Thanks for translating! I started reading this thread a while back but only got an account here recently. So I would just like to finally thank you. I adore A'Zhu and Xiao Feng.
Thanks for translating! I started reading this thread a while back but only got an account here recently. So I would just like to finally thank you. I adore A'Zhu and Xiao Feng.
He heard Madam Ma say indifferently: ‘The name of this leading big brother certainly must be concealed from other people so that Qiao Feng wouldn’t know about it and find him to avenge his parents’ deaths. But Elder Bai is on our own side, why should I hide it from you? He is…’ She lowered her voice while saying the words ‘He is’, then became silent.
Xiao Feng seemed to be able to hear even his own heartbeats but all along he did not hear Madam Ma say the name of that ‘leading big brother’. After a long time, he heard her softly sigh and and say: ‘The Moon in the sky is so round, and so bright.’ Xiao Feng knew clearly that the sky was being shrouded in dark clouds and there was no Moon, but he still looked up, thinking: ‘Today is the 2nd day of the month, even if there was a Moon, in no way would it be round. What does she mean by saying those words?’ He heard A'Zhu say: ‘On the 15th day, the Moon will naturally be both round and bright. Alas, but too bad brother Ma won’t be able to see it again.’ Madam Ma said: ‘You like to eat salty moon cakes or sugary ones?’ Xiao Feng found this even stranger, thinking: ‘After the death of her husband, Madam Ma’s mind has become somewhat dim.’ A'Zhu said: ‘We’re beggars, how can we be picky in eating moon cakes? If we couldn’t find the real murderer and settle this big score for Brother Ma, not to mention moon cakes, even dainties of every kind wouldn’t taste any good.’
Madam Ma remained silent, after a long while, she coldly said: ‘Elder Bai wholeheartedly only wants to find the real murderer and avenge his brother Ma Dayuan. That makes this little woman feel very grateful.’ A'Zhu said: ‘It is what a person in my position should do. Who among the tens of thousands of the Beggar Society disciples doesn’t think of settling this score?’ Madam Ma said: ‘This leading big brother has a revered position and a great reputation, and he can mobilize tens of thousands of people with a word. What he likes the most is sheltering his friends. If you go ask him who the real murderer is, he’ll be unwilling to say regardless.’
Xiao Feng felt happy in his heart, thinking: ‘Come what may, it’s been a worthwhile trip to us. Even if Madam Ma doesn’t say the name of that person, basing on this ‘… has a revered position and a great reputation, and he can mobilize tens of thousands of people with a word’ sentence, I can always guess who he is. How many people are there in wulin having this kind of status?’
While he was pondering about who this man was, he heard A'Zhu say: ‘Previously, in wulin, the Beggar Society’s Chief could mobilize tens of thousands of people with a word. Oh, there’re Shaolin disciples all over the world so the Abbot of Shaolin School can mobilize tens of thousands of people with a word too…’ Madam Ma said: ‘You don’t need to guess carelessly. I’m gonna give you another clue. You must go southwest.’ A'Zhu muttered to herself: ‘Go southwest? Does the southwest have any VIP? It seems not.’
Madam Ma extended her finger and with a ‘pai’ sound she tore the window’s paper, the hole was just above the top of Xiao Feng’s head. He heard her follow that by saying: ‘This little woman doesn’t know martial arts. But Elder Bai, you must know who is the best at this skill under Heaven.’ A'Zhu said: ‘Oh, this is an acupuncture point blocking skill, isn’t it? The Diamond Finger of Shaolin School and the Soul Seizing Finger of the Zheng family in Cangzhou, Hebei are the most formidable ones.’
Xiao Feng cried in his mind: ‘Wrong, wrong! Among acupuncture point blocking skills, the Purely Yang Finger of the Duan Clan in Dali is the number 1 under Heaven. Besides, she said the southwest.’
Sure enough, he heard Madam Ma say: ‘Elder Bai is experienced and knowledgeable, how could you not guess correctly? Could it be that after your journey you’ve become so fatigued and woozy that you’ve forgotten even the famous Purely Yang Finger?’ He tone was rather derisive.
A'Zhu said: ‘Of course I know about the Purely Yang Finger of the Duan family, but the Duan Clan is the sovereign imperial clan in Dali, they haven’t had any contact with the wulin of the Central Plains for a long time. If you say that there’s a connection between the leading big brother and them, it must be a false rumor.’
Madam Ma said: ‘The Duan Clan has royal authority in Dali, but there’s not only 1 person in the clan. The people who are not the Emperor have often visited the Central Plains. This leading big brother is the younger full brother of the current emperor of Dali. His surname is Duan, and given name Zhengchun. He was conferred on with the title the South-Stabilizing Prince.’
Hearing Madam Ma say the 3 words ‘Duan Zhengchun’, Xiao Feng could not help shaking all over because finally he already knew the name which for the past several months he had rushed about thousands of li and tried his best to find out about.
He heard A'Zhu say: ‘This Prince Duan has a revered status and a lot of power, how could he take part in the fighting and killings in Jianghu?’ Madam Ma said: ‘Of course Prince Duan disdains to get involved in the common fighting and killings in Jianghu. But if it was an important matter that was related to the rise or fall, the existence or disappearance of Dali, do you think he would concern himself with it or not?’ A'Zhu replied: ‘Sure he would take part in it.’ Madam Ma said: ‘I heard Elder Xu said: Great Song is the northern wall of Dali, once the Khitan destroys Great Song, the 2nd step would be nothing but swallowing up Dali. Because Great Song and Dali are closely related and mutually dependent like the lips and teeth, Dali is definitely unwilling to let Great Song be ruined at the hands of the Liao Empire.’ A'Zhu said: ‘Yes, your words are correct.’
Madam Ma said: ‘Elder Xu said, that year, this Prince Duan was being a guest at the headquarters of the Beggar Society. While he and Chief Wang were drinking and discussing martial arts with each other, suddenly they heard that Khitan warriors were coming to Shaolin in great force to rob sutras. Because of his sense of honor, Prince Duan couldn’t refuse to lead everybody and rush to the outside of Yanmen Pass to intercept them. In name, this deed of his was for the sake of Great Song, but in fact it was for the sake of Dali. I heard that at that time this Prince Duan was still young but he excelled in martial arts and was very benevolent and righteous. In Dali, he is below only one person and above all the others; he uses money as if it is dirt; other people don’t need to open their mouths, he can conveniently give his friends hundreds or thousands of taels of silver. If he hadn’t led the martial arts users of the Central Plains then who, you think, would have? Someday in the future he’d become the Emperor of Dali. With such exalted status, and the others being ordinary people, how could they order him about?’
A'Zhu said: ‘So the leading big brother is the South-Stabilizing Prince of Dali, and everyone would rather die than say his name only to protect him.’ Madam Ma said: ‘Elder Bai, you must not tell this secret to the 2nd person. Prince Duan and our Society have a deep friendship, if this information leaks out, there’ll be a huge disaster. The Duan Clan wields great power in a region and is very formidable, but if Qiao Feng deliberately seeks revenge and waits in the dark for 8 or 10 years, it’ll be hard for Duan Zhengchun to deal with him.’
A'Zhu said: ‘Dimei, you’re right. I’ll keep my mouth shut like a bottle and in no way reveal it.’ Madam Ma said: ‘Elder Bai, it’d be best if you take an oath, so that I can be at ease.’ A'Zhu said: ‘All right. If Bai Shijing tells anyone else that Duan Zhengchun is the ‘leading big brother’, Bai Shijing shall suffer the disaster of ten thousand cuts and lose all reputation and become the laughing stock for the whole world.’ Her oath sounded very serious but in fact she was very crafty and pushed everything to ‘Bai Shijing’; the person who would suffer 10,000 cuts was Bai Shijing, the person who would lose all reputation was Bai Shijing, and it had nothing to do with A’Zhu herself.
Hearing that, Madam Ma seemed to be very pleased, saying: ‘This’s good.’
A'Zhu said: ‘Then I’ll go to Dali to pay a visit to the South-Stabilizing Prince then indirectly mention last year’s Mid-Autumn Festival and ask about who were in his mansion at that time, then we’ll be able to find out who really murdered Brother Ma. But at the moment I still firmly believe that it’s Qiao Feng. Zhao Qiansun, Grandpa Tan and Granny Tan are 3 dimwits. Their words aren’t very dependable.’
Madam Ma said: ‘Elder Bai, I beg of you find out the truth about the murderer.’ A'Zhu said: ‘Brother Ma and I are just like full brothers. I’m certainly gonna do my utmost.’ Her tears dripping down, Madam Ma said: ‘Elder Bai is so serious about friendship. If my late husband could know about this in the Underworld, he would certainly be very grateful.’ A'Zhu said: ‘Dimei (younger sis-in-law), you take care of yourself. I take my leave.’ After bidding farewell, she immediately went out. Madam Ma said: ‘This little woman is a widow so it’s unsuitable for me to see you off far. Elder Bai, please forgive me.’ A'Zhu said: ‘That’s fine, that’s fine. Dimei doesn’t need to stand on ceremony.’
After getting to the outside, A'Zhu saw Xiao Feng standing in waiting in the distance. The 2 of them exchanged a look then, silent as the grave, went straight along the road.
The crescent new moon shone on the road leading back to Xinyang. The 2 of them went side by side. Only after going 10 li (0.5 km) or so did Xiao Feng let out a long breath and say: ‘A'Zhu, thank you very much.’
A'Zhu smiled indifferently and did not say anything. Even though her face was full of wrinkles, and she was in disguise as Bai Shijing, from the look in her eyes, Xiao Feng still sensed that her mind was being filled with worries. He asked: ‘Today we’re highly successful, why aren’t you happy?’
A'Zhu replied: ‘I’m thinking that the Duan Clan in Dali has many people and great power, if you go there to get revenge by yourself, it’d be extremely dangerous.’
Xiao Feng said: ‘Oh, so you’re worrying about me. Don’t worry. I’m in the dark and he’s in the light. If I can’t get revenge in 3 to 5 years, then just like what Madam Ma said, I’ll wait for 8 to 10 years. There’ll be 1 day when I’ll chop Duan Zhengchun into 17 or 18 pieces to feed dogs.’ Saying to here, he could not help but grind his teeth, showing all the enmity that filled his bosom.
A'Zhu said: ‘Big brother, you must be careful.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘Of course I will. It’s not important if I die, but if I can’t avenge the deaths of my parents, I won’t be able to die with my eyes closed.’ He slowly stretched out his hand and pulled her hand, saying: ‘If I die at the hands of Duan Zhengchun, who will pasture cattle and sheep with you outside Yanmen Pass?’
A'Zhu said: ‘Alas, I’m always very worried, and I feel that there’s something wrong in this matter. That Madam Ma, that… Madam Ma, she looks so pure and noble, but when I saw her, somehow I felt scared and disgusted by her.’
Xiao Feng laughed and said: ‘That woman is very smart and capable. You were afraid that she’d discover that you were in disguise so it was unavoidable that you felt scared.’
After the 2 of them had returned to the inn in Xinyang, Xiao Feng immediately ordered 10 Jin (600 g) of wine to carouse to his heart’s content. He continuously calculated in his mind how to get revenge. Thinking of the Duan Clan in Dali, he involuntarily recalled the new sworn brother Duan Yu and could not help shivering with fear. In a trance, he raised the wine bowl but did not drink, and the expression on his face greatly changed.
Thinking that he had detected something, A'Zhu looked around, but she did not see anything unusual so she asked in a low voice: ‘Big brother, what’s wrong?’ Startled, Xiao Feng said: ‘No… nothing.’ Then he raised the wine bowl and tossed it off. When the wine reached his throat, suddenly he chocked and coughed, and spewed wine onto the clothes that covered his chest. His drinking capacity was rare in the world and his internal energy was profound so chocking while drinking was something that had never happened. A'Zhu was secretly worried but it was unsuitable for her to ask much.
She did not know that while drinking Xiao Feng suddenly remembered the drinking contest between himself and Duan Yu in Wuxi city that day during which the opponent had used the high-level internal energy of the ‘6 Meridians Divine Sword’ to force the wine out through the fingers. Xiao Feng himself knew that he could not match this kind of extraordinary skill and internal energy. Duan Yu obviously did not understand martial arts yet his internal energy was already so unusual. As the leader of the Duan Clan in Dali, that big enemy Duan Zhengchun had to be 10 times as good as Duan Yu, and so how could Xiao Feng get revenge for the deaths of his parents? He did not know the adventures through which Duan Yu had coincidentally obtained his extraordinary skills and absorbed the internal energies of other people. In terms of internal energy alone, Duan Yu was already many times better than his father. As for the ‘6 Meridians Divine Sword’, at the present time, no one other than Duan Yu was capable of using them all. Both Xiao Feng and A'Zhu knew Duan Yu very well, but Duan was the national surname of Dali, just like the surname Zhao in Great Song, the national surname Li of Western Xia, and the national surname Yelu of Liao, hence there were tens of thousands of people with this surname, Duan Yu had never mentioned that he was a prince of Dali, and thus Xiao Feng and A'Zhu did not expect that he was a descendant of the Emperor.
Even though A'Zhu did not know what Xiao Feng was thinking in detail, she guessed that he was worrying about how to get revenge, so she said: ‘Big brother, getting revenge is an important matter and can’t be done in one day. We should plan before taking action. Even if the enemies are numerous and we are few, if we can’t win by force, don’t tell me that we can’t win by wits.’
Xiao Feng was happy, thinking that A'Zhu was sharp and crafty, really a great assistant, he immediately poured a bowl of wine, tossed it off and said: ‘I won’t live under the same sky with the enemy that killed my parents. To settle this score, there’s no need to care about any custom and morality in Jianghu, and any means is usable regardless of its viciousness. That’s right, if it’s impossible to win by force, we’ll beat him by strategy.’
A'Zhu continued: ‘Big brother, besides your parents, you must also avenge your foster parents Old Master Qiao and Old Madam Qiao, and your master Venerable (from now on I’m gonna translate dashi as Venerable) Xuan Ku.’
Xiao Feng held out his hand and gave the table a hit, saying loudly: ‘Yes, there’s not only 1 score, but many.’
A'Zhu said: ‘When you learned martial arts from Venerable Xuan Ku in the past, you must have been still young, so you haven’t learned all the profound internal energy techniques of Shaolin School. Otherwise, even if the Purely Yang Finger of the Duan Clan in Dali was more formidable, it wouldn’t necessarily be superior to the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ (Yijin Jing) by Damo the Old Ancestor of Shaolin School. I once heard Old Master Murong discuss martial arts in the world, and he said that the most fearsome skill of the Duan Clan in Dali was not the Purely Yang Finger but something called ‘6 Meridians Divine Sword’.’
Xiao Feng frowned, saying: ‘Yes, Master Murong is a wizard in wulin, his words are really insightful. What I was worried about just now was not the Purely Yang Finger, but this 6 Meridians Divine Sword.’
A'Zhu said: ‘That day, while Old Master Murong and Mister Murong were discussing martial arts in the world, I stood on one side to pour tea and heard several sentences. Old Master Murong said: ‘Each of the 72 elite skills of Shaolin School has its own excellence, but to defeat the enemy and win the battle, only 1 skill is already enough, there’s no need to use 72 skills.’’
Xiao Feng nodded, saying: ‘What Senior Murong discussed is very true.’ A'Zhu continued: ‘At that time, Mister Murong said: ‘Yes, jiumu (maternal uncle’s wife) Wang and biaomei (younger female cousin with different surname) like to boast that they know many martial arts in the world, but what’s the use of being a jack of all trades and master of none?’ Old Master Murong said: ‘Speaking of the word ‘master’, it’s easier said than done. In fact the only truly elite skill of Shaolin School is the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’. As long as this sutra is successfully practiced, any skill, no matter how ordinary it is, can become a marvel from rubbish in the hands of the user.’’
When a user had a good basis and a powerful internal energy, they would be able to unleash enormous power despite using only ordinary stances. Xiao Feng certainly understood this matter deeply. That day when he fought the heroes at Juxian Manor, using just the ‘Founder’s Long Fist’, a set of martial arts that was known to everyone, he was able to battle many heroes and brave fellows in the world and make all the first-class experts there helplessly admire him. Now, after hearing A'Zhu relate Master Murong’s words, he could not refrain from drinking 2 big bowls of wine continuously and saying: ‘He understood my heart, he understood my heart. It’s a pity Master Murong already passed away. Otherwise, I’d definitely go to his manor to meet this wizard of the world.’
A'Zhu smiled charmingly, saying: ‘When Old Master Murong was still alive, he never met any stranger, but you’d certainly be an exception.’ Xiao Feng raised his head and smiled, knowing that the words ‘you’d certainly be an exception’ meant to say: ‘You’re my intimate darling so Master Murong naturally would regard you with special respect.’ Seeing the look in his eyes, A'Zhu could not refrain from lowering her head. Her cheeks reddened, but in her young heart, she secretly felt happy.
Xiao Feng drank another bowl of wine and asked: ‘Old Master Murong wasn’t very old when he passed away, was he?’ A'Zhu replied: ‘Around 50 years old. He couldn’t be considered old.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘Oh, with his profound internal energy, the age of 50 was when his martial arts reached the peak of perfection. How could he suddenly pass away?’ A'Zhu shook her head, saying: ‘The Old Master died from some illness. All of us didn’t know anything. He died very fast. In the morning he suddenly fell ill, and in the evening, the Young Master wailed loudly and came out to tell everyone that the Old Master had died.’
Xiao Feng said: ‘Oh, I wonder what the violent illness he suffered is. What a pity, what a pity. What a pity Divine Docter Xue wasn’t around there at that time. Otherwise, you should’ve invited him at any rate, and he would’ve been able to save Master Murong’s life.’ He had never been acquainted with the father and son of the Murong Clan, but after hearing other people mention their words, deeds and natures, he could not help but rather admire them. A'Zhu’s connection with them made him feel closer to them and value them even more.
A'Zhu continued: ‘That day Old Master Murong discussed the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ with the Young Master. He said: ‘I’ve never seen the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ created by Damo the Old Ancestor, but judging from the way of martial arts, the great reputation that Shaolin School has enjoyed should come from this ‘Muscle Changing Sutra.’ It’s impossible to say that those 72 elite skills are not formidable, but it can’t be said that you can become the leader of the world in martial arts thanks to them.’ The Old Master specially warned the Young Master that he weren’t allowed to be overconfident about the martial arts that had been handed down by their ancestors and to make light of Shaolin disciples, because when there was already this sutra in the monastery, maybe the talented bright monks would be able to master it.’
Xiao Feng nodded in approval, thinking: ‘The Murong Clan of Gusu is famous in the whole world, yet they aren’t arrogant. This is hard to come by.’
A'Zhu said: ‘The Old Master also said that all his life he had looked at almost all martial arts under heaven but it was a pity he had never seen the sword manual of the 6 Meridians Divine Sword of the Duan Clan in Dali and the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ of Shaolin School, and that was unavoidably a great regret of his life. Big brother, Old Master Murong already mentioned these 2 martial arts in the same breath, guessing from this, if you want to deal with the 6 Meridians Divine Sword of the Duan Clan in Dali, it seems you must start with the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ of Shaolin School. If we can steal the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ from the Bodhi Institute of Shaolin Monastery and put effort in practicing it for several years, then I think we wouldn’t need to be worried about that 6 Meridians Divine Sword or 7 Meridians Demonic Saber.’ As she said to here, her expression resembled a smile yet she was not smiling.
Xiao Feng rose, laughing and saying: ‘Little imp… You… It turns out you…’
A'Zhu laughed and said: ‘Big brother, at first I stole this sutra to give the Young Master, after reading it he would incinerate it in front of the Old Master’s grave to fulfill his father’s desire. Now I give it to you.’ As she finished, she took out an oilcloth packet and put it in Xiao Feng’s hand.
That night, Xiao Feng saw with his own eyes that she disguised as monk Zhi Qing and stole the sutra from the copper mirror in the Bodhi Institute, but he could never have expected that it was the secret internal energy manual ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ of Shaolin School. When A'Zhu was captured by the extraordinary fellows at Juxian Manor, thinking that she was a female, they did not search her body; as for the high-level Shaolin monks such as Xuan Ji and Xuan Nan, even in their dreams, they could never have expected that the lost sutra of their monastery was on her body.
Xiao Feng shook his head and said: ‘You took a huge risk and narrowly escaped death to steal this sutra from Shaolin Monastery with the original intention of giving it to Mister Murong. How can I seize it for myself?’
A'Zhu said: ‘Big brother, you’re wrong about this.’ Xiao Feng asked in surprise: ‘How can I be wrong?’ A'Zhu said: ‘I stole this sutra all on my own and not because I received an order from Mister Murong. I can give it to anyone. Moreover, after you’ve read it, it still won’t be late for us to give it to Mister Murong. You bear an absolutely irreconcilable grudge against the murderer of your parents. To get revenge, one can do any sinister, cruel, despicable or dirty thing. Why are you still fussy about borrowing a sutra to have a look?’
Hearing these words, Xiao Feng was awestruck and startled. He made a deep bow to her, saying: ‘Xianmei (literally ‘virtuous younger sis’, affectionately calling a younger sis), you’re right in criticizing me. How can a person who’s dealing with important matters keep worrying about trivial things?’
A'Zhu puckered her lips and smiled, saying: ‘As a Shaolin disciple, it’s only reasonable for you to use Shaolin martial arts to avenge your enshi (kind master) Venerable Xuan Ku. What’s wrong about it?’
Xiao Feng continuously commended her. He felt both grateful to her and happy. Wasting no time, he opened the oilcloth packet, and saw a booklet whose paper had turned yellow. There were several sinuous bizarre characters written on the cover of the booklet. He cried inwardly: ‘No good!’ When he turned to the 1st page, he saw that it was filled with words, but these words were crooked. Some had the shape of a circle, some had the shape of a hook, and he did not know any of them.
'A'yo,' uttered A'Zhu, and said: ‘So it’s totally in Sanskrit. What bad luck. I originally wanted to burn the sutra as a sacrifice to the Old Master. As a maid, I shouldn’t read it before that, that’s why after the sutra came to my hands, I’ve never dared to open and take a look at it. Alas, no wonder those monks let me steal their secret martial arts manual without paying any attention. It turns out no one understands the sutra…’ As she finished, she let out a deep sigh, sounding exceedingly dispirited.
Xiao Feng consoled her: ‘There’s no need to worry too much about gain and loss.’ Then he put the ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’ back into the packet and returned it to A'Zhu.
A'Zhu said: ‘Isn’t it the same if you keep it? Don’t tell me that there’s still difference between us?’
Xiao Feng smiled and put the packet in his bosom. He poured another big bowl of wine. When he was about to drink again, suddenly he heard footsteps outside the door, then someone snarled loudly. Slightly surprised, Xiao Feng rushed out of the door. He saw a big fellow who was covered with blood from head to toe on the main street. The fellow was holding 2 broad axes and was brandishing them up and down chaotically.
END OF CHAPTER 21
Last edited by forgot password; 01-14-11 at 07:14 AM.
Thanx for the update!
Rose blooms best near death
You are in full bloom, Pal!
Chapter 22: A pair of starry eyes.
The big fellow had a thick beard and a very powerful appearance, but the look in his eyes was chaotic and he was behaving like crazy. Obviously this was a madman. Xiao Feng saw that the pair of broad axes in his hands seemed to be made of pure steel and very heavy. When the man separated them, brought them together, attacked and defended with them, his movements were rather disciplined, and the defense at his front was excellent and strict, just like the style of a master. Xiao Feng was acquainted with very many people of wulin in the Central Plains but he did not know this big fellow. He thought: ‘This big fellow’s skill in using axes is very outstanding. How come I’ve never heard of such a man?’
That man brandished his broad axes faster and faster, and repeatedly roared loudly: ‘Quick, quick, quickly go and report to our Lord that the enemy has come.’
He was standing at a place where there were roads on all sides and was chopping horizontally and hacking vertically with his 2 shining axes so passersby certainly stayed away from him. Who dared come near him? Xiao Feng saw that he was having a hysterical expression and kept executing move after move with the axes. Gradually, he no longer had enough strength, but he desperately continued and only shouted: ‘Brother Fu, quickly retreat! Don’t care about me. It’s important to report to our Lord.’
Xiao Feng thought: ‘This man loyally protects his Lord. He’s a brave man. But losing energy like this, he’ll certainly suffer very serious internal injuries.’ He walked up to that big fellow at once and said: ‘Old chap, can I treat you to a cup of wine?’
The big fellow glowered at Xiao Feng then all of a sudden he shouted: ‘Prime villain, don’t harm my Lord!’ As he finished, he raised the axes and brought them down towards Xiao Feng’s head. Seeing that Xiao Feng was in an extremely dangerous situation, all the bystanders cried ‘A’yo.’
Hearing the words ‘prime villain’ Xiao Feng was also startled: ‘I and A'Zhu are looking for the prime villain to get revenge. So the enemy of this man is also a prime villain. Even though he calls him the prime villain, that man may not necessarily be the one that I and A'Zhu call the prime villain. Anyway, I’m gonna save him first then talk later.’ He immediately moved straight forward and stretched out his hand to block an acupuncture point on the part of the ribs around his waist.
