He saw in front of her two clay figurines, one resembling a man, the other a woman. These figurines were made in the famous Wuxi city; they were round, fat and really cute. In front of the figurines sat tiny clay bowls filled with flower petals, leaves, and so on.
(Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet, with special thanks to Sunnysnow)
A moment later Lu Guanying remembered their other guests; he helped Wanyan Kang to stand up but he could not move because his acupoints were still sealed; only his two eyes were rolling.
“I have accepted your Master’s request, you may go,” Lu Chengfeng said. He did not want to unseal the acupoints, since it was somebody else outside his school who did that. If he did, he would act in disrespect toward other people. Therefore, he cast his glance toward his guests. But before he even said anything Zhu Cong had come toward Wanyan Kang and hit several times on his waist, and tapped some more on his back; unsealed the acupoints.
Lu Chengfeng was impressed. “This Wanyan Kang’s martial art is not weak, yet this man was able to seal his acupoints without any resistance. His martial art must be good,” he thought. What he did not know was that Zhu Cong took advantage of the commotion because of the collapsed roof that Wanyan Kang did not even realize what was happening.
Wanyan Kang was ashamed; he turned his back and walked away without saying anything. Zhu Cong saw the Jin officer was still lying around; he unsealed his acupoints and called out, “Who is this officer? Take him away.”
Thai officer had thought that he was going to die; but unexpectedly he was released. He was delighted and busily kowtowed, “Valiant Hero … thank you so much for saving my lowly life. Duan Tiande will not forget it as long as I live. Next time when you visit the capital, please make sure you stop by my residence, I will be at your service with all my heart …”
Guo Jing heard the three characters ‘Duan Tiande’; his ears were buzzing. With a trembling voice he asked, “You … your name is Duan Tiande?”
“That’s right,” answered Duan Tiande. “Duan Tiande at your service, Young Hero.”
“Eighteen years ago, were you serving as a military officer in Lin An?” Guo Jing asked.
“How did the Young Hero know?” Duan Tiande asked; and then he remembered Lu Chengfeng mentioned that Lu Guanying was a disciple of Reverend Kumu; he turned his head to Lu Guanying and said, “I am Reverend Kumu’s nephew, only I did not attend the monastery. I say we belong to the same family. Ha … ha …!” He laughed merrily.
Guo Jing looked at him strangely but did not say anything. Meanwhile Duan Tiande was still smiling happily. After a while Guo Jing regained his composure and turned his head to Lu Chengfeng. “Village Master Lu, may I please borrow your courtyard for a moment?” he asked.
“Sure, use it as you wish,” Lu Chengfeng answered.
Guo Jing took Duan Tiande’s arm and led him to the courtyard in big strides. The Six Freaks of Jiangnan were having mixed feeling; they thought the heaven indeed have eyes. If he did not say his own name, they would not have known he was the person they have been looking for these past seven years and tens of thousands miles.
Lu Chengfeng and his son, along with Wanyan Kang followed behind. They had no idea what Guo Jing was about to do.
The courtyard was bright with the torches in the village servants’ hands. Guo Jing requested the use of some writing instruments, which the servants also quickly provided. Guo Jing then turned to Zhu Cong.
“Second Master,” he requested, “Would you please write down my father’s name?” To which Zhu Cong complied. He wrote in large letters, ‘Guo yi shi Xiaotian zhi ling wei’ [memorial tablet for the righteous warrior Guo Xiaotian] and placed it on the center table.
When he was taken out of the hall, Duan Tiande thought they were going to enjoy some refreshments; but as soon as he saw the name ‘Guo Xiaotian’ his blood was drained out of his body. He looked around, and found the Six Freaks of Jiangnan have taken their position surrounding him. He was especially wary of Han Baoju with his short and stout stature; involuntarily his pants were wet. That day when he took Guo Jing’s mother to the north with the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan hot on his trail, he stopped by an inn for the night. He heard a commotion and took a peek via a crack in the door. He saw Han Baoju. Han’s short and stout stature was not easily forgettable. Earlier that day they have met in the hall, but since he was a prisoner, he was more worry about his own fate that he did not pay too much attention on everybody else. But now under the bright torch light it was impossible to mistake Han Baoju as someone else.
Guo Jing smashed a table and loudly shouted, “Now tell me, do you want a quick and easy death, or do you want me to chop your body into thousand pieces before killing you?”
Duan Tiande knew he was not going to see another day. He scrambled to find something; anything to save his life. “Your father the chivalrous hero Guo’s death was unfortunate; and I did have a small role in his death, but … what could I do as a lowly officer against the higher authority?” he stammered.
“Who was that? Who sent you to harm my father? Quick, say it!” Guo Jiang shouted.
“It was the Sixth Prince of the Great Jin, Prince Wanyan Honglie,” Duan Tiande said.
“What did you say?” Wanyan Kang was startled.
At this point all Duan Tiande could think of was if he was going down, he wanted to drag other people with him. Who knows? He might get away with his crime. Therefore, without concealing anything he narrated how Wanyan Honglie was infatuated with Yang Tiexin’s wife, Bao Xiruo; how he conspired with Song authority to kill Yang Tiexin while Wanyan Honglie would pretend to be the good guy who rescued Bao Xiruo; how they ransacked Ox Village and ended up killing Guo Xiaotian; how Duan Tiande then took Guo Jing’s mother to Beijing, and then they joined the Jin envoy to the Mongolia; how during the chaotic time in Mongolia he got separated from Guo Jing’s mother; how he decided to go back to Lin An, and worked diligently as a career soldier and finally got promoted to his current position. He ended his story by kneeling in front of Guo Jing.
“Young Hero Guo, Guo Da Ren [‘honorable’ – someone in high position],” he said. “Please do not blame your lowly servant. I saw how chivalrous your father was, how solemn his expression was; I wanted to befriend him, only … only … your lowly servant was a very low ranking officer, I must obey orders. It was useless for me to have a good intention. Heaven is my witness, how I, Duan Tiande, did not have any enmity toward anybody …” He saw Guo Jing expression did not change a bit and did not say anything either; so he quickly scoot over to the table and kneeled in front of Guo Xiaotian’s memorial. “Master Guo,” he continued. “I am sure your spirit in heaven is very clear that it was the Sixth Prince Wanyan Honglie who killed you, and not this lowly creature in front of you. Today I witnessed your son to be an extraordinary young man, your spirit must have been very proud of him. I pray with your blessing he will forgive a lowly dog like me …”
While he was still babbling, Wanyan Kang swiftly leaped, struck with both hands and shattered his skull. He collapsed and died instantly.
Guo Jing kneeled in front of the table, sobbing uncontrollably. Only now did Lu Chengfeng understand the real story, so along with his son and the Six Freaks of Jiangnan they bowed to pay their respect in front of Guo Xiaotian’s memorial. Wanyan Kang also kneeled and kowtowed several times. Then he stood up and said, “Brother Guo, only today I know that … that Wanyan Honglie is our archenemy. Little Brother did not realize it and had committed many-many unrespectable actions, more like heinous crimes.” And then he remembered his mother’s suffering and wept bitterly.
“What are you going to do then?” Guo Jing lifted his head and asked.
“Little Brother found out today, that my surname is actually ‘Yang’, the name ‘Wanyan’ does not have anything to do with me. From now on, I will be called ‘Yang Kang’,” Wanyan Kang answered.
“Good!” Guo Jing exclaimed. “Finally you are a real man who does not forget your own origin. I am going to Beijing tomorrow to kill Wanyan Honglie. Are you coming with me or not?”
Yang Kang still remembered Wanyan Honglie’s kindness in raising him since his childhood; he hesitated for a moment. But seeing Guo Jing’s stern expression he hastily answered, “Little Brother will accompany Big Brother to seek revenge.”
Guo Jing was delighted. “Good! You know that our late parents had become sworn bothers, and my mother told me that they have made a pact to make us sworn brothers too. What do you say?”
“That is precisely my wish,” answered Yang Kang. So they asked each other their age, and turned out Guo Jing was born two months before Yang Kang was. They kneeled in front of Guo Xiaotian’s memorial, bowed eight times toward each other and became sworn brothers.
With everything under control, they turned in to take some rest in the Cloud Village. Early the next morning the Six Freaks, Guo Jing and Yang Kang bade farewell to the Village Master Lu and his son. The Village Master presented each guest with generous amount of money as a farewell gift to cover the traveling expense.
Leaving the village Guo Jing said to his six Masters, “Disciple and Brother Yang are going north to kill Wanyan Honglie. I am asking Masters to give me some advice.”
“The mid-autumn festival is still weeks away, while we do not have anything pressing to do. I think we’d better accompany you to take care of this important business,” Ke Zhen’E said. Zhu Cong and the rest voiced their approval.
