Chapter 20: Standing in sadness at Yanmen, no word was left on the cliff.
Hearing this deafening bellow by Qiao Feng, Shan Zheng suddenly felt dizzy, stumbled and was unable to stand firmly on his feet. The extraordinary people could not help but take several steps backward either. Shan Xiaoshan rushed up from one side and thrust straight forward with his saber.
The tip of the saber was less than 1 chi (33.33 cm) away from Qiao Feng’s chest but he had no intention of resisting. Seeing that, and not having the heart to look on, the people from the Beggar Society such as Elder Wu and Bai Shijing all closed their eyes.
All of a sudden, there was a ‘hu’ sound in mid air, a person leaped down in an exceptionally rapid fashion and bumped themselves on Shan Xiaoshan’s steel saber just in time. Shan Xiaoshan was unable to withstand this great force therefore his arm dropped. Amidst the simultaneous shocked exclamations by the extraordinary people, another person jumped down in an equally rapid manner but their head went ahead of their feet. This person bumped into the head of Shan Xiaoshan just in time. With a ‘peng’ sound the tops of 2 skulls hit against each other and the heads of both people were burst open at the same time.
Only now did everyone see clearly that the 2 people who had just successively leaped down were the people who had been guarding on the roof to prevent Qiao Feng from escaping. But they had been captured and thrown down like missiles by someone. The hall was immediately plunged into chaos with everyone exclaiming and shouting. Suddenly a long rope was flung down from a corner of the roof with fierce force and swept horizontally towards the head of everyone. When the extraordinary people raised their weapons to block the long rope, the tip of it suddenly turned back. It then wound around Qiao Feng’s waist and immediately lifted him up.
At this moment, the 3 wounds on Qiao Feng’s body were bleeding profusely and his left hand which was carrying A'Zhu no longer had the slightest strength, hence when he was wound around by the long rope, A'Zhu immediately rolled down on the ground. Everyone saw that at the other end of the long rope was a man in black who was standing on the roof and had an imposing stature. His face was being covered with black cloth with only his eyes shown.
That man clasped Qiao Feng to his side using his left arm, flung the long rope and made it wind around a very high flagpole outside the entrance of Juxian Manor. The extraordinary people shouted loudly. In a very short time, a great variety of missiles such as steel darts, sleeve-hidden arrows, flying knives, iron awls, flying-locust stones, and hand-swung arrows were thrown at Qiao Feng and that man. That gritty man in black pulled the long rope, leisurely got off the ground and landed on the top of the flagpole. Teng-teng, pai-pai, ca-ca sounds were heard continuously, dozens of missiles had hit the top of the flagpole. Everyone only saw that the long rope was flung from the top of flagpole and wound around a big tree which was 8 or 9 zhang (3.333 m) away. Clasping Qiao Feng, that man swung off the top of the flagpole. In an instant he already passed that big tree and landed on a place which was 10 zhang away from the flagpole on the ground. He then flung the long rope again, winding it around another distant big tree. After hoisting and landing in this way several times, he already disappeared into thin air.
The extraordinary people gasped with astonishment and looked at each other. They only heard horse hoofbeats galloping farther and farther, it was already too late to chase after him.
Qiao Feng had suffered serious injuries but he was still in full command of his senses. He had seen clearly every act and every move how this man had used the long rope to save himself from danger, hence he felt deeply grateful to him for saving his life and thought: ‘Flinging the rope accurately and powerfully like this, I can do as well. But using the long rope as a weapon and swinging it to attack dozens of people at the same time, I can’t use this ‘Celestial Maiden Scatters Flowers’ stance in flexible whip techniques as perfectly as he did.’
The man in black put him on horseback. Both of them rode the same horse and went northward. That man took out jinchuang medicine (medicine for treating wounds caused by metal objects) and applied it onto Qiao Feng’s 3 wounds. Having shed too much blood Qiao Feng was very weak, hence he almost passed out several times, but every such time he took a breath and circulated his internal energy, his spirit then rose back. That man urged the horse straight northwest. After going for a while, the path became more and more rugged, afterward, there was no longer any path and the horse merely went by stumbling over disorderly piles of rocks.
