not have finished buying up the medicine.” Happily, he was about to set off when he saw the inn boy running towards him with a letter, on the top of the envelope it said, ‘ Please read it yourself, big brother Guo.’

Guo Jing felt curious and wondered who would write to him. He hurriedly tore open the letter and shook open a white piece of paper on which was written, ‘I have something urgent to tell you, will be waiting for you at the small lake by the river which is ten meters west of the city.” At the bottom of the letter was a vivid drawing of a little beggar who was laughing, it was Huang Rong.

Guo Jing thought to himself, “How does he know that I am here?” and turned to the inn boy, “Who sent this letter?” The inn boy replied, “It was brought here by a wandering commoner.”

Guo Jing returned to his room and saw Wang Chuyi stretching his limbs. He said, “Taoist Elder Wang, I’m going to the nearby cities to buy the medicine.”

Wang Chuyi answered, “If we thought of this, they will too, there’s no need to go.”

Guo Jing would not give up and was determined to try, he thought, “Brother Huang is so intelligent, I will discuss this with him first.” He told Wang Chuyi, “My good friend wants to meet me, I will return afterwards.” With that, he showed the letter to Wang Chuyi; the latter thought awhile and asked Guo Jing how he knew this fellow.

Guo Jing related the story to Wang Chuyi and the latter thought, “I saw how that fellow tricked Hou Tonghai; his skills are very weird and unusual…..” He turned to Guo Jing and said, “You must be careful, this kid’s skills are much higher than yours and seem unorthodox. I have not been able to guess his origins.”

Guo Jing replied, “He is my newest best friend; he will not harm me.”

Wang Chuyi sighed, “You have not known him for long; how can you be sure if he is truly your best friend? He may be small in size, but if he wants to trick you, you won’t be able to defend yourself.”

Guo Jing was not the least suspicious of Huang Rong and thought to himself, “Taoist Wang says this because he doesn’t know brother Huang’s character.” And with that, began singing the praises of Huang Rong non-stop.

Wang Chuyi laughed and said, “Alright, go then, young people must meet some danger in order to gain experience. This person….considering his build and voice….he is not a…..can’t you tell?”

Wang Chuyi stopped here and just shook his head. Guo Jing placed the list of medicines in his pocket and ran out. When he reached the outer city, he could see snow, but it was in isolated patches. He walked ten meters west and saw some reflections of water; it was indeed a small lake by the river. The weather was not that cold, so the lake was not frozen; flower petals covered with snow floated on the water and beside the lake were rows and rows of plum trees. The plum flowers looked magnificent with the snow.

Guo Jing could not see anyone and for an anxious moment, he thought, “What if he waited for me too long and then left?” and began to shout, “Brother Huang, brother Huang.”

Guo Jing suddenly heard a sound and turned around sharply, only to realize that it was made by river birds. Guo Jing was very disappointed, and called out two more times, before thinking, “Maybe he hasn’t reached here yet, I’ll wait for him.” Sitting down by the lake, Guo Jing thought about Huang Rong, and then he thought about Wang Chuyi’s injuries and was in no mood to enjoy the scenery. Besides, since he grew up in Mongolia he was used to seeing snow and he did not bother to look out for the differences in landscape between Mongolia and the central plains. He waited for a long while and suddenly heard some noises among the trees.

Feeling curious, he walked in that direction and heard a rough voice say, “Why still act like a big brother when all of us, including you, wasted time just now?” Another voice answered, “Damn it! If it were not for you being such a coward we would have won had the four of us ganged up on that one.” Another answered, “What’s the big deal? Even you tripped while running away.” It sounded like the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’.

Guo Jing summoned up his courage and stepped into the cluster of trees, only to see no one. He suddenly heard a voice, “If we had fought directly, how could we lose? But who would have thought that the little beggar had so many tricks up his sleeves…”

Guo Jing looked up and saw four men dangling in mid air from a tree, swinging to and fro, yet squabbling non-stop; it was indeed the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’. His heart jumped for joy, since he knew that Huang Rong was nearby, and let out a laugh before asking, “Hey, are you guys practicing your lightness skills again?”

Qian Qingjian retorted angrily, “Who says that we are practicing our lightness skills? Haven’t you got the eyes to see that we were hung up here?”

Guo Jing laughed loudly and Qian Qingjian angrily tried to use his leg to kick Guo Jing; but how could he when the distance between them was so large?

Ma Qingxiong scolded, “Rascal, if you don’t go away, I will pee on you!”

Guo Jing laughed until he could hardly stand up and said, “I’ll just move aside, then your pee can’t reach me.” Suddenly came the sound of gentle laughter and Guo Jing turned around, only to hear the splashing of water and saw a leaf floating down from a tree. Then, he saw a girl at the back of a boat, rowing gently. She had long hair below her shoulders, was dressed in white from head to toe and had some golden pins in her hair which shone like fire. Guo Jing thought the girl’s dress looked like a fairy’s and was dumbstruck. The boat slowly came nearer and he saw that the girl was barely fifteen or sixteen years of age. She had very smooth skin that was as white as snow, with beautiful color on her cheeks and had a beauty which was incomparable. Guo Jing was dumbstruck by her beauty and retreated a few steps before turning away, not daring to look at her.

The young girl tied the boat to the bank and called out, “Brother Jing, come on board!” Guo Jing was astonished, and turned around, only to see the girl smiling sweetly and her robe floating gently in the wind. Guo Jing felt like he was in a dream and used both hands to rub his eyes.

The young girl giggled and said, “You don’t recognize me?”

Guo Jing thought that she sounded like Huang Rong, but how can a dirty and lowly male beggar suddenly transform into a beautiful fairy? He couldn’t believe his eyes.

He heard the voices of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ behind him shouting, “Little miss, cut the ropes that are hanging us up and let us down! If you help us, I’ll give you a hundred taels of gold! Each one of us will give you a hundred taels; you’ll get four hundred taels all together. We can even give you eight hundred taels!”

The young girl ignored them and smiled at Guo Jing, “I am your brother Huang, don’t you care about me anymore?”

Guo Jing studied her face and saw that her features were exactly the same as Huang Rong’s and stuttered, “ You………you ”

he only managed to say the word, ‘you’ before stopping.

Huang gave a little laugh and said, “That I am actually a girl, who asked you to call me brother Huang? Hurry, come onto the boat.” Guo Jing felt like he was dreaming, moved forward a little, and stumbled onto the boat. On the other hand, the ‘Four Demons’ kept making much noise in the background as they raised the amount of their reward.

Huang Rong rowed the boat to the middle of the lake, brought out some food and wine and giggled, “And don’t you call me sister Huang, call me Rong’er. My dad always calls me that.”

Guo Jing suddenly remembered something and said, “I brought some cakes for you.” He took out the cakes that Wanyan Kang had given him and Wang earlier on. But because he had carried Wang Chuyi, taken care of him and ran around trying to find medicines, the cakes were smashed into little pieces.

Huang Rong saw the mess and laughed softly. Guo Jing reddened and said, “They can’t be eaten now” and was about to throw them into the water when Huang Rong stretched out her hand and took the cakes from him saying, “I’d like to eat them.” Guo Jing was surprised but she had already placed a small piece into her mouth and started eating. After watching her eat a few mouthfuls, his eyes grew red and tears started slowly forming, he didn’t understand her actions.

Huang Rong said, “My mother died after I was born and no one has ever remembered my likes and habits so well before         ” Then a

few tears flowed from her eyes. She took out a clean handkerchief and Guo Jing thought that she was going to dry her eyes; but instead, she used it to wrap the smashed cakes and placed it in her pocket, before turning back to him with a smile, “I’ll eat them slowly.”

Guo Jing did not know much about romantic relationships, but he felt that ‘brother Huang’s’ actions were very special and unique. He asked her, “You said you had something important to tell me; what is it?”

Huang Rong giggled, “I wanted to tell you that I’m not brother Huang but Rong’er, isn’t that important?” Guo Jing smiled and said, “You are so pretty, why disguise yourself as a little beggar?”

Huang Rong turned her head slightly and said, “You say I’m pretty?”

Guo Jing replied, “Yes, very beautiful, like the fairy on top of our snow mountain.” Huang Rong laughed and said, “You’ve seen a fairy?”

Guo Jing said, “Of course not, if I’d seen one, how can I still live?” Huang Rong asked, “Why?”

Guo Jing replied, “The elders in Mongolia always say that whoever sees a fairy will never want to return to the grasslands again; he will just stay in a daze and freeze to death after a few days.”

Huang Rong laughed and asked, “And do you feel dazed after seeing me?”

Guo Jing reddened and quickly answered, “We are good friends, so it’s different.”

Huang Rong nodded and said seriously, “I know you sincerely care for me, regardless of whether I’m a girl or a boy, pretty or ugly. If I dress like this, it’s not surprising that people are good to me; but you were nice to me even when I dressed like a little beggar, so you are truly good to me.” At this point, Huang Rong was in high spirits and smiled, “I’ll sing a tune for you, alright?” Guo Jing replied, “Can you sing tomorrow instead, we have to get medicine for Taoist Wang first.” With that, he related the story of how Wang Chuyi got injured and how all the medicines were bought up by Wanyan Kang.

Huang Rong replied, “Ah, no wonder you were running anxiously from one medicine shop to another.” Guo Jing thought, “She was following me and that’s how she knew where I stayed.”

He said, “Brother Huang, may I ride your little red horse to buy the medicines?"

Huang Rong said seriously, "Firstly, I am not your brother Huang. Secondly, the horse is yours; do you think that I would actually take it? I just wanted to test you. Thirdly, you may not be able to get the medicine even if you travel to the nearby cities.”

Hearing what she said, Guo Jing felt anxious. Huang Rong smiled a little and said, “I am going to sing now, listen well.” Huang Rong gently turned her head, leaned to the edge of the boat, and then started singing in a crystal clear voice:

“The wild geese penetrated the cold frost curtain. Tender ice covered the pale moon of the first month. The creek flowed like a comb on the bride’s hair.

Wishing to keep the fragrance of the face powder, looking at the adornment makes one difficult to study.

The weak muscle delicate as jade, covered by layer upon layer of dragon-lining silk. With an easterly wind, one captivating smile,

tens of thousands flowers bashfully hope to be left behind.”

[Ignoring my own inadequacy, I tried to translate this part just for completeness sake – Frans Soetomo, after the chapter has been edited by the team of editors]

Guo Jing listened carefully to each and every word. Although he didn’t know the meaning, Huang Rong’s voice was gentle and sweet such that he felt like he was in a daze. The beautiful scenery gave him a feeling of warmth that he had never felt before.

Huang Rong finished singing and said in a low voice, “This is a song composed by the official Xing, which describes the plum flowers which bloom after winter; was it good?”

Guo Jing replied, “I don’t know about these things, but the song sounded very nice. Who is official Xing?”

Huang Rong answered, “Official Xing is Xing Qiji. My father says that he is a good official who loves his people. When the Jin captured the north and villains harmed mister Yue, official Xing was the only one left struggling to restore our lost lands.”

Although Guo Jing often listened to his mother talk about how violent the Jin were, and how they mercilessly killed many Chinese, he had grown up in Mongolia and did not feel that strongly about the Jin. Guo Jing replied, “I have never been in the central plains before, you’ll have to tell me the stories slowly another time, the most important thing now is to save Taoist Wang.”

Huang Rong said, “Listen to me, we’ll play just a little while longer so don’t worry.”

Guo Jing replied, “Taoist Wang said that if he doesn’t take the medicine in twenty-four hours time, he will be crippled!” Huang Rong retorted, “So let him be crippled; anyway, it’s not you or me who will be crippled.”

Guo Jing let out an “Ah” sound and jumped up saying, “This…..this……” his face became furious. Huang Rong giggled, “Don’t worry; I’ll make sure that you get the medicine.”

Guo Jing heard the confidence in her voice and thought, “She is much smarter than me, and besides, I don’t have any brilliant ideas so maybe I should listen to her.” He had no choice but to follow her wishes for the time being. They both clapped with laughter when she told of how she tricked the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ and how she teased Hou Tonghai. The combined colors of the white snow, the water in the lake and the plum flowers was beautiful; Huang Rong slowly stretched out her hand and put it into Guo Jing’s and whispered, “I’m not afraid of anything now.”

Guo Jing asked, “Why?”

Huang Rong replied, “Even if my father doesn’t want me anymore, you will want me to follow you right?” Guo Jing answered, “Of course. Rong’er, I…I…like…like being with you.”

Huang Rong leaned gently on his chest and Guo Jing smelled a sweet scent surrounding his whole body, surrounding the lake, surrounding the whole world; he didn’t know whether it was the plum flower scent or if it came from Huang Rong. The two just held hands silently. After a very, very long while, Huang Rong sighed and said, “It’s so nice here, such a pity that we have to go.”

Guo Jing asked, “Why?”

Huang Rong said, “Don’t you want to get the medicine to save Taoist Wang?” Guo Jing rejoiced, “Ah, where do we go then?”

Huang Rong asked, “Where have all the medicines in the shops gone to?”

Guo Jing answered, “The medicines have been bought up by people in Prince Zhao’s residence.” Huang Rong said, “Yup, that’s right, so we’ll go to his residence and take it.”

Guo Jing was shocked, “To Prince Zhao’s residence?” Huang Rong replied, “That’s right!”

Guo Jing said, “We can’t go there, we’ll only lose our lives.”

Huang Rong said, “Then you can bear to see Taoist Wang crippled? Or if his injuries take a turn for the worse, do you want to see him dead?”

Blood rushed up to his face and Guo Jing replied, “Alright, but you can’t go.” Huang Rong asked, “Why?”

Guo Jing answered, “Just promise me that you won’t go.” But he couldn’t find a reason.

Huang Rong lowered her voice and said, “I won’t be able to stand it if you continue to worry for me. If you meet with any danger, how do you expect me to live alone?”

Guo Jing’s heart gave a leap and gratitude, happiness, and love dashed into his mind; he suddenly felt a hundred times braver and wasn’t the least afraid of people like Sha Tongtian and Peng Lianhu. It was as if nothing was impossible in the world. He said, “Alright, we will both go to get the medicine.”

They rowed the boat to the bank and started towards the city. Halfway there, Guo Jing suddenly remembered that the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ were still stuck in midair and said, “Hey, do you want to release those four people?”

Huang Rong giggled, “Those four fellows call themselves ‘Iron Strong Heroes’ so they are very powerful; they won’t freeze or starve. Even if they do starve to death, ‘Four Demons of the Plum Forest’ is superior to the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’.” 

Chapter 9 – Iron Spear, Broken Plow

Guo Jing and Huang Rong went to the back of Prince Zhao's palace and leaped over the wall into the courtyard. Huang Rong whispered to Guo Jing in a soft voice, “Your lightness kung fu is excellent!” Guo Jing, crouching by the foot of the wall watching out for any movement in the courtyard, felt ecstatic hearing such praise from her.

After a moment they heard footsteps approaching; two men were laughing and talking as they walked towards them. One man was saying “What do you think the young prince has in mind for the young lady?”

The other man laughed and said, “It's obvious isn't it? Although she is a pretty woman, after giving birth who would give her another glance?”

The first man retorted, “With your dirty mind, you had better be careful that the young prince doesn't cut your head off. Although this girl is pretty, she cannot compare with the princess.”

The second man exclaimed, “She’s peasant girl! How can you mention her and the princess in the same breath?”

The first man replied, “The princess, you said she...” He suddenly stopped, coughed twice and changed the subject saying, “The young prince really suffered a loss at the hands of that big fellow today, you’d better be careful not to give him any cause for taking offence or you’ll surely get a beating!”

The second man said, “If the young prince tries to beat me, I'll simply dodge - and return with a kick...” The first man laughed, “Stop talking bull shit.” Guo Jing thought to himself "So Wanyan Kang already has a pretty sweetheart, no wonder he cannot marry the Mu girl. But if this is true, then he shouldn't have taken up the challenge in the first place let alone grab her shoe. Why would he concern himself with other people's affairs? Is it possible that a person, unwilling to agree to something, would use force to coerce them?”

At this point the two men had walked very close to Guo Jing and Huang Rong. One was carrying a lamp and the other a basket of food. They were servants wearing green clothes and caps. The man with the basket laughed and said “Speaking of other people, I fear that someone has become very hungry, we had better deliver these vegetables quickly!”

The other man replied “How can he win a young girl’s heart if he doesn't gain her sympathy?” Both men laughed as they walked away into the night.

Huang Rong became very curious. She whispered to Guo Jing “Let's go and see what type of pretty girl they’re talking about.” Guo Jing asked “What about getting the medicine, isn't that more urgent?”

“I want to see the girl first!” Huang Rong said stubbornly as she started off after the two servants.

Guo Jing thought “What's so interesting about seeing some girl? That’s really strange.” What he didn't know was that when a woman hears about another beautiful woman, she will never be satisfied until she has seen her with her own eyes. If the women that hears about this other woman is herself especially beautiful, then the greater is the desire to see that other woman so she can compare herself with her! Guo Jing, however, did know enough about girls to know that they can be extremely difficult at times so he had no alternative but to follow.

The Zhao residence was huge. Guo Jing and Huang Rong followed the two servants for quite some time before arriving in front of a big building. At the entrance a few guards stood with weapons in hand. Guo Jing and Huang Rong hid behind a corner and heard the two servants whispering something to the guards before the guards opened the door and allowed them in. Huang Rong picked up a stone and threw it at the torches to put them out, before pulling Guo Jing along to follow the servants inside. Huang Rong was so swift that she and Guo Jing overtook the servants and were in front of them in a flash. The servants and guards didn’t notice that they’d slipped in and cursed and joked while re-lighting the torches. The servants entered a large room, opened a small door in the corner, and walked in. Guo Jing and Huang Rong silently followed them and saw rows of iron bars forming a large prison cell. Behind the bars sat a woman and a man.

One of the servants lit a candle and placed it on a prison table. In the candlelight, Guo Jing saw the man’s anxious and angry face; it was none other than Mu Yi. The young girl sitting beside him was his daughter, Mu Nianci. Guo Jing was suspicious and thought, “How did they end up here? Ah, Wanyan Kang captured them. What does he intend to do with them? Does he love this lady or not?” The two servants took out some wine and dishes from their basket and pushed them into the cell.

Mu Yi picked up a plate of snacks and threw it out before yelling, “I have already fallen into your trap, so kill me if you want to. Why pretend to be nice?”

Amidst the commotion, the guard outside suddenly said, “Greetings, young Prince!”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong exchanged glances and hurriedly hid behind the door and saw Wanyan Kang rushing in and scolding, “Who made Hero Mu angry? Let’s find out whether or not I will break your legs when I leave.”

The two servants were frightened and dropped to their knees, “We dare not.” Wanyan Kang answered, “Hurry up and get out of here!”

The two servants replied, “Yes, yes.” and turned to leave; but when they reached the door, they stuck their tongues out at each other and made funny faces as they left.

Wanyan Kang waited until they closed the door before saying gently, “I invited Hero Mu and Miss here for a different reason. Please don’t be offended.”

Mu Yi was furious, “You lock us up like prisoners and you dare use the word ‘invite’?” Wanyan Kang said, “I’m so sorry. Please bear with it for the time being. I really am sorry.”

Mu Yi retorted angrily, “You can use this kind of talk to fool a three year old, but I’ve seen enough vicious officials to know better.”

Wanyan Kang tried to speak several times but was shut up by the angry Mu Yi. Yet, he still remained good natured and laughed good humoredly without a hint of anger. Mu Nianci listened to the argument and whispered to her father, “Father, let’s hear what he has to say.” Mu Yi grunted before becoming silent.

Wanyan Kang said, “Your daughter has rare talents and beauty. I’m not blind so how can I possibly not like her?” Mu Nianci blushed deeply and lowered her head. Wanyan Kang continued, “However, I am the heir of Prince Zhao and my family rules are very strict. If people find out that I married a commoner, my father will be furious and face a lot of trouble.”

Mu Yi replied, “Then what do you plan to do?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “I was thinking of letting Hero Mu and Miss stay here for a few days to recover from any injuries, before going back home. After a year and a half, when the situation is better, I will come to you and ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage, or Hero Mu may send Miss to me so as to complete the marriage. Isn’t that a perfect solution?”