“Your kindness toward disciple is as heavy as a mountain. Wanyan Honglie martial art is mediocre. With Brother Yang’s help, I am sure killing him will not be a difficult task. For your disciple’s sake Masters have left Jiangnan for more than ten years. Now that you are back in your hometown, your disciple doest not dare to trouble Masters for my personal business.”
The Six Freaks thought Guo Jing was very reasonable; also, they have seen it with their own eyes how Guo Jing’s martial art had improved tremendously. Hence they did not press on and one by one they gave their blessing to him.
Finally Han Xiaoying said, “On the matter of Peach Blossom Island, I don’t think you should go.” She knew Guo Jing was uprightly honest while that Huang Yaoshi was hot-tempered and strangely cruel. If Guo Jing went to the Peach Blossom Island chances were he would meet some unfortunate events.
“If disciple did not go, wouldn’t that mean I break my promise to him?” Guo Jing asked.
“When dealing with a monster we don’t have to have a good faith,” Yang Kang countered. “Big Brother, I think you adhere too rigidly to old-fashioned value and tradition.”
Ke Zhen’E snorted and said, “Jing’er, as a chivalrous hero we have to keep what we say. Today is the fifth day of the sixth month, we will meet again on the first day of the seventh month at the ‘zui xian lou’ [drunken deity wine shop – actually, ‘lou’ means a building with more than one story] at Jiaxing [in modern day Zhejiang], then we will go to Peach Blossom Island together. Now you’d better rush to Beijing to seek revenge, riding your red horse. You don’t have to always be with your younger brother. If you can achieve your goal, that would be great. If not, we can always look for Quan Zhen Sect’s priests to help us kill the traitor. Their righteousness is as heavy as the mountain, they certainly will not turn down our request.”
Guo Jing could comprehend his First Master’s love toward him by willing to go with him in dangerous situation. His heart was overwhelmed and he kneeled and kowtowed respectfully.
“Your younger brother came from a rich and honorable family, you must be careful,” Nan Xiren reminded him. Guo Jing did not understand, he only looked at his master. Han Xiaoying smiled, “You don’t understand your Fourth Master’s words. It’s OK. You will understand later. Just be careful at all times,” she said. “Yes,” Guo Jing said.
Zhu Cong smiled, “Huang Yaoshi’s daughter is actually very different from her father,” he said. “We’d better not provoke her anymore, wouldn’t we, Third Brother?”
Han Baoju twitched his moustache. “This little brat scolded me short as a winter melon, she thinks herself pretty?” Speaking thus he could not restrain his smile.
Guo Jing knew his masters no longer bear any grudge toward Huang Rong; he was delighted. But when he remembered her whereabouts were unknown, he couldn’t help but feeling depressed.
“Jing’er,” Quan Jinfa said, “The sooner you leave, the sooner you will be back. We will wait patiently in Jiaxing.” With that the Six Freaks of Jiangnan headed south.
Guo Jing held his red horse’s rein, following his masters with his eyes until he no longer could see them. Then he turned his head toward Yang Kang. “My ‘xiandie’ [lit. worthy younger brother], this red horse of mine is extremely fast; we can go to Beijing and back within ten days. What do you say I accompany you spending several days looking around?” Yang Kang agreed. Two young men mounted the horse and walked slowly to the north.
Yang Kang sighed with a heavy feeling. Only a month ago he lived a luxurious life. He came to Jiangnan with a great company as a special emissary of the Great Jin, with all the power and prestige that came with it. But now? He was traveling back to the capital quietly, with nobody pampered him along the way. It was like he was having a pleasant dream and suddenly woke up to the harsh reality of life. Even Guo Jing would not necessarily take him along to kill Wanyan Honglie; which made him more distressed. He contemplated on giving a warning to Wanyan Honglie, but could not make up his mind about it.
Guo Jing noticed his grim expression, but thought that he was mourning the death of his parents, so Guo Jing tried to console him.
Around noon they arrived in Li Yang and straightway tried to find a restaurant for some refreshments. Out of the blue somebody who looked like a restaurant worker came approaching. “Are you two gentlemen Mr. Guo and Mr. Yang?” he bowed and asked, smiling widely. “The table is ready, please come with me to dine.”
Guo Jing and Yang Kang were baffled. “How did you know us?” Yang Kang asked.
“Earlier a guest arrived and asked us to prepare a meal for you. I was even given a detailed description on how Mr. Guo and Mr. Yang look,” he said, still with a smile on his face. He then took over the horses’ reins and led them to the stable.
Yang Kang snorted and cynically said, “The Cloud Village Master Lu is so kind.” They entered the restaurant and sat down. Turned out the food was exquisite, the wine was superb. Guo Jing even found some chicken that he liked very much. They ate to their hearts’ content and were about to pay the bill; but the restaurant worker simply smiled and said, “No need to pay gentlemen, everything has been taken care of.” Yang Kang laughed and tipped him generously. He thanked them profusely and walked them out the restaurant, bowing and smiling all the time.
Guo Jing praised the Village Master Lu’s generosity. Yang Kang however, still bore a grudge because he was captured and held prisoner. “I assume he uses this trick to befriend the Jianghu people; no wonder he can be the leader of the Lake Tai area,” he said.
“Isn’t Village Master Lu your martial uncle?” Guo Jing wondered.
“It’s true that Mei Chaofeng had taught me some martial arts,” Yang Kang answered. “But that doesn’t necessarily make her my master. If I had known they came from a heretical sect, I would not want to learn anything and I wouldn’t have to fall into this situation right now.”
“How so?” Guo Jing was confused.
Yang Kang realized he had made an indiscreet remark. He blushed and said with a smile, “Little Brother feels the ‘nine yin white bone claw’ and her other martial arts are unorthodox.”
Guo Jing concurred. “What my xiandie said was correct. Your master, Priest Eternal Spring’s martial art is exquisite, and he came from the orthodox Taoist school. If you tell him the truth and repent, I am sure he would be willing to forget past matters.” Yang Kang silently agreed.
That evening they arrived at Jin Tan. Again, another restaurant worker welcomed them and led them to a table full of choice foods and wine. This happened for the next three days. The next day the two crossed a river and arrived at Gao You and received the same welcome. Yang Kang sneered and said, “I want to see how far the Cloud Village will extend their hospitality.” However, Guo Jing was started to get suspicious; every time they eat, he would find one or two bowls of his favorite food. If it were Lu Guanying, how would he know what Guo Jing liked?
After they finished eating Guo Jing proposed, “My xiandie, let me walk ahead and investigate.” Mounting his red horse he hastily rode ahead, passing three scheduled stops and soon arrived at Bao Ying. Sure enough, nobody welcomed him there. So Guo Jing found the biggest inn in town and checked in at the best room. That evening he heard a horse with loud ringing bells galloping near, and stopped right in front of the inn. Somebody entered and ordered some foods scheduled for tomorrow, for Mr. Guo and Mr. Yang.
Guo Jing had guessed earlier it must be Huang Rong, but hearing her voice he was overjoyed nonetheless. He restrained himself from coming out to see her. He thought Huang Rong liked to play around, so he would surprise her later that evening. He slept soundly until about the second hour [I am not sure the corresponding time in our 24 hours system], quietly got up and went tiptoeing to scare Huang Rong in her room. But he saw a shadow flashing on the roof; it was Huang Rong. “Where is she going in the middle of the night?” Guo Jing wondered.
Quickly he used his lightness kungfu and followed behind. Huang Rong ran without looking around to the outskirt of town; oblivious that somebody was following her. She stopped at the bank of a small creek and sat underneath a willow tree. She took something out of her pocket and stooping down to play with it.
The moonlight shone on her beautiful face, a cool breeze swayed the willow branches. Huang Rong’s clothes gently fluttered. The creek whispered softly and the insect chirped quietly. It was a beautiful scene to behold. Guo Jing was about to come near when suddenly he heard Huang Rong quietly said, “This is Brother Jing, this one is Rong’er. You two sit down nicely face-to-face. Yes, like this …”
Guo Jing tiptoed behind her. He could not see clearly under the dim moonlight, but he saw in front of her were two clay figurines, one resembled a man, the other a woman. These figurines were made by the famous Wu Xi; they were round and fat, really cute. During their stay at the Cloud Village Guo Jing had learned from Huang Rong that although mere toys, Wu Xi’s products were the result of a very high quality craftsmanship. The locals called them ‘da a fu’ [big lucky]. Huang Rong owned several such figurines at the Peach Blossom Island.
Guo Jing came nearer and saw in front of the figurines there were tiny clay bowls filled with flower petals, leaves, and so on. He heard her saying softly, “Brother Jing can eat this bowl, Rong’er will have this one. Rong’er cooked them herself. Aren’t they delicious?”
“Delicious, very delicious!” Guo Jing stepped out and said.