After going for more than 1 hour further, the horse could no longer walk, that man then carried Qiao Feng horizontally in his hands, got off the horse and climbed up a mountain peak. Qiao Feng’s body was very heavy but that man carried him effortlessly. Even though they were in a very precipitous place, he easily used the long rope to wind around branches to jump over ravines. After that man had passed 8 dangerous ravines in a row, he went down all the way, going deep into an abyss from which the sky could not be seen. Finally, he stopped and put Qiao Feng down.
Qiao Feng strained to stand firmly and said: ‘This great debt of gratitude can’t be paid using words. Kind brother, could you please let Qiao Feng see your true face?’
That man’s pair of glaring eyes roved over his face. After a long time, he said: ‘In the cave, there’re enough dry provisions to use in half a month. You stay here to care for your injuries. The enemies won’t be able to come here.’
Qiao Feng replied: ‘Yes!’ and thought: ‘Hearing the voice of this man, it seems he’s not young anymore.’
That man sized Qiao Feng up for a while then suddenly waved his right hand, with a ‘pai’ sound, he gave Qiao Feng a slap in the face. His action was very fast, and firstly, Qiao Feng had not expected that the man would hit him, and secondly, this palm attack was executed extremely brilliantly, therefore he was unable to dodge it.
That man followed it up with the 2nd palm attack. The 2 palms attacks were only a flash apart, however once Qiao Feng had this marginal amount of time, how could he let the man hit him again? But because the man had saved his life, Qiao Feng did not want to fight him; moreover he had no strength to dodge, hence he extended his left forefinger and put it next to his own cheek, pointing at the center of the palm of that man.
This forefinger pointed at the ‘Laogong acupuncture point’ in the center of that man’s palm; if this palm attack by him kept coming, then when the palm had not yet reached Qiao Feng’s cheek, it would have already bumped into the forefinger first. When the palm of that man’s was less than 1 chi away from Qiao Feng’s cheek, he immediately turned it over and used the back of the hand to attack. This change of stances was done exceptionally fast. Qiao Feng also very quickly moved the forefinger and pointed at the ‘Erjian acupuncture point’ on the back of the man’s hand.
That man let out a stream of laughs, forcefully withdrew his right hand then chopped horizontally with his left hand. Qiao Feng extended his left forefinger and pointed at the ‘Houhuo acupuncture point’ on the edge of his palm. The arm of that man was suddenly lifted a little bit but kept coming with no decrease in momentum. Without delay, Qiao Feng moved his finger and pointed at the ‘Qiangu acupuncture point’ on the edge of that man’s palm. In an instant, the 2 palms of that man danced in the air, changing stances more than 10 times in a row. Qiao Feng only defended and did not attack; his fingers were always pointed so that if the man hit him, the acupuncture points on his palms would bump into the fingers first. That man had taken Qiao Feng by surprise with the 1st palm attack and hit him, but after that he was unable to hit Qiao Feng again. The 2 of them attacked and defended without touching each other but every stance was a top-class martial arts skill that was rarely seen at the present time.
After that man used the 20th stance, seeing that Qiao Feng was still able to change stances very fast and locate the acupuncture points very accurately despite having suffered serious injuries, he suddenly withdrew his palms, jumped backward and said: ‘No one is more stupid than you are. I shouldn’t have saved you.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘I’m sincerely waiting for your instructions.’
That man scolded: ‘You stinking dumbass. Having practiced and become unequaled in martial arts under heaven, why did you wanna waste your life for a skeletal chick? She isn’t your relative or friend, didn’t do you any favor or have any relationship with you, and isn’t a gorgeous woman either; she’s just a lowly slave girl, nothing more. Why on Earth there’s such an idiot like you?’
Qiao Feng let out a sigh and said: ‘Savior, your criticisms are true. It was really senseless of Qiao Feng to do this useless thing with my useful body. But at that moment I couldn’t hold back my fury, my barbaric nature broke out so I wasn’t thinking of the consequences.’
That man said: ‘Ha-ha, so it was because of the barbaric nature breaking out.’ He turned his head toward the sky and let out a long stream of laughs.