Unexpectedly, even though this man had lost sanity, his martial arts remained intact, so he turned the axe in his right hand around and tried to hit Xiao Feng directly in the lower abdomen with the handle. This move was very effective and clever. Were Xiao Feng not very many times better than the man in martial arts, he would be hit by him. He immediately stretched out his left hand, grabbed the handle of the axe and snatched it. Already very weary, how could that big fellow withstand that? His whole body shook, and at once he threw himself on Xiao Feng. Who would have expected that he would disregard his own life and want to perish together with his adversary?
Xiao Feng moved his right arm over and gripped that man. He slightly exerted his power and rendered him immobile. All of the idle men who were watching for fun on the street applauded when they saw Xiao Feng subdue the madman. Half dragging, half carrying, Xiao Feng took that big fellow in the main hall of the inn. He pushed him down on a seat and said: ‘Old chap, drink first and talk later!’ Then he ordered the bartender to fetch wine.
That big fellow fixed his eyes on Xiao Feng. Only after a good while did he ask: ‘You… Are you a good person or a villain?’
Xiao Feng was startled, not knowing what to reply.
A'Zhu laughed and said: ‘Of course he’s a good person. I’m a good person too. And you’re also a good person. We’re friends. We’ll go fight the prime villain together.’ The big fellow stared at her for a while then stared at Xiao Feng for a while. It seemed he both believed and did not believe them. After a short while, he said: ‘That… That prime villain?’ A'Zhu continued: ‘We’re friends, let’s fight the prime villain together!’
That big fellow suddenly rose and said loudly: ‘No, no! The prime villain is very formidable. Quick, quickly go report to the Lord and ask him to think of a way to hide. I’m gonna hold back the prime villain and you’re gonna report.’ As he finished speaking, he rose and grabbed the broad axes.
Xiao Feng stretched out his hand and pressed down on the man’s shoulder, saying: ‘Old chap, the prime villain hasn’t come. Who’s your Lord? Where is he?’
The big fellow shouted loudly: ‘Prime villain, come here, come here, come here, your father’s gonna fight you 300 bouts. Don’t you dare harm our Lord?!’
Xiao Feng and A'Zhu exchanged a look, both being at the end of their wits. A'Zhu suddenly said loudly: ‘A’yo, no good. Let’s quickly go report to our Lord. Where is the Lord? Where has he gone to? We mustn’t let the prime villain find him.’
The big fellow said: ‘Yes, yes, you go report. He’s gone to the Square Bamboo Forest by the Little Mirror Lake. You… You quickly go the Square Bamboo Forest by the Little Mirror Lake to report to the Lord. Go, go!’ As he finished, he urged continuously, looking very anxious.
While Xiao Feng and A'Zhu were still uncertain about their plan, suddenly the bartender said: ‘Go to the Little Mirror Lake? It’s not gonna be a short journey.’ Hearing that there was really a place with the name ‘Little Mirror Lake’, Xiao Feng hurriedly asked: ‘Where is it? How far is it from here?’ That bartender replied: ‘If you ask other people, they may not necessarily know. Luckily for you, you’ve asked me, the very right person. I’m a man from the area around the Little Mirror Lake. This is really as coincidental as you can get. You’re totally lucky!’
Hearing him babbling on about irrelevant subjects, Xiao Feng stretched out his hand, gave the table a hit and said loudly: ‘Quickly say, quickly say!’ The bartender at first wanted to mooch a tip before saying, but after being thus frightened by Xiao Feng, he no longer dared keep other people guessing, saying: ‘This master is so impatient, ha-ha, if it were not for you meeting me by chance, even if you were more impatient, it’d still be useless, right?’ He wanted to make some complaints, but seeing that Xiao Feng was not having a nice expression, he said: ‘The Little Mirror Lake is to the northwest of here. First you go straight west. After going 7 and a half li (0.5 km), you’ll see around 10 big willow trees. 4 trees each row. There’re 4 rows in total. One times 4 equals 4. Two times 4 equals 8. Three times 4 equals 12. Four times 4 equals 16. There’re 16 willow trees altogether. Then you quickly go north. After going 9 and a half li, you’ll see a big bluestone bridge. You mustn’t cross the bridge. It’ll be a mistake if you cross it. I say you can’t cross the bridge but you’ll need to cross a bridge. But you can’t cross that big bluestone bridge on the left-hand side. You must cross the small wooden bridge on the right-hand side. After crossing the small bridge, you go west for a while then go north for a while then go northwest for a while. In short, it won’t go wrong if you follow that footpath. Going like this for 21 and a half li, you’ll see a big lake that looks like a mirror. It’s the Little Mirror Lake. To get there from here, everyone says that it’s 40 li, but in fact it’s only 38 and a half li. It’s less than 40 li.’
Xiao Feng was able to repress his temper to hear the bartender say till the end. A'Zhu said: ‘This big brother said so clearly and plainly. One li is one coin. At first I wanted to give you 40 coins, but it’d be a little bit wrong. How about not giving you? But I must give you. One times 8 equals 8. Two times 8 equals 16. Three times 8 equals 24. Four times 8 equals 32. Five times 8 equals 40. 40 li of road minus 1.5 li should be 38.5 li,’ then she counted out 39 coins and ground the last coin on the blade of an axe, creating an imprint. Next she pressed it with 2 of her fingers. With a snap, the coin was broken in half. Then she gave the bartender 38.5 coins.
Xiao Feng could not help laughing, thinking: ‘This young girl is always up to mischief whenever she's got a chance.’
The big fellow was still glaring at them and repeatedly urged: ‘Go report, quick. There’s no time for delay. The prime villain is very formidable.’ Xiao Feng asked: ‘Who’s your Lord?’ The big fellow mumbled: ‘My Lord… my Lord… he…. I mustn’t tell other people where he is. You’d better not go.’ Xiao Feng said loudly: ‘What’s your surname?’ The big fellow replied thoughtlessly: ‘My surname is Gu. A’yo, My surname isn’t Gu.’
Xiao Feng became suspicious: ‘Could it be that this man is playing some trick and deliberately lures me into going to the Little Mirror Lake? Why is he both surnamed Gu and not surnamed Gu?’ He had another thought: ‘If the enemy sends him to trick me into going, I’ll most welcome it. I’m about to go find him. Even if the Little Mirror Lake is as dangerous as a dragon’s pool or a tiger’s den, what’s there for me to fear?’ He turned to A'Zhu and said: ‘Let’s go to the Little Mirror Lake to have a look and see if something happens. If this brother’s Lord is there, I think we’ll find him.’
That bartender cut in: ‘There’s only a wilderness around the Little Mirror Lake, nothing to see. If you two want to go sightseeing and widen your knowledge, I guarantee that the pavilions, terraces and towers in the gardens of the rich families here will greatly expand your horizons…’ Xiao Feng waved his hand and told him to stop blabbering on. Then he turned to the big fellow and said: ‘Old chap, you’re very tired, just rest here a little. I’m gonna report to your honored Lord on your behalf that the prime villain will come in no time.’
That big fellow said: ‘Thanks a lot, thanks a lot! I, Gu, sincerely appreciate it. I’ll stop the prime villain. I mustn’t let him pass.’ As he finished, he stood up and stretched out his hands to lift the broad axes, but his strength had been used up and his 2 arms were numb and aching, so after taking fast hold of the handles, he was unable to lift the axes up.
‘Have a rest, old chap,’ said Xiao Feng. After paying for the wine and the rent, he and A'Zhu went out of the door. Following the words of the bartender, they went westward along the main road. After going 7 or 8 li, as expected, they saw 4 rows of trees on the roadside. There were 16 big willow trees in total. A'Zhu laughed and said: ‘That bartender is talkative, but there’re good things in his garrulousness. Like this, we definitely won’t go wrong, right? Oh, who’s there?’
She extended her finger and pointed to a willow tree. A peasant was sitting under the tree by leaning against it. His feet were being immersed in the muddy water in the ditch beside the tree. This should be just a common scene in the countryside, but one side of the peasant’s face was being covered with blood, and on his shoulder was resting a glittering staff which was made of refined copper and did not seem to be light.
Xiao Feng walked up to that peasant and noticed that he was breathing heavily. Obviously he had suffered serious internal injuries. Xiao Feng came straight to the point, asking: ‘Big brother, a broad-axe wielding friend entrusted us with the mission of going to the Little Mirror Lake and delivering a message. May I ask if the Little Mirror Lake is on this side?’ That peasant raised his head, asking: ‘Is the broad-axe wielding friend dead or alive?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘He only exhausted his power. There’s no big problem.’ The peasant let out a sigh of relief and said: ‘Thank Heavens and Earth. You two please go north. I’ll definitely never forget this kindness of delivering the message.’ Judging from the way the peasant talked, Xiao Feng knew that he was no common peasant in the countryside, so he asked: ‘May I ask you respected surname? What is the broad-axe wielding friend to you?’ That peasant replied: ‘My surname is Fu. Sir, please go quickly to the Little Mirror Lake. That prime villain already rushed past here. It’s a shame that I couldn’t hold him back.’
Xiao Feng thought: ‘This man’s serious injury really isn’t false. If this is the enemy’s plan to trick me, he must’ve spent a big amount of money.’ Seeing the honest appearance of the man, Xiao Feng took a liking to him. He said: ‘Big brother Fu, your injury is serious. What weapon did the prime villain use to harm you?’ That man replied: ‘It’s an iron staff.’
Seeing fresh blood oozing unceasingly from his chest, Xiao Feng unfastened his clothes to take a look. He saw a hole in the man’s chest. Even though the hole was not bigger than a fingertip, it was very deep. Xiao Feng extended his finger and blocked several important acupuncture points around the wound to help the peasant stop bleeding and reduce his pain. A'Zhu torn the front of his robe and bandage his wound.
That man with the surname Fu said: ‘I can’t repay you two for this great debt of gratitude with words. I only hope you would go to the Little Mirror Lake as quickly as possible and report to my humble Lord.’ Xiao Feng asked: ‘What’s the name of your honored Lord? How does he look like?’
That man said: ‘Sir, when you reach the side of the Little Mirror Lake, you’ll see a bamboo forest to the west of it. All the bamboo trees are square. There’re several bamboo houses in the forest. Please call out some words from the outside of the houses: ‘The number 1 villain under Heaven has come. Hide quickly!’ That’ll be okay. It’d be best if you don’t enter the houses. As for the name of my humble Lord, someday in the future I, Fu, will certainly inform you.’
Xiao Feng thought: ‘Who’s the number 1 villain under Heaven? Could it be that he’s Duan Yanqing of the ‘4 Arch-Villains’? Judging from the words of this man, obviously he’s unwilling to say so there’s no need to ask him more.’ However, this time he was no longer on the alert. He thought: ‘If the enemies want to trick me into advancing, of course every sentence would sound reasonable. They definitely wouldn’t make me suspect. This man hesitates in speech and is unwilling to say the truth so he doesn’t have any ill will.’ He then said: ‘Alright. I’m gonna follow your instructions.’ That big fellow struggled to crawl up then knelt down to express his gratitude.
Xiao Feng said: ‘You and I feel like old friends at the 1st meeting. Brother Fu doesn’t need to be excessively courteous.’ He raised the man up with his right hand. Then he gave his own face a wipe with his left hand, removing the make-up, and met him with his true face, saying: ‘I’m Xiao Feng, a Khitan. We’ll meet again some day.’ Without waiting for the man to say anything, he held A'Zhu’s hand and went with quick steps.
A'Zhu asked: ‘So we don’t need to disguise and make up anymore?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘I don’t know why, but I like this straightforward big fellow very much. I wanted to make friend with him, so I couldn’t meet him with a false face.’
A'Zhu said: ‘Alright, I’m gonna revert to wearing female clothes as well.’ She went to the side of a brook and hurriedly washed the make-up off her face. Then she took off her hat, revealing her black hair, and removed her baggy robe, showing the original female clothes inside.
The 2 of them went 9.5 li without taking a break. They saw a lofty bluestone bridge in the distance. When they came near the bridge, they only saw a scholar bending down on the surface of it. This man had spread a large sheet of white paper on the bridge, and using the bluestone of the bridge as inkstone he had prepared a big puddle of ink. The scholar was holding the brush in his hand and was writing on the paper. Xiao Feng and A'Zhu found it strange. Who could have expected that someone would take paper, ink, brush and inkstone to a bridge in the wilderness to write?
Only when they got near him did they see that he really was not writing, but drawing. What he was drawing was the scenery around. The small bridge, the running water, the old trees and the distant mountains all could be found in the picture. He was bending down on the bridge and was not facing Xiao Feng and A'Zhu, but what strange was that the scenery in the picture was obviously directed towards the 2 of them. They saw that every stroke of his was executed in the opposite way to normal and he was drawing contrariwise.
Xiao Feng did not understand painting and calligraphy at all but A'Zhu had lived in Mister Murong’s home for a long time and had seen a great many excellent works of painting and calligraphy. She saw that even though the ‘inverse drawing technique’ of that scholar could not be considered superb, it was really hard to draw in reverse like this. When she was about to go forwards to ask him several sentences, Xiao Feng lightly pulled a corner of her gown, shook his head and walk towards the small bridge on the left-hand side.
That scholar asked: ‘Why didn’t you two pay any attention when seeing me drawing in reverse? Could it be that this trifling skill of mine has defiled the eyes of you two?’ A'Zhu replied: ‘Confucius did not take a seat on an askew mat and did not eat irregular meat. An upright gentleman doesn’t see ‘inverse drawing’.’ ‘Ha-ha!’ That man loudly laughed and withdrew the sheet of white paper, saying: ‘Right on, please cross the bridge.’
Xiao Feng had already guessed what the scholar’s intentions were. He had spread the sheet of white paper on the bridge to catch other people’s eyes. Firstly, he wanted to delay them. And secondly, he wanted to make what was false look like the true one, deliberately tricking other people into crossing the bluestone bridge. So Xiao Feng said: ‘We want to go to the Little Mirror Lake. If we stepped on the bluestone bridge, we would go the wrong way.’ That scholar said: ‘If you follow the bluestone bridge, it’ll merely be going around in a circle. After going an extra 50 or 60 li, you’ll still arrive. The 2 of you had better go up the bluestone bridge.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘When everything is all right, why go an extra 50 or 60 li?’ That scholar laughed and said: ‘More haste and less speed. Could it be that you don’t understand the reason behind this sentence?’
A'Zhu also realized that this scholar was intentionally delaying them. She stopped bothering herself with him and immediately stepped on the wooden bridge. Xiao Feng followed her. When the 2 of them got to the middle of the bridge, suddenly they felt that the board of the bridge under their feet was rather weak, with ka-la-la sounds it snapped, and their bodies fell downwards the river. Xiao Feng stretched out his left hand and gripped A'Zhu’s body by the waist. His right foot slightly pressed on the board. Thus making use of it, he leaped forward and arrived at the other shore. After that, he sent a palm attack backwards in case the enemy sneakily attacked from behind.
‘Ha-ha,’ the scholar laughed loudly and said: ‘Good skill, good skill! Why are you two quickly going to the Little Mirror Lake?’
Noticing that there was panic in his laughter, Xiao Feng thought: ‘This man looks handsome and refined, yet he’s on the prime villain’s side.’ He paid no attention to him and went forwards with A'Zhu without delay.
After going several zhang (1 zhang = 3.333 m), he heard footsteps at his back and turned his head around to take a look. It was none other than the scholar who was catching up from behind. Xiao Feng turned around and asked with a darkened face: ‘Sir, what do you want to instruct me?’ That scholar replied: ‘I also want to go to the Little Mirror Lake. It just so happens that I and you two have the same journey.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘This can’t be better,’ then put his left hand on A'Zhu’s waist. Raising his internal energy, he took her along and went as if floating. His movements were really smooth and noiseless and did not stir up even light dust. The scholar quickly rushed after Xiao Feng but the distance between them became farther and farther. Seeing that his martial arts were mediocre, Xiao Feng did not care about him anymore. He continued raising his internal energy and going as if floating. Even though he was taking A'Zhu along, he was still much faster than the scholar. Within the time to finish a meal, Xiao Feng already left the scholar far behind himself and did not see any trace of him anymore.
After crossing the small wooden bridge, the path became very narrow. Sometimes the grass was as high as the waist and it was very hard to recognize the path. If the bartender had not said clearly, Xiao Feng would really have had a hard time finding this path. After going for less than 1 hour, he saw a clear lake. Xiao Feng slowed down and went up to the lake. He saw that its water was blue like jade and its surface was calm like a mirror. It was really worthy of the 3 words the ‘Little Mirror Lake.’
When Xiao Feng was about to look for the Square Bamboo Forest, suddenly he heard 2 sounds of chuckling in a thicket of flowers on the left of the lake, then a stone flew out. Looking in the flying direction of the stone, Xiao Feng saw a fisherman who was wearing a large bamboo hat and was fishing beside the lake. His fishing rod had just lifted up a black carp when that stone arrived. Without the least bit of inaccuracy, the stone hit the fishing line squarely. A ‘chi’ sound was heard, the fishing line was broken in two and the black carp fell back into the lake.
Xiao Feng was secretly startled: ‘The power of this person’s hand is very strange. The fishing line is soft and isn’t affected by blunt force. There’s nothing unusual if missiles such as flying knife and sleeve-hidden arrow are used to cut it off. But obviously it was a round stone. Who could have expected that the fishing line would be broken? This person’s Yin soft skill in using missiles definitely doesn’t belong to the Central Plains.’ The person who had thrown the stone did not seem to possess high-level martial arts, but they had an air of intense evil. It was simply an unorthodox technique. Xiao Feng thought: ‘This is probably a subordinate of that prime villain. Judging from the laughter, this person seems to be a young girl.’
That fisherman was also startled when his fishing line was broken. He said loudly and clearly: ‘Who played a trick on surnamed Chu me? Please show yourself.’
With several se-se sounds, the thicket of flowers was split apart and a young girl came out. She was dressed in all-purple clothes and was only 15 or 16 years old. Compared to A'Zhu, she was still younger by a few years. She had a pair of big shiny black eyes and her face was full of mischievousness. As soon as she saw A'Zhu, she ignored the fisherman, skipped up to her, pulled her hand, laughed and said: ‘This zizi (older sister) will be very pretty when grown-up. I like you very much!’ She sounded somewhat tongue-tied when saying, and her pronunciation was not correct, just like a foreigner who had just started to learn the language of the Central Plains.
Seeing that the young girl was lively and innocent, A'Zhu laughed and said: ‘It’s just you who’ll be pretty when grown-up. I like you even more.’ A'Zhu had lived in Gusu for a long time, and now she was saying in Mandarin of the Middle Land (Henan). Therefore, even though she sounded gentle and lovely, her pronunciation was also not very accurate.
The fisherman at first was about to get mad. But seeing that the young girl was so lively and lovely, the anger that was filling his bosom disappeared. He said: ‘This girl is so naughty. But the technique that you used to break the fishing line is very good.’
(to be continued)
Last edited by forgot password; 01-21-11 at 11:52 PM.
Forgot Password, I promise myself that one of these days I will catch up. But here is my BIG thanks in advance.
Thanks for your encouragement, folks.
Chapter 22: cont.
That young girl said: ‘What’s so interesting about angling? It’s boring to death. If you wanna eat fish, wouldn’t using this fishing rod to jab at the fish be better?’ As she finished, she received the fishing rod in the hand of the fisherman and conveniently gave the water a poke. The tip of the fishing rod pierced through the abdomen of a fish. When the fishing rod was lifted up, the fish was still writhing and twisting. From the wound, fresh blood fell into the green water drop after drop. The red and the green served as foils to each other, looking bright and beautiful, but there was also cruelty in the beauty of the colors.
Xiao Feng saw that when she executed this convenient poke, first her right hand slightly bent to the left, then drew a small arc and thrust out from the right side. This move was rather clever and undoubtedly pleasing to the eye. However, if she used it to attack and defend when facing an enemy, she would be a little late. Xiao Feng was really unable to guess what school or family possessed this martial arts technique.
That young girl continuously lifted the rod up and thrust it down. She pierced through 6 black carps and white fish in a row, creating a chain of fish on the rod. Then she gave it a shake, flinging all the fish into the lake. With a displeased expression on his face, the fisherman said: ‘You’re a very young girl, yet you act so cruelly. If you want to catch fish, then that’s fine. But you stabbed dead the fish not for food. Why did you kill them for no reason?’
The young girl clapped her hands, laughed and said: ‘I like killing for no reason. What do you wanna do?’ Then she exerted herself to break the fishing rod in two with both hands. Unexpectedly, this fishing rod was very tough and firm, and the young girl was unable to bend it. That fisherman sneered: ‘You want to snap my fishing rod? It’s not so easy.’ That young girl pointed to the back of the fisherman, saying: ‘Who’s coming?’
The fisherman turned his head around to have a look, but he saw no one. Knowing that he had been fooled, he hastily turned his head back, but he was already a little late. He only saw his fishing rod fly off more than 10 zhang (3.333 m) then, with a ‘chi’ sound, pass into the center of the lake and disappear without a trace at once. Furious, the fisherman shouted loudly: ‘Where are you from, brat?’ and stretched out his hand and to grab her shoulder.
The young girl laughed and said: ‘Help me! Help me!’ and hid at the back of Xiao Feng. The fisherman jinked sideways to come and catch her. His movements were light and neat. In a glance, Xiao Feng saw that there was an object in the hand of the young girl’s. It seemed to be a transparent cloth and was indistinct. Xiao Feng did not know what it was. The fisherman rushed at her, but somehow he suddenly slipped and threw himself on the ground. After that, his body became a heap. Only now was Xiao Feng able to see clearly that what the young girl was having in her hand was a sheet of exceedingly thin silk fishing net. The silk threads were as thin as hair, and they were also transparent, yet they were exceptionally tough and pliable. Moreover, when they came into contact with something, they immediately contracted. In the fishing net, the more the fisherman struggled, the tighter it became. In a short while, he become a cylindrical glutinous rice cake and was wrapped around by the net to the point of being immovable.
The fisherman cursed loudly and severely: ‘Brat, what dirty trick are you playing? What are you plotting by using evil techniques to capture me like this?’
Inwardly, Xiao Feng was astonished. He knew that the girl really was not using any evil technique, but this fishing net was rather evil indeed.
The fisherman kept cursing loudly. That young girl laughed and said: ‘If you curse another sentence, I’ll hit you in the buttocks.’ The fisherman was startled and stopped talking at once. His face has swollen to a deep red.
At that time, in the west of the lake, someone said from a distance: ‘Brother Chu, what happened?’ Then a person went out along the lakeside path with quick steps. Xiao Feng saw that this man had a rectangular face and was between 40 and 50 years old. He was mighty in appearance, but was wearing rather rakish and informal attire consisting of a light robe and a loose belt.
This man came near. Seeing the fisherman being bound, he was very surprised, so he asked: ‘What happened?’ The fisherman replied: ‘This little girl used evil techniques…’ The middle-aged man turned his head and looked at A'Zhu. That young girl laughed and said: ‘Not her. It’s me!’ The middle-aged man uttered an exclamation of doubt then stooped down, lifted the huge body of the fisherman up and stretched out his hand to pull at the fishing net. Who would have known that the threads of the net had a very strange nature? The more force he used to pull, the tighter the fishing net became. And so, no matter what the middle-aged man did, he was unable to untie it.
That young girl laughed and said: ‘If you say to me ‘Miss, I’ve lost to you!’ 3 times in a row, I’ll set him free.’ The middle-aged man said: ‘You have offended my brother Chu. This won’t have any good result.’ The young girl said laughingly: ‘Really? I just don’t want any good result. The worse the result is, the more interesting it will be.’
The middle-aged man held out his left hand to grab her shoulder. The young girl suddenly slightly fell back and jinked towards one side to dodge. Unexpectedly, even though her movements were fast, that man was even faster. He slightly lowered his hand and caught her shoulder.
The young girl tilted her shoulder to get rid of his power, but the left palm of this middle-aged man seemed to have been firmly fixed to her shoulder. The young girl scolded in a sulky voice: ‘Let go of me!’ She waved her fist to hit him, but before the fist had gone 1 chi (33.33 cm), her arm became powerless and drooped down weakly. Very astonished, the girl cried: ‘What evil technique are you using? Quickly let go of me.’ The middle-aged man smiled, saying: ‘If you say ‘Master, I’ve lost to you’ 3 times in a row then untie the fishing net around my brother’s body, I’ll let you go.’ The young girl said angrily: ‘You’ve offended me. This won’t have any good result.’ The middle-aged man smiled, saying: ‘The worse the result it, the more interesting it will be.’
The young girl again exerted all her strength to struggle, but she was unable to get free, and contrary to her expectations, her whole body ached and became weak. Even her feet did not have any strength. She laughed and said: ‘How shameless. You can only copy other people’s words. Alright, I’m gonna say to you. ‘Master, I’ve lost to you! Master, I’ve lost to you! Master, I’ve lost to you!’’ She did not pronounce the syllable ‘mæs’ of the word ‘master’ clearly and pronounced it as ‘bæs’ instead, therefore it sounded like she said ‘Bastard, I’ve lost to you (The 2 words in the original are 先生 - xian1sheng5 - master, and 畜生 - chu4sheng5 - beast).’ The middle-aged man did not notice it. He raised his palm and let go of her shoulder, saying: ‘Untie the fishing net, quick.’