Huang Rong was startled. She turned her head and smiled sweetly; rushed toward Guo Jing’s bosom and hugged him tightly. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder underneath the willow tree busily talking about what had happened during their few days of separation, which felt like years to them. Actually it was Huang Rong who busily talked, Guo Jing was content by simply looking at her face and listening to her chatter.
Huang Rong told him how that night after her father threatened Guo Jing’s life she had jumped into the lake. After hiding for some time she figured out her father must have left, so she came back to the village. She saw Guo Jing was safe and sound, so she was greatly comforted; but recalling how she had been too harsh to her father she felt really bad. The next morning she saw Guo Jing and Yang Kang heading north to Beijing, thereupon she preceded them and arranged for meals along the way.
They talked all through the night under the warm sixth month’s weather. The weather was pleasant and Huang Rong’s heart was happy; after a while she became sleepy, her speech became fuzzy and not too long afterward felt asleep on Guo Jing’s bosom; her jade-white skin felt cool and her breath blowing softly. Guo Jing was afraid he might awaken her, so he sat motionless against the willow tree and after a while he dozed off.
Guo Jing did not know how long he was sleeping, but by the time he opened his eyes he could hear the birds chirping merrily and he smelled the sweet fragrance of the wild flowers. The sun was rising; but Huang Rong was still asleep. Her eyebrows creased, her complexion ruddy, her smile graceful; looked like she was having a sweet dream.
“Let her sleep a bit longer; I must not make any noise,” Guo Jing thought. He looked like he was counting her long eyelashes when suddenly a voice was heard, coming from about twenty feet to his left.
“I have found out the Eldest Miss Cheng’s room; it is on the second floor of the building surrounded by flower garden behind the Tong Ren pawnshop,” that voice said.
“Good! We will work tonight,” another voice replied, it sounded like an older man. Both men spoke in low voice, but in the quietness of the morning Guo Jing could hear every single word clearly. He was startled; they sounded like some ‘cai hua yin zei’ [lit. flower picking thief – serial rapist], naturally he could not let them do all kinds of evil things.
Suddenly Huang Rong opened her eyes; she leaped out of Guo Jing’s bosom and called out, “Brother Jing, catch me!” She ran toward a big tree. Initially Guo Jing was perplexed, but Huang Rong kept beckoning him to come. Finally he understood. They were pretending to be a young couple playing hide-and-seek in the morning. He pursued her while laughing and joking loudly, intentionally made his footsteps heavy to conceal his lightness kungfu.
Those two men were not expecting anybody else to be around that early in the morning. They were startled, but upon seeing a young man and a young woman noisily playing, their suspicion vanished. However, they did not continue talking and left immediately.
Huang Rong and Guo Jing could see their backs. They were dressed in rags, looked like they were beggars.
“Brother Jing, what do you think they are going to do to that Eldest Miss Cheng?” Huang Rong asked after they have walked far enough.
“Most likely not a good thing,” Guo Jing answered. “Do you think we should help her?”
“That’s for sure,” Huang Rong answered with a smile. “Only I don’t know if they belong to Hong Qigong’s clan or not?”
“I don’t think so,” Guo Jing said. “But then Qigong said that all beggars under the heaven are in his care … Hmm … perhaps those two are impostors.”
“There are tens of thousands beggars in the world, certainly some of them have turned bad. I don’t care how good Qigong is, he would not be able to manage each and every one of them. Looks like these two are the bad ones. Qigong has been so kind to us that it is impossible to ever repay him. I think Qigong will like it if we help him to take care of these bad ones.”
“You are right,” Guo Jing agreed. Even though he was a little bit tired, the thought of repaying Qigong’s kindness lifted his spirit up.
“These two men’s bare legs were covered with boils. I am sure they are not fake, so these two were real beggars. Other people could not disguise themselves like that,” Huang Rong said.
“You really are very observant,” Guo Jing admired.
The young couple went back to town for some breakfast, then they walked idly down the street toward the west end of town. There they saw a very big pawnshop with large characters painted on the white wall, ‘Tong Ren Pawnshop’ four characters, with each character taller than an average man. Behind the shop was a garden, and in the middle was a two-story building. There was a dark green bamboo curtain covering a big window on the second floor. Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other and smiled. Hand in hand they walked away to play elsewhere.
After dinner that evening they retreated to their respective room for some rest and meditation. About one o’clock at night they ran toward the western part of the town; leaped up the garden fence and saw the dark shadow of the big building. Silently they climbed to the roof and swung their bodies down from the eaves. It was a summer night, so the window was open. They looked around the big room and to their surprise there were seven young girls, all about 18, 19 years of age. One beautiful looking girl was sitting next to a lamp, reading. They thought she must be Miss Cheng. The other six dressed as servant girls, all holding unsheathed weapons in their hands; they looked so stern yet graceful, obviously they knew martial arts.
Guo Jing and Huang Rong initially intended to help this young woman, but seeing she was well prepared they thought they would wait and see. So quietly the climbed back to the roof and waited.
Not too long they heard a faint cry from outside the wall. Huang Rong immediately pulled Guo Jing and they looked down to see two shadows leaping the wall and walked toward the building. The shadows looked like the two beggars they met earlier. One of the beggars whistled softly; to which a servant girl opened the curtain and asked, “Have the hero brothers from the Beggar Clan arrived? Please come up.” The two beggars leaped up and entered the room.
In the darkness outside Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other in surprised. Earlier they thought that as soon as the beggars arrived there would be some fighting or something interesting; who would have thought that they knew each other?
Miss Cheng immediately stood up, paid her respect and uttered some pleasantries. “Would you tell me your honorable names, please?” she asked.
“My surname is Li,” the older beggar answered, “And this is my martial nephew Yu Zhao.”
“So you are Senior Li and Elder Brother Yu,” Miss Cheng said. “The valiant heroes of the Beggar Clan always hold justice; and are admired by the people of the martial arts worlds. It really is an honor to me, young disciple to finally meet two revered role models. Please, sit down.” Although what she said was common Jianghu pleasantries, but her facial expression was shy. She paused a lot in between sentences; which showed she was not used to this kind of talk. She said ‘admired by the people of the martial arts worlds’ with sincerity, but sounded like she was not sure what she was talking about. When she finished speaking her head hung low and her face completely blushed.
Shyly she looked up toward the old beggar’s one eye and timidly asked, “Senior Hero, aren’t you the venerable ‘jiang dong she wang’ [Serpent King of the East River] Li Sheng, Senior Li?”
The old beggar laughed. “You have keen eyes, Miss! I have had the honor to meet your master, ‘qing jing san ren’ [Sage of Tranquility]. Even though we are not the best of friends, but always have great respect to each other.”
Guo Jing also heard the name ‘Sage of Tranquility’ mentioned and was delighted, “The Sage of Tranquility Sun Bu’er, Priestess Sun is one of the Quan Zhen Seven Master; therefore, this Miss Cheng and those two beggars are not outsiders.” He heard Miss Cheng continued, “I am very grateful to receive the Senior Hero’s aid in upholding justice. I will listen to Senior Hero’s instruction.”
“Miss, you are worth a thousand gold,” Li Sheng said. “But for this licentious man to look at you even with one eye is still too much.” Hearing this Miss Cheng’s face blushed profusely. Li Sheng continued, “Now I suggest you stay overnight at the main house, along with all of these honorable servants of yours. I will deal with that conceited man alone.”
“Young disciple is not skilled in martial art, but I am not afraid of that villain,” Miss Cheng said. “How could I let Senior to deal with him alone?”
“Please don’t say such thing Miss,” Li Sheng said. “Our Clan Leader Hong and your honorable founder Senior Wang were good friends; that means we belong to the same family. Why do you want to consider it otherwise?”
Actually Miss Cheng wanted to try her own martial art, but listened to Li Sheng she did not dare to defy. So she bowed and said, “Then I will leave everything under Senior Li and Elder Brother Yu’s capable hands.” Having said that she gracefully led her maidservants go downstairs.
Li Sheng walked toward the young lady’s bed, opened the embroidered quilt, and without taking out his shoes laid his dirty body on the sweet smelling bedding. “Go downstairs,” he told Yu Zhao, “Be on guard with everybody else. Do not make any move without my command.” Yu Zhao complied. Li Sheng then hid his entire body under the blanket after extinguished the candle beside the bed.
“That Miss Cheng might not want to sleep under that blanket anymore,” Huang Rong secretly laughed in her heart. “The members of the Beggar Clan are just like their leader, they like to deliberately creating trouble in a funny way. This matter is actually much more amusing than I originally thought.”
Because there were other people standing guard, Huang Rong and Guo Jing quietly hid themselves under the eaves. About an hour later she heard the night watch sounding the signal ‘knock, knock, bang, bang, bang …’ at the front of the building. It was the third hour. Then she heard a pebble fell in the flower garden.