Mu Yi remained silent, as though he was thinking about some other thing. Wanyan Kang continued, “My father has gotten into trouble because of me. The emperor even reprimanded him three months ago. If my father learns about this now, he will never agree to the marriage. I hope that Hero Mu keeps this a close secret.”

Mu Yi became furious, “If I listen to what you say, then my daughter will suffer because everything has to be kept under wraps.”

Wanyan Kang replied, “I have everything planned. I will get some grand officials to ask for her hand in marriage; it will be a grand and joyous affair.”

Mu Yi’s faced suddenly paled and he said, “Please ask your mother to see me so that I can discuss the matter with her.” Wanyan Kang smiled and said, “How can my mother meet you?”

Mu Yi yelled, “If I don’t get to meet your mother, I won’t give in to you no matter what you come up with.” With that, he picked up the jar of wine and threw it.

By the time Mu Nianci finished fighting with Wanyan Kang, she’d already fallen for him and was delighted when she heard his plan. But her father’s sudden outburst changed everything and she didn’t know whether she was surprised or dejected. Wanyan Kang moved quickly, caught the wine jar in time, and put it back on the table. He laughed and said, “I’m leaving.” before turning to go.

After hearing Wanyan Kang’s words, Guo Jing felt that the Prince was reasonable and had a very good plan; but who would expect Mu Yi to lose his temper. He thought, “I’ll try to convince him.” He was about to go to him when Huang Rong pulled his sleeve and took him out of the building.

They heard Wanyan Kang ask a servant, “Have you brought it?” The servant nodded and raised his hand to reveal a rabbit. Wanyan Kang took the rabbit from him and broke it’s hind legs, before placing it in his pocket and hurrying off. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were curious and followed behind him. After a while, they saw a small three-roomed hut. It was a normal looking hut like any commoner’s, but looked out of place amongst the grand surroundings of the Zhao residence. Now they were very curious. Wanyan Kang opened the door and entered the hut. They silently moved to the back of the house and peered through a window. They were sure that there was something secret about the hut, which Wanyan Kang kept to himself. Then they heard something they did not expect when he called out, “Mother!”

A woman’s voice answered him and Wanyan Kang walked into the room. Huang Rong and Guo Jing saw a middle-aged woman sitting beside a table, gazing blankly into space. The woman looked no more than forty, had very delicate features with little powder on her face and wore very common robes. Huang Rong thought, “This princess is indeed prettier than Miss Mu, but why does she dress so shabbily and live in a hut like this? Has she fallen out of Prince Zhao’s favor?”

Guo Jing thought the same thing at first but later regarded it as nothing special. He mused, “She must be like Rong’er. She purposely dresses like a peasant just for fun.”

Wanyan Kang walked to her side took her arm and said, “Mother, are you ill again?” The woman sighed, “I was worrying about you.”

Wanyan Kang leaned on her and giggled, “But your son is standing healthy in front of you.”

The woman replied, “With swollen eyes and a broken nose? You call that healthy? You are getting more and more disobedient. It’s alright if your father knows, but if your teacher learns about it, you’ll be in hot soup.”

Wanyan Kang giggled again, “Mother, do you know who the Taoist priest is that came today?” The woman asked, “Who?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “He is my teacher’s martial brother and is my elder. I purposely pretended to be ignorant of that fact and called him Taoist this, Taoist that. He scowled and was furious but couldn’t do anything.” With that, he started laughing.

The woman was alarmed and said, “Oh no! I’ve seen your teacher flare up before and he can kill people. It’s really a frightening thought.”

Wanyan Kang was curious and asked, “You’ve seen teacher kill before? When? Why did he kill people?”

The woman lifted her head and gazed at the lamp, as if she was somewhere far away and said gently, “That was a long time ago. Ah, I cannot remember anymore!”

Wanyan Kang did not probe further; instead he grinned smugly and said, “That Taoist Wang came to ask me how was I going to deal with the marriage and I told him that if he brought Miss Mu to me, I would listen to whatever he said.”

The woman asked, “Have you asked your father’s permission? Has he agreed?” Wanyan Kang smiled, “Mother, you are too honest. I asked my men to trick them into coming here and locked them up in the back cell earlier. How can Taoist Wang find them now?” Wanyan Kang was going through the events in an excited manner while Guo Jing fumed outside.

Guo Jing thought, “To think that I actually thought that he had good intentions! Luckily Hero Mu was wise enough not to fall into his trap.”

The woman answered exasperatedly, “How can you make fun of this man and his daughter and lock them up? Hurry up and release them now. Remember to apologize and give them some money.”

Guo Jing nodded his head and thought, “That’s more like it.”

Wanyan Kang said, “Mother, you don’t understand! These people don’t care about money. If I release them and they go round telling people what happened, father will hear about it.”

The woman became anxious, “Do you plan to lock them up forever?”

Wanyan Kang smiled, “I tried to sweet talk them into going back to their village and stupidly wait for me forever.” With that, he burst out laughing.

Guo Jing was shaking with fury by this time; he raised a palm towards the window frame and was about to yell when he felt a soft and smooth hand cover his mouth and grab his left wrist. A gentle voice whispered into his ear, “Calm down.” Guo Jing recovered and turned towards Huang Rong with a faint smile before looking back into the room again.

Wanyan Kang continued, “That Mu fellow is really cunning; he didn’t take the bait. Let’s see how long he can last if I keep him locked up for a couple of days longer.”

His mother replied, “I’ve seen Miss Mu and I find her beautiful and talented. She is quite likeable. Why don’t I talk to your father and ask him to let you marry her; then everything will be solved.”

Wanyan Kang laughed, “Mother, for the last time, we are royalty. How can I marry a commoner? Father always tells me that he will arrange a respectable match for me. But it’s a pity that we are Wanyans.”

The woman asked, “Why?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “If not, I could marry the princess and become the crown prince.”

The woman sighed and said in a low voice, “How can you look down on poor commoners…do you really think that…”

Wanyan Kang laughed, “Mother, I have a joke for you. That Mu fellow says that he will only believe me if he meets with and discusses it with you.”

The woman responded, “I won’t help you to lie and do such despicable things.”

Wanyan Kang giggled and walked around in circles. He said, “Even if you were willing to do so, I will not allow it. You don’t know how to lie and will be exposed on the spot.”

Huang Rong and Guo Jing studied the room, which was furnished with normal wooden furniture and normal farming tools. On the wall hung a moldy sphere, a broken plough and an old wooden cart was placed in the corner of the room. Both of them thought, “This woman is a princess. Why is her house so plainly furnished?”

Wanyan Kang pressed his chest and the rabbit in his pocket let out a squeal. The woman asked, “What’s that?”

Wanyan Kang replied, “Ah, I almost forgot. I saw an injured rabbit just now and picked it up. Mother, please tend to it.” He took out a little white rabbit and placed it on the table. The rabbit’s hind legs were broken and it couldn’t move.

The woman said, “Good child!” She hurriedly took out some implements and medicine and tended to the rabbit’s injuries.

Guo Jing began to fume again and thought, “This man purposely injured the rabbit because he knows that his mother is kind-hearted and will tend to its injuries. Then she’ll forget about the bad stuff that he has done. How can he be so evil as to make use of his mother’s kind nature to deceive her?”

Huang Rong was leaning on him and felt Guo Jing’s whole body quiver. She knew that he must be burning with anger and was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to control it and burst out at Wanyan Kang. She pulled his hand and said, “Let’s ignore them; come, let’s go and find the medicine.”

Guo Jing asked, “You know where they’ve hidden the medicine?”

Huang Rong shook her head and said, “No. So we have to go and find out.”

Guo Jing thought about how huge the Zhao residence was and wondered where to start the ‘finding’, “It will be disastrous if we alert Shao Tongtian and the rest…” he was about to discuss this with Huang Rong when there was a flash of light in front of them. A man came carrying a small lantern while humming a tune and he was walking closer and closer to them. Guo Jing was about to slip behind a tree when Huang Rong rushed forward, towards the man. The man was alarmed and before he could say anything, Huang Rong flipped her palm and shot out a shiny steel object which pierced his throat. She asked, “Who are you?”

The man, having had the fright of his life, only managed to answer after awhile, “I…I am the caretaker. What…what are you doing?”

Huang Rong answered, “What am I doing? I am going to kill you! You are the caretaker? That’s good. Where do you keep the medicines that your young prince had people buy during the day?”

The caretaker replied, “I…I don’t know. The young prince kept it himself!”

Huang Rong used her left hand to twist his wrist and used her right hand to push forward slightly, causing the steel object to pierce even deeper into his throat. The caretaker felt a sharp pain shoot through his wrist but didn’t dare scream out loud. Huang Rong said in a low voice, “Are you going to tell me or not?”

The caretaker responded, “I really don’t know.”

Huang Rong used her right hand to remove his cap and stuff it into his mouth. Following that, her left hand pulled and twisted his arm. A ‘crack’ was heard as she broke the bone in his right shoulder. The caretaker tried to yell before fainting but the cap in his mouth had muffled his yell. Guo Jing was stunned. He didn’t expect this petite young lady to be so vicious and cruel in her actions. Huang Rong shook the caretaker and he came around. She swiftly removed the cap from his mouth and placed it back on his head before saying, “Do you want me to break your left shoulder as well?”

The caretaker wept in pain and answered weakly, “I really don’t know. Even if Miss kills me, I still won’t know.”

Now Huang Rong believed him; she lowered her voice and said, “Go and find young prince now and tell him that you fell and broke your shoulder. Also tell him that you suffered serious internal injures and the physician says that you must take the medicine that he bought up earlier. Beg him to give you some of the medicine.” The caretaker listened attentively to Huang Rong’s instructions and dared not question anything.

Huang Rong continued, “Hurry up, young prince is with the princess. I am going to follow you and if I see that you do not act properly, I will break your neck and dig out your eyes.” With that, she stretched out her fingers and made a clawing move at his eyes. The caretaker shivered and stood up; he clenched his teeth, ignored the dreadful pain and dashed towards the princess’s house.

Wanyan Kang was still talking with his mother when the caretaker suddenly dashed in, sweating and crying. He repeated what Huang Rong instructed him to say. The princess saw that his face was as white as a sheet and knew he was in great pain; she didn’t wait for Wanyan Kang’s answer and immediately ordered him to give the caretaker the medicine. Wanyan Kang frowned and said, “The medicine is with Master Liang, go and find him yourself.”

The caretaker wept and said, “Young prince, please write a note for me.” The princess immediately took out some paper, ink and a brush and Wanyan Kang wrote the note. The caretaker bowed and thanked them while the princess said gently, “Hurry and take the medicine to cure your injuries.”

The caretaker came out of the house and walked a few steps when he felt the cold blade of a knife on the skin of his neck. He heard Huang Rong say, “Go to Master Liang now.” The caretaker walked a little ways but he could stand the pain no longer and fell to the ground.

Huang Rong said, “If you don’t get the medicine, your neck will be broken.” With that, she grabbed his head and turned it forcefully. The caretaker was shocked and had a sudden wave of determination. Sweating continuously, he hurried on. They passed by seven or eight servants but no one asked anything when they saw Guo Jing and Huang Rong.

When they reached Liang Ziwong’s quarters, they found the door locked. A servant told them that he had gone to the Fragrant Snow guest hall. Guo Jing saw that the caretaker was having difficulty walking and helped him along. Just as they reached the guest hall, two guards carrying lanterns in one hand and sabers in the other called, “Stop, who’s there?”

The caretaker took out the note written by Wanyan Kang and gave it to the guards. They glanced at it and let him through before going up to question Guo Jing and Huang Rong. The caretaker said, “They’re our own people.”

One of the guards said, “The prince is having a banquet with important guests, no one is allowed to disturb them. If you have anything to say, you can come back tomorrow to…” he didn’t finish his sentence before the two guards felt their strength disappear. They were unable to move because Huang Rong had sealed their accupoints. She hid them in some bushes before grabbing Guo Jing’s hand and they made their way towards the entrance of the hall. She gently pushed the caretaker forward. She and Guo Jing swung up and caught a wooden window frame and peered inside the hall.

The hall was brightly lit with a huge banquet table in the middle. Guo Jing looked at the people sitting around the table and his heart beat furiously. He has seen the same people in the same room earlier. There was the Junior Chief of White Camel Mountain, Ouyang Ke, the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’, Sha Tongtian, his martial brother the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’, Hou Tonghai, the ‘Ginseng Immortal’, Liang Ziwong and the ‘Butcher of One Thousand Hands’, Peng Lianhu. At the head of the banquet table was the Jin sixth prince, Wanyan Honglie. At one corner of the table was a thickly padded grand chair in which sat ‘Superior Virtue’ Lingzhi, who had a golden complexion and looked seriously injured. Guo Jing laughed gleefully, “You ambushed Taoist Wang, so it serves you right to have a taste of your own medicine.” The caretaker entered the room and bowed in front of Liang Ziwong before handing him the note written by Wanyan Kang. Liang Ziwong read the note, glanced at the caretaker and handed the note to Wanyan Honglie, “Esteemed Prince, was this written by the young prince?”

Wanyan Honglie read through the note and said, “Yes, please do what it says Master Liang.”

Liang Ziwong turned and instructed a dwarf dressed in green, “Go and take out five grams each of the medicines that the young prince delivered today and give it to the caretaker.” The dwarf nodded and followed the caretaker out.

Guo Jing whispered to Huang Rong, “Let’s go, these people here are too formidable.”

Huang Rong smiled and shook her head. A strand of Huang Rong’s soft hair brushed past Guo Jing’s face and he felt a tickling sensation not only on his face but also in his heart. He didn’t argue with her and dropped down. Huang Rong hurriedly grabbed his wrist, flung her body forward, locked her legs around a high wooden pole and gently lowered Guo Jing to the ground.

Guo Jing was relieved, “That was close! Had I just jumped down, wouldn’t it have alerted the high level fighters inside?” Guo Jing was not a veteran Jianghu traveler and tended to be careless at times.

The caretaker and the dwarf came out and Guo Jing followed behind them. He walked ten steps before turning around and saw that Huang Rong had flipped up and was peering into the hall with her legs hooked on the roof’s edge and her head hanging below. There was a light breeze, causing her white robe to float gently; the image looked like a blooming white lily in the darkness. Huang Rong glanced into the hall and saw that no one had noticed her presence; she turned her head and watched until Guo Jing’s figure disappeared into the darkness before turning her attention back to what was going on in the hall.

Peng Lianhu suddenly turned around, and with eyes quick as lightning, he did a check of the windows. Huang Rong didn’t dare look any longer, and crouched near the window to hear what was going on. She heard a rasping voice say, “Do you people think that Wang Chuyi turned up coincidentally or was it for a reason?”

A high pitched voice replied, “No matter whether he had ill intentions or not, being injured by ‘Superior Virtue’ Lingzhi will leave him dead, or at least crippled.”

Huang Rong glanced into the hall and saw that the person talking was Peng Lianhu, who was small and had eyes that flashed like lightning. She heard a clear voice laugh, “We have even heard of the ‘Seven Masters of Quanzhen’ in Tibet. They really live up to their name; if it were not for ‘Superior Virtue’ Lingzhi’s attack, we would have been defeated by him.”

A deep and rough voice answered, “Master Ouyang, you don’t have to flatter me, both that Taoist priest and I are injured, there is no winner.”

Ouyang Ke said, “Yes, but you just have to recuperate quietly for some time whereas even if he doesn’t die, he will end up handicapped!”

After this comment no one spoke. The host could then be heard toasting all the assembled guests. Guest by guest he said “Sir, you have come from a great distance to visit me, I am deeply honored! It reflects greatly on the Jin nation to have such honored guests as you!” Huang Rong thought that the person speaking must be the Prince Zhao, Wanyan Honglie. The assembled guests then all answered with the modest protestations as decorum required.

Wanyan Honglie then continued, “Lingzhi is Tibet’s foremost monk, Liang is a master of great learning and integrity, Chief Ouyang is a legendary leader of military virtue, Master Peng's prestige is widely feared on the central plains, and Formidable Sha rules over Yellow River! If any one among the five heroes lends a hand, the Jin Nation's challenges could be overcome; but imagine what could be achieved with all five of you united together! Ha…Ha! That would be akin to having a lion using all its strength to catch a rabbit!” This speech made him sound very arrogant indeed.

Liang Ziwong smiled and said, “If Your Lordship has a task for us to carry out, you need only say it and we will gladly do it. Unfortunately this old man's (referring to himself) kung fu is very shabby and weak. I fear that if I was to be entrusted with such a task by your Lordship I would fail and not be able to show my worthless face again, ha…ha!.” Peng Lianhu also added a few self depreciating remarks in the same vein. These men have always been the center of attention and power in their own regions. Their speech and manner showed that they did not consider themselves inferior to Wanyan Honglie.

Wanyan Honglie again toasted each guest in turn with a cup of wine “This humble prince is deeply moved by your presence here tonight. I will now speak of a great matter. This matter cannot be mentioned to any other person outside of this room. If word got out, it would cause great trouble for my Jin nation. This humble prince has great confidence in your ability to keep this secret.”

These words, although humbly spoken, implied great importance and caused everyone present to take note that this must be a very serious matter that required the utmost secrecy. Everyone therefore replied, “Your Lordship need not fear, no words spoken here tonight will be heard outside this room!” The five invited guests knew that the reason for their invitation must be a matter of great importance; something that would require no small measures to carry out. Having spared no expense at sending them presents of gold, silver and other valuables, Wanyan Honglie still had not made any mention of the task he would ask of them. Now that he was about to reveal this deeply held secret, there was not a person present who didn't feel extremely interested and excited.

Wanyan Honglie continued: “ During the reign of the Great Jin Emperor Taizong, in the third year of the Tianhui era [the seventh year of the Song Emperor Huizong’s Xuanhe era], our Jin soldiers, led by the generals Youzhanmeihe and Wolibu, captured the two Song Emperors, Huizong and Qinzong. From ancient times there has never been such a great victory.” All the guests cheered his speech.

Huang Rong thought to herself angrily, “How shameless! Everyone, aside from that Tibetan Monk, is Chinese. The Jin Prince is boasting about how his country invaded our country and held our two emperors captive and you actually cheer him on!”

She heard Wanyan Honglie speak again, “At that time, our Great Jin soldiers were vigorous and their numbers vast, but now, after almost a hundred years, the Zhao officials serve our emperor from Huangzhou. Esteemed guests, can you guess why they serve from there?”

Liang Ziwong said “Please enlighten us Honored Prince.”

Wanyan Honglie sighed “The year Yue Fei defeated us and had us in his grasp, there was no one who did not know it, but who would dare say it out loud? Our Jin Generals knew how to lead soldiers, but when they encountered Yue Fei they were always defeated. Even after Qin Gui ordered Yue Fei's execution, our soldiers were still demoralized by their earlier defeats so that they lacked the willpower to act further against the Southern Song. Although this humble prince has the ambition to act, he lacks the abilities to succeed. If my guests, with their god-like skills, were to help with this enterprise, then there is no way that we cannot succeed and earn great merit.”

The guests looked at each other without fully understanding exactly what he meant. Each thought: “Charging enemies and fighting valiantly, taking cities and seizing territory… these are not my strengths. Could it be that he wants us to assassinate some Southern Song generals?

Wanyan Honglie’s face showed self importance [de yi]. His voice trembled slightly, “A couple of months ago, this humble prince was looking through some old files in the palace when I stumbled across a letter left behind by the former emperor. It was actually a few lines written by Yue Fei, the phrasing of which was most peculiar. I puzzled over this for a few months until at long last I figured out its hidden meaning. It turns out that when Yue Fei was languishing in prison he realized that he had no hope of leaving with his life. His loyalty towards his country was so great that he wrote down his entire life's learning regarding battle tactics and other secret military arts in this letter in the hope that it could be passed on to other loyal countrymen who could use them in defending China against the Jin invaders. Luckily Qin Gui was very clever and feared that Yue Fei would try to communicate with people outside of the prison, so he was very careful to prepare against such an event. Every guard assigned to watch over Yue Fei was personally selected by Qin Gui and was known to be completely trustworthy and loyal to him (Qin Gui). If the soldiers formerly under Yue Fei were to get word from Yue Fei and rise up in rebellion against the court, who could stop them? At that time, the only reason that there was not such a rebellion was entirely due to Yue Fei not being willing to rebel against his emperor. Had he changed his mind and decided to do so he would have certainly succeeded. What Qin Gui did not know though was that Yue Fei didn't have any desire to save his own life, only to save the ‘rivers and mountains’ [jiang shan…literally the country] of the Song Empire. Fortunately this letter never left the palace even after his execution.” Everyone was listening intently to this story, so intently that they forgot to drink their wine. Huang Rong, hanging outside the window, was also listening mesmerized.