The young girl laughed and said: ‘This can’t be easier.’ Then she went to the side of the fisherman and bent down to untie the fishing net around him. She slightly raised her left hand at the opening of the sleeve and a dark green flash was fired at the middle-aged man.
‘Ah,’ A'Zhu cried in fear because she saw that the missile firing technique of the young girl was very vicious. Moreover, the girl and the middle-aged man were just a small distance apart so it appeared that it was impossible for the missiles to miss him. But Xiao Feng only smiled slightly. Seeing that this middle-aged man tamed the young girl as soon as he showed his skill, Xiao Feng knew clearly that his internal energy was profound and his martial arts were excellent, therefore these petty missiles naturally would not be able to harm him. Sure enough, the middle-aged man swung the sleeve of his robe and sent out a stream of internal energy which pushed all the cluster of green thin needles aside. The needles then stuck in the mud beside the lake, one after another.
Seeing the color of the thin needles, the middle-aged man knew at once that they had been suffused with an extremely fierce poison. As soon as this poison got into the blood of a victim, their throat would be blocked and they would die instantly. This was the 1st time he and she had met each other, and there was no enmity between them, why did she use such a vicious move? The man got angry and wanted to teach this kid a lesson. He waved his right sleeve. The force of the sleeve contained his palm force. With a ‘hu’ sound, the body of that young girl was lifted up, and with a ‘pu’ sound, she fell into the lake. Following that, the man slightly pressed the tips of his feet on the ground and jumped onto a rowboat under a willow tree. Holding the oars and pushing it several times, he reached the place where that young girl had just fallen down. Now, he only waited for her to emerge to grab her hair and lift her up.
But when that young girl fell into the water, she only uttered an ‘A’yo!’ sound. After she had fallen into the lake, no trace of her could be seen at this point. Naturally, when a person is drowning, they will definitely emerge and submerge a few times, and only after drinking water to the full will they no longer resurface. However, that young girl was like a big piece of stone, and thus she sank without rising. The middle-aged man waited for a short while, but all along the girl did not rise to the surface.
The more the man waited, the more worried he became. In fact he had no intention of harming her. It was just that seeing that she was very young yet her actions were so malicious, he wanted to discipline her once. If she was drowned, he would feel deeply sorry for her. That fisherman had excellent skills in swimming, so he should have been able to get into the water and save her. Unfortunately, he was being wrapped around by the fishing net and thus being unable to move. Both Xiao Feng and A'Zhu did not know how to swim so they did not know what to do either. They heard the middle-aged man call loudly: ‘A’Xing, A’Xing! Come out, quick!’
From a distant bamboo thicket, the calls of a woman were heard: ‘What happened? I won’t come out!’
Xiao Feng thought: ‘This woman’s voice sounds flirtatious. But it has 3/10s of stubbornness. I’m afraid she’s the naughty type. She, A'Zhu and the young girl that fell into the lake would be like the legs of a tripod cauldron.’
That middle-aged man called: ‘There’s a drowning person. Quickly come to the rescue.’ That woman called: ‘Were you drowned?’ The middle-aged man called: ‘Don’t joke. If I were drowned, how can I be talking to you? Quickly come to the rescue!’ That woman called: ‘If you were drowned, I’d come to save you instantly. But if someone else is drowned, I’d love to see and have a jolly time!’ The middle-aged man asked: ‘Will you come or not?’ and repeatedly stamped his feet at the prow of the boat, looking exceedingly anxious. That woman said: ‘If that’s a man, I’ll save him at once. But if that’s a woman, even if 100 women died, I’d only clap my hands and cheer. I definitely won’t save her.’ The voice sounded closer and closer. In a short while, she already got to the side of the lake.
Xiao Feng and A'Zhu looked at her and saw that she was wearing a greenish swimsuit which clung to her body, making her delicate waist become more obvious. She had a pair of big shiny black eyes which were brilliant and sparkling like stars. The look in her eyes was very lively and nimble. It seemed as if with a pair of eyes alone she was already capable of speech. The woman was beautiful, and the corners of her mouth resembled a smile without smiling. She was around 35 or 36 years old. When Xiao Feng had heard her voice and tone before, he had only thought that she had been 21 or 22 years old at most. He could never have expected that she would be a woman who was not very young at all. The swimsuit on her body was worn neatly. Perhaps when hearing that middle-aged man call her to the rescue, she had at once changed clothes. And while she had been teasing him, making him worried, she had changed clothes very fast.
Seeing that she had come, the middle-aged man was totally happy, saying: ‘A’Xing, quick, quick, I accidentally threw her into the lake. I could never have expected that she wouldn’t resurface.’ That beautiful woman said: ‘I’m gonna ask clearly first. If that’s a man, I’ll save him right away. But if that’s a woman, then you’d better not say anything.’
Both Xiao Feng and A'Zhu found this very strange, thinking: ‘There’re women who are unwilling to get into the water to save men to avoid embracing or getting entangled with them underwater, thus losing their own dignity. Why is this woman the exact opposite, only saving men and not women?’
The middle-aged man stamped his feet, saying: ‘Oh dear! She’s just a 14 or 15 year old little girl. Don’t be suspicious.’ The beautiful woman said: ‘Humph, a little girl, so what? To a man like you, a 14 or 15 year old little girl and a 70 or 80 year old aged woman both will be…’ She at first wanted to say ‘both will be accepted’, but in a glance, she saw Xiao Feng and A'Zhu, so she slightly blushed and stretched out her hand and covered her own mouth, and the word ‘accepted’ was withdrawn at once, but her eyes were filled with amusement.
The middle-aged man took a deep bow at the prow of the boat, saying: ‘A’Xing, please save her quickly. I’ll follow everything that you say.’ That beautiful woman asked: ‘You’ll really follow me in everything?’ The middle-aged man hastily replied: ‘Yes. Oh, this little girl hasn’t resurfaced. Could it be that she has really died…?’ The beautiful woman said: ‘If I ask you to stay here forever, will you also follow me?’ An awkward expression appeared on the face of the middle-aged man. He said: ‘This… this…’ The beautiful woman said: ‘Even if you said without keeping your words and only sweet talked to make me happy for a short while, it’d be good enough for me. Yet you’re unwilling to do even such a thing.’ When she said to here, her eyes reddened and her voice was somewhat choked with emotion.
Xiao Feng and A'Zhu looked at each other. Both of them found this strange. This man and this woman were no longer young, but their words and actions were the same as those of passionate young lovers. Also, they did not look like a husband and a wife, especially that woman, for in front of strangers she was still showing no restraint in conversation, and while the life of a stranger was hanging by a thread, she was still talking about these matters of no urgency.
The middle-aged man let out a sigh and rowed the rowboat back, saying: ‘Forget it, forget it. There’s no need to save her. This little girl used poisonous missiles to sneakily attack me. She deserves to die. Let’s go back!’
That woman tilted her head, saying: ‘Why no need to save her? I’ll still save her. She shot missiles at you, right? That’s very good. Why didn’t she shoot you dead? What a pity, what a pity!’ She giggled then suddenly jumped up and plunged into the lake. Her skills in swimming were really outstanding. With a soft ‘chi’ sound, and without causing water to fly up into the air, she got to the bottom of the lake. After that, a ‘ka-la’ sound was heard when the surface of the lake disintegrated. The beautiful woman was already holding that purple-gowned young girl in her hands and her head emerged from the water. The middle-aged man exulted. He hastily rowed the rowboat back to pick them up.
After the middle-aged man had come near the beautiful woman, he stretched out his hands to receive the purple-gowned young girl. Seeing that her eyes were closing tightly and that she did not seem to be breathing, he could not help having a concerned expression. The beautiful woman shouted: ‘Don’t touch her. You’re a lady-killer, very unreliable.’ The middle-aged man feigned anger, saying: ‘Nonsense. In my life, I’ve never been a lady-killer.’
The beautiful woman uttered a sound of sneering, then holding the young girl in her hands, she jumped in the boat. She laughed and said: ‘Right, right. You’ve never been a lady-killer, and you’re only fond of very ugly women like Wuyan, Mo Mu (2 very ugly women according to legend). A’yo…’ She touched that young girl’s chest, and to her surprise, she immediately noticed that the girl’s heart had already stopped beating. Needless to say, her breathing had ceased for a long time. But her belly was not bulging so obviously she had not drunk much water.
Familiar with swimming, the beautiful woman at first had thought that being under water for such a little while would not kill the girl. Never could she have expected that this young girl was physically delicate and would die. She could not help looking rather apologetic. She carried the young girl in her arms and disembarked, saying: ‘Quick, quick! We must find a way to save her!’ Then, carrying the young girl, she ran very quickly towards the bamboo forest.
The middle-aged man bent down, lifted the fisherman up then turned to Xiao Feng and said: ‘Brother, may I ask your exalted name, and the noble purpose of your arrival at this place?’
Seeing that he had a natural and graceful bearing and that despite the young girl’s tragic death, he was still so imperturbable, Xiao Feng secretly admired him. He replied: ‘I am Xiao Feng, a Khitan. I was entrusted by 2 friends with the task of going to here to pass on a message.’
Of course there was no one in Jianghu who did not know the name Qiao Feng, but he already knew his real surname so at this moment he called himself Xiao Feng, and adding the 2 words ‘a Khitan’, he had stated his own origin straight out. The middle-aged man was undoubtedly very unfamiliar with the name Xiao Feng. Hearing the words ‘a Khitan’, he was not surprised in the least either. He asked: ‘Who are the 2 friends that requested brother Xiao to do this? And what is the message that you are delivering?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘One wields a pair of broad axes. The other wields a copper staff and calls himself surnamed Fu. Both of them are injured…’
Frightened, the middle-aged man asked: ‘How are the injuries of these two? Where are they now? Brother Xiao, these 2 people are my close brothers. Sorry to trouble you, but could you give me directions? I… I… must go save them at once.’ The fisherman said: ‘Please take me with you.’ Seeing that they valued righteousness, Xiao Feng admired them in his heart, saying: ‘The injuries of these 2 people are serious but their lives ain’t in danger. They’re being in the town over there…’ That middle-aged man took a deep bow, saying: ‘Thank you very much! Thank you very much!’ Then, without saying anymore, he lifted the fisherman up and started to go towards the path along which Xiao Feng had come.
Right at this moment, they heard the calls of that beautiful woman coming from the inside of the bamboo forest: ‘Quickly come here, quickly come here. You come and see… see what this is!’ Her voice sounded exceptionally panic-stricken.
The middle-aged man stopped going. While he was hesitating, suddenly he saw a man quickly running towards them on the path and calling: ‘My Lord, did someone come to make trouble?’ He was none other than the scholar who had drawn in reverse on the bluestone bridge. Xiao Feng thought: ‘I thought he was trying to stop me from passing on the message. But it turns out he and those broad axe user and copper staff user are on the same side. The person that they call ‘the Lord’ is this middle-aged man, then.’
At this moment, the scholar had already noticed Xiao Feng and A'Zhu. Seeing the 2 of them standing beside the middle-aged man, he could not refrain from being startled. When he came near them, seeing that the fisherman was being bound, he was both shocked and angry. He asked: ‘What… what happened?’
They heard the voice of the beautiful woman inside the bamboo forest become more panic-stricken: ‘Why haven’t you come? A’yo, I… I…’
That middle-aged man said: ‘I go have a look.’ Then he lifted the fisherman up and walked quickly towards the bamboo forest. As soon as he moved, anyone could see at once that he had an extraordinary internal energy. His steps were light and long, yet they were exceptionally fast. Xiao Feng put one hand on A'Zhu’s waist then he went alongside him at an appropriate speed. The middle-aged man cast a look at Xiao Feng. An admiring expression was visible on his face.
They arrived at the bamboo forest in an instant. Sure enough, each of the bamboo trees was square. After going several zhang (3.333 m) into the bamboo forest, they saw 3 small houses with bamboo roofs. The structure of the houses was very delicate.
Hearing footsteps, the beautiful woman rushed out, crying: ‘You… you quickly come and see. What is this?’ She was holding a gold lock in her hand.
Xiao Feng saw that this gold lock was a common piece of jewelry for women and there was nothing special or unusual about it. That day, when A'Zhu was injured, Xiao Feng took vulnerary out from her bosom and saw a gold lock which looked almost the same as this lock. Unexpectedly, when the middle-aged man looked at the gold lock several times, his face changed colors greatly at once. He asked in a quavering voice: ‘Where… where did you get this?’
The beautiful woman replied: ‘I took it from her neck. I once drew a mark on their left shoulders. You… you go and see yourself…’ As she finished, she wept without being able to make any sound.
The middle-aged man quickly rushed into the house. A'Zhu also slightly shook her body and rushed in. She was even a step ahead of the beautiful woman. Xiao Feng followed behind that woman to go straight to the inner room. He saw that it was the bedchamber of a woman with delicate and elegant furnishings. Xiao Feng had no time to scan but he saw that purple-gowned young girl lying flat on the bed, stiff and motionless. She was already dead.
The middle-aged man pulled the sleeve of the young girl up and looked carefully at her shoulder. After taking a look, he immediately pulled the sleeve down. Xiao Feng was standing at his back so he did not see what the mark on the shoulder of the young girl was. He only saw that the back of the middle-aged man was continuously trembling. Obviously his mind was in a state of extreme discomposure.
The beautiful woman grabbed the middle-aged man’s robe and wept, saying: ‘She’s your own daughter, yet you killed her with your own hands. You didn’t bring her up yet you killed her… You… you’re such a heartless father…’
Xiao Feng was very astonished: ‘What? This young girl is their daughter? Ah, that’s right. Probably not long after giving birth to this young girl, they put her under a fosterage elsewhere. Both this gold lock and the mark on the left shoulder are the marks of identification that her parents left her.’ Suddenly he saw tears streaming down A'Zhu’s face and her body shaking slightly and leaning towards the bed.
Xiao Feng was frightened. He hurriedly held out his hand to support her. When he stooped down, he saw the eyeballs of the young girl lying on the bed slightly move. She already closed her eyes but the movements of her eyeballs could still be seen behind the eyelids. Caring about A'Zhu, Xiao Feng only asked: ‘What’s wrong?’ A'Zhu stood up straight, wiped the tears and said with a forced laugh: ‘I saw that this… this girl had an unfortunate tragic death so I feel sorry for her.’
Xiao Feng stretched out his hand and felt the pulse of the young girl. That beautiful woman wept, saying: ‘The heart already stopped. The breathing has already gone too. You can’t save her life.’ Xiao Feng slightly channeled his internal energy, pushed it on the wrist of the young girl then immediately loosened his grip. He felt an opposing stream of internal energy emerge in the body of that young girl. Obviously she was channeling her internal energy to resist.
‘Ha-ha,’ Xiao Feng laughed loudly and said: ‘It’s really rare to see such a naughty girl in the world.’ That beautiful woman said angrily: ‘Who are you? Quickly get out of here! My daughter has died. What nonsense are you talking here?’ Xiao Feng laughed and said: ‘What if I can bring your dead daughter back to life?’ Then he stretched out his hand and thrust at an acupuncture point on the waist of the young girl.
This finger attack hit the ‘Jingmen acupuncture point’ on the waist of the young girl. This point is at the end of the last rib of the human body. Xiao Feng passed his internal energy into the acupuncture point, immediately making the girl feel unbearably tingly and itchy. Unable to endure that, the young girl jumped up on the bed, giggled in a lovely manner and reached for Xiao Feng’s shoulder with her left hand to support herself.
Seeing the girl come back to life from death, all the people in the room were both surprised and happy. The middle-aged man laughed and said: ‘So you scared me…’ The beautiful woman smiled though tears and cried: ‘My miserable daughter!’ and expanded her arms to embrace her.
Unexpectedly, Xiao Feng hit the young girl with the back of his hand, sending her falling. After that, he held out his hand, grabbed her left wrist, sneered and said: ‘So young, yet so vicious!’
The beautiful woman cried: ‘Why did you hit my daughter?’ If she had not had regard for Xiao Feng’s status as the person who had ‘revived’ her daughter, she would have fought him at once.
After grabbing her wrist, Xiao Feng turned her palm over, saying: ‘Please see.’
Everyone saw that the young girl was holding a glistening green thin needle in a space between her fingers. At first sight, they already knew that the needle had been suffused with an intense poison. Pretending to reach for Xiao Feng’s shoulder to support herself, she wanted to stick this thin needle in his body. Fortunately, he had sharp eyes and was nimble, therefore he was not caught in her snare, but it was really an extremely dangerous situation.
This palm attack only made one cheek of the young girl’s swell up considerably. Xiao Feng certainly did not use all his power. Otherwise her skull would have been shattered into small pieces easily. With her wrist being gripped, it was already too late for her to hide the poisonous needle even if she wanted to. Moreover, the left side of her body was being powerless, aching and tingling. Suddenly, her small mouth twitched slightly and she wept loudly, crying: ‘You bully me! You bully me!’
The middle-aged man said: ‘Alright, alright! Don’t cry! He just gave you a gentle hit. What’s the big deal? Frequently using intensely poisonous missiles to harm other people, you should be taught a lesson.’
The young girl wept, saying: ‘This Green Phosphorous Needle of mine isn’t the scariest. I still have very many unused missiles.’
Xiao Feng said coldly: ‘Why didn’t you use the Invisible Dust, the Carefree Powder, the Blissful Thorn, or the Heart Piercing Nail?’
The young girl stopped crying. There was an extremely surprised expression on her face. She asked in a quavering voice: ‘You… How do you know?’
Xiao Feng replied: ‘I know your master is the Old Fiend of Xingxiu (Xingxiu = Constellation. This is a school name and a place name so I use the pinyin) so I know you have lots of evil poisonous missiles.’
As soon as he said so, everyone was shocked. The ‘Old Fiend of Xingxiu’ Ding Chunqiu was an unorthodox expert that everyone in wulin would frown when they heard his name. This man stopped at nothing in doing evil and killed people like flies. His ‘Energy Dissolving Great Technique’ was specially developed for destroying other people’s internal energies so it was an even greater taboo to martial arts learners under Heaven. Unfortunately, his martial arts were extremely good therefore no one had been able to do anything about him. All in all, it was only because he had seldom come to the Central Plains that he had not yet become a catastrophe.
The expression of the middle-aged man’s was both sympathetic and worried. He asked in a warm voice: ‘A’Zi, why did you accept the Old Fiend of Xingxiu as your master?’
With her big round shiny black eyes wide open, the young girl sized up that middle-aged man, asking: ‘How do you know my name?’ The middle-aged man sighed and said: ‘Could it be that you didn’t hear what we talked just now?’ The young girl shook her head and smiled, saying: ‘When I play possum, my heart and breathing are stopped, and my eyes and ears are closed, so I can’t see or hear anything.’
Xiao Feng let go of her wrist and said: ‘Humph, it’s the ‘Chelonian Breathing Skill’ of the Old Fiend of Xingxiu.’ The young girl A'Zi goggled at him, saying: ‘Bah! It seems you know everything.’ Then she stuck out her tongue and made a face.
The beautiful woman pulled A'Zi and looked her up and down. Her face was being radiant with ineffable happiness. The middle-aged man smiled, saying: ‘Why did you play possum? You really made us jump out of our skin.’ A'Zi was very pleased with herself, saying: ‘Who told you to throw me into the lake? You’re not a good guy.’ The middle-aged man looked at Xiao Feng then, with an awkward expression, he forced a smile and said: ‘So stubborn, so stubborn.’
Xiao Feng knew that when he and his daughter met each other for the 1st time, they would certainly have many things to say--things that they could not let strangers hear. Therefore he pulled a corner of A'Zhu’s gown and walked outside into the bamboo forest. He saw that A'Zhu’s eyes had become reddish and her body was shaking continuously. So he asked: ‘A'Zhu, are you sick?’ and stretched out his hand and felt her pulse, only to find that it was beating very fast. Obviously her mind was being in great turmoil. A'Zhu shook her head, saying: ‘It’s nothing.’ Presently, she said: ‘Big brother, please go out first, I… I need to go to the toilet.’ Xiao Feng nodded and walked far away.
Xiao Feng walked to the side of the lake and waited here for quite a while, but all along he did not see A'Zhu come out from the bamboo forest. Suddenly he heard footsteps. 3 people were coming at a trotting speed. A thought emerged in his mind: ‘Could it be it’s the prime villain coming?’ From a distance he only saw 3 people rushing along the path beside the lake. 2 of them were carrying someone on each of their backs, and a short and small fellow was going as if flying. When rushing, it seemed as if his feet did not touch the ground. After rushing away for a distance, he stopped to wait for his companions at the back. Those 2 people had solid steps. It was obvious that their martial arts were rather remarkable. When the 3 people had drawn near, Xiao Feng saw that the 2 fellows being carried on the back of others’ were none other than the people they had met on the way--the mad axe user and the big fellow with the surname Fu. He heard the short and small fellow shout: ‘My Lord, my Lord, the prime villain has caught up. We should run quickly!’
Leading the beautiful woman with 1 hand, and leading A'Zi with the other hand, the middle-aged man walked out from the bamboo forest. There were tear stains on the face of the middle-aged man and the beautiful woman, but A'Zi was grinning complacently as if nothing had happened. After that, A'Zhu also walked out from the bamboo forest then went to the side of Xiao Feng.
That middle-aged man let go of the 2 females he was leading, rushed to the side of the 2 wounded fellows and checked their pulses. Seeing that their lives were definitely not in danger, he had a joyful look on his face at once, saying: ‘You 3 have gone through hardships. I’m just feeling at ease that both brother GU and brother Fu have no big problem.’ The 3 people bowed in salute in an exceedingly respectful and cautious manner.
Xiao Feng was inwardly surprised: ‘These 3 people’s martial arts and bearing are really out of the ordinary. Even if they aren’t lords who wield absolute power in a region, they can easily be the heads of some schools, but why are they so respectful when seeing this middle-aged man? What is his background?’
That short fellow said: ‘My Lord, this subject has set up a diversion beside the bluestone bridge to hold back the prime villain. But I’m afraid he will see through the stratagem at once. Please set off forthwith, my Lord.’ The middle-aged man said: ‘It’s unfortunate for my family to have produced such an evil rebel. Since you and he have met each other here, I’m afraid even if I want to avoid him I won’t be able to. Perhaps I’ll have no choice but to try to deal with him once.’ A fellow with thick eyebrows and big eyes said: ‘Your subjects are going to share the task of resisting the enemy and eliminating evil among ourselves. Please attach most importance to the country and quickly return to Dali so as not to make His Majesty concerned about your welfare, my Lord.’ A fellow of middling size said: ‘My Lord, you should not display your temporary valor in dealing with today’s matter. If you make any slight slip, my Lord, how shall we have the face to return to Dali and meet His Majesty? We shall have no choice but to commit suicide together.’
Hearing up to here, Xiao Feng was slightly scared: ‘What is with all these subjects, His Majesty, and return-to-Dali things? Could it be that they’re from the House of Duan in Dali?’ His heart pounding chaotically, he thought: ‘Could it be that the net of Heaven are vast and today that villain Duan Zhengchun will fall into my hands by chance?’
While he was being doubtful, suddenly he heard a long roar in the distance. After that, there were shouts which sounded like metals being ground against each other: ‘The son of a turtle (~ s.o.b) surnamed Duan, you can’t escape. Be obedient and be tied, quick. Maybe your father here will have some consideration for your son and spare your life.’
The voice of a woman was heard: ‘But Yue the Third you won’t have the chance to decide if his life will be spared or not. Don’t tell me that big bro won’t be able to handle him?’ A sinister-sounding voice said: ‘If this surnamed Duan fellow knows right and wrong, that’ll always be more convenient than not.’ This man was trying hard to send his words far away. He obviously did not have enough energy in his stomach. It seemed he had been injured and had not yet healed.
Hearing these people say ‘surnamed Duan’ again and again, Xiao Feng felt even more suspicious. Suddenly, a small hand was stretched over, and held his hand. Xiao Feng cast a sideways look at A'Zhu who was standing at his side. He saw that her face was pale, and the center of her palm was full of ice-cold sweat, so he asked in a low voice: ‘How are you?’ A'Zhu replied in a quavering voice: ‘I’m very afraid.’ Xiao Feng smiled, saying: ‘Beside your big brother, what are you still afraid of?’ With his mouth slightly protruding in the direction of the middle-aged man, he said softly into her ear: ‘It seems this man is from the House of Duan in Dali.’ A'Zhu made no comment, her lips moving slightly.