A moment later eight people came leaping over the fence and headed straight to the second floor. They lighted a lantern briefly, enough to see the bed, then quickly extinguished the fire. In that very short time Guo Jing and Huang Rong could see their appearance. Turned out they were the female disciples of Ouyang Ke who dressed like men; all wore white clothing. Four of them opened the bed curtain and covered Li Sheng’s head with a silk hood; firmly held and lifted him up. Two of them opened a big sack and in went the blanket with Li Sheng inside it. They quickly tightened the sack mouth and lifted the sack up. They worked swiftly and quietly in the dark, without making any noise. Seemed like they were very skilled in what they were doing.
They leaped back downstairs. Guo Jing was about to make a move when Huang Rong whispered in his ears, “Let the Beggar Clan people go first.” Guo Jing complied. He stretched his neck and saw four female disciples lifted the sack with Li Sheng in it, while the other four were guarding behind them. Further back about ten yards behind were the Beggar Clan people, each wielding a wooden staff.
Guo Jing and Huang Rong waited a moment to put some distance between them before they quietly leaped out of the garden and followed from afar. A little while later they arrived at the edge of the town. The eight women took the sack to a big house, while the four Beggar Clan members spread out to surround the building.
Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing’s arm and they walked toward the back of the building; jumped over the back wall and saw that the building was actually an ancestral temple. The main hall was full of memorial tablets. On the main beam were hung big banners with the deceased people’s merits and honorable titles written on them. The hall was lit by four, five big red candles; and in the center sat a man wielding a folding fan.
Guo Jing and Huang Rong had guessed earlier it must be Ouyang Ke’s doing, and they were right. They hid themselves under a window, did not dare to move at all, while wondering in their hearts, “Would that Li Sheng fellow be able to fight him?”
They saw the eight women entering the hall and said, “Young Master, Miss Cheng is here.” Ouyang Ke sneered coldly. He looked outside and said, “Friends, you have been so kind to visit, why not come in and introduce yourselves?”
Hiding on top of the wall’s roof, the Beggar Clan people knew they have been found out, but without Li Sheng’s command they did not dare to make any noise.
Ouyang Ke turned his head and looked at the sack. “I did not expect a beautiful lady as you would be so easily invited to come here.” He walked slowly forward, waving his folding fan slowly. When he folded the fan, it resembled an iron pen.
Huang Rong and Guo Jing saw his hand movement and his expression; they were shocked. Looked like Ouyang Ke had already found out an enemy was hiding inside that sack and was going to strike.
Huang Rong immediately took three steel needles in her hand, aiming them toward the fan; ready to strike if Li Sheng was in danger. But suddenly there were swishing sounds; a couple of sleeve-arrows were flying toward Ouyang Ke’s chest. They were released by a beggar who appeared on the windowsill. They also have seen the danger threatening Li Sheng, and launched a preemptive strike.
Ouyang Ke stretched his left hand sideways, his index and middle fingers pinched an arrow, his ring and little fingers pinched the other, with a couple of ‘crack’ sound the two arrows became four pieces.
The Beggars saw this and were amazed. “Martial Uncle Li, come out!” Yu Zhao called out. He was not even finished shouting when the sack was ripped open; out came two blades followed by Li Zheng rolling on the floor. He used the sack as a shield and quickly stood up.
Li Sheng knew Ouyang Ke was fierce and he was not sure he could defeat him; that was the reason he wanted to attack him by surprise by hiding inside the sack; who would have thought that Ouyang Ke fouled his plan.
“A beautiful lady turned into a beggar. It was a good sack trick!” Ouyang Ke laughed.
Li Sheng ignored his remark. “This city has lost four girls in three days. All were your Excellency’s doing, I presume?” he countered.
“This Bao Ying County is certainly not a poor area, how did the law enforcement officer turned into a beggar?” Ouyang Ke smirked.
Li Sheng maintained his calmness. “I am not begging for food here,” he answered. “But I heard yesterday that four adolescent girls suddenly vanished without a trace. My curiosity was piqued, so I took a look.”
Ouyang Ke reluctantly said, “Actually those girls are not exceptional; and since you want them –considering we are the people of the martial arts world, I’d like to give them to you. Beggars usually eat dead crabs; so I am sure you will treat these four girls as your treasures.” He waved his right hand, and several female disciples of his went inside to get those four girls. The girls’ clothes were unkempt, their faces thin and pale, their eyes red from crying.
Li Sheng was outraged to see this. He loudly shouted, “What is your honorable name? Whose disciple are you?”
Ouyang Ke still maintained his carefree attitude. “My surname is Ouyang. What is it that you want, my friend?” he nonchalantly answered.
“I want to play with you!” Li Sheng roared.
“I want nothing better!” Ouyang Ke replied. “Please start!”
“Good!” Li Sheng shouted and moved his right hand. But just before he strike a white shadow flashed with a gust of wind. He was very shocked and leaped up immediately, but his neck was scratched nonetheless. Luckily he was swift, if not; his neck would have a hole in it.
Li Sheng was an eight-bag disciple of his clan; a highly respected position. His martial art was strong; and the beggars in Liang Zhe area came to him for advice. In short, he was one of the Beggar Clan’s elite fighters; who would have thought that he was almost injured in just one stance. His face flushed with anger and embarrassment. Without turning his body he launched his hand backward.
“He knows the ’18-dragon subduing palms’,” whispered Huang Rong to Guo Jing. Guo Jing nodded.
Ouyang Ke could see this move was fierce and did not dare to meet it frontally, he jumped sideways. By this time Li Sheng had turned his body around and stepped forward. He lifted both hands in front of his chest and with a loud cry pushed them forward.
This time it was Guo Jing who whispered into Huang Rong’s ear, “Is that move from the ‘xiao yao you quan fa’ [wandering strides fists technique]?” Huang Rong nodded; but she noticed that Li Sheng’s movement was heavy, not elegant like the ‘wandering strides’ should be executed.
Ouyang Ke saw Li Sheng’s step was steady and his hands were profound in launching wonderful moves; he did not dare to act casual and underestimated his opponent any longer. He slipped his folding fan into his waist and quick as a flash launched a counterattack toward Li Sheng’s shoulder.
Li Sheng parried with the ‘fan lai shen shou’ [begging for rice], still from the ‘wandering strides’ fists technique. Ouyang Ke parried with his left hand, which forced Li Sheng to lift his right arm; then swiftly Ouyang Ke moved toward Li Sheng’s back and stretched both hands with all fingers forming two claws attacking Li Sheng’s vital ‘bei xin’ [sleeveless garment] acupoints.
Huang Rong and Guo Jing were startled, “This move is difficult to fend off.”
By that time the rest of the Beggar Clan people had entered the hall. They saw Li Sheng was in grave danger and were rushing to help.
Li Sheng could hear the wind behind his back and felt the claws almost touching his clothes. Again he launched his hand backward using the ‘shen long bai wei’ [divine dragon swings its tail] from the ’18 Dragon-subduing Palms’. The stance came from the trigram, ‘to thread on’ which is part of the Yi Jing. The master who created the 18 subduing dragon palms actually named the stance “threading on the tiger’s tail”. It was a more powerful description as compared to “attacking the tiger from behind” because if one steps on the tiger’s tail, it will no doubt turn around and attack furiously. However, the later generation felt that this description in the Yi Jing was too soft and not pleasing to the tongue. Thus, they changed it to “the divine dragon swings its tail”.
Ouyang Ke did not dare to meet this attack head on, so he flexed his body and jumped back.
“A very close call!” Li Sheng said in his heart. He turned his body around to face his opponent again. His martial art was inferior to Ouyang Ke’s exquisite moves. They have fought thirty, forty moves and already his life was dangerously threatened five, six times. Fortunately he could always use the [divine dragon swings its tail] to get out of trouble.
“Looks like Hong Qigong only passed on this single move to him,” Huang Rong whispered to Guo Jing. Guo Jing nodded. He recalled the time when Hong Qigong passed the ‘Proud Dragon Show Remorse’ and he fought Liang Ziweng over and over using this single move. Then later on Hong Qigong taught him a total of fifteen moves; while this important figure in the Beggar Clan only knew one move. His heart swelled with gratitude toward Hong Qigong.
In the meantime Ouyang Ke had increased the intensity of his attacks, and step-by-step he forced Li Sheng toward a corner. Earlier Ouyang Ke sent his fierce attacks without any particular target, but now his moves were intended to prevent Li Sheng from turning around and launching his backward palm. Li Sheng understood his intention very well, so he worked hard to step back into the middle of the room.
Suddenly Ouyang Ke let out a long laugh; he whirled the fist straight up from below hitting Li Sheng’s chin. Li Sheng stammered in pain, he cried in alarm. He tried to stretch his hand to counterattack, but he was a split second too late. Ouyang Ke’s fist had struck its target. Li Sheng was hit five, six times on the head and chest. He felt dizzy, his body weakened, he wobbled and fell to the ground.