Wanyan Honglie continued: “Yue Fei had no alternative but to secrete his military manual in his clothing. Then he wrote four poems entitled ‘Buddhist Barbarian’ [Pu Sa Man], ‘Shameful Slave’ [chou nu er], ‘Congratulating the Imperial Court Sage’ [He Sheng Zhao], and ‘Level Heaven Music’ [Qi Tian Yue]. Each piece of writing appeared to be nonsense. The style did not follow the proper rules and the tonal sequences were all wrong. The sentences were jumbled to the point of incoherence. Qin Gui, who was said to have wisdom and talent the size of the oceans, was not able to figure out what hidden meanings lay in these pieces, so he dispatched some men with these letters to the Jin. Many years later these four pieces of nonsense writing found their way into the secret files of the Jin palace. No one was able to comprehend the meaning of these letters. Everyone thought that Yue Fei, who was near execution at the time he wrote these letters, was venting to his anger and frustrations by writing such disjointed and senseless verse. Nobody guessed that the apparent nonsense verse was in fact a riddle hiding a very great secret!”

“This humble prince though continued to work on these letters until I finally discovered their secret. It turned out, that if you took every third word in a piece and put them together, and then reversed the order, a hidden message was revealed. In these four letters Yue Fei instructed his successors in the arts of military strategy and to continuously attack along the Yellow River and wipe out our Jin armies. In spite of his diligent work for his emperor, it turned out to be in vain. Ha…ha!” The guests gasped in surprise, then, one after another, began praising Wanyan Honglie's intelligence for cracking such a difficult code.

Wanyan Honglie said “Yue Fei's military abilities were unparalleled; when he attacked there was no one more formidable or successful. Imagine if we were to have his book of secret military strategies, then the whole empire would be ours for the taking!"

Wanyan Honglie went on “This humble prince thinks that this great book must be with Yue Fei in his tomb.” At this point he paused. Everyone suddenly realized what was being asked: “Prince Zhao invited us here to do a bit of grave robbing!”

He continued, “Honored Guests, you are all brave heroes and by now you must be wondering how I could be asking you to rob a tomb? Although Yue Fei was the Jin's sworn enemy, his spirit and loyalty is something that is world renowned; we can't possibly disturb his resting place. This humble prince searched through the historical reports by spies of the Southern Song to look for further clues. It turned out that the day Yue Fei died he was buried beside the Zhongan Bridge. Later, Emperor Xiao Zong moved his body to Lin’an’s West Lake [Xi Hu] to a temple he had built for him. His clothing and other personal belongings were placed somewhere else and this must be where his book is. This other place is also in Lin’an.” As he spoke this last sentence he watched his guests intently. Everyone was waiting for him to reveal the exact location of the book.

However, Wanyan Honglie suddenly changed the topic: “This humble prince had another thought; since someone moved Yue Fei’s belongings, I feared that the book must have been taken by them as well. After some very detailed research I now know that this could not be possible. The people of Song venerate Yue Fei so much that they would not have dared interfere with his belongings. We are certain to find the book at this place. However, in the south there are many martial people of high abilities. If we are to succeed we cannot allow the slightest word of this to get out or else some of them may try to search for the book themselves. That would cause no end of trouble! This task concerns the fate of two nations and it is not something I would lightly undertake unless I had the help of the greatest heroes of the Wulin world.” Everyone nodded their heads.

Wanyan Honglie then said, “The location of this book is no small matter and is indeed difficult to speak of; but in the presence of people of such great ability it is easier to speak. The location of the book is...” At this point the door to the hall was suddenly pushed open and a man rushed in, his face swollen and pale. He rushed forward to Liang Ziwong and called out, “Master...” everyone recognized him as the dwarf dressed in green that Liang Ziwong had sent to fetch the medicines.

o0o

When Guo Jing went with the caretaker and dwarf to fetch the medicine, he used his left hand to support the caretaker and help him walk, but also to ensure the caretaker would not try to warn the dwarf in any way about Guo Jing. The three of them went through a long corridor and past some rooms before arriving at Liang Ziwong’s storeroom. The dwarf lit a candle, opened the door and entered.

Guo Jing stood close to the room where he smelled the pungent scent of various medicinal herbs. He also saw that a table, couch, floor and everywhere else was covered with all types of dried herbs. There were bottles, big and small, jars, bowls, vats and so forth. It seems that even though Liang Ziwong was a guest here, he still couldn't help but play around with different medicinal herbs trying to concoct different drugs. The dwarf seemed to be well versed in the nature of herbs as well and he quickly selected portions of four different herbs and wrapped them up in separate packets of white paper which he gave to the caretaker.

Guo Jing reached out and took the packets before turning and leaving the room. Now that he had the medicine in his hands, he didn't pay any more attention to the caretaker. Unfortunately for him, the caretaker was a slippery fellow. When Guo Jing and the dwarf left, he deliberately hung back, waiting until they were past the door. Then he suddenly slammed the door shut, grabbed the door bolt and locked the door, shouting “Robber, Thief!” Shocked, Guo Jing immediately turned to try and push open the door only to find that it wouldn't budge, the door stood firm. The dwarf, although he was small, was by no means slow witted. He immediately sized up the situation and took advantage of Guo Jing's distraction. He quickly snatched the four medicine packets out of his hand and threw them into the pond beside the room. Guo Jing tried to hit the dwarf with his fists, but the dwarf was too quick and managed to slip away.

Guo Jing, even more frantic and angry, placed both his palms against the door and used his internal energy to break it open. There was a loud crack as the door bolt snapped and the door flew open. Guo Jing rushed in and silenced the caretaker immediately by smashing the caretaker’s jaw with one swing of his fist. Luckily for Guo Jing, Liang Ziwong did not like to be disturbed, so his room was located in an out of the way place in the palace compound. Being far from other buildings, the caretaker’s screams had not alerted anyone. He rushed back out of the room and saw that the dwarf was already a long way off. Guo Jing sprinted after him and in no time at all caught up with the dwarf and grabbed him by the neck. The dwarf, when he heard Guo Jing behind him, tried to use his leg to sweep Guo Jing off his feet. The dwarf was no stranger to fighting, having encountered many rough types in his travels with Liang Ziwong, so his skills were not weak. Guo Jing knew that he was in danger of not only failing to get the medicine for Wang Chuyi, but also, if the alarm was raised, Huang Rong would be in mortal danger if she was caught. Since there was no time to lose he made use of his most vicious moves such as the ‘Disconnect the Muscles and Separate the Bones’ move taught him by one of the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan.

Guo Jing soon had the dwarf unconscious and he hastily hid him in some bushes beside the path. He then hurried back to the medicine store room and lit a candle which revealed the caretaker still lying unconscious on the floor.

Guo Jing cursed himself silently for being so careless. “Which four jars did the dwarf select the medicine from? I wasn't paying attention and now I have no idea of which herbs he used.” All the jars were marked with strange signs but no words. He thought hard: “I remember he was standing here so maybe I should just grab a little from each jar around here and bring them all back to Wang Chuyi to select from.” He hurriedly snatched a pile of paper and began grabbing a handful of each type of herb/medicines which he then wrapped up into several packets all the while worried that someone had heard the caretaker’s shouts earlier.

As soon as he had packed up all the medicines he felt much relieved. As he turned to leave, his elbow accidentally knocked over a large bamboo basket which fell onto its side. As soon as the lid came off there was a sudden hiss and a huge blood red snake shot out of the basket straight towards his face.

Guo Jing was startled and jumped back. He saw the snake was still partly coiled in the basket so he wasn't sure how long it was. Its head waved back and forth as its forked tongue flickered at him. Mongolia has a cold climate and all the snakes that he had seen there were small. This blood red snake certainly didn't look like any snake he’d seen before. He felt terrified as he slowly stepped back until he bumped into the table knocking the candle over. In an instant the candle went out and the room was plunged into total darkness.

With the medicine in hand he quickly rushed towards the door. Just as he reached it he felt something loop around his leg as if someone was wrapping a thick rope around it very tightly. Without time to think he tried to jump up. However the thing wouldn't let go and then he felt a cold sensation on his right arm and found that he could no longer move it.

Guo Jing knew that the snake had wrapped around him so he used his left arm to feel around his waste for the knife that Temujin had given him long ago. The sudden stench of a pungent medicine like smell assailed his nostrils and he felt something cold on his face. It was the snake's tongue flicking on his cheek. By then there was no time to find his knife so he grabbed the snake firmly by its neck. The snake was incredibly powerful and began to squeeze tighter and its head moved closer to his face...

Guo Jing tried to hold the snake back but his arm was becoming numb and it became difficult to breathe as the snake tightened its grip around his chest. When he tried to use his internal energy to loosen the snake’s grip it did give him slight relief, before the snake resumed its crushing grip. Guo Jing's left arm was beginning to lose strength. The stench of the snake’s breath was unbearable and made him feel nauseous. He knew that he would not be able to hold off the snake for much longer. Eventually he might lose consciousness, loosen his grip, and then the snake would finish him.

o0o

When the dwarf, knocked unconscious by Guo Jing, eventually came around his first thought was, “Where is that guy?” He looked over to his masters store room but saw it was dark and silent. He assumed Guo Jing had already fled. He rushed back towards the ‘Fragrant Snow Hall’ to report to his master Liang Ziwong.

Huang Rong was shocked when she heard the dwarf's report. She executed the move ‘Goose Lands on Flat Sand’ to quietly drop to the ground. When the guests in the hall were listening to Wanyan Honglie's story no one paid any attention to what was going outside. However, as soon as they were interrupted by the dwarf's news this was no longer the case. In a room full of people with high martial arts abilities who were no longer distracted, would any of them fail to notice Huang Rong's almost silent move outside? Liang Ziwong was the first to move. In a flash he was outside and standing in front of Huang Rong, blocking her path. “Who are you?” he demanded.

Huang Rong could see by the way Liang Ziwong moved that his ability exceeded hers. Considering that there was a room full of highly skilled martial artists this was no time to start a fight, so she simply smiled and said sweetly, “This plum tree has such beautiful blossoms, could you please break a twig off for me?”

Liang Ziwong didn't expect to see such a beautiful young woman standing outside dressed in splendid clothing. When he heard her delicate laugh, ‘like pearls tinkling on jade’, he couldn't help being surprised. He thought that she must be a palace lady, possibly the lady Qian Jin, so he immediately broke off a twig of plum blossoms to give to her.

Huang Rong smiled and received the blossoms saying “Thank you kind sir.”

By this time, the rest of the guests were standing by the door watching the proceedings. Peng Lianhu turned to Wanyan Honglie and asked, “Sire, is this lady from the palace?” Wanyan Honglie shook his head and said, “No.”

Peng Lianhu went over and stood in front of Huang Rong blocking her way, saying, “Please wait for a moment lady. Let me also break off some blossoms for you.” His right hand moved to execute a holding lock, grabbing her wrist, extending his five fingers towards her side, then suddenly flipping his hand into a claw and striking at her throat!

Huang Rong initially intended to pretend to be a simple lady with no martial abilities and not that bright so as to play for time and find a way to escape. She didn't expect that Peng Lianhu not only had great martial abilities but that he was very sharp and saw right through her deception. His blow was so strong that she had no alternative but to dodge, raise her right hand in a sweep, thumb touching index finger, the remaining fingers outstretched, like an orchid shooting out. Her execution of this move was not only of the highest skill but also exquisitely beautiful.

Peng Lianhu knew that if she landed her strike on his ‘Corner Pool’ accupoint then his whole arm would become numb and useless, so he was suddenly forced to change his strike to avoid her counter strike. He was shocked that not only did this very young lady have outstanding skills and speed, but she also knew accupoint kung fu. Although he had seen many types of kung fu in his time, he had never seen this ‘Orchid Touch’ accupoint style before.

The ‘Orchid’ style relies upon speed, accuracy, surprise and purity. Of these, purity was the most important. It requires graceful execution and an easy, relaxed manner to execute properly, as if the person using it had not a care in the world. If it was executed with too much urgency or viciousness then it would lose its advantage in a fight.

As Huang Rong executed the ‘Orchid’ style everyone else watched in astonishment. Peng Lianhu laughed, “Little girl, what is your good name please? Who is your honorable master?”

Huang Rong smiled and replied, “This sprig of plum blossoms is quite pretty is it not? I must go and put it into a vase!” She didn't answer Peng Lianhu at all. Everyone else looked at her suspiciously wondering where on earth she came from.

Hou Tonghai said sternly, “Elder Peng asked your name. What's the matter, didn't you hear?” Huang Rong asked innocently, “He asked something?”

Peng Lianhu had actually seen Huang Rong earlier in the day, in disguise, making fun of Hou Tonghai; seeing her here now, acting so impertinently, he suddenly thought, “That filthy beggar boy was actually you in disguise!” Suppressing a laugh he said, “Old Hou, don't you recognize who that girl is?”

Hou Tonghai was shocked. He looked Huang Rong over a couple of times while Peng Lianhu said, “You were chasing someone around in circles all day today, how could you forget?”

Hou Tonghai looked blankly at Huang Rong until at last he recognized her, “Yeah, that filthy boy!” When he was chasing Huang Rong, he never stopped cursing her as ‘Filthy boy’. Even though ‘he’ had now become a ‘she’ he couldn’t help but curse her as before. He raised both fists and charged at her only to grab air as Huang Rong deftly dodged aside.

The ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ Sha Tongtian's body became a blur as he moved forward and clasped Huang Rong’s right wrist calling out “Where are you running to?”

Huang Rong’s left hand shot up and struck at his eyes with two fingers, but Sha Tongtian was too fast and grabbed her left wrist as well. Huang Rong struggled to free herself, but try as she might she was not able to. Instead she shouted, “Shameless!” Sha Tongtian asked, “What’s shameless?”

“Big men bullying a girl and trying to take advantage of her!” she replied indignantly.

Sha Tongtian was surprised at this comment. He was after all a famous elder martial artist and this did appear to be a case of the strong bullying the weak. He relaxed his grip and said, “Go into the hall and we will talk.” Huang Rong saw she had no alternative but to enter the Hall.

“Before we do any talking let me cut this filthy tyke down to size first!” Hou Tonghai angrily demanded as he raised his fists to strike.

Peng Lianhu stopped him, cautioning, “First we need to find out who her Shifu is and what school she belongs to.” He could tell from her fighting style and appearance that she must be from a great school. It would be better to find out who she was before doing anything too hasty. Hou Tonghai didn't pay any attention to him and launched an attack at Huang Rong.

She stepped aside and responded, “So you really want to fight eh?”

“You're not going to get away”, Hou Tonghai retorted. He was afraid that if she did get away he would never be able to catch her again.

“If you want to have a little competition with me, that’s not a problem.” she said as she took up a full wine bowl from the table and placed it on her head. She then grabbed another full wine bowl in each hand and continued, “Do you dare to take up this challenge?”

Hou Tonghai was suspicious, “What kind of mischief is this?”

Huang Rong looked around at the assembled guests and smiled as she said, “This big-horned uncle and I have no deep grievance. If I am able to defeat him, what happens then?”

Hou Tonghai angrily stepped forward and yelled, “You defeat me? Listen you smelly little brat, this is a carbuncle not a horn. Take a good look and stop spouting crap!”

Huang Rong didn't pay any attention to him and continued addressing the others. “Let him and I compete with three full bowls of wine each. Who ever is the first to spill a drop will be considered the loser, is that fair enough?” She had seen Liang Ziwong, Peng Lianhu and Sha Tongtian in action and knew that she would be no match for any of them in a fight. However if this three horned dragon, with more teasing, can be enticed to fight using lightness skills and quick wits she will have the advantage. If you were to compare true martial ability she may not be his equal but she thought, “Right now my only chance is to play the fool and hope they don't find me a threat and let me go.”

Hou Tonghai yelled, “Who wants to play monkey tricks with you!” and with that he launched another fierce attack.

Huang Rong again dodged still holding the wine and laughed, “Ok! I'll hold the three bowls of wine and you can attack without any bowls. Let's compete!”

Hou Tonghai was more than twice as old as she. Although his name was not as famous as that of his martial brother Sha Tongtian, he was still a fairly respected member of the martial arts world. To receive such a taunt in front of his peers was enough to make him even angrier. Without further thought he grabbed three bowls of wine, placing one on his head and the others in his hands. He bent his left leg and sent a vicious kick towards Huang Rong with his right.

Huang Rong laughed, “Well done! This shows the talents of a true hero.” She then began to display her ‘Lightness’ qing gong by moving all around the room. Hou Tonghai launched a series of kicks at her but she was able to avoid them all. Everyone began to roar with laughter seeing such a ridiculous fight.

Huang Rong kept her upper body completely steady as she glided about the room. Lumbering behind her, taking large steps was Hou Tonghai. She began spinning as she moved, her skirt forming a circle, as she alternated between dodging and attacking. She tried to use her elbows to knock over one of Hou Tonghai's wine bowls; however he was always able to avoid her attacks.

Liang Ziwong thought to himself, “This girl's kung fu is certainly considerable; but all things considered, she is still no match for brother Hou. However who wins and who loses is of no concern to me.” His main concern was for the treasured medicinal herbs in his storeroom, so he turned and headed out the door to find the thief.

He thought, “The four medicines listed on the prescription, ‘Dragon's Blood’, ‘Pseudo Ginseng’, ‘Bear Gallbladder’ and ‘Myrrh’ are the same as those the Prince ordered to be bought up. Those herbs are nothing special and not very expensive, so their loss is minimal; but what does concern me is what else he may have taken while he was in there.

o0o

Guo Jing was beginning to lose consciousness as the snake squeezed tighter and tighter. From the smell and the feel of the snake's breath on his face he knew its head must be getting closer. If the snake was able to bite him he would surely die. The snake’s body was already brushing against his mouth. His body was immobile, held fast in the snake’s deadly vice-like grip. His left hand, which was desperately trying to hold back the snake, was growing weaker. The only thing that he could move was his head and mouth; so he opened his mouth and bit hard into the snake’s neck. The snake began to writhe and squeeze even tighter as it felt pain from Guo Jing’s teeth. Guo Jing felt a gush of snake blood flow into his mouth. It tasted extremely bitter and was hard to bear. He didn't know if it was poisonous or not but he was too afraid to let go and spit it out. He feared that he might not get a second chance to bite the snake again so he had no option but to swallow. He also thought that the more blood the snake lost the more strength it would also lose and would eventually loosen its grip. He redoubled his efforts to suck out the snake’s blood and continued to swallow. After continuing this for a while his stomach became full and the snake did gradually begin to loosen its grip. Finally, after a few spasms, the snake loosened its grip entirely and moved no more.

Guo Jing was by now exhausted and had to lean heavily against the table to remain upright. His first thought was to flee; however both his legs were still numb from the lack of blood flow so he was forced to wait for the circulation to reach all of his limbs again. After a few minutes he felt his body getting hotter as if he was burning up. He was very worried but after a short while he found that he could move again. However the feeling of extreme heat still coursed through his body. When he pressed the back of his hand against his cheek it felt burning hot.

The packets of medicine were still safely in his coat. “Now that I have the medicine I can help Wang Chuyi. Mu Yi and his daughter, though innocent of any wrong doing, were locked up by Wanyan Kang and are likely to be killed. I must help them escape before I leave.” With this thought he left the storeroom and, after looking for the right direction, headed off to the prison where Mu Yi and his daughter were being held.

When he arrived at the prison he saw a group of guards patrolling and keeping a close watch. Guo Jing waited a time but found no way to get in as they had the first time. He went around to the back of the building and waited for a guard patrol to go past. Then he leaped lightly onto the roof of the building wall, then quietly into the courtyard within. Leaning against a wall he listened for the presence of soldiers. When he was sure that the coast was clear he whispered quietly “Elder Mu, I've come to help you get out of here.”

Mu Yi was shocked. “Kind Sir, who are you?” he asked. Guo Jing replied, “Junior's name is Guo Jing.”

Mu Yi vaguely heard the name Guo Jing, but after the events of the past day and being weak from injuries, it didn’t register at first. Then the two words 'Guo Jing' hit his brain like a thunderclap. With a trembling voice he asked, “What? Guo Jing? Your...your...surname is Guo?”