The middle-aged man was Duan Zhengchun, the Crown Brother (No idea what the English equivalent of 皇太弟 is) of the State of Dali. In his youth he traveled the Central Plains and enjoyed the pursuit of romance so it was unavoidable that he had relationships everywhere. In fact, it was common for the rich and the people of high social status to have 3 or 4 wives. Duan Zhengchun was a prince, so it was also normal for him to have romantic relationships with many people. But the House of Duan originated from a well-known family in the Central Plains. Even though they had become the sovereign power in Dali, they had always followed the teachings of their ancestors in all daily life matters and in eating and drinking. Never had they dared forget their origin and be overly lavish. Duan Zhengchun’s first wife, Lady Dao Baifeng, was the daughter of a powerful Baiyi headman in Yunnan. The House of Duan married one of their sons to her in order to win over the Baiyi, thus strengthening their imperial throne. There were not many Han people in Yunnan at that time, therefore, without the support of the Baiyi the throne of the Duan clan would not be stable. The Baiyi had always practiced monogamy. Being held in high regard since childhood, Dao Baifeng was even more unwilling to let Duan Zhengchun marry the 2nd wife. Because of his never-ending romantic relationships everywhere, she was so angry that she entered into religion and became a Taoist priestess. In the past, Duan Zhengchun had a love story with each of the 3 women Qin Hongmian--Mu Wanqing’s mother, Gan Baobao--Zhong Wanchou’s wife, and Ruan Xingzhu--A'Zi’s mother.
This time, Duan Zhengchun complied with an order of his brother Emperor to go to Shenjie Temple in Luliangzhou to investigate the circumstances of the murder of Venerable Xuan Bei of Shaolin Monastery. He discovered very many doubtful points, and thought that it might not be the murderous work of the Murong Clan of Gusu. But no high-level Shaolin came there for more than half a month, so he took the 3 Dukes Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Ba Tianshi, as well as the 4 Grand Bodyguards, to the Central Plains to find out about the truth. Making use of the opportunity, he paid Ruan Xingzhu, who was living in seclusion beside the Little Mirror Lake, a visit. And in these days, they were always in each other’s company and were happy like immortals.
When Duan Zhengchun and his old flame rekindled their love, the 3 Dukes and the 4 Bodyguards, who came along to protect him, scattered all around to guard. They could never have thought that their archenemy would successfully find and come to this place.
Duan Yanqing’s martial arts were formidable hence GU Ducheng and Fu Sigui of the 4 Grand Bodyguards were successively injured. Zhu Danchen mistook Xiao Feng for their enemy and failed to stop him at the bluestone bridge. As for Chu Wanli, he was being caught in A'Zi’s Flexible Silk Net. After rescuing the 2 people GU and Fu, the Minister of War Fan Hua, the Minister of Education Hua Hegen and the Minister of Works Ba Tianshi quickly went to Duan Zhengchun to protect him and ward off the strong enemy together.
Zhu Danchen continuously tried to unloose the fishing net that was wrapping around Chu Wanli. This net, however, could not be untied with hands and nor could its threads be damaged by knives. Zhu Danchen had been so busy with it that he had sweated all over, yet he still had no way that worked. Duan Zhengchun turned to A'Zi, saying: ‘Release uncle Chu, quick. The archenemy is coming. Don’t be naughty anymore.’ A'Zi laughed and said: ‘What will you reward me with, Dad?’ Duan Zhengchun frowned, saying: ‘If you don’t listen to me, I’ll ask your mother to beat your palms. You’ve offended uncle Chu. Why haven’t you made amends?’ A'Zi said: ‘You threw me into the lake, making me play possum for a long time. Why haven’t you made amends to me? I’ll ask Mom to beat your palms, too!’
Seeing that South-Stabilizing Prince suddenly had another daughter who not only was arrogant and naughty but also was not in the least well-behaved towards her father, the people such as Fan Hua and Ba Tianshi were secretly on the alert, thinking: ‘This girl isn’t a legitimate child at all, but she’s still South-Stabilizing Prince’s daughter. Even if she offends me, I shouldn’t take her seriously and should only think that it’s bad luck. Being tied by her in this way, brother Chu must find it very hard to endure.’
Duan Zhengchun said angrily: ‘If you don’t listen to Dad, see if later I’ll be fond of you or not?’ A'Zi twitched her small mouth and said: ‘Of course you’re not fond of me. Otherwise, how could you abandon me for 10-odd years and ignore me all along?’ For a short period of time, Duan Zhengchun was unable to say anything and only sighed sadly. Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘A'Zi, my precious, Mom has something for you. You quickly release uncle Chu.’ A'Zi held out her hand, saying: ‘You give me first. Let me see if it’s good or not.’
Seeing that this little girl was cunning, discourteous and insolent, Xiao Feng was very angry. In his heart, he respected Chu Wanli for being a brave fellow, thinking: ‘You’re a servant of their family so you don’t dare express your emotions. But I don’t need to show respect for them.’ Then he bent down and lifted Chu Wanli up, saying: ‘Brother Chu, it seems these flexible threads will loosen at once when touching water. I’m gonna immerse you in water.’
A'Zi was furious, crying: ‘Bad egg, who told you to be meddlesome again!?’ But having been given a slap in the face by Xiao Feng, she was rather afraid of him and did not dare stretch out her hands to stop him.
After lifting Chu Wanli up, with several steps, Xiao Feng rushed to the side of the lake and immersed him in the water. As expected, the Flexible Silk Net loosened up when coming into contact with the water. Xiao Feng held out his hand and untied the fishing net. Chu Wanli said in a low voice: ‘Thanks a lot for helping me, brother Xiao.’ Xiao Feng smiled, saying: ‘This naughty little girl is very hard to deal with. I already gave her a heavy slap in the face to vent your anger for you.’ Chu Wanli shook his head, looking very dispirited.
Xiao Feng crumpled the Flexible Silk Net up into a piece which was not bigger than a fist. The net was really an unusual thing. A'Zi came near him, held out her hand and said: ‘Give it back to me!’ Xiao Feng slightly waved his hand, assuming a posture which looked as if he wanted to hit her. A'Zi was so frightened that she retreated several steps. But Xiao Feng only wanted to scare her. He then took the opportunity to put the Flexible Silk Net in his bosom. He thought that the middle-aged man in front of him was probably his own archenemy, and that A'Zi was the man’s daughter and this Flexible Silk Net was a useful thing so he certainly should not return it to her.
A'Zi went to Duan Zhengchun and pulled a corner of his robe, saying: ‘Dad, he stole my fishing net! He stole my fishing net!’ Duan Zhengchun saw that Xiao Feng had acted unusually, but he thought that he probably wanted to discipline A'Zi a little, and that he had such outstanding martial arts so it was very unlikely that he coveted an object of a child’s.
Suddenly, Ba Tianshi said loudly and clearly: ‘Brother Yun, I trust that you’ve been well since we parted? Other people’s martial arts become stronger and stronger through practice, why have brother Yun’s become worse and worse? Get down!’ As he finished saying, he brandished his hand and hit a tree. With a crack, a branch fell down following his palm attack. And at the same time, a man fell down. This man was both thin and tall. He was none other than ‘Extreme Ferocity Utmost Evil’ Yun Zhonghe. After being hit by a palm attack of Xiao Feng at Juxian Manor, he had been seriously injured and almost lost his life. With great difficulty, he had recuperated, but his martial arts had become much worse than before. That day in Dali, he and Ba Tianshi had had a lightness skill contest and they had not been far apart. However, today, as soon as Ba Tianshi heard the footsteps of Yun Zhonghe when he went up the tree, he knew that his lightness skill was not as good as it had been in the past.
As soon as Yun Zhonghe saw Xiao Feng, he was frightened, so he turned around and ran to meet 3 people who were coming along the path beside the lake. Among those 3 people, the one on the left-hand side had disheveled hair and short clothes--he was the ‘Fiendish Devil’ South Sea Divine Alligator. The one on the right-hand side was a woman who was embracing a child--she was ‘Stop at No Evil’ Ye Erniang. The one in the middle was wearing a green robe and was supporting himself on 2 thin iron canes and his face looked like a corpse’s--he was none other than the leader of the 4 Evils, known as ‘Full of the Worst Evils’ Duan Yanqing.
Duan Yanqing had seldom showed his face in the Central Plains so Xiao Feng and the ‘Number 1 Arch-Villain under Heaven’ were not at all acquainted with each other. However, Duan Zhengchun had experienced his artifice in Dali, so he knew that even though the ones such as Ye Erniang and Yue the Third were powerful, they were not hard to handle, but Duan Yanqing was really no small matter. He had strong techniques of both the orthodox system and the heterodox system of martial arts. Without doubt he was proficient at the Purely Yang Finger of the Duan family, and he had also mastered unorthodox skills from head to toe, orthodoxy and heterodoxy boosting each other. Not even such an expert as Yellow-Eyebrowed Monk was a match for him, so Duan Zhengchun certainly knew that he himself was not his equal in martial arts.
Fan Hua said loudly: ‘My Lord, this Duan Yanqing is up to no good. You should attach most importance to the country, my Lord. Please quickly go and request high-level monks of Tianlong Monastery to come here.’ Tianlong Monastery was far way in Dali, how was it possible to request them to come? At present, the Lord and the servants of Dali were being faced with a deadly great danger, so those words were meant to request Duan Zhengchun to quickly flee back to Dali at once. At the same time, they were a false show of strength and might make Duan Yanqing think that high-level monks of Tianlong Monastery were nearby, thus becoming somewhat afraid of them. Duan Yanqing was of the direct line of descent of the Duan Clan so he certainly knew very well that the monks of Tianlong Monastery were redoubtable.
Duan Zhengchun knew clearly that the situation was extremely dangerous, but among the people of Dali here he had the best martial arts, if he abandoned the others and retreated, how would he still have the face to see the heroes under Heaven? Moreover, his lover and daughter were around, how could he lose face like that? So, he smiled, saying: ‘A matter of the Duan Clan in Dali, yet we have to go to Great Song to settle, ha-ha, so laughable, so laughable.’
Ye Erniang laughed and said: ‘Duan Zhengchun, every time I see you, you’re always together with some loose and attractive women, both old and young. Your bliss ain’t bad, eh?’ Duan Zhengchun smiled, saying: ‘YE Erniang, you’re also very loose and attractive!’
South Sea Divine Alligator said angrily: ‘This son of a turtle has enjoyed enough happiness. He has a son, but the dude’s unwilling to accept me as master. He can’t be a father. Let this father here cut him down at 1 stroke!’ Then he drew out from his side the Alligator-Mouthed Scissors and rushed at Duan Zhengchun.
Hearing Ye Erniang call the middle-aged man Duan Zhengchun and him admit it without concealing anything, Xiao Feng was sure that he had guessed correctly. He turned to A'Zhu and said in a low voice: ‘It’s really him!’ A'Zhu said in a trembling voice: ‘You want to… launch a joint attack from the side, taking advantage of his precarious situation?’ Xiao Feng’s mind had been fired up. He was both angry and pleased, saying coldly: ‘My parents’ wrongs, my benevolent master’s wrong, my adopted father and mother’s wrongs, and the wrongs I’ve suffered, humph, such knots of intense and deep-seated hatred. Humph, could it be that we’ll still be paying attention to virtue, morality and jianghu customs?’ He said these few sentences very softly but his face was full of enmity, looking resolute and decisive as if chopping nails and cutting iron.
Seeing South Sea Divine Alligator charge up, Fan Hua said in a low voice: ‘Big brother Hua, dear brother Zhu, you two attack this lout jointly! Hit him fast and hard. The faster you beat him the better. Eliminate the accomplices first then everyone will cooperate to handle the boss.’ Hua Hegen and Zhu Danchen replied in agreement and came out. They felt that there was a loss of dignity in using 2 people to fight 1 enemy. Furthermore, Hua Hegen’s martial arts were not inferior to South Sea Divine Alligator’s, so it was unnecessary for someone to help him. But hearing Fan Hua say so, both of them also felt that his words were reasonable. Duan Yanqing was really too formidable. In one-on-one combat, no one could be a match for him, so there was no alternative for them but to rush at him at the same time. Perhaps only then would they be able to defend themselves. Without delay, Hua Hegen grasped his steel shovel and Zhu Danchen brandished his iron brushes and attacked South Sea Divine Alligator from the left and the right in a pincer movement.
Fan Hua continued: ‘Brother Ba, you go fight your old friend. I and brother Chu handle that woman.’ Ba Tianshi replied in agreement, came out and rushed at Yun Zhonghe. Fan Hua and Zhu Wanli also jumped forward in pairs at once. The original weapon of Chu Wanli’s was an iron fishing rod, but it had been thrown into the lake by A'Zi, so in this moment he was raising Fu Sigui’s copper staff. He shouted loudly and rushed up.
Fan Hua went straight at Ye Erniang. Ye Erniang gave a charming smile. Seeing Fan Hua’s movements, she knew that he was a strong opponent, so she did not dare to be careless in dealing with him. She threw the baby she was embracing on the ground. When she turned around, there was already a saber which was both broad and thin in her hand. But no one could have known where she had hidden it previously.
Chu Wanli, however, rushed at Duan Yanqing, shouting like crazy. Fan Hua was very frightened, calling: ‘Brother Chu, brother Chu, come to this side!’ It seemed Chu Wanli did not hear anything. He raised the copper staff and ferociously swung it horizontally at Duan Yanqing.
Duan Yanqing sneered slightly. Unexpectedly, he did not dodge, but thrust at Chu Wanli’s face with the iron cane in his left hand. This stance is mentioned lightly on paper, but it was executed without the least bit of inaccuracy in timing and position. Compared to the move of the staff of Chu Wanli’s, it arrived just a little faster. Coming out later but arriving earlier, it was no doubt swift and fierce. Besides its neutralizing purpose, this stance was also for attacking, so it should be impossible for Chu Wanli not to dodge. In 1 stance, Duan Yanqing had reversed the positions of the host and the guest. However, who would have thought that Chu Wanli would not seem to see the coming iron staff? He put more power in his hands and kept swinging the copper staff at Duan Yanqing’s waist swiftly. Duan Yanqing was scared, thinking: ‘Could it be that this fellow is mad?’ He was unwilling to become entangled with Chu Wanli in a situation that would see both sides injured. Even if he could poke him to death on the spot with this stance, his own waist would be hit by the staff and he would certainly be injured. So he hastily pushed his right cane against the ground, jumped up and dodged.
Chu Wanli quickly put the copper staff up and thrust at his lower abdomen. This copper staff of Fu Sigui’s was thick, long and heavy, so steadiness was the criterion for judging the martial arts of a user of it. But speed and lightness were the strong points of Chu Wanli’s martial arts, so he had difficulties in using this copper staff. However, he brandished it in a disorderly manner with every move aimed for a vital part of Duan Yanqing’s and gave absolutely no thought to his own life and death. ‘A desperado bests 10,000 fellows,’ as the saying goes. Even though Duan Yanqing had powerful martial arts, when facing this madman who fought recklessly with no regard for his life, he was forced to retreat again and again.
In a very short time, the green lawn beside the Little Mirror Lake was already splattered all over with fresh blood. It turned out while retreating Duan Yanqing had executed his stances continuously. Each of his stances had hit Chu Wanli’s body and pierced a hole in the place where it had hit. However, Chu Wanli did not seem to be in pain and kept brandishing the copper staff faster.
Duan Zhengchun called: ‘Brother Chu, fall back. I’m gonna fight this villain!’ He moved his hand backwards and received a long sword from Ruan Xingzhu’s hand. Then he rushed up, wanting to fight Duan Yanqing in a two-on-one. Chu Wanli cried: ‘Fall back, my Lord.’ But Duan Zhengchun would be unwilling to listen. He put the sword up then thrust at Duan Yanqing. Duan Yanqing, propping his right cane on the ground, first blocked Chu Wanli’s copper staff with his left cane, then taking advantage of the opportunity he thrust at the place between Duan Zhengchun’s eyebrows. Duan Zhengchun retreated 1 step in a sloping direction.
Chu Wanli, sounding like a wounded beast, suddenly changed his offence. He grasped 1 end of the copper staff with both hands, brandished it at high speed, creating a circle of yellow light which looked like a huge copper tray, and whirled it towards the iron cane that Duan Yanqing was propping on the ground. Such a way of fighting was not any martial arts technique.
The people such as Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Zhu Danchen all shouted loudly: ‘Brother Chu, big brother Chu, quickly fall back to have a rest.’ Chu Wanli, screaming out, suddenly jumped up and thrust and whipped at Duan Yanqing chaotically with the staff. At this moment, seeing that his actions were bizarre, everyone, from Fan Hua to Ye Erniang and South Sea Divine Alligator, stopped fighting. Zhu Danchen called: ‘Big brother Chu, move back!’ and rushed forwards to pull him. But he was hit right in the face by a backward elbow attack from Chu Wanli. At once, his nose turned black and his mouth swelled up.
Meeting such an opponent was not what Duan Yanqing wished for. By now, he and Chu Wanli had exchanged 30 stances or so, and he had pierced more than 10 deep holes in Chu Wanli’s body. Chu Wanli, however, was still shouting and fighting violently. Duan Yanqing and the bystanders all were astounded and felt that this matter was very far from what was usual. Zhu Danchen knew that if Chu Wanli kept fighting, he would certainly die. Tears rolled down his face. He wanted to rushed forwards to help him, but when he had just taken a step, suddenly he heard a ‘hu’ sound. Chu Wanli had thrown the copper staff at the enemy with all his might. And it went with great force. Duan Yanqing thrust out with his iron cane and hit the copper staff right in the middle, then, with a light upward movement of the iron cane, the copper staff flew to his back. When the copper staff had not yet fallen on the ground, Chu Wanli spread his 10 fingers and rushed at Duan Yanqing.
Duan Yanqing, sneering slightly, made a thrust of the cane at chest high. The 4 people Duan Zhengchun, Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Zhu Danchen exclaimed in unison and went forwards to help him at the same time. But this thrust of the cane by Duan Yanqing was too swift. With a ‘pu’ sound, the cane stuck in Chu Wanli’s chest squarely then pierced from the chest through to the back. After his right cane had pierced through Chu Wanli, he pressed his left cane on the ground and floated away several zhang (3.333 m).
Blood spurted out wildly from the wounds on Chu Wanli’s chest and back but he still wanted to chase after Duan Yanqing. However, after taking 1 step, he had no strength to lift his foot, so he turned around and talked to Duan Zhengchun: ‘My Lord, Chu Wanli prefers death to dishonor. All my life I’ve never let the House of Duan of Dali down.’
Duan Zhengchun fell on his right knee and said tearfully: ‘Brother Chu, it’s because I fathered my daughter but didn’t teach her that she offended you. Zhengchun is extremely ashamed of that.’
Chu Wanli turned to Zhu Danchen and smiled, saying: ‘Good brother, this elder brother must go first. You… you…’ When he had just said 2 ‘you’ words, his breathing stopped, and he died. But his body still stood upright without falling.
Hearing he say the words ‘prefers death to dishonor’ in his dying moment, everyone knew that he disregarded his life and recklessly attacked Duan Yanqing like that because the intention of dying had geminated in him long ago as a result of the humiliation of being caught in A'Zi’s fishing net. People in wulin all knew the principle of ‘There are still people stronger than strong people and there are still mountains higher than high mountains.’ It was not a burning shame when a person was bested in martial arts, because if they practiced intensely for 10 years, it was not like there would not be a day when they would have their revenge. However, because Chu Wanli was a servant of the Duan Clan and A'Zi was Duan Zhengchun’s daughter, there was no way for Chu Wanli to get rid of this humiliation in his life, thus he was willing to lose his life in battle. Zhu Danchen wept loudly. Even though Fu Sigui and GU Ducheng had not yet recovered from their serious injuries, they both rose and wanted to fight Duan Yanqing to the death.
Suddenly, there was the clear voice of a girl: ‘This man’s martial arts were too bad. Bringing about his own death like that for nothing, wasn’t he a big fool?’ It was none other than A'Zi who said that.
The people such as Duan Zhengchun were being sorrowful, so hearing these cold and unkind mocking words of her they could not help getting furious. The people such as Fan Hua glowered at her, but because she was their Lord’s daughter, it was inconvenient for them to express their emotions. Duan Zhengchun’s anger surged up. He turned his hand and swung it at her face in a heavy slap.
Ruan Xingzhu raised her hand to block it, saying sulkily: “You abandoned your own daughter to other people for 10-odd years, not knowing if she was dead or alive. Today you’ve met her again, yet you still have the heart to beat her?”
Duan Zhengchun had always felt ashamed that he had not treated Ruan Xingzhu well. Moreover, he had always been obedient to her, and was unwilling to dispute with her in front of other people. Hence when this palm attack was about to hit her arm, he hurriedly drew it back. He said angrily to A'Zi: ‘Uncle Chu was harmed to death by you, do you know that?’
A'Zi slightly twitched her small mouth and said: ‘They call you ‘Lord’ so I’m his little master. Killing 1 vassal or 2--What’s so serious about it?’ Her expression was very disdainful.
At that time, the dividing line between rulers and subjects were very strict, so as much that ‘when a ruler wanted a subject to die, the subject was not allowed not to die.’ The people such as Chu Wanli were officials in the imperial court of the State of Dali, so they certainly deeply revered the Duan Clan. However, the House of Duan had its origin in the wulin of the Central Plains and had always complied with jianghu customs, therefore even though the people such as Hua Hegen and Chu Wanli were subjects, Duan Zhengming and Duan Zhengchun had always treated them like brothers. In his youth, Duan Zhengchun had frequently travelled jianghu in the Central Plains. Chu Wanli had followed him to go through life-or-death situations and experience not a few dangers. How could he be the same as an ordinary vassal? Hearing those words of A'Zi, the people such as Fan Hua was even unhappier. So long as it was not at a court or a temple, even Emperor Baoding always added the word ‘brother’ when he addressed them, much less Duan Zhengchun, who had not yet been enthroned, and A'Zi, who was merely an illegitimate daughter with no proper status of his?
Not only was Duan Zhengchun distressed at the death of Chu Wanli, he also felt ashamed to have such a daughter. Putting up his sword, he floated out and pointed at Duan Yanqing, saying: ‘If you want to kill me--then just come to take my life. The Duan Clan uses ‘benevolance and righteousness’ to manage state affairs. If you kill innocent people excessively, even if you get the country, it won’t last long.’
From the bottom of his heart, Xiao Feng secretly sneered: ‘The words from your mouth are so pleasant to hear. At this moment you’re still acting the gentleman.’
With a press of his iron cane, Duan Yanqing was already in front of Duan Zhengchun. He asked: ‘You wanna fight me one-on-one with no outsider involved, right?’ Duan Zhengchun replied: ‘Yes! You only want to kill me then go to Dali and kill my Emperor elder brother. Whether you can achieve your goals--depends on your fortune. My subordinates and family members have nothing to do with the matter between you and me.’ He knew Duan Yanqing’s martial arts were really too formidable so today he himself would probably lose his life here. But he hoped that Duan Yanqing would not make things difficult for Ruan Xingzhu, A'Zi and the people such as Fan Hua. Duan Yanqing said: ‘Kill your family, but spare your subordinates. It was because my Emperor father was benevolent and didn’t kill your brother and you in the past that there is this disaster of usurpation and rebellion of today.’
Duan Zhengchun thought: ‘I, Duan Zhengchun, will die with honor and won’t leave behind anything for other people to sneer at.’ He folded his hands in salute to Chu Wanli’s corpse, saying: ‘Brother Chu, today Duan Zhengchun is going to fight the enemy with you side by side.’ Then he turned to Fan Hua and said: ‘Minister of War Fan, after I have died, my tomb and brother Chu’s will be side by side, and with no master-vassal separation.’
Duan Yanqing said: ‘Ha-ha, hypocrite, you’re still trying to win the hearts of other people. You think they’d help you with all their strength?’
Duan Zhengchun did not say anything. With his left hand forming a sword, he thrust out with the long sword in his right hand. This ‘That Sharpness Cuts Metal’ stance was the starting stance of the ‘Duan Family Sword.’ Duan Yanqing certainly knew its variations profoundly. He reacted calmly at once with a stance of his cane. As soon as the two fought, they both used the martial arts of the Duan family that had been handed down from generation to generation. Duan Yanqing used his canes like swords. His purpose was to kill Duan Zhengchun with the ‘Duan Family Sword’ swordsmanship. He and Duan Zhengchun became the enemies of each other not because of any personal enmity, but because they both contended for the throne of Dali. Now, all the 3 Dukes of Dali were here, if he used heterodox martial arts to kill Duan Zhengchun, the court officials of Dali would certainly disapprove of him. But if he used the orthodox ‘Duan Family Sword’ of his family to defeat the enemy and win the battle, his actions would be perfectly justifiable, and no one would be able to have a word of dissent. The fight for the throne between the brothers of the Duan Clan had nothing to do with the officials, so in the future if he ascended the throne and became the Emperor, it would be very convenient for him.
Seeing Duan Yanqing using their family’s skills with the canes, Duan Zhengchun was somewhat calm. Holding his breath and concentrating his mind, he did his best to execute his sword stances properly. His footwork stable, his sword movements were light and quick, and there was no stance that was not up to standard in offence and defence. Duan Yanqing used the ‘Duan Family Sword’ with the canes. His swordsmanship had big and liberal movements, and looked dignified. Even though its stances were extremely light, swift and elegant, those qualities came at no cost to its kingly air.