Qiao Feng felt that there were a lot of desolation and indignation in his long stream of laughs. Suddenly that man jumped to his feet and leaped out for more than 1 zhang. With just a slight shake of his body, he disappeared behind a big rock. Qiao Feng called out: ‘Savior, savior!’ But he only saw that the man continuously leaped then went around past a ravine, he was already very far. As soon as Qiao Feng took a stride, he tottered. He hastily stretched out his hands and put them against the cliff to support his body.
After composing himself, he turned around and really saw a cave behind the stone wall. Supporting himself on the cliff, he slowly walked into the cave. He only saw a lot of dry provisions such as cooked meat, roast rice, jujubes, peanuts, and dried fish put on the ground; what even better was that there was a big jar of wine. When he opened the jar, the bouquet rushed into his nose. He reached into the jar and took out a scoop of wine to drink. The wine had a sweet taste; it was a first-class wine. Qiao Feng felt grateful: ‘It’s rare to see someone as thoughtful as this savior is. He knows that I like drinking and even has wine for me in here. It’s hard to go on the mountain paths yet he carried this big jar of wine to here. Didn’t this take too much trouble?’
The jinchuang medicine that man had applied onto him was very effective. At this moment the wounds had already stopped bleeding. Several shichen (1 shichen = 2 hours) later, the pain was gradually relieved. He was a robust man with a profound internal energy and the wounds he had suffered were merely external, therefore even though they were not minor injuries, after 7 or 8 days they were already almost half healed.
During these 7 or 8 days, he only thought about 2 matters: ‘Who’s the enemy that harmed me? Who’s that savior?’ Both of these people had very outstanding martial arts, perhaps not below those of his own at all. In wulin, the people who possessed these skills were very rare and could be counted on the fingers of 1 hand. He bent his fingers and could count every one of them out, but after thinking carefully he found that none of them was similar to these 2 people. It was understandable that he could not guess who the enemy was, but because he had exchanged 20 stances with the savior, he should be able to guess what school his martial arts belonged to. However, all the stances used by that man had been completely normal yet at the same time had shown enormous skills in their simplicity, just like the ‘Founder’s Long Fist’ Qiao Feng himself had used at Juxian Manor, hence the stances did not give away anything about his identity.
In 2 days, he already drank up that jar of wine. Enduring until the 20th day, he felt that the wounds had 70% or 80% healed up. By now, his addiction of wine had become so strong that he could no longer keep enduring. Thinking that he could already jump over the ravines without any difficulty, he went out of the cave and tramped over hills and dales to return to jianghu.
He thought: ‘A'Zhu has fallen into the hands of them. If she’s dead, then she’s already dead. If she’s still alive, there’s also no need for me to take care of her again. The most important and urgent thing at the moment is finding out what kind of man I am. Dad, mom and master passed away in 1 day so the mystery of my origin has become harder to clear up. I must go to the outside of Yanmen Pass to see the writing left behind on that stone wall.’
After calculating, he went northwest. When arriving in a town, the 1st thing he did was drinking 20 bowls of wine. In only 3 days, the remaining several taels of silver fragments were all changed into good wine, which he drank until nothing left.
At that time, Great Song was ruling the Central Plains. It divided the country into 15 regions. The main capital was Daliang; Dongjing (the eastern capital) was Kaifeng prefecture; Xijing (the western capital) was Luoyang in Henan prefecture; Nanjing (the southern capital) was Songzhou; Daming was Beijing (the northern capital, and NOT today’s Beijing); in total, there were 4 regional capitals. For the moment, Qiao Feng was in Ruzhou in the Xijing region. That day, when he got to Liang County, his silver had been used up; hence he snuck in the county’s office and stole several hundred taels of silver from the public treasury during the night. On the way he ate and drank a lot; chickens, ducks, fish, sorghum, and good wine all were paid by government officials of Great Song. One day, he arrived in Daizhou in the Hedong region.
Yanmen Pass was located 30 li (0.5 km) to the north of Daizhou on the rugged Yanmen path. Previously, when carrying out heroic deeds in jianghu, Qiao Feng had also been to here. But at that time, due to having important matters, he had gone past it without paying attention. When he arrived in Daizhou, it was already early 11 a.m. He had a quick meal and drank around 10 bowls of wine in the city then went out of it and headed north.