The Beggar Clan people rushed to help, but Ouyang Ke turned around, grabbed two of the front most attackers and threw them to the wall. They fainted immediately. The rest of the beggars did not dare to continue.
“What do you think I am to think that a bunch of stinky beggars would deceive me so easily?” Ouyang Ke sneered. He clapped his hands and two female disciples came out dragging a young woman along. Her hands were tied behind her back, her face weary, tears flowed down her cheeks; she was none other than Miss Cheng.
Everybody, including Huang Rong and Guo Jing, was shocked and baffled.
Ouyang Ke waved his hand and his disciples took Miss Cheng back inside. With a smug expression he said, “When the old beggar went into the sack, I worked downstairs inviting Miss Cheng and went back here immediately to wait for the rest of you.”
The beggars looked at each other in blank dismay, they thought this time they lost big time.
Ouyang Ke casually waved his fan and mocked, “The Beggar Clan’s name is well-known throughout the world. Today I have seen it with my own eyes, a fame that will make people laugh until their teeth fall out of their mouths! Your special skills of stealing chicken, stroking dogs, begging for food, catching snakes, I have seen them all. Now, do you still dare to mingle in your Young Master’s business? I am willing to spare this old beggar’s life, but I must take his two lights as a souvenir.” After saying that, he stretched out two fingers toward Li Sheng’s eyes.
“Hold it!” suddenly a voice called out. A man leaped into the hall and immediately sent an attack toward Ouyang Ke.
Ouyang Ke sensed the swiftness and fierceness of the attack; he moved sideways to evade, but still could not get out of the wind. His body shook and he was forced to draw back two steps. He could not help but secretly startled. “Ever since I left the western region I had fought many skilled masters; who is this man who has an unexpectedly high martial art skill?” He turned his eyes toward the newcomer and once again he was startled; since he had fought Guo Jing before at the Zhao Palace. His martial art was only average; how did his palm carry a profound strength just now?
“You have committed all kinds of evil, but instead of repenting you wanted to injure this good man. Do you really not consider the heroes of the Jianghu anymore?” Guo Jing scolded.
Ouyang Ke thought that Guo Jing’s last attack was just a coincidence. He looked down on Guo Jing, “Are you one of those ‘heroes’?” he mockingly asked.
“I do not dare to call myself a hero,” Guo Jing answered. “But with all due respect I am asking you to release Miss Cheng and then return to the west immediately.”
“And what if I don’t want to listen to your childish request?” Ouyang Ke smirked.
Before Guo Jing had a chance to reply, Huang Rong called from outside the window, “Brother Jing, just punch this bastard!”
Ouyang Ke heard Huang Rong’s voice, his spirit was shaken. “Miss Huang, you want me to release Miss Cheng, that is easy, as long as you follow me wherever I go. Not only Miss Cheng, but I will also release all my female disciples; moreover, I will promise you not to take any other female disciple. Wouldn’t that be good?”
Huang Rong leaped inside the hall, smiling she said, “That is very good! We are going to tour the western region. Brother Jing, are you coming?”
Ouyang Ke shook his head, “No, I want you to come with me. I don’t want this stinky kid to come along,” he said, still smiling.
Huang Rong was angry, her palm slapped backward. “You dare to scold him? You are the stinky one!” she loudly shouted.
Ouyang Ke was mesmerized with Huang Rong’s gracefulness and her sweet smile while talking to him. She looked so innocent yet free. His spirit was captured. Who would have thought that she abruptly turned hostile? He did not guard against her, plus Huang Rong was using the exquisite move from the [fallen flower divine sword palm], the ultimate in palm technique. So his left cheek was slapped. Fortunately Huang Rong did not use her full strength; but his face was burning in pain nonetheless.
“Bah!” Ouyang Ke spat. His left hand suddenly stretched out toward Huang Rong’s breast. Huang Rong did not elude him; she threw both hands toward the top of his head. Ouyang Ke was lascivious, seeing Huang Rong did not move, he was delighted. While ignoring the blow on his head he caressed his hand on her breast. Who would have thought that as soon as his fingers touched her clothes, he felt stabbing pain. Suddenly it dawned on him, “She is wearing the soft hedgehog armor.” Luckily he was being frivolous that he did not use much strength. Quickly he lifted his arm to parry her blow.
“It’s not easy for you to hit me,” Huang Rong smiled. “I can hit you, but you can’t hit me.”
Ouyang Ke was exasperated; he could not enrage Huang Rong, so he vented his anger toward Guo Jing. “Let me kill this kid first, I hope her feeling toward him will die,” he thought. So while his eyes fixed on Huang Rong, his leg flew backward toward Guo Jing’s chest. This leg movement was swift and ruthless. It was the Western Poison Ouyang Feng’s unique family skill. It was difficult to fend off. Once the leg hit its target, the ribcage would be fractured toward the lung.
Guo Jing did not have enough time to jump back, so he turned his body around and launched a backward palm. With a loud crash Guo Jing’s palm hit Ouyang Ke’s leg, while Ouyang Ke’s leg hit Guo Jing’s chest almost simultaneously. Both men felt searing pain to the bone. They turned their bodies around facing each other and staring at each other angrily; immediately they attacked each other.
The Beggar Clan people were surprised, “This move obviously is Li Sheng’s unique skill, the [divine dragon swing its tail], how come this young man can use it? Moreover, his movement is superior to that of Li Sheng.” By now they have already pulled Li Sheng – who had come to his senses, to the side. He also recognized not only the [divine dragon swing its tail], but other stances as well. He saw Guo Jing’s moves were exquisite and powerful; he was amazed. “This ’18 Dragon-subduing Palms’ is Clan Leader Hong’s special skill. Because I had no regard for my own life and rendered a great service, the leader had generously rewarded me with one stance. Where did this youth learn the full set of 18 stances?” Obviously he did not realize Guo Jing only knew 15 stances.
Ouyang Ke was also amazed. He secretly admired Guo Jing’s progress. “How could this kid’s martial art improve so much in just two months?”
In a short time they have already exchanged about forty moves. Guo Jing had repeatedly used his 15 stances several times. It was enough for him to defend himself; but in all honesty he had to admit that Ouyang Ke’s martial art was several levels above his, so he realized he would not win.
Another ten or so moves later Ouyang Ke changed his tactics. He swiftly moved to all directions to divert Guo Jing’s attention then he launched quick attack from unexpected direction. Guo Jing tried hard to fend off but his left hip was kicked. He stepped backward and was limping. Luckily his stances were concentrated on his palms, so he could still launch his 15 moves in succession.
Ouyang Ke did not dare to press on for a while. He tried to force an opening in Guo Jing’s defense line. About a dozen or so moves later he did see an opening and immediately launched an attack. Guo Jing had finished all 15 moves and was about to repeat the whole set. After the fifteenth stance ‘jian long zai tian’ [dragon appeared from (rice) field] he could have launched the first stance, ‘kang long you hui’ [the proud dragon show remorse]; but he could also repeat the last stance, ‘jian long zai tian’. His mind was not quick enough, he pondered, “Shall I repeat from the beginning, or shall I reverse the order?” This slight hesitation was enough for Ouyang Ke. He immediately took advantage of this small flaw and attacked toward Guo Jing’s shoulder.
Guo Jing was taken aback; he did not have any chance to think which one of the 15 stances he could use to parry that attack, so in reflex he stepped backward and slapped his opponent’s hand. It was a move without following any martial art principles; it was a move without a move. But it took Ouyang Ke by surprise and his arm was squarely hit. Ouyang Ke was shocked; he leaped back and immediately examined his arm. Luckily even though it hurt, but it was not broken.
Guo Jing was delighted with this unexpected result. He thought, “I realized there are three areas on my body which are not protected well: my shoulder, left hip, and right waist. If only I can develop more stances using my both hands …” His mind was still reeling when Ouyang Ke had launched another attack.
Guo Jing was not the smartest kid on the block. Even if he painstakingly racked his brain for ten days or two weeks, he would not necessarily come out with even half of a new move; much less now he was engaged in a fierce combat, how would he have a chance to think? All he could do was clumsily modifying whatever principle he had learned from the dragon palms just to protect his shoulder, left hip and right waist; these three areas.
Ouyang Ke was anxious. “His stances were limited, and given enough time, I am sure I can gain an upper hand. Where did these three additional stances come from?” he thought. He did not know that Guo Jing’s three additional moves were actually useless; but he was a little bit wary since he was hit before. So he slowed down his pace and concentrating his strength on defense, carefully studied Guo Jing’s new moves. After a while he could see the flaw. “Right! He had not mastered these moves yet, that was the reason he did not use them at the beginning,” he thought. While still moving his body around he thrust his left hand to divert Guo Jing’s attention; and at the same time swung his right leg straight toward Guo Jing’s left hip.