Xiao Feng thought: ‘This good chance today is hard to come by. I’ve always worried about the Purely Yang Finger and the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ of the Duan Clan. Luckily this thief Duan Zhengchun has been found by a tough enemy, and his enemy is exactly a member of his clan. In the blink of an eye I’ll be able to see clearly how powerful these 2 elite skills of the Duan family are.’
After watching more than 20 stances, he saw that the iron canes in Duan Yanqing’s hands seemed to have become heavier gradually. His movements were more sluggish and less smooth than before. But when Duan Zhengchun’s long sword clashed with a cane, it rebounded off farther and farther. Xiao Feng secretly approved, thinking: ‘Real skills have been put into play. Using these thin light iron canes just like a 60 or 70 Jin (0.6 kg) Buddhist staff made of refined iron--this achievement is very outstanding.’ The people with good martial arts were often capable of ‘lifting heavy objects as if they were light’ and using heavy weapons like nothing, but ‘lifting light objects as if they were heavy’ was a skill of the next level. Even though it seemed ‘as if they were heavy’, they were not ‘really heavy.’ They had to have the fierceness of heavy weapons and the intrinsic deftness of light weapons. Seeing Duan Yanqing using the thin iron canes like steel staves, moreover they were getting heavier and heavier with apparently no end, inwardly Xiao Feng praised him for possessing an exceptional internal energy.
Duan Zhengchun did his best to receive the enemy’s stances but he gradually felt that the canes were becoming heavier, which pressed him so much that he was unable to channel his inner breath as he pleased. The martial arts of the House of Duan paid particular attention to internal energy. Therefore, having an unsmooth inner breathing was an indication of inferiority and defeat. But Duan Zhengchun did not panic in the least. Actually, he did not hope that he would be able to win this match of mortal combat by luck. He thought that he had enjoyed a very happy life, so if he lost his life beside the Little Mirror Lake today, there would not be any wrong. Morever, with Ruan Xingzhu watching him with her affectionate eyes by his side, if he died he would be a romantically successful ghost.
All his life, he had had romantic relationships everywhere. In fact, the affection he had for Ruan Xingzhu was not greater than the affection he had for his wife Dao Baifeng or for any other woman of his. But whenever he was together with a lover, he always treated her wholeheartedly, and even if he had to lose his life for her, he would not hesitate. As for having a new happiness after parting from her, that was a different matter.
The internal energy in the iron canes of Duan Yanqing’s became heavier constantly. After exchanging 60 stances or so, the Duan Family Sword technique had been used completely. Seeing that there were several beads of sweat on Duan Zhengchun’s nose, but the sound of his breathing was still gentle, long and steady, Xiao Feng thought: ‘I’ve heard that this fellow is amorous and has quite a few lovers. Who’d have thought that he’d have such a lasting internal energy? I mustn’t regard him lightly.’ By now, the internal energy in Duan Yanqing’s canes had been brought into play to the max. When the iron canes were sent out in attacks, chi-chi sounds could be heard. When Duan Zhengchun warded off a sword stance, his body would shake. And when he warded off another sword stance, his body would shake again.
All the stances that the 2 of them used were the ones that they had learned and achived mastery of since the age of 13 or 14. Even the people such as Fan Hua and Ba Tianshi had also seen and been used to these stances for the past several decades. Hence this sword fight was not a battle of stances, but a battle of internal energy. Watching to this point, the people such as Fan Hua knew that Duan Zhengchun could not endure this. They gave each other hints with the eyes and grasped their weapons, wanting to go into action together to help him.
Suddenly a girl giggled and said: ‘So laughable, so laughable! Every one of the people known as heroes and exceptional men of Dali now wants to charge forwards together and rely on number to win. Wouldn’t it turn them into shameless pigmies?’
Everyone was startled. Seeing that those few sentences were obviously the work of A'Zi, they all were extremely puzzled. The person who was facing danger was her father, and she was not ignorant of it, but why could she say those mocking words?
Ruan Xingzhu said angrily: ‘A'Zi, what do you know? Your father is the South-Stabilizing Prince of the State of Dali. The fellow who’s fighting him is the traitor of the Duan family. These friends all were subjects of the State of Dali. Eliminating the cruel ones and suppressing the rebels are everyone’s duties.’ Her swimming skills were masterful, but her martial arts were mediocre. Seeing that her beau had been in danger repeatedly, she was anxious, calling: ‘Let’s charge side by side, everyone. The enemy is an evil traitor. Why still care about jianghu customs?’
A'Zi laughed and said: ‘Mom, your words are very funny. They’re just an unreasonable sophism. It’s because my Dad is such a hero and brave man that I accepted him. If he was a shameless fellow who wants to rely on other people’s help in fighting, why would I accept a fellow of this sort as father?’
These few sentences went into everyone’s ears clearly. Fan Hua and the people such as Ba Tianshi and Hua Hegen looked at each other in blank dismay. They all felt that it was undoubtedly improper to go forwards to help, but it would be no good if they did not go into action.
Even though Duan Zhengchun was a man who fond of pursuing romance, he cherish the reputation of being ‘a hero and brave man’ very much. He often made fun of himself, saying: ‘‘It’s hard for a hero to pass the beauty pass,’ even if I can’t pass the beauty pass, I’m still a hero. How can’t I see that the Conqueror of Chu (Xiang Yu) had Yu Ji, the Supreme Ancestor of Han (Liu Bang) had Lady Qi, and Li Shimin had Wu Zetian?’ So he simply disdained to do mean and cowardly things. Even though he was being in an intense fight, hearing A'Zi’s words, he said loudly at once: ‘What’s so important about life and death, victory and defeat? Whoever goes forward to help will make things difficult for Duan Zhengchun.’
Opening his mouth to say, it was unavoidable that his internal energy became impure. But Duan Yanqing did not seize the opportunity to press forward. Instead, he retreated 1 step, propped his canes on the ground and waited for Duan Zhengchun to finish saying before resuming fighting. The people such as Fan Hua were secretly frightened when they saw Duan Yanqing had such leisurely and refined behavior and that he did not try to gain any unfair advantage. Obviously he was secure in the knowledge that he had strong backing, so he did not need to take advantage of this situation.
Duan Zhengchun smiled, saying: ‘Let’s continue!’ He made a swing of the left sleeve and, making use of the wind created by the sleeve, sent out the long sword.
Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘A'Zi, you see, your father’s swordsmanship is so swift and fierce. If he really wants to finish this zombie off, he’ll be more than good enough. But he’s got the status of a prince, so in fact he can still leave it to his subordinates. He doesn’t need to do it himself.’ A'Zi said: ‘If Dad could finish him off, then nothing would be better. I’m only afraid that you’re talking tough, but feeble inside, Mom. Your words sound completely impressive, but in your heart, you’re extremely scared.’ These few sentences described exactly her mother’s state of mind. Ruan Xingzhu glowered at her daughter, thinking: ‘This brat really doesn’t know what’s good or bad, and talks inconsiderately.’
They saw Duan Zhengchun execute 3 swift stances continuously with his long sword. The internal energy in Duan Yanqing’s iron canes became stronger, forcing the enemy’s sword back one stance after another. In the 4th stance, ‘Golden Horse Rises into the Air’, Duan Zhengchun swung his sword out horizontally. Duan Yanqing replied with the ‘Green Jade Rooster Heralds Dawn’ stance by thrusting out with the iron cane in his left hand. When the cane and the sword came into contact with each other, they immediately stuck together. Making ‘gu-gu’ sounds in his throat, Duan Yanqing suddenly pushed his right cane against the ground and his body rose into the air. The head of the cane in his left hand was still sticking together with the tip of Duan Zhengchun’s sword.
In an instant, 1 man stood on the ground with both his feet, absolutely still like a deep abyss or a lofty mountain, and the other was in mid-air with his whole body, floating freely like a willow branch in the wind.
‘Oh,’ all the bystanders exclaimed. They knew that the 2 of them had reached the important moment--fighting with internal energy. Standing on the ground, Duan Zhengchun was able to borrow force through his feet, which was to his advantage. However, Duan Yanqing was pressing down from a higher position, so the weight of his whole body was put on the enemy’s long sword, also adding to his internal energy.
After a short while, everyone saw that the long sword gradually bent and slowly turned into an arc. The thin iron cane, however, was still as straight as an arrow.
Xiao Feng saw that the long sword in Duan Zhengchun’s hand became more and more curved, and if it was bent a little more, perhaps it would be broken into two. He thought: ‘All along, the 2 haven’t used their most profound technique ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword.’ Could it be Duan Zhengchun knows he isn’t as good at this technique as his enemy, so he thinks it’d be better to hide his clumsiness? But judging from his expression when using internal energy, it seems he has used up all his reserve of power. It doesn’t look like he still has some unused special skill at all.’
Duan Zhengchun, seeing that the long sword in his hand could snap at any moment, took a deep breath and quickly pushed out with his right finger. It was none other than the Purely Yang Finger technique. His accomplishment in finger force was still rather inferior to that of his elder brother Duan Zhengming, and the finger force was unable to go farther than 3 Chi (33.33 cm). The cane and the sword were sticking together, and the total length of 2 weapons was as great as 8 Chi, so this finger attack was certainly unable to injure the enemy. Hence the finger force was totally not aimed at Duan Yanqing, but was aimed at his iron cane.
Xiao Feng slightly frowned, thinking: ‘It seems this fellow can’t use the 6 Meridians Divine Sword. He’s still not good as my sworn brother. This finger attack is merely a very good acupuncture point blocking skill, nothing more. What’s so fantastic about it?’ But he saw that whenever Duan Zhengchun’s finger hit Duan Yanqing’s iron cane, it slightly shook and Duan Zhengchun’s long sword became somewhat straighter. He continuously poked 3 times so the long sword in his hand became less bent 3 times, gradually reverting to its original state.
A'Zi, however, said again: ‘Mom, you see, Dad is using both his finger and the sword, but he can only match a thin cane of that fellow’s. If the enemy attacks with the other cane, could it be that Dad has 3 hands to handle it? If he doesn’t, then crawling on the ground and raising his feet will also be good. Even though he’ll look ugly, it’ll still be better than getting stabbed to death by that fellow.’
Ruan Xingzhu was already laden with sorrow watching the fight, yet her daughter, at her side, had always said words that were unpleasant to hear. Before she had replied, she saw Duan Yanqing raised the iron cane in his right hand, and sure enough, with a ‘chi’ sound, he thrust at Duan Zhengchun’s left forefinger with it.
The technique and internal energy of this cane attack of Duan Yanqing were the same as those of the Purely Yang Finger. But using the cane like a finger, he could reach farther thanks to its length. Still, Duan Zhengchun did not dodge it. His finger force and Duan Yanqing’s cane force clashed. He felt a burst of ache and tingle in his arm at once. He retracted his finger. When he was about to channel his internal energy again to send out the 2nd finger stance, unexpectedly, the black cane before him moved very quickly. The 2nd cane stance of Duan Yanqing was already coming. Duan Zhengchun was shocked: ‘He channels his inner breath so quick. It seems it goes as he pleases. This achievement in the Purely Yang Finger is much profounder than mine.’ He returned it at once with a finger stance. But he was still late by the blink of an eye, so his body slightly shook.
Seeing that he himself had fought Duan Zhengchun for a long time, Duan Yanqing was very afraid that a long delay might cause trouble. If Duan Zhengchun’s subordinates charged at him at the same time, it would eventually require plenty of action. So, he brandished his cane like the wind at once and sent out 9 stances in an instant. Duan Zhengchun did all he could to fend them off, but when the 9th cane stance came, his internal energy was no longer constant. And so, with a soft ‘pu’ sound, the tip of the iron cane pierced his shoulder. His body slightly shook, and with a ‘pai’ sound, the long sword in his right hand snapped.
Duan Yanqing suddenly uttered a strange sound from his throat and thrust the iron cane in his right hand at the enemy’s head. Determined to take Duan Zhengchun’s life immediately with this stance of the cane, he put all his power into the hand, so when the cane went out, it made loud noises.
The 3 people Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Ba Tianshi leaped out at the same time and attacked Duan Yanqing from both sides. The 3 Dukes of Dali saw that the situation was extremely dangerous, and it was definitely too late to save Duan Zhengchun, so they all attacked Duan Yanqing’s vital parts directly to force him to retract the cane to save himself. Having already expected this move, Duan Yanqing pressed the iron cane in his left hand on the ground to support his body then channelled enough internal energy into the iron cane in his right hand and swung it out horizontally. In just a shock, he repelled all the 3 weapons. Then he aimed directly at Duan Zhengchun’s head again.
‘Ah,’ Ruan Xingzhu uttered a sharp cry and quickly rushed over. Seeing that her beau was about to die a gruesome death, she also had no intention of living.
When Duan Yanqing’s iron cane was just 3 cun (3.333 cm) away from Duan Zhengchun’s ‘Baihui acupuncture point’, suddenly Duan Zhengchun’s body flew away to one side, and so the cane hit empty air. By now, the 3 people Fan Hua, Hua Hegen and Ba Tianshi had been forced to retreat simultaneously by Duan Yanqing’s iron cane. Ba Tianshi was fast in his reaction. He turned his hand over and grabbed Ruan Xingzhu’s wrist so that she would not die in vain at the hands of Duan Yanqing. All of them looked towards Duan Zhengchun at the same time.
This cane stance of Duan Yanqing missed the enemy, but he saw a big fellow stretch out his hand, grab the back side of Duan Zhengchun’s neck then forcefully pull him away in the blink of an eye at the very moment when his life was hanging by a thread. This extraordinary hand technique was really beyond imagination. Duan Yanqing had powerful martial arts, but he thought to himself that he was unable to do so. Because his facial muscles were stiff, even though he was amazed, his face did not change colors. He only let out a ‘humph’ sound from his nostrils.
The person who went into action and saved Duan Zhengchun was, of course, Xiao Feng. While the 2 Duans were battling each other, he stood to one side and fixed his eyes on the fight. As he saw that Duan Zhengchun was about to be killed by the opponent, he suddenly thought that if Duan Yanqing thrust that cane down, his own intense and deep-seated grievances would become impossible to redress. For the past several days, he had made many vows and taken many oaths, that, in any case, it was impossible for him not to get his revenge. Seeing the enemy before him, how could he let him die at the hands of a stranger? Hence he leaped forward and pulled Duan Zhengchun away.
Duan Yanqing’s mind was astute. Not waiting for Xiao Feng to put Duan Zhengchun down, he swung the iron cane in his right hand out like fierce winds and rainstorms, one stance after another. All of the thrusts were aimed at Duan Zhengchun’s vital parts. He was determined to remove this obstacle that was standing before his imperial throne first. How to deal with Xiao Feng would be a matter of the next step.
Flashing left, ducking right, Xiao Feng dodged through the spaces between the stances of the cane while still lifting Duan Zhengchun. Duan Yanqing executed 27 stances continuously with his cane, but all along he had not touched a corner of Duan Zhengchun’s robe. He was very astonished in his heart and knew that he himself was no match for Xiao Feng. Letting out a strange howl, he suddenly floated out several zhang and asked: ‘Who are you, sir? Why do you interfere with this?’
When Xiao Feng had not yet replied, Yun Zhonghe called: ‘Big bro, he’s the former Chief of the Beggar Society Qiao Feng. Your good disciple Soul Chasing Staff Tan Qing died at the hands of this villain.’
After these words were said, not only was Duan Yanqing shocked, but even the extraordinary people of Dali were also shocked, and their expressions changed. The name Qiao Feng resounded in the world. There was no one in wulin who had never heard of ‘North Qiao Feng, South Murong.’ But when he introduced himself to Fu Sigui and Duan Zhengchun, he only claimed to be ‘Xiao Feng, a Khitan.’ So, everyone did not know that he was the famous Qiao Feng. Now, after hearing these words of Yun Zhonghe, they all thought to themselves: ‘So it is him. Chivalrous and brave, he really deserves his reputation.’
Duan Yanqing had already heard Yun Zhonghe relate in details how not only had his satisfying disciple Tan Qing failed to harm other people at Juxian Manor but he had also been killed by Qiao Feng. At this moment, hearing that the big fellow before him was the killer of his disciple, he was both angry and anxious. He held out an iron cane and wrote on a bluestone flagstone: ‘Sir, what’s the enmity between us? Having killed my disciple, now you’ve spoiled my important business again.’
‘Chi-chi’ sounds were heard continuously, as if he was writing on sand. Every stroke of the 17 words went deep into the stone. When combined with high-level internal energy, his ventriloquism technique could capture the hearts of other people and mix up their minds. It was an extremely formidable heterodox technique. But this technique simply used mental force to control the enemy, if the enemy’s internal energy cultivation was better than his, he would be harm by them. He already knew how Tan Qing had died, and now he saw the skills that Xiao Feng used to save Duan Zhengchun, so he dared not rashly use his ventriloquism technique to talk to Xiao Feng.
Seeing that Duan Yanqing had finished writing, Xiao Feng, without saying anything, walked forward, pressed his foot against the ground and made several sweeps, immediately erasing completely all the 17 words on the flagstone. It was already very hard for one man to use an iron cane to write on a flagstone, but the other man used his foot to remove the words. This skill with the sole of the foot was much more difficult than concentrating internal energy in the tip of the cane. With 1 person writing and the other erasing, a bluestone flagstone on the lakeside path unexpectedly seemed just like a beach.
Seeing Xiao Feng erase those words, Duan Yanqing knew that, first, he wanted to display his skills, and second, he wanted to say that there was no enmity between them, and that if he himself could ignore the antipathy that he had unintentionally caused in the past, then both of them should stop. Knowing that he himself was no match for Xiao Feng, Duan Yanqing thought it would be better to get away as soon as possible, to avoid tasting the present deficiencies. Using the iron cane in his right hand, he drew a stroke from the top down at once, followed by an upward stroke, expressing the intention of ‘writing off at one stroke.’ Then he immediately gave the ground a poke with an iron cane, leaped backward, turned around and went away as if floating.
South Sea Divine Alligator looked Xiao Feng up and down with his strange eyes wide open. His heart full of disrespect, he cursed: ‘Fvck, what’s so amazing about this dog bastard…’ Before he had finished saying, his body suddenly rose into the air and flew towards the center of the lake. A plop was heard when water was splashed on all sides as a result of him falling into the lake.
Xiao Feng exceedingly hated being called ‘bastard’ by other people. While still carrying Duan Zhengchun with his left hand, he rushed over and threw South Sea Divine Alligator into the lake with his right hand. This action of his was extremely fast and did not allow South Sea Divine Alligator the smallest room for resisting.
South Sea Divine Alligator had lived at the South China Sea for a long time, and called himself ‘Divine Alligator’, so his swimming skills were certainly excellent. Pushing his feet against the bottom of the lake, he jumped up to the surface and cried: ‘How did you pull that?’ As he finished this sentence, his body sunk to the bottom again. He pushed his feet against the bottom of the lake once more, jumped up to the surface and cried: ‘You sneakily attacked your father!’ Finishing this sentence, he sunk again. In the 3rd time of jumping up, he cried: ‘Your father won’t let you get away!’ His temper was extremely irascible so he could not wait until he had come ashore to start cursing Xiao Feng. He kept jumping up, letting out a sentence of abuse and sinking.
A'Zi laughed and said: ‘Everyone sees, this fellow emerges from the water and submerges. Doesn’t he look like a big black turtle (Play on words: black turtle = cuckold)?’ It happened that South Sea Divine Alligator jumped up to the surface right in this moment. Hearing she said so, he cursed: ‘It’s just you who are a black turtle…’ A'Zi raised her hand. A ‘chi’ sound was heard as she fired a flying awl at him. When the flying awl came, South Sea Divine Alligator had already sunk to the bottom of the lake.
South Sea Divine Alligator swam to the shore and climbed up, dripping wet. Unexpectedly, he was not afraid in the slightest. He walked up to Xiao Feng brazenly, tilted his head and glowered at him, saying: ‘What’s the technique you threw me into the lake with? Your father doesn’t know this technique.’ Ye Erniang, standing at a place 7 or 8 zhang away, called: ‘Third, go quickly. Don’t make a fool of yourself here.’ South Sea Divine Alligator said angrily: ‘I was thrown into the lake by him and don’t even know the technique he used. How can this not be a burning shame? Of course I must ask clearly.’
A'Zi said very solemnly: ‘Alright, I’m telling you. This technique of his is called the ‘Turtle Throwing Skill’.’
South Sea Divine Alligator said: ‘Oh, so it’s called the ‘Turtle Throwing Skill’. As I already know the name of this skill, I’ll beg other people to teach it to me and train hard so that later I won’t be at this disadvantage.’ As he finished saying, he left with quick steps. By now, Ye Erniang and Yun Zhonghe had already gone far.
END OF CHAPTER 22
Last edited by forgot password; 01-31-11 at 02:25 PM.
Thanks for the long long update FP!
That was a really good chapter.
Thanx for the update.
Rose blooms best near death
You are in full bloom, Pal!
haha. South Sea Divine Alligator makes me laugh There's something about the way he's so bullied and yet.. determined not to be.
Thanks for the update!
Chapter 23: The promise made about the cattle and sheep of the northern land came to naught.
Xiao Feng put Duan Zhengchun lightly on the ground and retreated several steps.
Ruan Xingzhu took a deep bow to express her gratitude and said: ‘Chief Qiao, first you saved my daughter. Now you’ve saved him… him… I really don’t know how to thank you.’ The people such as Fan Hua and Zhu Danchen also came over to thank him.
Xiao Feng said sternly: ‘Xiao Feng saved him totally out of self-interest. All of you need not mention it. Prince Duan, I ask you 1 question. Please answer honestly. That year you made a big mistake that in your heart you’ve been ashamed of, right? Though this mistake might not have stemmed from your true intentions, you harmed a child to the point of being wretched for life and not knowing its own parents. Is that right?’ Every time thinking about the fact that both his parents had died tragically outside Yanmen Pass, he was in agony, so he was unwilling to state it clearly in front of everybody.
Duan Zhengchun’s face reddened greatly all over then immediately turned pale. He lowered his head, saying: ‘Yes, all my life I’ve been troubled by this matter. Every time thinking about it, I feel very uneasy. But the blunder was already made. It’s hard to make up for it. Heaven has shown pity on me and today allows me to meet a parentless child of that year again. But… but… alas, I’ve wronged other people all the time.’
Xiao Feng said in a severe voice: ‘You already know that you made a big mistake and made other people suffer, but why have you still continuously committed one wrongdoing after another since then?’
Duan Zhengchun shook his head and said in a low voice: ‘My conduct has been improper, my virtue has been deficient, and in my life I’ve really done too many absurd things. I feel deeply ashamed thinking about them.’
After hearing Madam Ma say Duan Zhengchun’s name in Xinyang, Xiao Feng had day and night thought that after finding Duan Zhengchun he would execute him by dismemberment. He had been determined that he would only take Duan Zhengchun’s life after making him taste sufficient bits and pieces of suffering. But just now, seeing that Duan Zhengchun was benevolent and righteous to his friends, bold and generous to his enemies, and did not look like a despicable evildoer, he could not help but become suspicious, thinking: ‘His killing of my parents outside Yanmen Pass was due to misunderstanding. Everyone can make this kind of mistake. But he killed my foster parents--Qiao Sanhuai and his wife--, and harmed my benevolent master Xuan Ku. Those are absolutely unforgivable crimes. Could there still be other details in this?’ He was never rash in his actions, so he asked Duan Zhengchun directly, wanting him to personally answer before he himself determined. Duan Zhengchun, with a deeply embarrassed expression, had said that he had committed grave mistakes which had made him feel uneasy through his life, and that today he had met a parentless child of that year again. As for the matters such as murdering Qiao Sanhuai and his wife, and murdering Venerable Xuan Ku, he had admitted that ‘his conduct had been improper, and his virtue had been deficient.’ Observing all of this, Xiao Feng knew clearly and firmly at once. His face seemed to be covered by a layer of grim frost, and he made a ‘humph’ sound with his nose.
Suddenly, Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘He… he’s always been like this. I don’t… don’t blame him.’ Xiao Feng turned to her and saw that she was having a smiling expression and looking at Duan Zhengchun with her pair of starry eyes which was exuding tenderness and love. His anger surging up, he let out a ‘humph’ sound and said: ‘Well, so he’s always been like this.’ Then he turned his head back and said to Duan Zhengchun: ‘Tonight, at the 3rd watch (midnight to 2 a.m), I’ll be waiting on that bluestone bridge. I have something to discuss a little with you, sir.’
Duan Zhengchun said: ‘I’ll definitely arrive on time. I dare not repay this great debt of gratitude with words, but you’ve come here from afar, why not go into that small house over there to for a few cups?’ Xiao Feng said: ‘How is your injury, sir? Do you need to rest for a few days?’ Unexpectedly, he seemed to turn a deaf ear to the invitation to drink wine. Slightly baffled, Duan Zhengchun said: ‘Brother Qiao, many thanks for your solicitude. This minor injury is not significant.’
Xiao Feng nodded, saying: ‘Then that’s good. A'Zhu, let’s go.’ When he had walked 2 steps, he turned his head around and said to Duan Zhengchun: ‘There’s no need to take those good subordinate friends of yours along.’ Seeing that the people such as Fan Hua and Hua Hegen all were completely loyal brave fellows, he felt that it would certainly be a pity if they went to the bluestone bridge with Duan Zhengchun and thus unavoidably died at his own hands one by one.