His steps were fast therefore he traveled these 30 li in less than 1 hour. When he had climbed up the mountain, he saw that both the eastern cliff and the western cliff were high and steep; the path between them was winding and rugged. This was really a very dangerous place. He thought: ‘Wild geese travel south and return north can’t fly over the high mountains, all of them gotta go between the 2 peaks, so this place is called Yanmen (Wild Geese’s Gate). Today I came here from the south, if the writing on the stone wall states clearly that I’m really a Khitan then after I go out of Yanmen Pass this time, I’ll forever become a man in the North of the pass and no longer enter the pass again. I’ll be inferior to the wild geese that, once every year, go to the south from the north and return.’ Thinking to here, he could not help but feel grieved.
Yanmen Pass was an important military post of Great Song’s in the north. There were more than 40 passes in Shanxi, and Yanmen was the most imposing and secure one. Beyond several tens of li (0.5 km) outside the pass was the Liao Empire. Because there was always a large number of soldiers defending below the pass, Qiao Feng thought if he went out through it, he would unavoidably be interrogated and examined by the guarding officers and soldiers. Therefore he made a detour via the high ridge in the west of the pass.
After reaching the highest peak, he scanned widely around but saw nothing other than mountains and mountains, the towering Mt Wutai in the east, the Ningwu Mountain range in the west, Mt Zhengyang and Mt Shigu standing upright in the south, and in the north being Mt Shuozhou and Mt Mayi. With seemingly boundless long slopes and steep mountain sides combined with vast lonely cold forests, the scene was very gloomy. Qiao Feng remembered that while going past Yanmen Pass that year he had heard his comrades say that General Li Mu of the State of Zhao during the Warring States Period and General Zhi Du of the Han Dynasty both had garrisoned Yanmen to defend against Xiongnu invasions. If he himself was really Xiongnu and a Khitan descendant, then for the last thousands of years, the people who had been invading China all were his ancestors.
He looked at the terrain in the north and thought: ‘That day when people such as Chief Wang and Zhao Qiansun ambushed the Khitan warriors outside Yanmen Pass, they must have chosen the most advantageous mountain slope within more than 10 li of here. No place has better terrain than the mountain slope in the corner to the northwest of here does. Ten to one they set up the ambush there.’
He quickly ran down the mountain and went to that mountain slope. Suddenly he felt a burst of causeless sorrow. He only saw that there was a large piece of rock on that mountain slope. Zhiguang dashi had said the extraordinary people of the Central Plains had hid behind a large rock and shot poisonous missiles out. It seemed it was this large piece of rock.
There was a deep ravine several steps outside the mountain path. Clouds and mists enveloped the ravine, making it impossible for anyone to see the bottom. Qiao Feng thought: ‘If Zhiguang dashi’s words are true, then after my mother was killed by them, my father jumped into the ravine to commit suicide from here. After jumping into the mouth of the ravine, he couldn’t bear to make me die with him so he tossed me up onto the body of Chief Wang’s. He… what did he write on the stone wall?’
Qiao Feng turned around and looked at the cliff on the right-hand side, only seeing that it was naturally flat and glossy, but right in the middle of the big stone wall, there were full of cuts caused by axes and chisels. Obviously, someone had deliberately scraped away the writing that had been left behind.
Qiao Feng stood in a trance in front of the stone wall then suddenly he could not refrain from getting furious. He only wanted to brandish a saber and raise his palms to massacre, but he suddenly remembered 1 matter: ‘When I left the Beggar Society, I broke Shan Zheng’s steel saber and vowed that it didn’t matter if I was a Han or a Khitan, I definitely wouldn’t kill any Han person. But at Juxian Manor, how many people did I kill in one go? Yet in this moment I wanted to kill again, wouldn’t this seriously violate the vow? Alas, when things already became like that, if I hadn’t offended other people, they would offend me. If I had passively waited for death and let other people cut and kill me, how could it be the action of a true man?’