Guo Jing was not able to use his three self-developed stances to their full extend yet. To suddenly see the opponent attacked his weak point, he was nervous. Actually he was launching a palm, but suddenly retracted it halfway and diverted his palm to parry his opponent’s kick.
Huang Rong was secretly disappointed. “To hesitate in a match like this is truly martial art’s biggest taboo. In this one single move Brother Jing had wasted seven, eight opportunities. Not only that, but even if he won’t be able to injure the enemy, he should be able to defend himself. By turning around his palm like that, he actually made the flaw bigger,” she reasoned. She knew for sure that Ouyang Ke had put all his strength in that kick; Guo Jing might not be able to parry it. So immediately seven, eight steel needles flew hard from her hand.
Ouyang Ke quickly drew the folding fan on his waist and in one fluid motion open up the fan and waved it gently to block the needles. He was sure all needles were down; hence he did not slow down his kick toward Guo Jing. He was confident Guo Jing would get hit hard and fell to the ground; but then he felt a slight numbness like the acupoint above his ankle was sealed. His kick did not stop all right, but it had lost all its strength. Ouyang Ke leaped back in great surprise. “Which meddler is brave enough to backstab your Young Master?” he fumed, “Come out if you have guts …”
But before he finished he heard a noise from above and something flew his way. He lifted his hand to fend that thing, but it came too fast. Before he knew it something had entered his mouth. It was a little bit salty and hard. He was startled and scared. Quickly he spat that thing out. Turned out it was a chicken bone.
Nervously he looked around above him; but at that precise moment some debris came falling down on him. He busily leaped sideways while spitting the dust from his mouth. Just as he opened his mouth, several pieces of chicken bones came hitting his teeth. They were not knocked down, but it was painful! Ouyang Ke was wild with rage. Suddenly he saw something flew down from a shadow on the roof beam above; immediately he launched a palm to strike that something. He managed to strike it down to the ground only to see that something was actually half-eaten chicken claw. Then he heard the shadow on the beam exploded in laughter. “How is the beggar’s stealing chicken skill?”
Huang Rong and Guo Jing leaped in joy as soon as they heard his voice. “Qigong!” they shouted together.
Everybody looked up and saw Hong Qigong sat on the roof beam, his feet splayed out; half of a chicken in his hand, which he ate enthusiastically. The numerous Beggar Clan people bowed and open their mouths together, “Clan Leader! We wish you Senior well.”
Ouyang Ke saw it was indeed Hong Qigong; his heart sank. “If what he threw to me was not chicken bones but projectiles, I would be dead by now. Real men are not afraid of defeat; most important thing now is escaping.” He bowed and said, “Uncle Hong, your nephew kowtows to you.” His mouth said ‘kowtow’ but he did not kneel down.
Hong Qigong was still chewing the chicken. “Are you not returning to the west? You have committed evil acts over here, do you want to deliver your little life in the ‘zhong yuan’ [Central Plain]?” he asked indistinctly.
“In the Central Plain Uncle Hero is invincible,” Ouyang Ke replied. “As long as Uncle Hero shows mercy and did not come over here to bully the young and the weak, your young nephew has nothing to fear. My own uncle had instructed me that if I ever see Uncle Hong I should be respectful to you. He had warned me the difference between our skill levels; that Junior simply could not even touch you; that if I insist on trying I would be the laughingstock of all the heroes of the world.”
Hong Qigong laughed heartily and said, “You flattered me and tried to prevent me from fighting you, but actually there are a lot of people in the Central Plain who wanted to kill you. I don’t have to move my finger if I really want you dead. Earlier you said that you have seen my skills of stealing chicken, stroking dogs, begging for food and catching snake; and you belittled those skills, did you not?”
Ouyang Ke hastily answered, “Your young nephew was not aware this old hero is Uncle Hong’s disciple. It was very disrespectful of me. I beg Uncle and this old hero’s forgiveness.”
Hong Qigong leaped down from the beam. “You called him ‘the old hero’ but he was defeated by you. Aren’t you the hero then? Ha … ha … aren’t you ashamed?”
Ouyang Ke was angry, but knew his martial art was way too far below Hong Qigong; so he did not dare to say anything wrong. He suppressed his anger and did not make any sound.
“Your skills were imparted by that old Western Poison and you are thinking of running amuck in the Central Plain. Humph … do you really think I am already dead?” Hong Qigong said.
“Uncle holds the same rank of honor with my own uncle; Junior will have to listen to Uncle’s instruction,” Ouyang Ke said.
“Is that so?” Hong Qigong said. “You are saying that I put you on the spot; that the older bully the younger?” Ouyang Ke did not say anything, which was the same as agreeing to what Hong Qigong was saying.
“Even though the Old Beggar is the leader of all beggars; old and young alike, but not all beggars are my disciple,” Hong Qigong continued. “This man surnamed Li had learned a superficial amount of my martial arts; how could he be regarded as my successor? His ‘wandering strides’ fist technique has not reached perfection. You belittled my stealing chicken and stroking dogs skill, humph … if the old beggar really takes a disciple, he wouldn’t be inferior to you.”
“Naturally,” Ouyang Ke agreed. “Uncle Hong’s disciple would be much stronger than your nephew. But your martial art skill is too high; it wouldn’t be easy for anybody to learn.”
“Your mouth is sweet,” Hong Qigong said, “But I am sure you are scolding me in your heart.”
“Your nephew does not dare,” Ouyang Ke answered.
“Qigong, don’t believe his lie,” Huang Rong quipped. “He scolds you in his heart all right, and he scolds you really bad. He said although your martial art is not bad but it only benefits yourself; you don’t have the ability to teach. Even if you teach your stealing chicken and stroking dogs skills to your heart’s content, nobody would be able to learn it to perfection.”
Hong Qigong just stared at her. He snorted and mumbled, “This little girl knows how to provoke me.” He turned his head and said, “Good, huh? This kid dares to scold me?” Suddenly he stretched one hand; quick as lighting he snatched the folding fan in Ouyang Ke’s hand. He unfolded the fan and saw some peonies painting, with two characters ‘Xu Xi’. He did not know that Xu Xi was a poet from Northern Song Dynasty. Although the peonies were beautifully painted, he still said, “Not good!” There was several lines of characters written on the fan, and at the end was a signature, ‘bai tuo shan shao zhu’ [Young Master of the White Camel Mountain]. It was Ouyang Ke’s handwriting.
“What do you think of these characters?” Hong Qigong asked Huang Rong.
Huang Rong raised her eyebrows and said, “Very crude. But what do you expect? A spoiled rich kid like him wouldn’t know how to write. I bet he hired a pawnshop clerk to write those characters.”
Ouyang Ke pride himself as both martial art and literature expert, which was actually not too far from reality. Hearing Huang Rong he was really angry. He shot an angry look toward her, only to see under the candlelight the corner of her eyes bore a very faint smile. She looked so sweet and innocent that his anger vanished into thin air.
Hong Qigong spread the fan in his hand; lifting it up he wiped his mouth with it. He just ate a chicken, so his mouth was greasy. As soon as he did that, the painting and calligraphy were completely destroyed. Then he casually crumpled the fan, made it a paper ball and tossed it to the ground.
Other people would think nothing of it, but not so to Ouyang Ke; his fan’s spines were made of steel. The fan was his weapon. It was a demonstration of a profound internal energy. He was terrified.
“If I personally fight you, you will die unsatisfied. So I am going to take a disciple and let him fight with you,” Hong Qigong said.
Ouyang Ke pointed to Guo Jing. “This fellow had fought with me for dozens of stances. If Uncle Hong did not come out, I would gain the upper hand. Brother Guo, don’t you agree?” he said.
Guo Jing nodded his head, “I might lose.” Ouyang Ke smiled with satisfaction.
Hong Qigong looked up and laughed. “Jing’er, are you my disciple?” he asked.
Guo Jing recalled he kowtowed to Hong Qigong, but Hong Qigong returned those kowtows. “Junior is unfortunate not to be your disciple,” he quickly replied.
“Did you hear?” Hong Qigong asked Ouyang Ke.
Ouyang Ke was dissatisfied. “You can’t fool me; where did this kid’s exquisite palms come from?” he asked.
Hong Qigong turned toward Guo Jing. “If I don’t make you my disciple, that little brat girl will not let me die peacefully. She would pester me with hundreds of evil schemes forever. I guess the old beggar has to admit defeat. All right, bow to me, I’ll take you as my disciple,” he said.
Guo Jing was ecstatic. Quickly he bent his knees and busily kowtowed several times while calling out, “Master!” That day at the Cloud Village he had recounted to his six masters how Hong Qigong had taught him the ’18 Dragon-Subduing Palms’. The Six Freaks of Jiangnan were very happy, they all said it was a pity this highly skilled extraordinary character of the Wulin world was not willing to take Guo Jing as his disciple. They told him that if Hong Qigong happened to reveal his willingness to take him, Guo Jing should accept without reservation.