Duan Zhengchun thought that this man’s words and actions were rather strange. Even the Emperor, also his brother, only smiled about all of these many romantic demerits of his. This man, however, had denounced him in stern words in front of everybody. This was a bit too unduly, but Xiao Feng was the person who had saved his life, so he said: ‘Just as you instruct, honorable brother.’
Pulling A'Zhu’s hand, Xiao Feng left immediately without turning his head around.
Xiao Feng and A'Zhu went to a farmhouse and bought some rice to cook and 2 chickens to boil to eat their fill. Because there was no wine, the meal was unavoidably somewhat unexciting. Seeing that A'Zhu seemed to be full of worries and all along she had not said anything, he asked: ‘I’ve found my archenemy. You should feel happy for me.’
A'Zhu smiled, saying: ‘Yes, I should be happy.’ Seeing that her smile was very unnatural, Xiao Feng said: ‘Tonight, after killing this fellow, we’ll immediately go north to the outside of Yanmen Pass to gallop on horseback, go hunting, and pasture cattle and sheep, then we’ll never go any step inside the Pass. Oh, A'Zhu, before seeing Duan Zhengchun, I took an oath that I’d kill his whole family without sparing even fowls and dogs. But unexpectedly this fellow has personal loyalty, so I think only the one who did the deed should be responsible for it. There’s no need to find the other members of his family.’ A'Zhu said: ‘Having this humane thought, you’d amass a lot of credit in the Underworld and future blessing.’ Xiao Feng burst out laughing and said: ‘My pair of hands has killed many people. What credit in the Underworld or future blessing would there still be for me?’
Seeing A'Zhu’s elegant eyebrows wrinkling, he asked again: ‘A'Zhu, why aren’t you happy? You don’t want me to kill again, right?’ A'Zhu replied: ‘It’s not that I’m unhappy, but somehow my stomach is aching very much.’ Xiao Feng stretched out his hand to check her pulse and felt that it was beating unsteadily and hastily. He said softly: ‘The journey has been hard on you. I’m afraid you’ve caught a cold. I’m gonna ask the granny to cook a bowl of ginger soup for you to drink.’
When the ginger soup had not yet been done, A'Zhu shivered all over repeatedly and said in a quavering voice: ‘I’m cold, I’m cold.’ Xiao Feng, sympathizing with her very much, removed his robe and wrapped it around her body. A'Zhu said: ‘Big brother, after getting your revenge tonight, you will have fulfilled your great goal. Naturally I should go with you. Hopefully I would get somewhat better.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘No! No! You stay here to rest and have a sleep. When you wake up I’ll have already brought Duan Zhengchun’s head back.’
A'Zhu sighed and said: ‘I’m feeling very ill, big brother, it can’t be helped. I’m unable to go with you. I really want to accompany you and be together with you. I really don’t want to be separate from you… You… You’re such a lonely man. I’m not treating you well.’
Hearing her say in a deeply tender manner, Xiao Feng was touched. He held her hand and said: ‘We’ll only be separate from each other for a while. What’s the big deal? A'Zhu, you treat me really well. I don’t know how I should repay your kindness.’
A'Zhu said: ‘We won’t be separate for just a while. I feel that it will be very long, very long. Big brother, after you leave me, I’ll be all alone. And you’ll be all by yourself, too. You had better take me beyond Yanmen Pass immediately. We’ll go pasture cattle and sheep like this. And you’ll take revenge on Duan Zhengchun 1 year later. Is that all right? Let me be with you for 1 year first.’
Xiao Feng gently stroked her beautiful hair, saying: ‘We’ve found him with great difficulty. After settling this score tonight, we’ll never return to the Central Plains. Duan Zhengchun’s martial arts are far inferior to mine. He can’t use the ‘6 Meridians Divine Sword’ either. But if we waited for 1 year, we’d have to go to Dali. The Duan Family of Dali has very many experts, if your big brother encountered a master of the ‘6 Meridians Divine Sword’, I’d probably lose. It’s not that I don’t want to listen to you, but there’re many problems in this.’
A'Zhu nodded and said in a low voice: ‘That’s right. I shouldn’t ask you to wait for 1 year then go to Dali to find him and get your revenge. You absolutely mustn’t go into the tiger’s den alone.’
‘Ha-ha,’ Xiao Feng laughed and lifted the empty bowl up and took a gulp. He was in the habit of drinking with big bowls. At the moment there was nothing in the bowl, but doing so was still good enough. He said: ‘If I, Xiao Feng, was alone, even if the Duan Family in Dali is a dragon’s lair or tiger’s den, I’d still rush in without worrying the least about life and death and dangers. But now I already have little A'Zhu. I want to take care of you and be with you for life, so Xiao Feng’s life is very precious.’
A'Zhu leaned on his bosom, her back slightly shaking. Xiao Feng gently caressed her hair. There was a feeling of quietude and warmth in his heart. He thought: ‘Having such a wife, what is still there to regret?’ In an instant, he could not help letting his mind gallop to the frontier and his heart fly beyond the Pass. He thought that 1 month later, he and A'Zhu would ride on horseback together in the prairies, go hunting and do shepherding without having to take precautions against being harmed by the enemy, and without worry and anxiety. How carefree and relaxed would they be! But he had not yet repaid the man in black for the great kindness of saving his life at Juxian Manor that day, so he was unavoidably uneasy. However, because this kind of great hero of course did benevolent deeds without hoping for requital, Xiao Feng thought that in this lifetime he would have no choice but to owe him this debt of gratitude.
Xiao Feng noticed that it was gradually getting dark. Leaning on his bosom, A'Zhu was already sleeping deeply. He took out 3 Qian of silver (~ 4 g), gave it to the farmer, and asked him to prepare a vacant room. Then he carried A'Zhu and set her down on the bed, covered her with a quilt, lowered the bed’s curtain, and sit in the hall of the farmhouse with his eyes closed in meditation. Not long after, he felt asleep deeply.
After sleeping for more than 4 hours, he opened the door and walked out. He saw that the new moon was hanging above the tops of the trees at an oblique angle, and in the northwest corner, dark clouds were gathering. It appeared there would likely be a big thunderstorm tonight.
Xiao Feng put on his robe and went towards the bluestone bridge. After going 5 li or so (0.5 km) he arrived at the river bank. He could see the reflection of the moon in the river, but half of the sky in the west side was already full of dark clouds. At times, there were several bolts of lightning shot out from the clouds, illuminating the surroundings. But after the lightning was gone, it seemed to be even darker. In a distant graveyard, will-o’-the-wisps were fluttering to and fro on the grass.
Xiao Feng went faster and faster. Before long, he arrived at the bluestone bridge. Taking a look in the direction of the Ursa Major, he noticed that it was not yet past the second watch (10 p.m – 12 p.m), still early. He thought: ‘Because I want to settle the big score, I couldn’t remain calm and have unexpectedly arrived 1 watch earlier.’ In his life, he had had many appointments in which his life had been at stake, and he had met not just a few opponents who were better at martial arts and more renowned than Duan Zhengchun. However, tonight he felt unusually uneasy in his heart, and he was lacking the indomitable, do-or-die spirit of the past.
Standing at the side of the bridge and looking at the water which was slowly flowing under it, he thought: ‘That’s right. In the past I came and went alone and didn’t have to take care of anyone. But tonight I have A'Zhu in my mind. Oh, this’s really known as ‘when immersed in love, a hero loses heart.’’ As he thought to here, some tender feelings could not help emerging from the bottom of his heart. The trace of a smile was visible on his mouth. He thought: ‘If A'Zhu was standing here with me, it’d be much better.’
Knowing Duan Zhengchun’s martial arts were nowhere near as good as his own, he thought there was no need to be worried about the outcome of the duel tonight. Seeing that the time of the appointment had not yet come, he sat down beneath a tree beside the bridge to concentrate his mind and do breathing. Gradually, his Lingtai (an acupuncture point at the middle of the back) became empty and clear, and miscellaneous thoughts no longer existed.
Suddenly, lightning flashed, followed by a boom of thunder. Then a bolt of lightning struck down from the mass of clouds. Xiao Feng opened his eyes and thought: ‘There’s going to be heavy rain in an instant. Is it already near the 3rd watch?’
Right at this moment, he saw a man walking slowly on the road leading to the Little Mirror Lake. It was none other than Duan Zhengchun.
He walked up to Xiao Feng, took a deep bow with hands clasped and said: ‘What, may I ask, does Chief Qiao want to instruct me by summoning me?’
Xiao Feng slightly tilted his head and looked askance at him. Suddenly, he was burning with rage. He said: ‘Prince Duan, the purpose of my making an appointment with you here--could it be you don’t know what it is?’
Duan Zhengchun sighed and said: ‘You do this because of the incident outside Yanmen Pass that year when I listened to the words of an evildoer by mistake, was stirred up by them and harmed your mother to death, causing your father to commit suicide. It was really a big mistake.’
Xiao Feng said sternly: ‘Why did you also harm my foster parents--Qiao Sanhuai and his wife--, and murder my benevolent master Venerable Xuan Ku?’
Duan Zhengchun slowly nodded and said sorrowfully: ‘I only hoped to conceal this matter. Who would have thought that I would sink more and more deeply and eventually wouldn’t be able to extricate myself from this?’
Xiao Feng said: ‘Ha, who’d have thought you’re a straightforward fellow? Will you punish yourself, or gotta wait for me to go into action?’
Duan Zhengchun said: ‘Chief Qiao, if you hadn’t shown your skills and saved me, today at noon I would have lost my life beside the Little Mirror Lake. It’s all thanks to your favor, sir, that I could live a half more day. Chief Qiao, if you want to take my life, then you should just do it.’
At this moment, there was a bang of thunder, and raindrops, big as soya beans, suddenly poured down noisily.
Hearing his bold and generous words, Xiao Feng could not refrain from feeling touched. Usually, Xiao Feng liked to make friends with heroes and brave men, so after he had seen Duan Zhengchun, observing that this man had a heroic bearing and was straightforward, he had taken a liking to him. If this was an ordinary mistake, then even if it was a great insult to Xiao Feng himself, he would have already dismissed it with a laugh, and gone drinking tens of bowls of spirit with Duan Zhengchun. But the deaths of his parents did not allow him to live under the same sky with the enemy, how could he let Duan Zhengchun pass at this juncture? He raised 1 hand and said: ‘As a son and a disciple, I’m not allowed not to get revenge for the deaths of my parents and master. You killed my father, mother, foster father, foster mother, and my first benevolent master, 5 people altogether, so I’ll attack you with 5 blows of my palms. After you’ve undergone 5 palm attacks of mine, whether you’ll be dead or alive, the enmity in the past will be written off at 1 stroke.’
Duan Zhengchun forced a smile and said: ‘Exchanging 1 life for only 1 palm attack, this retribution is a bit too easy on me. I deeply appreciate your great kindness.’
Xiao Feng thought: ‘Don’t you think that your Dali Duan Clan’s martial arts are preeminent. I’m afraid you won’t be able to withstand the force of 1 blow of my palm.’ Then he said: ‘Watch out for this palm.’ His left hand moved in a circle, and his right palm struck out with a ‘hu’ sound.
Suddenly lightning flashed, followed by a boom of thunder in mid air. The thunder strengthened the force of the palm, so this palm attack of Xiao Feng was executed with the power of heaven and earth, and wind and thunder. With a ‘peng’ sound, it hit Duan Zhengchun’s chest squarely. At once, Xiao Feng saw he stood unsteadily and fell down. A ‘pai’ sound was heard as he bumped against the railing of the bluestone bridge. He drooped weakly, motionless.
Xiao Feng was startled: ‘Why didn’t he raise his hands to meet my attack? And why is he so bad?’ He jumped forwards, grabbed the back of Duan Zhengchun’s collar and lifted him up. He was alarmed. His ears heard ceaseless rolls of thunder, and the heavy rain was sprinkling water on his face and his body, but he felt nothing. He only thought: ‘How has he become so light?’
Today at noon, when going into action and saving Duan Zhengchun, he had lifted him up for quite a while. A person with excellent martial arts could immediately detect the difference of even 1 Jin or half a Jin (0.6 kg) in weight in their hands. But at this moment, Xiao Feng felt that Duan Zhengchun’s body had suddenly become lighter by tens of Jin. A burst of indescribable fear suddenly emerged in his heart. He broke into a cold sweat all over.
At this moment, a bolt of lightning flashed again. Xiao Feng stretched out his hand and made a grab at Duan Zhengchun’s face. In his hand was a pile of squishy matter which fell away after just a wipe of his hand. In the light of flashes he could see clearly, and so he shouted involuntarily: ‘A'Zhu, A'Zhu, so it’s you!’
He felt that his whole body had not the slightest strength, so he could not help but kneel down, hugging A'Zhu’s legs. He knew that the palm attack just now had been executed with all his power, so not even a first-class hero or bold man in wulin would be able to remain unharmed without using their palm attacks to receive it, to say nothing of this fragile little girl A'Zhu. This blow of the palm certainly had broken all her ribs and crushed her 5 internal organs. Even if Divine Doctor Xue was here and gave her immediate treatment, he would still surely have a hard time snatching her life back.
A'Zhu leaned against the railing of the bridge. Her body slowly slid down and fell on Xiao Feng’s body. She said in a low voice: ‘Big brother, I… I… treated you very badly. Are you angry with me?’
Xiao Feng said loudly: ‘I’m not angry with you. I’m angry with myself.’ As he finished, he raised his hand and brought it down on his own head in a fierce blow.
A'Zhu made a slight move with her left hand, wanting to prevent him from hitting himself. But she was unable to raise her arm, so she said: ‘Big brother, you must promise me that you’ll never ever harm yourself.’
Xiao Feng cried: ‘Why are you doing this? Why? Why?’
A'Zhu replied in a low voice: ‘Big brother, unfasten my gown, and take a look at my left shoulder.’ On their thousand-of-li journey, Xiao Feng and she had travelled together and lodged in the same inns, but from beginning to end, they had always controlled themselves and observed etiquette. At this moment, hearing her tell him to unfasten her gown, he was startled. A'Zhu said: ‘I’ve already belonged to you. My… my… whole body is yours. Just take a look… take a look at my left shoulder, then you’ll understand.’
Xiao Feng’s eyes were full of tears. Noticing that she was of sound mind when saying those words, he still had a faint hope. Immediately, he propped her up with his left palm put against her back, then hurriedly channelled his internal energy and constantly transferred it into her body, hoping that he could make up for his blunder. His right hand slowly undid her gown, exposing her left shoulder.
A long bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. Everything before his eyes was lit up. He saw that the skin of her shoulder was whiter than snow, but there was a ‘Duan’ character, deep red as blood, tattooed on it.
Xiao Feng was both amazed and grieved. Not daring to look at it for long, he pulled her gown and covered her shoulder. Then he gently embraced her, saying: ‘There’s a ‘Duan’ character on your shoulder--what does it mean?’
A'Zhu replied: ‘When my father and mother gave me to other people, they tattooed it on my shoulder so that… so that we would recognize each other someday.’ Xiao Feng said in a tremulous voice: ‘This ‘Duan’ character, this ‘Duan’ character…’ A'Zhu said: ‘Today, when they discovered an identification mark on Miss A'Zi’s shoulder, they knew at once she was their daughter. You… You… Did you see the mark?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘No. It was improper for me to see it.’ A'Zhu said: ‘She… She is also tattooed with a red ‘Duan’ character on the shoulder, which is the same as mine.’
Xiao Feng suddenly understood. He said in a quavering voice: ‘You… You’re their daughter too?’
A'Zhu said: ‘At first I didn’t know. Only when I saw the word on A'Zi’s shoulder did I know that. She has a gold lock too, which is the same as my gold lock. Both are engraved on with 12 characters. The characters on her lock are:
‘Lakeside bamboos are emerald green. They herald quietude and plenty of happiness.’
(湖边竹，盈盈绿，报平安，多喜乐 – Pinyin of the 1st 3 words: Hu Bian ZHU - Bamboo)
And the characters on my lock are:
‘Celestial stars are sparkling. They’ll glitter forever. You’ll be well forever also.’
(天上星，亮晶晶，永灿烂，长安宁 – Pinyin of the 1st 3 words: Tian Liang XING - Star)
I… I have never understood the meaning of the poem. I only thought it used nice words that rhyme. But it turns out it contains the name of my mother. My mother is that woman Ruan… Ruan Xingzhu. This pair of locks was given to my mother by my father. After giving birth to me and my sister, she gave each of us 1 lock, tying them around our necks.’
Xiao Feng said: ‘Now I understand. I’ll think of a way to cure your injury at once. Let’s slowly talk about this matter later.’
A'Zhu said: ‘No! No! I must say to you clearly. If I’m delayed for another while, there won’t be enough time. Big brother, please wait until I’ve finished.’ Xiao Feng could not bear to go against her will. He had no choice but to say: ‘Alright, I’m gonna listen to you to the finish. But don’t exert yourself excessively.’ A'Zhu smiled, saying: ‘Big brother, you’re really nice, taking me into consideration in everything. How can you dote on me so much?’ Xiao Feng said: ‘Later on I’ll dote on you 100 times as much, 1000 times as much.’
A'Zhu smiled and said: ‘This is enough, this is enough. I wouldn’t like you to treat me too well. If I became unruly, then who would control me? Big brother, I… I hid at the back of the bamboo house and eavesdropped on the conversation between my father, mother and younger sister A'Zi. It turns out my father is already married. He and my mother aren’t legit husband and wife. They gave birth to me first, and 1 year later they gave birth to my younger sister. After that my father wanted to return to Dali. My mother didn’t let him go. The 2 of them had a big quarrel. My mother even hit him, but my father didn’t strike back. After that… after that… there was no way, so they couldn’t help but break up. My maternal grandfather was very strict when it comes to family education, if he’d known about this affair, he surely would’ve killed my mother. My mother dared not take me and my sister home, so she had no choice but to send us into other people’s houses. But she hoped we would be able to recognize each other someday, so she tattooed a ‘Duan’ character on my and my sister’s shoulders. The person who adopted me only knows that my mother’s surname is Ruan. In fact, in fact, my surname is Duan…’
Feeling even sorrier for her, Xiao Feng said in a low voice: ‘You’re such a miserable child.’
A'Zhu said: ‘When my mother gave me to another family, I was just over 1 year old. So of course I couldn’t recognize my father. I couldn’t even recognize my mother’s face. Big brother, you’re also like this. In the apricot forest in the evening of that day, when I heard them talking about your origin, in my heart I felt very sorry for you because both of us are similarly miserable children.’
Lightning flashed nonstop. 1 crash of thunder was heard after another. Suddenly, a big tree on the river bank was struck by lightning and fell down with ‘ka-la-la’ sounds. However, because the 2 of them were paying no attention to external things, even though Heaven and Earth were changing greatly, they were still totally unaware of that.
A'Zhu continued: ‘Who’d have thought the person who harmed your parents to death is my father? Alas, Heaven’s predestination is really too cruel to us. Besides, besides… it was I myself who tactfully discovered the name of my father from Madam Ma. If I hadn’t disguised as Bai Shijing and tricked her, she surely wouldn’t have been willing to say my father’s name. They say that there is Heaven’s will in the dark. I’ve never believed it. But… but… in your opinion, can I believe it now?’
Xiao Feng raised his head. The dark clouds, which were all over the sky, had been blocking the Moon insomuch that there was not the slightest hint of light. A long bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, brightly illuminating the surroundings. It seemed as if Heaven had just suddenly opened its eyes.
He lowered his head dispiritedly, nonplussed in his heart. He asked: ‘Do you know for sure Duan Zhengchun is your father?’
A'Zhu said: ‘This can’t be wrong. I heard my parents hug my younger sister, cry bitterly and tell her how they had abandoned me and my younger sister. My father even said that, in this life, he’d find and bring me back, no matter what. They couldn’t have guessed that the daughter they gave birth to was crouching outside the window. Big brother, just now I pretended that I was ill, but I disguised myself as you then went and told my father that the appointment at the bluestone bridge tonight was canceled, and every mistake was written off at 1 stroke. Then I disguised as my father and went to meet you… to let you… to let you…’ As she said to here, her breathing was already faint like the threads of a cobweb.
Xiao Feng transferred more internal energy through his palm to keep A'Zhu from exhaustion. He said tearfully: ‘Why didn’t you tell me? If I had known he is your father…’ But he could not say the words following that, because he himself did not know what he should have done if he had known beforehand that Duan Zhengchun was the father of his beloved either.
A'Zhu said: ‘I tossed and turned and considered for a very long time. Big brother, I wanted to be with you for life so much. But how could that be possible? Could I beg you not to seek revenge for the deaths of your 5 relatives? Even if I talked rot and begged you, you would still give your consent. So, in the end, that was out of the question.’
Her voice became lower and lower as she said. It was still thundering endlessly, but to Xiao Feng, every word A'Zhu said was more soul-shattering than the sky-shaking thunder. He held his head in his hands tightly, saying: ‘You could’ve told your father to run away and not to keep this appointment! Or if your father is a hero or brave man and is unwilling to break this appointment, you could’ve disguised as me and made another appointment with your father so that we’d meet at a distant place and in the distant future. Why should you, should you make yourself suffer like this?’
A'Zhu said: ‘I want you to know that it may not be due to his true intentions at all that a person killed others. Of course you don’t wanna harm me, but you hit me with a blow of the palm. My father harmed your parents to death, and that’s also a blunder he made without intent.’
Xiao Feng had always been looking intently at her with his head lowered. During the several times when lightning flashed, he saw that the look in her eyes was infinitely tender. His heart was stirred. Suddenly, he realized that the deep love she had for himself was really beyond his previous imagination. And he suddenly understood: ‘Though Duan Zhengchun is her real father, he didn’t bring her up at all. If she had merely wanted to make me understand that unintentional mistakes could be forgiven, she wouldn’t have had to lose her life in vain like this.’ He said tremulously: ‘A'Zhu, A'Zhu, you surely have another reason. It wasn’t because you wanted to save your father, and nor was it because you wanted me to know that it was an unintentional blunder. This's for my sake! This's for my sake!’ Then he rose, embracing her.
A'Zhu had a smiling expression on her face. Seeing that Xiao Feng had eventually understood her underlying intention, she could not help feeling happy. She knew that she was at the end of her life. Even though she had not hoped that her lover would know the intention concealed at the bottom of her heart, he had eventually realized it…
Xiao Feng said: ‘This’s totally for my sake, A'Zhu, is that right?’ A'Zhu said in a low voice: ‘Yes.’ Xiao Feng said loudly: ‘Why? Why?’ A'Zhu said: ‘The Duan Family of Dali has the 6 Meridians Divine Sword. If you killed their South-Stabilizing Prince, how could they be willing to leave you alone? Big brother, we can’t read the words in that ‘Muscle Changing Sutra’…’
Xiao Feng suddenly understood. His eyes could not help brimming with tears. Then tears rolled down his face.
A'Zhu said: ‘I have 1 thing to beg you, big brother, are you willing to promise me it?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘I’ll promise you even 100 or 1000 things, not to mention 1 thing.’ A'Zhu said: ‘I only have 1 younger sister. The 2 of us haven’t been able to be together since childhood. Keep an eye on her, I beg of you. I’m worried she would go down the wrong road.’ Xiao Feng forced a laugh and said: ‘Wait till you’ve gotten well, we’ll find her so that you’ll have a reunion.’ A'Zhu said softly: ‘Wait till I’ve gotten well… Big brother, then I and you will go outside Yanmen Pass to ride on horseback, go hunting, and pasture cattle and sheep. Do you think my younger sister will be willing to go there?’
Xiao Feng replied: ‘Of course she’ll go. Her elder sister and her brother-in-law invite her, how will she still not go?’
Suddenly a ‘hu-la’ sound was heard. From the cavity under the bridge, a person moved out, saying: ‘How shameless! What is elder sister? What is brother-in-law? I won’t go.’ This person was small and slender, and was wearing a suit of waterproof clothes. She was none other than A'Zi.
After accidentally hit A'Zhu with a palm attack, Xiao Feng had totally focused his mind on her. Otherwise, with his skills, he definitely would have noticed that there was a person hiding in the water beneath the bridge. But because, firstly, it had been thundering and raining heavily, and secondly, his mind had been in great turmoil, so he had been unable to detect A'Zi until she showed herself. He could not help being slightly shocked and called: ‘A'Zi, A'Zi, you quickly come and see your elder sister.’
A'Zhu slightly pouted her small lips, saying: ‘Originally I hid under the bridge to see you and my father fight and to have a jolly time. Who’d have thought you’d hit my elder sister? You two haven’t finished rattling on and saying loving words. I don’t like to hear. You two can talk about love, but why drag me into this?’ As she finished saying, she moved towards them.
A'Zhu said: ‘Good sister, later on big brother Xiao will look after you, you… you’ll look after him, too…’
A'Zi said with a giggle: ‘This ugly rustic barbarian--I’ll ignore him.’