Guo Jing replied, “Yes, junior is the one who fought with the young prince earlier today in front of the arena.” Mu Yi asked, “What is your father's name?”

“My late father's name was Xiaotian.” When Guo Jing was young he didn't know his father’s name. It was only later after Zhu Cong taught him to read that he was able to learn his father's name.

Mu Yi's eyes filled with tears. He raised his head and said softly, “Heaven, oh Heaven!” He reached his hands through the bars and tightly held Guo Jing’s hand.

Guo Jing could feel Mu Yi's hands trembling and at the same time felt tears dropping onto his hand. He thought to himself, “Elder Mu is very grateful that I’ve come to rescue them.”

He quietly whispered, “I have a sharp knife which I am going to use to cut away the lock and then both of you can come out. Earlier I heard the young prince talking. I know he is trying to deceive you, please don't trust him!”

Mu Yi however asked, “Your mother…is her surname Li? Has she passed away or is she still alive?” “Oh!” Guo Jing asked surprised, “How do you know my mother’s surname? My mother is in Mongolia.” Mu Yi became even more excited when he heard this. He continued holding Guo Jing's hand.

Guo Jing said, “Let my hand go so that I can cut off the lock.”

Mu Yi held Guo Jing's hand as if it were the most precious treasure in the world. He was afraid if he let it go he would lose Guo Jing so he continued to hold fast, sighing, “You...you have grown up into such a big man. Ai! I only have to close my eyes and I can see your father, now long departed from this world.”

“You knew my father?”

“Your father was my sworn brother. We swore to help our fellow countrymen.” At this point his throat became choked with emotion and he was unable to continue. When Guo Jing heard this, he found his eyes becoming moist with tears as well.

Mu Yi was in fact Yang Tiexin. During the battle with the government soldiers he suffered a deep spear wound in his back. He managed to cling to a horse and was carried for several li before he finally lost consciousness and fell off into a clump of bushes. The next morning, when he awoke, he crawled to a nearby farmer’s hut where he remained for over a month recovering. By then he could struggle out of bed with the aid of a walking stick. The village nearby was called Lotus Pond village and was only about fourteen to sixteen li [7-8 kilometers /4-5 miles] from his own Ox Village. Luckily the farmer’s family was very kind and took care of him as he slowly recovered. However he was worried about his wife and wanted to go back and look for her in Ox Village. Since he was afraid that government soldiers might still be there searching for him, he waited until midnight before returning to his old house to look around. When he arrived there he saw the door ajar which made him fear that the worst had happened. He pushed it open and walked in. He looked around and saw things were very much as they were the night that they had to flee. There were some half finished clothes that his wife, Bao Xiruo, had left lying on the bed. On the wall, where his two family spears usually hung, one was missing, probably taken by one of the soldiers that night. That left one, looking as if, like himself, it too had had lost its partner/wife. Apart from that, nothing else was disturbed and everything was covered by a thick layer of dust...

When he went over to his sworn brother’s house, it too was much the same as the night they left. He thought about the old wine seller Qu San with his incredible martial arts skills and wondered if he might be able to help him find his sworn brother's family and his wife. However, when he went to the wine shop he found it was locked up and no one was there. Yang Tiexin (now disguised as Mu Yi) made inquiries amongst his acquaintances in Ox Village but they all said that after the soldiers had left there had been no news of Guo or Yang.

He went to Red Plum village to ask about his wife at his father-in –law’s house only to find that his father-in-law had died of shock shortly after hearing the news of the soldiers attack. Yang Tiexin wanted to cry, but had no tears left to shed. Dejected, he returned to Lotus Pond village and the farmer's family who had cared for him.

However, as the saying goes, ‘Troubles never visit in isolation’. An epidemic of plague had broken out and one by one the farmer's family was stricken. After only a few days six of them died leaving only a newborn baby girl alive. Yang Tiexin was duty bound to care for her so he made her his adopted daughter and took her with him on his quest to find Li Ping and Bao Xiruo. Since one was halfway to the northern steppe and the other already in the north what chance did he have of finding them?

Yang Tiexin didn't dare use his real name since he was a wanted man hunted by government soldiers. So he 'split' the character of his surname, ‘Yang’ in half and used the left side to form the new character ‘Mu’ for his assumed surname and the right half to form the character ‘Yi’ for his personal name.

[Translators Note: The character "Yang" is made up of the character "Mu" or wood and "Yang" for the sound. The whole character actually means Poplar Tree as well as being a surname. The "Mu" of his assumed name actually means solemn and has another part of a character on the right side. The "Yang" character is pronounced as "Yi" by itself and means "Change" as well as other meanings. This is coincidently the same "Yi" as the "Yi Jing" or "I Ching" - classic of changes. I'm sure there are quite a few allusions in this simple name change from which those who know Chinese history and culture well could have hours of fun analyzing. Also it is a common fact that when a man is forced to alter his name he is reluctant to lose touch with the original name, so the name Yang Tiexin choose is not in keeping with custom. Anyway - on with the story!]

After ten years of fruitless searching the ‘Rivers and Lakes’ region [Jianghu] his adopted daughter Mu Nianci had grown like a flower into a lovely young woman. Yang Tiexin thought that his wife had likely died at the hands of marauding soldiers by now. But he still held out the hope that heaven was not blind to the sufferings of man, and that Guo Xiaotian's wife had given birth to a son (Guo Jing) who was alive. As soon as Mu Nianci was of marriageable age he stuck his spear into the ground, erected a banner proclaiming a competition to win the hand of his daughter and waited with the hope that Guo Jing would one day come and win her hand in marriage, thus fulfilling his hope and pledge to become the father-in-law of his sworn brother's son.

Although many tried, no Guo Jing was among them; after the better part of a year, his hope of finding Guo Jing began to fade. Now he would have to be content to find any man of good character and martial ability to marry his adopted daughter. Then, suddenly, on this one day, they encountered embarrassment at the hands of Wanyan Kang, help from a heroic stranger and by nightfall to find out that the heroic stranger is none other than Guo Jing. How could he help but be overwhelmed with emotion?

Meanwhile, Mu Nianci began to grow impatient listening to them talk about the past. She wanted Guo Jing to help them escape first and then, when they were safe, talk over old times at leisure. Then she had a sudden thought, “If we leave now, I will never see 'him' again!” As soon as the thought came to her, she hurriedly pushed it aside. Guo Jing was also thinking that getting everybody out was the most important thing so he slowly raised his golden knife ready to strike the lock and cut it open.

Suddenly a glint of light appeared under the door and the sound of many footsteps could be heard approaching. Guo Jing quickly slipped behind a door just as the prison doors were pushed open and in marched several people. Through the crack in the door Guo Jing could see the person in front was a bodyguard carrying a lantern. Behind him was the Prince’s Consort, Wanyan Kang's mother.

She asked the bodyguard, “Are these two the people whom the young prince imprisoned?” The bodyguard replied, “Yes.” confirming it was them.

She then ordered the guard on duty, “Release them immediately.”

The bodyguard hesitated, reluctant to obey the order so she said, “If the young prince asks why you released them, tell him I ordered it; now quickly open the lock and free them!”

The guard dare not refuse the order any longer and opened the lock freeing them. The consort then produced two ingots of silver from her cloak and passed them to Yang Tiexin saying softly, “Please go safely!”

Yang Tiexin didn't take the silver but just stared at her without so much as a blink. The consort assumed from his stare that he was angry with her and felt remorse for what they had suffered. In a gentle voice she apologized, “Please forgive us, my son, by his disgraceful behavior, has wronged both of you most gravely today.”

Yang Tiexin stared at her a while longer before slowly taking the silver and putting it in his robe without a word. He then took his daughter's hand and walked out of the prison.

The bodyguard called after him. “Hey you scum, don't you have any manners? When our lady saves your life you should get down on your knees and kowtow to show your thanks!” But Yang Tiexin kept on walking as if he had not heard.

Guo Jing waited until they had closed the door. Only when he heard the consort was far enough away did he emerge from hiding and look around. By then there was no sign of Yang Tiexin or his daughter. He thought that they must have left the palace by now so he had better return to the ‘Fragrant Snow Hall’ and pull Huang Rong away from her listening so they could hurry back with the medicine for Wang Chuyi. As he rushed off following the winding path he saw two figures carrying red lanterns coming directly towards him in what seemed a great hurry. Guo Jing tried to hide behind some decorative rockery but he was too late, he had already been spotted.

“Who's there!” shouted one man as he dashed forward with his hands raised in a claw stance.

Guo Jing could only raise his arms to block the strike. In the light of the two lanterns he was able to clearly see that his attacker was none other than Wanyan Kang!

As it turned out, the bodyguard, after releasing the prisoners, had hurriedly reported the consort's actions to the young prince. Wanyan Kang was shocked when he heard this.

He thought to himself, “Mother's heart has always been too soft and she does not know the consequences of the old man and his daughter getting away! If my Shifu were to hear about this, and were to bring them to face me, how could I deny what's been going on! I would really be in much trouble!” He immediately rushed off to search for them and see if he could stop them in time before they actually escaped from the palace compound. Running into Guo Jing was the last thing he expected.

They had already fought viciously that day and now they meet again in the middle of the night. One was in a hurry to rush back with medicine, the other in a hurry to kill two people to seal their lips. Now they fought even more viciously than before. Guo Jing tried to escape a couple of times but was blocked by Wanyan Kang. When Guo Jing saw the bodyguard coming forward drawing his sword ready to assist his master he thought things were going badly indeed!

o0o

Liang Ziwong thought that Huang Rong was about to be defeated and turned to leave, but to his surprise he heard a call from the crowd that indicated a change in the situation. Huang Rong suddenly raised both her arms and tossed her head sending the three bowls of wine soaring straight up in the air. She then swung both fists towards Hou Tonghai and struck using a move called ‘Eight Steps to Overtake the Moon’. Because Hou Tonghai was holding the wine bowls he couldn't block the strike and instead dodged quickly to the left. Huang Rong followed through with a flash of her right hand leaving Hou Tonghai no option this time but to block with his arm. Not only was he unable to stop the wine in his hands from spilling, but the bowl perched atop his head also tipped over and fell to the floor with a crash.

Huang Rong instantly stepped back and caught two of her bowls in mid air while the remaining one fell neatly onto the soft cloud of her hair, all without spilling so much as a drop of wine. Those present could not help murmuring ‘Excellent’ after seeing this brilliant performance of skill. Ouyang Ke however didn't murmur his praise but said it rather loudly. Sha Tongtian shot him an angry glare; but Ouyang Ke did not notice and again called out, “Brilliant indeed!”

Hou Tonghai's cheeks flushed red, “Try that again!”

Huang Rong laughed and touched her cheek with a finger and said, “Now, now, aren't you ashamed?”

Sha Tongtian, seeing his younger martial brother's loss of face, let out a grunt, “Young girl, you are certainly full of devious tricks. Tell us, who is your master?”

Huang Rong smiled sweetly saying, “I'll tell you tomorrow. Right now I must be on my way.”

Without appearing to bend a leg or take a step Sha Tongtian suddenly appeared in the doorway blocking Huang Rong's exit. Just a few minutes earlier Huang Rong had already learned just how powerful Sha Tongtian's kung fu was when he had grabbed and locked both of her hands. Now his ‘Change Form Exchange Place’ maneuver only served to highlight just how powerful an opponent he would be. Although she felt a slight rush of worry, her face didn't betray her feelings. Instead she showed a slight frown and asked in a slightly annoyed tone, “Why are you blocking my way?”

Sha Tongtian replied, “I want you to tell me which school you belong to and why you came barging into the palace.” Huang Rong arched her pretty eyebrows and asked, “And what if I don't tell you?”

Sha Tongtian snapped, “When the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ asks a question, there is no choice but to answer!”

Huang Rong saw that she was surrounded and there wasn't much chance of her making a run for it. She had seen Liang Ziwong about to leave and called out to him pleading sweetly, “Uncle! This bad man is blocking my way and won’t let me go home.”

Liang Ziwong laughed when he heard her pleading in such a cute manner. “The ‘Dragon King’ has only asked you a question, why don't you be a nice girl and answer him? I'm sure he will let you go then.”

Huang Rong laughed in her most charming way and replied, “But I just don't feel like answering.” And then to Sha Tongtian she said, “OK - If you won't make way, I'll just have to dash through.”

Sha Tongtian laughed coldly, “Only if you have the ability to get past.” Huang Rong demanded, “You must not lay a finger on me!”

Sha Tongtian replied, “What need is there for me, the ‘Dragon King’, to move a finger in order to stop a little girl like you.”

Huang Rong exclaimed, “Good, it's settled then. A gentleman cannot go back on his word. Dragon King Sha, do you see that?” She pointed with her left hand off to one side of the room. Sha Tongtian looked over to where she was pointing and at this point Huang Rong made a dash to get past him while he was distracted.

She moved with blinding speed, but Sha Tongtian's reaction was even faster. He shot his right two fingers up and aimed towards her eyes as she moved forward. If she didn't stop she would be blinded. Luckily she was agile enough to stop in time and leap back away from the danger. She tried again and again from many different angles but each time she found her way blocked no matter how quickly she moved. Finally, when she found her nose almost smashing into Sha Tongtian's shiny bald head threatening to stain it with blood from her broken nose, she gave up with a little shriek of frustration.

Liang Ziwong laughed heartily, “Dragon King Sha is a master at this, there is no point in continuing. Why not just admit defeat?” He then turned away and set off at a rapid pace back to his medicine store room.

As soon as he stepped into the room he smelled fresh blood and knew that all was not well. He looked down and saw, by the glow of his torch, the shriveled body of his prized red snake. All its blood had been drained and his stores of medicines were strewn about the place. Liang Ziwong's blood ran cold. Twenty years of work had been destroyed in one night! He clutched the body of his dead snake and couldn't control his tears.

The Ginseng Immortal was originally a ginseng picker on Changbai Mountain. Later he killed a seriously wounded senior master and from inside his sack he took a manual of martial arts secrets along with ten or so prescriptions for the preparation of different types of medicines, drugs and potions. The study of this book combined with use of these drugs would lead to martial arts of incredible power. Part of the preparation of the drugs required the raising of a special type of venomous snake. He searched deep in the forests and mountains to find this type of snake and fed it the most precious of herbs and other medicines. The snake’s body was originally black, but over the years as he fed it cinnabar it gradually began to turn a bright red. After twenty years of feeding the snake it had only a few more days before it completed its transformation. Then he was called to Yanjing to meet with the Prince. When the snake was ready he need only drink the blood of the snake and meditate to gain the full benefit of the martial arts power. This would make his kung fu more powerful than ever. Seeing his life’s work not only lost to him, and possibly someone else having benefited instead, was more than he could bear.

After a few moments he managed to compose himself and saw that the traces of blood on the snake had not yet congealed. He realized then that it couldn't have been very long since the snake died, so the culprit must still be near by. He immediately leapt up into a tall tree and looked all around for any signs of the thief. From there he saw the vicious fight between Guo Jing and Wanyan Kang going on in the garden. Burning with fury and anger, he leaped down and sped off towards the fight. As soon as he arrived he could already smell the pungent smell of the snake's blood coming from Guo Jing.

Guo Jing was not yet Wanyan Kang's equal when it came to fighting, so from the start he was already at a disadvantage. To make matters worse, he felt his stomach burning with an unbearable heat as if it were full of boiling water. He was terribly thirsty and itched excruciatingly all over his body.

“This time I'm certain to die.” he thought. “The snake's poison is beginning to take hold.”

In the midst of these fearful thoughts he was being struck repeatedly by Wanyan Kang's fists which were made even more painful by the effects of the poison.

“You filthy bastard!” Liang Ziwong yelled, “Who sent you to steal my precious snake?” He couldn't imagine that some stupid kid would know the secret of the snake. He thought it must be someone else who put him up to the task. In fact he was almost certain that it was Wang Chuyi who had sent Guo Jing.

When Guo Jing heard this he was furious. “That precious snake of yours attacked and poisoned me! I've got a bone of contention to pick with you!” and he leaped towards Liang Ziwong with his fists raised ready to attack.

Liang Ziwong however smelled the scent of medicines mingled with the snake blood and had an evil thought. “He has drunk the snake’s blood. If I kill him now and drink his blood then I may still gain the beneficial effects. Who knows, maybe the drug's effects will be enhanced...” As soon as he thought of this his anger vanished and he leaped towards Guo Jing to meet his attack. With his superior kung fu he was able to easily lock Guo Jing's arms and legs and hold him down. He then prepared to bite into Guo Jing's neck to extract his precious medicine...

o0o

Meanwhile Huang Rong, no matter how quickly she moved, had not been able to get past Sha Tongtian. She was getting anxious about what would happen if he decided to catch her. She decided that a change of tactics may be appropriate. “If I can get through the door then you promise to let me be, okay?” She asked.

“If you can get through the door I will admit defeat.” Sha Tongtian replied. “Ai yo! What a pity my father only taught me the skill of entering, not the skill of leaving.” she sighed. “What is this 'entering' and 'leaving' skill?” Sha Tongtian asked half doubting, half curious.

“Your ‘Change Form Exchange Place’ skill, although not bad, is still far below those of my father's skills. Way below in fact.” she boasted.

“Don't talk nonsense you stupid girl.” Sha Tongtian retorted angrily. “Anyway, who is your father?”

“If I told you my father's name, I'm afraid I would scare you out of your wits, so it's best if I don't say.” Huang Rong replied mischievously. “When he taught me the skill of entering he hid by the door way and I tried to rush in from outside. I tried many times but was never able to get past him. However, even though I cannot get out against you with your piddling skills, there is no way that you could stop me from getting back in. I wouldn't even have to raise a sweat!”

Sha Tongtian laughed coldly and said, “From outside going in or from inside going out, what's the difference? OK you come here and show me!” With that he moved aside to let her demonstrate the great 'entering' kung fu of which she boasted.

Huang Rong immediately shot outside and laughed, “Ha, you fell for my trick. You said a minute ago that if I could get through the door that you would admit defeat and would let me go. Well am I outside now? Did I not go through the door? Come now Dragon King Sha, you are an honorable man; your word is your bond. You cannot think of going back on what you promised in front of all these gentlemen.”

Although Sha Tongtian knew that she had tricked him, she was correct, his word was his bond and he could hardly go back on what he promised. He scratched his bald head and flushed red but could see no way to get out of it.

Peng Lianhu, however, was not about to let Huang Rong get away. He suddenly shot out a stream of darts [fei biao] towards her. The darts were extremely fast but they were aimed near to the back of her head rather than right at her. When they hit the stone pillar by the door however, they ricocheted towards her. They were too fast for her to catch and she had no choice but to leap forward a pace to avoid them. The darts continued in a stream and each one forced her to move forward a few inches. Before she knew it she had moved back inside the hall again!

Peng Lianhu’s objective all along had been to force her back into the room and everyone watching proclaimed their praise at his skill. He just laughed and said, “What's this? You've gone back inside again!”

Huang Rong scowled, “Huh! You used your concealed weapons to bully a girl and force her to move, what's so fantastic about that!” “Who was bullying you?” he asked incredulously. “I never laid a finger on you or harmed you!”

“Then let me go!” she said angrily.

“First tell us who taught you your kung fu.” he demanded.

Huang Rong smiled and said, “I taught myself whilst in my mother's womb!”

Peng Lianhu said, “If you're not willing to tell us then perhaps I can find out another way!” With this he shot his fist straight towards her shoulder. Huang Rong didn't move or try to block the blow. She figured that he wouldn't dare to act so shamelessly as to hit a girl who refused to fight back.

When Peng Lianhu saw she wasn't going to fight he pulled his punch and withdrew his arm shouting, “Come on, show me what you've got. Stupid girl! I bet I can find out who your master by your style of fighting within ten moves.” He had seen many styles during his life and although he had seen that Huang Rong was a very crafty girl, he was confident that she would not be able to hide her real martial arts style from him in a true fight. In fact he thought he needed no more than ten moves to do so.

Huang Rong asked, “And if you have not found out within ten moves?”

“Then I will let you walk free.” he replied. Without further ado he launched an attack using 'Triple Linked Penetration' so called because it incorporated three movements.