He had run thousands of li to here because he wanted to find out about his own origin but from beginning to end he had not achieved the slightest result. Getting more and more irascible, he shouted loudly: ‘I’m not a Han, I’m not a Han! I’m a Khitan barbarian, I’m a Khitan barbarian!’ He then raised his palms and repeatedly hit the stone wall. He only heard the valley resounding with his shouts, each of which echoed back: ‘…not a Han, not a Han! ...Khitan barbarian, Khitan barbarian!’
Stone bits from the stone wall scattered all around. The grief and fury in Qiao Feng’s heart could not be expressed, he kept striking out with one palm attack after another, it seemed he wanted to vent all kinds of grievances he had suffered for the past more than 1 month on the stone wall. Afterward, his palms bled, the marks of his gory fingers were printed on the stone wall one by one, but he kept on hitting.
While he was hitting, suddenly he heard the pleasing clear voice of a girl from behind: ‘Great master Qiao, if you kept hitting, this mountain peak would be knocked down by you.’
Startled, Qiao Feng turned his head around and saw a young girl standing under a flower tree beside the mountain slope, leaning against it. The girl was wearing a reddish gown and was smiling. She was no one other than A'Zhu.
That day he had saved her merely because he had been stimulated by the indignation of that moment but in fact he had not cared about this little maid. Afterward, busy enough with his own affairs, he had ignored and forgotten the matter concerning her life and death. Unexpectedly, she suddely appeared here, hence Qiao Feng was astonished, but after that he also felt happy. He went upwards to greet her, laughed and said: ‘A'Zhu, have you gotten well?’ However, because his mood suddenly changed from being furious to being happy, his smiling expression was rather forced.
A'Zhu said: ‘Great master Qiao, how are you?’ She gazed at Qiao Feng for a short while then suddenly threw herself into his bosom and sobbed: ‘Great master Qiao, I… I’ve been waiting for you here for 5 days and 5 nights. I only feared that you wouldn’t come. You… You’ve really come. Thank Heavens, in the end you’re safe and sound.’
She said these few sentences in an intermittent manner, but her words were filled with gladness and solace. As soon as Qiao Feng heard them, he knew that she cared about himself very much. He felt moved and asked: ‘Why have you been waiting for me here for 5 days and 5 nights? I… How did you know that I’d come here?’
A'Zhu slowly raised her head. Suddenly remembering that she was leaning against the bosom of a man, she blushed and took 2 steps backward. When she recalled that just a moment ago she had been unable to control her feelings, her face reddened even more. She suddenly turned around and went quickly to the back of the tree.
Qiao Feng called out: ‘Hey, A'Zhu, A'Zhu, what are you doing?’ A'Zhu did not reply. She only felt that her heart was beating chaotically. After a good while, she walked out from behind the tree, her face still looked rather embarrassed. For the moment, she stammered and was unable to say clearly. Finding her expression strange, Qiao Feng said: ‘A'Zhu, if you have something that is hard to say, feel free to tell me. The 2 of us are friends in adversity who went through life-and-death situations together, what do you still worry about?’ A'Zhu’s face reddened again. She said: ‘Nothing.’
Qiao Feng gently pulled her shoulder and turned her face towards the sunlight. He saw that even though her countenance was still very haggard, a reddish color could vaguely be seen under her pale cheeks; they no longer had the gray color of when she had been seriously injured that day. Qiao Feng then put out his finger to feel her pulse. A'Zhu’s whole body shook when her wrist touched his finger. Qiao Feng asked: ‘What’s wrong? You’re still unwell?’ A'Zhu blushed again and hurriedly said: ‘No, no… nothing.’ Qiao Feng checked her pulse but found that it was beating steadily and comfortably. He praised: ‘Divine doctor Xue could bring the dying back to life. He really lives up to his reputation.’
A'Zhu said: ‘Luckily, only because your good friend Elder Bai Shijing promised to teach Divine doctor Xue 7 stances of the ‘Silk Thread Winding Grasping Hand Technique’ did he treat my injury. More importantly, they wanted to interrogate me about the whereabouts of that master in black. If I had died at that moment, they wouldn’t have been able to ask anything. When the condition of my injury got better a bit, every day 7 or 8 people came and asked me: ‘What’s the relationship between the evil traitor Qiao Feng and you?’ 'Where has he escaped to?' ‘Who’s the man in black that saved him?’ At first I didn’t know anything about these matters, but when I honestly said that I didn’t know, they insisted that I was lying. They also threatened me a lot, saying they’d starve and torture me. So, I secretly made up some stories and told them. The story about the master in black was the most absurd. One day I said he was from Mt Kunlun, the next day I again said he had once learned martial arts in the East Sea. It was very interesting talking nonsense to them.’ Saying to here, recalling that during those days she had talked nonsense to and made a fool of many current well-known heroes and extraordinary people, she still had some lingering enjoyment, and a smiling expression appeared on her face, making it look like a spring flower which had just opened.