Suddenly Xiao Feng felt A'Zhu, who was leaning on his bosom, slightly tremble. Her head drooped and her beautiful hair spread over her shoulder. She was motionless. Horror-stricken, he called: ‘A'Zhu, A'Zhu.’ He checked her pulse at once, but it had already stopped beating. It seemed as if his heart had also already stopped. He held out his hand and checked her breathing, but she no longer breathed. He called loudly: ‘A'Zhu! A'Zhu!’ However, even if he called 1,000 or 10,000 times, A'Zhu would not be able to answer him. He hastily transferred his internal energy into her body, but all the while A'Zhu did not move at all.
A'Zi, seeing that A'Zhu had stopped breathing and died, was also shocked. She stopped grinning cheekily and and said angrily: ‘You beat my elder sister to death. You… you beat my elder sister to death.’
Xiao Feng said: ‘Yes, it’s I who beat your elder sister to death. You should take revenge for your elder sister. Quick, quickly kill me!’ With his 2 hands drooped, he lowered A'Zhu’s body. Then he held forth his chest, crying: ‘Quickly kill me.’ He really hoped A'Zi would draw a knife and stick it in his chest, thus finishing all his troubles with death and freeing him from endless sufferings.
A'Zi, seeing his facial muscles twitching and his frightening expression, could not help being extremely scared. She retreated several steps and cried: ‘You… Don’t kill me.’
Following her, Xiao Feng walked forwards several steps. He reached for his chest and, with a ‘chi’ sound, ripped the cloth that covered the chest, exposing his skin. He said: ‘You have poisonous needles, poisonous thorns, poisonous awls… quickly puncture me to death.’
In the light of a flash, A'Zi saw that deep blue wolf head tattoo on his chest with fangs bared and teeth shown, looking ferocious, so she was even more frightened. She suddenly uttered an exclamation, turned around and ran away very fast.
Xiao Feng stood in a daze on the bridge. He was extremely grieved and infinitely remorseful. He raised his hand and with a ‘peng’ sound he hit the stone railing, causing stone bits to scatter around. He kept dealing 1 blow of the palm after another. Then, a loud ‘hu-la-la’ sound was heard as a block of the stone railing fell into the river. He wanted to wail but was unable to weep anyway. A bolt of lightning flashed by, shining clearly on A'Zhu’s face. Those deep love and deep concerns still remained on the tips of her eyebrows and the corners of her mouth.
Xiao Feng let out a scream: ‘A'Zhu!’ Then, carrying her body, he rushed into the wilderness.
It kept thundering and raining heavily. He ran up the mountain for a while then ran down the valley for another while, totally not knowing where he was. His mind was in chaos, insomuch that it seemed to have gone blank.
The thunder gradually stopped, but it kept raining heavily unceasingly. In the East, dawn was breaking and the sky slowly lightened. Xiao Feng had been rushing around for 4 hours, but he was not tired in the least. He only wanted to punish himself as much as possible, and only wanted to die immediately to be with A'Zhu forever. Uttering hoarse cries of distress, he rushed around chaotically. Unconsciously, he suddenly returned to the bluestone bridge.
He mumbled to himself: ‘I’ll go find Duan Zhengchun, find Duan Zhengchun, and ask him to kill me in revenge for his daughter’s death.’
Before long, he arrived at the side of the lake. Xiao Feng yelled: ‘Duan Zhengchun, I killed your daughter. Come and kill me. I definitely won’t strike back. You quickly come out and kill me.’ Carrying A'Zhu horizontally in his arms, he stood before the Square Bamboo Forest. After he had waited awhile, the forest was still silent, and no one came out.
He walked into the forest and stopped before the bamboo house. After kicking the door open, he walked into the house and said loudly: ‘Duan Zhengchun, be quick and kill me!’ The house was empty and without anyone. He searched one time everywhere, from the rooms in the wing to the backyard, but did not find Duan Zhengchun and his subordinates. Even the owner of the bamboo house Ruan Xingzhu and A'Zi were not here either. The utensils and furnishings in the house were still the same as before. It seemed everyone had gone away hurriedly, and in their hurry they had not had enough time to take along anything.
He thought: ‘That’s right. A'Zi brought the news. She only thought I still wanted to revenge myself on her father. Even if Duan Zhengchun was unwilling to run away, that surnamed Ruan woman and his subordinates would certainly force him to run far and fly high. Ha-ha, I’ve come here not to kill you, but to ask you to kill me, ask you to kill me.’
He yelled several times again: ‘Duan Zhengchun, Duan Zhengchun!’ His voice went very far, but he could only hear the rustle of high winds brushing bamboos. There was not the least bit of human voice.
There was nobody beside the Little Mirror Lake and in the Square Bamboo Forest, only silence. Xiao Feng felt that it seemed there was only him left under Heaven. Ever since A'Zhu had breathed her last, he had not yet put her down for even a minute. For many times he had channelled his internal energy into her body with the hope that Heaven would show pity on him and let her survive the serious injury, just like when she had taken a palm attack of Abbot Xuan Ci previously. But that time, the force of Abbot Xuan Ci’s Great Diamond Palm hit the copper mirror in Xiao Feng’s hand, so A'Zhu was only affected by the shock. This time, Xiao Feng’s palm attack hit her squarely in the chest, how could he save her life? No matter how much internal energy he had channelled into her body, A'Zhu had always been motionless.
Carrying A'Zhu, he sat down before the house in a daze from the morn to midday then to sundown. By now, it had stopped raining, making visible the azure sky, and the setting sun was illuminating his body and A'Zhu’s with its dull light.
When he was beset by exceptional fellows at Juxian Manor, even though he was utterly isolated and the situation there was extremely dangerous, he did not waver in his determination in the least. Now, having made an irredeemable blunder with his own hands, he felt more and more lonesome. He felt that he should not live on in the world. ‘A'Zhu has died in her father’s place, so I can’t find Duan Zhengchun to get revenge. What else do I have to do? The great undertaking of the Beggar Society, the grand ambitions and lofty goals of the past all are not worth caring. I’m a Khitan, what great undertaking and grand ambition can I have?’
He walked to the backyard and saw a gardening hoe put at a corner of a wall. He thought: ‘Will I stay here with A'Zhu forever?’ He was still carrying A'Zhu in his left hand and did not want to let go of her for even a short while regardless. Lifting up the hoe with his right hand, he went into the Square Bamboo Forest, dug a hole then dug another hole. The 2 holes were side by side.
He thought: ‘When her parents return, they’ll probably dig up the grave to see what actually happened. I must put up a tablet in front of the grave.’ He broke a bamboo section, cut it into two, went into the kitchen, smoothed them with a kitchen knife then walked into the room in the west wing. He saw paper, ink, brushes, and inkstones on the table. Putting A'Zhu horizontal on his knees, he ground ink, picked up a brush, and wrote on a piece of bamboo: ‘The grave of a rash Khitan Xiao Feng.’
Then he picked up the other piece of bamboo and muttered to himself: ‘What do I write, ‘The grave of Madam Duan of the Xiao Family’? Though she and I had a promise of marriage, we haven’t got married. At her death she was still a young lady who was pure like jade and clear like ice. Wouldn’t calling her ‘Madam’ mean disrespect to her?’
Temporarily unable to decide, he raised his head and considered for a while. By chance, he saw a calligraphic scroll hanging on the wall. It had quite a few columns of words. He conveniently read from the top down:
We are too bashful and drunk to sing,
Your elegant hands fasten fragrant silk.
Leaning on the flower in the candlelight,
I secretly pass on my deep thoughts.
The aroma of wine has risen to your eyes.
Mistaking red for emerald, I am in a daze,
Lovingly turning around,
You wrinkle your eyebrows.
Meeting awhile but long we shall part.
The spring has ended again,
As he was not a learned man, the words he knew were limited. However, this poem did not have any difficult character, so he could see that it was a romantic amorous poem. It seemed the poem talked about drinking wine, getting shy, singing, how the people in the poem met each other for a while but would separate for a long time, and how sad they felt about that. He looked confusedly at the scroll and was in no mood to understand what the poem was about. He only absently read it from start to finish. And he saw 2 rows of words written below the poem: ‘A record of the visit I paid Zhu mei (~ my dear Zhu) in my youth to supplement the wall. Having a partner with eyes bright like stars and a waist slender like a bamboo in my company, I have lost my awareness of Heaven and Earth, years and months. Duan the Second of Dali scrawling in his intoxication.’
Xiao Feng mumbled: ‘He was really happy. Having a partner with eyes bright like stars and a waist slender like a bamboo in his company, he lost his awareness of Heaven and Earth, years and months. Duan the Second of Dali scrawled in his intoxication. Duan the Second of Dali, hum, so this scroll was written by Duan Zhengchun to give his lover Ruan Xingzhu, and was also about the affair between A'Zhu’s father and mother. How can they hang it openly here? Have they no shame? Ah, that’s right. Duan Zhengchun’s subordinates can’t come in this room.’
At once, he stopped paying attention to the scroll, thinking: ‘What should I write on A'Zhu’s grave tablet?’ He knew that with his shallow command of language, even if he considered more, he would not come up with anything. So he wrote 4 words ‘The grave of A'Zhu’. Then he put the brush down and rose to his feet. He wanted to plant the bamboo tablets before the holes, bury A'Zhu carefully then commit suicide.
He turned around and carried A'Zhu’s body in his arms. His eyes caught sight of the scroll on the wall again. Suddenly he jumped up and exclaimed: ‘A’yo’. Then he said loudly: ‘Wrong, wrong, this matter is wrong!’
He took 1 step towards the scroll and looked at the several rows of words on it again. He saw that the handwriting was round, smooth, elegant and unconstrained. It seemed as if there was a voice saying loudly in his mind: ‘That letter! The letter the leading big brother wrote to Chief Wang--its words ain’t like this. They’re totally different to this.’
Having only a limited knowledge of characters, he should not be able to recognize a person’s handwriting. But the characters on this scroll were beautiful and skillful, and had neat spacing. The characters on that letter, on the other hand, were skewed and angular. At first sight, anybody could know that it was the handwriting of a man of martial arts in jianghu. The difference between the 2 styles of writing really was so big that anyone could recognize it. He gazed at the characters on the scroll with his eyes wide open. It seemed he wanted to look for the big secrets and big schemes hidden in these several rows of characters.
His mind was in a whirl and full of thoughts of the letter that he had seen in the apricot forest outside the city of Wuxi that evening--the letter that the leading big brother wrote to Chief Wang. Venerable Zhiguang had torn off the signature of the letter and swallowed it into his stomach to make him unable to know who had written the letter. But the handwriting of the letter had been engraved deeply and very clearly on his mind. The writer of the letter and ‘Duan the Second of Dali’ who wrote this scroll were definitely not the same person. There was absolutely no doubt about it.
But could the ‘leading big brother’ entrust the task of writing the letter to another person? After pondering a little, he knew this was definitely impossible. Because Duan Zhengchun was capable of easily writing this kind of nice-looking characters, he certainly was a man who was familiar with penmanship. If he wanted to write a letter to Chief Wang to discuss such an important matter, what reasons could he have to ask another person to write the letter on his behalf? And he had no reason to ask another person to write an amorous poem for his own lover on his behalf.
The more he thought, the more doubtful he became. He thought repeatedly: ‘Could it be that leading big brother isn’t Duan Zhengchun? Could it be this scroll wasn’t written by Duan Zhengchun? Impossible, impossible, besides Duan Zhengchun, how can there be another ‘Duan the Second of Dali’ who wrote this kind of amorous poem and hung it here? Could it be Madam Ma lied? That’s also impossible. She and Duan Zhengchun don’t know each other, one in the North, one in the South, one is a widow of a rustic fellow, and one is a member of the nobility. What enmity between them can there be that she could make up lies on purpose to trick me?’
After he had known that the ‘leading big brother’ was Duan Zhengchun, all the doubts and suspicions in his mind had been swept away, and he had only been thinking about how to get revenge. At this moment, when he saw the calligraphic scroll, all kinds of doubts and suspicions emerged in his mind: ‘If that letter wasn’t written by Duan Zhengchun, then the leading big brother isn’t him. If it’s not him, then who’s the leading big brother? Why did Madam Ma wanna lie to other people? What cunning schemes and conspiracies are there in this? I killed A'Zhu by mistake. But A'Zhu was willing to die for me. This way, a layer of unredressed wrong has been added to her unredressed wrong. Why didn’t I see this scroll before? But this scroll has been hung in a room in the wings, how could I see it? If I had died to follow A'Zhu without seeing it, that would’ve been a case of death ending all troubles. Why didn’t I see it earlier or later? Why did I see it just a short while before my death?’
The setting sun was about to disappear behind the mountains. The last sunbeams gradually got away from his insteps. Suddenly he heard 2 people advancing towards the bamboo forest from the side of the Little Mirror Lake. These 2 people were still far. Concentrating his mind and listening, he noticed that the incoming people were 2 women. He thought: ‘Probably A'Zi and her mother are coming. Hum, I want to ask Madam Duan if this scroll was written by Duan Zhengchun. Of course she extremely hates me for killing A'Zhu. She surely wants to kill me. I… I…’ At first he wanted to ‘strike back under no circumstances’, but he immediately changed his mind: ‘If A'Zhu really died unjustly, then it’s another person who killed my father and mother, and so this prime villain has borne one more blood debt, and one more life. Could it be that A'Zhu wasn’t harmed to death by him? If I don’t settle this score, how will I be able to die easily?’
He heard the 2 women draw closer and closer and go into the bamboo forest. Then, after a short while, he also heard the sounds of their conversation. One woman said: ‘Be careful. This harlot doesn’t have good martial arts but she’s up to all cunning tricks.’ The other woman, who was young, replied: ‘She’s all by herself. Mom, you and I will always be able to finish her off.’ The considerably older woman said: ‘Say no more. Once we go into action, let’s use the most dangerous skills. There’s no need to hesitate.’ The young woman said: ‘If father knows…’ That senior woman said: ‘Humph, you still call him father?’ After that, there was no sound of talking, but he heard the 2 women going with stealthy steps. One of them went to the main entrance, and the other went to the back of the house. Apparently they wanted to jointly attack from the front and the rear.
Xiao Feng was rather mystified, thinking: ‘Judging from their voices, these 2 women aren’t Ruan Xingzhu and A'Zi. But they’re a mother and a daughter, too. They’ve come here to kill a lone woman. Oh, probably they want to kill Ruan Xingzhu. But that girl’s father disapproves of this.’ This matter had flashed through his mind, but he did not paid attention to it any longer. He was still sitting in a trance.
After quite a while, a creaky ‘ya’ sound was heard as someone shoved open the door and came in. Xiao Feng did not raise his head the least. He saw a pair of fine feet in black shoes walked up to him and stopped at a distance of about 4 Chi (33.33 cm). After that, the side window was pushed open and a person leaped in and stood next to him. Hearing the sound of that person’s leap, he knew they did not excel in martial arts.
Still, he did not raise his head. With A'Zhu in his arms, he pondered deeply: ‘The ‘leading big brother’ is Duan Zhengchun, or he is not? Is there anything unusual in Venerable Zhiguang’s words? Did Elder Xu have any cunning scheme? Is there any flaw in Madam Ma’s words?’ Truly, thoughts were surging up in his mind like tidewater, and he was utterly confused.
He heard the young woman ask: ‘Hey, who are you? Where’s that harlot Ruan?’
Her voice was cold and her tone was totally disrespectful. Xiao Feng did not pay attention to her. He was only thinking about all kinds of suspicions. The older woman said: ‘Is there any connection between you, sir, and that harlot Ruan Xingzhu? Who’s this woman? Quickly say.’ Xiao Feng still paid no attention to her. The young woman said loudly: ‘Are you deaf or dumb? Why don’t you say a word?’ Her tone was brimming with anger. Still, Xiao Feng ignored her and kept sitting motionless and like a stone statue.
That young woman made a stamp. The long sword in her hand slightly shook, and the blade shook. With a buzzing noise, she thrust the sword at Xiao Feng’s temple at an angle. When its tip was only several Cun (3.333 cm) away from his temple, she shouted: ‘If you keep acting the fool, I’ll let you taste a bit of misery.’
Xiao Feng was in a very dangerous situation but he did not care about it in the least. He was only considering all kinds of unanswered doubts and suspicions. That young girl slightly pushed her arm forwards. The long sword was thrust forwards, and it went past the side of his neck at a distance of around 1 cun. Xiao Feng heard clearly the approaching direction of the sword, so he did not dodge or parry it, as if he was totally unaware of it. The 2 women looked at each other in amazement. The young girl said: ‘Mom, could this fellow be an idiot? The girl he was carrying seems to be dead already.’ The woman said: ‘He’s probably acting fool. There can’t be any good thing in the house of this harlot. Give him a hack of the saber first. Then we’ll torture and interrogate him.’ Just as she finished saying, she brought the saber in her left hand down on Xiao Feng’s shoulder.
Xiao Feng waited until the saber was half a chi away from his shoulder to turn over his right hand, stretch it out forwards and catch the back of the blade with 2 of his fingers. The saber seemed to be fixed to the air and stopped coming down. He slightly pressed forwards with his fingers. The handle of the saber at once hit an important acupuncture point on the shoulder of that woman, rendering her immobile. Then, conveniently, he slightly shook his hand, his internal energy was channelled in the blade, and the steel saber was snapped in two with a ‘pai’ sound. He tossed the section in his hand on the floor conveniently. All along, he did not raise his head and look at the woman.
The young girl, seeing that her mother had been subdued by him, was very frightened. She leaped backwards. Continuous ‘chi-chi’ sounds were heard as she shot 7 short arrows at him. Xiao Feng picked up the broken saber and knocked all the arrows down with one stroke. Then he slightly waved his hand, and the broken saber flew out. With a ‘pai’ sound, the handle of the saber hit her waist. ‘Ah,’ that young girl cried. An acupuncture point of hers had been hit squarely. And she was immediately rendered motionless.
That woman asked in fright: ‘Are you injured?’ The young girl replied: ‘My waist is hurting a lot, but I’m not injured. Mom, he’s blocked my ‘Jingmen acupuncture point.’ The woman said: ‘He hit my ‘Zhongfu acupuncture point’. This… this fellow’s martial arts are very formidable.’ The young girl said: ‘Mom, who is this fellow? How could he best the 2 of us without standing up? I think he probably used some evil technique.’
The woman dared not be fierce anymore. She said to Xiao Feng mildly: ‘There’s no enmity between me, my daughter and you, sir. Just now we went into action rashly and offended you. It was our fault. I pray that you are magnanimous and will go easy on us.’ The young girl hastily said: ‘No, no, we’ve been defeated, that’s all. Why should we ask for forgiveness? I don’t like it. If you have the guts then just kill me with a hack of the saber.’
Xiao Feng vaguely heard the words of the mother and her daughter. He only knew that the mother had begged for mercy and the daughter was very stubborn, but he paid no attention to what they had said, not even a single sentence.
By now it was already pitch-dark inside the house. After a while, it got completely dark. Xiao Feng had always sat at the original place, carrying A'Zhu and not making a move. Ordinarily he was very quick-witted, and when encountering difficulties, he had always been very fast in decision-making. If there was something that he was unable to understand, he would put it aside at once and temporarily ignore it, and he would definitely not hesitate or waver. But having accidentally killed A'Zhu today, he was exceedingly grieved and had become dazed and benighted. It seemed as if he was just a demented madman.
That woman said in a low voice: ‘Try to rush your internal energy to the Huantiao acupuncture point. Maybe that would affect the channels and you’d be able to open the blocked acupuncture point.’ The young girl said: ‘I already tried it. Totally useless…’ The woman suddenly said: ‘Hush! Someone is coming!’
The crunch of footsteps was heard. Then someone pushed the door open and came in. It was also a woman. With several ‘ca-ca’ sounds, that woman used a fire-striking knife and a flint to set the kindling afire. Next she lit the oil lamp. When she turned around and suddenly saw Xiao Feng, A'Zhu, and the 2 women, she could not help exclaiming an ‘Ah’ sound. Never could she have thought that there were other people in the house. So, when suddenly seeing 4 people, either sitting or standing, of whom all were being motionless, she jumped out of her skin at once. Her hands loosened and the fire-striking knife and the flint dropped, making 2 clanking noises.
Suddenly, the woman who had entered the house earlier shouted severely: ‘Ruan Xingzhu, it’s you!’
The woman who had just entered the house was none other than Ruan Xingzhu. Turning around, she saw that the person who had just said was a middle-aged woman with a young girl, who was wearing only black clothes, beside her. These 2 people were rather beautiful, especially the young girl. But she had never seen both of them. Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘Right, I’m Ruan. Who are you two?’
The middle-aged woman did not answer. She only continuously looked at her carefully. Her face was full of fury.
Ruan Xingzhu turned around and said to Xiao Feng: ‘Chief Qiao, you already killed my daughter, what are you still doing here? My… my… my poor daughter!’ As she finished saying, she wept loudly and rushed to A'Zhu’s body.
Xiao Feng kept sitting in a daze. After a good while, he said: ‘Madam Duan, my sin is very serious. I beg you to draw a knife and kill me.’
Ruan Xingzhu sobbed: ‘Even if I killed you with a slash of the knife, I wouldn’t be able to revive my poor daughter. Chief Qiao, you said I and A'Zhu’s father made a blunder that we’ve been ashamed of and harmed a child to the point of being wretched for life and not knowing its own parents. These words are true. But… if you wanted to defend somebody against an injustice, you should’ve found Prince Duan and killed him. Why did you kill my A'Zhu?’
In this moment, Xiao Feng’s mind was rather slow. Only after a short while did he shiver with fear in his heart, asking: ‘What’s the blunder that you’ve been ashamed of?’ Ruan Xingzhu wept, saying: ‘You already know clearly. Why do you insist on asking me? Both A'Zhu… A'Zhu and A'Zi are my daughters. I didn’t dare bring them home so I gave them to other people.’
Xiao Feng said in a quavering voice: ‘Yesterday I asked Duan Zhengchun if he had made a blunder that he’d been ashamed of. He admitted frankly. So this shameful matter was only giving A'Zhu… and A'Zi to strangers?’ Ruan Xingzhu said angrily: ‘I already did this shameful thing, how can it still be insufficient? What bad kind of woman who specializes in doing shameful things do you think I am?’ Xiao Feng said: ‘Yesterday Duan Zhengchun also said ‘Heaven has shown pity on me and today allows me to meet a… a parentless child of that year again.’ When he said now he had met this parentless child again, he was talking about A'Zi, and not… and not me?’ Ruan Xingzhu said angrily: ‘Why should he want to talk about you? Are you the child he abandoned to other people? You… What rot are you talking? Could I give birth to an animal like you?’ She detested Xiao Feng, but afraid of his outstanding martial arts she dared not go into action and only scolded him.
Xiao Feng said: ‘Then, when I asked why he has still continuously committed one wrongdoing after another since, why did he admit that his conduct had been improper and his virtue had been deficient?’ Ruan Xingzhu’s cheeks, which were being covered with tears, slightly reddened. She said: ‘He has a loose nature. It’s always been so. After he’s played around with 1 woman, he’d play around with the 2nd woman, the 3rd woman, the 4th woman, debauching himself with one after another, but… who needs you to meddle in other people’s business?’
Xiao Feng mumbled: ‘Wrong, wrong, completely wrong!’ After being in a daze for a long time, suddenly he stretched out his hand and slapped himself heavily in the face, making continuous pai-pai-pai-pai sounds. Frightened, Ruan Xingzhu jumped to her feet and retreated some steps. She only saw that Xiao Feng kept beating himself with all his strength and every blow of the palm was very heavy. After a short while, his cheeks had already swollen up considerably.
Then, a soft ‘ya’ sound was heard as someone else pushed the door open and came in. This person cried: ‘Mom, have you taken that scroll…’ She was none other than A'Zi. Before she had finished saying, she saw other people in the house, and saw Xiao Feng was repeatedly beating himself with his right hand while carrying A'Zhu with his left hand. So she could not help being so frightened that she was dumbfounded.
Xiao Feng cheeks swelled then their skin broke. After that, his face and his hand were full of fresh blood, then blood spattered ceaselessly on the walls, the table, the chairs… Everything was spattered with blood. Even A'Zhu’s body and that scroll hanging on the wall were also covered with small red drops of blood.
Because Ruan Xingzhu could not bear to see this brutal sight, she covered up her eyes with both hands. However, she still heard the continuous ‘pai-pai’ sounds, so she called out: ‘Don’t beat anymore, don’t beat anymore!’
A'Zi squealed: ‘Hey, don’t dirty the words my father wrote, or I’ll ask you for compensation.’
She jumped onto the table, stretched out her hands and took the scroll that was hanging on the wall. It turned out she and her mother returned only to fetch this calligraphic scroll.
Startled, Xiao Feng stopped beating and asked: ‘Is this ‘Duan the Second of Dali’ really Duan Zhengchun?’ Ruan Xingzhu countered: ‘Other than him, whom else?’ When she mentioned Duan Zhengchun’s name, she could not help showing a feeling of passionate pride on her face.