Huang Rong was even happier. She smiled broadly and said, “Qigong, I have helped you find a very fine disciple. My contribution is not small. Starting today you will have somebody you can call your successor. How will you thank me?”
Hong Qigong made a face to her, “Kiss my a**!” Then he turned to Guo Jing and said, “’sha xiao zi’ [it’s a vulgar term, lit. foolish/dumb/stupid kid – take your pick], let me teach you three stances first.” Immediately he taught Guo Jing the last three stances of the ’18 Dragon-Subduing Palms’ right in front of everybody else. Of course, compared to Guo Jing’s own three desperately-brewed stances, these moves were like a world apart.
Ouyang Ke said to himself, “This old beggar’s martial art is outstanding, but he is not too smart. He is concentrating on teaching his disciple, totally forgetting that I am standing here, watching.” With rapt attention he watched Guo Jing’s every move. But he did not see anything extraordinary. Sometimes Gong Qigong whispered something into Guo Jing’s ears. He guessed it must be the theory behind these three moves. Sometimes Guo Jing would nod his head, but most other time he just stood there, staring blankly or shook his head. Hong Qigong would repeat what he just said until Guo Jing reluctantly nodded his head; obviously he did not fully comprehend the theory. “This guy is really stupid,” he thought, “This short period of time is not enough for him to learn the three stances. I might as well seize the opportunity to study them.”
In the meantime Hong Qigong had Guo Jing practice six, seven times. “Good, smart disciple,” he said. “You have mastered about 50% of these three stances. Now go and beat this lecherous thief for me.”
“Yes,” Guo Jing answered and moved forward two steps and launched a palm toward Ouyang Ke. Ouyang Ke slanted his body and counterattacked with a fist. Thus two people engaged in a fight again.
The secret of ’18 Dragon-Subduing Palms’ lies in the exact timing of energy exertion. The moves themselves were quite simple. That was the reason that although Liang Ziweng, Mei Chaofeng and Ouyang Ke’s martial arts were higher than that of Guo Jing’s; yet Guo Jing was able to fight them without losing a ground. Just a moment ago Ouyang Ke was watching Hong Qigong passed on the three stances to Guo Jing, and he knew Guo Jing had not fully comprehend the moves while he himself had memorized the stances; yet now that he was fighting Guo Jing, he found it difficult to overcome those three stances.
Guo Jing on the other hand, had now mastered the complete set of ’18 Dragon-Subduing Palms’. He was able to use it from head to tail and back to head again. The fierceness of the original 15 moves he had already mastered was greatly increased.
Ouyang Ke had used four different kinds of martial arts, yet he could only match Guo Jing without being able to gain an upper hand. Dozens of moves later he started to get anxious. “If I don’t use my family’s unique skill I might lose,” he thought. “I was trained by my uncle since my childhood. How come I cannot defeat the old beggar’s disciple who received instructions just a moment ago? I am afraid the old beggar will look down on my uncle.”
A dozen or so moves later Guo Jing raised his hand to parry Ouyang Ke’s fist; but suddenly Ouyang Ke’s hand turned around and hit Guo Jing’s skull from behind. Guo Jing was stunned. He ducked to avoid the blow while simultaneously threw a fist slanting upward. Ouyang Ke stepped sideways and sent another fist. Guo Jing did not dare to parry that fist; he dodged to the right. Who would have thought that Ouyang Ke’s arm suddenly moved like a whip! Guo Jing clearly saw it was aiming his left side, but suddenly twisted to the right and struck Guo Jing’s shoulder.
Guo Jing was hit three times in a short period of time. These three hits were heavy; he was anxious for he had no idea how to deal with it. “Jing’er, stop!” Hong Qigong called out, “Let’s just admit defeat this time.”
Guo Jing leaped about ten feet back; he felt pain on the parts being hit. To Ouyang Ke he said, “Your martial art is really brilliant; with arm turning around like that, it was really odd.” Ouyang Ke was proud of himself; he cast a boasting look toward Huang Rong.
Hong Qigong said, “The Old Poison raises snake for a living; this set of ‘ruan pi she’ [snake’s flexible skin] fists technique must be developed from the venomous snakes’ movement. It was brilliant. The old beggar has not been able to devise a method to overcome it. Just consider yourself lucky. Now, get out of my way!”
Ouyang Ke’s heart turned cold. “Uncle had warned me a thousand times not to use this ‘ling she quan’ [spirit snake fist] unless in an extremely dangerous situation. Today I have let the old beggar see it. If my uncle finds out, I will be in big trouble.” His self-satisfaction disappeared almost immediately. He bowed toward Hong Qigong and walked out the temple.
“Hold on a second! I have something to say,” Huang Rong called out. Ouyang Ke halted his steps; his heart beat faster. But Huang Rong did not pay any attention to him. She turned toward Hong Qigong and bowed respectfully. “Qigong,” she said. “You have to accept two disciples today. Good things come in pairs; you have accepted a male disciple, now you must accept a female one. Otherwise I won’t let you off easily.”
Hong Qigong shook his head. “I have already made an exception by accepting one disciple,” he smiled. “The old beggar doesn’t want to talk about it. Moreover, your father is also highly skilled in martial art; how could he let you take the old beggar as your master?”
Huang Rong pretended to be suddenly enlightened. “So, you are scared of my father!” she exclaimed. Hong Qigong was provoked. He was actually very fond of her. “Me? Scared of your father?” he said with a straight face. “OK, I’ll take you as my disciple. I want to see if the Old Heretic Huang can eat me alive.”
Huang Rong smiled. “You’ve said it, you can’t take it back,” she said. “You know, my father oftentimes remarked that among the martial experts in this world, after Wong Chongyang died, only you and he two people that count. The Southern Emperor and the rest of them are not even in his book. I am sure father will love it that I take you as my master. Master, how did a beggar catch a snake? Please teach me this skill first.”
Hong Qigong was not sure he knew her intention, but he did know the young girl was smart. She must have had some clever trick in her sleeves. So he simply explained, “Grab the snake seven inches from its head. Use your two fingers like a pair of pliers. As long as you pinch the snake at seven inches, no matter how venomous the snake is, it won’t be able to move.”
“What if the snake is very big?” Huang Rong asked.
“Lure it to bite your left hand, then, use your right hand to hit it at seven inches,” Hong Qigong answered.
“Do you have to be extremely quick?” Huang Rong asked again.
“Of course,” Hong Qigong replied. “You have to put some ointment on your left hand, so even if it gets bitten by the snake you won’t get hurt.”
Huang Rong nodded. She winked to Hong Qigong and asked, “Master, then please apply the ointment on my hand.”
Catching snakes was the Beggar Clan people’s specialty. Hong Qigong had never used any ointment or antidote; he would simply beat the snake with his stick. But seeing Huang Rong’s meaningful glance, he took out the scarlet gourd on his back, which actually contained some wine; and apply the wine on both Huang Rong’s palms.
Huang Rong sniffed her palms, made a face, and said to Ouyang Ke, “Hey, I am now the world famous beggar, the Old Hero Hong’s disciple. I am asking a lesson on the ‘snake’s flexible skin’ from you. But I must warn you that my hands are full of antidote to your poison, so you must be careful.”
“Having a match with you is exactly what I hoped for,” Ouyang Ke thought. “I don’t care whatever witchcraft is on your hands, as long as I don’t touch them.” So he smiled brightly and said, “I am willing to die under your hands.”
Huang Rong said, “Your other martial arts are so sloppy and ordinary, I only want to fight your stinky snake moves. If you use any other martial arts, you lose.”
“Whatever Miss say, I wouldn’t dare to disobey,” Ouyang Ke said.
Huang Rong laughed. “Can’t believe a bastard like you have a very sweet mouth,” she said. “Watch out!” As soon as she finished speaking her fist came flying with Hong Qigong’s ‘wandering strides’ technique.
Ouyang Ke let the fist passed on his side, Huang Rong followed with her left leg kicking horizontally, while her right hand forming a hook. It was a stance from the [fallen flower divine sword palm], her own family heritage. Unfortunately Huang Rong was still too young, the time she spent on training was limited; however, this time her purpose was a victory, so she used whatever kungfu she knew, regardless of who passed it on her.
Ouyang Ke saw the exquisiteness of her moves; he did not dare to be careless. His right arm extended and suddenly curved back to hit her shoulder. This move from the [spirit snake fist] was swift. His hand almost touched Huang Rong body when he suddenly remembered that she was wearing the soft hedgehog armor. If he proceeded, wouldn’t his fist be dripping with blood?
Huang Rong quickly dodged and sent both her palms whishing toward an opening on his face. Ouyang Ke brushed his sleeve and parried her palms.