Huang Rong turned her body and dodged while forming a ring with her thumb and little finger and stretching the remaining fingers to form a three-pronged fork. Using this she counter attacked using the 'Night Trident Searches the Sea'.

Hou Tonghai cried out, "'Night Trident Searches the Sea’! Senior Brother, this brat must be from the ... our school of martial arts!”

“Rubbish!” Sha Tongtian scolded. He knew the Huang Rong had already been teasing and making fun of Hou Tonghai for some time before tonight. He figured that she must have picked up the 'Night Trident Searches the Sea!' from her earlier encounters fighting with Hou Tonghai.

Peng Lianhu couldn't suppress a laugh as he whirled around to attack again. Huang Rong turned obliquely to the left and without bending a knee or taking a step suddenly 'moved' to the side.

Hou Tonghai again exclaimed, "‘Change Form Exchange Place’ ! Senior Brother, did you teach her that?” Sha Tonghai again scolded him saying, “Can you shut up - okay? You’re always saying stupid things!” However, inside he couldn't help but admire Huang Rong's intelligence and skill in learning the basics of such a move after only having seen it once. Even if the execution of the move wasn't entirely correct, she had been able to dodge Peng Lianhu's strike. An amazing achievement!

As the fight continued Huang Rong attacked using the ‘Soul Smashing Knife’ followed by the 'Soul Snatching Whip’ strikes. When Hou Tonghai saw these attacks and heard her call out "Yi Yi Yi" with each strike he couldn't help but call out, “Senior Brother! This brat must be from our school...” If he hadn't seen Sha Tonghai's face growing angrier by the minute he would have again called out the name of the sects moves.

Peng Lianhu was also getting angrier. He thought to himself, “So far I've been kind and have shown mercy with my attacks, but this girl is craftier than a witch. If I don't start using more vicious attacks I take the chance of not forcing her to reveal her true style.”

Martial Artists, after training in their chosen style, may pick up moves from other styles and over time can even become quite proficient at them. However, in a life and death struggle, they will always return to their roots and use the style that they first learned and are most familiar with.

Peng Lianhu's first four strikes had been mild and contained no desire to injure. However from his fifth strike on his moves became like a whirlwind. When the spectators saw his moves take on a vicious turn they couldn't help but become worried for Huang Rong. No one had any idea of her background and although she had been stubborn, no one actually had any real grievance with her or wanted to see such a young, pretty and charming girl come to harm.

No one except for Hou Tonghai that is, who actually thought, “The sooner the bitch is dead the better!”

Huang Rong continued to hide her style by using strikes from Wanyan Kang's ‘Absolute Perfection School' [Quanzhen] and Guo Jing's 'Southern Mountain Fists' style. She had only just learned these moves by seeing them earlier the same day when Guo Jing and Wanyan Kang fought using them in the arena. For the seventh move she even used Peng Lianhu's 'Triple Linked Penetration' that she first saw only six moves ago! However now it was getting more and more dangerous. Even in a straight fight with Huang Rong using all her strength and true skills against Peng Lianhu she would not be able to prevail, how could she expect to survive using tricks picked up by observing others? She was gambling against the fact that, even though he was using vicious strokes, he wouldn't actually go so far as to kill her.

Ouyang Ke thought, “This little girl is remarkably smart. She can hold herself against that Peng guy's fists.” Aloud he said, “Ai yo. Watch out, watch out. Why haven't you dodged left?”

Peng Lianhu's style used a brilliant mixture of false and real strikes, which he was able to switch between at will. On the eighth move he made a feint with his left and a real lunge with his right. Huang Rong expected him to do the opposite on the next move and feint with his right whilst attacking with his left. This meant that she ought to dodge to her right, but when she heard Ouyang Ke call out she immediately changed her mind and leapt elegantly to the left. This sudden posture was exquisite, and it turned out that nobody in the crowd recognized it.

When Peng Lianhu heard Ouyang Ke's crucial words of help he became furious. He thought, “Do you think that I wont kill you if I have to you stupid girl!” His nickname wasn't 'Butcher with a Thousand Hands' for nothing. He had an extremely cruel nature when angry. When he first saw Huang Rong he thought, that she being so young, and a girl, it would be shameful to kill her; but now, having reached the second last move of the contest and still unable to find her real school, he was so angry that he no longer cared. He struck with 'Push Open the Window and Watch the Moon' using all his force, left hand "Yin", right hand "Yang", one soft, one hard, both pushing out simultaneously.

Huang Rong knew that things were desperate. She stepped back as she saw his fists coming towards her face. All that she could do was to duck her head, bend both her arms, point both elbows forward and strike at his chest.

Peng Lianhu expected her to try and block this strike and intended to follow up with the tenth stroke. However he was taken aback that she should actually try a counter attack against such a vicious strike. He had already half executed the tenth strike 'Falling Star Great Void', but immediately had to concentrate his internal energy to stop it, which was like trying to reign in a horse to keep it from running over a cliff. “You are a disciple of the 'Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’!” he called out with a shiver in his voice.

Huang Rong leapt back several feet. When Peng Lianhu called out these words a wave of fear went through the room. Everyone present, with the exception of Prince Zhao, knew of the dreaded 'Twin Killers of the Dark Winds'. Even the feared ‘Butcher of a Thousand Hands’ Peng was afraid to touch her now.

Before Huang Rong could say anything a cry sounded in the still night air. It was Guo Jing, and he sounded as if he was in real danger. Huang Rong was suddenly concerned about his safety and her face went white with fear.

Guo Jing's arms and legs were held down by Liang Ziwong. He wasn't able to move an inch, but as he saw Liang Ziwong coming closer ready to bite his throat he felt a sudden surge of strength born of desperation. Executing the ‘Carp Arching Backwards' he was able to free himself and leap upright. Liang Ziwong quickly struck again. Guo Jing tried to leap away but Liang Ziwong's speed was like the wind and there was no way Guo Jing could escape him.

"Smack!" a punch hit him square on his back and it was not at all like the earlier punches from Wanyan Kang. This one felt like it penetrated to the bone. Guo Jing was frightened out of his wits and didn't wait for another hit. He continued running straight ahead, away from everyone. His 'Qing Gong' (lightness skill) ability was very good and he used it to his maximum ability to speed through the trees and rockeries of the garden. Liang Ziwong was not able to keep pace. Initially Guo Jing ran very fast but after a short while felt himself becoming slower and he began to pant heavily. There was a big hole torn in the back of his gown and he felt pain from where he had been hit. He thought that the Liang Ziwong’s last punch must have actually been a claw and had taken some of his flesh away along with the back of his gown. He was very worried now and looked frantically for some place to hide. Straight ahead was the Prince’s Consort's shabby compound. He rushed in with the hope that they wouldn't search there and he might be able to make his escape later. He lay down behind the wall at the back and didn't dare to move a muscle. Soon he heard Liang Ziwong and Wanyan Kang, one calling and the other answering, coming closer. Liang Ziwong was so angry he couldn't control his voice as he called out.

Guo Jing anxiously thought, “If I wait here by the wall it's only a matter of time before they find me. The Prince’s Consort seems to have a kind nature, perhaps she will save me.” Given the critical situation he didn't have any time to think further and he quickly slipped inside the house. There he found a lighted candle on the table in the middle of the room. The consort must be in another room. He quickly looked around the room and saw a wooden wardrobe in the east corner which he opened and slipped in before partly closing it, leaving only a crack to see through. He then pulled out his golden knife and allowed himself to relax a little.

He heard footsteps and saw the Prince’s Consort slowly walk in. She sat down at the table and looked at the candle as if in a daze. Before long Wanyan Kang entered and asked "Mother, did some bad man come in and give you a fright?"

The consort shook her head, so Wanyan Kang went outside again and continued searching elsewhere with Liang Ziwong.

Wanyan Kang’s mother then closed the door and seemed as if she was going to bed. Guo Jing thought, “As soon as she blows out the candle I'll slip out through the window and escape. No - I had better wait a while first, in case I run into the young prince and that white haired fellow again. That crazy guy tried to bite my throat. That sure is some weird kind of kung fu! My Shifu's never taught me anything like that. I really must ask them about it next time I see them. Going around and biting people’s throats! What's with that?” He then thought some more, “After fighting so much and being away for so long, Huang Rong must have gone by now. I had better get out as well otherwise she might be wondering what's been keeping me.”

Suddenly the window creaked open and someone leaped in. Both Guo Jing and the consort were shocked. She let out a gasp but Guo Jing noticed that the person who had just entered was none other than Mu Yi or now Yang Tiexin. Guo Jing couldn't have been more surprised. He had assumed that he and his daughter had fled the palace long ago.

When the consort recognized him she quickly said, “Please hurry and leave, before they find you.”

Yang Tiexin replied, “Many thanks for the consort's kind concern. If I didn't come here to thank you in person I would regret it to my dying day.” His words contained the element of sarcasm as if full of bitterness.

The Prince’s Consort sighed and said, “Please forget it. It is my son who has wronged you and your daughter.” Yang Tiexin looked around and saw that besides a table, lamp, bed and wardrobe there was not much else. Everything seemed to be old, worn and familiar. He suddenly felt a wave of sadness and he could not suppress a tear as it trickled down his cheek. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve and walked over to the wall where a lone spear was hanging. He took it down and saw that it was covered with rust. He could still make out the four characters ‘Tiexin Yang Clan’ written on the spear’s blade.

He gently stroked the spear’s shaft and sighed, “This iron spear is rusty. It has not been used for a long while.” The Prince’s Consort spoke softly, “Please don't touch the spear.”

“Why?” Yang Tiexin asked.

“Because this is the most precious possession I have.” she murmured.

Yang Tiexin was suddenly angry. “Really?” he asked bitterly. He paused before going on, “This spear used to have a matching partner, today however only one remains.”

“What?” The Prince’s Consort asked surprised, but he didn't reply. He hung the spear back on the wall and gazed at the broken plough tip while saying absentmindedly, “This plough tip is worn. Tomorrow you should call on Zhang Mu’Er in the east village to take a catty of iron and see if he can repair it.”

When the consort heard this she felt as if she had been struck by a bolt of lightning. For a moment she was speechless as she stared at him. Finally she stammered, “Who...who are you?”

Yang Tiexin replied slowly but evenly, “I said the plough tip is worn. Tomorrow you should call on Zhang Mu’Er in the east village to take a catty of iron and see if he can repair it.”

The woman felt her knees going weak. She again stammered, “Who...who are you? How...how could you know what my late husband said...said the night he died?”

The woman was none other than Yang Tiexin's wife, Bao Xiruo. When Wanyan Honglie was wounded by an arrow that day near Ox village, Bao Xiruo had saved his life. When he saw such a beautiful woman saving his life he couldn't stop thinking about her after he escaped that night. He bribed Duan Tiande to have his soldiers raid Ox village that night so that he could arrange to "save" Bao Xiruo and appear to be a hero. Once her husband and friends were dead she would be alone in the world and would naturally look to her "rescuer" to protect her. If he took her north and was patient enough she would sooner or later give up hope of return and agree to marry to him and start a new life together. During the eighteen years at the palace, her face had not changed much at all. Yang Tiexin's face though had undergone changes from the hardships he’d encountered on the road searching for her. Now, when they’d met again, she could not at first recognize her former husband. After all these years of mutual longing to be together again, this night with so much danger made it seem as if they were in a dream.

Yang Tiexin didn't reply, he just walked over to the table and pulled open a drawer. Inside, he saw a couple of sets of a man's blue coats exactly the same as the ones he used to wear. He picked one up saying, “I have enough coats to wear. You are tired and should rest now that you are pregnant. No need to make more clothes for me.” These words were the same ones spoken by him to her eighteen years earlier when she was pregnant.

Bao Xiruo rushed over to his side and grabbed his sleeve. When she pulled it up she saw an old scar. A mix of surprise and joy suddenly enveloped her. For the past eighteen years she had thought her husband dead and now to recognize him standing before her was like seeing a ghost coming back to life. She immediately hugged him, holding him tightly and crying, “Quickly! Quickly take me with you. Let us leave here now. I will show you a secret gateway where we can slip away unseen. I am not afraid of ghosts. I would rather become a ghost and be together with you than part with you again.”

Yang Tiexin held his wife as warm tears rolled down his cheeks. After a long while his asked gently, “Do you think that I am a ghost?”

“I don't care if you are a man or a ghost, I wont let go of you again.” she sobbed. “How is it that you are still alive? After all these years I can't believe that you are still alive. Where...what..”

Yang Tiexin was about to reply when Wanyan Kang's voice suddenly called from just outside the window, “Mother, why are you crying? Who are you talking to?”

Bao Xiruo had a fright. “It's nothing,” she called out, “I was just dreaming.”

Wanyan Kang had clearly heard the sound of a man's voice talking inside the room. He immediately became suspicious and walked around to the door, knocking gently saying, “Mother, I would like to have a word with you.”

“Tomorrow,” She replied, “Let's talk tomorrow. I'm very tired now and want to sleep.”

When Wanyan Kang heard that his mother was not willing to open the door, his suspicions only increased. “I just want to have a few words then I'll go.”

Yang Tiexin knew that Wanyan Kang was intent on coming in, so he went over to the window with the intention of making a quick get away. He tried to push open the shutter, but to his surprise he found that it wouldn't budge. Someone had locked it from the outside! Bao Xiruo was in a panic. She thought she would play for time and keep talking while Yang Tiexin found a place to hide. She hurriedly pointed to the wardrobe and motioned for her husband to hide inside. Imagine their surprise when they opened the door and found Guo Jing there! Bao Xiruo couldn't help but let out a little scream.

When Wanyan Kang heard this he became extremely worried. He thought someone was trying to harm his mother so he began trying to break open the door with his shoulder. There was no time to lose; Guo Jing grabbed Yang Tiexin and pulled him into the wardrobe and closed the door just as the wooden bar on the bedroom door gave a loud crack and flew open. Wanyan Kang rushed in. He saw his mother's face was pale with fear and her cheeks were wet with tears; but apart from her, there was no one else in the room.

“Mother, what's wrong? What’s been going on?” he asked anxiously.

Bao Xiruo made an effort to compose herself before saying, “Nothing. I’m just not feeling well.”

Wanyan Kang rushed over to her and said, “Mother, I promise I won’t be doing anything stupid again. Please don't be worried. I've been a bad son to make you so worried.”

“OK.” She said in a comforting way, “I'm feeling so tired. Please let me go to bed. I'm very tired and want to sleep.” But Wanyan Kang heard a wavering in her voice and asked, “Mother, are you sure that no one has been here recently?” “Who?” she asked.

“Recently a couple of bandits entered the palace.”

“Really?” She replied. “You really should be going off to bed too. Don't let these things concern you.”

Wanyan Kang said, “Yeah, I'm sure the guards, even though they’re a useless bunch, will be able to take care of them. You need not worry. Please have some rest.”

He was just on the point of leaving when he noticed the corner of a man's robe sticking out from a crack in the wardrobe door. Now he knew that something strange really was going on. He didn't say anything but instead sat down at the table and poured himself a cup of tea which he began to drink slowly while he mulled over what to do. “A man is hiding in the wardrobe, but I don't know if my mother knows this or not.” He took a few more sips of tea before standing up and slowly walking over to the wall where the spear was hanging. “Mother, what did you think of your son's spear skills that your saw earlier today.”

“I have already told you that I don't like you using your skills to bully other people.” Bao Xiruo said in a disapproving tone. Wanyan Kang replied in a hurt tone, “Bully people? I was merely competing one to one in a fair competition with that stupid boy.” He then grabbed the spear off the wall and playfully tried a few strokes. The red tassel on the spear danced about as he executed the 'Rising Phoenix Soaring Dragon' strike aiming straight at the wardrobe. If this stroke went through the wardrobe, Yang Tiexin and Guo Jing, who could not see what was happening, would have no hope of fending off the attack. They would be dead for certain. Seeing this Bao Xiruo immediately fainted!

Wanyan Kang stopped short with his strike. Seeing his mother’s reaction he immediately knew that she knew about the man hiding in the wardrobe. Propping the spear beside him, he lifted his mother up, but watched the wardrobe for any signs of movement all the while.

Slowly Bao Xiruo regained consciousness and when she saw the wardrobe still intact with no spear hole she immediately felt immense relief. Having undergone so many extreme highs and lows of emotions over the past hour she felt very weak all over.

Wanyan Kang was very angry, “Mother, am I your son or not?” he demanded. “Of course you are my son. Why do you ask?"

“Well then, why do you keep so many things secret from me?”

Bao Xiruo thought to herself, “I must tell him about today's events and let him be reunited with his true father. After that I will take my life since I have lost my virtue and thus deeply wronged my husband. In this life I can never be reunited with my husband Tiexin...” At this thought she again burst into tears which now flowed freely.

When Wanyan Kang saw his mother acting so strangely today he didn't know what to think. Finally Bao Xiruo said, “Please take a seat and listen to what I have to say very carefully.” Wanyan Kang sat down as told but he stayed near the spear and continued to watch the wardrobe.

Bao Xiruo asked, “Do you see the four characters written on the spear?”

“When I was a small boy I asked you about those characters, but you refused to tell me what 'Yang Tiexin' meant.” “Well now I am going to tell you what they mean.”

Yang Tiexin hiding in the wardrobe could clearly hear every word that was being said between the mother and son. Having an impulsive nature he thought to himself, “She is a Prince’s Consort now. How could she possibly want to live with me again in a shabby hut in the wilds as a villager’s wife? She is about to reveal my identity; could she actually be planning to have her son kill me?”

He heard her continue, “This spear is originally from a place call Ox Village in Jiangnan near the Song city of Lin’an. I sent men on a journey far away to fetch this for me. That plough, this table, lamp, bed, wardrobe, everything in this room was brought here from Ox Village."

Wanyan Kang interrupted, “I really don't understand why you insist on living in the shabby old shack. I can get you the most beautiful furnishings but you always refuse!”

“You say that this place is shabby. But to me it is better than the most intricately decorated palace! Child, you are not fortunate. You have never lived with your true mother and father in such a shabby place.”

When Yang Tiexin heard this he felt a sudden wave of emotion and could not keep himself from shedding tears.

Wanyan Kang laughed, “Mother, the more you talk the stranger you become. How can father possibly live in this place?”

Bao Xiruo sighed: “Your poor father wandered all over the country for eighteen years living among the Jianghu [rivers and lakes]. He never had the opportunity to live peacefully in this house for even a day.

When Wanyan Kang heard this, his eyes opened wide and asked in a trembling voice, “Mother, what are you saying?” Bao Xiruo asked in a sharp voice, “Who do you think your real father is?”

Wanyan Kang, mystified, said, “My father is the great Jin Prince Zhao. Mother…why are you asking me this?”

Bao Xiruo stood up and took the spear, cradled it in her arms, and with tears flowing again, said. “Child, you don't know, so I can't blame you. This...this is your real father's spear that he used many years ago...” Pointing to the characters on the spear she continued, “This is your real father's name!”

Wanyan Kang felt his body shake. “Mother!” he cried out, “You are talking rubbish. You must be going crazy. I'm going to call for the doctor.”

“Am I talking rubbish? You say that you are a Jin? You are Chinese! Your name is not really Wanyan Kang, it's Yang…Yang Kang!” Wanyan Kang was shocked and very angry. He turned to go, shouting, “I'm going to ask father.”

Bao Xiruo called out, “Your father is in there!” With this she took a bold step towards the wardrobe, pulled open the door and taking Yang Tiexin's hand led him out into the room. 

Chapter 10 – Enemies Meet

Wanyan Kang was shocked to find Yang Tiexin there and then recognized him. He shouted, “It's you!” Brandishing the iron spear, he quickly adopted the ‘Step of the Marching Tiger’ [Hang Bu Deng Hu], followed by the ‘Facing Upwards to Burn a Joss Stick’ [Chao Tian Yi Zhu Xiang]. The tip of the spear gleamed, going straight towards Yang Tiexin's throat.

Bao Xiruo called out, “He's your father, you... Don't you see?” As she raised her head, her son flung her against the wall, causing her to cry out. Wanyan Kang was shocked and quickly took a step back, still holding the spear. He glanced down to see his mother on the floor, her body covered with blood and her breathing shallow, so it was difficult for him to tell for sure if she was going to live or die. Remorse filled him and he was helpless for a moment. Yang Tiexin then bent down and took his wife into his arms and carried her towards the door and outside. Wanyan Kang called out, “Put her down!” He then used the stance ‘The Lone Wild Goose Excels’ [Gu Yan Chu Qun] and the spear, moving like the wind, headed towards his chest.