These several words cleared up a doubt in Xiao Feng’s mind: This scroll was really written by Duan Zhengchun. That letter to Chief Wang was not written by him. And so the leading big brother probably is not Duan Zhengchun.
A thought immediately emerged in his mind: ‘There must be very important secret facts in Madam Ma’s setting up Duan Zhengchun. I should untie this knot first, and everything will come to light.’ As he thought so, his intention of committing suicide disappeared at once. The beating he had given himself just now had left his face covered with fresh blood, but thanks to it, he had been able to vent the remorse and sorrow in his heart. Thereupon, he rose, carrying A'Zhu’s body in his arms.
A'Zi, having seen the 2 bamboo tablets he had written on the table, said laughingly: ‘Ha-ha, no wonder I saw 2 holes outside. I’ve been puzzled. So you want to die and be buried together with my sister? Well, well, well, you’re really too passionate!’
Xiao Feng replied: ‘I accidentally fell into the cruel trap of a villain and harmed A'Zhu to death. Now I must find that villain and avenge her first. Then I’ll follow her to the Underworld.’ A'Zi asked: ‘Who’s that villain?’ Xiao Feng replied: ‘At the moment I have no clue. I’ll go investigate this.’ As he finished, he went out with large strides, carrying A'Zhu. A'Zi laughed and said: ‘Are you going to find the villain while carrying my sister like this?’
Xiao Feng was slightly nonplussed. Temporarily, he had no idea. He thought if he carried A'Zhu’s body to go on a thousand-li long journey, it would eventually be improper, but it was difficult for him to let go of her because he was really attached to her. He looked at A'Zhu’s face in a daze. Tears rolled straight down his gory damaged face. Mixed with fresh blood, the tears became reddish drops and fell onto A'Zhu’s pale face. Truly, this was dripping with tears of blood.
When Ruan Xingzhu saw his heartrending situation, all her abhorrence of him vanished in an instant. She said: ‘Chief Qiao, this blunder was already done. It’s already impossible to redeem. You… you…’ Originally she wanted to advise him to restrain his grief, but she herself could not refrain from bursting into tears. She said tearfully: ‘It’s all because I’m no good. It’s all because I’m no good… Why did I give my nice daughter to other people?’
Suddenly, the young girl who had been rendered motionless by Xiao Feng interrupted: ‘Of course it’s all because you’re no good! Other people were being happy husband and wife, why did you come and break up their family?’
Ruan Xingzhu raised her head and asked the young girl: ‘Why do you say that, Miss? Who are you?’
The young girl replied: ‘You’re a fox spirit (~ a wanton woman). You’ve made my mother so miserable. You harmed me… harmed me…’
A'Zi stretched out her hand to slap her in the face. Unable to move, that young girl saw the incoming blow of the palm, but she could not dodge it.
Ruan Xingzhu hurriedly held out her hand and pulled A'Zi’s arm, saying: ‘A'Zi, you can’t act rudely.’ Then she turned to the middle-aged woman and surveyed her. Seeing that the woman was holding a steel saber in her right hand and there was broken saber on the floor, she suddenly understood, so she said: ‘That’s right. You use 2 sabers. You… You’re Sura Saber Qin… Qin Hongmian… elder sister Qin.’
This middle-aged woman was none other than another lover of Duan Zhengchun’s--Sura Saber Qin Hongmian, and the young girl wearing black clothes was her daughter Mu Wanqing. Qin Hongmian did not blame Duan Zhengchun for having love affairs everywhere, but she loathed the other women for being prurient and seductive and snatching her beau. Therefore, after receiving a message from her shimei (younger female fellow disciple) Gan Baobao, she and her daughter Mu Wanqing had at once gone to assassinate Duan Zhengchun’s wife Dao Baifeng and another lover of his, with the result that they had failed to kill either. When she learned that Duan Zhengchun had another mistress called Ruan Xingzhu, who was living in seclusion beside the Little Mirror Lake, she immediately took her daughter along to go to kill this woman.
Qin Hongmian, seeing that Ruan Xingzhu had recognized herself, shouted: ‘Right, I’m Qin Hongmian, who needs a harlot like you to call me elder sister?’
Temporarily, Ruan Xingzhu was unable to guess why Qin Hongmian had come here. She was also afraid that if this love rival and Duan Zhengchun met each other, they would rekindle their old feelings, so she laughed and said: ‘That’s right. I said incorrectly. You’re much younger than me, and you have such a great beauty too. No wonder Duan lang (~ dear Duan) is so fascinated by you. You’re my younger sister, not elder sister. Younger sister Qin, Duan lang misses you every day. You’re engraved upon his mind. I really envy you your good fortune.’
When Qin Hongmian heard Ruan Xingzhu praise her for being young and beautiful, the anger in her heart disappeared three-tenths. And when she heard Ruan Xingzhu say that Duan Zhengchun missed her every day, her anger disappeared another three-tenths. She said: ‘Who wants you to sweet talk like this? You’re sure used to flattering other people.’
Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘This young lady is your precious daughter, right? Well, well, well, younger sister Qin, it’s a hard job to give birth to such a beauty…’
Noticing that the 2 women were harping on about romantic matters, Xiao Feng became impatient and did not want to hear more. As a straightforward and resolute fellow, after the heartbreaking sorrow was gone, he at once pondered how to handle important businesses in the future.
Carrying A'Zhu’s body, he walked to the side of a hole and set her down in it. He grabbed the soil with his pair of big hands and slowly scattered it on her body. But all along he did not scatter soil on her face.
He looked at A'Zhu without blinking. With just several more handfuls of soil scattered on her, he would never be able to see her again. His ears seemed to vaguely hear her voice promising to go outside Yanmen Pass to ride on horseback, go hunting, pasture cattle and sheep, and be with him for life. Less than 1 day before, she had still been saying these words which sometimes were affectionate, sometimes were witty, sometimes were serious, and sometimes were mischievous. But from today on, he would never hear them again. From now on, the vow to pasture cattle and sheep at the frontier had come to naught.
Xiao Feng knelt beside the grave for a very long time. But still, he was unwilling to scatter soil on A'Zhu’s face.
Suddenly he rose. With a long howl, he stopped looking at A'Zhu and pushed out his 2 hands at the same time, shoving all the soil beside the grave onto her body and face. Then he turned around and walked into the room in the wing.
He saw Ruan Xingzhu and Qin Hongmian were still talking unceasingly. Even though Ruan Xingzhu was being grieved, she was still artfully persuasive in speech and made Qin Hongmian totally pleased. The enmity between the 2 women had already been removed. Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘Chief Qiao, this younger sister of mine offended you, but it was unintentional. I beg you to unblock their acupuncture points.’
Ruan Xingzhu was A'Zhu’s mother so Xiao Feng certainly listened to her to a reasonable extent, let alone the fact that he already wanted to release these 2 people. At once, he came near, stretched out his hands and gave Qin Hongmian and Mu Wanqing a tap each on their shoulders. The 2 of them only felt a stream of internal energy run from their shoulders to their blocked acupuncture points. In an instant, they were already able to move their limbs freely as usual. The mother and the daughter exchanged a look. In their hearts, they exceedingly admired Xiao Feng for the depth of his internal energy.
Xiao Feng turned to A'Zi and said: ‘Younger sister A'Zi, could you please let me have a look at your father’s calligraphic scroll?’
A'Zi said: ‘I don’t want you to call me younger sister this, younger sister that.’ Despite saying so, she dared not disobey him and still handed the scroll over to him.
Xiao Feng unfolded the scroll and studied the words Duan Zhengchun had written several times again. Ruan Xingzhu’s face turned a deep red all over. She said bashfully: ‘What’s so interesting about these things?’ Xiao Feng asked: ‘Where’s Prince Duan, now?’ Ruan Xingzhu’s face changed color greatly. She retreated several steps and said in a tremulous voice: ‘Don’t… don’t… don’t go find him again.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘I won’t find to make things difficult for him. I only want to ask him some things.’ Ruan Xingzhu of course was unwilling to believe him. So she said: ‘You already accidentally killed A'Zhu. You shouldn’t find him again.’
Xiao Feng knew that by no means would she be willing to say, so he did not ask her anymore. He rolled up the scroll, returned it to A'Zi and said: ‘With her last words, A'Zhu told me to take care of her younger sister. Madam Duan, later on, if A'Zi encounters any difficulty, as long as Xiao Feng can offer any help, just tell me, I definitely won’t decline.’
Ruan Xingzhu was very glad, thinking: ‘If A'Zi has a supporter of great abilities like him, in her life, misfortune will turn into luckiness and accidents will turn into good things.’ So she said: ‘I thank you very much, then. A'Zi, quickly thank big brother Qiao.’ She changed ‘Chief Qiao’ to ‘big brother Qiao’ to make A'Zi and him become closer.
A'Zi immediately pouted her lips and said with a scornful expression: ‘What difficulty will I have to ask him to help? I have a master who is without equal under Heaven and many shixiongs (older male fellow disciples), why should I be afraid of being bullied by someone? He’s like a clay Bodhisattva fording a river, unable to protect himself. He can’t handle his own matters and only makes mistakes, how can he still want to help me with my problems? Humph, the more he’ll help, the more problems he’ll create, won’t he?’ She let out a torrent of words with her clear and carefree voice. Several times Ruan Xingzhu gave her hints with the eyes to stop her, but A'Zi pretended that she did not see them.
Ruan Xingzhu stamped her feet and said: ‘Alas, this child makes insolent irresponsible remarks. Chief Qiao, please show some consideration for A'Zhu and don’t take offence at them.’ Xiao Feng said: ‘My surname is Xiao, not Qiao.’ A'Zi said: ‘Mom, this fellow doesn’t even know his own surname. He’s a big idiot…’ Ruan Xingzhu shouted: ‘A'Zi!’
Xiao Feng took a bow with his hands folded, saying: ‘I must now bid you farewell.’ Then he turned to Mu Wanqing and said: ‘Miss Duan, don’t use these poisonous missiles of yours anymore. They are useless. On the contrary, if you meet an enemy of better skills, you’ll unavoidably be harmed by them.’
Before Mu Wanqing had replied, A'Zi said: ‘Elder sister, don’t listen to his nonsense. At worst these missiles will miss the enemy, what harms can they have?’
Paying no attention to her, Xiao Feng turned around and walked out. When his left foot passed through the door, he took a swing with his right sleeve, causing a gust of wind with a buzzing sound. All the 7 short arrows that Mu Wanqing had shot at him earlier and had been knocked down by him got off the floor at the same time and flew fiercely towards A'Zi like lightning. ‘Aiyo,’ A'Zi only uttered an exclamation. How could she dodge in time? The 7 short arrows skimmed across the top of her head, the sides of her neck and the sides of her body before, with a ‘pai’ sound, sticking deep up to the feathers in the wall behind her simultaneously.
Ruan Xingzhu hastily rushed forwards, embraced A'Zi and cried in fear: ‘Younger sis Qin, quickly take out the antidote.’ Qin Hongmian said: ‘Where’s she wounded? Where’s she wounded?’ Mu Wanqing hastily took the antidote out from her bosom and went examine the condition of A'Zi’s injuries.
After a short while, A'Zi somewhat regained her composure. Only then did she say: ‘They… they didn’t hit me.’ Then the 4 women looked at the 7 short arrows on the wall at the same time, and all of them gasped with astonishment and their faces changed color.
It turned out Xiao Feng remembered A'Zhu’s last words, which asked him to take care of A'Zi, but he heard her say ‘I have a master who is without equal under Heaven and many shixiongs, why should I be afraid of being bullied by someone?’ For this reason, he swept away the arrows with the wind of his sleeve and gave her a scare, lest the little girl, who was ignorant of the immensity of the world and impertinent due to her strong backing insomuch that she looked down on the heroes and bold men under Heaven, unavoidably suffered in the future.
He walked out of the bamboo forest, went to the side of the Little Mirror Lake, found a big tree with luxuriant branches and foliage, and jumped onto it. He wanted to find Duan Zhengchun to ask clearly why Madam Ma deliberately cast the blame on him, but Ruan Xingzhu simply was unwilling to reveal his whereabouts, so he himself had no choice but to follow in secret.
Before long, he saw the 4 women come out. Qin Hongmian and daughter went ahead of Ruan Xingzhu and her daughter. It looked like Ruan Xingzhu was seeing the guests out.
The 4 women walked to the side of the lake. Qin Hongmian said: ‘Elder sister Ruan, you and I feel like old friends at the 1st meeting. Because the former ill will between us has been dispelled, a matter of hatred in my mind has been eliminated. Now I want to go find that lowly slave surnamed Kang. Do you know where she is?’ Startled, Ruan Xingzhu asked: ‘Younger sister, why do you want to find her?’ Qin Hongmian said resentfully: ‘Originally I and Duan lang were living happy days. It was all because of the tricks of this lowly slavish fox spirit…’ Ruan Xingzhu thought for a little while and said: ‘That Kang… this harlot Kang Min, hum, I don’t know where she is. When you’ve found her, please give her several more stabs of the saber on my behalf.’ Qin Hongmian said: ‘That goes without saying. I’m just afraid it won’t be easy to find her. Alright, see you later! Humph, if you meet Duan lang…’ Ruan Xingzhu slightly shivered and said: ‘What should I do?’ Qin Hongmian said: ‘You give him 2 heavy slaps in the face for me, 1 slap to settle my account, and 1 slap to settle my daughter’s account.’
Ruan Xingzhu laughed gently and said: ‘How can I meet this heartless damnable fellow? Younger sister, when you see him, give him 2 slaps in the face for me as well, 1 for me, and 1 for A'Zi. No, slapping won’t be enough. Next you give him 2 kicks for me. He fathered his daughters but didn’t take care of them, making me and my daughter so wretched and lonely…’ As she finished, she shed tears. Qin Hongmian consoled: ‘Sister, don’t be sad. After we’ve killed that harlot Kang, we’ll return to be your companions.’
Xiao Feng, hiding on the tree, heard very clearly the conversation between the 2 women. He thought that Duan Zhengchun was not bad at martial arts and rather benevolent and loyal to his friends, but he had abandoned himself to his love of feminine beauty, so he did not count as a hero. He saw Qin Hongmian pull Mu Wanqing, salute Ruan Xingzhu and her daughter and leave at once, then Ruan Xingzhu hold A'Zi hand and go back into the bamboo forest.
Xiao Feng considered: ‘Ruan Xingzhu sure will go find Duan Zhengchun, but she’s unwilling to go together with Qin Hongmian, that’s all. She said that she came to take this scroll so Duan Zhengchun is definitely waiting not far up ahead. I’m just going to observe from here.’
Suddenly there were soft sounds in a thicket, and 2 people in black clothes quietly walked out, but they were Qin Hongmian and her daughter returning. He heard Qin Hongmian say in a low voice: ‘Wan’er, how could you be so careless and easily tricked by them? There’s a pair of male shoes under the couch in elder sister Ruan’s bedroom. The toe caps are embroidered with 2 words, the left shoe has the word ‘Mountain’, and the right shoe has the word ‘River.’ Of course they’re your father’s shoes. The shoes are very new, and the mud on their sole isn’t dry yet. Obviously your father is near here.’ Mu Wanqing said: ‘Ah! So this woman surnamed Ruan fooled us.’ Qin Hongmian said: ‘Yes, how can she be willing to let that unfaithful fellow meet us?’ Mu Wanqing said: ‘Father has no conscience. Mom, you need not meet him.’
After keeping silent for quite a while, Qin Hongmian said: ‘I want to see him, but I don’t want to meet him. We’ve been separate for so many days, he’s already old, and your mother’s already old too.’ These few sentences were very simple, but the words contained deep emotions.
Mu Wanqing said: ‘Alright!’ Her voice sounded very sorrowful. Ever since she and Duan Yu had parted company, her memory of him had grown day by day, but knowing clearly this was a love that would go nowhere, she dared not show the load on her mind before her mother.
Qin Hongmian said: ‘We only need to keep watch from here. I think your father will arrive soon.’ As she finished, she pushed the long grass apart and hid herself in it. After that, Mu Wanqing hid behind a tree.
In the dull starlight, Xiao Feng saw that Qin Hongmian’s pale face was slightly red. Obviously she was deeply stirred. He thought: ‘Love wears people out to such an extent.’ But he also immediately thought of A'Zhu, and could not help feeling a burst of pain in his chest.
Not long after, quick footsteps were heard on the path. Xiao Feng thought: ‘This person isn’t Duan Zhengchun. Probably his subordinate.’ Sure enough, when that person rushed near him, he recognized that it was Zhu Danchen, the fellow who had drawn in reverse on the bridge.
Ruan Xingzhu had already heard the footsteps, but she was unable to know who this person was. She only thought that it was Duan Zhengchun, so she called: ‘Duan lang, Duan lang!’ and quickly came out to meet him. A'Zi came out with her.
Zhu Danchen bowed down to the ground, saying: ‘My Lord has ordered this subordinate to report that he has an urgent matter so he is unable to return today.’
Startled, Ruan Xingzhu asked: ‘What’s the matter? When will he return?’ Zhu Danchen replied: ‘This matter is related to the Murong Family of Gusu. It seems the whereabouts of Mister Murong has been discovered. My Lord has gone north on a ten-thousand-li journey to find this man. My Lord said that: After handling his important matter, he would return to the side of the Little Mirror Lake at once for a reunion. Madam needs not worry.’ Tears welling up in her eyes, Ruan Xingzhu said in a voice choked with emotions: ‘He’s always said he’d return at once, but everytime he wouldn’t see me for 3 years or 5 years. I had a really hard time waiting for him to come here, yet…’
Zhu Danchen was exceedingly upset and indignant about how A'Zi had angered Chu Wanli to death. Duan Zhengchun’s words had been passed on, so he was unwilling to remain here any longer. He bow slightly, turned around and left. From start to finish, he did not cast a look at A'Zi.
Ruan Xingzhu, waiting until he had gone, said to A'Zi in a low voice: ‘Your lightness skill is much better than mine. Quickly follow him, and leave identification marks on the way for me. I’ll follow soon after.’ A'Zi pouted her lips, laughed and said: ‘You ask me to trail father, so what’s the reward?’ Ruan Xingzhu said: ‘Everything Mom has is already yours. What reward do you still want?’ A'Zi said: ‘Alright, I’ll write a ‘Duan’ character on the corners of the walls then draw an arrow so that you’d know.’ Ruan Xingzhu hugged her daughter’s shoulders and said with gladness: ‘Good daughter!’ A'Zi laughed and said: ‘Infatuated mommy!’ Then she raised herself up and chased after Zhu Danchen.
Ruan Xingzhu stood beside the Little Mirror Lake for a long time. The she went along the small path. As soon as she had gone, Qin Hongmian and her daughter successively appeared. The 2 of them made gestures with their hands and followed behind her.
Xiao Feng thought: ‘A'Zi already leaves signs on the way. It’ll be very easy to find Duan Zhengchun.’ When he had taken several steps, suddenly, in the moonlight, he saw his own reflection in the lake. He felt sad, disappointed, and very lonely, and his heart ached. He wanted to return to the bamboo forest to sit in front of A'Zhu’s grave again for a while. However, in an instant, his heroic spirit surged up, and he sent out a blow of the palm. The energy wind of his attack hit the lake and splashed water all around. The reflection in the lake also turned into a mass of fragments. With a long howl, he left with big strides.
During the several days later, he set out at daybreak and slept at night, drinking very much, but eating little. Every time he arrived in a town, he saw a ‘Duan’ character and an arrow showing the direction left by A'Zi at the foot of a wall. Sometimes Ruan Xingzhu, after seeing them, scraped them off, but the vestige of the signs could still be recognized.
On the way to the north, it gradually got cold. That day, not long after he had gone outside, it started to snow heavily. Snowflakes floated to and fro, up and down in the air. Xiao Feng kept going until noon. Then he went into a small wine shop and consumed 12 or 13 bowls of spirit. When his addiction to wine had not yet been slaked, the shop was already out of wine. Very disappointed, he ran for a while with big strides and came towards a big city. As he drew near, he was slightly shocked. It turned out he had arrived in Xinyang.
On the way he had only searched for the signs left by A'Zi, and thought of his own worries, so he had paid no attention to his surroundings, insomuch that he had unexpectedly returned to Xinyang. If he really wanted to find Duan Zhengchun, it would be as easy as rasing his hand. Only rushing faster in 1 day or half a day and he would definitely catch up with Duan Zhengchun. But ever since the death of A'Zhu, his mind had always been empty. He did not know how he should pass the time. In his mind, he had always thought: ‘What should I do after catching up with Duan Zhengchun? When I’ve found the prime villain and got revenge, what should I do? When I’ve returned to the outside of Yanmen Pass alone to go hunting and pasture sheep in the great desert of wind and sand, what should I do?’ As a result, he had not been in hot pursuit all along.
After entering the city of Xinyang, he saw a ‘Duan’ character written in charcoal at the foot of the city wall. Beside the character was an arrow pointing westward. He felt a burst of distress in his mind as he recalled that day he and A'Zhu, side by side, had gone to Madam Ma’s house in the west of the city of Xinyang to tactfully sound her out. Today, thinking back, he felt that every step at that time had pushed A'Zhu closer to the Underworld by 1 step.
After he had gone 5 or 6 li (0.5 km), the north wind became fierce, and the snow fell more heavily.
Following the signs left by A'Zi, he went westward. These signs were new and had been left not long before. Some of the signs were left by scraping away the bark of trees and writing on them. On the boles, the resin at the places scraped by the knife had not yet congealed. The direction of the signs was none other than Ma Dayuan’s house. Xiao Feng was secretly mystified, thinking: ‘Could it be that Duan Zhengchun knows Madam Ma framed him, so he finds her to settle the score? That’s right, when A'Zhu talked to me in her dying moment at the bluestone bridge, she mentioned Madam Ma. A'Zi heard it, and she must’ve told her father. But we only said Madam Ma, how can he know that she is this Madam Ma?’
On the way, he had been depressed and rather dazed. But this moment, as he met a very unusual matter, his spirit rose at once, and the vigilance that he had had when engaging in battles with strong enemies in former days were restored. Seeing an abandoned shrine by the roadside, he immediately entered it, closed the door, lay down and slept for 6 hours. Only at the 2nd watch (10 p.m to 12 p.m) did he come out and go towards the house of Ma Dayuan.
When approaching the house, he hid behind a tree and looked carefully at the surroundings. After he had observed for a while, a faint smile appeared at the corners of his mouth because he saw 2 people hiding on the northeast side of the house of the Ma Family. Judging from appearance, they were Ruan Xingzhu and A'Zi. After that, he saw Qin Hongmian and her daughter hiding in the southeast corner of the house. In this moment, the heavy snow had not yet ceased so the 4 women all were piled on with a layer of white snow. A dull yellow light came out through the window of the room in the east wing, and there was only silence. Xiao Feng broke a branch off and threw it to the east. A soft ‘pai’ sound was heard as it fell on the ground. Ruan Xingzhu and the other 3 women all looked in the direction of the sound. With a gentle leap, he already arrived at the underside of the window of the room in the east wing.
The weather was cold and the ground was frozen. All the windows of the Ma Family house had wooden boards. Xiao Feng waited for a while. He heard a gust of north wind coming whistling. Waiting until this gust of wind was about to reach the window, he lightly sent out a blow of the palm. His palm force and that gust of wind hit the wooden board of the window at the same time. With a ‘ka-la’ sound, the wooden board was broken. Even the window paper inside was also left with a crack. Even though the people such as Qin Hongmian and Ruan Xingzhu were in the area around the house, they were not aware of this because the palm wind and the north wind totally coincided with each other. If there was someone in the room, they would not be able to detect this either. Xiao Feng put his eye next to the crack and looked inside. At first sight, he was dumbfounded, as if he did not believe his own eyes.
He saw Duan Zhengchun, wearing a short jacket and a small hat, sitting cross-legged on the edge of the earthen bed, holding a wine cup in his hand, grinning and looking at a woman who was sitting by the side of the small bed table.
That woman was wearing white mourning attire and had a light make-up on. The tips of her eyebrows and the corners of her eyes were brimming with passion. Her pair of watery glistening eyes looked as if they were about to shed water. Like smiling without smiling, like being angry without being angry, she looked sideways at Duan Zhengchun. She was none other than the widow of Ma Dayuan--Madam Ma.
END OF CHAPTER 23
Last edited by forgot password; 02-08-11 at 04:08 PM.
Thanks very much to all translators and editors for translating, editing and keeping update this interesting Wuxia novel.
"The bitterest enemy of you is carnal desires of yourself."
"The best fight is fight against carnal desires of oneself."
- The Successor of the Prophet of Islam, Imam Ali peace be upon him
WOW what a long update! *happily runs off to read* Thanks!
Thanks for the update. This is the saddest part of the novel. Xiao Feng's hapiness last for only a brief moment.
thnx for the update. waiting for next
Rose blooms best near death
You are in full bloom, Pal!
Thanks for the wonderful update FP!
Feel bad for XF. Unfortunately, it's only going to get worst from here on.
Hi FP. Any plans to continue with translation? Really missing your work! Keep well
Upz. Looks like this translation has gone cold.. Where are you Forget Password? Given up already? Let me encourage you that your translation is very good and easily readable.