Huang Rong’s body was protected by the soft hedgehog armor, her hands were covered with ointment; the only part unprotected was her face. Ouyang Ke was in a predicament; he was getting attacked without any chance to hit back. Even though the [spirit snake fist] was wonderful; he was forced to fly east and dodging west trying to elude Huang Rong’s attack, while keeping himself from touching her palms. “If I hit her face to gain victory, that would be offensive to her, and if I pull her hair, I treat her rudely; but other than that I can’t think of anything else,” he thought. But suddenly he got an idea. He stepped aside and quickly tore the corner of his sleeve; made it into two parts and wrapped them on his hands. With protected hands he tried to grab Huang Rong’s palms.
“You lost!” Huang Rong jumped out of the arena and called out. “It was not the stinky snake fist.”
“Oh, I forgot,” Ouyang Ke said.
“Your stinky snake fist is not that special, it cannot defeat Hong Qigong’s disciple,” Huang Rong continued. “At the Zhao Palace you defeated me, but that was because you have Liang Ziweng, Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu, Reverend Ling Zhi, and also that wart-headed Hou Tonghai alongside. I was overwhelmed by sheer numbers; also I did not want to get into trouble, so I admitted defeat. OK, now that we have defeated each other, let’s just have a match to decide victory or defeat.”
Li Sheng and the other were taken aback, they thought, “Even though this young girl’s martial art is good, but she is definitely not this man’s match. She won by using a trick. Why would she add something superfluous and ruin the victory? What else does she want to prove?”
Hong Qigong on the other hand fully realized that this girl was full of clever tricks; she must have something in her mind to play trick on the enemy. So he simply smiled but did not say anything. He continued gnawing the chicken leftover and noisily ate, like the chicken was the best food in the world.
“Why are you so serious?” Ouyang Ke laughed. “Either you win or I win, it doesn’t make a difference. But if you really want to play, I will accompany you.”
“At the Zhao Palace we were surrounded by your friends. If I won, they would surely attack me; thus I was not willing to fight you seriously,” Huang Rong said. “But now you have your friends,” she pointed to the female disciples/concubines in whites, “and I also have my friends. Although you have more friends than I do, I am not afraid. Let us fight just like we did before: you may draw a circle on the ground; we will follow the same rule; whoever steps out of the circle first, lose. I have kowtowed and take Senior Qigong as my master; I also have highly skilled martial siblings, including this young man. You do not have to tie your hands behind you back as before.”
Ouyang Ke was amused. What she said was partly funny, but also if you think about it, it did make sense. So he planted his left foot on the ground, and used it as the axis; while his right foot was stretched three feet apart. He turned around and made a circle about six feet in diameter.
The Beggar Clan people did not like him, but seeing this they could not help but secretly praised him.
Huang Rong entered the circle and said, “Are we going to fight ‘soft’ way [‘wen’ – literature] or ‘hard’ way [‘wu’ – military, or martial art]?”
Ouyang Ke was baffled, “You are eccentric,” he said in his heart, but his mouth asked, “How do fight the ‘soft’ way? And how do you fight the ‘hard’ way?”
“If we fight the soft way, I attack you three times, you don’t counterattack; then you attack me three times, I won’t counterattack,” Huang Rong explained. “If we fight the hard way, we can fight each other at will. You can use your dead snake fist or live mouse stance, I don’t care. Whoever steps out of the circle first, lose.”
Ouyang Ke thought for a moment. “I think we’d better fight the soft way,” he said. “That way we can avoid injury and won’t spoil our friendship.”
“If you chose ‘hard’ way, you will certainly lost,” Huang Rong said. “But if we fight ‘soft’ way, you still have a chance. Good! Let us fight as you wish, the ‘soft’ way. Do you go first, or I go first?”
How could Ouyang Ke hit her first? “Certainly ladies first,” he said.
Huang Rong smiled. “You are sly! Always choosy. You know you will suffer loss if you hit me first. OK, I am being generous to you; let me hit you first.”
Ouyang Ke was going to say, “That case I will hit you first.” But before he could open his mouth Huang Rong had already called out, “Watch out!” She immediately sent her palm to attack. Something flashing in her hand; turned out she was throwing some secret projectiles.
Ouyang Ke saw the multitude of projectiles; normally he would use his folding fan to parry an attack like this, but his fan was crushed in Hong Qigong’s hand; he could also use his long sleeve to wrap the projectiles, but his sleeves were torn earlier. The steel needles encompassed an area about six, seven feet wide; if he leaped sideways, he would be out of the circle. He had no time to consider any other alternatives, so he leaped about ten feet vertically upward. The steel needles all flew below him.
Huang Rong waited until he was at the peak and was falling back down before she called out, “Here comes the second attack!” Her two hands launched about a hundred steel needles. It was the ‘man tian hua yu zhi jin zhen’ [blossoms rain from the sky tossing needles technique] from Hong Qigong. She did not even try to aim, just shot out the needles toward Ouyang Ke.
Even if Ouyang Ke’s skill were much higher, his body was midair; there was simply no way he could avoid it. “I am finished!” he sighed in his heart, “This slave girl is so vicious.” Right at that moment he felt someone pulled his collar and his body moved back upward; with swishing noise the needles fell to the ground.
Ouyang Ke knew somebody must have saved him. He was thrown back to the ground. It was not too hard, but the energy behind that throw was peculiar – a sign of highly skilled martial artist; he fell left shoulder first. Naturally he tried to stand back up, but he was unable to do so. He was rolling around on the ground before he finally managed to stand. He knew it must be Hong Qigong, because nobody in that vicinity had that kind of skill. He was terrified yet upset; immediately walked out the temple without saying anything. His female disciples followed.
“Master, why did you save this scoundrel?” Huang Rong asked.
Hong Qigong smiled. “His uncle is an old friend of mine. This kid had committed many disgraceful acts; he deserved to be damned. But it wouldn’t be good for his uncle’s face if he were injured in my hand.” He patted Huang Rong on the shoulder and said, “Smart girl, you have given my face much good today. How should I reward you?”
Huang Rong stuck out her tongue. “I don’t want your bamboo stick,” she said.
“Even if you want it, I cannot give it to you,” Hong Qigong said. “I have a mind to teach you one or two kinds of kungfu; but I am too lazy these past few days, I don’t have any interest to do anything.”
“I’ll prepare some good food for you to boost your interest,” Huang Rong offered.
Hog Qigong’s eyes lit up; but then he heaved a big sigh. “I don’t have time to eat right now. What a pity, what a pity …!” He turned to Li Sheng and the others and said, “The Beggar Clan has several matters we need to discuss internally.”
Li Sheng and the others came to Guo Jing and Huang Rong, expressing their gratefulness for saving their lives. Huang Rong had cut the rope that bind Miss Cheng’s hands and feet. Miss Cheng was extremely shy; she held Huang Rong’s hand and quietly said her thanks. Huang Rong pointed to Guo Jing and said, “Your Eldest Martial Uncle, Priest Ma had taught him kungfu, your Martial Uncles Qiu and Wang are also very fond of him, so I can say that we belong to the same family.”
Miss Cheng turned her head toward Guo Jing and suddenly blushed. She lowered her head and after a while quietly stole a glance toward Guo Jing again.
Li Sheng and the other also congratulated all three people Hong Qigong, Guo Jing and Huang Rong. They knew Qigong did not usually accept any disciple; even among the Beggar Clan members rarely did he teach more than one or two stances. They wondered how Guo Jing and Huang Rong persuaded him that he was willing to take them. In their hearts they envied these two.
“We are going to prepare a banquet tomorrow evening to congratulate Clan Leader on having accepted two very fine disciples,” Li Sheng said.
Hong Qigong smiled, “I am afraid they won’t like filthy foods, the kind we beggars eat.”
“We will certainly come,” Guo Jing hastily said, “Big Brother Li is a Senior Hero, Junior would very much like to know you.” Li Sheng was saved by Guo Jing; thus he kept his eyes on this young man and now listening to his humble speech he was even more delighted. He decided right then and there to befriend Guo Jing.
Hong Qigong said, “I am glad you two feel like old friends at your first meeting; but I warn you not to persuade my first disciple to be a beggar like you! You, my younger disciple, go and take Miss Cheng back home. We, the beggars are going to steal some chicken and beg for some rice.” After saying these words, he left the temple followed by all the beggars. Just before leaving Li Sheng told Guo Jing that the banquet tomorrow would be held in that very same temple.
Guo Jing accompanied Huang Rong to escort Miss Cheng back home.
Miss Cheng quietly told Huang Rong her full name was Cheng Yaojia. Even though she had learned martial art from Sage of Tranquility Sun Bu’Er; but since she was born to a rich family, she was pampered since her childhood; plus by nature she was very shy, did not know too many people. Therefore, she was very different from Huang Rong who was carefree and brave. She did not dare to say even a half word to Guo Jing. Occasionally she would steal a glance and immediately lowered her head, her cheeks blushed profusely.
End of Chapter 15.