Yang Tiexin heard the rushing sound behind him and quickly sent out his left hand to counter. He was able to stop the iron spearhead about five inches from its target. On the battlefield, the ‘Yang Family Spear’ was invincible and one move, ‘Turning the Spear on Horseback’ [Hui Ma Qiang] was a unique skill passed from generation to generation. When Yang Tiexin used his left hand to grasp the spearhead, he was actually using some elements of this move but had to improvise a little. Originally, when he grasped the enemy's weapon, he only needed to send out his right hand as the iron spear drew closer, but because he was holding Bao Xiruo, he could only turn around and shout angrily, “The ‘Yang Family Spear’ is passed on only to sons. A pity your Shifu did not teach you this.”

Although Qiu Chuji's kung fu was very high, he actually did not research this spear art very deeply. The ‘Yang Family Spear’ was native to the Song Dynasty and was famous throughout Jianghu, but only nineteen schools were direct descendants of the orthodox school. He knew the principles of the orthodox ‘Yang Family Spear’ and that year when they fought in Ox Village, Yang Tiexin saw evidence of that. As for the unique skills that were passed on only from generation to generation, that, obviously, he did not understand. That was why Wanyan Kang also did not completely absorb the moves of the spear. The forces applied by the two people caused the iron spear, which was already old and its handle already starting to decay, to break into pieces with a "ka" sound. Guo Jing jumped forward and shouted angrily, “You heard that he's your father, why do you not kowtow?”

Wanyan Kang hesitated, unable to decide. Yang Tiexin then cradled his wife in his arms and ran out of the room. Mu Nianci was waiting for him outside to help him and then both father and daughter leapt over the wall.

Guo Jing did not dare wait and also rushed out of the room. He was just about to head towards the wall to flee when he suddenly sensed a rustle in the darkness and something rushing towards his neck. He felt the force of a palm brush the tip of his nose and he felt a severe pain on his face like it was scraped by a knife. This person's internal energy was fierce and moreover, there was barely a sound, nearly taking him completely unaware. He was shocked as he heard the person angrily shout, “Peasant boy, this old man has waited long enough! Extend your neck and let this old man drink your blood!” It was the ‘Ginseng Immortal’ Liang Ziwong.

o0o

Huang Rong heard Peng Lianhu proclaim that she was a disciple of the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’. She laughed and said, “You lose!” Then, she turned around and sprinted towards the hall's entrance.

Peng Lianhu quickly moved his body so that he was blocking the entrance and shouted, “Since you are a disciple of the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’, I won't embarrass you. But you must tell me, why did your Shifu send you here?”

Huang Rong, laughing, said, “You said that if in ten moves you can't recognize my sect, then you will let me leave. Old Senior, why are you being such a rascal?”

Peng Lianhu got angry, “That final move, the ‘Spirit Sea Turtle Step’ [Ling Ao Bu], didn't the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ teach you that?”

Huang Rong laughed, “I only saw the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ a few times and the level of their kung fu is low; how can they match my Shifu?”

Peng Lianhu said, “Your lying is useless.”

Huang Rong answered, “I have actually heard of the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’. I know that those two people are dishonorable; they will stop at no evil and cheat their elders. Their shamelessness is known throughout Wulin. How can Peng Zhaizhu [Chief] compare me to those two obscene people?”

The crowd at first thought that she was just unwilling to tell the truth; but when they heard her slander the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ this way, they could not help but look at each other with blank dismay. Only then did they believe that she was in no way related to the two Corpses' sect. Although some people still wanted to find out if she was lying, they all decided that no one would dare to insult their Shifu in the presence of so many people.

Peng Lianhu stepped aside and said, “Young Miss, you win. Lao Peng admires you very much and wishes to know your name.” Huang Rong smiled, “I don't mind. I am called Rong’er.”

Peng Lianhu asked, “Your surname?”

Huang Rong answered, “I'll be honest. I am surnamed neither Peng nor Sha.” By this point, everyone in the hall, except the Tibetan Monk Ling Zhi and Ouyang Ke had lost to her. Ling Zhi was suffering from an internal injury and could not fight at the moment. That only left Ouyang Ke as the one who could temporarily stop her. The people all turned their gaze on him.

Ouyang Ke stepped forward, smiling pleasantly as he said, “This lowly one wants to go next and exchange moves with the young miss.”

Huang Rong glanced at the white clothes he was wearing and asked, “You are with those pretty girls of the ‘White Camel Group’ [Bai Tuoshan]?”

Ouyang Ke smiled and said, “You have seen them? If you put all those girls together, they could not match even half your beauty.”

Huang Rong's face turned red when she heard his flattery though she was also pleased. She said, “Then you'll help me with these old men who insist on being unreasonable.”

Ouyang Ke's kung fu was high and with the support of his Shifu's younger brother, he was able to run amuck in the western region for many years. His lascivious nature caused him to spend all those years collecting beautiful women from different places and turning them into his concubines. To occupy their time, these concubines also studied kung fu and therefore, they were also his female disciples. When Prince Zhao summoned him to Yanjing, he brought twenty-four of them with him, dressing them up in white robes and mounting them on white camels. Because the concubines were many, they took turns riding while the others walked. Eight of them encountered the Six Freaks of Jiangnan on the road talking with Guo Jing. They heard Zhu Cong speak of the precious Han Xie [Blood-Sweating] horse's origin and intended to steal it and give it to Ouyang Ke as a gift; but they failed in their attempt.

Ouyang Ke was very proud of his collection of concubines and knew that they were the most beautiful women in the world. Not even the ladies of the imperial palaces of the Jin and Song Dynasties could compare with them. How could he have thought that he would meet a beauty like Huang Rong in the Zhao Palace? He saw that her eyes were bright, her cheeks tender and though still very young, her body was graceful. Her beauty was unsurpassed and none of his numerous mistresses could compare to her. When she displayed her exquisite martial arts skills, his heart fluttered. Now, as he listened to her friendly voice and the soft and gentle words, he felt his heart burn and his bones going soft. He could not say a word.

Huang Rong, “I have to go. If they try to stop me, you will help me, won't you?”

Ouyang Ke smiled, “If you want me to help you, then you must obey me as your teacher and stay with me forever.” Huang Rong answered, “Obeisance to the Shifu does not mean staying with him forever!”

Ouyang Ke said, “My disciples are different. They're all women so they follow me wherever I go. I only need to call and they will come.”

Huang Rong tossed her head and laughed as she said, “I do not believe it.”

Ouyang Ke whistled and at once about twenty white-clad women appeared at the entrance. Whether they were fair or dark, amply built or thin, all of them wore the same style of clothes. Their carriage was proud and their smiles seductive as they focused their eyes on Ouyang Ke. During the banquet earlier in the Fragrant Snow Hall, these mistresses remained outside the wall. This was the first time Peng Lianhu and the others saw them and in their hearts, they were envious of his good fortune.

When Huang Rong challenged him into calling his mistresses, her intention was to cause a disruption in the hall, and take the opportunity to escape; but who would have thought that Ouyang Ke anticipated her thoughts? He looked at the group of women and signaled them with his folded fan to stay in the entrance. Then, casting a sidelong glance at Huang Rong, he appeared casual and self- satisfied. The mistresses looked at Huang Rong fixedly; some of them feeling inferior while others felt jealousy in their hearts. They knew that the pretty girl had somehow caught the eye of Master Shifu's son. They could not allow her to become another one of his ‘female disciples’ because he might, thereafter, stop doting on them. These mistresses gathered around him tightly, making it difficult for Huang Rong to rush out through the door.

Seeing that the situation was not favorable, Huang Rong said, “You prefer a real fight? You want me to obey you as my teacher, which is something I've never done before, and I don't want to cause any embarrassment.”

Ouyang Ke asked, “Is it possible that you don't want to try?” “OK, I will.” Huang Rong answered.

Ouyang Ke said, “Good, then come. Don't be afraid. I won't hit you back.” Huang Rong said, “Why? If you don't hit back, I'll win, won't I?”

Ouyang Ke said smiling, “Even if you hit me, I'll still like you. How can I hit you back?” The crowd snickered at his frivolous manner but they were also wondering, “This young girl's kung fu is not weak. Even if you are ten times stronger, how do you expect to defeat her? What magic are you going to use?”

Huang Rong said, “I don't believe you're really not going to hit back. I must tie up both your hands.”

Ouyang Ke then loosened the sash around his waist to give it to her. He folded his hands behind his back and walked towards her. Huang Rong saw that he seemed harmless but her mind continued to work. Although her face remained smiling, in her heart she was actually feeling more and more anxious as she paced back and forth for a while, thinking, “I have to be careful with my steps.” Thereupon, she took the sash, spread both her hands, pulled on opposite sides, but the cloth was strong as though it was made of silk so that even though she used internal energy, she still could not tear it. She immediately tied up his hands and smiled as she said, “How will we know who loses or who wins?”

Ouyang Ke stretched out his right foot, while keeping his left foot anchored, which left about three feet of distance in between. He proceeded to move his right foot against the brick floor, creating a sound like flowing water, until he made a complete circle six feet in diameter. Creating such a circle was no easy task and thus displayed his great internal energy. Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu and the others all looked on with admiration. Ouyang Ke stepped into the circle and said, “Whoever steps out of the circle loses.”

Huang Rong said, “And if we both leave the circle?” Ouyang Ke said, “Then, I lose.”

Huang Rong answered, “If you lose, you won't try to chase or stop me?”

Ouyang Ke replied, “Naturally. But if you leave the circle, that will result in you becoming my little darling. Everyone here is witness to that.”

Huang Rong replied, “Alright!”

She stepped into the circle, her left palm performing the ‘Encircling the Wind to Stroke the Willow’ [Hui Feng Fu Liu] and her right palm the ‘River of Stars in the Sky’ [Xing He Zai Tian]. The left was light and the right was heavy, both hands exerting hard and soft forces. Ouyang Ke dodged slightly and both his shoulders were struck at the same time. Huang Rong encountered the force coming out of his body, startled to find that this Ouyang Ke's internal energy was truly profound. Though he remained true to his word of not hitting back, he actually borrowed the force she used and used it as his own so that no matter how many times she hit him, he was always able to retaliate immediately. His hands remained motionless but Huang Rong was unsteady, almost falling out of the circle. This was why she did not dare to attack for the moment as she paced inside the circle. Then she said, “If I leave, that doesn't mean you’ve won. You said before that if both of us leave the circle, you lose.”

Ouyang Ke looked shocked as he watched Huang Rong jog out of the circle. She was afraid that a long delay might cause more complications so she quickened her footsteps. With her golden bangles sparkling and her flowing robes fluttering in the wind, she rushed towards the entrance. Ouyang Ke shouted loudly, “I've been tricked!” He could only shout a warning but could not pursue. Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu and the others saw how Huang Rong cleverly tricked Ouyang Ke and could not stop themselves from laughing loudly.

Huang Rong was just about to reach the entrance when a fierce sound could be heard coming from above and a large body suddenly dropped from nowhere. She moved sideways to avoid it, suppressing her fear at this unknown thing. She saw a person sitting down in a large round-backed wooden armchair; it was that tall Tibetan monk. He was wearing a red gown and even though he was seated, he was still able to tower over her. The skill with which he was able to leap high with the chair still stuck to his body was no ordinary feat. Huang Rong was just about to speak when she suddenly saw the Tibetan monk whip out a pair of cymbals from beneath his robes. He struck them together, releasing a shocking, deafening sound, before opening them like a flower and sending both, one on top of the other, flying fiercely towards her. The cymbals turned into a blur of shining metal, moving so fast it seemed there were a dozen of them. She tried to fend them off but the cymbals suddenly became three. Startled, she turned only to find the cymbals still drawing nearer. She dashed forward, dodging, before immediately darting away; then reversed directions while sending out a right palm towards the top cymbal and her left foot flicked towards the two cymbals at the bottom. The two cymbals separated so that they were able to fly past. Her fierce stance was unusual but the cymbals were able to avoid it and Ling Zhi then leapt forward. He executed his ‘Big Hand Imprint’ [Da Shou Yin] towards her. Huang Rong was hit, the blow sending her violently towards the center of the crowd.

Everyone shouted in alarm at seeing the young girl hit by Ling Zhi’s great palm, which had probably broken several bones and caused severe internal injuries. Ouyang Ke shouted, “Show mercy!” But was there enough time? He saw Ling Zhi’s great palm strike her on the back, but also saw that the hand was withdrawn immediately, its owner cursing loudly. Huang Rong used the force of his palm to run out of the hall. He heard her clear laughter as though she was not injured at all. He expected that Ling Zhi’s palm was strong but what he did not know was that before the palm could hit her fully, it was rapidly withdrawn so that the force behind the blow was greatly diminished.

The crowd watched with rapt attention when they heard Ling Zhi roar again and again, his right palm dripping with blood. He lifted it and saw ten small punctures. His features changed as he remembered, shouting, “Soft Hedgehog Armor…Soft Hedgehog Armor!” His voice revealed his great surprise, his anger, and his pain.

Startled, Peng Lianhu asked, “This girl was wearing ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’? That is the treasure of Peach Blossom Island [Taohua Island]!”

Sha Tongtian wondered, “How could someone her age get a hold of the ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’?”

Missing Huang Rong, Ouyang Ke ran out the entrance but he could barely see anything in the darkness. Not knowing where she was, he whistled for his concubines and ordered them to track her down. In his heart, he was secretly relieved, “It's good that she was able to escape and did not get injured. Good or bad, I must have her hand.”

Hou Tonghai asked, “Shi Ge (Elder Martial Brother), what is this soft hedgehog armor?” Peng Lianhu snapped, "Have you seen a hedgehog?"

Hou Tonghai nodded, "Of course."

Peng Lianhu replied, “Under her clothes next to the skin, she wears a sort of soft armor. Though soft, this armor can withstand the thrust of a sword or a spear. Moreover, it is covered with spines like those of a hedgehog. A single kick or punch will be enough to get you pricked!”

Hou Tonghai bit his tongue, thinking, “It's good that I wasn't able to hit that ‘smelly boy’!” Sha Tongtian said, “I'll get her back!”

Hou Tonghai looked at him and said, “Shi Ge, she... You can’t touch her body.” Sha Tongtian, “Who asked for your opinion? I can still grab her hair.”

Hou Tonghai replied, “Right, right, why didn't I think of that? Shi Ge, you are truly intelligent.” Then both apprentice brothers and Peng Lianhu gave chase.

o0o

By now, Prince Zhao Wanyan Honglie heard the worried report from his son and learned that the princess had been taken prisoner. Angered, both father and son, together with their personal guards left the palace to chase after the culprits. At the same time, Tang Zude led another group of armed guards to search for and arrest the intruder. The palace was on full alert. o0o

Guo Jing had run into Liang Ziwong near the wall, but how could he just extend his neck and let him drink his blood? Shocked, he turned around and fled. He did not know which way was north or south so he decided to hide someplace. Liang Ziwong really wanted to drink his blood and did not slow down in the slightest. It was a good thing that Guo Jing's lightness kung fu was good; otherwise, even though the night was dark, he would have been captured a long time ago. The light from the torch died and he could no longer see where he was going; only sensing that he had somehow stepped into a thorny area where the ground was rugged and rocky. More people were coming out of the palace, so there was no time for Gou Jing to deliberate. The bristling thorns cut his legs, but when he thought about Liang Ziwong biting his throat, he could not let the tiny thorns bother him. Not even a mountain or forest of swords could stop him.

Suddenly, he felt the ground beneath him disappear, causing him to call out as he started to drop, falling some 45 feet into an extremely deep pit. While his body was in midair, he circulated his internal energy so that he would not lose his balance when he landed and to prevent himself from getting injured. But who would have thought that his feet would land on round stones? He lost his balance and fell down on his rear. His hands, which supported him, clutched one of these round stones. Fear shot through him as he felt these round stones with his fingers; he realized that these stones were actually the skulls of dead people. It seemed that this deep hole was where the corpses of people executed at the Zhao Palace were dumped. He heard Liang Ziwong call out from above, “Boy, come up here!”

Guo Jing thought, “I'm not stupid enough to come up only to die!” With that, he raised his hand trying to touch the back of the pit, but he felt nothing. He moved forward, ready to defend himself against Liang Ziwong, who might follow him and try to kill him.

After shouting several curses, Liang Ziwong thought that perhaps Guo Jing could not get back up and shouted angrily, “Even if you run all the way to hell, this old man will still come after you!” Taking a deep breath, he jumped down.

Greatly surprised, Guo Jing took several steps back only to find empty space behind him. He turned around and stretched both his arms out trying to feel his way. As he continued on, he discovered that it was actually a tunnel.

Liang Ziwong also noticed the tunnel. His boldness was brought on by his high skill so that even though it was so dark that he could not see his five fingers, he was not afraid that Guo Jing would be laying an ambush for him. He followed, liking the situation even more, thinking, “This is just like seizing a turtle in a jar. This boy can't get away again. How can I not drink his blood now?”

Guo Jing was quite worried. Tunnels always have a dead end! Liang Ziwong was laughing loudly, both arms spread as he traced the tunnel walls. He was not impatient and took his steps slowly, one at a time.

Guo Jing ran several feet forward when he realized that the tunnel had ended, revealing an earthen cavern. Liang Ziwong also followed, laughing, “The peasant boy wants to run away but to where?”

Suddenly, from the left corner came an eerie, raspy voice which said, “Who is it that acts unruly in here?”

Neither of them expected that someone lived in this black pit; but they could not deny this sound. The voice, though raspy, actually rumbled like thunder in their ears. Guo Jing was frightened and his heart was pumping madly. Liang Ziwong also could not restrain himself from feeling absolutely terrified. They heard the gloomy voice say, “Those who enter my cave are already rotting. Are you that impatient to die?” The voice now began to resemble that of a woman, anxious and breathing heavily as though she had contracted a serious illness.

When the two people realized that the voice did not belong to any ghost, their fears subsided. Guo Jing listened to her words and hurried to explain, “I did not mean to come here; some people are after me...”

Before he could finish his words, Liang Ziwong was able to discern where he was. He dashed forward, stretching his hands out to take him. Guo Jing heard the rustle caused by his palm and hastily dodged. Liang Ziwong changed directions at once, forcing Guo Jing to dodge once more to the right. It was pitch dark, so one could only grab aimlessly, while the other could only dodge blindly. Suddenly, there was a ripping sound. Liang Ziwong had taken hold of Guo Jing's left sleeve. The woman angrily said, “Who dares to capture a person here?”

Liang Ziwong scolded, “You disguise yourself like a crafty ghost. Are you trying to frighten me?”

Sounding asthmatic, the woman began to breathe heavily as she said, “Hmph, the young fellow can come here and hide."

Guo Jing had thought that the situation he was in was hopeless and extremely critical, but when he heard her say that, without hesitation, he jumped to her just as he felt Liang’s five icy cold fingers touch his wrist. They were much stronger than him so that when he was pulled by her, his body was not able to resist being thrown forward and felt himself growing numb. Gasping for breath, the woman said to Liang Ziwong, “You were able to grasp him adeptly which means your strength is not trifling. You are from beyond the mountain pass?”

Liang Ziwong was shocked as he thought, “I cannot see even half of her, how is it possible she was able to recognize my martial arts? Is she capable of seeing things in the dark? This woman must be an old eccentric who's proud and strict!” He did not dare to say anything careless or indiscreet and instead said pleasantly, “This lowly one, who is an invited guest here from Guandong, is surnamed Liang. This boy stole something from me and I'm trying to get it back. I ask your Excellency not to interfere.”

The woman said, “Ah, is the ‘Ginseng Immortal’ Liang Ziwong trying to right a wrong? The other person seems unaware of it. I have no desire to interfere but after he came into my cave, the crime cannot be pursued. Lao Liang, you are an expert martial artist, don't you understand the rules of Wulin?”

Liang Ziwong was even more surprised and asked, “May I ask the name of your Excellency?”

The woman said, “I... I...” Guo Jing felt the hand grasping his wrist shiver violently, the fingers slowly beginning to loosen and he also heard her trying to keep down a groan as though she was in extreme pain. He asked, “You are sick?”