Qiao Feng smiled and said: ‘Did they believe you?’ A'Zhu said: ‘Some did and some didn’t. The majority of them half believed half doubted. I guessed they didn’t know the identity of the master in black either and no one would be able to argue that my words were incorrect, so my stories became more and more curious, making them very suspicious and filled with anxiety.’ Qiao Feng sighed and said: ‘In the end, what’s the identity of this master in black? I don’t know it either. Perhaps if I heard you talking through your hat, I’d also half believe half doubt.’
Surprised, A'Zhu said: ‘You don’t know him either? Then why was he willing to risk saving you from an extremely dangerous place? Ah, of course, every great hero who saves people in danger is just like that.’
Qiao Feng sighed and said: ‘I don’t know who I should take revenge on, and don’t know who I should pay my debt of gratitude either. I don’t know if I’m Han or Hu and don’t know if in the end my conduct and deeds are right or wrong. Qiao Feng ah Qiao Feng, you’re really a man for nothing.’
Seeing his miserable expression, A'Zhu could not help putting out her hands and holding his hands. She soothed him: ‘Great master Qiao, why do you have to make yourself suffer? There’ll be one day when everything will come to light. As long as you have a clear conscience, and act and behave according to the law of Heaven and Earth, that’s good enough.’
Qiao Feng said: ‘But I myself have a guilty conscience. Because of it I feel very sorry. That day in the apricot forest I flicked the saber and took a vow that I’d never kill a Han, but… but…’
A'Zhu said: ‘At Juxian Manor, those people disregarded rights and wrongs to jointly attack you, if you hadn’t struck back, could it be that you’d have confusedly let them cut you into 17 or 28 pieces? There’s no such thing under heaven!’
Qiao Feng said: ‘You’re right.’ He was a broad-minded brave man therefore he only felt grieved and lonely for a limited time; after a while, he cast these feelings aside and said: ‘Zhiguang dashi and Zhao Qiansun both said there were words written on this stone wall, but someone has scraped them off.’
A'Zhu said: ‘Yes, I guessed you’d definitely go out of Yanmen Pass to see the words left behind on this stone wall, that’s why after I escaped from danger I went to here immediately to wait for you.’
Qiao Feng asked: ‘How could you escape? It’s also Elder Bai who saved you?’ A'Zhu smiled: ‘No, it isn’t. You remember that I once disguised as a Shaolin monk, right? Even his shixiongdi (apprentice younger and older bros) couldn’t discover it.’ Qiao Feng said: ‘Yes, this mischievous skill of yours is really good.’ A'Zhu said: ‘That day, when the condition of my injury was already very good, Divine doctor Xue said there was no need to treat the injury anymore and after resting for 7 or 8 days I’d fully recover. The stories I made up gradually had more and more flaws. Also, I already got somewhat bored with making them up and was worried about you, so in the evening of that day, I disguised as a person.’ Qiao Feng asked: ‘Disguised again? Who did you disguise as?’
A'Zhu said: ‘I disguised as Divine doctor Xue.’
Slightly startled, Qiao Feng said: ‘How could you disguise as Divine doctor Xue?’ A'Zhu said: ‘He met me every day and talked to me the most so I was familiar with his appearance and manner the most. Besides, he often stayed with me alone. In the evening of that day, I pretended to fall in a faint. He came to feel my pulse. I then turned my hand over and grabbed the inner surface of his wrist. He could no longer move, and had no choice but to let me arrange.’
Qiao Feng could not help but burst out laughing and thought: ‘This Divine doctor Xue only focused on treating illness. He didn’t expect to be fooled by this imp at all.’
- To be continued -