Liang Ziwong's high kung fu allowed him to hear her groan and surmised that this person had lost her skills, not from a sickness, but from an injury which greatly weakened her. He immediately applied strength to his arms, sending both hands together to grasp Guo Jing's chest. He managed to brush against his clothing, waiting for his fingers to grab hold, when he suddenly felt a strong force meeting his wrists. Shocked, Liang Ziwong discovered that when he sent out his left hand, he’d managed to grab the woman's arm. The woman shouted angrily, “Prepare yourself!” A palm hit Liang Ziwong’s back which forced him to take several steps back. Fortunately for him, his internal energy was good enough so that he was not injured.

Liang Ziwong said, “Mother-in-law of a thief [Hao zei po]! (The thief in question is Guo Jing.) Come here.” When the woman continued gasping for breath and remained motionless, Liang Ziwong realized that she could not move the lower part of her body. His fear was immediately reduced and he began to slowly approach. He was just about to jump forward to attack when he suddenly felt something curl around his ankles. This thing was like a soft whip; silent and un-noticed. Greatly alarmed, he quickly tried to resist it, but the whip was able to lift his body in a flash. He tried to aim a kick at the woman just as the top of his head hit the earthen wall.

His leg kung fu was of a high level, unmatched in Wulin, which gave him more than twenty years of great prestige outside the mountain pass. This leg move, when executed, was incomparably fierce. Who would have thought that before the tip of his toe met its target, he would suddenly feel his ‘Flushing Out the Sun’ accupoint [Chong Yang Xue] growing numb. He immediately dodged, greatly alarmed. This ‘Flushing Out the Sun’ point is located five inches from the instep of the foot. If this vital point was sealed by an opponent, his whole leg would grow numb. Luckily, he was able to withdraw his foot quickly; but the action of kicking and suddenly withdrawing caused his knee to ache.

As he dodged, Liang Ziwong thought, “This person lives in this dark cave but acts as though she is dwelling in a bright and sunny place. She was able to accurately find my vital point, how can she not be a witch or a demon?”

Realizing the critical situation he was in, he executed a half somersault to avoid the attack, and sent out a backward palm in an effort to shake her off. His palm was ten times stronger than before, and he thought that this asthmatic sounding person definitely would not have the internal energy to resist. Then he suddenly heard a loud cry as he felt the enemy's arm heading violently towards him, the fingertips already making contact with his shoulder. Liang Ziwong's left hand felt the opponent's ice-cold wrist, her body, appearing as though it was not made of flesh and bone, once more tried to attack. He immediately rolled away and rushed out using his hands and feet to crawl out of the tunnel. Panting heavily he thought, “I have lived for dozens of years but I have never encountered such a strange event! I don't even know if she is a woman or a ghost! I must inform the prince of this matter.” He hastily ran back to the Fragrant Snow Hall. On the way, he thought: “I don’t know if that creature is a woman ghost or female demon, but now that the boy has fallen into her hands, she will naturally suck all that precious blood from his body.” He sighed and thought, “Due to a strange combination of circumstances I met that thieving boy. Then, after raising the snake and refining its blood, I had to run into that female ghost. I nearly lost my life in both encounters. Could the fabrication of the pill of longevity really be against the will of Heaven and envied by ghosts and deities, so that I would fail on the verge of success?”

When Guo Jing heard him moving farther and farther away, he felt greatly relieved and fell on his knees, kowtowing to the woman as he said, “Junior politely thanks old senior for saving his life.”

The woman had been able to match Liang Ziwong's moves earlier, but now she was exhausted, causing her injury to act up. She coughed and wheezed as she said, “Why did the old Monster want to kill you?”

Guo Jing, “Taoist Elder Wang was injured and needed medicine to treat his injuries. The disciple then came to the palace to...” Suddenly, he thought, “This person lives in the Zhao Palace compound, how do I know she's not in league with Wanyan Honglie?” He stopped talking immediately.

The woman said, “Mmm, so you have stolen the old Monster's medicine. I have heard that he is very knowledgeable in the research of medicines and their properties, so you must have stolen a miraculous pill or a marvelous drug.”

Guo Jing, “I took some of his medicine to treat an internal injury, but he was so angry he wanted to kill me. Is the old senior injured? Disciple has several medicines, four samples of ‘pseudo ginseng’, ‘dragons blood’, ‘bear's gall’, and ‘myrrh’. Taoist Elder Wang does not have to use all of it, if old senior...”

The woman angrily said, “Whether I'm injured or not, what concern is it of yours?”

At this juncture, Guo Jing could only say hastily, “Yes, yes.” But after only a moment, he heard her gasping for breath and could not restrain himself from saying again, “If old senior cannot walk, junior offers to carry you out of here.”

The woman scolded, “Who is old? Who are you to say that someone is old?”

Guo Jing no longer dared to utter a sound, thinking that she did not want to leave. However, he had always been unable to stay content with half answers, so even though he knew that he ought to keep his silence he once again asked, “Whatever you want, I can go get it for you.” The woman laughed coldly and said, “You are as nosy as a woman but your heart is good.” She stretched out her left hand to pull on his shoulders. Guo Jing felt his shoulder snap and the sharp pain that followed, but he was able to keep himself from falling on top of her. He suddenly felt an icy coldness as the woman's arm wound around his neck. Then he heard her bark the order, “Carry me to the exit.”

Guo Jing thought, “That’s what I offered in the first place!” Thereupon, he bent at the waist and slowly made his way out of the tunnel.

The woman said, “I am compelling you to carry me on your back. I won't owe anyone any favors.” It was then that Guo Jing understood that this woman was very arrogant and was unwilling to receive any kindness from her juniors. As he walked out, he raised his head and saw the stars in the sky. He could not help letting out a sigh as he thought; “Only a moment ago, I was saved from death when I fell into this black hole and there was someone waiting to help me. If I told Rong’er about this, even she would not believe it. He was used to climbing cliffs with Ma Yu and even though that hole was like a deep well, he was actually able to climb up effortlessly.

As soon as they exited the hole, the woman asked, “Who taught you your lightness kung fu? Tell me quickly!” Her arm suddenly tightened, compressing Guo Jing's throat so he was gasping for breath. Alarmed, he hastily circulated his internal energy to resist. The woman was intentionally trying to test his skill by tightening her grip, but she paused before gradually relaxing.

She loudly exclaimed, “Surprise, the peasant boy knows the internal energy skills of the Taoist orthodox school. You said that Taoist Elder Wang was injured, by what name is this Taoist priest called?”

Guo Jing thought, “You have rescued me, so whatever you ask, I will answer you truthfully. To do otherwise would be barbaric!” He immediately replied, “Taoist Elder Wang is Wang Chuyi, but others call him the ‘Jade Sun’.”

Suddenly, he felt the woman on his back begin to shake and heard her breathe out heavily, “You are a Quanzhen Sect disciple? That...that is very good.” As soon as she said this, she could not contain her delight and she went on to ask, “Who is Wang Chuyi to you? Why do you call him ‘Taoist Elder’? Why not Shifu [master], Shi Zi (martial uncle younger than a persons Shifu], or Shi Bo (martial uncle older than a persons Shifu)?”

Guo Jing, “I am not a Quanzhen Sect disciple, but ‘Scarlet Sun’ Ma Yu taught me his breathing techniques.”

The woman said, “Mmm, so you studied the internal energy methods of the Quanzhen. That is good.” After a moment, she asked, “Who then is your Shifu?”

Guo Jing replied, “Disciple has seven teachers, the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan. First Shifu is called ‘Soaring Through the Heavens Bat’ and is surnamed Ke."

The woman began coughing violently, the sound bitter and sour as she said, “That is Ke Zhen’E!” Guo Jing, “Yes.”

The woman said, “You come from Mongolia?”

Guo Jing said, “Yes.” But in his heart, he wondered, “How did she know I come from Mongolia?”

The woman said slowly, “Your name is Yang Kang, is it not?” Her tone of voice changed from gloomy to angry. Guo Jing said, “No. Disciple is surnamed Guo.”

The woman hesitated for a moment before saying, “You sit on the ground.”

Guo Jing did what he was told and sat down. The woman then reached inside her bosom to fish out an object which she placed on the ground. This object was wrapped in a piece of cloth. When she revealed the thing, the star light shone on it, showing a dazzling and impressive looking dagger handle. Guo Jing thought it looked familiar and so he took a closer look; the dagger continued to shine brightly and on its handle were engraved the two characters ‘Yang Kang’. It was indeed the knife he’d used to kill ‘Copper Corpse’ Chen Xuanfeng. The year that Guo Xiaotian and Yang Tiexin met ‘Eternal Spring’ Qiu Chuji, he gave them daggers as presents. Both made the promise that if their wives gave birth to sons, the sons would become sworn brothers and if two daughters, they would become sworn sisters. However, if they are of different genders, then they would become husband and wife. The two fathers then exchanged their daggers as a token of their faith. This was the reason why the dagger with the inscription ‘Yang Kang’ ended up in Guo Jing's hands. When he was younger, he did not know what the two characters ‘Yang Kang’ meant but the shape of the dagger was enough for him to recognize it. He thought, “Yang Kang…Yang Kang?” But he did not remember that this name had been spoken by the princess only minutes ago.

While he was hesitating, the woman clamped his hand to prevent him grabbing the dagger as she shouted, “You recognize this dagger, do you not?” If Guo Jing was more quick-witted and heard how sad and shrill her voice sounded, he would have felt compelled to turn his head and look at her. Instead, he thought only of the other's kindness in saving his life, “This person saved my life. Certainly, that means she is a good person.” Therefore, he was not the least bit suspicious as he immediately replied, “Ah, yes! When I was young, I once used this dagger to kill an evil man. That evil man suddenly disappeared, along with the precious dagger ...”

As he spoke, he felt the arm around his neck tighten suddenly, strangling him. In the midst of danger, he bent his arm and pushed it backwards but his wrist was held by that woman's outstretched left hand. The woman later relaxed her right arm, allowing her body to drop so that she was sitting on the ground as she shouted, “Who do you think I am?”

Guo Jing had been throttled by her earlier, making him see stars, so it took him a moment to recover. Afterwards, he looked at her only glimpsing, through her shawl of long hair, a face like white paper; it was the face of ‘Iron Corpse’ of the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’, Mei Chaofeng. Frightened out of his wits, he lifted his left hand to struggle but with her fingers digging into his flesh, how could he escape? In his mind was confusion, “How come? Why did she save my life? It can't be! But she really is Mei Chaofeng!”

Mei Chaofeng sat on the ground, her right hand clutching Guo Jing's neck, her left holding his wrist. For more than ten years, she had been searching for the man who killed her husband and now, suddenly, he was here. “Is it the work of my ‘Bastard’ husband from below, to have that person die in my hands?” In her heart she was delighted beyond measure; but this was quickly overcome by grief as past events from her life, no matter how much she fought it, came to her in brief flashes.

o0o

She thought, “I was once an innocent young girl who played around and joked all day. My parents treated me as their most precious treasure to which they were much attached. At that time, I was called Mei Ruohua. However, my unfortunate parents died one after another, forcing me to suffer under an evil person. Shifu Huang Yaoshi rescued me and brought me to Taohua Island (Peach Blossom Island) where he accepted me into his school. My name was changed to Mei Chaofeng, for each of his disciples bore the character for "wind" [feng] in their names. Under the peach trees, I saw rugged looking youths standing in front of me. One of them picked a bright red peach and gave it to me to eat. That was apprentice brother Chen Xuanfeng. Among Shifu's disciples, he was the second; I was the third. We practiced kung fu together. He often taught me and treated me very well. Even though he sometimes scolded me for not studying hard, I knew he was only doing what was good for me. Slowly, as everyone grew up, I had him in my heart and he had me in his heart. One spring evening, when the peach blossoms were turning a brilliant red, he suddenly embraced me under a peach tree.” A blush colored Mei Chaofeng's face and Guo Jing heard her laborious breathing intensify. Then, she let out a soft, gentle sigh.

Mei Chaofeng recalled how she and Chen Xuanfeng secretly married each other and how they feared their Shifu's punishment. When they ran away from the Island, her husband told her to steal the second book of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ [Jiu Yin Zhen Jing]. Later, they settled on a remote mountain where they trained hard; but after practicing for half a year, her husband said that he could not understand the true meaning of the text. He wanted to smash his head out of frustration. That same year, my husband said, “My ‘Shrew’, we only stole one half of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. The first half contains the foundation principles needed to practice these secret kung fu techniques. The kung fu scripture belongs to the Taoists and what our Shifu taught us is completely different. We can't master this, what do you suggest we do?” I said, “What choice do we have?” He said, “Return to Taohua Island.” How would I dare to go back? Both our skills had become ten times stronger but our Shifu would only have to use two fingers to defeat us. My husband was also afraid but knowing how many wonderful techniques he could not practice, he was willing to die for them. He had made up his mind to steal the first part and said, “If we are going to be the unmatched couple under the heavens, then ‘My Shrew’ must be prepared to be a widow.” I did not wish to be a widow! If one must die, then the other must also die in the same place. Both of us decided to risk our lives by going back. We found out later that after we ran away, Shifu, in a great fit of anger, broke the legs of all his disciples and expelled them from his island. That was why there was only him, his wife, the two of us, and his servants. When we arrived at Taohua Island, we discovered two people engaged in a fight. Shifu's opponent looked like an expert. The two of them were arguing about the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ and as they quarreled, one of them opened with a recognizable move. This person was Quanzhen Sect and although he spoke foolish words, his kung fu was very high and had reached a level which I could not even imagine. But Shifu, when compared to him, had a better chance of winning. Witnessing this martial arts duel only served to frighten us out of our wits. I said quietly, “My Bastard, we are inferior. Let's get away!” But he was not willing. We watched as Shifu grabbed his opponent and forced him to take an oath of never voluntarily leaving the Island. Remembering that Shifu's wife used to treat me with kindness, I decided to look for her through the window of their home. Who would have thought that all I would see was a mourning hall? Shifu's wife had passed away. In my heart, I felt very sad. Shifu's wife always treated me well but now that she's dead, Shifu was alone. I really felt sorry for him and I couldn't stand it. While I was crying, I suddenly saw, near the mourning hall, a one-year old girl, sitting straight up in a chair and smiling at me. This girl really looked like my Shifu's wife so I supposed she was their daughter. Was it because of childbirth that she died? I was thinking about this when Shifu noticed me. He flew from the mourning hall and stepped outside. I was so frightened, my feet grew weak and I couldn't move. I heard the girl laughing and calling, “Daddy, hugs!” Her smile was like a flower as she opened her arms towards Shifu. That girl saved my life. Shifu feared that she would fall down and so stretched out a hand to grab her. My husband then pulled me away and we both dashed out and stole a boat with sea water splashing inside. My heart was thumping so hard, it seemed like it was going to jump out of my throat.

‘My Bastard’ saw Shifu fighting and had immediately lost heart. He said, “Not only have we not learned a tenth of Shifu's kung fu, but we now see this Quanzhen master, how can we compare to them?” I said, “You regret coming here? If the Shifu can do it, then one day we can also learn his kung fu.” He said, “If you don't regret it, then I do not regret it.” Thereafter, he used the fiercest martial arts methods he could find and taught me everything. He said that although this method was heretical, it allowed us to increase our skills.

In the beginning, our abilities became astounding and as we ran amok in Jianghu, we earned the nickname of 'Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’. Shen Long who flew through the sky with his axe exorcising evil spirits, was it my husband who killed him or was it me? My memory is not too clear as to who killed who but it is all the same in any case. One day, when we were practicing the ‘Destroying Heart Palm’ [Cui Xin Zhang] in the temple ruins, suddenly, from all directions, appeared dozens of skilled people. They were led by our fellow apprentice, Lu Chengfeng. He hated us after Shifu broke his legs and gathered a large group of people to help him capture us to give to Shifu. This man really thought that he could defeat us. Humph, the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ are not that easy to defeat. Though we were able to kill seventy-eight men and run away, we were also heavily injured. After several months, we found out that the Quanzhen Seven Masters were also secretly following us. We did not want to fight these opponents all at once because they were too many, so we left the Central Plains and traveled until we reached the Mongolian steppe. ‘My Bastard’ was worried that people would steal the Taoist scripture so he told me not to look for it. I did not know where he hid it. I said, “Good, my ‘Bastard’, I don't know where to find it.” He said, “My ‘Shrew’, I will be good to you. I'll take care of you and teach you everything except the Taoist nei gong. If we force it, we could harm our bodies.” I said, “Alright! What are you waiting for?” Thereupon, we continued to practice the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ [Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua] and the ‘Destroying Heart Palm’ [Cui Xin Zhang]. He said these two techniques were heretical and fierce but did not require one to learn nei gong. Suddenly, one evening on that stark mountainside, the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan attacked me. “My eyes…my eyes!” The pain was burning from the poison. I crawled on the ground, clawing my eyes. I did not die but my eyes were blinded and my husband dead. That was retribution for that time when we killed that blind Ke Zhen’E's elder brother and blinded his (Ke Zhen’E) eyes.

o0o

As Mei Chaofeng thought about this painful matter, both hands tightened instinctively and she created a noise as she ground her teeth. Guo Jing felt as if the bones in his left hand were going to break and secretly thought, “This is not good. What kind of vicious method is she going to use to kill me?” Then, he said, “Hey, I don't know what you plan to do but I want to ask you something, please agree.”

Mei Chaofeng said coldly, “You want to ask me something?”

Guo Jing said, “Yes. I have medicines and I ask you to be generous. Please take these and give them to Taoist Elder Wang in the Prosperity Inn outside the city.”

When Mei Chaofeng did not answer and continued to look blankly at him, Guo Jing said, “Do you agree? If so, many thanks to you!” Mei Chaofeng said, “Many thanks for what? In all my life, I've never done any good deeds!”

o0o

She could not call to mind how much pain she suffered in her life, nor could she recall how many people she had killed, but that night on the barren mountain, she remembered clearly. My surroundings suddenly went black and I could not even see the stars. ‘My Bastard’ said, “I have failed! The Taoist scripture is hidden on my chest...” These were his last words. Suddenly, a heavy rain began and the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan began fiercely attacking me. I was hit in the back by a palm. This person's internal energy was profound; the pain from his hit reached my bones. I carried husband's corpse and escaped, descending the mountain even though I could not see. They did not pursue me which was really strange. The rain became heavier and the night had grown pitch-dark so they could not see me. I dashed about wildly in the rain. “My ‘Bastard’ husband’s body was at first hot but afterwards, it gradually turned cold. My heart also turned cold with each minute that passed. I was shaking all over; I was very cold. “My ‘Bastard’ husband, are you really dead? Even with your fierce kung fu, how could you die so inexplicably? Who killed you?” I drew out a dagger from his stomach, causing the blood to spurt out. What caused this? Murdered people certainly bleed, but I did not know how many people I murdered. “I must die with my ‘Bastard’ husband! If no one else will call him ‘My Bastard’ in the netherworld, he will be lonely!” I placed the dagger to my throat and prepared to slice when suddenly, I traced two characters on the dagger handle, the characters ‘Yang Kang’. “Mmm, the killer must be this person named Yang Kang. How can I not exact revenge? If I don't kill this Yang Kang first, how can I die?” Thereupon, I went through my husband’s pockets, searching for the secret Taoist scripture, but even though I searched his whole body, I was not able to find a trace of it. “I must find it!” I started from his hair, not missing an inch until suddenly, while I was feeling the skin on his chest, I felt something strange.

As she had this thought, she was unable to restrain her bitter laughter. She said, “After careful investigation, I found that the ‘Jiu Yin Zhen Jing’ was tattooed on his chest. You were afraid that someone would steal it from you so you tattooed it on your body so it couldn't be taken away! Yes, just like Shifu's martial arts teachings, someone could also steal the Taoist scripture from us so you came up with a way it couldn't be stolen. Your idea ‘a person comes, but after he is gone, everything goes with him'. I used the dagger to cut your chest, mmm, I must tan this skin so it won’t rot. I will keep it with me all the time so it will be like you are accompanying me forever.” I was not sad anymore. “When I laugh, people are usually frightened even though I was smiling. I used both hands to dig a pit in the ground to bury you inside. You taught me the ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua" before; I used this technique to dig your grave. I hid in a cave, afraid that the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan would find me. At that time, I was not their match but after some practice, humph, I could grab each of their hearts. Was it really dangerous to practice the Taoist nei gong? It would cause serious injuries but I was not afraid to die, but of what sort of injury? I must perfect my kung fu in the shortest time. It must have been some sort of divine intervention that ‘My Bastard’ tattooed the Taoist scripture on his body or with my blind eyes, what purpose would the written words have? After all these years, even when he was playing with me, he never removed the clothing on his upper body; now I know why...” When she thought about this, her face burned and she released a long sigh. What is it ‘My Bastard’, can you see me from the netherworld? If you married a female ghost and made it your wife, then we do not have forever...

Two days passed and I was very hungry; then suddenly I heard a large army on horseback pass by the cave. From their dialect, I knew that they were from the Jin Empire. I came out and asked them for something to eat. The leader of the army saw my pitiful state, decided to give me shelter and brought me all the way to the palace. Afterwards, I discovered that he was actually the sixth son of the Jin emperor, Prince Zhao. I swept the ground in the back gardens for them but in the evening, I secretly trained. In this manner I was able to practice for several years and no one noticed anything. They only thought of me as a pitiful blind married woman.

One evening, that mischievous young prince went looking for bird's eggs in the garden at midnight without telling anyone. I did not see him but he saw me practicing with my silver whip and thereupon coerced me into teaching him. I taught him three moves and he learned them; he was really intelligent. Pleased with his progress, I also passed on to him the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’, and the ‘Push the Heart Palm’. I wanted him to take the oath of not telling anyone, not even the prince or the princess. If he divulged it to anyone, I told him that I would capture him, break his bones, and send his soul to heaven. The young prince practiced kung fu and his foundation was not low. He said, “Shifu, I also have another male Shifu. This person is not good and I do not like him. I only like you as my Shifu. I will never reveal to him that you are teaching me. He can't compare to you. His kung fu teachings are not effective.” Humph, the young prince knew how to flatter. His male Shifu was definitely not incompetent. But I only asked that he not tell him that he was studying kung fu with me and I in turn would not question him about his Shifu. Several years passed and the young prince said that Prince Zhao wanted to go to Mongolia. I asked the prince to allow me to go there with him to offer a sacrifice at my husband's grave. The young prince said to me that the prince agreed. The prince doted on him very much and whatever he asked, he agreed to.

Even if I couldn't find my husband’s bones, I kept the skin from his flesh next to my own skin all day and all night. Besides, why would I offer a sacrifice at his grave? I wanted to find the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan for revenge. But my luck was not good because, unexpectedly, the Seven Elders of Quanzhen were all in Mongolia. My eyes could not see, how could I match those seven people? ‘Red Sun’ Ma Yu's internal energy was profound. Even though he spoke without effort, his voice was able to travel far. But my going to Mongolia was not in vain because when I asked Ma Yu a question he answered, and passed on to me some nei gong (internal energy) secrets. After I came back to the palace, I went to the tunnel to practice diligently. But this internal energy could not be completed without guidance. Two days ago I was practicing and as I was vigorously moving around, my qi suddenly arrived in my hip area and I could not move it back up. Because of this, the lower part of my body suffered seriously. If the young prince did not look for me, how would anyone know that I had an accident while practicing? Had this Guo boy not rushed in here, I would have starved to death in that tunnel. Humph, it's my husband’s ghost that sent him there to rescue me so I could I kill him to avenge his death. Mei Chaofeng laughed madly; her whole body shook and her right hand suddenly made an effort to grab Guo Jing's neck. Guo Jing sensed the danger to his life at this critical moment and tried to turn her hand wrong side up by grasping her wrist, using his external strength. Because of Ma Yu's orthodox school teachings his internal energy was not weak. Mei Chaofeng could not gain a grip as she felt her hand being turned wrong side up by him, forcing it to open. Startled, she thought that this boy's kung fu was not bad!

Even after being hit three times, Guo Jing applied all his strength in that hand. Mei Chaofeng called loud and long while lifting her palm to hit him. She was using her ‘Destroying Heart Palm’ unique skill. Guo Jing's level of skill and hers differed too much to begin with and his left was held firmly by her, how could he move to gain an opening? But he had to exert himself to overcome her strength and lifting his right hand to block. Mei Chaofeng raised her hand to meet his only to feel her arm shake. She changed her mind at that moment as she considered, “I practiced nei gong without anyone to guide me and it resulted in a serious injury so that my lower body can’t move. I heard him say a moment ago that Ma Yu taught him the Quanzhen Sect nei gong. It would be convenient if I forced him to tell me those nei gong secrets. How can I kill him to avenge ‘My Bastard’ and pick his brain later? Fortunately, this boy is not dead yet.” At that moment, she returned her hand again to grasp Gou Jing's neck and said, “You killed my husband, how can you still expect to live? But if you listen to what I have to say, then I'll let you die quickly, but if you're stubborn, I will let you experience suffering and misery. I'll start with your finger, biting and chewing it until everything is eaten.”

She had an accident, resulting in lower body paralysis. Afterwards, she starved for days so when she said that she wanted to eat Guo Jing's finger, it was not just idle talk to intimidate him. Guo Jing felt a shiver as he saw her open mouth, showing several white teeth. He did not dare say a word.

Mei Chaofeng asked, “Ma Yu taught you how to sit properly while meditating, how is it done?”

Guo Jing then understood, “She thinks I will teach her nei gong. Then later, she will go after my six Shifus to harm them. Even if I die now, how can I let this jealous woman increase her skill and harm my six Shifus?” He shut his mouth and did not answer immediately.

Mei Chaofeng's left hand tightened and Guo Jing felt pain and biting cold, but he had made up his mind. He said, "You want to obtain the orthodox nei gong. Give up that idea.”

Mei Chaofeng saw that he was tough and unyielding so she loosened her hands to let him go as she said softly, “I promise you that I will take the medicine to Wang Chuyi and save his life.”

Guo Jing felt a shiver of cold as he thought, “Ah, this is an important change. It's good that the lower part of her body cannot move. My six Shifu have no need to fear her.” Thereupon he said, “Alright, you make an oath and I in return will pass on to you the training methods.”

Mei Chaofeng was extremely happy and said, “Surname of Guo... This boy with the surname of Guo said that he will teach me the Quanzhen Sect nei gong methods. If I, Mei Chaofeng, do not deliver the medicine to Wang Chuyi, may my entire body lose its movement and forever endure misery.”

As soon as she said this, to their left some ten zhang in front of the palace, a person scolded, “Stinky boy, come out here and die!”

When Guo Jing heard the voice, he recognized it as the Three-Headed Dragon Hou Tonghai. Another one said, “Surely, the small girl is nearby. I'm relieved. She can't run away.” The same time that the two people were talking, they were also walking away.

Gou Jing was startled; Rong’er had not left yet and allowed them to follow her trail. Changing his intent, he turned to Mei Chaofeng and said, “You still need to do one more thing, otherwise, no matter what you force me to endure, I won't tell you the secrets.”

Mei Chaofeng got angry, “What is this other thing? I don't agree.”

Guo Jing said, “I have a good friend, a young girl. The experts from the palace are chasing her. You must rescue her and get her out of danger.”

Mei Chaofeng grunted and said, “How would I know where she is? If you want me to do it then quickly, tell me the nei gong secret!” Her arm immediately tightened.

Guo Jing felt his throat constrict, causing him great alarm. However, he was still unyielding and said, “Rescue... You said... Did not say...” Having no other alternative, Mei Chaofeng said, “Alright, I'm depending on you but don't think that Mei Chaofeng does things to please others. Today is the exception, you stinky boy. This young girl is your sweetheart? You're full of affection but dumb. We made a deal and I'm only doing my part. I have agreed to rescue your sweetheart but I haven't consented to spare your life.”

Guo Jing heard her agree and was glad. Then he raised his voice and called out, ‘Rong’er, come here! Rong’er...”

Just after calling twice, Huang Rong's figure suddenly appeared from behind some rose shrubs nearby. She said, “I'm already here!” Guo Jing was delighted, “Rong’er, come quickly. She agreed to help you. The others can't harm you now.”

Huang Rong had been listening to Guo Jing and Mei Chaofeng for some time from behind the rose shrubs. She heard how he gave no thought to his own life and never forgot about her safety. In gratitude, two tear drops rolled down her cheeks as she shouted at Mei Chaofeng, “Mei Ruohua, let him go!”

‘Mei Ruohua’ was Mei Chaofeng's name before her master changed it. No one in Jianghu knew and for dozens of years, she had not heard these three characters uttered by anyone. However, today it was being shouted by this person. Greatly surprised, she asked, “Who are you?”

Huang Rong said clearly, “‘The peach blossom shade leaves behind the divine sword, the jade ocean current gives life to the jade flute!’ I am surnamed Huang.”

Mei Chaofeng was even more startled and could only stammer, “You... You... You...”

Huang Rong called out, “You what? The east China sea Taohua Island snapping finger, the pure sound of the cave, the green bamboo forest, the Trial Sword Pavilion, you also remember?”

Mei Chaofeng knew these places from her discipleship and when she heard them mentioned now, a sudden thought came to her and she asked, “Taohua Island’s Huang... Shifu Huang, is...is...What is he to you?”

Huang Rong said, “Since you have not forgotten my father, he has not forgotten you, either. He is coming to look for you!”

Mei Chaofeng wanted to turn around and flee but how could she move a foot even one step? Frightened out of her wits and shocked, she could only clench her teeth, making a grating sound. She did not know what to do.

Huang Rong called out, “Quickly release him.”

Mei Chaofeng suddenly remembered, “Shifu swore that he would never leave Taohua Island, how could he be here? It was only because of this that I and ‘My Bastard’ stole the Nine Yin Manual. He made an oath and could not leave the island to pursue us. This person is trying to deceive me. I won't let myself get confused.”

When Huang Rong saw her hesitate, her left foot pointed downwards as she leapt up ten feet and successively executed two half-circles before soaring into the air and wielding a palm towards Mei Chaofeng's head, intending to hit her. It was the ‘Fallen Hero Divine Sword Palm’ [Luo Ying Shen Jian Zhang], a pillar move of the ‘River Town Flying Blossom’ [Jiang Cheng Fei Hua]. She called out, "My father taught you this move. Have you forgotten it?"

Mei Chaofeng heard the noise of the air rustling around her but she kept still, her suspicions still in place, though she raised her hand and softly called out, “Shi Mei [Apprentice Sister], you have spoken with Shifu?” Huang Rong let her body drop, using one hand to pull and then drag Guo Jing to her side.

o0o

Huang Rong was the Peach Blossom Island Master Huang Yaoshi's only daughter. Before giving birth to her, her mother became ill which caused her to be physically and mentally exhausted and this led to her death after a difficult labor. Huang Yaoshi, in a fit of extreme grief, expelled all his disciples from the island, leaving the father and daughter alone there.

Huang Yaoshi was called ‘Eastern Heretic’ [Dong Xie] because of his peculiar conduct. He often said that the etiquette and customs of the world were nonsense. His love for his daughter was excessive and he naturally did nothing to control her and allowed her to become arrogant and willful. Although she was highly intelligent, she was not willing to focus her mind on learning martial arts. Her father had proficient knowledge of yin and yang and the five elements, and the methods from of calculating them. She was able to learn while still very young but even though her father had already reached a divine level, she was nevertheless unable to get beyond the basic Taohua Island martial arts. One day, she was playing on the island when she came upon her father's enemy imprisoned in a cave. Feeling lonely, she talked with that person for almost half a day. That person's words were interesting to her so she returned often, seeking him out to speak with him and find relief from loneliness. Later, Huang Yaoshi found out and reproached her severely. Huang Rong had never been beaten or scolded by her father so she reacted with anger and self-pity. Her cunning and unreasonable temperament manifested itself suddenly and she took a boat to escape Taohua Island, thinking that no one cared for her there. Thus, she cut her ties to it and disguised herself as a poor, disorderly, miserable youth, wandering in all directions, though her heart was still with her father. She thought angrily, “Since you don't love me, then I will make the world feel pity for a young beggar.” However, she did not count on meeting Guo Jing in Zhangjiakou [Kalgan]. At first, she went to the restaurant with him to spend his money and cause a disturbance, intending to displace her resentment towards her father on him. Who would have thought that he would be so dumb as to have no suspicions at all and talked with her as though they were old friends and showed his concern by giving her his horse. She was bitter and lonely and thought about how she had deceived him, while he continued to treat her honestly. She was touched. Since then, the two became good friends.

o0o

Huang Rong once listened to her father speak about Chen Xuanfeng and Mei Chaofeng's affair in great detail and because of this, she learned Mei Chaofeng's maiden name and the lines: ‘The peach blossom leaves behind the divine sword, the jade green sea gives life to the jade flute’, which was the heretical couplet that hung inside the Sword Trial Pavilion and embodied the principles of Huang Yaoshi's wugong. Every Peach Blossom Island disciple knew this. Since she knew that her kung fu could not rival Mei Chaofeng's, she lied and told her that her father was coming. As a result, Mei Chaofeng was frightened into releasing Guo Jing.

Mei thought, “If Shifu is indeed coming, how do I know that he won't kill me?” She remembered that Huang Yaoshi had a ruthless nature and his methods were cruel. She could not stop her face from growing ashen and her whole body shook as though Huang Yaoshi, his face grim, was already standing in front of her. Her body became limp. It was as though she had lost her kung fu skills as she bent towards the ground and shakily said, “Disciple's many sins make her deserving of death. But I beseech Shifu to take pity because my two eyes are blind and my lower body is handicapped. Please grant disciple leniency even though disciple is no better than a swine or a dog.” Then she remembered how Huang Yaoshi used to treat her with favor. Fearing that his heart had changed, her bosom was filled with shame as she said, “No, Shifu does not need to be lenient. Punish me severely.”

The whole time Guo Jing was with her, she appeared to be fierce and her manner evil. Even when faced with a great enemy or when climbing up that steep precipice, she remained unfazed as though nothing mattered. However, when Huang Rong mentioned her father, her attitude changed unexpectedly which he found very strange. Huang Rong was laughing inside as she pulled Guo Jing by the hand and led him towards the outside wall. But before they could leap over it to escape, they were stopped by a clear voice. Chuckling softly, a person came holding a fan. He laughed, “Girl, I'm not certain you can manage to climb that.”

Huang Rong saw that it was Ouyang Ke. She knew his kung fu skills and knew that it would be difficult to get past him. So, she immediately turned to Mei Chaofeng and said, "Mei Shizi [Elder Martial Sister Mei], father is always willing to listen to me. I can ask favor for you. But first, you have to do something meritorious so father can forgive you.”

Mei Chaofeng asked, “What is it?”

Huang Rong said, “There's a bad person who wants to bully me. I will pretend to go along but you mustn’t allow the enemy to strike or beat me. Once father comes and sees you helping me, he'll be pleased.”

Mei Chaofeng, hearing that her younger apprentice sister was willing to ask her father for a favor, felt her spirits revive. As they spoke, four of Ouyang Ke's concubines arrived. Huang Rong dragged Guo Jing behind Mei Chaofeng to avoid getting in the way, waiting for Mei Chaofeng or Ouyang Ke to make opening moves and then take the opportunity to sneak off. Ouyang Ke saw Mei Chaofeng sitting on the ground, her hair disheveled and her skin covered with dirt. She tightly clutched the upper part of her bosom. Opening his fan lightly and moving forward to catch Huang Rong, he suddenly felt a force heading towards his chest. He looked down to find the woman on the ground stretching out her hand to grab him. He had never encountered such level of strength in one stance before. Shocked, he hastily struck towards her wrist with his fan and at the same time, leapt aside. He heard a mocking sound, a noise, and loud successive cries. The front piece of Ouyang Ke's jacket was torn, his fan broken in two, and his four concubines were collapsing to the ground. He took a quick look around and saw that all four women had been killed violently. Their spirits left their bodies as soon as they were hit. The tops of their heads were covered with blood and brain matter oozed out of five holes. The swiftness and viciousness of the move was extremely rare. Ouyang Ke was surprised and angry at the same time when he saw the woman still sitting motionless as though paralyzed. His fear lessened and he quickly launched a stance passed on by his family, the ‘Divine Camel Snowy Mountain Palm’ [Shen Tuo Xue Shan Zhang]. His body floated as his palm prepared to attack. Mei Chaofeng's ten finger nails were sharp, each poised to grab and squeeze the air out of him as she sneered at him. How could Ouyang Ke dare get close?

Just as Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing so they could walk away, they suddenly heard a mad roar coming from behind them. Hou Tonghai's two fists were headed towards them. Huang Rong leaned slightly to one side. When Hou Tonghai saw this, he aimed for her shoulders, feeling pleased with himself. His blunt brain did not function fast enough and he belatedly remembered that she was wearing the soft hedgehog armor. He let out a loud shout, hastily withdrew his two fists, and hit his own forehead above the three bumps, yelling out in pain. Where else could he grab her besides her hair? At that moment, Sha Tongtian, Liang Ziwong, and Peng Lianhu arrived. Liang Ziwong saw Ouyang Ke engaged in a vicious fight, his long gown torn and ragged, and realized that the woman was the same one who pretended to be a ghost in the cave. Roaring angrily, he went forward to attack. Sha Tongtian and the others noted that Mei Chaofeng's stances were fierce. They were astonished and so decided to keep close watch, waiting for the first opportunity to attack. They thought, “Where does this woman's high kung fu come from?” Peng Lianhu watched and figured it out, he shouted, “The ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’!”

Huang Rong's body moved swiftly, first darting to the east before flashing to the west. How could Hou Tonghai grab her hair? Huang Rong noticed that his hands were always aimed at the top of her head and was able to surmise his intentions. She darted towards the rose bushes and hid behind them. She removed her long two-pronged hairpin and inserted it up from the base of the bun in her hair. Then she poked her head out and called, “I'm over here!”

Hou Tonghai was greatly pleased, and sent out a hand to grab the top of her head as he said, “This time, you can't get away, smelly boy...Ai yo, ai yo! Shi Ge (Martial Brother), the smelly boy's head also has thorns...thorns!” His palm had been punctured by the metal tips of the hairpin and caused him to jump back in pain.

Huang Rong laughingly said, “Your head has three horns. It's not fair. I only have two horns. Let's do this again!” Hou Tonghai replied, “No, not again!” Sha Tongtian scolded, “Do not shout!” Then he hurried over to his side to help.

By this time, Mei Chaofeng was engaging two masters who were attacking together. Suddenly, she sent her arm back to grab Guo Jing's chest, calling out, “Hold my legs.” Guo Jing did not understand what she meant but he wanted to help her fight the two powerful enemies. At her words, he immediately bent down and grabbed her legs.

Mei Chaofeng used her left hand to resist Ouyang Ke's palm while her right hand thrust towards Liang Ziwong. She said to Guo Jing, “Carry me to that old man Liang!”

Guo Jing suddenly understood, “Her lower body cannot move. She wants me to help her.” Thereupon he placed Mei Chaofeng on his shoulders and hurried after the fleeing enemy. His body had a strong kung fu basis and Mei Chaofeng's body was not heavy so even though she was on his shoulders, it did nothing to diminish his speed. He quickly leapt forward and Mei Chaofeng soared along with him.

Mei Chaofeng did not forget about the nei gong secret so even though she was facing the enemy, she also asked, “When you practice nei gong, how is it done?”

Guo Jing replied, “Sit cross-legged with five hearts facing heaven.” Mei Chaofeng asked, “What does five hearts facing heaven mean?

Guo Jing said, “The center of two palms, the center of two soles of the feet, and the center of the crown of the head – these are the five hearts.” Mei Chaofeng was delighted and her spirits rose. She reached out to brush the shoulders of Liang Ziwong, whose heart jumped as he started and ran away.

Guo Jing was about to chase after him when suddenly the Dragon King Sha Tongtian ran in front of him to help his apprentice brother capture Huang Rong. Startled, he hastily carried Mei Chaofeng towards them, shouting, “First, let's take care of these two!” Mei Chaofeng stretched out her left arm, heading towards Hou Tonghai. Hou Tonghai anxiously withdrew, trying to dodge. Who would think that Mei Chaofeng's arm would be so violent as though it had the strength of an ape? Although Hou Tonghai's dodging was quick, her arm was still able to follow his body. Grabbing him, the fingers of her right hand were already digging into him. Hou Tonghai's entire body went numb. He could no longer move.

He shouted, “Spare my life, spare my life, I have surrendered!”

Post a Comment

© Zona Novel Online. All rights reserved. Developed by Jago Desain